Awakening From Belief 3


We’re the ones that don’t exist. While we’re waiting for people to gather, one of the things that I enjoy very much is just responding to questions so let’s be a little informal here and anything that’s come up through your practice this morning or through anything that’s been said or questions about other topics that you might be interested in hearing a different point of view or the same old point of view. I don’t know. Yes?

Student: I’ve been kind of thinking about what you said about the loose ends about the view that we get presented by our teachers [unclear] things in the past and if it’s real easy to take that as a belief rather than [unclear] description to explore [unclear]

Ken: This is very, very true. How many of you are familiar with Stephen Batchelor?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, it…Oh, do we have an extra mic?

Student: No, [unclear] I was thinking about that [unclear] I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind [unclear]

Ken: Encapsulate the question.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Okay I’ll try and do that, so when we encounter teachers, we can easily fall into a belief system rather than using what is being presented as an invitation to explore things. Basically that’s your point? Stephen Batchelor’s—I can’t remember if he’s Canadian or English, I think he was Canadian originally and moved to England—trained in the Gelukpa tradition for many years, and as he said to me once, he would talk to one of his Gelukpa teachers and said I’ve had such and such an experience in my meditation. And his teacher said you can’t have had that experience because you haven’t completed your training in logic. [Laughter]

It wasn’t quite that smooth but it was basically that. That was the process and he explored the Theravadan tradition before finding a teacher that really spoke to him in the Korean Zen tradition which is quite a bit different from the Japanese Zen tradition. So he’s very well versed. And he’s a scholar and academic by inclination so extraordinarily well read and deep, deeply well read in many traditions of Buddhism.

He’s written a number of books and one of them—which I think is not his best book but it’s quite uneven—is called The Faith To Doubt. And he starts it off by noting the way doubt is viewed. In the Tibetan tradition—as most of you probably know—doubt is viewed as a bad thing. You know, you have to have faith, a strong devotional component in Tibetan tradition.

And in the Abhidharma doubt is listed as one of the negative mind states, the impediments. And then you have—and you can always trust the Zen people to turn things upside down—that wonderful phrase in Tibetan, Big doubt—big enlightenment, little doubt—little enlightenment, no doubt—no enlightenment.

And in this book one of his opening paragraphs says more or less exactly what you were saying. I think in the way he says it is, In its institutional forms Buddhism has provided very powerful answers to questions of the spirit. However, sometimes the power of those answers overwhelms the stammering voice which is asking the questions.

And in my own work in Los Angeles one of the things I’ve always tried to do is to hear the stammering voice in the student rather than saying, this is how it is. It is very, very much a process of exploration.

And there’s a critical period in everybody’s practice-and it’s not an easy period—and it’s a period where you move from relying on the tradition of your training and your teacher’s instructions and all of that to making the practice your own.

And it’s difficult because you feel like you’re betraying the tradition and you’re turning your back on your teacher, because you’re going to…in that process you’re dropping what actually doesn’t work for you and you’re taking up what does work for you. And so it’s very, very mixed emotionally.

And as you work through that, you find out one of two things. Either you had a good teacher and everything that he or she said now rings true to you but in a very, very different way. Or you had a teacher that actually didn’t know that much and now and then there’s a whole process of disillusionment and recovery and everything like that.

But it’s very, very important for students to do that, and typically—I mean you don’t really start on that until you’ve been practicing for at least five years—but if you haven’t gone through something like that after ten or fifteen years of practice then you’re probably stuck somewhere. So, yeah, this is a very important point. Thank you.


Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Well, yes, again it’s like skillful means on the part of a teacher?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Well, you’re quite right. However, this really goes to the philosophy of teaching and the…I think one of the challenges we face in our culture as Buddhism grows and fosters—develops. We used to have a system in university and in other areas of learning where the one person was recognized as the master and that was it. And I mean, you still have it to a certain extent in the medical profession, you know, and various other areas, and you just did whatever that person said and they were responsible for leading you through various stages of understanding which sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t.

