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Ken: Okay. January 26th, all right, 2010 Ganges Mahamudra, Part 4.
There were a few questions which have come up, and you’re also welcome to offer or put forward questions this first section.
In response to a question last week one person said, “Well, okay, you got mahamudra, and then I got all these difficult emotions which come up”—I think this was Chris, and what I’d suggested is that one work with the five-step process, which is up on the website, and last summer we gave it the name Seeing from the inside. But it’s a way of being present with difficult feelings, difficult emotions, pain, difficult situations in one’s life, and the core of it is to hold that experience very tenderly in one’s attention, but it’s a concise version of the Anapanasati Sutra—I think I pronounced that correctly.
And then you have the mahamudra on the other hand. And she said, “After a while it seems like these practices converge. Is there something wrong?” [Laughter]
I said, “Well no, no, actually that’s probably not a bad sign at all. Because they’re both about being in whatever one is experiencing, but somewhat different approaches.
And then Chris also asked, ìSometimes when I do mahamudra, it feels like I’m being pummeled by experience.”
I think that’s a rather good description. You now, there’s this coming, and this coming, and this coming, and this coming. And it all just [demonstration through sounds]. Well, yeah, that’s right, but one has to remember that also not only is the being pummeled one’s experience, but the pummeling is also one experience. So can you experience the pummeling as well as the being pummelled? You know, there’s an old Nasrudin story about this.
One day Nasrudin is the magistrate in the village and a visitor to the village shows up in his court dressed in his underwear, and Nasrudin says, “What are you doing here? You’re not properly dressed.”
And the person says, “I am a visitor to your village and somebody robbed me, and this is all that I have left.”
Nasrudin said, “You have your underwear left, is that right?”
“Yes, that’s all I have left.”
“Well then, the person wasn’t from our village. We do things thoroughly around here.” [Laughter]
So, when we say, “Open to all experience,” we mean, open to all experience, and it’s very very important, and it’s so easy to fall into this one. Every experience has two poles. We can say there’s the receptive pole and the expressive pole basically.
So, there is another person I worked with some time ago, who said that he feels that his guts were being wrung—you know like wringing a towel—and I said, “Ok, that’s difficult. Do you experience the wringing, that is, what part of you is actually doing the twisting?” And he went, “What?” Because all he could experience was the being wrung, but couldn’t experience the twisting.
So we tend to identify with one part of the experience, and not the other part. So in this we just open to the whole experience, which means both sides of it. And that can actually gets quite interesting. And then some questions were raised, apparently on the Ning site, about the idea that—I think it was in response to my statement that, you know, “What good is this stuff for?” or something along those lines—and somebody made the statement that non-referential awareness is an end in itself. I love this.
Particularly those of you who were working with me on the Then and Now class, you may recall in the chapter on Perfection of Wisdom Gampopa quoting his teacher Milarepa, saying that, “Whoever coined the term non-referential awareness was a numbskull.” There isn’t any such thing, which is wonderful because if there isn’t any such thing, it’s very difficult to see how non-referential awareness could be an end in itself.
So they’re talking about experiences, ways of experiencing things, they aren’t ends in themselves, so I think one has to scratch a little deeper into why one is doing this, and that was the homework that I left with you, if I recall. [Laughter]
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What use do you have for this way of approaching or experiencing things? Now it’s your turn. And Elena has the mic.
All right, cause I asked you, do you have a use for this? Well, presumably you do, because you came back this week. So what use do you have for this? Lisa is it? Yep.
Lisa: Well not to be dramatic but I would say that—
Ken: Oh be dramatic! [Laughter]
Lisa: It really feels like the most relevant thing I can be doing because, because what I’m becoming more aware of in my former meditation practices, it was about refining my point of focus, but I was shutting down my senses. And with the experience of opening up to all of my senses, I am experiencing so much more of the world and becoming aware of how I unconsciously inhibit or shutdown my ability to experience more fully.
Ken: I have a simple question for you. Why do you want to experience more fully? I mean, I ask really dumb questions, so please excuse me.
Lisa: The texture of my experience in life is more rich now, so for instance, I prefer 85% chocolate to 50% chocolate you know.
Ken: Okay, are you going for 100, are you? [Laughter]
Lisa: I’m not sure I would be in relationship then.
Ken: Well, now, okay so this satisfies something. Not in the trivial sense. Okay, can you talk about that?
Lisa: As I watch, how I participate, I am aware of, and in my mind where it goes, when it goes. And how much I segment and fragment my experience through my mind.
Lisa: And how little choice I seem to have at times. And when I open to my senses more fully—I’ll come back to some of the phrases that you’ve used—I have it experience of resting that is, excuse the acronym, but that is both full and empty at the same time.
Lisa: As theÖyou know, that is reset.
Ken: Yeah, you like that.
Lisa: I like that.
Elena: It’s restful.
Ken: There’s less…It’s restful. Yeah, okay.
Ken: But you see what you’re edging towards here? I’m gonna put the words in your mouth a little bit but you can tell me whether they’reÖin the right direction. But it sounds like you’re looking to a way of experiencing the world, that is free of struggle. ’Cause you said it’s restful, like everything is there, but you’re not struggling with it the same way. Is that right? Or am I putting words in your mouth?
Lisa: No, I think that’s very eloquent. [Smiles]
Ken: I’ve had a little practice. Okay. So that—
Lisa: Also this this this sense of fullness, I think one of our first sessions, somebody said that there is a vibrancy to experiencing fully that way, and engaging but not by shutting down the experience through my selective mental process, but by opening fully to it.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah, okay. Anybody else? Thank you. Marie?
