Then and Now, Class 35

Section 1

Good evening. We’re here on June 4, 2008, for the class 35 in the Then and Now series.

This evening the subject matter is the five paths. There is the need to feel that one is making progress in whatever endeavor one is doing in the human condition. It is very widespread— a very deep pattern it seems. And it consistently shows up in virtually everything. So, we shouldn’t be too surprised that it shows up in the spiritual practice.

And in the Theravada tradition, we have the four stages of Arhats: the stream winner, once returner, no returner, and arhat. And in the Mahayana we have the five paths and the ten stages—the five paths of spiritual development or maturation—the ten stages of the bodhisattva. And Dzogchen tradition, which says there are no paths or stages. But we have the sixteen stages of Dzogchen. And the Mahamudra tradition, we have four stages of Mahamudra, and if you look at the Full Awareness of Breathing Sutra, there are, I think, sixteen stages in there or something.

So all of these provide different maps. And, of course, no single individual follows the map, or progresses a nice methodical way through them, because growth cannot really be systematized, and each person develops in their own way. Still, we have this tendency for organizing things into a progression. And it creates certain problems and provides certain advantages.

Among the problems it creates is the idea that if I’m not going through these stages, then something is wrong. Something is going wrong. And among the benefits is that you have a map. And so it gives you some indication of what the next effort might be.

Now this chapter is one of the shortest, and if I hadn’t been ill, might have combined it with the ten stages of bodhisattvahood, which is a similar map. But, with the emphasis a little different. But I want to, there is some comparison work that I want to prepare for the ten bodhisattva stages, which I haven’t had a chance to do yet, so I’ll prepare that for next week.

Section 2

What are the five paths? Well, they’re given different names. The first is called the Path of Accumulation. And the idea is that it’s where you accumulate the resources. And, as it says, I mean Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation on the bottom of page 257:

Why is this called the path of accumulation? Because on it, one gathers the accumulations of virtue in order to become a vessel for the realization, of heat and so forth.

And then over on the next page, you see that we start into a whole bunch of lists. The five paths are organized around what are known as the 37 factors of awakening, which goes quite far back in the history of Buddhism, as far as I can tell. And is another effort or attempt to organize or describe progression in practice. So, please don’t think that one develops mindfulness of the body, and then feelings, mind, phenomena, and then develops the Four Types of Perfect Abandonment, and then the Four Feet of Miracle Powers, and so forth. It’s just not linear like that.

Another difficulty—in my mind anyway—that the five paths create is that the descriptions are often so dramatic that you think, “Gee, I’ll never get out of the starting gate.” You know, in some descriptions, when you have 24 hours stable attention, then you have achieved the lesser stage of the path of accumulation. Well, I don’t see that happening in my lifetime. But if we forget the notion, or just put aside the notion that this is a linear process and we are going to proceed methodically through this, and look at the five paths as simply a way of organizing a lot of accumulated experience and wisdom, then we can make some use of that.

So, if we look on page 258 in Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation, we have the lesser path of accumulation, starting with the Four Types of Mindfulness. Well, the four types of mindfulness, or the four foundations of mindfulness, as they are often called, are descriptions of how stable attention develops. And the first, even though it’s called mindfulness of the body, it really refers to being able to stay present in the experience of sensory perception.

Section 3

Then the second foundation of mindfulness is being able to stay present in feelings. Now, here feelings don’t refer to emotions. It would be better to call these feeling tones. Accompanying every sensory experience, there are five, any of five feeling tones: pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, physical and mental. And you get one of the first group…one of the first three—pleasant, unpleasant, neutral—and one of the second two…the last two—physical or mental. And these are very rapid things. They occur virtually simultaneously with a sensory perception. And it’s the quality of experience which engages the emotional reactive process. So if it’s pleasant, we’re attracted to it; if its unpleasant we’re averse to it; and if it’s neutral we’re indifferent to it.

So, in the Theravada tradition, for instance, the whole Buddhist path comes down to being able to detect that pleasant, unpleasant, neutral in every moment of experience and not react to it. Now, not reacting doesn’t mean suppressing; it means training sufficient level of attention that you simply don’t react, whether it’s pleasantness…a pleasant sensation doesn’t elicit attraction; an unpleasant sensation doesn’t elicit aversion; and a neutral sensation doesn’t elicit indifference. And, if one can do that, then one is largely freed from reacting to experience, which is the end of suffering.