But we’ve moved away from that in all of those areas, and relying on the collective knowledge, rather than one person being “god”. And actually in American culture we distrust that.

Now, spiritual circles and spiritual practice always are the most conservative elements of a society so things change slowest there—take a look at the Catholic Church, very slow. And the concept of spiritual master is something that…we all want a spiritual master, who doesn’t? You know but I’m not really sure how viable it is in our culture. I’m really not.

So this means there’s going to be much more onus on the student to discover, and explore, and experiment until they find what works for them. And there are many Buddhist institutions which are wrestling with this. IMS is having some interesting times with precisely this problem because when IMS started it was the only game in town. It was the only game on the East Coast you know in that particular arena.

Now there’s all kinds of other people doing other things like that, and they’ve seen a steady decline in enrollment for their programs because there are so many other alternatives and possibilities and people are making their own decisions. And how to work with students and train students who have this panoply of options open to them, this is a new problem. It hasn’t existed historically for…I think the last time it existed really was probably about the time of Buddha. Yes Richard? Robert, sorry. It was an R, I was close.


Robert: [Unclear]

Ken: And if it isn’t I just sit here and look stupid right? [Laughter] Okay, so resting in the experience of breathing you find yourself knocking around between resting in the experiencer and resting in the experience of breathing?

Robert: Resting in breathing.

Ken: Resting in breathing. Well, what’s the problem?

Robert: Well I find [unclear] that I’m not quite sure what it means.

Ken: Where are you right now?

Robert: [Unclear] [Laughter]

Ken: Well, if you approach it as a win-lose situation I guess that…[Laughter] The point here, in our meditation practice there’s a tendency—for some of us anyway—to have a running commentary on our meditation. I think that is the source of the confusion. What if you drop the running commentary and just rest in the experience of breathing? What happens then?

Robert: [Unclear]

Ken: [Laughter] So what! [Laughter] I mean yeah, but that’s the edge of your practice, you know. If you just rest in the breathing that’s fine, that’s just words, but it’s the commentary that’s the problem. Yeah, it’s hard to do. Of course it’s hard. If it was easy we wouldn’t be here. Pardon?

Student: That’s why they call it practice.

Ken: Yeah, you know so just say oh I’m going to stop the commentary. Gee, I almost stopped it that time, let me oh, oh and now I’m getting it, oh dear. It just goes on and on you know and there’s only one way to do it—well maybe there’s more than one way—one way I’ve found. Go into the body. Go right into the body. See the body’s a very wonderful way of cutting through the cleverness of the intellect.

Student: [Unclear]


Ken: Well, I’m going to tell you a story. In three year retreat—not the one I was in but another one—a friend of mine is a tall naturopathic chiropractor, very very bright guy, almost psychic who could out-argue anybody on anything. And another person in this retreat was a short, stocky guy, not particularly long on the grey matter but very solid in the way he worked.

And over the course of this retreat this tall friend of mine would just beat this person up verbally over and over again on this and that and this and that, and finally the short, stocky guy looked at him and said, “You say one more word, I’m going to thump you.” [Laughter] And my friend explained it, he said, “Can you believe that? He threatened me with physical violence!” It’s a very apt analogy or you know, that when things get right down and dirty and physical the intellect doesn’t have anything to say, right?

Student: [Unclear] just goes away.

Ken: No, it gets out of there completely. It can’t deal with it. Well, this is very useful for our meditation practice.

So, as I said last night, what breathes? Well, it’s your body that breathes. So to experience breathing, to be in the experience of breathing, you’re going to have to experience the body. So do that.

Just experience the body breathing and when you really do that you’ll find that every part of your body’s involved with breathing. And if you have that in attention you’re not going to be giving any commentary. But it means relating to the body. Now some of us have a little problem with that but that’s a whole nother story. That help? Okay. Other questions. Yes?


Student: I find a little contradiction in focusing on the body or coming back to the sense of body with keeping in mind a sense of no self.

