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Okay. I’d like to start by hearing from you something about your experience with this practice.
Ken: Okay, I think speak up so everybody can [hear].
Student: It’s like a concept that the karma is creating your own reality. It’s like your interpretation of things that I’ve heard for years but finally having it make sense and gel for it becomes operational.
Ken: Okay, but I want your experience.
Student: Oh, it’s good. [Laughter]
Ken: Ah, she hasn’t quite got to the point yet.
Student: This morning I went through kind of an emotional phase with dying and death and murder and not myself [unclear], and then after lunch I was just, “Forget it, I’m tired.” My mind, it wouldn’t budge at all, it stuck like that. And then in the second one, I sort of woke up and I was going, you know, it’s like okay [unclear] forget murder will go to gossip. [Laughter] And then my mind starts going, “Well, you know, now I remember that.” And finally I said, “Look, mother fucker, just get on with it.” You know? [Laughter] “And one, two, three let’s go. Remember that time? Remember that time? Remember that time?” “Okay, okay I’ll talk, I’ll talk.” [Laughter] [Unclear] like a mantra I think, “Yeah I remember that too. I remember that.” “What’s the result of that?” What’s [unclear], pathetic, blah, blah, blah. And so that’s kind of the nature of the second hour. Very, very effective because it wasn’t the kind of like “Oh, this is great I’m really getting into it [unclear].”
Ken: Okay. Oh, I thought you were speaking for everybody. [Laughter]
Student: I found out I did all those things, you know, and probably many more, but when you gave me that point, I had an aha moment and then I came back bitter and sad and I had a lot of feelings that came up with it. Feelings about reality, or what is reality is not reality.
Ken: Hm, may need another point. Yes?
Student: I find it difficult to get the feeling part during the meditation. I have no trouble when I’m driving down the road in the car [unclear] but sitting here trying to make it happen just doesn’t seem to [unclear].
Ken: A little resistance there, huh? Okay. Yes?
Student: Difficult, very…a little bit [unclear].
Ken: How so? You don’t have to go into all the gory details, just some of them.
Student: I can’t remember, but it’s heavy, it’s very hard going back to it over and over, you see. And I didn’t really know what the point was. I mean, conceptually, okay you know, “Great, I won’t repeat this stuff.” But there was no…you know, I didn’t…I wasn’t smiling.
Student: I found this morning I had this experience early on when I got up. It was like, “Oh I’m supposed to sit.” Right away I looked at my watch, it was 3:05 [unclear] fifteen miles away and I did some quick calculations. I can sit here. I have to do it right now. So I just turned myself around in bed and just did it.
I’ve never done that before and the instructions actually came to me. I saw the Karmapa in the distance as if a camera was coming in slowly, and I saw the bell and the wooden, you know. I had this experience of this effortless, this quality of just being naturally resting and losing it and not fighting to come back and then having to feel like [unclear] wanting to stay with that forever.
I can’t remember having that before and then by 3 o’clock this afternoon I was nothing but trying to make things work. Nothing but forcing. And that’s why I asked that and I thought I had to really just shake it up a little bit.
Student: Just really knock it around a little bit, loosen it up [unclear].
Ken: Okay. Any other reflections with karma. Yes?
Student: I felt a little like I was conceptualizing things a lot, but one of the things that really hit me was it was very clear how things that I was trying to get in the end to work and the things I’m trying to avoid are the things that end up coming [unclear] very clear [unclear] practice. And after a while, because it was so clear, I tend to stop experiencing like the emotions with it because it’s…That’s the way it is, I don’t know, I felt more conceptual than experiencing.
Ken: Okay. Leslie?
Leslie: [Unclear] I was feeling the point [unclear] a little bit before I took action and I had such a sense of selflessness.
Ken: Isn’t that wonderful?
Leslie: [Unclear] Kind of radical to see that. I think that’s what the [unclear] a little bit before because [unclear] the total clarity of righteousness that was happening beforehand really surprised me [unclear].
