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Let me just make sure we don’t have any interference from the ether.
Sunday, August 6th, right? 8th.
Ken: I got the month right this time. A Trackless Path II, evening session.
I believe we still have a few questions to take up.
[Laughs] You know I ran into this in the Teacher Development Program, which I did a couple of years ago. It’s a three-year program, and one person in the program decided he was there to learn, so he just volunteered for every role play or exercise and asked questions, etc. The others just sat around like dead frogs on a dead log. [Laughter]
Student: A slight exaggeration. [Laughter]
Ken: It all depends where you were sitting. [Laughter] And I would make rude noises about this from time to time. And finally they decided to gang up on me. They didn’t tell me they were ganging up on me. But they got tired of my making rude noises about this.
So the next time I said, “And who would like to volunteer for this exercise?” And they all went “Chooo. Everybody.” [Laughter] And, oh. And totally changed the dynamic. Because whereas before, I had to choose who was going to participate. But I had to be very careful. “Now is this person too delicate? And is this…and…aw…oh. And it was really tricky. But now with everybody going chooo, everybody indicated they were willing in the same way as in the dakini meditation, right? So now I could, ”Oh, this person would be the best for this exercise.“ It just made everything much easier and just changed the energy of the whole thing completely. Wouldn’t you agree, Claudia? [Laughter]
Claudia: Yes, I would agree.
Ken: Thank you. Now, when I say, have you got any questions everybody just, no, no, no, you know, and occasionally someone puts up a hand, things like that. So, you know, so I just say, we’re going to go around with the microphone, and everybody has these really great questions. And when they put these questions out, you notice the level of interest. You know, everybody just sitting there, oh no another boring question. [Laughter] It’s not happening right?
So with that, Gary. [Laughter]
Gary: Okay, you asked for it.
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Gary: I have two questions.
Ken: Music to my ears.
Gary: The first one deals with the morning recording, that I am partially responsible for losing.
Ken: You were the guilty one.
Gary: I am, I’m guilty. So if anybody out there is upset just make it to northeastern New Mexico. I’ll give you a few minutes head start. [Laughter] And in that, I remember you saying something about longing and pain and joy, and what intrigued me was how you described the pain. You didn’t mention it the same way you did today. And you described pain as the expression of separation. That’s my first question. And the second question—
Ken: What’s the question? Just a sec, what’s the question?
Gary: Well the question is, what did you mean by the pain of separation? ’Cause separation is a very general word, and, of course, it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.
Ken: Well I think there are probably multiple meanings that could be brought in here. So I’ll mention two but there may well be others. [Pause]
We have a sense where we want to go. Or to put it differently, we have a sense of how we want to be. Or to put it in still other words—it’s a little more difficult and possibly a little more doubtful—we have a sense of another possibility. And we may not know what it is, even if we have an idea of what it is, which is usually wrong, but that’s another matter. We may have no idea of how to get there, and so we feel a pain of separation. That’s one level. [Pause]
Why do we desire things? Because we feel separate from them. And so that’s another level; that the way that we ordinarily experience the world, it’s as if there’s a glass wall, and we can’t quite touch what is on the other side of the glass. And not initially, but as our practice develops depth, and we become more attuned to the possibilities of connection, then that sense of separation becomes more and more acute. That help?
Gary: Little bit. The title of this retreat is A Trackless Path. So—
Ken: A Trackless Path II. We don’t want to confuse it with the first one. [Laughter]
Gary: Well, I think there’s a little bit of a problem in the title because you’re not supposed to repeat things twice, right? Anyway—
Ken: No. Fair enough. [Laughter]
Gary: Back to practice. But, you talked about willingness quite a bit. I mean, I’ve heard you talk about willingness. And when you talk about a pain of separation, for me that’s something I would naturally avoid, glass wall or not. And so—
Ken: Now, you would avoid the pain of separation?
Gary: Well, in my own experience that brings up a lot of obstacles, this whole thing of desiring something you feel separate from. If you get my drift. The whole thing is it’s like getting what you don’t want, and you know, not getting what you want. That whole—
Ken: You’re making some interesting jumps here.
Gary: I know, I know.
Gary: So when I hear you mention that, it sounds a little academic to me because if you have willingness to engage something that is painful, even though you don’t know where it’s going to lead, then how does faith enter into that sense that you’re talking about?
Ken: Just say the sentence of the question again please, would you?
Gary: I’m not sure I can repeat it. If one needs willingness to engage that pain that comes from longing, the pain of separation…
Gary: …then how does…and you don’t really know what’s going to happen, because part of what I’ve heard you mention is, it’s not something you can control—longing—then how does faith enter into this sense you’re talking about?
Ken: Well, it seems this takes us right back to refuge. Now there are two ways of looking at refuge. There’s a classic, classical interpretation of refuge in which you, which is based on metaphor—feudal society—where you have the warlords in the castle who protected the peasants, and so you hooked up with the mightiest, which just happens to be Buddha, of course. And that’s a very straightforward interpretation, and it appeals to a sense of insecurity, etc., etc. But that’s not the one that I think is relevant here.
A second interpretation of refuge is you become a refugee. Now why does one become a refugee? One becomes a refugee because the circumstances of one’s country have become intolerable. It may be personally intolerable, so you’re fleeing some kind of persecution or political witch-hunt, or something like that. Or maybe some disaster, may have struck like an earthquake or famine, disease. There may be others.
