Awakening From Belief 2


So we have a question on the table. “How do you function without a belief system?” I think this is very central. I’m willing to entertain ideas. How do you function? How do you know what to do?

Student: Respond to what you encounter.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Respond to what you encounter. You want to go a bit further with that? Isn’t that what we do anyway?

Student: Say the first one again.

Ken: Isn’t that what we do anyway?

Student: No, the first question.

Ken: How do you function without a belief system? How do you know what to do?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes? What’s your name? Let’s get names so I can get to know you. Yours?

Charlotte: I’m Charlotte.

Ken: Charlotte.

Susan: Susan.

Ken: Thank you.

Student: The task at hand.

Ken: Ah yes, but what’s the difference? I mean, isn’t that what I already do?

Susan: You plan it and you think it and you arrange it and organize it. [Unclear]

Ken: Isn’t that necessary?

Susan: I’m not sure. I don’t think so—maybe it gets me in trouble.

Ken: How does it get you in trouble?

Susan: Because I make appointments.

Ken: She makes appointments [laughter]. Is that what gets you in trouble—the appointments? No, I think you need to go a step further here.

Susan: Because then my mind takes over and it makes the appointments, and then it makes the arrangements to the appointments, and then it thinks about the appointment—they’re going to happen in the future and it takes me out of present—

Ken: Aha.

Susan: And it takes me back to the past about what happened at that last appointment.

Ken: Okay, so it’s not so much the appointments—it’s the thinking about them. Yes?

Student: You know, vested in the outcome of the situation.

Ken: That’s also important—you’re quite right, yes.

Student: [Unclear] that question how do you know what to do? Always a good one. I don’t know what to do.

Ken: And?

Student: And that’s really quite fresh. I was practicing what you said last night, to have no beliefs, even though it wasn’t light anymore.

Ken: [Laughs] That’s all right. I’ll have something for you later. [Laughter]

Student: It felt very tender, raw and stripped, and fresh. And I really didn’t know what to do but I didn’t care that I didn’t know what to do. And that didn’t mean I was careless. It was different.

Ken: So did you sit there in a puddle not knowing what to do?

Student: No.

Ken: So what did you do?

Student: Brushed my teeth, just being with the present moment.

Ken: Yeah. So you did know what to do.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: How?

Student: [Unclear] rather than planning—

Ken: Yes.

Student: Assuming.

Ken: Yeah.

Student: More intuition [unclear].


Ken: This is why I say the point is quite central because—not Charlotte, Susan?

Susan: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah, said when we operating out of beliefs, what we’re really doing is carrying an idea of how we think the world is and everything takes place in that idea of the world. When we drop beliefs then we just have what we experience.

And this shift is referred to by numerous teachers in different ways. Thich Nhat Hanh for instance says, “When you’re going from A to B, put your attention in the going, not on B.” Speaks right to your point about appointments.

So, we’re going from one meeting or one occasion to another and we’re always thinking, “Well, what do I have to do and what do I have to remember and I have to think about this,” etc., etc. And we don’t experience what’s actually happening, which is that we’re walking, or driving, or whatever. We’re moving from one situation to another. We don’t have any experience of the moving—we aren’t there for it.

Another teacher gets this point—and this is speaking more to your side of it—this is a person called Uchiyama Roshi. I don’t know whether he’s still alive. But he was a contemporary, one of the twentieth century teachers in Japan. He wrote a book called From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment. And I highly recommend it.

It’s a commentary on one chapter from Dogen’s work. It’s Dogen’s instruction to the chief cook of the monastery. And Uchiyama gives really quite a wonderful commentary, which actually is a commentary on the four immeasurables as they’re approached in Zen practice.

And at what point he says—he’s commenting on the lines—and when x, y, and z have been done, then the officer should prepare the gruel for tomorrow as tonight’s work. And Uchiyama says, “Well, this is the point. Prepare tomorrow’s gruel as tonight’s work.”

Now, where belief operates here is the idea that you might actually serve the gruel. But as Uchiyama says, you have no idea whether that’s going to happen or not. Every time we go to sleep, you have no idea whether you’re going to wake up, whether there’s going to be a war, an earthquake, a riot—I live in Los Angeles, we have these things [laughter]—or we might even die.