Ken: Well, whoever said keep that in mind?

Student: Well, [laughter], lots of people.

Ken: I’m sorry to hear that. [Laughter]

Student: Okay.

Ken: What good is an idea of no self to you?

Student: I think I’ve found it helpful. I think at times there comes when…but say for instance your tall lanky friend who argued [unclear] who are you [unclear]

Ken: Yes, he had lots of ideas of no self.

Student: And [unclear] he must have developed them a long time because he was good at it. But that sense of being able to verbally outdo somebody is the building up a sense of self or a kind of identity in a sense of perhaps arrogance and—

Ken: Apt descriptions.

Student: Thank you. It seems sometimes—

Ken: But let’s take a look at moving into non-self rather than an idea of non-self.

Student: Okay.

Ken: Okay? So right now, be in your body. What are you experiencing physically? Whatever that is, maybe you’re feeling a little warm in the body, maybe a little sleepy, you’ve just had lunch, maybe you’re feeling relaxed. Well, whatever you’re experiencing, maybe there are little tensions here and there. Maybe there’s some discomfort, definite discomfort, whatever it is. You just experience it.

Now what are you experiencing emotionally? Maybe a feeling of peace and quiet, maybe a feeling of anxiety, possibly irritation, maybe curiosity, all of these things. And as you continue to experience the body also experience all of those.

And then there are all of the stories, and memories, associations that are going through our mind all the time. Don’t try to block them, just let them be there, just experience them. But experience all three simultaneously—the body with all of its sensations, emotions and all of their sensations, and then the sensations of thoughts, memories and associations. Just be in the experience of all of that. So what happens when you do that?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: But what if you drop the dichotomy? And if you want we can go at this another way which may help you to drop the dichotomy. Would you like to do that?

Student: Mmmm…

Ken: No. [Laughter]

Student: I would!

Ken: But I’m curious why don’t you want to drop the dichotomy?

Student: I don’t know if I need to. I don’t think there’s a separating dichotomy. I mean I can feel…I can sense my body, I can sense my emotions, I don’t think it’s a big [unclear].

Ken: You like the watcher, do you?

Student: No, not necessarily. I mean I can see some sense of non-solidity to it all. [Unclear] sense of movement or—

Ken: Different traditions talk about the watcher. Mahamudra and dzogchen traditions we don’t. The watcher’s actually regarded as a bit of an impediment. That’s why I was curious if you wanted to drop the dichotomy. It’s not hard.

Student: Okay.

Ken: It doesn’t hurt.

Student: Okay.

Ken: Famous last words. Okay, so pick any object and rest your attention on it. That’s called focus. And it can be anything. It can be your breath, it can be the shirt of the person in front of you, it can be the sound of the fan. It doesn’t matter. Pick any object. Just rest with that.

Now, using that as a base of attention expand your awareness to include everything that is in your sensory awareness. Everything in the visual field, everything in the field of sound, hearing, smell, taste, and touch which includes all of the physical sensations in the body—all of the kinesthetic stuff. That’s frame.

So we have focus first and then frame. Resting in that awareness of everything that arises in sensory experience include all the internal material—thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, associations—just include it. And then drop any sense of inside or outside, so you’re just present. Okay?

Student: Tempting.

Ken: That’s the practice. And that’s something you can do anytime, anywhere. Good. Other questions. Roger?


Roger: [Unclear] I want to correct something that [unclear] karma—

Ken: The topic of the day.

Roger: Rinpoche once talked about something [unclear] national karma sort of like if more than this particular country where there’s a particular national policy, kind of [unclear] might be and like look at that. That’s just a whole different way of using the word or is that something we can cut through with compassion?

Ken: Okay. So the question’s about national karma although I imagine the word he may have used might have been collective karma, which is another term that’s also used.

Roger: Might have been.