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Marie: I really love this statement, “recognizing is touching this natural clarity over and over again,” returning over and over again. And this other phrase that I heard a couple days ago was heart-like sky, returning to heart-like sky. So, there’s another side to this, the motivation factor, which I found really interesting. It’s really difficult to get a handle on your motivation because, it’s almost like you say, you know, “We’re not a thing, we’re not a thing.” The motivation is not a thing either. It’s like it’s shifting all the time as my experience is shifting. It’s like there’s a whole network of motivations going. And I guess that’s going on more than the actual returning part. But sometimes, you can return.
Ken: Well, I think that’s an important point. When we look into our experience, and we scratch the surface, it’s not nearly as straightforward as it appears at first glance. Now, we can try to tidy it up. And a lot of people have developed a lot of philosophical systems, which put it all into neat boxes and things like that, but it doesn’t stay there very long. It’s very rich, it’s multifaceted, and time and again we think we know what we’re doing, only we find out that that was only hold part of the whole show. Right?
Marie: Yeah, it’s amazing. There’s just layers and layers of different things going on.
Ken: Yeah. And yet as we’ve talked about in last weeks, there is this unrestricted experience which arises and empty clarity, full and empty at the same time. And that way of experiencing things is for some people intensely meaningful. Okay. Anybody else. Yes?
Student: I feel it in some ways this practice, I mean it’s sort of self-serving, I mean I just want to suffer less; that’s what I want to do. [Laughter] And clearly many of the ways that I experience the world has me suffer more, and I think I don’t have to suffer as much as I do, and so I don’t have any lofty aim or experience, “That’s what I want.”
Ken: Okay. And does this practice help?
Ken: Yes, how does it help? How does it help you to suffer less?
Student: Because my suffering is like focusing on one particular thing that I just keep—you know, “I can’t stand! I cant stand it!”—and then I experience a lot of other things at the same time and I can’t just focus on that.
Ken: Right. And when you stop trying to push those other things away and just focus on this, you just open to everything, what happens?
Student: It’s hard to describe it. It’s almost like there’s more space, and the area of suffering seems smaller in the bigger scope of things.
Ken: Yes, and another way of putting it perhaps is, what seem to be very important, and the only thing that was going on is now experienced as just a part of a larger experience.
Ken: Yeah, and so one’s relationship with it has changed.
Ken: And it is through that change of relationship that the struggle or the suffering ends. And what one’s doing in this practice is learning how to do that with absolutely everything, ideally. But we’ll see how far we get. Very good, okay.
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Now, this may be good news or bad news. But I’ve been working on the translation and so your translations are now out of date. I’m about three quarters of the way through a revised translation and I will have it—“He says recklessly”—next week. As soon as it’s finished, I’ll send a copy to Peri and she’ll distribute it to everybody.
But to give you an idea, I think we’ll just start off. We’re gonna start off with verse fifteen, which is where we are. And I touched on the first two lines and in your translation it is,
Patterned experience is meaningless. It generates struggle.
Conventional experience has no substance.
Focus on what has meaning and substance.
So I changed that slightly.
Samsaric ways are senseless: they are the seeds of suffering.
Conventional ways are pointless.
Focus on what is sound and true.
Sounds a bit more like English, I think. Don’t worry, you’ll get a copy of this in your email for the next class.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this, I’m working with, or I have access to, eight other translations of this text, as well as three commentaries—one in Tibetan. They’re all Tibetan commentaries but one in Tibetan and two others that have been translated from English to Tibetan—and it’s quite wonderful, there’s quite a variety of interpretations among the Tibetans.
So what I first translated as patterned experience and I’m now translating as samsaric ways. This word ways, experience is the translation of the Tibetan word for dharma, which is chö. But it’s the Sanskrit word dharma. Now, dharma, and the Tibetan equivalent actually has ten meanings. And so it’s a very powerful word. And this is something I only learned relatively recently. The core, the root meaning in both Sanskrit and Tibetan, as far as I know—I know it is in Tibetan—is to hold.
So there are three principal meanings. There is dharma where it’s usually translated as phenomena or phenomenon—which I think is a problematic English translation. And there is dharma as a religion, or a spiritual practice or instruction. So we have, you know, the four teachings so it can be called the four dharmas. And the word dharma also has the meaning of just the way things are. You know, “That’s his dharma,” the way he does things or she does things.
So, what was interesting is that one of the Tibetan teachers, in commenting on this text, took this to refer to the experience, and another took it to refer to as a ways of relating to the world—ways of functioning in the world would be more precise—and that’s the sense that I feel more comfortable with. Samsaric ways refers to—quite explicitly—the tendency or the way of attaching to experience and grabbing onto it, which means that we’re ignoring a lot of other stuff and it produces exactly what—What’s your name?
Ken: Barbara, yeah—was saying we create suffering because we’re holding onto experience, and we’re holding onto experience because we’re—and this is not a conscious decision, it’s really a way of relating to the world—because everything that arises in experience is immediately being appraised in terms of, Does this support my sense of who I am, does it negate my sense of who I am or does it not make any difference? And that elicits attraction, aversion, and indifference. And it’s that whole process which produces suffering.
Got to read my my notes here [reading to himself]. Oh, that’s what that’s about. Okay. “Conventional ways” interestingly enoughÖ
I think last time I mentioned this meeting between Alexander the Great and this Jain priest in India. And Alexander has now conquered the world and looks at this Jain priest and says, “What are you doing?”
And he says, “I’m sitting here, not doing anything.”
The Jain priest then says, “What are you doing?”
“I’m conquering the world.”