One of the recent Patriarchs of Cambodian Buddhism, Ghosananda, I met on a few occasions, and he would speak so eloquently about just this topic. The importance of when anything arose: pleasant, you just experience the pleasantness, but you don’t grab for it; unpleasant, you experience the unpleasantness, you don’t push it away; neutral, you experience that it’s a neutral sensation, and you don’t fall into a dullness or indifference.

Section 4

As you’re able to stay present with those feelings, then you notice much more clearly the emotional reactions of attraction, aversion, and indifference. And that’s what the third foundation of mindfulness refers to. Here, it is mindfulness of mind; elsewhere it’s referred to as mindfulness of emotional states, or mindfulness of mental formations, or so forth.

At this stage you start staying present in the process of attraction, in the process of aversion, in the process of indifference. They may arise, but you don’t get swallowed by them. Ordinarily, when emotional reactions arise, we regard them as facts, as things we have to act on. And so when we’re averse, we push something away. Or we suppress it in some way. But when you are able to stay present in the emotional reaction itself, then what actually happens is that you transform the energy of emotional reaction into attention. And it’s quite simple to do an exercise on that. I may have done this with you before, but I think it’s worth doing again.

Pick something to which you are attracted: something that you like, something that you want. It can be a person, or it can be a thing. It doesn’t make any difference. And just imagine that object of attraction in front of you, and feel the attraction. Now as you let yourself feel the attraction, experience how that attraction is expressed in your body. Often there will be an inclination to lean forward, towards the object. And there may be a feeling around the heart; there may be feelings in the hands or fingers. Just experience how attraction manifests in the body. And when you are able to stay in that, then what are all of the emotions associated with the attraction? There can be a yearning, there can be guilt, there might be shame, there could be anger, there could be joy.

So, just observe what’s there, and experience what’s there, along with the physical sensations. And when you can stay present in that, notice all the stories, or experience the stories as well. “I deserve this,” or “I don’t deserve this.” “If I had this I would be so and so”; or “because I don’t have this I am so and so.” And the stories can take many, many forms. And they’re just stories: none of them are really facts.

So now you’re present in the whole experience of attraction. As you rest in that experience, look now, again, at the object to which you’re attracted. How do you experience it now? And when you are ready I would like you to describe that. Is there a change? Chuck?

Chuck: The object has sort of lost its, to me…all of the emotions and everything have grabbed, have taken on the experience of the object, and the object has lost some of its luster.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Okay, so by experiencing attraction you aren’t as attracted.

Chuck: Right. I got caught up in the feelings of being attracted and not essentially of the object itself.

Ken: Yeah, are you really caught up in the feelings, or are you just experiencing the feelings?

Chuck: I think experiencing the feelings.

Ken: Yeah, and that’s one thing that happens. By experiencing the feelings very explicitly, then the pull diminishes.

Chuck: Right.

Ken: Anybody else? Art.

Art: It was exactly the same—the experience, yeah.

Ken: Did anybody of you find that you appreciated the object in a more open way?

Student: I think the way that I could explain it is that I no longer need what I desire. I don’t desire it any less, in a sense. I mean I appreciate it.

Ken: That is often, people find that there’s a kind of appreciation, and the grasping quality of the desire is diminished.

Section 5

Okay, so this is an example of what happens when you’re able to stay present in actual emotions, emotional reactions, which is what the third stage of mindfulness is. And it’s actually a bit more than that: it’s being able to stay present in any functioning of the mind. Yes?

Student: Because the—for lack of a better word—the positive and negative feelings of attraction or aversion are so familiar. How would you do that with indifference? How does one stay present in…?

Ken: This is actually what the equanimity meditation in Wake Up To Your Life is about. Indifference is a kind of ignoring.

So here we have a rather dull rug in this room. It doesn’t seem particularly exciting. Right? So how many experience some kind of indifference with this rug here? How many would just yearn to have this and would be willing to pay top dollar for this rug? How many of you would, would go completely crazy if this rug was in your home? So there’s not really attraction or aversion, okay.

Now, just experience that indifference. Look at the rug, and open to the experience of nnnnyhhhht and how you may notice there’s a kind of sluggishness or dullness in the body. You with me? Okay, so just experience that. And there’s a disinterest in the mind. So just experience that. And among the stories are “I don’t care, it’s not interesting.” So you just experience that. What’s happened when you move completely into that experience? What happens with your experience with the rug?

