Ganges Mahamudra 2


[Silence] All set?

Okay, January 12th, 2009. Ganges Mahamudra, Part 2.

Student: 2010.

Ken: 2010? Thank you. Where did those years go?


This evening we’re going to go over the six verses which are described traditionally as the view. We can understand them really as pointing out instructions, pointing out nature of mind. This will go fairly quickly and I’m going to, rather than approach this academically or conceptually, I’m going to try to get across the experience. Or do what I can to help elicit this experience in you.

Before we being on that, I’d like to cover two things. And the first is your experience with the meditation practice that I gave you last week. Which was starting with resting in the experience of breathing, opening to all of the sensory sensations. How did you do with that?

And then the second thing I want to do is to take up questions. We had one question e-mailed in. Art, I know you had some. And Ann, I think you had some too, right? I know you really want to do that.

So, is the microphone ready, Steve?

Let’s start with your experience of or any questions coming out of the meditation practice that I gave you last week. Chuck, you had something.


Chuck: I found the experience of breathing was more body oriented than the watching the breath. Watching the breath is sort of thinking mind based whereas the, experiencing the breath is in the body.

Ken: This is very good. This is exactly what I intended. I’m very glad you found that it moved you in that direction.

We are a little handicapped in English because we use this word, mind. And we associate the mind with the intellect and it’s something abstract. Mind, as the word is used in Buddhism in general, it could almost, or frequently one can substitute the word, experience. So, being right in the experience rather than watching the experience is very much the direction here, so that’s good.

But, also whatever we experience, it has three components to it. There’s a physical experience, a sensory experience, there’s a emotional experience, or emotional sensations, then there are thoughts also. And often we’re just concerned with the thoughts and sometimes with the emotions. We need to be opening and resting in the totality of the experience not just one level or one aspect of it. So this is good, Chuck, thank you. Anybody…you follow up?

Chuck: And then when I included the senses—

Ken: Yes?

Chuck: …then I had this thought, this is what life is.

Ken: Well, that’s exactly right. This is life. And here you are going to, what is very much, and this is very important, we talk about mahamudra and I gave a brief explanation of the meaning of mahamudra last time, but this is very, very much about, how do we experience life?. And most of the the time it’s like we’re doing when we’re saying we’re watching the breath in meditation, our mind is somewhere here and we’re watching the breath, and there’s no real connection like, we’re observing it or noticing it or concentrating on it or whatever. And we do essentially the same thing in our lives. We kind of watch ourselves live, rather than being in the experience of life.

And so with this approach to practice, where you’re just opening to all of the physical sensations and all the sensory sensations, rather than watching them, one is opening to them, then you’re right in it. And as you say, this is life. Now, if you start to live that way, being in the experience of what’s arising then there are a lot of other things have to happen. And that’s very much what this course is about because there’s a dimension to experience that we’re often overlooking and that is what we’re talking about in terms of space and we’re going to go into that.

Ordinarily, in the same way that we’re caught up in our thoughts, when we’re caught up in our thoughts we have no sense of this open space aspect of experience, if you understand what I mean. And so, we’re just spinning around and around. But if we are able to experience that aspect of experience as well, then the relationship with all the stuff changes. Very significantly. And we’re able to experience it and be at peace with experiencing it. Even though it may be difficult or painful and so forth. So, this experiential quality is very, very important.


Okay? Any other comments? Yes, back here. What’s your name?

Student: Peggy.

Ken: Peggy, thank you.

Peggy: I haven’t done much meditation with my eyes open.

Ken: Yes.

Peggy: And so that was a new experience. But I did feel that I was able to kind of experience the body more with my eyes open. When I sit with my eyes closed, it tends to go toward the thoughts. And where I kind of took a focal point, but having that focal point and keeping my eyes open with it, I felt like I was able to kind of stay more with the sensations of the body. It was interesting.

Ken: Good. As you continue and become more familiar with this allow yourself to move away from having a specific focal point so that you’re including everything in your visual experience as well as everything in your kinaesthetic experience, and everything in the….I don’t know what the right adjective for sound is: aural, [spells out] a-u-r-a-l experience. And so forth, so you’re just opening to experience through all of the senses. Very good. Okay? Anybody else? Steve?

Steve: Just, mic—

Ken: Oh, yes, please hold the mic directly in front so that they don’t have to fiddle with the sound levels too much. Okay.


One more person comment on your experience or questions about it, if there is. Anybody? Okay? All right. Ann? Peggy? Can you give it to Ann here, please?

Ann: My question is about the second part when we’re also supposed to be including everything that arises including the emotions and thoughts.

Ken: That comes today.

Ann: Oh.

Ken: But, go ahead.

Ann: I have had difficulty including thoughts in the past without thinking about having thoughts. In having then another thought about that I’m thinking about having a thought. So, I tried basically kind of just observing the thought with no words. And—

Ken: How was that?

Ann: And I shouldn’t say the word observed makes a separation, but I’m just saying it, what it felt like was that the thought would like waft across my brain. And I would just notice that there was a thought, but there wasn’t a word to go with it.

Ken: Okay. That’s, that’s good.

Ann: And it was physically, a very different feeling. After I meditated like that for a while it was very expansive and I felt like a balloon with a porous surface. And things were kind of floating in and out. So it was physically very different than my usual feeling in meditation.

Ken: Yeah, it sounds fine, any questions there?

Ann: My question was about the effort of keeping myself from using words when I saw thoughts. My understanding was that we weren’t supposed to do anything and I wasn’t able to do that.

Ken: I failed at doing nothing. [Laughter]

Well, this is partly developing some skill and there’s also developing capacity. Both parts to it. There’s several things that come in here. How many of you experience this running commentary on your meditation when you practice? Yeah, okay. So, that’s just there, right? You know, “Oh. Say, you’re not doing badly here. Yeah, keep going there. Oh, no, no you’re getting a little lost there. Oh, no, no just let go of that. Yeah. Don’t need to focus on that. Just come back to your body, rest. Okay. Ah, not bad. Yeah, keep going.” [Laughter] Something like that? Okay. Doesn’t happen to me, of course, I don’t know anything about it.

It’s a stage, okay? And, one of the things that you’ll probably begin to notice is that as soon as you’re involved with thoughts you’re no longer aware of the body. So, rather than trying not to have any words going along with the thoughts, what I suggest you do is whenever you notice that you’re caught up in thoughts, come right back to the body sensations and you’ll find that the thinking process won’t be able to hold. It’ll disintegrate. It won’t stay that way for very long. It’ll start up again, and then you do it again. So, this is not a case of returning and returning and returning. But, what you’re doing is just returning to what you’re experiencing, including the part that we leave very easily, which is the actual body experience. And this will be a little less forceful, a little less contrived, than the way that you’re approaching it. So you can play with that and see how that works for you.

