Awakening From Belief 9b


Okay, let’s come back together. [Ken rings bell] So much easier than shouting. Nah, that’s fine. Okay.


All right, what was your experience here? Now, this is no, you know, supercharged, lightning-bolts-from-the-sky kind of exercise, but what was your experience? Leslie?

Leslie: I thought anger and fear, and something left me cold, like fun, you know, [unclear] I’m not a big desire person. But when he said, “You’re against me,” but more clear than, “I’m against you…”

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Leslie: …it was my bigness brought greater conflict inside me. And then when we went to the titans’ “I’m better than you,” it was like a flare of anger that carried all the way to the gods. [Laughter]

Ken: Watch your back, Ron. Anybody else?

Student: I really noticed that it was energetic. Like, with every one of them, when she was saying [unclear] when she would say, “You’re right, that’s just the way it is,” my energy go like this. When she would say she was right, I would kind of…with every one. I think because it was monotone, I could perceive that subtle shift in the direction energy was moving in.

Ken: Yeah, that’s the reason for doing it in a monotone—so you can actually sense that. And you bring up the gods’ realm. There’s a close relationship between the god realms and the hell realms. Why?

Student: Opposition.

Ken: Opposition. Because the gods oppose change. They’re about maintaining their position. But things change—you cannot possibly maintain your position. So once you arrive at the gods’ realm, you are now in war with impermanence—so you’re back in the hell realm.

You know, which is wonderfully ironic, given that the current stated foreign policy of the U.S. is to let no other power emerge which can threaten the U.S. A classic god realm; that’s really unfortunate.



Student: I’m just surprised that something so neutral evoking not, you know, thoughtful emotions here, but when like you said “I’m taking everything” [laughter] [unclear]…

Ken: Right, okay.

Student: You know, like, when you say, “It’s all yours,” it’s…

Ken: Yeah. [Laughter]

Student: Exactly. You know there’s nothing at stake here.

Ken: Right, but…

Student: But it’s crazy and I couldn’t stop my face from going… [Laughter]

Ken: That feels good. Right, but this is the nature of reaction.

Student: Mm.

Ken: Okay, we’re not talking about anything here, and it’s still operating. Okay, that’s how deeply this stuff is in us.

Student: Without a story.

Ken: Without a story, without any context, with nothing on the table—just a few words—and it’s right there. Now, what we’ve done in this exercise is simplify down, reduced to just a bare sentence what is actually going on in many conversations. In fact, probably most conversations [laughter]. And one person is saying to the other in so many words, “I’m right and that’s just how it is.” Or, “I’m against you, and you’ve got to deal with that.” Or you know, “My intention here is to take everything.”

Student: One thing I realized is that I heard a lot of people, because I was going through the same thing; struggling to kind of evoke some sort of emotion or feeling this morning, you know, whereas, in those five sentences that I said to him, as much happened in a way [Ken laughs] as happened all morning…

Ken: Yeah.

Student: …because I was actually dealing with another person even though there was nothing on the table.

Ken: Yeah, yeah. Yes?

Student: I wasn’t being outright with the first story of them, and then “I’m going to take everything,” and I thought, “Oh, I don’t think so” [Ken laughs], and yeah. And then good, “I’ll take it all; that’s okay.” And then when she said that, “You’re better than I am,” I said, “Maybe she is.” And I found myself retreating into like that sense…that lack of sense of…

Ken: Confidence?

Student: Confidence.

Ken: Yes?

Student: And okayness. I mean it was just…

Ken: And when she said, “I’m right and that’s just how it is”?

Student: I said, “Well maybe you are.” But then there’s another part that’s like, “Ah…”

Ken: But this is what happens in our interactions.


Now, I want you to do the same exercise except this time, when the person—and choose a different partner so you aren’t working with the same person—but this time when the person says a sentence, take a breath and just feel what goes on in you. Just take that one breath and actually feel it. So you’re going to have to go slower, and the person who’s saying the phrases, you need to give them time. So when the person says, “I’m against you,” and the other person’s going to go [Ken takes breath]. And see what changes. Okay? So I want to go through the same exercise with a different partner but this time taking a breath after each one.



What was your experience with this? Arthur?

Arthur: It gave me more time to feel it in the body this time around, during the breath…kind of get into the reaction that way.

Ken: Pardon?

Arthur: I could tune into my body’s reactions for it more…more time.

Ken: Okay. Yes?

Student: My reaction was similar. For most of them it was just a sadness that somebody was communicating that way, and I just…you know.

Ken: All right. Susan?

Susan: Much more compassion. Eeve with the one [unclear] and I said, “You know [unclear] I don’t have to go there.” But this whole sense of it being her point to take everything, “Well, we can talk about that. Maybe you need to take everything,” you know, where it was a whole different… and we had done some breathing in between, too. But the deep breath gave us a pause and that little pause that you could see a little tiny bit of the other person’s point of view.

Ken: Okay. Terry?

Terry: I felt in a different realm than I did with the first one.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Terry: And I think it’s because we’re different people in a different sense of fear [unclear].

Ken: Okay. Yes?

Student: I got unbelievably hot and waves of fear, just like that [snaps fingers in succession], and it was very rapid.

Ken: Okay. Yes?

Student: I had a lot of stories come up with the subjugation [unclear].

Ken: Mm. Okay. Yes?

Student: Yeah, I felt like her I-statements were very unsettling.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Leslie?

Leslie: I didn’t know if I’d feel my belly, but I felt nothing. Like, I felt a flash of heat, but I couldn’t connect an emotion with it. And I don’t know. You know, felt it quite strongly the first time around. So I don’t know if I somehow knew I was looking for something—I don’t know.