But the key factor in becoming a refugee is that for whatever reason, life as you’ve known it, is no longer possible. And so you leave. When you leave, even if you have an idea of where you may be going to, you know, another country, you really have no idea what’s going to happen, how things are going to turn out. It may even be worse. You have no idea. And that’s were faith enters the picture. Because becoming a refugee requires being willing to meet whatever one experiences. Where you are, isn’t working. You start to go somewhere else, and you’re just going to meet whatever you experience, which is how I view faith, as you know.
So, for many people, I won’t say for all, but for many people practice is motivated—or let’s move away from the word practice—a spiritual path of some kind is motivated by not being able to stand how things are for them right now; no longer being able to live with it. And so they embark on some kind of quest or path or whatever you want. Most of the time, probably all of the time, having no idea what’s going to happen. That requires faith. But it’s impelled by, I think in most cases, some kind of longing, and the longing is sufficiently acute that a person addresses it in this perhaps somewhat radical way. Does that help?
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And now for the second question, ’cause I think what you just mentioned may lead to the next one, surprisingly. I was lucky enough to be given refuge by you here, maybe a few summers ago. Are you planning to also offer that to folks here who may want that? That’s why you shouldn’t ask me to question.
Gary: I told you you shouldn’t have asked me to take the mic.
Ken: [Laughs] I didn’t have any plans to.
Gary: Can you tell us why?
Ken: What are you hunting for here, Gary? And just leave the mic on. It’s better if it crashes on the—
Gary: It’s the old lineage question. It seems that—
Ken: Ah. Okay. All right.
Gary: Yes. There’s, you know, that tends to stick with me a little bit. ’Cause things have changed, haven’t they?
Ken: He said, grinning seraphically. [Laughter] I need to put that in so that people listening can know the expression on your face. [Laughter] [Pause]
Well, [pause] I may have to get back to you on this one but let me sit with it for a moment. [Pause] I think it’s because I want people to hold lineage in their hearts. Okay?
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Hi Jeff. [Laughter]
Jeff: Speaking of vows…
Jeff: …the other night you mentioned—
Jeff: The other night you spoke a little bit about the Vajrayana vows.
Ken: Ah yes.
Jeff: That was of great interest to me because I’d been wondering what I vowed to a number of years ago, because all I remember is you told me I was your slave forever. [Peals of laughter] As your humble slave—
Ken: Could we start the evening’s talk over again? [Laughter] Okay, umm—
Jeff: But a very real interest because it’s a commitment to approach daily life in a certain way.
Jeff: You touched on that and if there’s more that you could say about it.
Ken: You remind me of my old officemate. We were driving to a friend’s house for dinner. And I said, how do we get there. He said you go along here until you get to this street and you turn left. And so we drove on for about half a mile and I said, ”I don’t think that street intersects this street.“ [Mimicking angry officemate] ”Ken, just do what I say. Drive on, turn left.“ That’s how he was. So I said, ”You know I really don’t think…“ [Mimicking officemate] ”I’m willing to bet you anything that it intersects, now just do it.“ ”Well what are you willing to bet?“ [Mimicking officemate] ”I’ll be your slave for life!“ ”Done!“
And of course, it didn’t intersect so he did end up being my slave for life. He was so angry. He hates to lose bets. After three years, this is right at the beginning of our office thing together, at the end of the three-year lease, we broke up the office and he went, ”Do I still have to be your slave?“ So I did issue a declaration of emancipation. [Laughter]
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The easy way to answer this is to get very technical, so I’m trying not to do that.
I think it’s important to remember that much of what is talked about in spiritual practice, particularly when it comes to rituals and ceremonies, much is expressed in mythic and poetic language. And there’s quite a famous saying, I’m not sure where it originates, ”When dreams become reality, disaster is not far behind.“ And the way this applies in spiritual practice, is that whenever you try to make literal, that which is expressed mythically, you end up with disaster. We’ve seen that time and again politically. Every time someone is declared to be the Messiah, in fact, usually it’s the beginning of a war, and a lot of people die.
So in the Vajrayana empowerment ritual—and if I were going to get technical I would distinguish all the different levels of empowerments but I’m not going to go there tonight—student and teacher practice together. And in practicing together, they create the conditions in which, ideally, the student has some experience of what it means to be awake in the context of that particularly yidam or deity.
So if it’s Chenrezi there’s some sense of what it means to be the embodiment of awakened compassion. Or for White Tara or Green Tara, you know, Manjushri, different flavor of Vajrapani, quite a different flavor, and so forth. And a seed is planted, ideally in the student’s experience. That’s the purpose of empowerment really. It’s carried out most time nowadays through a formal set of introductions, like here’s what it looks like, here’s what it holds. You know with Chenrezi, it’s crystal rosary and the lotus, so forth. And one holds these objects, and in holding that object, it’s like okay, lotus, rosary, what’s that like? Now usually it’s just done so quickly and so formally that nothing much happens. [Pause] And then at the end there are these verses, the intention of which is to create within the student the conditions in which that seed can be nurtured and grow. You follow?
Ken: So one of those, one of those conditions that helps that seed to grow is really being open to the teacher. And that’s what’s being expressed poetically. It’s not literally, you know, being a slave [laughter], even though that’s actually how it’s worded in some rituals. But it’s an expression, a formalized expression of devotion on the part of the student.