But once you move into that open expansiveness, that you described, then just rest there, ’cause that basically marks the, development, not only of mindfulness of awareness, so you have awareness and mindfulness together which is what is active attention. And now you just let that accumulate momentum and deepen in your experience. Okay?

Ann: Thank you.

Ken: Okay.


Ken: All right, did you have any other questions? No. Okay, Art, your turn.

Art: The end of the second verse, which we discussed last week, where it says, Let what binds you let go and freedom is not in doubt.

Ken: I was so proud of that translation.

Art: It’s yeah. You’ve often said in the past that the illusion of choice is an indication of a lack of freedom.

Ken: Yes.

Art: And that deeply resonates with me. Yet, there’s also deep within me a very childish perspective of freedom meaning you can do what you want. Any suggestions on what to do off the cushion, in moments of kind of fleeting clarity where I can choose to do what’s next, but end up going after doing what I want.

Ken: Well. [Pause] You help people design websites, right?

Art: In part, yes.

Ken: Yeah. Now, when you start working with a new client, how many things do they think they can do on a website?

Art: Quite a bit actually.

Ken: Quite a bit. But when you listen to them and take into account, let’s say, the nature of their business, the approach they want to take to the website, the resources that are available, etc. etc. You get the picture. How many options are there? When you really take all of that into account? You bring your professional expertise to bear here.

Art: Substantially less.

Ken: Yeah, it probably comes down to one, two, possibly three?

Art: Exactly.

Ken: Yeah, okay, so, now they’re like this childish part of you: “Oh, I want to do this and I want to do that and I want to do this.” And all of those possibilities seem to be there, because other things are either not being considered or being actively ignored. Right? So, a little embarrassing question, perhaps, relate this to this, what you refer to as this childish part of you.

Art: It has more to do with what you said about actively being ignored, you know—

Ken: Yeah, it just wants to ignore certain things about life, probably.

Art: Precisely.

Ken: Yeah so, what do you want to do about that?

Art: Stop doing that.

Ken: Well, okay, I guess that answers your question, doesn’t it? [Laughter]


Art: True, but with that, both with that understanding and intention, which obviously aren’t as strong as they should be, there are moments where there is just, sort of, this real clarity about what to do next. And often I will go and do what is next, but there are moments where I just sort of mentally blank and find that I’m doing what I want.

Ken: What it wants?

Art: Thank you, yes.

Ken: And I think it’s very helpful to use that vocabulary because when we use this word I, we relate to ourselves as being a single entity. But most of us have practiced enough now that we know that we aren’t one thing. There’s something over here, and something here, and something here and something here. And all of these different voices and different parts of us there, yelling and screaming, and wanting to do this now and that then and so forth.

And if we allow ourselves to experience ourselves as being composed in these many parts, then it becomes possible to become open to all of our experience, whatever it is. Whereas if we think, you know, “I am this”, then everything, all the other parts of us that are different from that basically have to be excluded. And that’s what leads to a lot of suppression, if you see what I mean. So, there is this child part which just sometimes throws a little fit and just takes over everything, right?

Art: Yeah and it often happens to me, that the subjective experience is, it happens so quickly, I don’t even—

Ken: Right. Okay. Now, whenever it happens, there is something that it didn’t want to experience.

Art: Yes.

Ken: Okay, so, whenever you notice that it happens, you can say, “What didn’t I want to experience there?” That’s the first thing, “What didn’t I want to experience there?” Second part is, “How can I experience this and be at peace at the same time?” [Pause]

Art: Okay, okay.

Ken: Okay?

Art: Is this somewhat similar to that Five Step Process that we had worked on about?

Ken: Yes. The Five Step Process is a very specific method for developing the capacity to experience what is arising and being in peace at the same time. Okay?


Art: One other quick thing.

Ken: Sure.

Art: As I have been working on that in my practice, I sort of noticed then these things off the cushion arising, where there’s these choices—

Ken: Congratulations.

Art: Okay, I thought they might be intertwined, but wasn’t not sure.

Ken: If the abilities that you’re developing in your meditation practice aren’t showing up in your life, then it indicates a fairly serious problem in your practice. Because it means that you’ve separated, you know, there’s meditation and there’s life and never the twain shall meet. And some people approach things this way. It’s not, in my opinion, particularly healthy or helpful. As we develop more attention in our meditation we begin to find that increased level of attention becomes available to us in our lives, it’s almost as if our meditation practice starts to haunt us. And so now we start noticing things that we didn’t notice before. This can be massively inconvenient for habitual patterns. [Laughter] But that’s exactly why you embarked on this practice or, if it didn’t, then I suggest you make a run for the next galaxy as fast as you can.

Art: Thank you.

Ken: Okay.


Here, Maria. [Pause]

Maria: I hope I can get this question out in a clear way, but—

Ken: So do I. [Laughter]

Maria: This phrase, this three-part thing, “empty, clear, and experience arises without restriction,” or I could use the word unobstructed.

Ken: I know, I used to use that translation. You know, I think of roadblocks and construction there. But anyway, go ahead.

Maria: It’s that third part that is kind of itching, or bugging my mind.

Ken: Yes.

Maria: So, the sitting practice, the practice where everything’s happening at once, the physical sensations.

Ken: Yes.

Maria: Everything’s happening at once. I’m trying to, trying to understand the nature of this obstruction, like. Is that when you’re separating experience? You’re—

Ken: May I make a minor recommendation?

Maria: Yes.

Ken: Don’t think about this. [Laughter] Don’t try to understand it. I think I mentioned: my father said, you know, “I don’t understand why you’re studying Buddhism, it says right here, you can’t understand it.” You can’t understand this, okay?

Maria: Okay.

Ken: What does it say, what is the first line here, ah yes, Mahamudra cannot be taught. The attempt to understand this is, for almost of all us, a way of compensating for lack of ability. Lack of capacity.

Maria: Right.

Ken: So, rather than try to understand it, put your effort into building capacity.

Now, let me give you a—you may think it’s a somewhat trite example—but suppose I put a pretty heavy weight in front of you. And said, “Lift it”. And you go “Oof!” And you can’t get it one inch off the floor, okay? And I say “What’s wrong with you, just lift it.” And then you said, “Well, I’m trying to understand ’how to lift it.” Would that be helpful?

Maria: Right.

Ken: It would be?

Maria: No, no, I understand the point, yeah.

Ken: Okay.

Maria: I know, no words.

