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Mind Training 5


Section 1
 
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How many of you had a chance to read the footnote on torma? I read it this morning. It’s not bad.

Student: First, Ken, could I announce the schedule changes?

Ken: Yes, please.

Student: [Announcements about schedule changes]

Ken: The reason for these changes is that the quality of practice that all of you are contributing to is very strong. So, your reward is, we take it up a notch. [Laughs] You like that?

Student: And if it wasn’t very strong, take it down a notch? [Laughter]

Ken: Then we’d have to do other things. But it’s very clear that all of you are capable of doing this. I try to find a balance between clear form and structure, and the very human need to be able to relax and let things dissipate, absorb, and so forth. One of my concerns is the volume of material which we’re working with during these ten days. When you are ingesting a lot, it churns up a lot inside. And trying to hold a very strict structure when there’s a lot churning inside creates a bit of a pressure cooker sometimes, not always with beneficial effects. But the sense that I have of how everyone is practicing, coming from the interviews as much as from the quality of attention here in the meditation hall, is that you’re doing fine. So, we can go a bit further.


Section 2
 
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The advantage of observing silence is that it provides a framework for us to deal with what is coming up inside and experiencing it. In ordinary life, when we are not in silence, when something comes up inside, we just spill it out. And we get into all of those hairy interactions that we were experimenting with yesterday afternoon.

My sense is that the quality of ability, or the ability here in all of you, is such that more opportunity to work with just being with the reactive tendencies as they arise, using the tools of taking and sending, ultimate bodhicitta, will help deepen and strengthen your practice.

In the period we have from the end of lunch to the beginning of walking meditation, some of you may choose to be in silence and to remain in silence, which is fine. If you so choose, then I would ask everybody else to respect that.


Section 3
 
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Should you choose to talk and exchange thoughts, reflections, and experience, this is a very good thing, because one of the ways in the West that we learn is through exchanging experience. By saying “This is what I experienced, that is what I experienced”, and so on we share different points of view. This is a way that we really learn here in the West.

I would really recommend that you practice speaking in attention. Now, the simplest way, and also the most effective way that I have found to speak in attention is to listen to the sound of my voice as I am speaking as if I were listening to another person. You actually hear how you sound to a much greater extent. There’s a feedback mechanism that happens immediately when you do this. As some of you have heard me relate before, I gave this instruction to a group that I had in Newport Beach many years ago. The first time I gave the instruction, nobody in the group did it, so I was a little firmer at our next meeting. Subsequent to that one woman came in. I said, “How did you do with this instruction?” and she just said, “She never shuts up!” She had heard herself for the first time.

This is what you will find. You will hear when you speak in your mother’s voice, or in your father’s voice, or in somebody else’s voice. You will just hear it if you are paying attention to the sound of your voice, as you are speaking. You will also hear when what you say is different from what you intended. You’ll hear it right in the moment. You will hear when the tone or the inflection is different from what you’re feeling. It’ll all be right there. And it’s a very powerful way to bring presence into the act of speaking.

So, I would encourage you to do this—all the time, really, but particularly during this retreat—because you have the support of everyone here in engaging this effort.


Section 4
 
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In terms of walking meditation, every space is different. What we’re going to try is that we’ll meet here at 3:30. Walking meditation is walking in attention. Just the same as resting with the breath is breathing in attention. There are two ways that you can do this. One is the natural walking meditation in which you just walk at a normal pace, and we’re going to ask everybody to walk clockwise around the room. You can walk at your own pace, but we’re all going to walk in the same direction, to reduce the likelihood of collisions and other things like that.

So, you just walk quite naturally, with the attention in the walking. The first recommendation I would give you is rather than trying to do heel-toe, heel-toe, just feel your foot rolling over the floor as you walk. Because when you walk, your foot hits and then the whole sole makes contact, and then you come up on your toe. So you feel the sensation of the foot making contact with the floor. And just do that as a first start in walking meditation. I will be here with you doing that. And I will go around, speaking to people individually about ways to bring more attention into the walking. What’s always fun is that most times when we start off, it looks like Night of the Living Dead. [Laughter].

