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A Trackless Path II 13

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Wednesday, August 11th, A Trackless Path II, morning session.

I want to go through the rest of The Wisdom Experience of Ever-present Good this morning. There are some other things I want to turn attention to this evening. As Larry pointed out yesterday, in a certain sense we’re saying the same thing over and over again, many different ways, so…

Awakening mind, free from discarding or attaining,

Buddha nature, the essence of awareness,

Is present in you. Still, it is stuck in a cage of inventions.

All meditation just clouds the heart of the matter.

Is everybody with me? Page 28. It’s actually called the third chapter; we’re about just over halfway down the page.

In this presentation one way to look at it is it goes back and forth between describing really three things. Trying to put into words this way of experiencing things, is one. The mechanisms that prevent it from arising, that’s two. And three, instructions which move you in the direction of experiencing things this way. Those three elements are interwoven all through Jigme Lingpa’s writings here.

So Awakening mind, free from discarding or attaining, Buddha nature, the essence of awareness, is present in you. As I’ve said before this isn’t a statement of fact—this is a description of experience. We find in our experience when we rest deeply or when a lot of the habituated functionings fall away this extraordinary clarity and openness in which there’s no sense of subject and object. Which has various terms—awakening mind, buddha nature, essence of awareness. We find it in our experience. It’s not a thing; it is itself a way of experiencing.

And then the next part, Still it is stuck in a cage of inventions. That’s a description of the situation and there’s this possibility in us and yet all of this stuff is going on, and there’s a metaphor of the cage. It’s like it’s caged—it can’t get out—we can’t access it.

And then the fourth line—All meditation just clouds the heart of the matter. That’s actually instruction. You know, it’s saying what he’s said over and over again. “Don’t do anything.”

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So, you go into the next stanza,

In pure being, which is without origin or essence,

What is experienced has no beginning or end.

That again is description of experience.

Your misconceptions twist what is formless into form.

That’s a description of the mechanisms.

Slipping away from what is true, you become confused and reactive.

That’s what happens.

Some people cut off the ebb and flow of thoughts and feelings

And construct an emptiness practice corrupted by goal-seeking.

So now he’s saying this is how some people try to do it and this is the result.

I come across this all the time—people who are trying to stop the flow of thoughts. Gunaratana is a Theravadan teacher in Virginia, I think, very, very good. I once listened to him describe the meditation instruction and going into the four jhanas—it was just like listening to a string quartet. It was so clear, it was just beautiful. I mean you could almost feel it happening in you as he described. It was just…

So what he says, Thoughts are to mind what sweat is to the body. And Gampopa had a student and he’d be talking to his people and he’d say, “You know I got so-and-so up in the mountains, and he’s really trying to stop thoughts. I don’t know what to do with him. If he didn’t regard thoughts as an enemy he would have been enlightened a long time ago.”

So there’s a phrase in the Kagyu teaching called—which has become a big deal in some circles—the Tibetan is tha mal gyi shes pa (pron. tamal gyi shépa), and it just means ordinary mind, ordinary knowing. I mean it’s quite a wonderful phrase. It points to how we can experience things if we just don’t do anything. It’s that second part that’s a little difficult.

So trying to control or cut-off the natural working of mind—I mean, if we look at mind as how we experience things, then this is a very forceful approach of trying to control how we experience things. This doesn’t work. And so, it always involves some kind of suppression. Here they construct an emptiness practice corrupted by goal seeking. So they are able to create a kind of emptiness experience which is no-thought, but it’s an artificial construct, and it is the expression of their ambition—there’s no naturalness in it at all.

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They are worn out from pushing a forced practice.

Big problems develop when you misdirect energy into the life channel.

Now, that’s referring to a wave, you might call it spiritual physiology; we always called it spiritual plumbing in the… [Laughter] You have the system of channels and energy moving through them. And it’s a way of describing the arising of experience which is used in high-level Vajrayana practice in order to understand, apply attention in various ways so that you transform basic energies of the body. And they become available for attention and awareness.

If you do this the wrong way you get very, very ill. And you cannot heal these illnesses medically. As one of my friends put it, the traditional warnings are death, paralysis, or insanity—and they’re very real, very real.