Ken: So what you do, you go out, do pushups, you go, work out in the gym, things like that and you come back six months later and go: “Woo.” And now you can lift it. So, this, “empty, clear, unrestricted,” it’s not a big deal. [Pause]

Do you see this card? Okay, so, there’s space in this room, there’s light in this room. So, it just arises, so you can just see. And it’s the same, there is this open dimension to experience. There’s this potential or capacity, whatever you want to call it, for awareness, it’s where you experience things. That’s all, that’s all it means. And in that sense, you know, it’s even worse than I’ve been saying. There isn’t anything really to understand here, it’s just a description. But once you make it into, “Okay, what’s obstructing?” Things like that. Then you get, “Oh, a mind’s separate from this, is that the obstruction?” Things like that. And then, you know, you do what philosophers have done for centuries, they tie themselves up in knots, and then, you know. But usually they figure out a way to make money out of it, so maybe that’s a good thing to do, I don’t know. You follow?

Maria: Yeah, yeah. It’s just that itching, you get. You feel like you’re so close, you know, like—

Ken: Yeah, but you’re trying to understand something that is experience. Okay.

Ken: Did you have something really good to eat in the last week? What did you have?

Maria: I had some great chicken.

Ken: Chicken, really good? I mean, how was it cooked?

Maria: It was marinated, like kababs.

Ken: Oh, you mean like those middle eastern things. Yeah, and it’s really, really tender? Things like that? Okay. So, tell me, tell me this experience?

Maria: Yeah, you have to try it.

Ken: I’m trying to understand what you’re saying here, please tell me about it. [Laughter] You had to be there. didn’t you?

Maria: Right, right.

Ken: Yeah, okay. But it’s a very vivid experience. Is there anything to understand about that experience? [Pause] Hmmm? About that experience of that marinated chicken, is there anything to understand?

Maria: No.

Ken: No, but is there something to know? You know the experience. That’s it.

Maria: Right, right. Okay.

Ken: Okay, thank you.


Any other questions?

Ken: Yes, what’s your name?

Student: Doyle.

Ken: Doyle. Okay, right here.

Doyle: I am following up, maybe, on the last question and the first phrase of, “mahamudra cannot be taught.”

Ken: Yes. What the hell are we doing here?

Doyle: Well, that in part is my question. I mean, these two individuals, we talked about the history of—

Ken: Right.

Doyle: …last week and it feels like they went through of a lot of trouble. Years and years of solitude and it’s like that with the Buddha as well and—

Ken: Yeah.

Doyle: …many of, all those masters that we read their poems. And this poem was actually written to a very prominent disciple, I mean. And here we are sitting here in this comfortable cushion in this place with our comfortable life, or not so comfortable. And who are we? I mean, the words in the last week, they were all, like, arrogance kicked…going into my mind, I mean. Who are, I mean, we need to walk the streets in solitude for fifty years, maybe we can understand anything.

Ken: Shelley, do you keep a bed of nails here for people like Doyle? [Laughter]

Shelley: I do.

Ken: Okay. Why are you here? [Pause] Now, don’t look at the papers, the answer’s not there. Why are you here?

Doyle: To learn something.

Ken: Yeah, what?

Doyle: To learn how to experience life differently.

Ken: Okay, now when you read this poem, what effect does it have on you?

Doyle: Well, so far, I’ve just read the first two chapters, but—

Ken: Two verses?

Doyle: Two verses, yeah.

Ken: Yeah, okay, and?

Doyle: And, first about the spaces in, spaceness that has it’s effect.

Ken: Let’s just do this.

Mahamudra cannot be taught, but your devotion to your teacher and the hardships you’ve met have made you patient in suffering and also wise. Take this to heart, my worthy student. On what this space depends and what depends on space. Likewise, mahamudra doesn’t depend on anything. Don’t control. Let go and rest naturally. Let what binds you let go and freedom is not in doubt.

Well, what effect does that have on you, Doyle?

Doyle: [Pause] Well, now, when you’re reading it and I’m just listening, I feel the need to let go of—

Ken: Okay, so, something in you resonates with this.

Doyle: Yeah, yeah.

Ken: Okay, and so that arouses your curiosity. As if they’re pointing to another way of living and you’re curious about that?

Doyle: Yes.

Ken: Okay, now, I don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You may, at the end of this class, or at any time during this class, suddenly decide, “You know, this is all I want to do.” And your whole life will fall apart and, you know, conventional life, and you’ll go off and do something very different. It’s possible, I don’t know. Or you may find a way to make a very significant change in the way you experience your life through what you learn in this class. But without the actual form of your life changing much. Or you may decide, “This isn’t what I’m looking for at all. And it was interesting, but, no, this isn’t the direction I want to go.” I have no idea. But you’re here because there’s something about this that resonates with something in you. And you’re exploring that.

Now, Tulku Urgyen, who is a wonderful teacher—lived in Nepal—died a few years ago, said, “For some people this is really, really difficult and they have to work really, really hard. And for other people,” as it was for Tulku Urgyen, “it comes extremely easily.” Nobody knows.

The main thing is all of us approach this stuff because there’s a felt sense of dissatisfaction with the way that we experience our lives. Now, out of that dissatisfaction we become curious that’s what brings us to something like this. And so we’re exploring possibilities. And, yes, here we have these two individuals who, from what we know about them, were quite remarkable in their different ways. And there’s something very powerful about their story and their interaction and that resonates with us. So, again, we become curious. But to say, “Well, I’m not going to be like them.” Well, no, you’re not, you’re going to be like you. And you know what? You have no idea where that’s going to lead. [Pause]


Ken: Now, as I said the words, you can make a mad dash for the exit, but it’s not going to do any good. [Laughter]

Doyle: Yeah, I can see that the answer you gave to the last, sorry, I don’t remember the name—

Ken: Maria.

Doyle: …also applies here, there’s way too much thinking going on. And analyzing and comparing and whatever.


Ken: Yeah, and this is something I was going to touch on anyway, so I’m glad it comes up through your question. We have this term mahamudra and there’s other terms like dzogchen and awakening and bodhicitta and buddha nature and perfection of wisdom and original purity and ordinary knowing and co-emergent pristine awareness and so forth. And when we hear this stuff, the way we relate to most of this is, “I want some of that.” Right? Well, all of these are words, it’s not even clear what they’re referring to. And it’s very, very easy, very easy for us to think, “Okay, there is this thing or experience.”

How many of you want to have satori? See? Really popular thing. Okay. Want, want, want that experience. We have no idea really what it is. And what happens is that we hear these words and we think if, “If I can get some of whatever they’re talking about, then my life is going to be different.” And how many of you remember, which one was it, When Harry Met Sally, the movie? And so, you have this wonderful scene where Meg Ryan fakes this orgasm, and then Rob Reiner’s mother, who’s actually the [unclear] says…the waiter comes up and says, “What will you have?” and says, “I want some of that.” Or “Whatever she’s having,” right. [Laughter] And that’s how we relate to these things.

Rather than, “What does this resonate in me and how does this move me into a deeper experience of whatever it is I’m experiencing.” Because we’re never going to find the answers out there, or pursuing something out there. It’s only by coming into our own experience more and more completely. And so the whole purpose of our work here and what mahamudra is about, isn’t about achieving something, or we could say that mahamudra is a synonym for experiencing your own experience of life completely. And what that actually means, only you will know. [Pause] Okay?