The second, for those of you who wish to experiment with this, is walking taking and sending meditation. This combines a number of techniques. The key principle is one breath, one step so that as you step forward with your left foot, for instance, you breathe. You take that one step as you breathe in. Then as you breathe out, you step forward with the right. So you’re walking much more slowly in this practice and of course you’re doing taking and sending as you breathe in and out, synchronized with your walking. Breathe naturally, so that you are synchronizing the walking with the breathing, not breathing with the walking, because you want to maintain a natural breath.

This is quite a bit more intense than the natural walking meditation, so you can do either of these, as you wish. I suggest that if you are going to do both in a given session of meditation, start off with the taking and sending. And when you feel that it’s there enough, then you can relax and do natural walking for the latter part. I’ll demonstrate this when we do it this afternoon. Okay?


Section 5
 
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Yesterday, we talked about two of the special methods, for bringing practice to bear in adverse situations. This morning we’ll look briefly at the other two: giving torma to gods and demons and offering torma to dakinis and protectors.

Tibetan buddhism, by and large, places a very heavy emphasis on ritual. You had rituals and ceremonies for almost everything. Anytime anything went wrong in your life, for that matter any time anything went right in your life, you did a little ritual. So, these torma offerings are rituals in which you prepare a bunch of stuff, and you recite a liturgy, and you do a visualization and make an offering.

What is being acted out in the ritual is—in the case of giving torma to gods and demons—you are giving your attention to those things that hook us into reactive behaviors. Gods and demons are symbols, essentially, for those aspects or those things that arise in our experience which feel good to us, the gods, and those things that feel bad to us, the demons. And ordinarily, when something feels good, we just feel good, and we attach to it, we want more, we’re attracted to it, and so forth. When something unpleasant happens, then we want to push it away, get rid of it, kill the messenger, and so forth.

By doing these little rituals, what you’re in effect doing is acknowledging, “Oh, that happened“ and ”Oh, thathappened.” So you’re just noting it. And disengaging from the habituation which causes us to make a big deal, one way or the other, out of it. That’s the essential idea here.

I’ve thought about this for many years, and I’m still at a loss as how to translate that ritual-based practice into the way we live life here in the West. If any of you have any ideas about that, I’m very open to them.

Next comes the offering torma to dakinis and protectors. Dakinis and protectors are symbols of the activity of awakened mind. And what does this phrase the activity of awakened mind mean? It means when we do something naturally from just knowing what to do without any preconception. We do this all the time, actually, we just don’t notice it. The story of Ananda’s enlightenment is relevant here.

Ananda was excluded from the conference following Buddha’s death—the conference of the senior students who were arhats (a degree of enlightenment), who were going to decide what was going to be preserved of the Buddha’s teaching. It was very unfortunate that Ananda was excluded from this because he’d been at all of the Buddha’s teaching throughout the whole life of Buddha Shakyamuni, and he had a photographic memory, so he had it all. And the story is told tha that Mahakashyapa, who was one of the top arhats, said, “No, you can’t come in because you’re not enlightened.” Ananda turned away very sadly, and Mahkashyapa said, “Ananda!” And without any thought whatsoever, Ananda just turned around and said, “Yes?” And those kind of simple responses, where we’re just right there, that is what the dakinis and protectors symbolize.

At other times, you walk into a situation and you see what needs to happen and without any thought, you just do it. That is the manifestation of the awakened mind. There is no sense of, “I am going to do this for this person.” It’s something that just happens like that. [Ken snaps his fingers.] So, what you’re doing here, in these little rituals, is nourishing that quality in your own experience. In essence, the offering of torma is an offering of attention to, on the one hand, those aspects of experience which pull us into reactive patterns, and on the other, those aspects of our experience and activity which are an expression of being awake. Okay?


Section 6
 
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Now, just let me check, here. That’s right, the quotation on the top of page 23, In order to take unexpected conditions as the path, wasn’t actually part of the root text. [Page 24, 2005 ed. The Great Path of Awakening] It’s sometimes very difficult to tell in the Tibetan what’s part of the root text and what isn’t. So you’ll see in the revised translation in here [retreat booklet], page 37, that just the last line is translated:

Whatever you encounter, work with it immediately.

We have a book here in which visiting teachers who’ve come are invited to write something. And I was leafing through it yesterday and saw what Stephen Batchelor had written:

Practice as if your hair was on fire.