So that that devotion is instilled, because that devotion, as we’ve been discussing the last couple of days around positive emotions, I mean, when we bring that emotional energy in, as many of you have commented in the interviews, that based on this discussion of working with faith, devotion, longing, etc., you find, ”My practice is much more stable. My attention just operates differently.“ Those are the conditions. And so it’s a formalized expression of that devotion with a view to planting that seed so it’s something that the student will maintain. And thus the seed of experience that has been planted can grow and blossom in the student. If you take a look at the mind training teachings, one of them, I think is, ”Take care of what’s important.“
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Do you have the book here, Gail? [Great Path of Awakening] No. Okay. You’re hard at work on that commentary?
Gail: I actually have it with me. Do you want me to go get it?
Ken: Oh no, it’s not—
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And one of the things that is important is one’s relationship with one’s teacher. That is something that in that line of instruction, a student is being encouraged to take care of that relationship, because it is so important. And I can certainly attest to the importance of taking care of it, because over the years I’ve been teaching, I’ve worked with at least a dozen people who’ve come to me, because they felt something’s broken down in their relationship with their teacher. And sometimes it’s something the teacher has done, that the teacher has actually stepped out of the relationship.
Sometimes it is the student who has actually grown beyond that particular teacher. And sometimes there’s obviously a misunderstanding between the student and teacher, which the student hasn’t handled very well, and so has given rise to a rupture.
And in all cases, it affects the student’s ability to practice, very, very significantly. When there is an actual rupture in the relationship, what I’ve observed, it’s usually four or five years before the student can practice again. It’s very significant. In other circumstances, if it’s handled the right way, then the transition can be much, much less than that.
But, even when it’s the case of the teacher having stepped out of the relationship for whatever reason, that can be very difficult, because it can take quite a while for the student to actually accept that.
When it’s a case of the student growing to the point that they can’t learn from that particular teacher, which isn’t necessarily going beyond the teacher, but they can’t learn from that particular teacher, then it’s very tricky. It can be very tricky because often the teacher gets really defensive around that. And that’s problematic. But that can usually be negotiated relatively smoothly.
But in all these cases what I’m just trying to point out here is that the relationship between teacher and student is a very important part of one’s practice regardless, even leaving the whole devotion thing out of it. And so within the Vajrayana, because there’s very explicit recognition of that relation, then care is taken in various formal ways to put in mechanisms which seek to protect the symbolic relationship between teacher and student from the inevitable foibles of the human relationship. And those lines at the end of the empowerment ceremony are very much in that spirit.
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Does that help?
Jeff: Is there a place where I can find those lines?
Ken: Yeah, I may have them with me. I’ll have to check in my translation. And hopefully see, let’s see how much further I can dig myself into this one.
Okay. That didn’t work. I’m not sure I have this on this computer, that’s the thing. [Pause] Nope, not yet. One more place to look. No I don’t seem to have…a little surprised. I’ll try once more. No, I don’t seem to have it with me.
Jeff: I’ll check with you at a later date.
Ken: Yeah, it’s a little surprising. I actually translated several of the empowerment ceremonies, but none of them seem to be here, which is a little bit worrying. But I did have a computer that was stolen from me several years ago. And but I think I have them in hard copy somewhere. But I don’t have them here.
Jeff: Thank you.
Ken: Okay. Who’s next?
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Larry: I don’t know which question to ask. [Pause] You talked a little bit about the three commitments of mahamudra [Pith Instructions on Mahamudra] INSERT. It’s in stanza 13 of the pith instruction.
Ken: Okay, yes. I know where we are now.
Larry: Can you flesh that out a little bit?
Ken: Yeah. It’s a little obscure in there isn’t it?
Larry: No placement, no reference, no missing the point. [
No place, no focus, no missing the point—]
Student: What page?
Ken: Page 20.
Larry: And it also returns again on stanza 17. At least one of them does:
Beyond any frame of reference mind is naturally clear.
Ken: Yeah. [Pause] Naropa studied with Tilopa for quite a while. And because Naropa was a brilliant scholar, and a brilliant debater, and that was a very necessary skill to have in your monastery in those days because if someone came to your monastery and challenged anybody in the monastery to debate and you lost the debate, then everybody had to convert to that person’s religion or practice. And they took over the monastery. So the stakes were very real and Naropa was the guardian of one of the gates of was it Nalanda or Vikramasila?
Ken: Nalanda. So this meant that he was dammed good because there was a lot of real estate and a lot of political power resting on his debating skills. So he’s a little stuck in his head, which is how he got to Tilopa. And Tilopa did one thing after another. And those of you who complain about me [laughter], I’ve only done this occasionally, but Tilopa did this quite frequently. The kinds of things he would do, he’d see a pretty woman, like a princess being married in a marriage procession. And he’d sort of say to Naropa, ”Well, if I had a real student, he’d bring me that princess.“ And Naropa would maneuver his way through the crowds and then through the parading soldiers and pull the princess down from the elephant, and by then the security was alerted, and they weren’t too gentle in those days.
And so there would be Naropa, you know, smashed and bruised and things like that. Tilopa would come over and say, ”Are you suffering? Are you in pain?“ And Naropa would usually reply something along the lines, ”I cling to this body of flesh and blood. Yes, I’m in pain.“ [Laughter] And so Tilopa would do something to heal him and then give him instruction in the next thing.
This went on through 12 hardships. And there’s a very important hidden message in these. The underlying message is pay attention to the body. ’Cause it’s never his spirit that is broken, it’s his body that is broken. And he’s having to relate to his body more and more.