One of my students was doing some work at this level and she got very, very ill, and I pulled her out of the retreat because her life was actually in danger. It was very disturbing. I know too many people who’ve gone crazy, literally, from doing this stuff.

It all comes because there are emotional elements that can’t be allowed into experience and that distortion forces energy into the system the wrong way, and you get very, very ill or go crazy. So this is a big warning against really trying to control your experience. And you see this a lot not only in Tibetan practice, it comes up in Theravadan and in Zen in different ways. You see it in yoga. It comes up in T’ai Chi. Anywhere where you’re working with energy transformation techniques. Or people, even if they aren’t doing energy transformation techniques, if they’re trying to make themselves experience things a certain way, you are going to get these kinds of problems.

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Others do not see original presence.

Misled by descriptions of presence, their practice is ineffective.

Taking an intense dullness that conceals thoughts and feeling

As the essence of practice, they are very confused.

This is very, very common also where people hear these descriptions, and they construct an idea of it and then try to duplicate that idea. But because there isn’t a direct experience of the extraordinary clarity and openness they’re wandering around in the dark—quite literally. And they will often mistake, you know, certain states of what actually are dullness as openness and so forth. And the confusion just goes on and on. It’s why it is helpful to have interaction with a teacher so that you aren’t relying solely on your own sense of being awake. Interaction with other people quickly reveals whether it is contrived or natural.

Some use their ability to know movement as mind

To mull over the traces of thoughts and feelings ebb and flow.

People who track arising and fading in stable meditation

Just spin in confusion, even if they practice for a hundred years.

We talked about this much earlier in the retreat. This is, you know, taking the noting practice too far, and you’re just constantly tracking your progress. And there’s the considerable danger in the way that much Buddhism is being taught where there’s been this blurring of lines between Buddhism and psychotherapy. And a lot of people are using their meditation as a way to do psychotherapy with themselves so they’re constantly ruminating about stuff. And it just is it’s not—I mean it may be helpful from a therapeutic point of view, but it’s not going to be very helpful from dropping into awareness—into this different way of experiencing things.

And I’ve been to various centers and it’s actually quite disheartening sometimes because all the words are right but what people are doing in their practice is there [are] very definite states of mind that they’re trying to cultivate. And so there’s a great operation of preference going on. And this is one of the important aspects of equanimity is that as your practice develops, one of the things that’s very important is to become totally…to accept whatever arises and be in that experience. And I mean that’s far from easy but it’s very, very important.

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In general, work and effort alone just create opposition.

You aren’t happy when you practice and you stir up all sort of pains;

When you don’t practice, you don’t know your own nature and wander in confusion.

In either case, you fall away from what is natural and true.

One of the things that’s come to me through my own efforts is a philosophy which I sum up in the single sentence: There is no enemy. It’s not particularly easy—I’ve spent very, very long periods of my time practicing trying to get rid of certain very, very painful experiences. And the degree to which you have to accept whatever arises—I mean it’s hard. And for some people it is going to be harder than others. Tulku Urgyen was a wonderful teacher who died in Nepal a few years ago. He would say you know, “Some people have to work at this so hard, and other people it just falls into their lap. Life’s not fair.” [Laughter] And people would say, “Well, if they haven’t had to work hard at it then it isn’t really awakening.” And he would say, “No, that’s not the case at all.”

Some people we have very, very difficult stuff in our background, and so it can be extremely difficult to develop the capacity and courage and whatever to be able to receive and experience what has been blocked and stored away for a very, very long time. And other people they don’t have that stuff in their past and so they just sit down and things open. In traditional explanations it would be good and bad karma, you see. But it’s just a way of explaining why things are different, and it doesn’t really do anything other than provide explanations. The fact is we have the bodies that we’re born with, we have the circumstances in life which we’ve encountered, and that’s it [snaps fingers]. But what I’ve found is, if you can really not oppose any experience, a lot of things get a lot simpler. But I won’t say it’s easy.