And they both look at each other for a while, convinced that the other one is completely nuts. From the perspective of a person such as Tilopa and Naropa and so forth, and these great masters, yeah you can go out and conquer the world and then somebody else comes and conquers the world you conquered. And then somebody else comes along and conquers the world you conquered and it’s just pointless. It just goes on and on.
And there’s no peace. It generates suffering for countless people. It doesn’t accomplish anything in the long run. It just reshuffles things. Different people are in power, other people fall out of power and then other people come back into power. It just goes on and on and, you know, it doesn’t matter how many enemies you have, there’s always more. And that’s why he says,
Conventional ways are pointless. And then,
Focus on what is sound and true.
Now, what I’m trying to capture hereÖsomething that isn’t senseless and isn’t pointless. Now, who decides what isn’t senseless and isn’t pointless?
This is a trick question. Who decides?
Ken: Yeah, which is, you decide. There isn’t anybody else. [Laughter] And the reason for this is, it’s your life. Now you’ve heard probably time and time again teachers say that, “Don’t take what I say on faith. You have to examine it, you have to make it your own experience” etc. etc. You have to test it and see if it is true.
Well, when teachers say this, they’re actually serious. I mean, I think most of them are anyway. And this basically what I’ve been encouraging you to do is is to ask, “Does this have any relevance for me? And if so, what is the relevance?” And really look at it, quite deeply.
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Now, one of the things that K find is that not infrequently I will get an email or phone call from someone who has been practicing for a long time—and when I say a long time, I’m talking about usually the 10 to 15 year range. That’s a fairly long time. And there are certain issues which begin to emerge when one has been practicing for that length of time. And they’re actually somewhat non-trivial.
Sometimes they’ll emerge a bit earlier than that, in the five year range, but it’s usually around ten-fifteen years.
And the one that I’m thinking of here is that, after about ten years of practice or so, you know how to practice. At least if you’ve had any decent instruction, you know how to practice. And you’ve absorbed your training, you’ve probably studied most of the basic texts. You’ve become proficient in the meditation practice, or maybe several meditation practices. You’ve become used to the whole way of thinking and something doesn’t seem to be making sense anymore.
And you’re going like [miming], “It all made so much sense before.” That’s how you could pour your energy into it. But now it’s not as making as much sense and you begin to wonder, “What am I doing? Why isn’t it making the same kind of sense, and why don’t I have the same kind of passion, and why can’t I put the same kind of energy into it?”
And this is actually quite a common experience. But what happens at this point is very very important. Frequently, what is happening at that point is that there is a quite deep change going on in the practitioner, in which they are letting go or coming to understand, that the intentions or motivations or reasons for practicing that they’ve been taught aren’t exactly working for them.
And now they have to start looking at what are their reasons for practicing. And it’s a very tricky period because you inevitably feel like you’re betraying the tradition of your own training. It’s not actually true, but it does feels like that ëcause you’re questioning the things in a way which you’re not used to. And you start becoming much more selective, like “Okay, this practice works for me, but this one doesn’t and yet I always thought that was an important practice.”
And there’s a whole re-organization taking place. And what’s coming out of that is now practicing not because of anybody else’s agenda, but because you have enough experience at this point to see what is truly meaningful and important to you, or in other words, what your own spiritual questions are, and to what extent this way of practicing and training is meeting those spiritual questions.
Now, Naropa went through this, another teacher I’ve talked about is—Khyungpo Naljor—went through this. And it’s very clear in their biographies. Naropa thought he had it all put together. There he was at Nalanda University. He was one of the gatekeepers, you know it’s a very very high position. Highly respected scholar and he comes back to his room one day and sees this horrifically ugly woman perusing his texts. “What’s this woman doing in a monastery, for a start. And why’s she looking at the texts?”
And she says to him, “Do you understand the words of these texts?”
And Naropa says, “Yeah, of course.” And she jumps up and down very happily and then she stops and looks, “Do you understand the meaning?” And he says “Yeah.”
And she starts sobbing hysterically. And Naropa’s going, “What! What’s happening here?” So he says, “Why did you laugh when I said that I understood the words and cry when I said I understood the meaning?”
“Well, when you understood the words, you were telling the truth. But when you said you understood the meaning you were lying. Go and see my brother Tilopa.” And then she just disappeared. [Laughs]
Well, this is a vision, a myth whatever, but this is how Naropa encountered this point in practice like, “Oh, something is incomplete, something’s not working here.” And that is what led him to just chuck his whole very senior position and go find this very, very strange marginal character called Tilopa. And the same thing happened to Khyungpo Naljor.
Not in quite those ways, but he studied Bön and then Dzogchen, and then Mahamudra with two different teachers and still hadn’t found something that felt sound and true—to use the phrase I put in here—to him. His second mahamudra teacheróbecause Khyungpo Naljor was an extremely capable practitioner—said to him after a few months, “You know everything that I know,” to which Khyungpo Naljor said—under his breath, because he was tactful—“Then you know nothing, ëcause I know nothing.” And then he set off to India to find someone he could work with.
So, you are the arbiters of what is sound and true, what this practice means to you, and that’s really really important. Now, what you’re getting here—and I think this is worth paying attention to—I talked about Tilopa’s song to Naropa. Tilopa and Naropa have gone through this whole thing together and Naropa had now had this awakening experience. And Tilopa felt like, “Good! now I can really talk to him.” And that’s what he’s doing here, he’s saying “Okay, now you know what I’m talking about.”