So finally, you know, he’s wandering along with Tilopa, and they were a couple of vagabonds, homeless people, just wandering around. And they come to a little, a very little creek, you know, a couple of feet wide, something you could step over very easily. And Tilopa says, ”Oh, if I really had a student, I wouldn’t have to get my feet wet.“ And without any hesitation, Naropa throws himself down with his feet on one bank, his hands on the other bank, makes a human bridge. And Tilopa starts to walk across, gets in the middle, and stops. And starts to jump up and down, and dance. And there’s Naropa hanging on—Rrr Rrr Rrr. And his hand slips on the bank and that side of the body tips. And the tip of Tilopa’s sandal gets wet. And Tilopa immediately jumps onto the bank, grabs Naropa, picks up his sandal and says, ”How dare you?“
You see I’m not so bad. [Laughter]
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And then Naropa wakes up. He’s like, he’s just there. And Tilopa, of course, recognizes this. And then he sings this song for Naropa, which is why it starts off with
Mahamudra cannot be taught, Naropa. See, he didn’t try to teach him. He made him experience it.
But your devotion to your teacher and the hardships you’ve met
Have made you patient and suffering and also wise:
Take this to heart, my worthy student.
Now there’s another important piece in that. It may not seem like it, but the teacher actually cares about the student. [Laughter] Just saying that. So,
Take this to heart my worthy student. You can feel the gentleness in the words.
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So, verse 13. It helps if we go back to verse 12 because it goes together.
Tilopa’s just gone through all of these different aspects of the metaphor of space. And that may be worth going through for ourselves also.
And now he wants to caution Naropa on a few things. Don’t forget, Naropa is a super scholar. He’s really, really good. So in verse 12 he says,
You don’t see mahamudra’s sheer clarity —you can translate that as experience.
You won’t experience mahamudra’s sheer clarity
By means of classical texts or philosophical systems,
Whether of the mantras, paramitas,
Vinaya, sutras or other collections.
That list there covers vast collections of different forms of Buddhist scriptures. So he’s cautioning, your way of working before may have made you brilliant, brought you all of this, but it’s not going to help you here. He goes on:
Ambition clouds sheer clarity and you don’t see it.
Now, isn’t this really irritating? [Laughter] I have a friend who, a very, very bright guy, and he holds two PhDs. And he’s a lecturer, a professor at the University of Southern California. And very, very knowledgeable about an awfully wide range of things. And he went to see Munindra, who’s a Theravadan teacher, about his practice. This was many years ago. And explained that he’s having some problems in his practice. And Munindra listened patiently and then asked him two questions: ”Do you understand the principles of the dharma and practice?“ And my friend said, ”Yes.“ ’Cause he did. ”Are you spiritually ambitious?“ And he said, ”Yes.“ And Munindra just shook his head, ”What a pity.“ [Laughter]
Ambition clouds sheer clarity and you don’t see it. Why? Because you’re always looking beyond what you’re experiencing to what you’re going to experience or going to be. This is the Titan realm. So, for someone with Naropa’s background, that’s pretty hard stuff, ’cause he’d reached the pinnacle of that. You know, he’s top dog in the Buddhist, scholastic universe. And top dog and top gun. So he was installed in that position to protect.
Then there’s another issue or problem that arises. And this tends to happen more in monastic practitioners, but it still does come up. I’ve seen it quite a lot in lay practitioners. And it can completely choke practice. And that is you become obsessed with being utterly pure in your moral precepts. And it doesn’t matter that text after text says preserve your precepts absolutely purely, even at the cost of your life. Yeah, you become obsessed with this.
Now, in monasteries, well-established monasteries, when monks were newly ordained, there was always one or two of them that took their vows very seriously and, you know, were going to keep them absolutely purely, not only to the spirit, but to the letter. And often they had, you know, question marks about some of the senior monks who didn’t seem to really appreciate what it means to practice purely. Now in a well-run monastery, these highly ambitious monks would be given to a senior person who would literally beat this nonsense out of them. [Laughter]
You find the same thing, actually, in the rules of St. Benedict. Because it’s very, very well-established that people who are most rigid about their ordination are the most likely to break it.
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Thinking about precepts undermines the point of commitment.
Why? You take these precepts in order to create the conditions within one’s self for fruitful practice. And when you are obsessed with observing the letter of the precepts, this gets in the way of just resting—clear, open, present. Which is, ”Did I do that right?“ [Repeating] ”Did I do that right?“ Then one becomes one’s own harshest critic, and the critic never shuts up and it just goes on and on and on. This isn’t so good for one’s practice.
Do not think about anything; let all ambition drop.
It would be much better if we we’re doing a six-month retreat, then this one would really bite. You know, just like, ”What am I going to achieve in this retreat? Nothing. [Laughter] Can we review the terms please?“
Let what arises settle by itself, like patterns in water.
A metaphor of which many of you are familiar with.
No place, no focus, no missing the point—
Now, this was an informal song. We don’t know the Sanskrit to this or Prakrit or whatever language Tilopa was speaking when he sang this song. Afterwards, Naropa apparently went back and wrote it down. And some years later when Marpa, the translator, was studying with Naropa, this was one of the things that Naropa pulled out.
He said, you know, by the way here’s this song from Tilopa and gave it to Marpa and Marpa translated it into Tibetan. And there are two different versions with the order of the verses somewhat different. But, ah—
Larry: One in Sanskrit and one in Tibetan?