Doyle: Thank you.


Ken: All right. Now, there was one other question which was emailed in. In the practice of blo sbyong (pron lojong), Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, devotion is described as interested humility. And she quotes this passage: One of the most important preliminaries is the quality of interested humility. Mos gus—that’s the Tibetan word, “encompasses both interest and humility. mos gus (pron. mö gü) is often translated as devotion in western texts. But while this is not entirely wrong it does not convey the full meaning of the Tibetan term. And then Leslie goes on, ”While on first reading, interested humility does not convey as much emotional energy as devotion, as I work with the word humility I can sense more emotional energy there when I rest deeply in it. Interest develops more energy when I add curiosity. In my practice right now the word humility is arising naturally as a place for me to work and therefore I am curious what Ken has to say about Kyabgon’s translation of devotion.“

The word mos gus and that’s what comes up. Your devotion to your teacher is the Tibetan is mos gus there. It’s a very, very difficult term to translate. Devotion is probably the most common. And it’s composed of these two words mos and gus (pron. mö gü).

And one of the things that happens in Tibetan is when you want to make a richer word you put two words together, you just sandwich them together and make a new word. So, you have gus and pa and you make gus pa (pron. gü pa).

And gus pa is, a kind of interest, It can also mean, investment, adoration, aspiration. There’s a kind of reaching quality in it. And the gus pa, is much more a sense of respect and appreciation. And hence, this translation, suggested translation of interested humility. I toyed with the translation, respectful appreciation for the same term. It’s not a very good translation because it doesn’t have much energy in it. Devotion does. Has a lot of emotional energy in that. Humility, there is that quality in it but we have to be careful with humility because the way that we use humility it can easily give rise to a sense of suppression of self. Which is not really how it’s meant to be practiced, even in Christianity where it comes up a lot, but often leads in that direction.

What I want to suggest here is that, and maybe some of you have better language, and I’ll be very interested to hear any suggestions you may have, but, when you experience a person or something in your life which you experience as deeply caring and also fills you with some sense of awe. Then, how you respond to the awe and the caring is what I think mos gus is referring to. This, this term is referring to, so, because the caring, there’s an openness and there’s an emotional connection. And because of the awe, there is a different kind of opening and a lessening of your self-importance. Because awe’s typically what we, when we feel awe we don’t feel diminished, we just have a sense of something greater than our ordinary selves. Greater and possibly more significant. And I think that’s what Traleg Rinpoche is trying to get at with the word humility.

Now some of you may have some very good suggestions about that. But when I was thinking about the response to this question, it’s how we respond emotionally to awe and caring. So, does that give you, how does that sit with you? Okay.


Now, what I want to do now is go into the text again. So, you can either read along with me or you can listen. Whatever way puts you in touch with experience more is the better way to go here.

What follows are a series of metaphors, or actually similes, if you want to be precise. And each one of them points to a different aspect of this ineffable quality of experience. And we had the first one last week, you know, this experience not depending on anything. It’s just there. And, as we heard in some of the questions, is there’s all this effort to just try to take hold of experience to understand it, to do something with it. And which is basically a misguided way of trying to connect with it. And the instruction there was:

Let go and rest naturally. Let what binds you let go and freedom is not in doubt.

It sounds extraordinarily simple and it is. But, unfortunately simple and easy aren’t synonyms. We are so caught up in this habituated way of relating to the world that it’s very difficult for us to let what binds us let go.


When you look into space, seeing stops.

Now, let’s just stop right there. [Pause]

This would probably be better to with a clear blue sky. And so, you know, there’s a lot of space there. But even here, in this room, it’s a good-sized room, what I want you to try right now is just look at the space in this room. [Pause]

Look at the space. [Pause]

Now what happens when you look at the space? Anybody? [Pause]


Doyle: I have a feeling of my mind trying to grasp stuff, but it doesn’t have anything to hold on to.

Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Yes, what’s your name?

Student: Lisa.

Ken: Lisa

Lise: I have a sense of, as in a whiteout. You’re in snow and there’s whiteout. A—

Ken: Everything goes kind of white?

Lisa: Well, that’s a metaphor. As when I’m in a condition of whiteout.

Ken: Okay.

Lisa: Peripheral, actually the opposite of what Doyle said. Letting go of needing to see. I actually question the word, see. Because when I move into that experience I am no longer trying to see, I’m just present with the space.

Ken: Okay, thank you. Anybody else? Amy?

Amy: My focus changes so that, like, it says, seeing stops and yet, I’m not blind. But my focus is totally different.

Ken: Yes, okay, this is very good. So, when you look into space there’s a shift. Now, Lisa described that, in a certain sense, you stopped seeing, you’re just present with experience, so you weren’t seeing in the ordinary way. That’s how I understood. And Amy, you’re saying something similar. And Doyle’s saying, ”My mind goes berserk. It wants to grab onto stuff.“ Which is a reaction to not seeing in the ordinary way.

So, this is what Tilopa means when he says, ”When you look into space, seeing stops.“ As Amy said, it’s not that things disappear. I mean we go blind or we don’t see anything. But the ordinary way of relating to visual experience shifts. It’s different.


Likewise, when mind looks at mind, the flow of thinking stops.

Well, in exactly the same way that you looked at space, now look at your mind. [Pause]

What happens? Do it again. Look right at your mind. [Pause]

What happens? Anybody? [Pause]

What do you experience, when you look at your mind? [Pause]

I mentioned I’m going to have every one of you talk, so it’s just a matter of time. [Laughter]

Joe, what about you? And then Carol. Okay. [Pause]

Joe: The clearest experience is when I see a thought arising. And the second I realize that a thought is arising, it’s impossible to think it. And then I move on to another thought arising, of course, but that is also impossible to think, so that’s my experience.

Ken: Okay, but right now, look at your mind. What do you experience right there? [Pause]

Ken: What happens when you do that, right now? [Pause]

Ken: How would you describe it? [Pause]

Joe: Bare, just bare, bare—

Ken: Okay, are you thinking a lot? In that first moment when you look at mind, is there a lot of thinking?

Joe: No, no.

Ken: Okay, all right. Carol.


Carol: The first thing that happened is I thought, ”Wow, that’s cool.“ [Laughter]

Ken: Why was it cool?

Carol: Because I had never tried it before. And I—

Ken: Yes, I see it, but what was cool about it?

Carol: It was so different.

Ken: Yeah, but you’re not telling me anything.

Carol: My analogy, that I came up with, which still you may not like, I don’t know, is that—

Ken: I’m very, very picky.

Carol: I know. [Laughter]

Carol: When someone is talking a lot, and they actually stop talking and start singing, they’re using the same apparatus, but they’re not talking anymore. So, I was using this thing of mind to look at mind. And it stopped thinking, like it stops talking when you start singing.