So, to engage in activity with the idea or the belief that you’re actually going to the result of that activity—well you’re already in a belief system. But you can’t not prepare the gruel because you know you may have two hundred monks the next day and we need something to serve them.

We have here what Uchiyama calls the fundamental paradox of human experience. We have no idea what’s going to happen in the next moment and yet we have to live as if things are going to unfold.

Or to put it in Tibetan Buddhist terms—we know we are going to die, that’s a fact, and we have no idea when. So not to plan anything because we could die at anytime is kind of silly—the eat, drink, and be merry philosophy. But equally, to plan everything very precisely and live that way—you know, like to work and orient everything in your lives to retirement—prevents us from actually experiencing our life. Was it John Lennon said, “Life’s what’s happening to you? Life is what happens to you while you’re planning for it.” So how do you live in this paradox? And Uchiyama’s point is that you do. You respond to what arises without any expectation or attachment to the results of the activity.

In one way that might sound a little depressing, but actually it’s extraordinarily freeing. It means that you can pour your heart and soul into exactly what you’re doing now. And if you happen to be around for the results—well that was nice. And if not, then the activity was meaningful in and of itself. And that’s the essence of living without belief. That the activity itself is meaningful. It’s appropriate—it’s what needs to happen in the moment.


Now, the actual application gets a little more involved than that and if we have the opportunity we’ll go into it. But I want to return now to one of the ideas that I was talking about last night. And that’s karma as the evolution of action, from action into experienced result.

The subject matter of our few days together is going to be mainly Chapter Five in this light and easy read. [Laughter] [Ken is referring to his book Wake Up To Your Life] How many here have actually read this? Oh, wow! I’m impressed. Up to this point, I only found five people who’d actually read it—the whole thing. You know—ah, ah, okay now the truth comes out. One was a totally insane psychologist in Orange County who read it in five days and said, “This is great, Ken.” But he’s totally crazy. He’s quite brilliant, but in fact the only two people I’ve talked to who’ve read it are both crazy, so.


Student: What’s crazy?

Ken: It’s like reading an encyclopedia [laughter].

Student: What about the man who wrote it?

Ken: Oh, I don’t have anything to do with him anymore. [Laughter]

Okay. What I tried to do in the section on karma was to demystify some of the ideas around karma. The organization of the chapter isn’t ideal because it [was] really still synthesizing. This was probably the most difficult chapter of the book to write for me. I started into it several times and at one point I realized I was trying to write a theory of everything and then I knew I was in trouble. I mean, Ken Wilber can write a theory of everything, but I’m not. I figure if you’re trying to write a theory of everything then you really are in trouble. So, if I were to rewrite it, I’d make the central theme the ninth meditation—so that’s where we’re going to start.


The ninth meditation is entitled Habituation or Enslavement. What we discuss here are the four results which come from an action. This is utterly traditional material. There are four conditions which have to be met for an action to initiate a process of evolution and there are four results that come out of that process.

One of the four conditions that have to be met [is] you have to intend the action. This is why there’s the distinction in the legal system between manslaughter and premeditated murder. You have to do the action or you have to cause the action to be done. You know, there has to be an actual object on which the action is acted—an object in your experience. And you have to experience the completion of the action.

So, let’s take these one by one. If I say something that isn’t true and I didn’t know it isn’t true—there isn’t the karma of lying. I have to intend to deceive. I can think about deceiving somebody all that I want, but if I don’t actually do it, that doesn’t go into my speech patterns. It may have gone into my thinking patterns but that’s another thing. It doesn’t go into my speech patterns. So it hasn’t been translated into action; so it hasn’t acted out in my world.

If I’m in a dream and I lie with the intention of deceiving someone—no karma: there’s no object. There has to be someone that we actually do this with.

And then the fourth one is a kind of thing that monks who have nothing to do but debate just love. The one that was explained to me of “move to killing,” you know. If I shoot you and you shoot me and I die before you die, I don’t experience the result of having killed you. [Students chuckle] Ways of really fine tuning here. But it’s actually important, because you actually experience the result of your action.