Ken: No, one—two in Tibetan with the order of the verses quite different. There isn’t a Sanskrit copy of this.
Student: Prakrit? [Unclear]
Ken: No, there are two Tibetan versions in the Kangyur. But I don’t know of any Sanskrit copy.
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So Tilopa, because he was singing this impromptu song, was taking certain liberties with language and saying things poetically. But we have in
No place, no focus, no missing the point, in somewhat different language, the three key instructions of mahamudra in the Kagyu tradition:
No working at anything.
Larry: Oh, is that what that means.
No distraction. No control. No working at anything. Now, that’s my translation. You will generally hear it translated as
No distraction, or no wandering.
No contrivance is how it’s usually translated. But when I’ve thought about what does this mean—why do we try to contrive our experience—we’re trying to control our experience, so I prefer to put it into more everyday English. And that’s no control. And the last one is
No meditating. Ah—no meditating?
But the word for meditation in that case is familiarizing yourself with something; it’s the process of becoming familiar with something. It’s the usual word for meditation in the Tibetan tradition. But it has this idea of working at something. So you see that’s why I translated it as, working at something.
Larry: But the first one,
Ken: Just a second. Just a second. I’m only halfway through. [Laughter]
No place basically corresponds to the last one:
No working at anything. In the Tibetan, there is mi gnas (pron. mi ne) or gnas med (pron. ne mé), or something, I’ll have to look it up. But there’s this idea in meditation of placing the mind. You’re doing something, you’re placing the mind. Ah, nope. No place. Just think about that for a minute. You sit down and you don’t do anything with your mind. How many of you would like to practice that way? Hands up. Come on. [Laughter] You know, it’s like— What! Yeah, okay.
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No focus. Well that would be the second one:
No contrivance or
No control. You aren’t focusing on anything. So you don’t do anything. You don’t focus on anything. It’s getting a little strange, isn’t it? Okay.
Student: Isn’t that like boundless meditation?
Ken: Oh, of course, yes. And now the killer: Don’t miss the point!
There’s a story told of Gurdjieff, in Moscow. And he had a group of people that studied with him, and he was a very difficult teacher to study with, always doing unpredictable things and challenging people in different ways. And he wrote three books, one of them called, All and Everything—Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. And the book is absolutely unreadable. And that’s the point of the book. You know, because you get these sentences which go on and on and on and say absolutely nothing, though they seem to be saying something. And the book itself is…reading it is the practice. Because you just by the end of it, you just can’t hold on to anything, you know. The whole idea of trying to understand something is gone. Needless to say people have been trying to understand and write commentaries on it, etc., etc.
Anyway, Gurdjieff would have these working sessions which were intensely serious, in which he would read excerpts [laughter] from this book. And everybody would be sitting around reeling, I mean because they had worked with focusing attention in different ways, very, very serious.
In one of these, a woman at the other end of the table, listening to Gurdjieff reading this, found herself wanting to laugh. And everybody’s sitting—[Ken harrumphs]. As she’s sitting there [Ken makes noise of smothered laugher], and finally she couldn’t contain it. She just burst out laughing. And everybody froze. They’re already pretty still, but now they froze. There was this dead silence. Gurdjieff looked up, glowered at everybody, which he was very good at doing—”One person got the point.“ [Laughter]
So, you keep that in mind, Larry. No missing the point. [Laughter]
Larry: Got it.
Ken: Okay. That’s
No distraction. You do nothing with your mind. You don’t focus on anything [Ken snaps fingers], and you don’t miss the point. That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it?
Oh yes, one line:
Do not break this commitment: it is the light in the dark. [Laughter]
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Next. You had another question? Microphone.
Larry: Does it require a wise general to end the war, and all of the skirmishes—
Larry: And where does that leave the fool?
Ken: What are you asking?
Larry: I’m asking if it requires a general, wise general, to end the war—
Ken: Ahh. I see.
Larry: …and all of the skirmishes associated with that war?
Larry: And where does that leave the fool?
Ken: Where does that leave the fool? [Pause] Well, in this particular war, can you bring in a wise general?
Larry: There are very few.
Ken: Yeah, but suppose you don’t, well, three or four right here. Are they any use to you? Any use—to you?
Larry: As an exemplar. As someone is demonstrating it’s possible.
Ken: [Laughs] [Pause] When you’re in hand-to-hand combat, with forces that outnumber, is it helpful to think of a wise general?
Larry: You’re saying, get real and now.
Ken: Well, it all takes place, right here in our own experience.
Ken: We can study all we want. We can think about it. We can come to a very sophisticated understanding. That may or may not be helpful when it comes to dealing with our own mind.
Larry: That’s why I’m asking about the fool.
Ken: What does the identity serve?
Ken: What is the identity of the fool serve in you?
Larry: Going around in circles in countless situations—
Ken: No, that’s maybe the behavior, etc., etc. What does it serve to regard yourself as a fool?
Larry: As compared with the general, the wise general, who’s been able to end the war, and all the skirmishes.
Ken: Do you see yourself as the wise general?
Ken: Do you see yourself as a fool?
Larry: More on that end of the continuum.
Ken: What does that serve?
Larry: Well, it served many things.
Ken: I’m listening.
Larry: I mean, through life, we all—
Ken: No, we’re talking about here, these wars. What does it serve?
Larry: Through life, through life, being a fool has had a purpose.
Ken: Yeah. I’m asking what purpose? How does it serve you?