Now, what do you do if your hair is on fire? Do you waste any time? No. You’re right there. That’s the idea here. Train so that as soon as something arises in your experience, it’s a trigger for attention, and you’re right there. Don’t wait and say, “Oh, well, I’m feeling a little angry, I’ll work on that tomorrow.” Or, “I’ll do that later.”

In the way that we’re practicing here with taking and sending, as soon as you feel any anger, use taking and sending to experience it completely. As soon as you feel any desire or attraction or longing or loneliness or pride or any of this stuff, right there. [Ken snaps fingers.] As soon as you feel any joy, contentment, peace, right there. [Ken snaps fingers.] Train with it. Whatever’s positive, fulfilling and pleasant, give it away. What’s unpleasant, disturbing, anxiety-provoking, fear-instilling, open to it, experience it completely. Don’t waste any time.

So, this is one of the reasons why the earlier instruction was Use maxims to train. And so the two that I use most of the time are the first one from Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses of Mind Training:

Give all gain and victory to others.
Take all loss and defeat for yourself.

And another one, which is a general mind training teaching is,

May all virtue ripen for them.
May all unwholesome activity ripen for me.

You know, this is a real downer. May all virtue ripen for them. All goodness and virtue ripen in them. May all adversity and unwholesomeness ripen for me. Them being all sentient beings.

When I was reading Uchiyama’s Refining Your Life [How to Cook Your Life], which I think is just a great book, he has this wonderful phrase,

Gain is illusion; loss is enlightenment.

It’s a little different take on it, but it’s in the same vein. I discussed the connection between the two in Wake Up to Your Life. That’s another one you can use. You know, any time you think you’re getting somewhere, you’re going deeper into illusion. [Laughs] When you think it’s just hopeless and everything is falling apart in your life, you know, you’re moving closer to the source of being.

Student: What was that one again?

Ken: Gain is illusion; loss is enlightenment. Such a cheery teaching, you know. That one I’ve also found very useful. Particularly when things just blow up, and you’re sitting in it thinking, “What the hell happened?” And nothing you’ve wanted or were trying to do, or trying to make happen, works. It’s all just fallen apart and you’ve lost everything. When you’ve lost everything, you’re returning to what you actually are. It really works. Okay.

You find other phrases in the text here:

May all sentient beings come to engage naturally in much greater [dharma] activity than this.

May every evil thought and action of every sentient being be gathered in mind [this one]. [Great Path of Awakening, pp. 24-25]

Taking on quite a load. Okay.


Section 7
 
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Now, the next section, The Utilization of Practice in One’s Life, employs a typical device that is used in many Tibetan texts, and I think in the original Indian as well, which was to come up with something that was easy to remember, which would guide you in the right direction in every situation. And so you have this list that’s easy to remember, called the five forces. They are the force of impetus, the force of familiarization, the force of virtuous seeds, the force of repudiation, and the force of aspiration. I would change the first two, and I might change the other ones later. Just to confuse you.

The force of impetus really means intention. And you will see in the text it’s the same as that I gave you for your wake-up practice:

From this moment until I awaken, at least from now until I die, and definitely from this year and this month, and especially from today until tomorrow (at least for the next two minutes), I will keep the two aspects of awakening mind in me all the time.

This is setting intention. And setting intention is very important. Every practice has an intention. Each of you in your own practice has an intention. Now, when we first started this retreat, I asked, “Why are you here, and what do you want to get from this retreat?” The purpose of those questions was to help you to get in touch with your intention for this retreat.

One of the things that happens all too often is that people accept the intention and accept the practices that they’re given without questioning whether they really fit with their own intention in practice. You need to be clear about what the intention of a practice is, and if it is in line with what you are practicing for. Everybody can say, “Oh, yeah, I’m practicing to get enlightened for the welfare of all sentient beings.” But that’s something that we’re given initially. And yes, through the course of practice, we may discover that intention in ourselves. And then our practice takes on a whole different quality.

But I want to emphasize the importance about being clear about your intention and about approaching practice in the way which is aligned with that intention. Then you’ll be able to pour your energy into the practice, and it will be fruitful. If there is a discrepancy or a divergence between the intention of the practice and what you want to do, it’s not going to be as fruitful.

