Awakening From Belief 10b


You’re very, very clear about it and you’re very clear about what you feel and what you’re doing. No emotional confusion. It’s very simple.

Okay, pattern process. This is a little complex, and of course, the first topic wasn’t brief after all. I can give you instructions here. It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. Take a large piece of paper. Draw a circle.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: If you wish, or you can just listen. Number it evenly around from one to eight, not like a clock—twelve, just in eighths: one, two, three four, five, six, seven, eight.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon? This is all on page 161 [of Wake Up To Your Life]. I purposely did not put this chart in the book because the publisher was concerned it would frighten too many people away. [Laughter] Oh, publishers have all kinds of…I mean, you see the detailed index in the back of the book, page 455? Okay. He would not let me put that index in. He said it would be too intimidating to people, and people would pick it up, and they would just not buy it. So, wimps!

Okay, number one: perception of a situation that triggers the imperative. That’s where you experience resonance. And so an event arises, it resonates with something in you.

Student: Do we write that down?

Ken: Yes, that’s number one. Perception of a situation that resonates or triggers the imperative, the way that we were talking about earlier.

Student: Can we write, “The perception triggers?”

Ken: Sure, because it’s all on page 161. Didier’s got it open there. Now, when that happens, number two, you fall out of awareness, or, awareness is obscured, or however you want to put it. As you fall out of awareness there’s first the perception of other and then the construction of an I in opposition to the other. Yes, Josephine?

Josephine: [Unclear]

Ken: [Laughs]

Student: Is that three and four?

Ken: That’s three: the emergence of duality. The movement from the fallout of awareness, and the emergence of the dualistic framework of perception. So I would just sooner say duality if you want to keep it short.

Student: And they’re in conflict?

Ken: They aren’t in conflict. There’s just I and other.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, but the way that that actually happens is that the perception of other comes first, because you take the clarity aspect of mind and see it as something other, and then the I arises in opposition to that.

Student: [Unclear]…the reaction…[unclear]

Ken: Yes, yeah. Now, as soon as there is a sense of I, all experience is immediately edited. It’s just a basic triage. What supports the sense of I? What threatens the sense of I? And what doesn’t affect the sense of I? And so you have the three. Then, the emergence of preference, or what are known in the Abhidharma as the feeling tones—vedana—pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. So, all experience is either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. That’s number four. That’s what you can call “preference.”

Number five, the emergence of the three poisons—attraction, aversion, and indifference. You’ll see them translated as other things, like passion or desire or hatred or things like that, but I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve decided that these are very deep-level patterns, and they haven’t really emerged into the level of ordinary emotion. They’re much deeper than that, so you have attraction, aversion, and indifference, and then out of attraction, well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes. Pleasant, unpleasant, indifference are qualities of experience. Attraction, aversion—pleasant, unpleasant—and neutral are qualities in the experience. Attraction, aversion and indifference are reactions to those qualities.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes, basically. Pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral are qualities in the experience; so, if I see a bowl of fruit and I’m hungry—pleasant, and then I’m attracted to it. If somebody sticks a pin in my hand, the sensation is unpleasant. I feel aversion towards it. Somebody walks by in a gray coat—neutral. I don’t care—indifference. So, those are the fundamental reactions—attraction, aversion, and indifference.


Now, now things get a little crazy. Beside number six draw a smaller circle.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: The elemental reaction chain.

Student: Oh my god.

Ken: Elemental reaction chain. There are actually five of them, so if you really want to be fancy you can draw five circles.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon?

Student: Or you can refer to the chart.

Ken: Oh yes, that’s right.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Well, that’s a table more than a chart. Yeah, page 153. Now, I’m just going to run through one of the reaction chains so that you understand how it works. We’ll use the earth reaction chain. These are the five elements—rigidity. You want a physical demo of this? Okay.

Student: Yeah, sure.

Ken: Larry, you know Aikido [laughter].

Student: Yeeha!