Art: It’s kind of hard to explain. There’s a different type of energy, or a different type of charge, as compared to something to which I am attracted to.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Art: But there is—I don’t know how to describe it…

Ken: Yeah.

Art: …there is sort of an energy there that I can stay with, that is neither this nor that. It doesn’t seem to have the intensity that the others had. I could easily sort of see myself going one way or the other with it. It’s harder to stay with that because they’re…

Ken: But when you go through the process, you know, there is a shift in one’s experience. In exactly the same way. Yeah. And it’s no longer boring. Yeah. You may not be attracted to it, or excited about it, or anything like that, but your relationship of the experience shifts. Chuck, got a question?

Chuck: I was just going to say, that because you aren’t ignoring it, it’s no longer boring you, there is a little bit more of an attraction to it.

Ken: Or at least an interest in it.

Chuck: Right, right.

Ken: Yeah, exactly.

Section 6

The fourth stage of mindfulness is always translated as mindfulness of phenomena. I really think it should be mindfulness of experience. Because phenomena has this notion of what’s out there, what you’re looking at. Whereas, this is just what’s arising. And when you’re at this level of mindfulness, it doesn’t matter what arises; the mindfulness is not perturbed, or you don’t fall into distraction. And so, in this way, attention has now become very, very stable.

Then, the next group, it says that these four occur during the middle stage of the path of accumulation. Well, that’s just the philosophical bookkeeping which these academics are prone to. But let’s take a look at the Four Types of Perfect Abandonment.

Student: When you said the middle…

Ken: I’m onto the middle one. I’ve just jumped to the end of B. I am talking about the Four Types of Perfect Abandonment, which is said to have occurred during the middle stage of the path of accumulation. Okay?

The thing is, please don’t think that that happens sequentially like that. You don’t practice the first stage of mindfulness—the second, third, fourth—and then you start practicing these. All of these are going to be practiced, and part of one’s experience, at every stage of growth and development.

We have a translation problem around this word abandonment. It’s often just easier to translate this word by the word stop: how things stop. And really, it’s a very simple, very straightforward description of how you make significant change. It’s very simple. You have a situation; you stop doing those things which make the situation worse. That’s the first step. Sorry. Yes, that’s right. You stop doing things which make the situation worse. No, sorry, you decrease doing the things which make the situation worse. That’s the first stage. The second is you stop doing things which make the situation worse. The third stage is you start doing things which make the situation better. And the fourth stage is you strengthen things which make the situation better.

Now, when you put it that way, it’s just common sense, right? Here, that particular framework is being applied to our involvement in samsaric experience. What are some things that make samsaric experience worse and deepen our involvement with that? Anybody?

Cara: Interacting with other people in general.

Ken: [Laughs] You had a bad day, did you?

Cara: No. But, no, no. But I mean, I feel that that’s usually the root of both attraction and aversion. Or how I experience other people.

Ken: So your solution is very Theravada this way: you just don’t interact with anybody, and everything will be fine!

Cara: No, I don’t think that’s the answer.

Ken: Okay, so, I agree, I don’t think it’s the answer either. So, what can you do to decrease the ways that deepen our involvement with samsaric experience? And as, just stopping interacting with people? Not terribly practical. So what are some things that make it worse?

Cara: That makes it worse?

Ken: Yeah, it’s not the interaction with people that makes it worse. It’s the reactive emotions that come up.

Cara: Right.

Ken: Okay. So, one of the things that we can do is to avoid situations which make us very angry, or elicit very strong feelings of neediness or desire. That’s one thing that you can do. It leads to a more balanced life. Do you follow?

Cara: I do, but I would have to, I mean, it sounds ridiculous, but I would have to give up my profession altogether, if I were trying to avoid those sorts of situations.

Ken: Okay, so what’s something that you can do?

Cara: Me? That would help me to avoid having reactive emotions with other people?

Ken: Yeah.

Cara: I don’t have anything that’s not like totally sarcastic. Like, give up coffee or take Xanax.

Ken: Well, if you stay up late at night, and are very tired when you go to work the next day, are you more or less likely to have strong reactive emotions?

Cara: I think it depends on the day.

Ken: [Laughs] But generally speaking, when we are tired and cranky, and things like that—

Cara: It doesn’t help.

Ken: It doesn’t help. So that’s an example of things that we can decrease that make the situation worse.

Cara: Right.

Ken: And we can look at our lives, you know. We can eat properly, or we can stop eating badly. We can, and some of the things that make things better, is that we can exercise regularly. Maybe we can even practice a little meditation. Shock, shock. And so forth.