Larry: It’s had the purpose of telling the truth at times when people didn’t want to hear it.
Ken: Okay. Is that useful to you, in these skirmishes, in this war?
Larry: No. That’s what I’m saying.
Ken: Okay. So maybe the first step is to let go of the fool.
Larry: Well, that can be done.
Larry: Now, can we go back to the war and the skirmishes?
Ken: And what would you like to know about war and the skirmishes?
Larry: I would like to know, if, one can win the war, and then end all of the skirmishes. Or, is ending the war, dealing with skirmish after skirmish after skirmish.
Ken: Today after the afternoon meditation, we read the 37 Practices of the Bodhisattva. INSERT Page 37, verse 20:
If you don’t subdue the opponent inside, your own anger,
Although you subdue opponents outside, they just keep coming.
Muster the forces of loving kindness and compassion
And subdue your own mind—this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
Larry: Thank you. Sounds like skirmishes to me.
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Anybody else? Jeff.
Jeff: I was just curious about that
Muster the forces of loving kindness and compassion. And subdue. Really interesting combination of words there.
Ken: Well, Tokmé Zongpo is the author of this, is using a metaphor, a metaphor of war, forces. [Pause] Most of you here, perhaps everyone here, knows what this looks like in actual practice. [Pause] Suppose there’s some anger in this. Now if I impose loving kindness and compassion on that anger, which would be taking this metaphor literally [Ken speaks gruffly]—Muster the forces of loving kindness and compassion and subdue your own mind! Right? Reminds me of Onward Christian Soldiers or something. How does that work Jeff?
Jeff: You just get more and more pissed off.
Ken: Yeah. Because basically, you’re forcing something into repression and pushing on resistance and it just becomes stronger and stronger. So what do you actually do?
Jeff: What I’ve noticed myself doing at times without thinking about it, is being aware of the other’s position—
Jeff: …and situation. And so the anger’s there, but it’s not expressed.
Ken: But I’m going to work more internally than that. There’s the anger in you. What if you greet that anger with loving kindness? Which goes back to something Christy raised a couple of nights ago. Remember, I think it was Jan Willis who studied with Thubten Yeshe. And one day she was just really, really angry about something and it showed in her body. And Thubten Yeshe came up beside her, whispered in her ear, ”Buddha mind very angry today.“ [Ken states in the podcast that bell hooks had studied with Thubten Yeshe but realized later that he had been mistaken about the person.]
Jeff: And she smacked him. [Laughter]
Ken: No she didn’t actually. He was more skilled than that. But you greet the anger with loving kindness, what happens? Your own anger with loving kindness.
Jeff: I’m looking at this through…I did for quite some time, try to work with the joy—I’m angry and I’m glad.
Jeff: It’s like throwing gas on the fire. [Laughter]
Ken: I can see that. [Laughter]
Jeff: So I can see that the loving kindness might be a….I find it more like—
Ken: What does if feel like when I just throw out that image?
Jeff: To me it feels like another one of those shoulds that would utterly fail, that it would be a lot better simply to greet it, with no agenda.
Ken: So equanimity instead.
Ken: Yeah. And that’s fair enough. But I’m just gonna push you a little bit here. Let us forget about the shoulds. I just want you to explore actually doing it. No shoulds here. There’s that anger and you feel warmth towards the anger.
Jeff: It works.
Jeff: It works.
Ken: What happens? For the benefit of others.
Ken: Okay. It’s difficult for it to hold isn’t it?
Jeff: Yeah. Just choo.
Jeff: Thank you.
Ken: You’re welcome.
So when we read verses such as this, again, it’s poetry, it’s mythic language. You interpret it literally [Ken mimics John Wayne]—I got ten thousand troops of loving kindness here. And we’re going to stomp over that anger stuff. Dismantle the city of anger. [Laughter] It’s not going to work very well. The poetry is saying—engage. Engage your experience, whatever it is. You’ve got this anger in you, engage it. How do you engage it? Engage it with loving kindness and compassion. Engage it that way. It’s very important to read these as poetry. Do you follow?
Ken: Does it help?
Jeff: Yeah, I mean it’s thematic with what’s been coming up the last couple of days with bringing emotion into practice, instead of holding it in attention. You know, something that was sort of cold and clear like that. This is different.
Ken: Yeah. Exactly. Thank you.
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Okay. All right. Other questions? Claudia. Oop. Other direction.
Claudia: Last night, you were talking to Carolyn, and you mentioned that there were a number of texts that helped with transitioning.
Ken: Oh. Yeah.
Claudia: Are they available in English. And can you share that with us?
Ken: Yeah, this groundlessness stuff, right?
Claudia: This what?
Ken: This groundlessness stuff.
Claudia: Yes. There are a number of us in the room interested.
Ken: Tao Te Ching is pretty good.
Student: What’s that?
Ken: The Tao Te Ching. Did I? No I didn’t bring it this evening. Nope. [Pause] It’s…there’s a lot of good, helpful stuff in that.
Student: What translation?
Ken: The two I’m reading right now—I was reading three, but I let one of them go. One is Red Pine’s. Red Pine is primarily a writer and an academic, but he’s very sensitive to nuances in Chinese ’cause he knows Chinese very, very well. That I find that in terms of…I find that his translation of Tao Te Ching brings out the meditative aspects of the Tao Te Ching, and quite clearly sometimes. Maybe I’m just projecting into it, but that’s what it does for me. A lot of it is symbolically expressed, and I won’t claim that I understand all of it ’cause I don’t. I haven’t studied anything in sufficient depth. But there’s certain things that just jump out, and I go, ”That’s neat. I like that.“ And so forth.