Ryokan, a Japanese Zen priest, who was a poet, is quoted as saying, “When you know my poems are not poems then we can start discussing poetry.” So, this is why you have this exclamation at the beginning:
What joy!. Tilopa is really happy that now he can have a real conversation with Naropa, and so he says, “Samsaric ways are senseless, conventional ways are pointless.” Then he goes on:
Beyond all fixation, which is a little different from how I translated it before,
This is majestic outlook. No distraction, this is majestic practice. I changed that next translation:
No action or effort. It seems to be closer to how most of the teachers are interpreting this:
This is majestic behavior, free from hope and fear the fruition is your life.
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Now, we have here a very widely used framework for describing teachings or practices: outlook, practice, behavior and result. And you’ll see these translated as view, meditation, action and result or fruition. If you look at The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa it comes up again and again, you’ll find it in many many different teachings in the Tibetan tradition. View is how you look at the world. And it is in some sense your philosophical outlook. The practice is what you’re actually doing in your meditation practice, and behavior is how you comport yourself in the world. And then the result is how it manifests in your life.
So, what Tilopa’s saying here, from the mahamudra point of view is, “How do you approach experience? Beyond all fixation.” Now, the Tibetan term here—I can’t remember what the Sanskrit is—isbzung ’dzin (pron. zung dzin). bzung is the way that we regard things as objects, and ’dzin is the way that we regard mind as being here. Now these are utterly fallacious, inaccurate ways of interpreting experience. We just do it all the time, we’re deeply stuck in it. And so when he says
Beyond all fixation it means to drop that way of interpreting experience as objects out there, mind in here. You know object-subject, of course.
So the practice I’ve been giving you where you open to all sensory experience—and last time, or two weeks ago, it was “Open to all emotional and cognitive experience as well.” And I forgot to give you the next step, so you get it tonight. You get two steps tonight that’s ’cause I missed the last week.
Many of you described that when you just open to everything it was difficult to hold the subject-object duality the way that you were used to. Okay, so that’s how you approach things. And constantly stepping beyond that way of fixing experience as out there and in here.
If you want to take this a step further, for a very long time people looked for something outside them to save themselves, you know, called it god or what have you, or gods, originally, and then it became god. And realizing or coming eventually to the understanding that there is nothing out there to save us, then people started looking inside for something to save them, you know so you have pristine awareness, buddha nature, soul, whatever. But there’s nothing there either. There’s actually nothing which is going to save you. Which is why Trungpa said, “It’s hopeless.” [Laughter]
Okay, so if there’s nothing at all out there or in here, which is going to save you, what do you do?
Student: Is it acceptance?
Ken: Yeah, do you feel how that allows you to open to your life? It’s actually quite neat that it works that way. But as long as we’re looking for something to save us, we aren’t relating to this experience we call life. So, you can say that that’s one way of approaching this,
Beyond all fixation. And then
No distraction. This practice is a tough one, you know, just experiencing things never distracted. Well, you practice it in very small bits until you get used to it and doing it for short periods of time and gradually lengthen it.
A lot of people try to hold their attention in this way. I found that particularly in the lives that we live here, that is counterproductive and almost always leads to suppression of some form or other, because there’s a fixing and there’s inevitably a hardening, and that hardening leads to a suppression. What I find works better is to practice returning to this open awareness and just resting there, and returning and resting there. Initially you don’t stay very long, you just return and rest, return and rest, and you just practice that again and again. Practice it in conversations, practice it even when you’re talking, not just when you’re listening. Practice it while you’re walking. You just practice it all the time.
Sometimes you can make a point of say going for a walk and really practicing it, and every time you look at something, just open and rest, open and rest. Do it when you’re listening to something, do it when you’re tasting, smelling, everything. In one of mahamudra texts that we studied in retreat it had a whole sequence of ways of practicing this, you know, just leading you through all kinds of visual objects and then sound, etc., etc., where you were to practice this with respect to each of those objects so you became versatile and developed the ability in every facet of your life.
Then you start practicing with different emotions. You know, bring up love, open and rest. You know, bring up anger, open and rest. And it gets a little intense there butÖmicrophone.
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Student: Is that the doors are infinite?
Ken: Oh sure.
Ken: Yeah, yeah. And that’s a good point, if you go back to the prayers or chants, whatever you want to call them, that we say at the beginning of the class, this is under Awakening Intention.
Beings are numberless: may I free them all.
Reactions are endless: may I release them all.
Doors to experience are infinite: may I enter them all.
Ways of awakening are limitless: may I know them all.
Beings are numberless, this refers to where we were regardingÖthere are all these beings out there, and we’re going to free them all. Unfortunately it’s a little difficult because they don’t do what we say. Right? So we tend to react to them. So, all those beings give rise to all kinds of reactions in us. If everybody just did what we said then everything would be fine, of course, but they don’t. So we have all of these reactions. Then we notice that these emotional reactions we’re having are endless. So now, how do we open to those? We learn to release them by opening to them and as we do that we discover each one of them is a door into a richer experience of life, that’s the
Doors to experience. And experience here is our favorite word dharma as well.
And every time we go through one of those doors there’s an awakening. So every moment of experience becomes a potential moment of awakening, that’s what this is about. And when we practice that, not just in meditation but in life then we start experiencing things very differently. But I do want to emphasize, this won’t necessarily get you through a job interview. It may but it won’t necessarily, you know. But you will experience things differently, I assure you.
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No action or effort, this is very similar to the Taoist principle of wu-wei-wu [Ken says wu-wei-wu but it seems like he is quoting David Loy’s Wei-wu-wei] where actionless action, or to use T.S. Eliot’s phrase, though I’m not sure he meant this quite this way,
The still point of the turning world.. When you’re very present in experience, you see much more clearly how things are. And so, what arises is just a natural response to how things are. It isn’t I am doing this.