So, this is how we bring about change. Just proceeding in a very simple methodical way. What’s making this worse, okay, start reducing that. Until you get to the point that you can actually stop doing all the things that make it worse. And some of the things that make it worse is carrying a grudge. Yes, Randye?

Section 7

Randye: The thing that I do personally that makes everything much worse—and it’s chronic and I am addicted to it and I can’t let it go—is thinking about it. Making up stories about it. How do you stop thinking?

Ken: Well, there was a situation the other day that arose for me in which I asked somebody to do something for me. And I found that I wasn’t confident that it was going to happen. And so, I started thinking about it—just like you’re describing—and my tendency would have been—after having basically having delegated this task to somebody—to call all the people that are connected with it, and make sure it happens, which of course everybody finds very irritating because they feel like they are being micromanaged, right? So, what I did was, I just went, “Well let’s just see what happens.”

And every time the impulse, or the thought came up, “Oh I should check on this, or I should send them this email, or I should make this phone call,” I would just say, “that’s a thought,” and let it go, and didn’t act on it, so I was working with my own experience. And I ended up not doing anything, and everything turned out just the way that I hoped it would and that I had asked for: everybody did what they were meant to do.

So when you find that kind of thinking coming up, you recognize it as thinking. And you’re not going to stop it immediately, but every time you recognize it as just thinking, stuff whirring around, then, and you can stay present in that without acting on it, then you just take a little bit of momentum out of it. And you do that again and again and again, you actually start operating in a different way. It’s an exact application here. Rather that acting on it—that makes things worse—you stop acting on it, and eventually the juice drains out of it, and it arises much less.

What we tend to want to do is, when we want it to change, we just want to just go—make it like a switch—“Done.” But change doesn’t take place that way.

What these four types of perfect abandonment, yang dag gi spong ba bzhi (pron. yang da gi pong wa zhi), I’d say the four aspects of thoroughly stopping something, have to go through those four stages. First decrease what’s making it worse, then end what’s making it worse; start things that’s making it better, and strengthen things that make it better. And that’s how change actually comes about. It isn’t just like throwing a switch. Does this make sense? Any other questions on this?

Section 8

Now we get into the even more technical stuff: The Four Feet of Miracle Powers. I would be tempted—and this is the literal, they’re called the Four Feet or Four Legs of Miracle Powers—I would look at these as supports, you know, because we stand on legs, that, through which you bring about, to use their word, miraculous change.

Sometimes we look at somebody who does something, and say, “How did they do that?” It seems like a miracle. But if you look a little more closely, very often, you will find that these four things are present. There is a very strong aspiration, a great yearning for this to come about. They have worked hard at it; that’s the perseverance. The absorption of mind is they focused their attention on it: they didn’t get distracted. And they were strategic about it: they looked at the situation and figured out what actually needed to happen. And when you bring that kind of attention to things, attention and energy, realistically, there’s very little that you can’t accomplish.

So, I hope that through this kind of discussion, you are getting the idea that these aren’t esoteric or mystical, or strange things. They’re just very straightforward descriptions of what is involved in bringing about change. And, one is a stabilization of attention, another is moving things in the right direction, that’s what the four types of perfect abandonment are about. And then focused, strategic attention accompanied by consistent effort. There’s nothing magical here. This is how we make things happen. Now all of this is being applied to the very specific task of freeing ourselves from samsaric experience. But they really have much, much wider application than that.


Student: The word absorption, at least to me, connotes sort of non-effort. Something…a sponge absorbs water. Is there a different word, a better word? Or what’s it trying to say?

Ken: Let me see. I wrote a paper on this, which I will probably put up on the web site, so that people can download it. I am just going to check what the Tibetan is. [Takes out laptop.] Oh dear, we’re going to run out of juice. Here we go. Yeah, it doesn’t use the term absorption here. So I would suggest that it’s probably the word for samadhi, which is a high level of attention. It’s not like a sponge at all. It’s being fully engaged in, is the meaning.

Okay, now, supposedly, when you have developed all of that stuff, you’ve completed the greater stage of the path of accumulation. You can see from this, this is all about developing stable attention to bring to the task of moving out of samsaric experience. In other words, you’re not distracted, you are not disturbed by the arising of things. And that’s how it is often described in other texts.