Then I went back and I looked at, like, the pressures prior to that that had been with these things that were, you know, like, I think of them as geographical, you know, pressures moving against each other because you get to the point of that [unclear]. And then this afternoon I was [unclear] it was like an end product that moved me right back to the beginning. [Unclear]
Ken: Okay. One more. Kamal.
Ken: You felt lighter? Yeah, okay. Now we’re working on a very compressed time scale here. How many of you are familiar with the four thoughts that turn the mind, or the four reminders? Okay.
This is the one on karma. This is actually how you’re meant to do it. In L.A., a group of my students formed an independent practice group. They spent a year, almost a year, on this practice. They did two weeks on the killing and then two weeks on saving life. And then two weeks on stealing and two weeks on generosity, and they worked through all of them like that, which is a very good way to do it because then you begin to see the actual operation of the pattern in you on both sides. Because you can be just as habituated to virtuous behavior as you are to non-virtuous behavior. And you begin to see, just as you described, how you try to get this, but by your own actions it just keeps moving away. And you’re trying to avoid this and trying to avoid this but through your own actions it keeps coming back.
So, those of you who felt a bit depressed, a bit sick, the common experience in doing these kinds of meditation is nausea. It’s fundamentally different from the meditations on death and impermanence, for instance, where the basic emotional feeling that comes up is fear. This one is nausea. And it may be—as Kamal described it—as you see this, you’re actually acknowledging things that you’ve more or less denied to yourself over a long period of time. And so you’re coming to a different relationship with them and that’s very important in terms of letting them go, and being able to move into different behaviors.
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Leslie’s comments about righteousness: I don’t know if any of you are familiar with a rather remarkable translation of, I guess it’s The Iliad. I can’t remember the poet’s name [Christopher Logue] but it goes by the title of War Music. Anybody? I have the third volume with me. I can’t remember, but they’re very thin.
It’s describing the Battle of Troy. Some of you may be familiar with this, but at one point everything was about to be settled in a nice peace conference and of course, Pallas Athene didn’t want this to happen at all, so she puts her energy into one of the Greeks who has this brilliant idea that he’s going to assassinate one of the Trojan nobles. And of course, Pallas Athene’s getting him to do this so that the war continues.
But there’s a wonderful line in that is As he pulled his arrow, it just felt so right. And that’s exactly the feeling that we have when we’ve gone through this whole process of rationalizing what we know through our own practice of awareness and presence is “This isn’t the right thing to do,” but the patterns take over and it just feels so right. There’s this indication that we’ve been taken over.
So much of the purpose of this first phase of the practice that we’re doing is to get a feeling for how patterns take you over and run stuff in your life and run very, very large sections of our lives. And start to appreciate that and that as long as patterns are running those lives then we’re going to experience those four results.
And they’re self-reinforcing, as you could see. Did any of you notice that? How you start off doing this and it just reinforces? One of the people that came and started the second retreat was a very, very bright young Frenchman. He also had a little problem with anger and he had been the treasurer of the main center, and knew very well all the shenanigans that the head lama had run. You know, in moving funds around and taking advantage of things and not being straight.
And since he had a very strong moral ethic, he was really angry about this. At the beginning of the second retreat, you know, we were in retreat, we didn’t have a lot of money and we were also totally captive and we kept getting asked for money for this and money for that and money for this, and it was a bit of a strain for some of us. And I found myself—because I would have conversations with him—feeling angrier and angrier. And I didn’t like the head teacher of the center at all. Didn’t think he was a terribly good person. I knew also some other shenanigans that he pulled.
So, there I was sitting in retreat with all of this anger, and anger, and anger. And then one day I went, “You know, this is just not doing me any good. I don’t like what this is doing to me.” I could feel was like this black thing, you know, taking over my body or whatever.