Ken: Okay. Okay. Thank you. All right. One more. Yes. Christine.


Christine: Thank you. When I first had the experience it was, well, I can’t explain it. I think that’s the experience, I can’t explain it. And when I tried to answer the question, in my mind—

Ken: We can be a little zen about this, if you want.

Christine: Pardon me?

Ken: We can be a little zen about this, if you want. [Loudly, with exaggerated feeling] ”What do you mean you can’t speak it? Say something! If you say anything, I’ll hit you! If you don’t say anything, I’ll hit you!“ [Laughter]

Christine: I can best describe it in contrast, I suppose, because the initial experience was just experience and—

Ken: Now…just a second.

Christine: Yes?

Ken: What the hell does that mean? [Laughter]

Christine: Umm…

Ken: ”The experience was just experience.“

Christine: Well, I suppose what it means, in language, is that there weren’t any words to it. So it’s circular, maybe.

Ken: Yeah, but there’s more than that, ”There weren’t any words to it,“ but there’s something else.

Christine: Well, are you asking me or telling me?

Ken: I’m asking. [Laughter]

Christine: I, I—

Ken: Because when you said, ”It was just experiencing,“ it’s more than just, ”I can’t put this into words.“ Something else.

Christine: Oh, well, all right, I’ll try an emotion. I had an experience of tenderness, I suppose, you might say.

Ken: Okay.

Christine: There was something, there was an absence of frame.

Ken: Absence of frame, okay.

Christine: But, I think, that to me, what was interesting was that when I tried to answer your question, about what the experience was, in my mind, the attempt to describe it in language changed the experience.

Ken: Yes, yeah, okay. All right. That’s not bad. You know, ”tenderness“, ”no frame,“ etc. Let me ask you this: in that shift, did you feel more alive or less alive?

Christine: In which shift?

Ken: The shift when you said, you know, ”mind looks at mind.“

Christine: Oh, much more.

Ken: Yes, so, how’d you know that?

Christine: How did I know that?

Ken: Yeah.

Christine: Well, the experience was vibrant.

Ken: So, there’s a bodily component in this?

Christine: Yes.

Ken: Okay, can you describe that?

Christine: Open. It was open. There was I suppose, an absence of tension—

Ken: Uh-huh.

Christine: …pleasure.

Ken: Okay, good, thank you. Peri?


Peri: I’m interacting for Tracy.

Ken: Yes.

Peri: So, Tracy says, ”When I look at mind I see nothing. There’s this shift of space in mind.“

Ken: Okay. And she finds herself looking at nothing? Okay. So, what’s that like, Tracy? [Pause]

Peri: Yes; to your first question. See how fast a typer Tracy is.

Ken: Yes, we’ll see how fast a typer Tracy is.

Peri: Peaceful.

Ken: Peaceful. Good, thank you.


Ken: So, do you get a sense of what Tilopa is pointing to here?

When you look into space, seeing stops. Likewise, when mind looks at mind, the flow of thinking stops.

Okay? Now, many of you experienced that and then you were able to describe it. All you need to do now is build more capacity. That’s it.

Chuck: What do you mean by that? Do it more often?

Ken: Do it more often, you know, it’s like push-ups, Chuck. [Laughter] You know, it’s like jogging. You know, you do it so that you become more and more conversant with this way of experiencing things. It’s not our habitual or habituated way of experiencing things, but something we can become familiar with through exercising it. Okay?


Next verse. So…

And the result of that will be supreme awakening, whatever that is.

And again I want to caution about the language and system here. We get the idea that there is this thing: supreme awakening, satori, enlightenment, original mind, perfection of wisdom—and I can go on and on and on—that we have to attain. Now, all of those things are referring to a deepening relationship with this experience in ourselves. And whatever it is, it’s our experience. And people have given it names because those names were significant to them. That’s why there are so many names.

There’s a teacher in Utah who uses the term, big mind. There’s a zen teacher who in the seventeenth, eighteenth century, who just went on and on about no mind. ’Cause that’s the words, that he used to describe it, and he would just talk about no mind. If you want to go on the net and look up Douglass, with two s’s, Harding, he talks about having no head. And he leads you through these wonderful little exercises, there’s about seven up, on the web, were you just see things from a different way. But one of them is having no head. You see, [sing-song] ”I can see my feet, I can see my legs, I can see my hands, I can see my arms, but when I look at my head, I don’t see anything.“ [Laughter]


Okay, next verse.

Mists rise from the earth and vanish into space.


Mists rise from the earth and vanish into space.

They don’t go anywhere, they aren’t anywhere.

Now, we all know, only because we live relatively close to the ocean here, what fog is like. Or we can climb a mountain and you know, we find ourselves in a mist or in a fog or in cloud. It’s a very, very definite experience. But when you look for where the fog is, can you locate it? Where the mist is? No. I mean, it’s there, but when you look right at it there’s nothing there. Even if it’s really, really thick fog. You know, so thick that you can’t see the front of your car, so it’s not a good idea to drive. When you actually look right at the fog, you can’t see it.

And then something happens and it goes. Where does it go? You know? And now it’s completely clear and you can see forever, etc., etc. Where does the fog go? Can anybody answer that question? I know we have a few scientists in the room, they can come up with all kinds of wonderful explanations about the dew point of the air, so you know, when the temperature rises above, then water stops condensing, that doesn’t answer the question: Where does the fog go?



Likewise, flows of thought arise in your mind. As you see your own mind the waves of thinking vanish.

So here, in the previous stanza, you’re looking into space.

So what I’d like you to do right now is: take a thought and if you prefer to choose something a little more tangible, take an emotion because we use the term in Tibet is rnam rtog (pron. namtok). But rnam rtog really means a certain kind of movement in the mind, it encompasses, more of less, both thoughts and emotions in English. So you can take something like anger or desire or jealousy or pride. Or you can take a thought like, ”I’m brilliant“ or, ”I’m stupid“ or, ”I’m wonderful“ or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Or ”This is great“ or, ”What did I have for dinner last night?“ or you know. It doesn’t really matter. Just take a thought, take an emotion, whatever you want, and look right at it. [Pause]

And do it again. Take another one. And look right at it. [Pause]

Do it one more time. Take something completely different. Take a memory, take an association, take a plan you have for the future. Take an ideal. And look right at it. [Pause]

So, what happens here? What’s your experience? Ann.


Ann: I get a really big energy pop.

Ken: A big energy pop.

Ann: Yeah, meaning that things get really bright.

Ken: Okay.

Ann: And there seems to be, like, a sensation in my head, which I hope isn’t meaning that I’m going to have stroke. [Laughter]

Ken: Yeah, it’s an aneurysm actually, so. [Laughter]

Ann: And things become very sharp that you know the core, the things that I see are very sharp.