Ken: Karma is as pervasive a world view in Eastern societies as gravity is in ours. There’s actually a lot of similarity between them. So we have the law of karma and the law of gravity, and nobody’s figured out a way to break either of them, but try as we may yes. [Laughter]

Collective—or to use Trungpa’s phrase—national karma is a way of applying that view to entities other than the individual. And if you take American culture, for instance, we can see working out on the national level the same kinds of processes that I was talking about this morning.

So that the irrational fear that permeated the culture in the early stages of the Cold War reinforced itself and that manifested as the arms race until it reached such absurd limits that the US and Russia had collectively enough nuclear power to wipe out every person in the world something like a hundred times over. You know, it was more than could possibly be used, but that’s exactly the result of a reactive process. So you can see that playing out.

Now, that defines the milieu in which we live and function. Can we change that? Very difficult. For instance, before the Iraq War there was something like worldwide upwards of ten million people protesting against a war before it had even started. Now, politically, that’s unheard of. Nothing like that has ever happened which says a lot about where world political processes have evolved to. I mean that’s an amazing thing. Certainly there wasn’t anything like that kind of opposition before the Vietnam War.

It didn’t change anything though because the dynamics which were moving towards the Iraq War had been set in motion in 1978 and this was the culmination of them. And you can’t change things when they have that much momentum. It’s very, very difficult to. So to say that one can just cut through it in the sense of actually change it that’s probably unrealistic. I mean you know how difficult it is to cut through the momentum of your own reactive patterns.

Roger: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes. However, we can and cut through our own confusion and see things clearly and that’s what I was suggesting that compassion has a key role in being able to do that. And I think that’s very much at the essence of practice. That we aren’t confused by whatever the cultural or social milieu in which we are born into manifests. But that’s actually quite hard. Yeah, you want to follow up?


Roger: You said something when you were talking about that that it’s not a matter of insight; it’s a matter of compassion.

Ken: Yeah.

Student: And that’s an interesting distinction. It seems like it’s insightful. [Laughter]

Ken: Okay. Well, the way I arrived at that is that in considering the Zen priests who were caught up in the Japanese war effort. You couldn’t short them on insight. That’s what Zen specializes in above all else, you know, seeing into the nature of things.

So that obviously wasn’t the answer, and so I said okay, well, let’s consider compassion, and…For instance we know of many cultural traditions which are accepted as perfectly legitimate practice and it’s the way people act which cause tremendous suffering. And yet in various cultures there are always individuals, not very many, who may not make any big fanfare, but don’t buy that particular social custom, and sometimes actively work against it, but certainly help people who are victimized by it.

And, okay, how do those people develop in the culture? What was the special characteristic of those people? Because they were born in the same culture and yet they aren’t fooled by the culture. And it seemed to me that it was a matter of compassion because they could see the suffering that was there, and what they’re doing was a response to the suffering. And it’s not really about understanding. It’s a direct response to the suffering.

Student: Weren’t they suffering themselves [unclear]?

Ken: Yes, but it’s not always the case that they’ve suffered themselves. You know I mean…don’t want to go there, I want to get back to our topic of the day which is karma but I need to lay a little bit of groundwork which is going to go to your question about sentient beings and doing good and all. So we started off with a small question. What is life? Or, of what does life consist? Yes?


Student: I thought [unclear] life is the boundaries between birth and death.

Ken: Well, say the time period between birth and death. Okay. Life is the boundary between birth and death. Okay. And that sounds good. Now, of what does that consist?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Can you go any further with that Kamal?

Student: [Unclear] [Laughter]

Ken: That wasn’t much of a step forward. Okay, what are experiences? What do experiences consist of?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon?

Student: Physical sensations.

Ken: Physical sensations. Anything else?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Now we perceive change so physical sensations, thoughts, anything else?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Emotions, feelings. Yeah, feelings and emotions. Okay. That’s what life is.

Student: But that’s human life.

Ken: Do you know of any other?

Student: Well, I mean when you say life I mean it could be anything that grows and—

Ken: Ah, but you see that’s an abstraction. We’re going to get there in a minute. Our experience…what we call life—being alive—is a process of experience, right? We experience thoughts, we experience feelings and we experience sensations, sensory sensations. That’s it.