So I said, “I don’t care what he’s done. I’m not dropping this because I don’t think he’s done wrong, I do. But I’m just going to stop harboring this anger. It’s not doing me any good.” Of course, my friend thought I’d betrayed him and he wouldn’t speak to me for a month. But I just dropped it because it wasn’t doing any good.
And this really is the point of these kinds of meditations. You become intimately acquainted with what the effect of your actions are on you. I mean, you know what they are on somebody else, but what are the effects of the actions you do on you and the way you experience the world and the way that it is possible for you to experience the world.
The more embroiled you get in these patterns the more limited are your options for experiencing the world, until the only way you can experience the world is through these very, very narrow windows where everything does not look very nice and those narrow windows are called the six realms. You know hungry ghost realm, hell realm, animal realm, human realm, titan realm, god realm. You know, they’re very, very narrow. Yes?
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Student: [Unclear] I wasn’t going to share something but I think I will. During a battle in World War II, a friend of mine took my place and was shot to death and bled to death in my arms. And then I cried uncontrollably. He bled all over me. And then I was sent with three other guys to destroy a machine gun nest that was three [unclear] down and I climbed into the mouth of a cave and there were three Japanese soldiers there. And I killed them in a murderous rage. Just couldn’t take them personally.
And at the time I didn’t think much of it. I went on with my murderous rage for several days after that. But [unclear] trouble loomed and yet I went to Japan after the war and I met Japanese and realized how wrong what I’d then done was. Suffice it to say that I drank for 17 years until I drank myself near to death and I stopped drinking and at some point subsequently I turned my life over to try to work against war and to alleviate poverty.
So for many, many years, I worked to try to make amends. And I haven’t understood that until very recently—until in just the last 24 hours—that murder subject. It’s all really coming up for me, and I find it’s very upsetting and also that my life has been so shaped.
So my question about the compassionate way is probably based the fact that I know…I believe Thou shalt not kill is a true teaching. To me it’s an absolute teaching, and I don’t care that [unclear]. To me it is. And I have paid dearly by my belief in that and my being that I’ve violated it in the worst possible way. And all I can do is make amends.
But I guess I’m sharing this partly because I want to be open, but also partly because I want to know how I can be a compassionate person without acting out of a deep sense of guilt and shame and the almost unforgiveablitiy of that act. [Unclear] maybe somehow can be forgiven [unclear].
Ken: Well, thank you very much for your openness. I think it adds…brings a sense of concreteness to this discussion.
You’ve done three quarters of the job. You still hold on to an identity. That’s the last quarter. I say three quarters because your question brings to mind a teaching in the Tibetan tradition which is called the four forces. You may already know them.
The four forces are how you stop the karmic process of evolution in your being. We cannot go back and undo what has happened. And when you make amends, it isn’t really to undo or to set it back in order. I mean, there’s a few situations that might be possible, but in most situations it isn’t, and your example is very clear. You know, your buddy died in your arms, there’s no undoing that and you killed a number of people, and there’s no undoing that.
The four forces are, first, repudiation. That is, by doing the kind of reflection that you clearly have done, and that we’re doing here, we come to repudiate those actions or that particular action. In this case it is killing you’ve repudiated. It’s wrong. Period.
Student: That’s regret.
Ken: Yes. Okay, regret is the other translation. Thank you for reminding me. Okay, the force of regret then, that’s actually better. The second—if you can remember all the terms I use that’s great—the second is the restitution, or reparation or something like that—I can’t remember the term I used. That is, we do this not with the idea of undoing what we’ve done but with the idea that we add to the karmic process something that takes us in a good direction.
Student: Remedial action.
Ken: Remedial action. Remedy. That’s right, thank you. Somebody’s read the book. So, there’s regret and renunciation, or resolve, and that’s where you say, “I will not do this again.” Okay, and the fourth one is—I know I didn’t say “repentance”…
Ken: Remorse we’ve already had. I was trying to translate them with all with Rs but I can’t remember the Rs that I used.
Ken: It’s all right.