Ken: Okay, sharp as in vivid?

Ann: Yes.

Ken: Okay. Okay.


Yes? What’s your name?

Student: Barbara.

Ken: Barbara.

Barbara: It disappears. It vanishes, the thought. I try and hold onto it and I can’t.

Ken: Okay. And when it goes, how does it vanish? Does it like, kind of creep away and hide or…?

Barbara: It just seems pretty instantaneous and—

Ken: What do you experience then?

Barbara: Well, most of the thoughts were bad thoughts, so I was happy to have them go. [Laughter]

Barbara: So, good riddance.

Ken: Good riddance. So, I interpret that to mean, you felt more peaceful, more relaxed, more at ease, or something like that.

Barbara: Yeah and also there was some flicker of recognition that, ”Oh, that’s just a thought.“ I mean, it’s just something that can go away. That I don’t have to—

Ken: Yeah, okay, very good thank you. Yes.


Student: Several of my thoughts were very different. Now one was emotionally charged and I sensed, in looking at the thought, how many voices and how many thoughts were entangled in it. And then I felt a sense of loss, that was associated with…so the emotion came up.

Ken: Yes, okay, but what happened when you look right at it?

Student: When I looked right at it? Well, I felt stabbed.

Ken: Oh, that’s interesting, go on.

Student: It was, and again it’s probably situational because another thought was completely different.

Ken: Yes.

Student: So I had a strong emotional reaction.

Ken: Okay, and then another thought because we did this three times.

Student: Another thought. It was not charged at all so when I looked at it, it evaporated ike the mist.

Ken: Okay. all right.


So, a range of experiences here. But I think from this you see why Tilopa used the analogy of mist because there’s this thought or emotion, which seems to be there. But when we look right at it, there’s nothing there. And many of you found that was like a liberating or freeing experience. It felt, oh, freedom from the tyranny of thinking or of thought or playing around the bad thoughts, or negative thoughts about ourselves.

And we can push this a little further, you know. When you look, okay, ”Where is this thought?“ Well again, it’s like the mist, we can’t locate it anywhere. I mean, it’s a definite experience, but when you look, you’re like, ”Where is it?“ Well, you know, is it here? Or here? You know, it’s something we experience, but we can’t locate it anywhere.

And so this is why Tilopa uses this analogy of the mist. And then it goes. And you know, you described it as pop or just vanishes. And again, it’s like the mist, it just goes. And it’s like the mist in one other way.

When it evaporates or whatever it does, you feel clearer. Or you experience the world more vividly. Or there’s more openness or whatever. And this is like the mist because the thinking mind is a duller mind. That way of experiencing things is duller in the same way that when we’re in the mist, things aren’t as vivid. We can see the outlines of things if the mist isn’t too thick, but we can’t see the details. And then when the mist clears away we see everything very, very vividly. And in the same way, when we look at thought this way and thoughts go poofor whatever, then we experience things more clearly, more vividly. So, that’s what Tilopa’s pointing out here.

Now, you notice that in each of these things, even though he’s pointing out different aspects, he’s also giving a whole bunch of meditation instruction here.



Likewise, flows the thought arise in your mind as you see your own mind the waves of thinking vanish.

Now, because we are not well-practiced in this, it only vanishes for a short period of time and then it starts up again. But it raises the possibility of being able to experience things a different way. And once we have the sense of this, as I’ve said before, it is simply a matter of practice. We do it again and again. We rest in that experience, so it soaks into us. And basically we are developing or evolving, whatever word you want to use, a different way of experiencing what arises. And it’s not something that is just going to take place by itself.

There’s this wonderful line, it’s probably the only line Guenther translated well, in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation. Samsara is notorious for being without end.

Which is to say, the habituated way that we have of experiencing the world doesn’t have any mechanism in itself which is going to bring it to an end. It is self-perpetuating. The only way that this changes is if we make this kind of effort ourselves. And if we make this effort on a consistent basis, which is why I’ve been encouraging you to practice, then we induce in ourselves a different way of experiencing and that allows our whole experience of life to evolve in a different direction. And that’s basically what we’re doing in practice—is creating a different direction of evolution for our experience.


Let’s go on to the next one, number five.

Space has no color or shape. It does not change, it does not take on the color either black or white.

Now, ideally I should have a couple of colored spotlights or something like that. You know, so I could shine this red light, ”Shoo“. You know, so you’d see this red beam. Then we could have a blue one and a green one and we’d have lots of fun. Maybe like a laser or something. Laser…have a light show.

So we have all of these colors. Does the color of space itself change? [Pause]

No. Why? Very profound reason. [Repeats] Very profound reason. The color of space doesn’t change because there is nothing there to change. There is nothing there to pick up any color or to become a color. Now, that’s very, very important point. A simple prism would do this, in some ways.

Likewise, your own mind, in essence, has no color or shape.

That is, we have this experience, but if we look at what this experience actually is, as we’ve discussed a few times before, there’s actually nothing there.

So. What I want you to do now is, I want you to think a really, really virtuous thought or feeling, you know, like: devotion or compassion or loving kindness. If you want to be, sort of, neutral about this, you can go for equanimity, you know. If you’re more passionate then you can go for joy, you know, whatever. But, you know, you pick, pick your poison. And just feel that very, very intensely. It’s, I know it’s somewhat artificial, but you know, take loving kindness, or joy, or devotion or whatever and let yourself feel that. [Pause]

Now, what knows that experience? [Pause]

Okay? Now, just let that go.

Now, let’s take anger, pride, jealousy, greed, you know, again, pick your poison. Whatever your favorite one is. [Pause] Amy, what’s your favorite one? [Laughter]

Amy: Anger.

Ken: Anger, okay. Okay, anybody into jealousy here? Yeah, okay, there you go, Elena. So, you know, anybody here into pride? Nobody’s going to…okay good, an honest person.

Student: I like them all. [Laughter]

Ken: You like them all. Okay, well, you’re going to have to choose tonight. Okay, so, just take one of these and let yourself feel it. You know, I mean, you don’t have to put on a big display, so you don’t have to be embarrassed about this. This is just…I’m not even going to ask you…so, and just experience that reactive emotion. [Pause]

And what knows that experience? [Pause]

Okay, now in both of these, I asked you, ”What knows the experience?“ [Pause]

In these two cases, how did the experience affect, ”What knows the experience?“ [Pause]


Peri? Microphone, please.

Peri: It didn’t.

Ken: Okay. How’s that possible?

Peri: I suppose it’s a lot like: space not being able to pick up light.

Ken: Now, is this the way you ordinarily relate to experience? There’s this knowing, it’s unaffected by whatever arises. It’s just there?

Peri: Unfortunately, no.