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So, Because these mistakes stop you from going beyond ordinary human experience…—he’s just listed a whole bunch of mistakes now he’s going to—Jigme Lingpa’s going to describe what to do.

Be clear that the approach of meditation versus not-meditation

Relies on an artificial distinction.

Be present right now, without trying to change or control anything.

And he’s saying the same thing as there is no enemy right in that last line.

Be present right now, without trying to change or control anything.

Put a complete stop to any kind of scrutiny, control,

Or goal-seeking using conditioned states of mind.

Now again here this is extremely easy to misinterpret. And a lot of people would say, “Okay, I’m just going to stop that.” [Makes cutting sound] That’s not how it works in practice. How it works in practice is you’re going to fall into this, and you’ll find yourself, “Oh am I meditating the right way? Am I doing the right thing right now?” You’re going to find yourself doing that. And as soon as you notice that you’re doing it, go to your body and be present with what’s there. That will stop it for a millisecond or two. So it’s not a case of blocking it, it’s a case of stepping-out of it whenever you recognize that it’s there. And you’ll find layers and layers of subtler and subtler forms of control, and you keep doing the same thing. You just—“Oh, there it is.”

Kalu Rinpoche’s one-line instruction which he gave to us over and over again was “Just recognize.”

Student: Just what?

Ken: “Just recognize.” [Snaps fingers.] Mind is resting—just recognize it. Mind is moving—just recognize. So it’s just that little bit of wakefulness so you know what’s going on. And that’s it. “Just recognize.”

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Direct awareness is no big deal and doesn’t need any work.

Stop trying to change or adjust it. Just let it be.

Here it sounds like direct awareness is a thing. No, it’s how you’re experiencing. So another way of saying this is just be in your experience and don’t do anything about it. I mean it’s very, very hard because we always want things to be just a little bit different—a lot! [Laughs]

Whenever conceptual thinking arises—this is a wonderful stanza.

Whenever conceptual thinking arises,

Don’t look at what arises: be what knows the arising.

So you’re right in the movement.

Like an oak stake in hard ground,

Stand firm in awareness that knows, and go deep into the mystery.

When you do this it’s like stepping off a cliff. It’s just like you’re just in this and you have no control over what’s arising. You’re just in experience right there. And it may feel like you’re falling. Well the only reason we fear falling is because we think there’s a bottom.

I mean I’ve mentioned this several times before but I really wish I’d saved this cartoon. But there’s a two-panel cartoon and in the first there are two guys, a rooster, and a dog. And the background is dead black. And one of the guys is just—his hair is all standing on end, his eyes are wide open, and there’s just this look of pure terror in his face. And there’s something similar on the other guy, and the dog his legs are splayed, his mouth is wide open, and the rooster’s feathers are just all over the place and he’s just flapping hysterically. And the caption reads, “3 seconds after falling into a bottomless abyss.” [Laughter] The next—same four characters. One of the guys is like this. [Ken assumes a relaxed, floating pose.] The other guy’s like this. The dog’s asleep. [Laughter] The rooster is perfectly composed and the caption reads, “6 months after falling into a bottomless…” [Laughter] Very good meditation instruction.

So I mean Jigme Lingpa says here, Don’t look at what arises: be what knows the arising. There are actually two ways of practicing: one is to look at what arises, and the other is to look at what knows what arises. And different teachers actually will, and different traditions emphasize one or the other. They actually both end up in the same place but in slightly different ways. And you may find one approach works better for you than the other.

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In the nature of what is, plain and simple,

You may rest free from movement or change.

If you don’t avoid the trap of correctives based on positions,

You will get lost in the ways of the analytic approach.

This is why Sasaki Roshi says it takes ten or twelve years working with someone who’s read a philosophical text. Because there you’re sitting and you will have ideas about how things are arising and how things should be and inevitably—and you’re all cursed with this already so you can’t get away from this. [Laughter] And those will creep in. They’re very, very subtle biases or prejudices about experience. Just recognize, and go back to falling.

All the technicalities of outlook, practice, and behavior

And for a couple of people, ’cause they sent me notes about this [Ken substitutes new words]—Ground, path and fruition

Are, from the perspective of what is true, just intellectual chaff.