Student: Reliance? [Unclear]
Ken: Yeah, here we are, it’s reliance. Because whenever we act unwholesomely—which for our purposes we’ll say is intentionally cause harm to others—we actually have to check out of awareness. And one of the original meanings of the word sin is that which separates you from God. There’s a similarity in that perspective. So, we have to come back into awareness, and we do that ceremonially, or ritually, by taking refuge, renewing our vows of bodhicitta and so forth, awakening mind.
And you’ll notice in this discussion there’s no talk of forgiveness. What I’m suggesting is that you’re holding on to an identity of a person who’s no longer here. You follow? And to come to know through your own experience that you are no longer that person is how you let go of that identity. That that person isn’t here anymore. Now, I can say that—that’s my sense—but only you can know that.
Student: Okay. Okay.
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Ken: In theory, yeah, letting go of these identities is not so easy and, yeah, I mean, what you’re…
Ken: The action happened. A process was initiated. That action is going to have consequences. Whatever happens, it’s going to have consequences. Nothing can change that. The only thing we can do is not to continue the process by evolution. Whatever consequences have been set in motion, those happen, they play out, and nothing more takes their place. So I hesitate to say you no longer have the karma because there are still things in motion that have to play out, and that’s why I was having a little difficulty with that formulation. But when we can say, “Down that road I no longer go,” and know that that is the case, you have done everything that is possible.
Student: Isn’t that what the story of Milarepa really was all about? About very, very negative actions and knowing those actions and becoming a realized being, so [unclear].
Ken: Yeah, yeah. And the turning point in Milarepa’s story, you may recall, is when his black magic teacher attends, or is asked to conduct the funeral for a patron of his and he comes back and says to Milarepa, “Look we all die. There’s no sense adding to this by killing people with our arts. So either you stay here and take care of my wife and the estate and I’m going to go off and practice the dharma in order to remedy what we’ve done, or you go off and I’ll stay here and take care of it. Because you’ll have done it under my inspiration, it will still help me.”
And we have these four reminders, you know, which Kalu Rinpoche would teach, quite literally, ad nauseum. And when we were studying in Sonada with Rinpoche, you know, it would be the precious human birth, and death and impermanence, then karma, and then shortcomings of samsara—which is the six realms—and then we’d get past those and we’d get into some good stuff, you know. And then somebody new would show up, and as soon as somebody new showed up, Rinpoche always started at precious human birth. I don’t know how many times I heard these things. They really got in.
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The thing is, there’s a reason why teachers always talk about these things. You know what it is? Nobody practices them. Nobody actually sits down and thinks about them in the way that I’m inviting you to do this weekend. Really sit down and think about them and think about them in the framework that I’m trying to present to you, okay? What do these actions do to the way you experience the world?
Forget about doing good. Forget about being a holy person. Forget about getting enlightened. Forget about all of that stuff. When you speak harshly about somebody else and you do it on a repeated basis, what kind of world are you creating for yourself? A harsh world, yeah. And when you lie, what kind of world are you creating for yourself?
Ken: Yeah, a world where no one trusts you, no one listens to you.
Student: And you don’t trust any—
Ken: Well, and so you have to go to more and more extreme measures just to get through your life. And you get locked into this cycle. This is what it does to you. Now, how many people actually sit down and think about this?
I remember I was talking with Thrangu Rinpoche a few years ago and he said, “You have your people meditate on death and impermanence for eight months or a year?” I said, “Yeah.” “They do it?” [Laughter] I said, “Yes.” He said, “We could never get them to do it.”
You know, that’s why they keep talking about it. How many of you have trouble with your motivation in dharma practice? Okay. A good number. Do you know why?
Ken: You haven’t spent enough time with these. Because if you’re having trouble with your motivation in your practice, if you’re having trouble practicing consistently, most of the time—I won’t say all the time—but most of the time, it’s because you don’t know why you’re practicing.