Student: Reactions.

Ken: Those are along the thoughts, feelings, okay. That’s it. Thoughts, feelings, sensations. That’s all you’ve got to work with, that’s all any of us have got to work with, that’s it. Now, so nice and bright. All of you see—at least I’m assuming all of you see, I should make sure, a red cup, right? Anybody here who doesn’t? Okay. Let’s just focus on the red quality, make it easy. You see red—I don’t mean you’re angry, you just see red, okay. Where is the seeing?

Student: In your mind [unclear]

Ken: In your mind, where’s that?

Student: You asked the question.

Ken: No, I asked it. Where is the seeing?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Between? Somewhere out here?

Student: In the eye consciousness. The [unclear] the mental aspect of recognizing a dress [unclear].

Ken: Yeah, well you’re talking about the old binding problem now. But where is the seeing? It’s not so straightforward is it?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Is it?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Let’s see it. Well, we’ll pause at a place based on beliefs, but when you really look at it, you know you just let go of those beliefs—as we’re trying to do today—it’s not straightforward where it is, is it? You can’t say it’s in here.

Student: [Unclear] it’s out there.

Ken: …and you can’t say it’s out there because it’s in here so. So there it is. Seeing red is arising in experience but we can’t say where it is. Everything is like that. Everything.


Ken: Pardon?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Okay. Let’s not get it complicated yet. That’s…I mean all of these things come up. But seeing is arising, I mean we all have that experience, it’s nice vivid experience, I mean nobody said they didn’t see red, but when we look at “Where is that seeing?” it’s like, “hmmm, that’s not exactly straightforward.”

Now, there’s also I don’t think any dispute about there’s a red cup, right? What I want to suggest is that the concept red cup and the view that there is an object called a red cup is an abstraction from the world of our actual experience and we create or build up this idea, “Oh there’s a red cup,” and it’s kind of a shorthand. So we don’t have to check, “Do you see that somewhat cylindrical sensation of red with a white rim at the top?” and we can just say, “No, do you see the red cup?” and you say, “Yeah, I see the red cup.” So we abstract from our world of experience the idea that objects exist. Are you with me? Yes?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, we do this in order to communicate, in order to organize our experience. But now something very important happens: We forget that this world of shared experience—red cup and so forth—is an abstraction, and we take it to be real.

Student: Why is it an abstraction?

Ken: What’s the cup?

Student: It’s a cylindrical object that looks—

Ken: Okay.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: You’re describing it but what is it?

Student: An object in space.

Ken: Okay. Now how do you know that object’s there?

Student: Because I’m perceiving it.

Ken: Ah, but when I asked you do you see the red you didn’t know where the red was so how can you say the object’s there?

Student: Because I’ve been told my belief system is telling me that everything I see is out there.

Ken: Thats exactly right. That’s the belief system.

Student: So, and yet you’re telling me that maybe it’s not out there. It’s just very, very confusing.

Ken: That’s…you’re right on the money. Glad to hear it, yes.

Student: So is it out there or is it not out there? Are you out there or are you just a—

Ken: No, no I’m—

Student: —reflection of mind. Is the whole room?

Ken: That’s right. This is very—

Student: Actually it’s, you know, it’s very—

Ken: I know, that’s just the shits, isn’t it? [Laughter] It really is. Yeah. But that’s right. All I am is a voice in your world of experience which you happen to be listening to and now you’re probably regretting it. [Laughter]


Student: I have a question as to whether I’m going to come away more confused or less confused or completely baffled or with more a mushy brain than I already have.

Ken: Well, we’ll see in a few days. Yeah, Didier?

Didier: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes, that just means I’m part of your world too. But how do you know that the me that she’s listening to is the me that you’re listening to?

Student: Or that you didn’t create me listening to him?