One area that this is trained very deeply, quite intentionally, is in athletics and you know a lot of physical disciplines whether it’s martial arts or different sports, because you don’t have time to think. So when you encounter a situation it just happens. And the purpose of our training is to instill things so deeply in us that what arises—whether movement in our body, movement in our speech, movement in our mind—is just the appropriate response to what is arising. It’s not something, say, “I’m now going to do this”. It just comes.
That is a very very deep level of training. And you only get there by repeating it over and over again until these ways become natural to you and then you got to get rid of all of the stuff that would prevent them from arising in a situation. So it’s a lot of work but it makes a difference. And when you do this then you are free from hope and fear. And this goes back to what Lisa was describing earlier, just, okay, it’s a different way of experiencing things. Things arise and you’re not caught up in this “hope for this, fear that.”
There’s a wonderful excerpt from the biography of Drukpa Kunley. Drukpa Kunley was one of the the three mad yogins of Tibet and somebody came to him for teaching, and he says “You afraid of going to hell?”
And the person says “Yeah, that’s why I wanna practice.”
“You hope to get enlightened?”
“Yeah, that’s why I want to practice.”
“Go away. With that kind of hope and fear there’s not a chance.” [Laughs] So, Drukpa Kunley was a little difficult to deal with.
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Beyond any frame of reference mind is naturally clear. Now, when you flood the mind with experience, as some of you were describing this evening, you just open to everything, you overwhelm the habituated tendencies to see things as this, see things as that. That’s what I mean by frame of reference. It’s not a satisfactory translation—trying to think of something better—but when you flood yourself with experience that way so that you can’t hold those frames of reference, then you just experience things very clearly. Things arise more vividly, more clearly. And we have to get away from the idea that this mind means this, that something inside becomes clear. No. Mind is how we experience the world. So when it says,
Mind is naturally clear, it’s another way of saying experience becomes clear, everything just becomes clear.
Now we get down to next one which is wonderful.
Where there is no path, is where you begin the path of awakening. When you have no idea what you’re doing and you don’t know where to go then you just find you’re going like [mimes hopelessness], and in that moment you’re open and present. Now, in some traditions of Buddhism they developed quite a refined technology for precipitating that experience. I’m talking about Zen koan practice, where you’re given these cases where something’s had an effect on somebody. You know, one famous one is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” “Where was your face before you were born?” or “What is your face before you were born?” There are literally hundreds of them, but you can’t understand them and the only way you come to anything is you have to let go completely. And now you are discovering what you’re actually looking for, which is this completely non-referential open way of experiencing things.
When there is nothing to work on you come to the deepest awakening. Can you feel the sense of peace that that line conveys?
When there is nothing to work on, I was reading an author and he says, writing about Buddhism, “You’re free from all forms of bondage, even the need to report your freedom to somebody else.”
Alas! Look carefully at this experience of the world. Nothing lasts. It’s like dream, like magic. So Tilopa is now reminding Naropa the ordinary way we have experienced thingsm there’s nothing to it, it’s constantly changing, constantly evolving. If you base your meaning of your life in terms of building a secure place for yourself in the world—and I mean secure in a very broad sense, or we can say, relying on the typical social agendas of being happy, wealthy, famous and respected, and their opposites you know: unhappy, poor, obscure, and disdained—these are conventional notions of success and failure.
Well, the Stoics took a very dim view of that because that approach to life puts your life in the hands of others. You know, with this economic crash that happened a year and a half ago or so, many people found that their security—what they thought was secure, it wasn’t; they were much more fragile. Even the homes they had, which you think was nice solid thing—I think it’s like one in seven mortgages in America are underwater or something like that. That’s very very high number.
So there isn’t any security in things like that. Things just keep changing and any meaning you attach to any of that is ephemeral, even though you may’ve invested everything in it. So that’s why Tilopa’s saying, “Nothing lasts, it’s like dream, it’s like magic.” The dream, the magic make no sense. They seem to make sense when you’re struggling in the middle of it, but when you step back, you know, like [mime].
There’s an account ofÖI think it was some tribal elders from Sumatra or somewhere, were brought over to Vancouver to observe life. And they were used to a village life in Sumatra and they said, “Well, where are all the old people?”
“Well they’re all in old age homes.”
“You mean they aren’t with their families?
So they wrote down in their notebooks “In Canada the families do not take care of their old people.” And this made absolutely no sense to them. But here we have this culture and, you know, there’s old age homes and retirement apartments and things like that and we have this whole body of housing and this whole industry set up to take care of that population, another one’s for the other populations and it all makes a kind of sense to us until you step back and [mime] then it doesn’t make as much sense as it seemed to.
And we have many many instances of this, I’m just using that one as an example.
When you start looking at the world this way you feel sad. It’s like “Oh, it really doesn’t make any sense, and so much of what I thought was meaningful isn’t really meaningful.” And you become sad because you feel like you’ve poured so much energy into something that now makes no sense to you. And I use the word grief here to translate this because there’s a sadness and there’s a pain in grief. And the pain is separating from that way of relating to the world. Grief is the experience of pain of separation. When somebody close to us dies that’s what we experience, the pain of separation. And here it’s a way of relating to the world that we’re letting go of, and there’s pain in that.
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And so Tilopa’s instruction’s
Experience this grief and forget the affairs of the world.. Now, I`m going to remind you again, what this actually means, you have to decide. It meant one thing to Tilopa, it probably meant something fairly similar to Naropa, but as I said, I think last week, these guys were right outside society. They were living as religious mendicants, living very marginal lives. I don`t see any of us doing that here, so you have to decide what this actually means to you because it’s not going to mean operationally the same thing to us as it did to Tilopa and Naropa.