It’s just stuff. It’s ways of organizing and understanding experience. Some of it’s very, very useful but when you’re practicing like this let it all go.

Let correctives that work on mindfulness subside into space.

Maintain the chosen discipline of not naming “wandering” or “not wandering.”

You get the idea Jigme Lingpa’s not giving you anything to hold onto.

Let things be, without messing around with projecting or absorbing.

Those are technical techniques used in certain Vajrayana meditations—I don’t need to go into them right now.

Rest in space free from the complications of effort.

The great treasure is to be free of thought and thinking:

To know that there is originally no buddha,

To be where wanting has never been.

Now take in those last two lines: To know that there is originally no buddha. Anybody want their money back right now? [Laughter] I mean there’s this famous expression from the Zen tradition, If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him. You have no idea how much consternation this arouses in people who don’t understand what’s being referred to there.

I mean there’s a woman I dated many years ago and I told her a story I’d heard about the Dalai Lama which I found quite delightful. And the story goes, this is before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and he was flying in America and this is when they still served meals on planes. And so he was served a meal and he was eating it and the person who was next to him—Westerner—said, “Isn’t that meat you’re eating?” And the Dalai Lama said, “Yes, it’s veal, it’s quite good.” And the Westerner said, “But I thought Buddhists didn’t eat meat?” And the Dalai Lama said, “Only the serious ones.” [Much laughter] And I told this story to this woman, and she just said, “You mean the Dalai Lama isn’t a serious Buddhist?” [Laughter] She just couldn’t understand this. So…

Student: So much for that—

Ken: To know that there is… Pardon?

Student: I said, “So much for that date.” [Laughter]

Ken: Oh yeah [laughter] I just let it go. This isn’t going anywhere. [Laughter]

To know that there is originally no buddha. I mean, with all the hullabaloo about Buddhism it’s a little frightening but there we have it.

And to be where wanting has never been. I find this very useful, I think, because you read this and you go, “Oh.” And it almost moves you there—just the phrase itself.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah.

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With this special teaching that rots the roots of samsara,

Wake up from the realm of misery. Open and relax

In emptiness that goes beyond what is true or what is false

Is the meaning of arising and releasing, self-releasing, and direct releasing.

You’ll see in the footnote these are three ways that thoughts release—thoughts, reactions, etc.—release from the dzogchen tradition.

Know this and you are no different from all the awakened ones.

You will awaken and be no different from me.

And here Jigme Lingpa of course is speaking as Samantabhadra.

The next verse is a little bit important.

In this age of strife, these key instructions of the great mystery

Are mingled with the authoritative writings of the analytic approach.

In other words they’re buried. So, and this was deliberate. In traditional societies one is presented with this way of practice only after one had gone through a great deal of training. And so this approach to practice really belonged to the privileged few, who it was felt could actually make use of it. And the reason for this is that this level of instruction, this way of practice was regarded as too dangerous for most people. Dangerous not only in the ways that I was describing as people would construct, and drive, and force themselves, and you know either kill themselves or drive themselves crazy, make themselves very ill. But also because this gives you so little to hold onto—it actually gives you nothing to hold onto—that for many people the reaction to this would either to be fall into despair and depression or slide into megalomania. And you know, “Nothing matters, I can do whatever the hell I want,” etc.

And the purpose of all the preliminary training, developing the capacity wasn’t simply about developing the capacity of attention. It was also developing the emotional capacity to be able to meet this complete openness without falling into despair or going into megalomania or solipsism or something like that. So these instructions were sprinkled through or interwoven with other texts, and it was through your training that you were pointed out, “Okay, that belongs here, and that belongs here.”

Those knowledge holders who are not different from me

Will confirm this wisdom-experience.

And here again we find one of the central principles of Buddhism that the experience of contemporary masters is held to be of equal authority as what is written in the various sutras and traditional teachings—and this is one of the things that keeps Buddhism so alive.

Masters of this teaching, expression of the awakening beings of the three families,

And those blessed with natural talent may you make use of it.

So, there you are. A little bit late for breakfast but we will continue. Okay any announcements?


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.