Ken: No, we’re not going to throw each other around the room.

Student: Have a street fight here.

Ken: [Laughter] Come on up. You familiar with push hands?

Larry: Mm…it’s been awhile since…

Ken: Just one hand, the other hand. Now, I don’t know how to put this on tape. Okay, I’m going to demonstrate rigidity. What I want you to do is just push. Just push. That’s what happens with rigidity. Now, when you’re feeling rigid and you push, notice how my body is? How do I feel inside?

Student: Very tense.

Student: [Unclear] trying to maintain…

Ken: Inside the tension.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah. I’m tense outside because I’m hollow inside. I’m trying to protect that hollowness. You follow? Yes. Everybody’s like this. When you see a person coming into a room like this, you know that they have no confidence in themselves.

Student: When they’re rigid?

Ken: Yes. Okay, now—no we’re not finished yet. The reaction cycle is very, very fast. As Larry pushes, I tense, so I’m protecting that hollowness. Just don’t push quite so quickly this time, until I’m good here. I tense, and when I feel that push I feel the hollowness, and inside that hollowness is a fear of losing stability, a fear of losing balance, which has all of these same feelings as if the ground is shaking under your feet—earthquake, okay.

Student: Lack of center.

Ken: Pardon?

Student: Lack of center.

Ken: You can look at it this way. “The ground isn’t steady, I’m going to lose my balance.” And so you react to that by locking up, grabbing at anything you can, fixating on some reference point. And then you’re imprisoned in your own rigidity. Of course, when you’re imprisoned in your own rigidity, and there’s still that pressure coming, then you just go around again, and it’s very, very fast. So, he pushes, I tense, and I just keep tensing, and he keeps pushing, an of course I can’t stand.

Now, the way out of this reaction cycle, which is actually Chapter Six, but which we’ll just show here, is I don’t do anything. Push, push, keep pushing. He’s pushing quite hard, right?

Larry: Mm-hm.

Ken: Yeah, and what I’m doing here is I’m not pushing against the push. I’m just receiving the energy and letting the energy flow through my body into the floor. So you feel like you’re pushing against the floor. And you can do the same. This is demonstrating this physically, but the same thing operates in conversation. If you tense, you know, then you get locked into your position, and things get very inflexible, and then you have two people bashing each other with their respective positions. But if you just relax and say, “Yes, that’s what you think, this is what I think,” you never get into that. Now you’ve got two different opinions, but if you don’t tense up and get rigid, it doesn’t escalate. Thanks very much.

Larry: Thank you.


Student: So the circle is the [unclear]?

Ken: The circle is the reaction cycle. I won’t go into the details of it because it’s another whole seminar in itself. Five elements, yes.

Student: Wouldn’t the rigidity eventually lead to [unclear] so that you fall over and break?

Ken: That’s exactly right.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, that’s right, and…yeah.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, yeah. Earth either goes into water or goes into void, and what you’re describing is going into void—it shatters. So, in each reaction cycle you have the reactive posture, which is in this case rigidity. I can’t remember what’s on the table on page 151, but you can read it there yourself—the underlying feeling, which is hollowness or vulnerability; the underlying fear, which is an experience of openness actually, that is, has the flavor of fear; and the reaction to the fear, which is in the case of earth, it’s grasping; and then the full expression of that grasping, which is like imprisonment—you’re locked in your rigidity. And so it just goes around and around like that.

Now, there’s a similar cycle for each of the five elements, and I’m not going to go into the details this evening. As I said, the five elements is a whole ’nother thing, but the thing is that as we go round and round those cycles in our lives, energy is stored in the cycle, and that energy begins to solidify, and what it solidifies into is step number seven. I think, are we at seven? Yeah. Which is, it solidifies into one of the six realms. Now, which of the six realms depends on the particular make-up. Any of the elements can solidify into any of the realms—there isn’t a correspondence. But you can see easily how the tendency to rigidify could precipitate the hell realm for instance, and there’s a…

Student: Couldn’t it precipitate the god realm…?