Ken: Exactly. What we have here is the raw experience is a world we cannot share with anybody else, you know. In California we have this wonderful expression, “Share The Experience” you know. Okay. [Laughter]

Student: Isn’t that dated?

Ken: Oh sure it’s dated but it’s useful for my purposes. You know, what is it? How many Californians does it take to change a lightbulb?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No, just one to change the lightbulb, five to share the experience. [Laughter] But it illustrates the point you know. You can’t share an experience. I can talk to you about my experience and you may get some flavor from that but there is no way that you can experience what I’m experiencing and there’s no way that I can experience what you’re experiencing. It’s not possible.

Student: Is this the essential [unclear]?

Ken: Yep.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Now, one moment. Now, out of that experience we construct a world that we use for communication, and that I refer to as the world of shared experience which consists of objects. And you know we can share those objects, like would you like this cup? And I can actually give you this cup. I can’t give you my experience, but I can give you this cup.

Now, is your experience of the cup the same as my experience of the cup? No. No way of knowing that. No basis of comparison even. But we can share objects in the world and you know, money, and clothes, and food, and things like that. At least, food up until the point that we’re tasting it and then it becomes an experience, it’s a little more difficult.

And this is very important because we have the idea based on our belief that there is this external world, that we are born into this world and at some time we leave it. But from the point of view of all we have is our world of experience, that’s a completely wrong way of looking at things.

What happens is, something happens and we begin to experience things and we just go on experiencing things, experiencing things and then that world of experience ends, so it begins when we are born, it continues while we are alive, and it ends when we die. And there isn’t any sense of being born into a world or out of a world, there’s just the world of our experience.

Student: Is it possible it doesn’t end for us but the experience of us ends for the people that are here?

Ken: Well, that’s exactly what happens.

Student: Do we even know whether it ends for us?

Ken: No, we can’t you know and it’s—

Student: We’re just projecting with them because it ends for everybody else.

Ken: Exactly. That’s right. So, and what Buddhism is talking about when it’s talking about the world is not the universe as we understand it in science. It’s talking about the world of total experience which is—and this is the vocabulary I use—the world of total experience is what we ourselves experience and then the world of shared experience is what we abstract from that world to create a world that seems to be external.

Now, when we were talking this morning about karma, whatever we do, that’s in our world of total experience. And whatever we put into that world, it can’t go anywhere else, so when we lie, kill, steal, all of these things, or when we do good and help people and be generous and speak kindly to them, all of that’s in our world of experience. So our actions become very important because that’s what shapes our world of experience. Yes?


Student: I have a couple of questions based on this. Are you in some sense suggesting a return to kind of a primordial nature of us before we became creatures of abstraction and knowledge and were able to actually nurse solutions.

The presumption is before they bit the tree they weren’t [unclear] language or [unclear]. I know sense of returning to that. Is it possible to turn the clock back anyway or once the cat’s out of the bag, in this case, knowledge, abstraction available to us—language, solutions. Therefore how can we live with both our primordial nature if that’s what you’re trying to get back to and yet also be civilizing, abstracting creatures? That would seem to me that there’s a rub to that. [Unclear]

Ken: Yes. So using the Garden of Eden as an analogy or illustration, are we trying to move back to our primordial knowing and is it possible to live in…does one have to choose one or the other…or is it possible to live in both the primordial knowing and then as a symbolic creature also? But…yeah, okay.

Well, do we have a choice? We have a choice one way and that is to continue to ignore the primordial knowing. Do you have a choice about ignoring the experience of being individual symbolic individuals? There’s no choice there. So we either ignore or we open to the totality of things which includes that, and essentially what you’re talking about, in Buddhist terminology—and there are various ways one could gloss this in Buddhist terminology—but one way is what is ultimately true and what is apparently true, which many of you will know as absolute and relative, but I don’t like those translations.

What is ultimately true is experience. What is relatively or apparently true is that we exist individually, etc., etc. And Mahayana Buddhism aims at coming to know that that is how things are. That they aren’t in opposition, they both…they arise and that is what we experience. And so yes that’s exactly what we have to do, is to learn how to live in both. You follow? Right.