And it certainly didn’tÖI mean in Tibet lamas had a certain way of living and in other Buddhist countries people had a certain way of living. Nothing wrong with those ways of living. You have to decide what is the way you want to live. Tilopa goes on and he’s describing a very very particular way of approach to life.
Cut all ties of involvement with country or kin. How many of you have done that? How many of you have divorced your family system? As much as I have been able to up to this point, you know, and that’s not for everybody. Seung Sahn is the Korean teacher and he said to Stephen Mitchell once, “First kill the buddha, then kill your parents, then kill your teacher.” And he’s talking about separating from all of these different systems in one’s life.
Practice alone in forest or mountain retreats. Rest, not practicing anything. When there’s this “Practice alone in forest or mountain retreats” there’s a prayer in Tibetan tradition which goes something like, “May I live alone in mountain retreats so no one knows when when I’m sick and no one will come to comfort me, and no one will know when I’m dead and no one will come to bury me.” Now how many of you aspire to that? [Laughter] I think Steven.
But the very few people actually did that. And it’s an idealism of a certain sense. It’s a life of pure solitude. So is this the way you actually want to live? Or is this a stage, a phase of life, a way of living for a period of time that you can see might be useful to you? My teacher wanted to live this way. He would go into the mountains and he was in his mid-twenties or so an this is how his nephew described it to me, “He just lived in horrible places like in very shallow caves on the north face of high mountains in Tibet. And he was quite happy there. And then he got a letter from one of his teachers who was the abbot of the major monastery in Eastern Tibet. It said, ‘Come down and teach the three-year retreat.’ And he just ignored that letter. Then he got another letter from the number two person in that monastery whom he had a closer relationship with, ‘Please come down and teach the three-year retreat.’ And he ignored that letter too. Then he got a letter from his teacher saying, ”If you don’t come down to teach the three-year retreat never darken my door again.’“
And he explained this to me one day, and he said, ”So, what could I do?“ So, he left the mountains, but he was very happy to live that way.
Student: How did he get the letters?
Ken: Somebody brought them to him. You know and in the summer, not in the winter, because they couldn’t get to him in the winter. So and some people will interpret this figuratively, well you can do that, but this is describing a certain way of life. What is important here is that if you’re going to rest and and form this relationship with open experience a lot of things are going to be untied. And there is pain in that untieing, you’re going to have a different relationship with friends, a different relationship with your family, a different relationship with your colleagues and co-workers and things like that.
Many of the people who’ve practiced with me, they find that at a certain point, usually around two or three years, maybe sometimes a little bit longer, all their friends disappear. Well we got they come to me and says, ìI don`t have any friends anymore Ken, what happened?” Now, most of the time what has happened is that through their practice they’ve come to a different experience of themselves. And they see the how most of their relationships were kind of out of balance, in which they were just hanging out with these people and giving their friends a lot of things but not getting much in return. And so when they start asking for something in return many of these people just went, “No, that’s the relationship I contracted for,” and they just disappear.
And in the course of that they now developed a whole new set of relationships but now those new relationships are much more balanced, they’re much healthier relationships. Any of you experienced this? Yeah.
Student: A long time ago.
Ken: Pardon? A long time ago. Okay. But things are going to change. When you experience the world and yourself differently, if you really do experience yourself differently then things are gonna change in your life and that’s part of it.
And so that’s why Tilopa is talking about cutting all ties of involvement, country or kin. “Practice alone in forest or mountain retreats.” At some level you’ll engage this in your practice, maybe not literally in these terms but in [unclear] this way.
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Now the next one,
Now, I think we touched on this last time. This is actually a very difficult instruction. Just rest, don’t do anything. How long are you good for? How many of you can do this for five minutes? Nobody? Oh, that’s much worse than I thought. I thought we’d at least get five minutes, we did it for half an hour already, that was okay. But you know, when you get up to like four hours, eight hours, week or something like that, you begin to feel how much you have to let go to really, really rest. And it’s a different way of relating to life.
When you come to nothing to come to, you come to mahamudra. Does that need any explanation? No? There’s an understanding, a knowing, there is actually nothing to do. Now you can rest. And this way of experiencing the world becomes available to you. How many of you think you have something to do in this life? See. Yeah. See. So, how many of you are ambitious, spiritually or conventionally? [Laughter] Yeah. So it goes.
The next two verses are examples.
A tree spreads its branches and leaves. Cut the root and ten thousand branches wither. They use ten thousand to signify a large number.
Likewise, cut the root of mind and the leaves of samsara wither. So, the idea’s very simple. Rest, do nothing and as we’ve talked about before, when you really rest you cease to experience the world as other. I mean all of you know this, how many of you`ve gone hiking, and maybe at the top of a mountain or the top of the hill or some place, you just sat down and rested. And you sit there for yeah, twenty minutes, half an hour, forty-five minutes, and there’s no sense of looking out at something. Youre just there. It’s the same kind of thing.
When you rest the world ceases to appear as other. Not only that. The sense of self ceases to be. It just subsides like a wave in water. Now, in Buddhist practice that’s the resting mind. Mahamudra, you go a step further because you not only have the resting mind, you also have this looking, this clarity aspect. And in that you not only rest but you’re also looking, so there is a waking to that. And there’s a looking in the resting which also becomes a resting in the looking, so it’s not just the resting mind, it’s this extraordinary awake quality. And so, it’s not just the subsiding of the sense of other and the sense of self, it’s a knowing that the other and the self are just experience, and don’t have any reality in and of themselves. But I want to emphasize, this is a way of experiencing things, which is available in theory to all of us, in practice to most of us.