Section 9

The second path, the path of what’s called here The Path of Application, I prefer the translation, a Path of Accommodation. The Tibetan word is sbyor (pron. jor), which has the meaning of join. And this is where you are joining or are going through the process of adapting to the understanding that nothing has any independent existence. Which is a very significant shift in the way that we relate to things in the world. And brings up a huge amount of emotional reactivity, but it also takes quite a time to adapt to living and functioning without a sense of self, without a sense of identity, and without a reference point.

And so, whereas the emphasis of the path of accumulation is on the stabilization of attention—and we can say shamatha—the emphasis in the path of application is on coming into a deeper relationship with experience—and experience is essentially groundless—and, in preparation of the third path, which is the Path of Seeing. Now, here it’s referred to as the Path of Insight, but it’s usually translated as the Path of Seeing: seeing the nature of things.

So you’ll see that it has four stages corresponding to the realization or the direct knowing of the Four Noble Truths: heat, maximum heat, patience, and realization of the highest worldly dharma. This is wonderfully complex description of the process through which this understanding evolves.

And, if you look on Guenther’s translation in a footnote here, on page 236—I think that’s where it is—there’s a process of where a direct knowing arises. So you see that the way—we will do this in conjunction with the First Noble Truth. And the First Noble Truth says, “There is suffering.” That is, it’s saying this process of reaction is suffering. And you actually see that. And that’s a pretty jarring experience. And, so initially there is a lack of acceptance of that.

So the second stage is actually accepting, “Oh, this is how things are.” And when we accept that, it allows another level of seeing that this is really how things are, and then we’re able to accept that understanding, and that’s regarded as the full understanding, or knowing that the reactive process is suffering.

And you may have observed this in yourselves, that first we get a kind of sense of it, and we resist it, and then we take it in a bit deeper, and then we start actually functioning out of that understanding, and it’s a very different way of pursuing life. Do you understand what I mean?

And what is being done with these very, very detailed descriptions of these processes is looking at what actually happens in us. But then what they do is they turn it around and make it into this system where you have to go through these four stages here, and these four stages here, and these four stages here, and these four stages here, making a total of sixteen stages, etc. And then people have the feeling, “Oh, I have to do it in exactly that order.”

It doesn’t really work like that. But if you look at the description of each of these, you can often recognize something in one’s own experience. “Oh yes, I felt that,” or “I have experienced that.” And this is why I say these are useful as maps, in one sense, but we can also get very, very caught up in these very technical explanations.

Now, the heat that’s referred to here, is a technical term. It is often accompanied by a sense of warmth, in the navel area, in the Japanese tradition, which we call the dan t’ien—or in the Chinese tradition, I suppose; the hara, in the Japanese. But it really refers to the beginning of a shift in the way that we relate to experience. And what arises in experience, is less and less other. And there is more warmth in the relationship. That increases to a point where it becomes maximum heat, and there is some difficulty in tolerating that, because one’s way of experiencing things is shifting here, and so there’s a big letting go process, and as you are able to stay in that, then you come to this “realization of the highest worldly dharma.”

I love this! It’s as deep as your understanding can go, or your experience can go, without dropping into the direct non-conceptual knowing, which is the path of seeing, so there’s still an element of duality here, but it’s getting pretty tenuous. When you go through this, when you fully accommodate to functioning without reference, functioning without a sense of self, then you just see how things are. And that’s the path of insight.

Joe? I know that this sounds all dry and technical. I am sorry that I am not making it better.

Joe: When you directed us towards Guenther’s footnote, which has a suggestion in it which I find troubling. And that is: one must put off acceptance of reality until the moment where the reality one has experienced, is the ultimate reality, if one doesn’t want to get stuck here.

Ken: Well, yes, Guenther says that. I haven’t seen that really anywhere else, so I think there’s a little bit of Guenther in there. So thank you for raising that. There isn’t really any sense of putting it off. It’s more continuing—put it this way. If you take, as an example, the question, “What am I?” you can look and you go, “Oh, I don’t see anything.” And you say, “Okay, so that’s nice, I’m nothing.” And that’s kind of an intellectual understanding, but it doesn’t change very much.

But if you say, “Okay, what am I?” and you look, and you really look very, very deeply, then something very different starts to happen. You begin to experience being nothing. You follow? And, so not being satisfied with simply a conceptual understanding, but you keep pushing it, and pushing it, and pushing it until you actually experience being that. That’s what’s being referred to here. That make more sense to you?

Joe: Yes, this particular spiritual flypaper, which we come to, and if we keep asking the questions, we can avoid stopping. I mean it’s not like some mysterious place. Because he suggests that the three classifications of awakened beings are due to this stopping and getting stuck.