Ken: Exactly, yep, that’s right.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, that’s right, yep. Now, there’s also a self-reinforcing cycle, so you draw another circle beside seven, in which the realm reinforces it and that’s what we were discussing right at the beginning of this retreat when I was having you act out of a certain realm. You create the conditions in which that realm is actually reinforced in you. So, there’s another cycle there, and in this way you store energy in that cycle so that it becomes more and more solid, becomes the only way that you can see the world. Paul Wolfowitz is a good example—he’s into never-ending war. Guess which realm he’s in?

Student: Hell.

Student: God.

Student: Who?

Ken: Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Student: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ken: You know…pardon?

Student: God.

Ken: Actually, he’s more in the hell realm.

Student: Or the titans, because the gods’ realm is really, like, Dick Cheney.

Student: Why the hell realm as opposed to the god…?

Ken: Because he has to oppose everything—it’s constant opposition.

Student: I see.


Student: In our lives can we be in multiple realms with different areas of our lives or is our tendency to go to one…?

Ken: Well, this is going back to Pat’s question. We aren’t any one kind of person. Everybody has all six realms, or is in all six realms. And that’s why it’s called samsara, because you move around from realm to realm, just depending on what reactive pattern is triggered and what circumstance. And you are born and reborn in the realms all the time.

Trungpa does a very nice job on this in Cutting through Spiritual Materialism. Some people spend more of their time in one of the realms than some of the others, but one of my students—actually several of my students—you know, they started on the six-realm meditation, and they go “Hm.” I go through the six realms and say, “Do this one,” and I have people meditate on each realm for about a month. And they go, “Oh, I could really connect with the hell realm.” Yeah, okay, anger type. And they get to the hungry ghost realm, but as they progress in their practice—and certainly what I’ve found myself—you see more and more clearly that you have each realm in you, maybe at a little subtler level, but it’s there. And you just need to hit the right circumstances, and suddenly you’re looking at the world like there just isn’t enough. “There’s never going to be enough; I have to grab everything that I can get,” and you’re in the hungry ghost realm. And then something happens and it’s wonderful.

In this section here, I talk about how the realms are paired. I came across this in a retreat, because we were doing it on the six realms. There’s the traditional pairings, which are the gods and the hell realms, the titans and the hungry ghosts, and the animal and human realm. That’s a pairing based on degree of patterning. The animal and human realms have the least, and the titans and hungry ghosts is at the emotional level, and the gods and hell realms, it’s total. And that’s why you have these extraordinary long lifetimes in those realms, because you get into those realms and you just stay there.

There’s also a pairing on habituation, so that the animal realm is paired with the god realm because pride comes out of stupidity, and pride produces stupidity or automatic functioning. Desire and greed are obviously related, and jealousy and anger. But there’s another one that I discovered, because I had a couple of very competitive businessmen at this retreat, and when they started doing the meditation on emptying the realm—the titan realm which they were really familiar with—they would come in for their interviews totally dazed, like deer-in-the-headlights dazed. [Laughter] And when the first one came in like that I went, “Oh that’s interesting.” And then the second one came in in exactly the same state and I went, “Huh.” And then I started to think about it. When competition is not possible you don’t know how to function—you end up in the animal realm. Okay? But what happens when you push an animal? Now most of the time it’ll just walk away or run away, but if you don’t let it, what happens?

Student: It bites you.

Ken: It gets very competitive; moves to the titan realm. Now, god realm is paired with the hungry ghost realm in this way. When you are very, very greedy, but there’s no longer any possibility of exercising your greed because you have so much, where do you end up?

Student: The $18,000 [unclear].