This also applies to teaching. I invited a colleague of mine to attend a retreat at Mt. Baldy many years ago. On our way up, we stopped for lunch. He’s very deeply steeped in the Tibetan tradition. He was a monk for 20 years, almost got his geshe qualifications. A very, very knowledgeable, and a very kind person. Over lunch I said, “Why do you want to teach?” And he said, “Oh, to benefit all sentient beings.” And I said, “Yeah, I know, that’s the Buddhist propaganda. Why do you want to teach?” And he thought for a little bit. “I…I can’t think of anything else to say, Ken. That’s all that comes to mind.”

And I felt very sad at that point. Because having hung around with him, and having worked together at the conference on some stuff, I know why he teaches. And he teaches because he loves the dharma. You can feel it in the way that he talks about it and expresses it. It’s just pure love for the dharma, but he’s not in touch with his own intention. He’s absorbed the system’s intention so there’s always that discrepancy there, which shows up in the way that his life manifests.

So I really want you to be clear about your intention in this. That’s where the power of your practice comes from, from acting on your intention. As practice matures, what we discover is all of the stuff that’s written in here or in all the other things really unfolds and it becomes our intention. But it becomes our intention not because we’ve adopted it and tried to train ourselves in it, but because we’ve followed our intention. And as we go deeper and deeper into our own experience, this is what we discover, because this is what we are. We are emptiness and compassion. So there is no other thing to manifest. But it’s something we discover from inside, not something that we take on like a coat or a uniform, or anything like that. So, that’s the first.


Section 8
 
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The second is the force of familiarization. And basically this means you just keep doing it over and over and over again until it’s just part of you. And that’s very much the purpose of this retreat. Just gonna do it, you know, with every breath, in with the bad air, out with good air. In with the bad; it’s basically what it boils down to, isn’t it? You know, and as we do this again and again and again, it just becomes the way we approach experience. It’s training, familiarization, habituation, whatever you want to call it. But the idea is to train deeply so it’s just there.

The third is virtuous seeds. The actual Tibetan is white seeds, but that seemed a little obscure in English, so I changed it to virtuous. This means that we just do good. Doing good whenever the opportunity arises in the way that we discussed the other day creates a clarity and opening in the mind, so that we’re just a little bit more there.


Section 9
 
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The fourth is the force of repudiation. Whereas the force of virtuous seeds is addressing wholesome actions, the force of repudiation is addressing unwholesome actions. Unwholesome actions are those actions which close the mind down.

One of the exercises that I sometimes do give people, without taking it too far, is that I may ask someone to lie intentionally, to pick a situation and intentionally deceive another person. It’s a totally conscious act, to observe what happens in you when you do this. My experience to date is that you cannot lie to someone without something shutting down in you. You have to close off something in order to do it. You cannot lie in presence. There’s a shutting down. That’s the key principle of unwholesome action: it shuts something down inside so we are less present. It’s interesting, I came across a definition of sin in the Christian tradition as that which separates you from God. It’s exactly the same idea.

So, whenever we do something which shuts us down, and the most common example of that is doing things which are harmful to others, then we are doing something that is contrary to our intention. Therefore we repudiate the action, which means that we acknowledge that we did it, and we say, “No, I’m not gonna go there anymore.”


Section 10
 
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And then the fifth force is the force of aspiration. Right? This sounds like not very much, and for many years I dismissed it as a really valuable thing. But as I read more and studied more and practiced more I came to understand this is really important.

Kalu Rinpoche would often say, “Do this, but if you can’t do this, then pray to be able to do this.” And I would say, “Well, okay, that’s the consolation prize.” But the wisdom in that is that by forming that aspiration, you are beginning to form an intention. And by aspiring to do that, you’re actually preparing the ground so that one day you’re able to do it.

So in the Tibetan tradition, you have these prayers of aspiration which are absolutely mind-boggling in scope. You know? It’s said that Jamgon Kongtrul, who was a great teacher in the nineteeth century, is destined to be the thousandth buddha of this aeon of a thousand buddhas. These are vast reaches of time we’re talking about. His aspiration for bodhicitta is to do as much when he is a buddha as all the 999 before him. That’s a big aspiration. When you think in these terms, what happens to your mind? You just open, right? That’s part of the purpose. There’s nothing which really limits you.