Now, when those four conditions are met, something in your world changes. Let’s take lying for instance. You intended to deceive a person, you told them something that wasn’t true—knowing it wasn’t true. It was a person in front of you, so it was an actual object in your experience, and you experience, “Ah, they believe me—good.”

And when those four conditions met, something happens in you. And one of the exercises is…I want you actually to try this. What it’s like, you know, what happens in you when you actually do something. And you can do something good and you can do something bad. You do it both in as much attention as you can bring to bear so you actually feel what happens in you. This is very important because once those things, those conditions have been met, that action now starts a process or becomes the seed of a process. And yesterday I talked about the acorn and the oak tree.


It’s not that lying or stealing or any of these things causes bad things to happen. But when I lie—and I’m just using lying as the example here—the way that I see the world, the way that I experience the world begins to shift.

Now, why do we lie?

Student: Protection.

Kamal: Fear.

Ken: It’s usually out of either because we want to get something or we want to avoid something, right? So, protection on the one hand; fear as you said Kamal. But also we can lie because we want to get something. So it’s either desire, or attraction, or aversion. Most of the time—some variations.

Student: There’s also just enjoy it.

Ken: We want to get something.

Student: [Unclear] the joy of it.

Ken: Yeah, yeah but that’s a desire for power, okay, and if you’re doing it for that it’s already quite nicely instilled in you. [Laughter] You’re well along on the evolutionary process here.

Student: Yep.

Ken: So, the first result is the solidification of the projection of the reactive emotion that motivated the lying. Now that’s a lot of big words.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: What does this mean? Well, when you act out of desire, you’re in the human realm; when you act out of anger, you’re in the hell realm, greed, preta realm, and so forth.

So, whenever you act, and the example we’re using here—lying out of greed, for instance, which happens all the time—you’re solidifying that way of looking at things in your own experience.

Now, how do you look at things in terms of greed. “There isn’t enough to go around, so I’m justified in doing anything I can to get whatever I need.” That is the outlook of the hungry ghost. And every time you act, you’re reinforcing that way of looking at the world. That’s the evolution. So that’s what I mean about solidification of the projection—that’s the realm of the reactive emotion that motivated the deception.



Student: Is it every time you lie, or perhaps every time you think of a lie, or think of doing it or actually fourfold process?

Ken: What I’m talking about is the actual lying, so there’s those four conditions to be met. Now, there’s also thinking things and holding onto thoughts—that sets in another evolutionary process. It’s not as powerful because it hasn’t been translated into full action, but the fact that you’ve held those thoughts does start something going. But when you act in the world, it makes everything that much more solid. Why? Because when we think of these things, we’re creating habits in ourselves which may well lead to those actions in the future. But when you act you begin to affect the actual world you do experience, and that leads us into the second and third results.


Student: I have a question about the leading [unclear].

Ken: Yes?

Student: A lot of this is about intent—my intent is to lie to you. However. if my perspective is that it will undermine [unclear]. And therefore my lying to you, that’s clearly a belief, [unclear] then is my intent different?

Ken: Run that by me again.

Student: Okay, well I was thinking about the Nazis, for example, that people would follow something if they had perspective and a belief and therefore do think that [unclear] example that they would not normally do because they have a belief. Is they’re intent [unclear] them. They’re not saying, “Well, I’m going out and killing people, I’m going out and lying to people.” They’re saying, “Need to do this—I’m liberating them.”

Ken: Yes, does it change anything? No. That may be too strong a statement. They’re still acting, they’re still going to experience the results of that. It may be attenuated somewhat because there’s fundamental delusion, but the acts still stand. And this is the problem with subscription to beliefs: they can be used to justify all sorts of…well, any action. I mean one of my main arguments against the interpretation of karma as belief is that it has been used for centuries to justify the caste system.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah. And this is a little off topic but relevant to your question and I think relevant to where we are in this society. Various societies at various times have engaged in mass delusion. Christianity justified its invasion of the Middle East and the Crusades as acting out of God’s will to liberate the Holy Land and so forth. Japanese in World War II justified the atrocities they visit upon China, particularly the rape of Nanking, because they regard themselves and the Emperor as the instrument of karma.