Ken: Well, what? The shravakas, pratekyabuddhas and bodhisattvas?

Joe: Yes.

Ken: This is coming from a Mahayana point of view. And they had to erect these straw guys to make themselves look good. And there is some truth in this. That is, people can look, take the question, “what am I?” and come to experience being nothing, and say, “Okay.” And so they are freed from the sense of self, in that respect, and not be curious about this whole experience. And they’re just not curious about it. And the Mahayana paths were not only curious about what we are, we’re also curious about what all this is. And similarly, when you look at all this, that too seems to be nothing. You follow?

Or the way Rinpoche explained it to me, the shravakas come to the direct experience that there is no-self. So they’re free from that, and they are freed from samsara, on the basis of that. And the pratyekabuddhas not only understand or know that there is no-self, they also know that the subject-object duality is false.

But it’s only the bodhisattvas that understand not only is there no-self and the subject-object duality is false, but also what appears as object in our experience, is equally as empty as the self. There’s simply the arising of experience. And so, there are those three levels. And that’s probably what Guenther is referring to. But it’s a question of how curious you are about experience, and some people stop at different places.

Joe: So it might be more fruitful for me particularly to think of them as they are explained earlier in this book, or, someplace else, as a resting places, rather than traps from which you cannot—

Ken: Oh, yes, and I think it’s much better to view them as places where your curiosity stops. And it doesn’t mean you are consigned to that. Or sentenced to it, but again people have their own spiritual questions. And what I encourage people to do is to take their own spiritual questions very seriously. Time and again, people sacrifice their own spiritual questions for instructions that are given. And this is where they run out of enthusiasm. And it’s because they aren’t really meeting their own spiritual questions. If you have your own spiritual questions, you will pursue this until you feel present in life. Okay?

Joe: Thank you.

Section 10

Now, you will see here we have two more lists: the five powers and the five strengths.. And you will also notice that the five powers and the five strengths have exactly the same elements in each list. The difference here is the degree to which these have developed. And again, I am not really competent to talk about this, but clearly there is a shift that takes place. So that, for instance, if you take faith: it’s something that you can use. But when you move up to the level, move from faith being a power to faith being a strength, I think you can consider an analogy of knowing how to do something and being competent in it on the one hand, and it becoming second nature, on the other. I think it’s that kind of difference being referred to here.

And then you get to the Path of Insight.

Now, the path of insight is kind of a non-path, because it occurs only for an instant. And then you are immediately into the Path of Meditation or cultivation. And by that, I mean, the path of seeing, refers to—and it’s given different descriptions, but the way I think of it is—the point at which you see the nature of things. And it’s not an energy surge, it’s an actual seeing, and it completely screws up all the samsaric functioning in you. And as we’ll see, this is the first level of bodhisattvahood, which is called The Joyful One. And you’re really happy now, because you see that samsara has absolutely no basis. Everything is empty. And there is a freedom there.

As you will see, he talks about the Four insights correspond to the Four Noble Truths, making a total of sixteen. This is where he goes into the eight patient acceptances and the eight awarenesses:

the patient acceptance of the dharma which leads to an awareness of suffering…

That’s that process which I was describing before, and got it a bit out of place. I am not quite sure how they got all of that elaborate stuff. But this is where that seeing takes place.

And then you are into what’s called the Path of Meditation, or cultivation, and what’s important here is to understand is that when you see the nature of things, the nature of experience, the nature of mind—whatever you want to call it—there’s no difference between that seeing and the seeing that the Buddha is capable of. It’s the same.

The difference is the degree in which that knowing actually manifests in your life. And that’s what the path of cultivation is about, is that it is letting this seeing, this knowing, have a fuller and fuller expression in one’s life. In the beginning, it just is taking place in one’s meditation, but then it begins to manifest in one’s life, and that’s what we will be looking at in the next chapter, because that’s exactly what the ten bodhisattva stages describe, is how that seeing gradually takes expression in all aspects of life.

Section 11

Now, here the worldly meditation practice consists of the first, second, and third, and fourth meditation stages, and the formless stages. You may recall when you were going through the six realms, we talked about the god realms, the form gods and the formless gods. This is where all of this stuff comes in. What they are describing here are very high levels of resting mind. But they aren’t a priori [unclear] associated with seeing. They are just stable, very, very stable attention. And then insection B he talks about meditation practice beyond the world. This is where you are seeing into the nature of things, where the seeing and the resting occur together. And this is different from just having a very quiet mind.