Now, as I said, I think last night, maybe this morning—it’s all a kind of blur—the powerful answers that Buddhism provides to questions of the spirit can overwhelm the stammering voice which is asking the questions. It is absolutely essential you know what your questions are.
They may or may not be the same as Buddha’s. What was Buddha’s question? What was the question that he could not get out of his mind, which led him to give up his heritage of the kingdom?
Ken: It was suffering. How can there be suffering? How can you live with suffering? This was his question. If we don’t do anything else this weekend but that you get to find your question, that would be huge. Maybe it will change the focus of it.
Student: Could you [unclear] what happened to a loving God, how the world that is so yucky?
Ken: Well, this is the difference between Buddhism and Christianity.
Student: [Unclear] ask that question…
Student: [Unclear] we supposed to have a loving God…?
Ken: Well, this is the central problem of Christianity and C.S. Lewis wrote a very nice little pamphlet on it, which you can probably still get called The Problem of Pain. And it characterizes very nicely the difference between Buddhism and Christianity. In Christianity—at least at the popular level, if you get into it in greater depth it changes a bit—there’s the supposition that there’s an all-loving, all-powerful God.
Ken: And now pain is a problem. As you say, “How can this be?” And that’s what everybody asks when there’s tragedy in the world, “How can God do this?” That’s what everybody asks.
Student: A loving God.
Ken: Yes, [not] the early Old Testament: The Lord thy God is a jealous God visiting with inequity the sins of the fathers unto the children nigh unto the seventh generation. [Laughter] Yeah.
Student: A scary book, that.
Ken: Yeah, well actually that has another meaning but I’ll go into that later. However, in Buddhism, what’s your starting point? There is suffering. Not, “How can there be suffering.” There is.
Student: [Unclear] [Laughter]
Student: Sickness, old age and death.
Ken: Yeah, that’s it. There is suffering. Okay, and the question in Buddhism is, “What are you going to do? There is suffering. What are you going to do?” And there’s no notion of you know, well, how can this be, ontologically, it doesn’t make sense. So, in that sense it’s very straightforward, and that’s why Buddhism, I say, isn’t about belief. It’s not, “Do you believe in suffering?”
I was asked to give a presentation, or asked to come to a sixth-grade class, middle school, many years ago and the class had been divided up into groups and each group was doing a report on one of the religions and they wanted someone who was in each of the faiths. So they had somebody from Islam and somebody from Christianity and Judaism and I was the Buddhist rep. The sixth-grader group got up and they gave this talk about how Buddhists believe that life is suffering, etc., etc., etc. These are all children living in one of the wealthy areas of L.A., in Santa Monica and Brentwood, and so forth. So, at the end of the presentation I said, “Well, Buddha said that life is suffering. Do you buy it?” And they just went, “Nope.” [Laughter]
Student: Not yet.
Ken: And that’s it, but—
Ken: No, I wasn’t giving the presentation. I was just there. It was just, “Nope.” So, you know, it’s no-sell there. You have to be in touch with your own suffering, your own pain. That’s what drives your practice. That’s what drove Buddha’s practice. That’s what drives our practice.
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Ken: I have this carrot-and-stick theory of practice. Okay, you have a donkey and you have the carrot approach of getting the donkey to move and you have the stick approach. Now how does the carrot approach work?
Ken: You hold this carrot out, okay, and when the donkey starts to move what do you do with the carrot?
Student: You move it.
Ken: You move it, and you keep moving it right? And where’s the donkey’s attention? On the carrot. Okay, so he never gets the carrot and that’s where his attention is.
Then there’s the stick approach. You get a nice, firm stick and you go whack. And the donkey starts to move. Now where’s the donkey’s attention?
Student: In the pain.
Ken: In the pain. What do you do when the donkey’s moving?
Ken: Right, and where’s the donkey attention? In his body, right? So, which approach brings you more into presence? [Laughter]
Student: Depends on your aptitude.
Ken: Well, there is that. Right. But our suffering—in terms of our spiritual practice—is our friend. Yes?