Ken: Yeah. You end up in a god realm. And when your god realm is shattered, where do you end up? You get very, very greedy. People whose stuff has been taken away from them, and then there’s a connection between the hell realm and the human realm. When you remove the possibility of fighting—of opposition—people focus on what they want: human realm. And parents use this all the time with children. “You’re fighting over the toy. Next one who says a word, the toy’s gone. What do you want to do with it?” “I’d like to do this.” “Okay, let’s do that.” They stop fighting because you’ve removed it. They focus on what they want. On the other hand, when people have their ability to enjoy taken away from them, what do they do? All revolutions start when the middle class loses its wealth.

Student: Hm. Well, we may be seeing that soon enough. [Laughter]

Ken: Okay.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon?

Student: Is that how the Russian Revolution started?

Ken: Russian, yep, and that’s how the French Revolution started. It’s never when the peasants lose their wealth—they don’t have any. Revolutions that start with the peasants don’t usually become revolutions; they peter out.

Student: The middle class will use the peasants as their…

Ken: Yeah, the middle class will use the peasants, but it isn’t till the middle class is hurting that revolution really takes hold.

Student: [Unclear]…the flat tax…[unclear]

Ken: Well, if you read Krugman’s book on—I can’t remember what’s it called—but he says that the current concentration of wealth is now greater than it was in the Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century.

Student: Oh.

Student: [Unclear]…the titans…[laughter].


Ken: Yes?

Student: I have no doubt that these realms are familiar to me, all of them. And last night when we were driving back, we were having a discussion in the car about patterns, and I was talking about the ones that have come up for me in my meditation and looking for the imperative and seeing if it was similar [unclear], and so it turned out that they were similar. And I think you said that that pattern when you find it, it’s everywhere in your life.

Ken: Yes.

Student: So let’s take this pattern that is everywhere in my life—does it exist in all the realms or how is that related? Does each pattern have its own realm and I have all the realms in the pattern, or…I’m confused.

Ken: Well, it gets very complex because you probably have two or three patterns. I’ve found that most people have usually about two or three core patterns, sometimes four. If you have more than four you’re crazy. [Laughter] Because then you’ve got a very fragmented personality—zips all over the place. And different circumstances can produce totally different personalities. We have the illusion that we have a consistent personality but it’s not. Our personalities are much more like shards of a shattered mirror, and we move from the reflection in one shard to the reflection in another shard, and we think we’re the same person. People around us go like, “Huh?” But we think we’re the same person. We don’t notice that we’ve moved. So, don’t try and track it all down and sort it out. Just bring your attention to what you’re experiencing. You identify a pattern, don’t worry about, “Is it this realm or that realm?” You’ll find out by just experiencing it. You follow?

Student: I do.

Ken: Yeah.

Student: I do [unclear]…different patterns can be experienced in different ways…

Ken: Oh yeah, I mean it can produce many different realms. You know?

Student: The same pattern?

Ken: The same pattern, depending on the circumstances.

Now, number eight is reaction to the projected world. Well, that brings us right back to number one you see. Because here you have this whole way of looking at things, this whole way of interacting with everything. And the way that you look at things causes you to see things in such a way that it reinforces your projections. So, something will resonate with a pattern inside and you fall out of awareness and you go round the whole thing. So, you’ve got two cycles which store attention—one in the five elements, one in the six realms—and then you’ve got this whole other cycle which stores attention in the way that it runs around and around and around. And this is why we keep repeating ourselves again and again and again, because this is how energy is stored in the reactive patterns.

Now, what you’re doing in your meditation—through the cultivation of energy—is that you are developing energy, so that what would normally flow into the reinforcement of the reactive patterns actually starts to flow into attention, and it starts changing the dynamic. Just that starts changing the dynamic, but I’m going to talk more about that tomorrow. I just wanted to give you the big picture. Okay, Leslie?


Leslie: [Unclear] you have said a lot about energy, and if we have so much of our energy trapped in these patterns, [unclear] these reactive patterns, do you have more energy?

Ken: Yes.

Leslie: And are we [unclear]?

Ken: Well, that’s partially because we live very, very complex and demanding lives. But when this energy is freed, it shows up more—not necessarily as more energy, but certainly more ranges of freedom, more latitude to move. You can think things that you couldn’t think before, you can feel things you couldn’t feel before, you can do things you couldn’t do before, you know.