There’s some indication that the current administration has the idea that they’re doing God’s will or something weird like that. These are very, very dangerous delusions. I mean they’re extremely dangerous. But we find them being played out at more mundane levels. And the question I pose myself…I suppose it came up in reference to the large number, quite large number of Zen teachers, some of them very eminent Zen teachers, who fully supported the war effort in Japan.

Like, what’s going on here? And Suzuki Roshi, notably, was not one of those. He was regarded with a great deal of suspicion as a pacifist. And the question I posed myself, “What is the quality that prevents you from being confused or swept up by the prevailing social ethic?”

It’s not insight; it’s compassion. Compassion is the one quality which enables you to see suffering as it is. And so it penetrates the world view and reveals the suffering there that is caused by the inequities in whatever social system you happen to be living. So, this is creating suffering, it’s clear—that’s just it. It’s compassion that enables you to do that.

Given what is happening today and what has happened in previous societies, I think one very important understanding about our practice is that we are cultivating a sufficient level of understanding—and particularly in the area of compassion—that we wouldn’t fall into what just what you described, Leslie, where very ordinary people do horrible things because of the belief system. And [instead] just say, “This is wrong.”

Many of you may know this, but there was an experiment done…in fact, I was told there were two. The subjects of the experiments were told to administer electric shocks to a person. But the person to whom the electric shocks were being administered was an actor—there were no electric shocks. And the only reason they were to do this is part of an experiment. There was a person who came and said, “Well, yes, you need to do this.”

The electric shocks were of supposedly of increasing intensity and the actor would, you know, act in great pain. And people who ran the experiment were very surprised at how far people would go inflicting pain on another person for no reason other than someone had told them to.

The second experiment was they took a group of people at random and divided them up into two groups and said, “You’re the prisoners, you’re the guards.” And again, it was an extraordinarily short amount of time before the guards became sadistic. And there was no other division—it was totally arbitrary.

So, these reflect the power of social conditioning, and self-preservation, and all of those things. You know, adherence to authority—all of those things that blind us to the suffering that is present in the world. And going back to my point with Didiér last night—these are the dangers of operating out of belief.


Yeah, questions?

Student: [Unclear] subscription to a belief is how special good or bad in fact it’s not [unclear] through the results of the actions that come out of the belief system that we are in fact responsible for all of the actions committed because we believe.

Ken: Well said. Yes.

Student: Well, I’m mindful of the fact that the Salvation Army takes quite literally Jesus’ recorded words of, “If you love me, feed my lambs.” And the whole Salvation Army movement has a whole system of beliefs probably around that and some other sayings of that nature. And few would argue that they do a tremendous amount of good in the world in terms of feeding the hungry, for example.

And so I guess my question had to do, if believing in something whether it is quote-unquote “true or not,” if it leads to actions that are beneficial to ourselves and others how do we explain that in the light of dropping our belief systems? Would we still go on and do things but on some different cases than believing some notions or some prescriptions about beliefs, if you like?

Ken: One of the things I think is very important to remember about Buddhism—it was never intended as a social system. Buddhism is asocial. It’s not antisocial; asocial.

I mean, you look how Buddhism started. Buddha, Siddhartha grew up a prince in a rather modest kingdom actually—most of us live in much greater luxury than he enjoyed. But he lived a sheltered existence anyway. And when exposed to the vicissitudes of life—suffering, old age, death—he was thrown into turmoil, a turmoil which led him to investigate. For Buddha the core question was, “How do you live in this world of suffering?”

And when you think it about it, it’s quite an extraordinary person, because on the basis of that question he came to the understanding that the basis of suffering is belief in our own existence. And that’s why when he came to that understanding—and it wasn’t a theoretical understanding, it was a direct experience—he went, “No one’s going to believe me.” [Laughter] He’s right.

So, when we engage in Buddhist practice, it’s very much about being awake and aware and present as an individual.