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Student: Let me get something clear. So I heard you say to Paul that it has to be personal [unclear]—
Student: I mean [unclear]. So is that what you’re saying, that’s the importance of this practice? Which is [unclear].
Ken: Well, now we go into a whole nother area, but what the heck?
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Ken: The thing is that, as you say, we all know people who are highly regarded spiritually whose behavior is questionable, shall we say. And this is something I usually talk about with Buddhist teachers I’m training or mentoring, but it applies to all of us.
Buddhism is a completely ruthless form of spiritual practice. Any area of your life that you protect from your practice will take you over. Any area of your life that you protect from your practice will take you over.
And so it’s the individual’s responsibility to bring attention to every area of their life. And if they don’t, their practice is not complete. You may recall from the Seven Points of Mind Training, that Deep and pervasive training is essential. And there’s another one which says Don’t be prejudiced.
Your practice has got to cover absolutely every area, and that gets real uncomfortable. We can’t hide anything. I’ve observed teachers that have run into trouble. I started teaching in the mid-eighties, and it was, you might say, the flameout period for Buddhist teachers—Maezumi Roshi and a bunch of others around the same time, Aiku Roshi…
In every one of those instances, one of the key factors was that there was no one giving feedback to that teacher. They were isolated, and in being isolated they were able to protect areas of their life from their practice and no one could bring it to their attention. They’d created that situation—talk about bringing what you’re trying to avoid.
And so one of the consequences of that for me was that the whole time, from the time I started teaching and I continue with this today, is that I always have one or two people in my life, usually two, but always at least one, from whom I have no secrets. I hate it sometimes, but it’s been absolutely essential for me. I have absolutely no secrets, so there’s nothing I’m hiding inside me, and so I can’t hide from it.
Ken: Oh yeah. That’s what they’re there for and I made that very explicit with them, and that’s our arrangement. You know, “What are you up to now, Ken?” Well…
Ken: Yeah, and it’s been very, very important. So, I don’t know how many of you are in teaching positions but if you are, it is something I strongly recommend. It has to be someone not only from whom you have no secrets, but whom you will listen to no matter how crazy you might be. Yes?
Student: I read that in your book, and I mean then the thing about it is, it’s like [unclear] that assumes that I don’t know what it is you know kind of if I’m protecting it from my awareness I’m not that aware of it.
Ken: You may or may not know it. It can be either way.
Student: So, if I don’t know, how is somebody else going to know? [Laughter] I mean, of course there are people who do…
Student: But okay, from a practical point of view I’m [unclear].
Ken: Well, how much do you let him or her rummage around in you?
Student: I have learned [unclear]. [Laughter]
Ken: I’m having a class on Tuesday evenings. One person was saying she was running into a problem with her equanimity meditation and I could tell just by the way that she was phrasing the question that she was [unclear].
Ken: Terrorists. I said, okay, but that’s what she was protecting: her hatred of terrorism. As I say, Buddhism is ruthless. It’s completely ruthless. Yes?
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Student: Kind of going back to when we were talking about motivation and find it ruthless, so our practice is based on stuff [unclear] it seems to me that there must be some suffering that’s being alleviated which…I mean, I’ve experienced that Buddhism helps with. I mean, otherwise why would we even want to be awake? You know, I mean, why would we even want to…?
Ken: I can only give you my answer to that. That and one of the key aspects of my own practice is I want to be as awake as possible.
Ken: Because then I don’t cause suffering. I don’t cause suffering for myself and I don’t cause suffering for others.
Ken: Well, you’re being kind but, and that’s just it and—
Student: There is suffering, but we don’t have to cause more.
Ken: Absolutely. We’ve gone a little bit over. I hope these discussions you find useful. But let’s do some meditation and we’ll also continue with the interviews. How much energy have you got? You want to take a short break? Stretch, or go straight into sitting?
Ken: Okay, let’s take five minutes and we’ll meet back here at quarter past.
|This 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.|