Now, you can begin to see how they are taking all of these different aspects of traditional teachings, and trying to slot them into this map of the five stages. And it isn’t making a lot of sense. And you get these very elaborate explanations, and this is what happens when you have an academic tradition. People formulate, you know, take this here, this here, and then say, oh well, we have this here, and give these very elaborate explanations of how it works, but it doesn’t all accord with actual experience.

We have people who have trained with Ayya Khema—Leigh Brasington who is one person who is doing this now—who teaches courses in the Four Jhanas, which are exactly what’s being talked about in the worldly meditation practice. And these are ways of stabilizing attention. There’s no mention of the five paths, or this is coming after the path of seeing. No, these are practices you do to develop stable attention. So don’t take the order here too seriously. Probably people will think that I am saying horrible things by doing that.

Section 12

You see, that you come down now to the bottom of section B, and you get the Noble Eightfold Path. And so from this point of view, we can’t really start practicing the Noble Eightfold Path until you have understood emptiness. Okay! There is some truth in that. Here they’re translating it as perfect view, perfect conception. This is not how I understand the eightfold path at all.

You may recall in Wake Up To Your Life that I talk about how do you practice right speech. Now in many traditional texts, you will find that there are the four, (sixteen) qualities of right speech. I think the four—I’m not sure I can remember them—but it’s truthful, it’s kind, it’s appropriate, and it’s said gently. So you aren’t screaming, or yelling, or things like that. I am not sure I have those exactly right, but it’s something along those lines. And it’s appropriate that you don’t say, even if it’s true and you say it kindly and gently, if it’s going to trigger reactive emotions and disturbing things, you don’t say it, because it’s not appropriate.

So, what people do with that is, they take that as a prescription for what they should be saying and how they should be saying it. And so they take it as a rule, and so they always try to speak in a very kind and gentle voice, and really think about what they are going to say, so that it’s true and it’s appropriate for the situation. And this is totally in the wrong direction. Because now you are engaged in even more thinking and more control of your behavior. Do you see what I mean? Contrast that with—what happens when you listen to the sound of your own voice when you are speaking. Have any of you tried this? What happens when you do that? Randye?

Randye: First I tend to say less, fewer words.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Yeah.

Randye: And it’s more connected with whoever it is I am talking with.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. So it’s more appropriate. Yeah. Are you inclined to yell and scream?

Randye: No.

Ken: No. So what I have found is that if I am paying attention, while I am speaking, then my speech naturally moves towards those four characteristics. So, I like to regard the Noble Eightfold Path as not doing things perfectly in the way it’s described here, but doing things in attention.

So, as you speak you speak in attention by listening to the sound of your own voice. And the same thing happens with movement. If you walk in attention, you walk differently, you don’t stumble over things. And that refers to action. If your attention is in the action itself, so while you’re moving your hand, you are right in that experience, then you tend not to move suddenly or jerkily. You can simply move. You can certainly move quickly if it’s called for, but there’s going to be a smoothness, because your attention is right in the action.

And the way that we look at the world, we don’t usually bring attention to that, like, “how am I looking at the world right now?” But if we start doing that, we start questioning things, and we don’t take things for granted; we let go of assumptions.

And you may recall from the Four Agreements, one of them is: don’t make assumptions. So we begin to just be completely open to what is arising. That’s moving us into the direction of right view. So if you look at these: view, conception, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and absorption—it’s our meditation. If we’re right in the experience and we are paying attention to what we’re doing there, then it’s naturally going to move us in the right direction, and it’s not about following a set of rules about, “this is what it should look like.” You all with me on that?

And then the Noble Eightfold Path starts to make a lot of sense. Because it’s about living in attention and bringing that kind of attention to absolutely everything we do. Not just how we move, but how we think. Most of the time when we’re thinking, we are not paying any attention to how we are thinking. We’re just completely lost in it. But so as soon as you start bringing attention—“Okay, how am I thinking right now? That doesn’t make much sense!” There is a self-correcting mechanism that starts to operate automatically, as soon as we bring attention to something. You follow? So I think that is what it’s referring to.

Section 13

Then the Path of Perfection—this is also translated as the path of non-cultivation—is where attention and attention in seeing is completely stabilized, as described as, and this is buddhahood. Now, it’s made to sound so remote and so extraordinary, that we can’t really imagine attaining it. But I want to raise a possibility of what is this vajra-like samadhi. Well, one could consider that it is simply a level of attention which is able to experience whatever arises. Well, that’s a fairly tall order; it is actually able to experience whatever arises.