The other one I’m reading is Ursula Le Guin. I didn’t know that she had that level of expertise. I know her as a science fiction writer, and she writes really interesting stuff. But I like the poetry of her translation. And in terms of how does this manifest in action, she’s a bit stronger on that way, a bit clearer. About like what does it look like in the world.
I was reading Cleary’s—and Cleary has just translated volumes and volumes—but as I look at these translations more closely, you can tell that Cleary’s just grinding it out. And he’s pretty good at grinding it out, but he doesn’t have the same level of refinement as evidenced in Ursula Le Guin’s and Red Pine’s.
George has introduced me to another translation, which I’ve only taken a short look at. It’s the one he likes best because it’s as enigmatic in English as it is in Chinese. [Laughter] And the translator, I can’t remember the name of the translator, that was his intention, is that the English should be as enigmatic as the Chinese, which is a very good way to translate if you feel you’re up to it. So it’s a very demanding way to translate. There are many others, but those are the ones that I’m most familiar with. Okay?
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When things fall away, you find yourself grasping at ghosts, right? And like any self-respecting ghost, you know, it just slips through your fingers. What one keeps forgetting perhaps, is the freedom in that, those times when I think I can’t take hold of anything. But there’s freedom in that. So one way to proceed here is to explore the freedom. And on how willing ears did that fall? [Laughs]
But one can go a little further perhaps. There is a saying I came across, I think I was reading a book on translation from Spanish into English. And it’s apparently a very common phrase in Mexico, but I hadn’t heard it before:
The devil knows a lot more from being old, than from being the devil.
When things fall away, there’s not only freedom, there’s also clarity. You just see how things work. There are a couple of hits involved with that, there’s death to idealizations, etc., but at the same time, there is a potential for great capability, because you see how things work and to a significant extent, you’re no longer attached to wanting things to be a certain way. And that allows one to navigate the world differently.
Again, in the Taoist tradition, Zhuang Zhou was approached by two ministers, emissaries from the emperor, and was asked to come to court to be an advisor to the emperor. And Zhuang Zhou demurred. And the emissaries assured him that he would have an exalted position, he would have a high rank, he would have beautiful clothes, etc. The emperor would take his counsel seriously, etc., etc. And after listening to this for a while Zhuang Zhou said to the emissaries, ”I hear the emperor has this very ancient and revered tortoise, or turtle, that is placed in this beautiful wooden box with very delicate cushioning and his shell is encrusted with jewels.“ And the emissaries said, ”Yes that’s true.“ ”Between you and me,“ said Zhuang Zhou, ”do you think that the turtle prefers the box or mud at the bottom of the river?“ And the emissary said, ”The mud at bottom of the river.“ And Zhuang Zhou said, ”Let me stay in the mud.“
The freedom comes because many of the things that you may have striven for in our lives, and for which many people do strive, no longer hold meaning. And thus, we can operate in situations without the usual expectations or drives or concerns. And it makes a difference. This help? Okay.
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Other questions. Paul.
Paul: So, this past year in my sangha some people kind of projected onto me and created some difficulty for—
Ken: What kind of thing did they project onto you?
Paul: Well, for some reason, I’m seen as a more senior person than most—
Ken: Oh, I see.
Student: What did he say?
Paul: I said that, I’m seen as a more experienced person in my sangha.
Ken: They put you on a pedestal.
Ken: You get a great view from up there, don’t you? [Laughter]
Paul: So I have come a long way in dealing with my side of it, I think. But I’m just wondering if you have any insight into if there’s any possibility of prevention and minimizing that or dealing with it when it comes up.
Ken: How serious are you about this, Paul?
Paul: Pretty serious.
Ken: Then let me tell you this story, and you can tell me if or how it might fit.
A dervish approached a master and said, ”I’m a little concerned. People are starting to approach me to teach. And they’re listening to what I say. I’m not terribly comfortable with this. What should I do about it?“ And the teacher said, ”Do two or three things that are just completely crazy and make no sense whatsoever.“ [Laughter] And the dervish said, ”But what will people think of me then.“ And the master said, ”Very interesting. [Laughter] I thought this was a question about your discomfort with being a teacher, but I see it’s really a question about how people regard you.“
Paul: I don’t have a…[Laughter] What comes to mind immediately when you say that is that I worry about hurting people because—
Ken; I didn’t say hurt them. I said, do something completely crazy. I didn’t say anything, that’s what the teacher said in the story. I didn’t say anything about hurting, just, you know, die your hair green and wear a fur skin the next time you go on retreat. [Laughter]
Student: High heels.
Ken: Pardon. High heels.
Students: [Unclear] [Laughter]
Student: And carry an umbrella.
Student: There is some chance after that they’ll all show up with green hair. [Laughter]
Ken: When I did this at a retreat—
Paul: You did that?
Student: [Unclear] The suit was worse though.
Ken: The suit was great. The suit just freaked everybody out.
Claudia: Well you see how he’s dressed right now.
Ken: Give her the mic.
Claudia: I mean, this is standard fare for Ken McLeod, right. You know, we don’t even notice what he’s wearing because it’s always khaki pants and usually a blue shirt.
Ken: And don’t forget my hoodie.
Claudia: Yeah, it’s the same hoodie. And he has the same sweater he wears all the time, too.