Leslie: It’s freedom.

Ken: It’s really freedom, yeah.

Student: Flexibility.

Ken: Flexibility. You know, it’s like White Queen says to Alice. Alice says to her, “Well, that’s impossible.” “Oh nonsense, you can think of what’s impossible. I think of at least three impossible things before breakfast every day.” You think that’s bad—try Humpty Dumpty, in the garden, you know. “You think that’s a hill? Why, I’ve seen hills compared to which that hill is a valley.” [Laughter]

Okay, we’re going to take a break here, just a quick one. We’ll do one period of meditation to conclude this evening. I’ll continue with the interviews. Okay, so we’ll just go down here, and so take five and we’ll be back.


We’ve put in three very full days, and we have tomorrow morning. I’ve given you quite a bit of material—there will be tests tomorrow. [Laughter]

Student: Multiple choice?

Ken: Pardon?

Student: Multiple choice?

Ken: No, no. [Laughter]

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: [Unclear] [Pause]

One of the things I’ve been trying to convey in our time together is that being in your experience, in attention, is what counts, and that in the end, that’s what all of the practices are aimed at. When you get into some of the more esoteric practices—deity practice and so forth—that may not be obvious at first glance, or on first contact. There are all kinds of misunderstandings about practice. I keep running across them in the Theravadan tradition, in the Zen tradition, in the Tibetan tradition, and elsewhere, and it’s very unfortunate.

It’s one of the reasons why, as we started to work together, we had these teaching sessions more as discussions—there’s been a lot of questions and back and forth, and also taking quite a time in the interviews, because I want you to understand as much as possible that practice is about being in your experience, whatever that experience is. In the very impressive formulations we have in the Indo-Tibetan tradition, it’s very easy to lose track of that. Very easy. And one of the things that I’m trying to train some of the people I work with in Los Angeles—and I very much encourage you to do the same thing—is when you read traditional texts, always ask the question: What does this mean experientially? What experience is being pointed to here?

For instance, in the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, it describes bodhicitta—awakening mind—as being, I can’t remember quite, but the first one is weak and then firm, and there are a couple of other categories. Then the commentary simply says weak is when it relies on others, and firm is when it relies on your own experience. Now, what does that mean experientially? Well, when we hear about something like bodhicitta, awakening mind, many people feel very inspired, and think, “Wow, what a wonderful attitude, what a wonderful way to approach the world. I’d like to do that, too.” Now, that’s a really good thing, but because it is depending on somebody else’s experience, it’s a weak form of motivation. But as you do this and you’re inspired by somebody else and you start working at it, then at a certain point you actually experience it yourself. The whole ball game’s changed at that point. Now it’s no longer an idea. It’s something you’ve experienced. You may have only experienced it fleetingly, whether it’s during your meditation or maybe when you’re taking a break in your meditation and you’re walking around, and you know, “I really want to wake up to help others,” and it’s like this totally selfless opening in your heart, and sometimes you’re kind of shocked like, “Oh, I didn’t know I was capable of that; let’s forget about that now.” It’s too late.

Student: It is a bit [unclear].

Ken: No, not getting there tonight. But it’s firm now. Now you can’t argue it because you’ve experienced it yourself, so in those few words in that one paragraph from Jewel Ornament, that’s what’s being referred to, and yet most people just read that and skim over it and think, “Oh that’s nice.” All of the instructions that you receive, all of the descriptions, all of those many, many lists are the stored experience of people who’ve practiced and thought about practice a lot, and learn how to decipher them, learn how to unpack them, learn how to translate them into your own experience so that they become alive for you. And that’s really what I’ve been trying to do in our days together, and very much appreciate your efforts. There’s a tremendous amount of willingness and interest—that makes a good teaching situation, so that’s great. And get a good night’s sleep, and we’ll complete our time together tomorrow. Now, one thing…


Student: The books?