Now, we did a whole exercise on impatience a few weeks ago, you remember that. And we fall into impatience because something arises, and we can’t experience it. And so we start pushing it away. If we can actually experience it, we never have any impatience. But I think this is a way of keeping us focused on what the real intention in practice is, and not making it sound like something that is so remote that we won’t get there for 16 or 20 lifetimes, or a gazillion kalpas, or something like that.

Can I experience this? Can I experience this? So, somebody is rude to us, and when we are short tempered with them it’s because we can’t experience that experience of somebody being rude to us. We can’t actually just open and experience it. If we could open and experience what it was, it’s just noise that someone’s making, and they’re upset, but there’s no-self in here, so what are they really attacking, and working at this on a conceptual level is completely hopeless, because that just leads to the suppression of emotions, and so we have to have the direct knowing that there’s nothing there.

Many, many years ago, I got into a disagreement with someone that was sufficiently intense that we went to third party, a mutual friend to try and talk this out. And during the discussion this person turned to me and said, ”You’re a homophobic misogynist.” And this was a very interesting experience, because I looked at this person and said, “You know, you probably could have picked any other two words in the English language and hit something, but no, you just didn’t hit anything there.” So, I didn’t even take it as an insult, it was just like, no.

And, so I could actually be in that particular experience. Now there are lots of other things people could call me, and I would probably be a little more reactive, but when you actually know that you are not a thing, then it doesn’t matter what people call you, you’re not going to react. You are actually going to be able to be in that experience. And that’s the quality that’s being referred to by vajra-like samadhi, or vajra-like absorption. It’s not some super high esoteric state of attention, it is just extraordinary stability and knowing, which isn’t disturbed by the coming and going of thoughts and emotions, and sees into the nature of thoughts and emotions as they arise. You follow?

Section 14

Okay, I think that’s all we need to do with this chapter, unless there are any questions. Now, the 37 factors [branches] of enlightenment, are the Four Types of Mindfulness, the Four Types of Perfect Abandonment, and you can add them up. There’s three groups of four, that makes twelve, then you have the Five Powers and the Five Strengths. That’s another ten, that makes 22. You have the seven something or others. I think that’s in the path of insight. Yes, you have the seven branches, and then you have the eightfold path, I think if you total that up you get to 37.

And it’s actually useful learning those 37 factors of enlightenment, because they crop up in all traditions of Buddhism; Much of the symbology of the mandala in Vajrayana practice—you have the celestial palace in which the deity resides—is based totally on the thirty-seven practices, like you have eight rafters, eight beings, which are this, and you have seven of those, four of this, and it’s all a symbolic representation of all these different aspects of awakening.

To my mind this represents the way that a great deal of Buddhist material that had been developed over centuries was organized. So that it could be systematized. In my opinion, all these organizational schemes and all these systemizations contained within them very useful insights and understandings, but they also give the impression that there is a strict path that one follows. There is stage one, stage two follows stage one, and so forth. And in my experience this is just not how spiritual growth takes place.

It’s much more like a tree growing: you can’t tell where it’s going to branch. There are certain phases that you can recognize, like there is a certain phase it’s putting down roots, another phase it’s putting up shoots, another phase it’s putting out leaves, and things like that. But the actual progress, each tree is different.

Okay? Anything else you would like me to…?

For next week, read over the chapter on the ten bhumis. You will see that in each bhumi, or each stage, there is the name, the significance, the training, the practice, what is purified, or what is removed, the understanding, the birth, and the abilities. What I plan to do is to develop basically a spreadsheet, so we can see the progression. The points that are actually interesting are the significance, the training. The practice is not particularly interesting, it just goes through the six, and then the perfections, and then the extra four, which make the ten perfections. But I think there may be some interesting material in what is cleared away in each stage; that’s the purification, and the understanding. So we’ll just take a look at that.

Then the next chapter is Buddhahood and following that, Buddha Activity. I am not sure that there is really enough material in here to warrant a separate class on each one, but I’m going to look it over this week. So we will have two or three more classes. After this, we will either have two or three more classes. I will let you know next week what that will be. Okay?

Creative Commons LicenseThis transcript by Ken McLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. This transcript has been edited to make it more readable. There may be minor differences between the audio file and the transcript.