If you read the Avatamsaka Sutra, the scale on which things are done is immense. In every atom in the universe, there are buddhafields as numerous as there are atoms in the universe. [Laughs] It’s like—what?

So, here we have Kongtrul’s,

May I, on my own [Notice that big aspiration] guide all sentient beings to buddhahood. And particularly from now until I attain enlightenment, may I never forget the two aspects of precious bodhicitta even when I am dreaming. May the two aspects of bodhicitta grow stronger and stronger. Whatever adverse conditions I encounter, may I take them as aids to bodhicitta. [Great Path of Awakening, pp. 26-27]

We also have in the Zen tradition the four vows: Sentient beings are limitless; I vow to save them all. Dharma doors are innumerable; I vow to enter them all. Reactive emotions are infinite; I vow to resolve them all. The way is limitless…I can’t remember the fourth one. What is it? I’ve got them mixed up. I think they are written out here somewhere. I saw them. Yeah. And there are many different versions of them. But they all have the same four themes. But again, it’s vast and huge. I guess this could be boiled down to two words: think big.


Section 11
 
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Now, what to do at death? There are two aspects to life: there’s living and there’s dying. Most of us aren’t too conscious when we’re being born, so we get living and dying. The next section in here applies the five forces to the dying process. Give everything away before you die. That’s seeds of virtuous action, that force.

Come to terms with all the harm that you’ve caused in your life. I’ve always found T.S. Eliot’s lines, the gift reserved for old age…The shame of things ill done and done to others. Harm which once you took for exercise of virtue.

Because these are the things that are going to come back to haunt us when we die, or as we are dying. Therefore it is very important to come to terms with those beforehand. That’s what the force of repudiation is about.

The force of intention is to carry that intention right into death. The intention to be awake and present. To be emptiness and compassion, right into death.

The force of familiarization is to keep training right until you die. The paragraph on page 26 is the actual instructions. What I want you to do for the rest of the retreat is to practice this when you go to sleep at night and if you’re taking a nap in the day, practice it then too. So you’re approaching going to sleep as if you were dying. And you go through these various forces like, “Okay, what did I do that wasn’t so good today? And, what aspiration am I making?” And then you lie down.

Now, the traditional instruction is you lie down on your right side, using the little finger of the right hand to block the nostril. The idea here is that in tantric physiology, the right channel is the channel of reactive emotion, the left channel is the channel of pristine wisdom. But again, this should be reversed for women.

It gets a little tricky here, because the other reason for lying down is that your heart is more on your left side. When lying on this side, you aren’t crushing the heart and reducing its ability. So I’m not sure you should be switching or not. It’s all very confused, and I’ve never found any lama who can straighten it out for me.

Buddha died lying on his right side, like this. You just practice taking and sending as you go to sleep. Breathing in suffering of others, breathing out everything that you value and cherish and enjoy. And as your mind becomes quiet, then you just rest in open awareness. And if you can go to sleep that way, and if you can die that way, very good.

During the three-year retreat my ex-wife asked Bokar Rinpoche, who was Kalu Rinpoche’s successor, what to do when you die. We were given about fifteen different instructions about what to do when you die including phowa and things like that. But Bokar Rinpoche said, “This is the most important one.” This one. Forget about all the other stuff. Do this one. Specifically the taking and sending.

While the main point is to practice these forces single-mindedly, the accompanying actions are also important. Physically, one should sit in the seven-point posture, or if unable to do that…

If you can die sitting up, it’s supposed to be better. But it’s not essential. Buddha wasn’t sitting up when he died.

Now, you have this odd paragraph at the top of page 27. [Top of p. 29, 2005 ed.The Great Path of Awakening] And you know what is this?

An instruction for death that employs a salve states: Apply to the crown of the head an ointment compounded of wild honey, ash from burning unspoiled seashells, and filings from an iron magnet.

Okay?

Student: What are unspoiled seashells?

Ken: Well, unspoiled means they weren’t broken; they’re perfect in form.

Student: Oh, I see.

Ken: Now, what’s going on here? Well, this is known as the Brahminical aperture, right at the top of the head, I think it’s the fontanelle? Is that the name in English? And when you are doing phowa…[podcast ends].


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.