You had a question back here?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: You sure?

Student: Yes, sure.

Ken: [Laughter] Right yes?

Student: Let’s see this stuff comes and goes—it’s very slippery for me—but in your book you said first we wake up to what is apparently true and then we wake up to what is true.

Ken: That’s one way of going, yes.

Student: I think that’s what you were referring to just now.

Ken: Yes. It’s not the only path but it’s the path that is most fruitful for most people.

Student: And it seems to me that that it’s painful to me—that’s when it’s apparently true—very, very painful and so that a motivation [unclear] to what is ultimately true.

Ken: Do you think it makes it less painful?

Student: Do we have a choice?

Ken: [Laughter]

Student: But I mean really I need to know. [Laughter] No.

Ken: It’s not about pain. It’s about being awake.

Student: But my question it’s about the contemplation this morning and going through the four results.

Ken: Yes.

Student: And it seems that what I read in your book was something about patterns operate to detain attention, so that the emotional core of the pattern is not experienced.

Ken: Yes.

Student: And so if that is what triggers the pattern, the avoidance of the emotional core [unclear].

Ken: Go on.

Student: I didn’t have too much of a problem experiencing in my contemplation lots of examples of this kind of pattern in my life in various places. What I couldn’t discern deeply was what is the emotional core, what am I avoiding here? I mean, I see what the result is and I have a hard time saying okay is that what I was avoiding [unclear]. That’s not very clear to me.

Ken: Yeah, so the patterns are triggered in order to avoid experiencing the emotional core. How do you discern what the emotional core is? Can we defer that one till tomorrow or the next day?

Student: Do I have a choice?

Ken: Yes, you can say “No, that’s not all right.” [Laughter].

Student: No, it is perfectly alright.

Ken: Okay, thank you, but do bring it up again—I’m pretty sure I will get to it but if I shouldn’t then by all means bring it up again. Yeah, Susan?


Susan: You spoke about action creating our reality. Is that a little bit [unclear]?

Ken: That’s kind of an interesting analogy. Not sure how far I’d push it but it is much more of a closed system than we realize.

Susan: Okay. So what [unclear]?

Ken: What we put out goes into our experience. It can’t go anywhere else. It’s in our experience, that’s it.

Susan: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, but all of that’s our experience. What we experience as other people are just experiences. That’s why there are no sentient beings.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: What we experience as other people are just experiences. That’s why there are no sentient beings.

Student: So we are an experience experiencing experiencing.

Ken: Well, if you wish to put it that way, yes.

Student: There are no sentient beings.

Ken: Pardon?

Student: If there are no sentient beings then that includes us.

Ken: Absolutely. [Laughter]

Student: What did he say?

Ken: If there are no sentient beings that includes us. But that’s what we said last night. You know, we’re under the illusion that we exist.

Student: Right but when you talk about this experience…

Ken: Pardon?

Student: When you talk about the experience that, you know, the cup is my…this is all my dream. Who’s the “my”? The “me” having the dream? There’s still a dualistic language there. You know what I mean?

Student: Isn’t the problem the language?

Ken: No.

Student: The language—

Ken: Not the problem. No, we approach language like Humpty Dumpty. You know, Humpty Dumpty, Alice In Wonderland. We use language. Okay, so Roger asks, “Well, who’s the ”my“?” Well, that’s the question isn’t it?

Student: So when you relax into the breath entirely.

Ken: Okay, you relax into your breath entirely.

Student: [Unclear] the tension between watcher and watchee [unclear]

Ken: Yes.

Student: [Unclear] You don’t even have a sense, you can’t even say this is “my” dream.

Ken: Right and this is the difference between Buddhism and Solipsism. Solipsism says I am the universe, I am the world. And Buddhism comes along and says “Who are you?” “What are you?” And there’s no one there. That’s exactly right.

Student: We are the experience, and the experiencer, and experiencing what it’s doing…what everything around us is doing [unclear].