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And then I come back to the point I made at the beginning, “Do you have a use for it?” And the use you may have for that may be different from somebody else’s, and that’s not a problem. Now, when you experience the world this way there are several things that happen. All experience ceases to be an enemy. There is no sense of opposition. I was reading a book recently, quite interesting book, and a quotation from it, “Wars present themself as being necessary for self-protection, where in fact they are necessary for self-identification.” Which is to say, “We define ourselves by what we oppose.” Now think about that, “We define ourselves by what we oppose.”
If you open to all experience then you are opposing nothing, you have no definition as something. That’s very frightening for a lot of people. But it opens up many possibilities. In particular, when we experience the world this way, attraction and aversion can gain no traction. Attraction can be viewed as a sense of incompleteness, but you know the old joke about the yogin who went to the hot dog vendor and said, “I’d like a hot dog,” and handed him twenty dollars and said, “Make me one with everything.” And the vendor handed handed him the hotdog back with everything on it, and the yogin waited and said, “Well, where’s the change?” And the hotdog vendor said, “Well, when you’re one with everything there is no change.” [Laughter] It`s actually fairly deep. [Laughter]
You can laugh if you want but, when when the sense of other and the sense of I are known to be just experiences then there is no sense of incompleteness, so you don’t need to reach out to fulfill yourself or make yourself more complete, which is basically what attraction is about. And, equally, there is nothing that can threaten you. So aversion drops away. That’s why it says, “When you cut the root of mind”—and cutting the root of mind is a technical term, basically, for experiencing the world—the sense of I and other as just experiences, not as entities—when you cut the root of mind, then the whole engine, everything that evolves into samsaric experience no longer can function, so it all falls apart.
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And then the next example I find very interesting.
Though darkness gathers for a thousand eons,
A single light dispels it all.
Likewise, one moment of sheer clarity
Dispels the ignorance, evil and confusion of a thousand eons.
Now, people have visited caves which are deep in the earth where there has never been any light, and as soon as you take a light in, there’s light there, it’s not dark anymore. It’s the same in us. When we recognize this clarity aspect of our experience it’s like “Oh.” Just right there everything changes. It doesn’t mean everything is resolved, but everything changes and when you actually see it that way, you can’t go back. It’s actually quite difficult to go back. I mean you’re literally seeing things in a new light.
Now, as I explained in an earlier class, this sheer clarity of mahamudra isn’t experiences of brilliant light that are associated with mystic illumination and so forth. It’s this potential to know, which is always present. As present in dream as it is present in waking life. It’s actually present in sleep though it’s a little difficult to recognize that there. It’s just there. But to recognize it one has to let go at least for a moment of this sense of self, of I. You may recall if you go back previous page, verse twelve,
Any ambition clouds sheer clarity. You won`t see it. I changed that one. What did I change it to?
Here we are. Yeah, I just changed it slightly,
Ambition clouds sheer clarity and you don’t see it. So, the very act of wanting introduces the distortion into experience so that the natural radiance of what we call experience or whatever, we miss it, because we’re caught up in things. And if you go back, it’s one of the reasons why I think many people like to go out into nature because they rest and relax and then they experience something of this radiant, clear knowing. But you don’t actually have to go into nature. It’s present right here, right now. And if you take the exercise that we’ve done before, just as we’re sitting here right now, just open to everything you experience visually, everything you experience in hearing, everything you experience in your body, all the different tactile and kinesthetic sensations and then all of the emotions and thoughts and feelings that arise, you just rest there, and then I could ask you—don`t try to answer this, but just experience—“What experiences all this?” And when I pose that question you may have experienced the shift. That shift that you experience is experiencing the radiance from the clarity of awareness. And now you just experience that. Along with everything else because it`s not separate from everything else. Okay.
So, this is what it means by the light and when—how to say this—when you experience things that way, I and other, as I’ve said before, are just experiences. They aren’t facts in our experience, and it is that change of our relationship with them that dispels
the ignorance, evil, confusion of a thousand eons.
Okay. How are we doing for time? Ah, is that 9:20? One or seven, twenty-seven, oh we’re right on time.
Student: It should be.
Ken: Yeah, okay.
Student: It’s actually 3:27 in [unclear].
Ken: Yes. Thank you. Okay. I think we`re in shape, this is a logical place to stop. And we`ll complete the rest of it next week. We have time for a few questions. There are any? SoÖif not, oh, you got a question? Go ahead.
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Student: In something you were saying this, I thought of the word enjoyment and some connection to some other term I heard called body of enjoyment and—
Ken: Sambhogakaya. What about it?
Student: Were you referring to the body of enjoyment in what you were saying?
Ken: I don`t think—
Student: Somewhere after the hiking thing that I went into that.
Ken: Well sambhogakaya, body of enjoyment, this is a very technical term. I’m not a great fan of technical terms because when you learn them they become a very nice shorthand but they also can sort of separate you from your experience, they cause you to categorize your experience in terms of that—
Student: Maybe I should just stick to enjoyment.
Ken: Well, let`s put it this way.
Ken: Do it with an emotion, just pick any emotion and it can be a reactive emotion or a responsive emotion, it could be anger, it could be desire, it could be love, loving-kindness, joy, doesn’t matter, anything, faith, jealousy, just pick any emotion. Now, bring the experience of that emotion very vividly to mind. And then ask, “What experiences it?”