Ken: No. We don’t usually relate to experience that way. But what would it be like to do that? That is, to have such familiarity with that empty knowing quality of our experience. That we could just experience everything, and know that it was all just experience. What would it be like to live that way? I mean, this is really what we’re pointing to.


So, we come back here,

Space has no colour or shape. It does not change.

And as I said, because and it’s a highly nontrivial point, because there is nothing there to change.

It does not take on a color, either black or white. Likewise, your own mind, in essence, has no color or shape. It does not change because you do good or evil.

So, how many of you have a negative self-image? [Laughter] Hands up, come on, let’s be honest here. About half the class. How many of you have a positive self-image? A few. Okay, so, you’ve got no basis for either of that. [Laughter]

You know, There isn’t anything there.



The darkness of a thousand eons cannot dim the brilliant radiance that is the essence of the sun.


The darkness of a thousand eons cannot dim the brilliant radiance that is the essence of the sun.

So, ”a thousand eons,“ that’s a very long time. Let’s take a more concrete example. Let’s take a tomb which is, you know, constructed a few centuries ago. And there’s been absolutely no light in the tomb. And you find yourself in, like Indiana Jones, through a very intricate set of tunnels, in this room. And there hasn’t been any light in this room for centuries. And you turn on your cellphone, or you light a match or whatever, how long does it take for that darkness to be dispelled? [Pause]

Student: An instant.

Ken: Yeah, okay.

Student: Instantaneous.

Ken: Yeah. Where there’s light, there’s light, that’s it.


Likewise, eons of samsara—for samsara, you can read, habituated patterned existence, you know. You can say, your whole life, okay—cannot dim the sheer clarity that is the essence of your own mind.

Now. The term in Tibetan is od gsal (pron. ö sal), I cannot remember what it is in Sanskrit. It’s often translated as clear light. It’s also translated as luminosity or pellucidness, or various obscure words. Clear light, which is a literal translation of the Tibetan, od gsal, is not inaccurate, but it does have the idea that there’s some kind of light, right?

And, so, how many of you seek some kind of brilliant light experience in your meditation? Where you think that’s what should happen? Like the world should dissolve into light? Or I had a student who’s saying, ”I’m just waiting for the blue flash of light.“ It’s like a K-Mart special. [Laughter]


That’s not what sheer clarity refers to.

Once again, look at your mind. Or we could say, look at your experience, ’cause they’re not different.


Now, when you look, as we’ve discussed earlier, you see nothing. But if I ask you, ”Is that an experience of blankness?“ What would you say? Anybody? Nava, your turn to…behind you.

Nava: I’d say, no, it’s not an experience of blackness.

Ken: Pardon?

Nava: It’s not an experience of blackness.

Ken: Blankness, sorry.

Nava: Blankness, oh!

Ken: Or blackness, I mean, okay. So, say more. And I know this is difficult to describe, but—

Nava: Yeah. First of all it changed the course of whatever happened before, for me, you know. Something stops and there is movement.

Ken: So, what knows this? [Pause]

Now, right there. There’s something which we can’t put into words, but that is what the words sheer clarity are pointing to. There’s a clarity which arises as a knowing, it arises as experience, but there’s and I don’t know really how to put this into words myself, either, but there isn’t…it’s not blank, so when I asked Nava here, ”What knows this?“ And I’ve asked you this with respect to, ”What knows this?“ Well, there is the experience of knowing, there is the experience of being aware, everybody with me on that one? Okay.

That’s what the sheer clarity. I chose the word sheer because rather than, let’s say, clear light because when we talk about a sheer cliff, it’s just goes ”shooo!“ It just drops straight down. And so I used the word sheer to get at the nothing to it quality. And yet, that knowing’s there, even though there’s nothing to it. Does that fit with your experience? Yeah.

Now it’s a very subtle thing. And it’s always there. Yeah. Even when you’re, experiencing really turgid, dullness in your meditation. You know, where the mind seems like, completely black. All you have to do is ask, ”What knows this?“ And it’s there.

That’s what the sheer clarity is pointing to and we’ve been emphasizing up to this point the space-like quality, but there’s also this—radiant is almost too strong a word because you have this idea there should be something shining out of it. And as one’s relationship deepens, and that can be brought out in various ways, it does, in a certain sense, it can, as you know, more and more clearly, have a radiant quality to it. But it’s not like bright lights going off and wiping everything out, it’s this knowing quality that’s always there in every experience. That help? Do you want to say more?

Nava: Yeah, I wanted to say that we actually…it is dimmed you know, that sheer clarity, until we ask. I mean, we have to do that, in order to find it. Or we want to—

Ken: It’s dimmed, dimmed, you say. Yeah, dimmed or deemed?

Nava: No, dimmed. I mean, it is covered…I mean what—

Ken: Yes, that’s right, yeah.

Nava: It’s covered until we want to see it.

Ken: Yeah, this is a wonderful point you’re making here, Nava. It’s only covered because that is our habituated way of relating to experience. And so, it isn’t until we stop and look or ask in this way and then suddenly it’s there. And that’s what we’re trying to instigate, is this different way so that it becomes more and more the way that we relate to the world, rather than, as you accurately described it, ”This dimmer way of relating to the world.“

Nava: Right.

Ken: Yeah.



Peri: We have a few things going on online here. Related to the…well, let’s go back. Janet asks, ”Isn’t our mind changed by repeatedly doing good and isn’t it changed by repeatedly doing bad?“ [Laughter]

Ken: We’re talking about mind in two different ways here. And there’s a certain ambiguity, so her question’s very understandable.

In Tibetan, for instance, you have the two terms, sem and semkyi. Sem refers to mind as experience and semkyi refers to what experience is. Not what the experience is, but what experience is. Okay, or what mind is. So, yes, the content of experience will change according to whether we do good or evil. And when we do good we set up a self-propagating cycle, so it moves in a certain direction. And when we do evil we set up another self-reinforcing cycle which makes everything more and more difficult.

But, in either case, experience or has this empty, clear, unrestricted quality. It’s just that as we do more and more evil, it becomes darker and darker. And we get more and more caught up, so we’re less likely to able to recognize it. And doing good, tends to make things lighter and clearer and easier. So it increases the possibility of recognizing, which is why, in Buddhist practice, one’s encouraged to do virtue because it creates the conditions in which this recognition can take place.

Peri: Okay. And then there’s another little conversation here. Tracy says, ”Ken, what happens when you see in color?“ And then Ann says, ”For me, clarity and luminosity doesn’t really express this, it’s more like sheer aliveness and energy, a vivacity.“

Ken: What was the last one?

Peri: A vivacity.

Ken: Vivacity. I think that’s okay. Yeah.

Peri: And then Tracy comes back and says, ”For me sheer clarity is clear, so this comes to a white clear light. Why do I relate into colors?“ Interesting.