Ken: Totally nondescript.
Claudia: So, in the middle of this retreat, he walks in for the teaching in a business suit.
Ken: Oh, come on. It was a double-breasted Italian suit. It wasn’t any ordinary business suit.
Claudia: Like he’s going to the opera or something.
Ken: Very nice tie.
Claudia: We just sat there like stunned.
Ken: And they had to listen to the teaching, too. [Laughter]
Claudia: And then the next night, I can’t even remember what you wore but it was—
Ken: No, the next night was the hat.
Claudia: Oh, that’s right, the hat.
Ken: Yeah. With Roger. Roger finally took care of it.
Student: And no high heels.
Claudia: No, but he did kind of top all of it with this wild outfit when he walked in the last one. I can’t even remember what it was now.
Ken: Yeah. It was the red wig.
Claudia: Yeah, it was the red wig.
Ken: Nice long hair. Pardon?
Student: It was fuzzy long hair.
Ken: And just things that just didn’t match, at all. And then I gave them pointing out instructions. [Laughter]
Student: What about crazy wisdom, then.
Ken: Oh, crazy wisdom is a—
Claudia: No it had actually a profound effect because any expectations that we had around him, just fell away. And we were in a state of—
Claudia: Yeah, well, I mean it’s an empty place. It’s just like anything else when it falls away. And you’re just there and it’s like, ahh. And then he gives pointing out instructions. [Laughter]
Ken: So we’re clear Paul?
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So, Paul. What do you have to say?
Paul: Well, since I wasn’t there, I don’t know. You know, it’s fairly…how it felt to everyone. But you know people could just, you know, think of it as a joke.
Ken: But why are you concerned about what people think? Your concern is to get off the pedestal.
Paul: No, the point is to…but if it’s just a joke, then it won’t actually, I don’t think it would actually dismantle it. [Unclear]
Ken: You want to be more effective. You want to make sure? I suggest you wear a tux. And sit down, meditate.
Paul: Okay, I’ll ahh…[Laughter]
Ken: The thing is, okay, so here are these suggestions, what’s it running into in you?
Paul: I don’t think it’ll work.
Ken: Even Charles is shaking his head, so.
Paul: People would just ask me what the deal is.
Ken: And you just say, ”I just felt like wearing this tonight.“ No explanation. Or you say, ”What are you talking about?“ ”Well you’re wearing this?“ ”Yeah, so what?“
Student: I think that would totally backfire.
Student: I think that would totally backfire.
Paul: Well, I can give it a try. See what happens.
Ken: Okay. But there are other things you can do. When they ask you a question, say something that is totally, completely, utterly wrong.
Claudia: Yeah, He’s made us do that a few times.
Ken: [Laughs] You know, how do you practice meditation? ’Well, it’s really important to sit absolutely as rigidly still as possible. Yeah. Let’s try that. Really still.” What’s it running into?
Paul: Well. They know it’s a joke.
Ken: No. No. That’s not what’s running into in you. What’s it running into in you?
Paul: Well, I’ve said things like that before, just as a joke. So…
Ken: Yes, but now you’re saying it in dead serious. Don’t forget your intention here is to get off the pedestal. The only way you can get off the pedestal is by breaking the projections. The only way you can break the projections is to do something that violates the projections.
Paul: Okay. That’s helpful. [Ken Laughs]
Student: Then they’ll come up with new projections.
Ken: Of course, they’ll come up with new projections.
Student: Are you concerned about not meeting their expectations?
Paul: Umm. Not really.
Ken: Okay. So, now. I mean there’s a person I studied with, that studied with me in Orange County, an attorney, who had actually an MBA, a law degree, and a degree in psychology. Very well educated and he was part of a men’s group. And because he had such breadth of learning and experience, he was kind of one of the senior people and everybody looked to him for sage advice etc., etc.
And I was working with him on breaking the social contract. So we figured, rather than his family or his legal profession, this would be a good area to start working on breaking the social contract, breaking up these projections. So I told him, you know, break the projections here. It took him several months. And he found that when he tried to do something, which was different from this image or the identity that he had in this group, it was just really difficult.
But eventually an occasion arose. There was a young man in the group who was recounting something quite painful. And my student chose this moment to say something utterly stupid and inappropriate. And he managed to get out of this mess. And everybody in the group immediately got really angry with him. And all connected with this young man. And so it turned into this wonderful bonding experience with this young man with all of these older men taking care of him. You know what happened next? They all turned to my student and said, “That was brilliant.” [Laughter]
Paul: Yeah, well actually the way this one projection happened was that one person thought I should uphold the precepts 100 percent perfect. And I didn’t. And to break that projection would seem like I would have to break a precept, which I’m not interested in doing.
Ken: It sounds like you’ve already broken it in his or her eyes.
Paul: Yeah, well that’s already done, but, I mean, for future—
Ken: Yeah, well, okay. But you don’t have to break a precept. You just have to do something completely that doesn’t make any sense. [Laughter]
Ken: You could take this as an exercise in creativity.
Paul: Yeah, I mean, I generally don’t have problem with breaking people’s expectations of me.
Ken: But you do in this circumstance.
Paul: Well I’m usually trying to do that all the time, but as far as I knew, but this kind of surprised me. So in general I try to break people’s expectations and it may be its own problem in itself, but—
Ken: All right. Okay.
Let’s do some meditation together.
Tomorrow, I think we’ll talk about space.
|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.|