For some of us that path may involve retreat from the world, as many have done and throughout history. For others and for must of us here, it involves being present in the world. And in being present in the world and, in response to Leslie’s question, that’s why I think compassion is so very important. Because compassion is what cuts through the tendency of social belief systems, which we’re immersed in, to skew our perception of things.

Now, as Buddhist institutions become part of society as they have in Asia and as they are in this country progressively, the vast numbers of people who live in society and so forth do operate under belief systems. And yes there are more benign and less benign belief systems. But the essential goal of spiritual practice, of Buddhist practice in my view, is to step out of that. So if the Salvation Army and other groups have belief systems which generate good results—yeah, I think that’s a very good thing. But that isn’t the same as the kind of practice that we’re doing here. Follow? Do you follow?

Student: I follow up to that point.

Ken: What I’m saying is that this practice isn’t about being good—this practice is about waking up. And there’s a big difference. Being good is a helpful condition for waking up but at some point the two roads diverge.

Student: I find it a little difficult here somehow because I’ve been very moved by the fact that all of Buddhism seems to be directed at becoming a compassionate person. And a compassionate person is a person who cares and the whole thrust of that seems to me to be being a friend to yourself, being a friend to others, and all [unclear] in a sense feeling responsible and involved at any rate. Now have I got it wrong? Maybe I got it wrong but if you—

Ken: I wouldn’t say—

Student: Compassion has an end and the end is it seems to be serving self and others or something like that. What does compassion mean?

Ken: I wouldn’t say you have it wrong—no. I think you need to go a little further. Lankavatara Sutra. In the Lankavatara Sutra Buddha is asked, “Why do bodhisattvas have infinite compassion for sentient beings?” Okay. You know what the reply is? “Because there are no sentient beings.”

Student: He’s serious. [Laughter]

Ken: I’m deadly serious.

Student: I love it.

Ken: So I’m going to leave that one with you and we’ll come back to it, okay?

Student: Thanks a lot.

Ken: You’re very welcome. This is very important, it’s very important.

Student: Which sutra?

Ken: The Lankavatara. I think it’s also…it’s all through the Prajnaparamitra sutras. But I know that one. I’m not sure whether it’s in the Surangama or not but, yes that one—I’m going to leave that one with you for twenty-four hours, okay?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No, we’ll come back to it.

Student: [Unclear]


Ken: Okay, results number two and three. Sorry about that little digression. Does it matter if we don’t stick strictly to schedule?

Students: [Jokingly—yes and no.]

Ken: Okay.


Now, we’ll go back to lying. As someone mentioned, when we lie we have the experience of deceiving someone. That’s gives us a little kick of power, right? Like, “Ooh.” And so lying once creates the disposition—a predisposition—to lie again. That’s part of this evolutionary process: it reinforces the tendency.

There are a lot of profound things in strange places. In one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels [laughter]—I think it’s in Goldfinger, actually, one of the mobsters who was just about to trash Bond says, “Once, happenstance. Twice, coincidence. Three times, enemy action.”

Something happens—it happens. Second time it happens—take note, maybe a coincidence, maybe not. If the same thing happens three times, you got a problem. This is well known in martial arts. You make a move, you catch a person. You make a second move, you may catch him again. You make the same move the third time, he’s waiting for you. I call it the rule of three. So, anytime you produce a dynamic three times, you’re stuck in a reactive pattern. Very useful.

The third time you catch yourself lying about something, take note. The evolutionary process is already well underway. It’s there—it’s in you. It’s happened three times now, it’s part of the way you relate to the world. And of course it just continues to accelerate because this is where the third result kicks in.


Third result is [no recording for about 30 seconds]…for people. Anybody?

Student: The separation of I and other.

Ken: Oh, yes, right. How do they regard you?

Student: Suspicion.

Ken: Yes. And if they regard you with suspicion, how are they going to relate to you? Well, maybe not openly hostile but at least guarded, etc. And what’s that going to impel you to do?

Student: Lie more.

Ken: Lie even more, because you can’t have an honest exchange, so you’re going to wheel and deal and try and manipulate them and things like that.