Now, when you ask that, and you look, you see nothing. That’s the empty aspect or dharmakaya aspect. However now recall or reconnect with the vividness of that emotion. That`s the nirmanakaya aspect. Vividness. Now experience the vividness and the nothing there at the same time. There`s a different quality in that experience. That`s what sambhogakaya refers to. Now, whether you call it enjoyment or enrichment or whatever—the Sanskrit is a little bit closer to enrichment—it’s a richer experience. But it`s just as undefinable as the others. Okay?
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Ken: Other questions. Ann.
Ann: So, if you can experience life in this way, what forms the basis of most relationships? [Laughter]. And I’ll tell you why I’m asking that, because in doing the homework my reason is that I would like to be able to interact with people without an agenda. And without distortions and barriers. So it sounds like maybe I’m going down the wrong path here, [Ken laughing], cause the interaction might go away too.
Ken: Well, some of them might go away. But they may be replaced by others. The Age of Enlightenment thinking is so deep in our vocabulary it’s gonna take a little while to get rid of it. You ask, what is the basis of relationships? Well, this may be quite unsatisfactory and I’m sorry if it is. A relationship is the experience of interaction with another world. I have my world of experience, you have your world of experience, right now they’re interacting, that’s relationship. Okay? There are various possibilities of a the basis of that relationship and a very simple—and I found, very useful—way of looking at this is that there’s the relationship, the interaction between those two worlds could consist of a series of transactions. Okay? And nothing else outside of those series of transactions, and you and I or whatever, engage those transactions because we get some benefit out of it. I get some benefit out of it, you get some benefit out of it, so we can call this mutual benefit. That’s it. That’s the basis of the relationship, we both get something out of this series of transactions.
Another possible basis is, “I want to do something I can’t do by myself.” You’re interested in doing the same thing or something close enough, so we work together. So now we have a relationship based on a shared aim. And another possibility is, there’s some kind of emotional rapport or connection. And actually there’s a difference there. There’s emotional resonance versus emotional connection, that’s a whole another topic, but that’s another possible basis for relationship. So, any of them are possible. And they may all be present to a greater or lesser extent in some relationships. So, what is the basis of relationship? Well, when the two worlds interact for whatever reason then you can look at that and see what the basis for the relationship is. It’s not like we decide in advance that there`s a [unclear]. That’s why I made the reference to an Age of Enlightenment thinking where there’s an essence to things. No, there isn’t any essence to things, there’s just these two worlds interacting for a reason. That’s the basis of the relationship. Very unsatisfactory, I know.
Ann: I think I might have been asking something else.
Ann: Which is if you get to the point where you can experience the world this way.
Ann: Or perhaps you don’t want to have those interactions, I mean it seems like a very…there’s a very good chance of that.
Ken: What are you afraid of? [Pause] What do you fear will happen? You’ll be all alone? [Pause] You remind me of a line that Trungpa Rinpoche once said, “We want to be present at our own funeral.” [Laughter] Do you follow?
Ken: You know, you’re trying to anticipate what will it be like. You have no idea, I have no idea. We aren’t working towards a certain result, a certain kind of life or anything like that. And this is good that you bring this up. It’s the way we experience the world is currently less than satisfactory. So we explore other possibilities. We have no idea where this is going to go. And cannot, nobody can. I’m sorry, you were—
Ann: [Unclear] caves—
Ann: I’m gonna start looking for some caves that are vacant.
Ken: No, you probably I mean, I remember way back in the early nineties, I guess, no I think it’s late eighties, I had a small group and there’s one guy who`s very serious practitioner in the group. And we just finished doing a bunch of meditations on death and impermanence, and so I said, “So, what does this leave you with?” and he said, “I just want to go into a cave and live my life without contact with anybody, or anything like that.” I said, “That`s not true, you’re not gonna do that.” You know, and we go through these romantic projections, I understand, but that’s not what we want to do.
Ann: But we do start doing things because we think that life would be more interesting or better in some ways, some people were talking about peace.
Ann: That’s not my thing but—
Ann: You know, some other people are expecting that or experiencing that and are therefore motivated to continue.
Ken: Yeah. Continue, and will start to shape their lives in accordance with that. And so, what’s your thing, if it’s not peace? [Laughs]
Ann: Well, my thing…is that a real question?
Ken: That`s a real question, yes. [Laughter] I think so, there’s the question mark, okay? [Laughter]
Ann: The reason that I’m interested in this practice is because I’ve experienced little snippets of being with people without seemingly a barrier, without and it’s very easy to do that for me with some people, like with students. Very easy, because there’s no emotional baggage.
Ann: Okay, or with people you meet at parties, or whatever. It’s very easy. But then when you start trying to be like that with people who you really care about or people who you love, it becomes more difficult. So the reason I am really interested in this practice is it seems like something that you can even call on like in a moment, you know, you can create clarity for an instant, not for very long for me right now.
Ken: Okay. So, a suggestion for your practice then. Don’t take the people that you care about, take the emotion, caring, and learn how to be completely present in that.
Ken: Okay? Good. Any other questions before we close?
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Okay, now the last two steps of the practice that I want to give you, so the first was opening to all sensory experience, the second step was opening to all emotional and thought experience, in addition to the sensory experience. Third step is, open your heart to everything you experience, which you’ll find brings in a different emotional element. And then you ask the question, “What experiences this?” This being everything. Don’t try to answer that question. Most people, when they ask that question, experience a shift. Just rest in the shift along with everything else. And we’ll talk about your experiences next week. Which is our last class. Short and sweet. Okay. Joe, can we do the prayers, please?
|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.|