Ken: Well, experience arises for people in different ways. So, again, I want to point to, this isn’t about trying to have a certain experience. All of these are words that are pointing to aspects of your own experience. So, Tracy saying, ”I have these colors“. Okay, what knows the colors? [Pause] And that’s going to put you into that empty, clear, unrestricted. Okay? All right.


Now, I want to push on because we’re getting short on time. Next one is fairly straight forward, but it’s important.

You may label space as empty. But you cannot describe what space is like.

Now we say it’s like this, it’s like this, like this, but you know, we’re just putting our own ideas on it. Nothing actually sticks ’cause there’s nothing for it to stick to, if you see what I mean. And in the same way, we can describe, just as I’ve done at length, describing this knowing, this experiencing as sheer clarity but there isn’t anything there to say, ”It is like this“. So, this is saying quite strongly, ”Don’t try to conceptualize this.“ ’Cause any idea you formulate about this, will be wrong, by the mere fact that it’s an idea. Any notion will be incomplete, incorrect, inaccurate, etc. Another way of saying this is, you have your experience. Know your experience. And that in itself is sufficient. It isn’t necessary to formulate a theory or understand experience. It is sufficient to know it.


And then on the next page,

Thus, the nature of mind is inherently like space: it includes everything you experience.

And go a step further: It is everything you experience.


Now, Tilopa changes because, what he’s been doing at this point is saying to Naropa, ”It’s like this, it’s like this, it’s like this.“ And, as Tilopa was saying all of this and singing this to Naropa, Naropa’s probably having the same kind of experiences that you were having, as I was trying to elicit in you, like ”Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh.“ And it creates a possibility.

What Tilopa moves to now is: how do you cultivate? How do you create the conditions in your own life? So that that possibility grows, evolves. And becomes more and more how you experience things. He says, Stop all physical activity. Stop running around. Sit naturally at ease. And people would work very, very hard at training their bodies. So they could sit absolutely at ease. It’s not that easy, for many people, you know. You can’t just sit and just let the body be quiet. We always have to be doing something.


Do not talk or speak: let sound be empty, like an echo.

Now, when people say something, you know, we think, ”Oh, what did they say?“ But when we hear an echo, we don’t pay any attention, it’s just, ”Oh, that was…“ Like that. So, the way to relate here is to learn to relate to all sound as an echo. So it doesn’t stimulate a reaction in you.


Do not think about anything: Look beyond experience.

That’s basically what I’ve been trying to show you how to do most of this evening. And the versification here is rather arbitrary, one could move lines around, because Tilopa now shifts again. When you do these three things: you stop all physical activity, you sit naturally at ease, you stop talking and just let sound be empty, like an echo, you stop thinking about things. Thoughts may come, but you stop thinking about things. And you look beyond experience, that looking quality which we’ve been engaging again and again tonight.

And going a little further, you can say, you learn how to rest and in that resting you look. And as you develop that ability to look, then you learn how to rest in the looking. So, you look in the resting and rest in the looking. That’s probably one of the best formulations of mahamudra practice I’ve found yet. It comes from a book called Clarifying the Natural State. Look in the resting, rest in the looking.

When you do this, then you’ll start to experience things like this:

Your body has no core, hollow like a bamboo.

Now, this isn’t a statement of fact, it’s a description of experience. And so you sit, and now you experience, like, ”Oh, my body’s there, but there’s nothing to it.“ And that is how you experience the body when the mind rests.

Your mind is beyond thought, open like space.

And several of you touched into that this evening.

So, when you start to experience things that way,

Let go of control and rest right there.

That’s the hard part for a lot of us. Because, ”Oh, I want to hold on to this.“ Well, sorry, but you just started trying to control your experience. Or ”I want to go a little deeper.“ Uh, you just tried to control your experience.

So what this kind of meditation consists of is moving in and resting. And all the stuff: ”I want this! I want that! I want more of this!“ And things like that, you gotta just keep letting that go, as it arises. Let go of control and rest right there.


Mind without reference is mahamudra.

And we could equally say, experience without reference is mahamudra.

Instill this deeply and supreme awakening results.

Okay, and we’re going to close there.


Now, the final thing I want to do this evening, Step two in meditation, which some of you have already jumped to, I said, ”Rest in breathing, the experience of breathing, and open to all sensory experience.” That is, the kinesthetic and tactile sensations in the body. All the visual experience, all the aural experience. Taste and smell if there.

And we ordinarily think of external experiences coming through the senses. Even though a lot of it’s happening in the body, all the tactile and kinesthetic stuff, it’s still coming through the sense organs of the body. You just open to all of that.

In addition to what I want you to start working with over this next week is, include all thoughts and feelings. These are emotional or cognitive sensations. So you relate to thoughts and feelings in the same way that you relate to, you know, the color and shapes and light and sound and things like that—as just stuff that’s arising in your experience. And you open to all of it without trying to control or do anything with any of it. And whenever you find yourself collapsing down on a thought or collapsing down on an emotion or collapsing down on a sensory sensation. Or, as some people prefer to say, being hooked by this or hooked by that or hooked by this. It’s just different words to describe the same thing.

Then as soon as you recognize that’s happened, whatever you’re hooked on, just expand from that. Back to the totality of your experience. And this is all of the sensory sensations, all of the emotional sensations, all of the cognitive sensations. Cognitive sensations are thoughts. Emotional sensations are the emotions. Sensory sensations are the things we experience through the senses.

Now, if you find yourself repeatedly getting lost in thoughts, it means you’re not putting enough attention into the experience of the body. So, come back and just experience the body. The more completely you experience the body, the less prone you will be to being highjacked or hooked by thoughts which come and go. The body is the ground, in a certain sense.



That’s all for this evening.

Nava? Just before you do that, are there any questions about anything? Running a little bit late and microphone, please.

Student: So while we’re meditating, we shouldn’t be doing any of the things in the previous verses, right?

Ken: [Laughter] When you can, when you find yourself resting, then you can use any of these verses to initiate a little bit of looking. So, and as I said, look in the resting, rest in the looking. I find that’s a very, very good way of capturing the essence, the basis of mahamudra practice.

The meditation that I’m giving you, in terms of opening to the sensory sensations and now including the emotional and cognitive sensations, this is a way of building capacity. So that you are more likely able to rest in the looking and look in the resting. Because you can’t understand how to do that, you can learn to do it and you can build the ability to do it.

Okay? Thanks. Any other questions before we close? All right, thanks. Nava?


With this practice now done

let me not hold it just in me

let it spread to all that is known

and awaken good throughout the world.

Awakening mind is precious

may it arise where it is not arisen

may it not fade where it has arisen

may it ever grow and flourish.

Through the power of truth,

of aspirations made with a totally pure mind

through the inevitability of dependence

and conditions totally formed

and through the force of what is profound and totally true

may the brilliance of good fortune blaze forever.


[three gongs]

Okay, good night, see you next week.

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.