So, the second and third results: second result is the predisposition it creates in you; and the third result is the way that it skews your world of experience. They interact with each other so that line becomes more and more logical. Now you see how you get trapped? You’ve reinforced the projection. You created the condition so it’s actually more and more necessary for you to lie and you’ve created more and more disposition in yourself to lie.


You have a question?

Student: You said that earlier how does it change your entire reality…I just quickly ran through the four stages involving lies and aside from anyone else, or the scale of this, saying the Nazi war or Iraqi war.

Ken: Right.

Student: The moment you do something it seems, it occurred to me, you live in a world of people who do that thing.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Student: In other words the moment you lie, you live in a world of liars.

Ken: Yes.

Student: The moment you are compassionate, you live in a world of compassion. So even if you find yourself [unclear]. If you’re still not participating in that deception, that selfishness, or that belief system. You’re not really living in those [unclear].

Ken: Yes, there are certain practical considerations but you’re stepping out of the social construct.

Student: Would you say we create a world of whatever we do?

Ken: That’s right, yeah. And our world is more or less aligned with the world that’s out there. Yeah. that’s right.


Fourth result. If you lie a lot how do you perceive things?

Student: [Unclear] skewed, threatened.

Ken: Yeah, everything is skewed, threatening. You can’t see, you don’t think there’s enough to go around—you have to do, things like that. So it moves you into the hungry ghost realm actually. You had a question back here?

Student: Yeah, I’ve had this question for a long time here and [unclear] it keeps coming back to me through my own experience I can’t understand how you don’t create karma when you don’t have intent. In other words, if you’re unaware, I don’t understand how that doesn’t create karma. How intent is a condition to that? For example, it seems to me once you start the cycle you almost like you lose contact with your intent.

Ken: It’s a subtle point. Once the cycle or the process is started, then it tends to be self-reinforcing. But every time you intend to do something, you reinforce it even more. But as time goes on—as the process unfolds—you have less and less choice about it. And that’s why the choice points in our lives become extremely important.

For instance, a lot of people think of karma as a balancing mechanism in the universe—it’s what makes the universe just. Well, that’s just a projection of the human value of justice on the world. It’s nonsense—it’s totally unjust. When you really appreciate how karma operates—I mean how this process operates—you realize that you have about as much room to move as a violin in a violin case. Fortunately, it’s enough.

So, the choice points—to go to your point that you were raising—are few and fleeting. That’s why mindfulness is so very, very important. Because through the practice of attention, through the cultivation of attention, the practice of mindfulness, you actually create more and more choice points. So you can begin to act out of intention and to move things in a different way.

Student: Can you give an example please?

Ken: Sure. If you aren’t aware—if you aren’t awake—then the reactive processes just run and they’re self-reinforcing in the way that we’ve just talked about. You use an instrument of mindfulness, and one of the ones that I’ve found quite useful is, “What is my intention in doing this?” Just ask that for absolutely everything that you do. What happens, “What is my intention in doing this?” [Snaps fingers] Stop for a moment and there’s a possibility of coming into presence.

Now, you may go the habituated way, but at least you’ve stopped the process for a moment. Or you may say, “Oh, this doesn’t feel right.” You give it that opportunity for something else to arise, some other kind of knowing to arise. And now you can go in a different direction. You follow?

I’ll give you an example from one of my students. He’s a stockbroker and there was a person in his office whom everybody disliked. Of course, this person who was disliked was always trying to strike up a conversation with someone because no one would speak to him. And because he was always trying to strike up a conversation with someone, everybody kept shunning him. It’s just exactly what we’re talking about.

This came up in a class on the four immeasurables. I can’t remember where; I think it was in the equanimity section. So I said to him, “Well, make him an object of equanimity.” And next time the group got together he said, “You know, he turned out to be a really nice guy.” [Laughs]

Something had happened that skewed this. Everybody had this idea of him, but [my student] just stopped and said to the guy, “How are you today?” In other words, he just stopped and didn’t go his habituated way—the way everybody else was—just right there. Then his whole experience and the whole interaction and understanding—everything shifted.