Ken: Yes, people have asked [about] recommended books. So, this is just off the top of my head, and I’ll go slowly. Words of My Perfect Teacher is comprehensive; it deals with many layers, many levels of practice. Words of My Perfect Teacher—the translation that’s out there by the Padmakara Group is very good. By the same group is their translation of the Bodhicaryavatara, which I think is called The Way of the Bodhisattva. Another book which hasn’t been out for that long, but is again very, very comprehensive, thorough, and a completely traditional treatment is Kangyur Rinpoche’s. It’s obviously compiled from his tapes because he died many years ago, and it’s called Treasury of Precious Qualities.

Student: How do you spell Kangyur?

Ken: Kangyur? I think it’s K-A-N-G-Y-U-R. Tsele Natsok Rangdrol is very good, so The Lamp of Mahamudra is wonderful. It’s short but very, very complete experiential treatment of mahamudra. It’s called The Lamp of Mahamudra—I’ve taught that word by word. I actually have the Tibetan—Erik Schmidt’s a very capable translator, but his wife Marcia mucks things up a bit.

Student: [Unclear] who?

Ken: Pardon?

Student: What was the name of the [unclear]?

Ken: Tsele: T-S-E-L-E-K I think, maybe G. Natsok: N-A-T-S-O-G. Rangdrol: R-A-N-G-D-R-O-L. He’s got a couple of other books out, but he’s great, he’s just really good. There’s lots of other good stuff out there. I’m not very well versed in all of the books—I just don’t read that much—but those are very good in the Tibetan tradition.

Zen tradition, everybody knows Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, which is just very solid. There’s another book which isn’t as well known which I like better and that’s From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment by Dogen and Uchiyama. U-C-H-I-Y-A-M-A. I think that’s how you spell it. But it’s available from Weatherhill [original edition; now available from Shambhala], and it’s called From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment [How to Cook Your Life]. I think it was published under another title at one point—Instructions to the Cook, but what it consists of is a translation of a chapter from one of Dogen’s works which is The Instructions to The Cook. That’s very, very dense, and there’s like fifty billion footnotes in it explaining various Japanese terms and so forth, and then there’s Uchiyama’s commentary, in which he goes through it section by section. And what Uchiyama describes there—I think very, very well—is what it’s like…the right kind of effort to be making to live in awareness. So it’s very good.

Another book which I think everybody should read is Mindfulness in Plain English by Gunaratana [available here]. Almost all books in the Theravadan tradition are either commentaries on the Full Awareness SutraThe Full Awareness of Breathing Sutra— or The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra, which, by the way, are the two fundamental sutras for Zen, though nobody talks about that. This is a commentary essentially on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra. But Gunaratana is a Sri Lankan monk. It’s very, very good. I had the pleasure of doing an afternoon workshop with him in Boston about six or eight years ago. Listening to him give meditation instruction is like listening to a string quartet. I mean, just so clear, just wonderful.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Mindfulness in Plain English. Now, there’s another book I wanted to mention—oh, yes, yes, yes. The Diamond Sutra by Red Pine—it’s one of the finest commentaries on any sutra I’ve seen.

Student: Red…?

Ken: Red Pine.

Student: One word?

Ken: No, two words. It’s his name—Red Pine, you know. He studied deeply in Taiwan. He writes a commentary and goes through chapter by chapter, and he’s very good because he describes very clearly what’s going on in the exchange between Buddha and Subhuti, at each step. I mean, when you read the Diamond Sutra, it’s like it’s saying the same thing over and over again, but it’s actually moving through certain mind states, and so there’s subtleties in it. And he brings these out very well, and then he includes numerous commentaries on that section by Indian and Chinese and contemporary teachers. Yes?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Does he?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Oh.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, but, it’s very good. That’s enough reading to get started. Okay.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon?

Student: [Unclear] [Laughter]

Ken: Okay, well have a good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.

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.