Ken: Yeah, right. Now, our challenge is to know that directly, not as an idea, but to know it experientially. So, and that’s what all Buddhist practice is about. And to do that you have to develop a level of attention which can experience not existing. That’s what I said last night. Now maybe it makes a little more sense. Last question and then I want to return to the practice.


Larry: Could you talk about how you need a certain amount of power to [unclear] certain things at the same time as you’re endeavoring to to be present on your efforts. The tension that [unclear] sometimes [unclear] the only in other words at first you sort of innocently enough the process that seems to be unfolding you end up with something that is not [unclear].

Ken: Well, you’re echoing T.S. Eliot’s words in Four Quartets. For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.

Student: Can you paraphrase what Larry said? It was a little bit hard to hear.

Ken: Say it again.

Larry: We know when we come here that we all have an intention to try to do something here and we have a certain amount of power to stay with that but sometimes the innocence of our practice, that combines with a certain naivety at the edge of the practice that way. Somehow, unbeknownst to…we’re not really sure why we end up with nothing but trying. That’s sort of describing the tension between watcher and watching: there’s nothing but that tension.

Ken: See, as we practice…We all come into practice with certain ideas—I’m going to get enlightened and bring an end to suffering. How many of you started with that idea? I know I did.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah, yeah, okay. And I mean sometimes it’s other things. I’m going to join with the universal self—that’s Brahma or Atman okay—and I’m going to come to be one with that which is beyond death, so I’m going to live forever, right. Or I’m going to become totally pure. These are all different ways, different motivations people come into practice.

But as you practice one begins to appreciate that those actual ideas are part of the problem and you begin to see that any kind of holding to a fixed idea is part of the problem. So, I mean speaking a little ironically perhaps, but you end up making more and more effort to achieve less and less. And when I say more and more effort, I do not mean nose to the grindstone effort. It’s…in that little exercise that we did which is focus, field, internal material and presence, how much effort did that take?

Student: A lot.

Ken: Pardon?

Student: A lot.

Ken: How many say it took a lot? How many say it took a little? Yeah, yeah. Okay. We’ll do it another way, okay. Unbeknownst to you, over the lunch hour I planted a number of bombs in this building. They’re set to go off in 20 seconds. This is it. You’re not going to experience anything other than this.

How much effort did it take you to come here, just right in that moment? Not much, right? You just need a little push. Okay. It takes no effort, or very little effort, to move into presence. Or it takes very little force, shall we say, to move into presence.

And as you work in your practice that’s what you end up with your effort. It’s just that little move so you’re just there. And in that moment, I mean, when I said that and you’re thinking oh god, that’s it? What were you holding onto? Nothing to hold onto because there was nothing to do. That was it.

Now, can you live that way? And then as we get into the whole conundrum of life, how do you live that way and deal with the fact that we don’t know when we’re going to die, but we do know we’re going to die and all of those things? And that’s the conundrum that you’re posing. Living in what is and dealing with everything that arises in our lives. Yes?


Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah.

Student: [Unclear] body breathing, breathing body. Body breathing, breathing body. [Unclear]

Ken: Yes.

Student: [Unclear] space around me and that was it. And then you walked in. [Laughter]

Ken: Yeah, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. What do you do? [Laughter] So, by just that’s—

Student: There’s no effort was what I was trying to say.

Ken: That’s…exactly. Okay.

Student: It just happened.

Ken: Yeah, and the distinction I’m making—I’m just changing the words slightly—is it doesn’t take any force, but it does take an effort. You have to place the attention a certain way, and that’s what you did. And then you’re just there.

Now there are many, many different ways of placing the attention, but none of them require any force. And that’s one of the things, as practice matures, that’s what you begin to appreciate, that all of that forcing and I’m a great candidate for trying to push and push and push and push and push, and some of us are very slow about these things, but it’s just there.

Why don’t we take a short break and stretch and then I want to come back, get some of your experience[s] and we’ll do some more 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.