Student: It was there all along.

Ken: It was there all along. He wasn’t making any choice, he was just acting. That’s why I say the choice points are very important. Okay? And the choice points only come when you’re awake to some degree. Okay.


So, what I’ve tried to do is sketch out the basis and what I want you to do—

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Fourth point is how we actually perceive the world. Okay? So to review, they are the full ripening, that’s the traditional term, of the reactive emotion—of the projection of the reactive emotion—that’s driving the action. That’s one of the six realms, hungry ghost realm, hell realm, etc., etc., and we’ll go into more of those later. Then there’s the predisposition which has developed in you—that’s the second result. The third result is the way that your world of experience now interacts with you. Which also reinforces the process. And fourth is how you see the world. How you think about, view and see the world.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: That’s exactly right—yeah. Well, it reinforces. That’s why it’s an evolutionary process. All of these things conspire to keep moving you in that direction. And that’s why I say karma isn’t a balancing force. It’s describing how things evolve.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was once asked, “Why do we practice?” He said: “To make the best of a bad situation.” [Laughter]

I remember one of Trungpa Rinpoche’s talks—he came in, sat down, didn’t say anything, just sat there. After about five minutes he said, “It’s hopeless.” [Laughter] And his whole talk consisted of him saying that for about two hours. I think he was trying to make a point.


Okay, so in your meditation what I would like to do over the next, I don’t know, twenty-four, forty-eight hours, want to work through what are known as, well, let’s see. Next twenty-four hours, we’ll work through the ten non-virtuous acts. And that’s a lot to do in that short of period of time, so just pick ones—pick your favorites. Okay?

For those of you who are not familiar, you have a choice of ten here. They are: killing, stealing, inappropriate sexual relations, lying, slander, harsh language, gossip, malevolence, envy, and skepticism.

Now, I’m going to suggest that you start off by picking one of the first three. [Laughter] Killing, stealing, inappropriate sexual relationships. Why? This is in the body, you know, it’s not subtle. But I want to move it into some areas of subtlety.

Stealing is a good one because we’ve all done it one way or another. One of the ways of talking about stealing is taking that which is not given. Now, material objects, that’s not so bad. I mean, so we take a paper clip from the office—well, big deal. But there are other things that we do which are a little more subtle. How many times you’ve taken affection which wasn’t given? Or taken trust which wasn’t given? So there’s a lot of things that happen in relationships.

In terms of killing—how many times have you killed your own creativity or somebody else’s creativity? How many relationships have you killed? So, there’s physical killing, but there are also other forms of killing. When we’re doing these, I would like you to think about that.

Inappropriate sexual relations are ones which cause other people suffering. I’ve found that the most useful rule of thumb. Yes?

Student: How about others or yourself though?

Ken: Yes. Yep. Okay. Now, what I want you to do is go through your life—this is a reflective meditation.

Let your mind settle down for about fifteen or twenty minutes and then take one of these three and start going through incidents in your life. The point here isn’t to beat yourself up. Never found that that’s very useful, even though I’m an expert at it. I just haven’t found it useful. The point is to appreciate what you are doing to yourself by acting in these ways. What you’re doing to your world of experience, so that in the way that I was describing earlier—when you deceive someone intentionally you are introducing something into the world of your experience, the totality of your experience—which is going to create more and more imbalance. And that’s what karma describes: how that imbalance is created and what the results of it are. And that an imbalance requires more and more imbalance to keep itself going, so it just is a vicious cycle.

And the purpose of this practice is seeing for yourself. And this is why it’s not about a belief system. By looking at the effects of these actions on you and what you experience, you begin to think, “Hmm, maybe I don’t want to do this after all.” Is everybody clear about that? Any questions?


Now, the four results again are the solidification of the reactive emotion, or the way that that reactive emotion sees the world and that that just becomes very solid. The predispositions which are created internally. The way that your world of experience perceives and relates to you. And the shift in the way that you view and see the world. And then—

Student: Ken could you state the difference between the solidification and the just…number one and four seem awfully similar.

Ken: The fourth is more about perceptual distortion. It’s at the level of the senses. I was just going to read—all of you will recognize this:

Red Riding Hood: What big eyes you have, Grandma.

All the better to see you, my dear.

What big ears you have.

All the better to hear you.

And what big teeth you have.

All the better to eat you.

Which describes the child’s view of the grandmother or the mother or whatever when things aren’t right between them. The way you actually see them shift. So it’s more moment to moment perception rather than just the solidification of the whole world view. Okay?

Student: Is it a change of view that [unclear]?

Ken: Yes, it’s a change of view, yeah. For instance, when you are in love, you tend to see your beloved as having large radiant eyes that flood you with attention. [Laughter] Anybody have that experience? [Laughter] You know, I mean their eyes haven’t changed, but that’s how you see them. Right?

Student: Right.

Ken: In the example of stealing, your perception of the incoming cash changes, you regard it as yours. You know? A lot of research has been done on criminality, both white collar and blue collar, and the white collar crime, very definitely. You know, you have thousand dollars in your bank account, well actually that thousand dollars is mine. It just happens to be in your bank account. And I just have to figure out how to get it out of your bank account because that’s not where it should be. But it’s actually my money. That’s what I mean about a perceptual change. Okay? And this kind of thing is used to justify lying all the time. You know, “Well, this is how it should be, so I’m just going to make it happen.” The most expedient way to do it.

Student: So, in the exercise are we supposed to go over our past of killing say, creativity, small animals, whatever—

Ken: Human beings, I don’t know. It’s up—

Student: And just reflect on sort of [unclear] how you feel and we reflect on it and what it does to us as far as solidifying and—

Ken: Yes, right, and actually look. “Okay, I did this. How did it change me?” Or, “If I were to do this, how would I see things?” So you actually get the feeling of how these things…and how would people perceive me.

The point here is to take this out of the idea there’s some kind of mysterious process out there called karma operating, pulling the strings, and creating all of this. It’s not like that at all—it’s very direct and you just observe that, and you see, “Yeah, when I do this, that happens. When I do that, this happens.”


Student: I got a question. You talked about the rule of three.

Ken: Yeah.

Student: Does that correspond in a way between lifetimes in three? Is a lifetime three actions?

Ken: One could probably interpret it that way. But let’s leave that for a little bit later because the discussion of lifetimes and things like that, there are ways of looking at that which I think are more helpful and less helpful. I don’t think we have to make absolute correspondences that way. Okay. Any other questions? Yes?


Student: In the course of this exercise would you suggest that we concentrate on a particular event or perhaps a series of events that are similar?

Ken: I would concentrate on a particular action, one of those three, your choice. And review your history and relationship with it in terms of how acting in this way has or has not changed your world view and the way the world relates to you. Rather than a particular event. You want to get a view of the whole process connected with that particular action. Okay? So, your choice which. Any other questions before we begin?

Student: Yeah, what three again?

Ken: Killing—

Student: Oh no, back to the solidification, please.

Ken: Oh, those—

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Oh, the six realms?

Student: No, no, you just…four—

Student: Four results.

Ken: Four results. Okay.

Student: Third one.

Ken: The first result is the solidification of the realm projected by the reactive emotion. The second is the predisposition that’s created in you. The third is the way that your world of experience responds…relates to you. And the fourth is the shift in the way you perceive things moment to moment. Okay?

You know where the word outlaw came from? Scandinavian society, you know, which was a pretty tribal society back in the Dark Ages and so forth. If you killed someone, well you killed someone. But when you went to somebody and you said, “Could I have a job?” You had to tell them that you killed somebody. You said, “You know, I killed so and so,” and they could relate to you. If you didn’t tell them that, then you were an outlaw—you were outside the protection of the law. It was a way in that society of knowing who you were dealing with. And as long as you were straightforward about who you were dealing with, because apparently people killed each other all the time, you had the protection of the law. But if you didn’t and you deceived people, then you had no protection.


Student: [Unclear] [Much laughter]

Ken: Okay, let’s take a five or ten minute break and then we’ll return for meditation.

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.