Student: Mine was similar, it dissolved…

Ken: Pardon?

Student: The feeling dissolved for me.

Ken: When you took the breath? Mmm-hmm. Yes?

Student: I have a question I meant to ask you, but you know how, like, if you’re a Sagittarius you’re supposed to be with a Leo and stuff [laughter], I mean I feel like I’m primarily a hell realm person, and supposedly [unclear] you’re a hell realm person or a god realm person, is there any kind of…?

Ken: Let me return to that thorny topic. [Laughter] No. Charlotte?

Charlotte: Oh, I was just going to say, I felt less looking than statements.

Ken: Okay.


Now, with taking a breath, there’s a variety of experiences in the room. For many of you, what you’re describing is that taking that breath allowed you to feel your own reaction more completely. So, one person said they could. Many more stories going on; your family members showed up; could feel things more. And that’s good, because the first step to becoming free of reactivity is to actually experience it. It doesn’t go away until you experience it in yourself moment-to-moment.

Other people found that the reaction dissipated. Now, when you hold a reaction in attention, it appears to disappear. It’s because when the level of energy in your attention is higher than the level of energy in the reaction, the reaction can’t hold. And so it falls apart. And part of the purpose of the second half of the exercise was to experience the same thing. But by just taking a breath you’re moving into attention a little bit, and so you get much less caught up in the reactivity.

A practical application of this in your life: never say anything before you’ve taken one breath. It’s a very simple practice—changes the dynamics of conversation with other people completely.

Student: It seems to almost become like a sending and receiving practice.

Ken: That can come into it, but…

Student: It doesn’t have to be.

Ken: It doesn’t have to be, but it does become a practice in attention, because the person talks and they stop, and you take a breath. Now, seven times out of ten, they start talking again—which is great because you may not know what to say.

Student: Right.

Ken: And they give you all the information—works every time.

Student: Well, the other thing is it appears that you’re listening.

Ken: Well…

[Much laughter]

I’d like to say maybe you are listening [laughing] and not just giving the appearance thereof. It means that you’ll never interrupt somebody, which is usually appreciated. And, it also means that they have to be listening in order to hear you, because you’re not going to say anything until they’re in listening mode—until they’ve actually stopped talking.

Student: That is so frustrating. In our contract, there’s…I feel like there’s lots of times when I can’t be part of the conversation because in order to I’d have to interrupt. Really.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Yeah. That’s a very simple application, and the other thing is if you do this, whatever you say in the conversation is much less likely to be reactive. If you couple that with the other practice that I suggested the other day—that is, when you do speak you listen to the sound of your own voice—I think you’ll find your interactions with people will change significantly. These are very simple things, but they are how you practice attention in your life.


In Chapter 6 in my book there’s an exercise called Emptying the Six Realms. It describes a process, but the essence is that when you encounter situations which elicit the realm in you, don’t try to push it away. So, you come into a situation where somebody is being very aggressive towards you. That almost always elicits either the hell realm, or the animal realm, or the titan realm. You’re either going to oppose them, you’re just going to try to survive, or you’re going to show them who’s boss. Right?

All of those are reactions. And you set in motion the kind of processes we’ve been talking about in karma. If you take a breath and you feel that impulse to oppose and you actually just experience it—which is anger in you—you experience the anger as a feeling, not as a fact. And what feelings tell you are not facts. It’s another reason why we include the stories. We understand that they’re stories; they are not facts. You go, “Oh, I’m angry. Hm. Don’t really need to be angry here.” And now you respond, but it’s coming from a very different place.

You may use the same words in the example that I was giving about this pair one person saying, “You’re against me,” and the other saying [angrily], “No! I’m not.” When we went through the exercise the second time, just taking the breath, it went like this, “You’re against me.” “No, I’m not.” [Ken speaking in very relaxed voice] And now it’s not about opposition and that kind of escalation. It is, “No, I’m not.” That’s just statement. And so it isn’t delivered with the same emotional charge, and it doesn’t escalate. So, you actually may use exactly the same words but because you’re in a different frame of mind, it’s going to produce a different effect.

And we have, probably because of the Indian tradition, the Tibetan tradition, we have all of this wonderful epic stage-setting. You know, we have Buddha with the ten thousand monks and forty thousand bodhisattvas floating in from realms all over the universe to come and gather for The Avatamsaka Sutra, etc. And, you know, the kings, and they do all of this wonderful stuff, and the descriptions of enlightenment and awakening are like, well, maybe in fifteen billion years I’ll get there. But it’s just about being right here, right now, that’s where the magic is—it’s not anywhere else. So you have to learn how to read these things and see what they’re really pointing to. It’s not far away.


You had a question, yes?

Student: Well, one is about when you’re being attacked…

Ken: When you’re being attacked…

Student: Yeah, and what if you’re actually, you know, [unclear] attacked [unclear].

Ken: Pardon?

Student: The first thing is that I would think I would be [unclear] protect myself [unclear].

Ken: Well, my colleague Yvonne Rand practiced at the Zen Center for many years in San Francisco, and some of you may know the Zen Center’s not in exactly the best part of town. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but it’s still a pretty bad part of town. Somebody grabbed her from behind, and she was carrying her purse, and she just swung around and smashed the purse in the other person’s face and that was the end of it. He ran off and she went home.

Student: What if [unclear]?

Ken: Ah.

Students: What?

Ken: Somebody you care deeply about—so this is a different kind of relationship.

Student: And he may have, you know, have more power than somebody.

Ken: And they’re attacking you physically? Like a child?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Well, it’s very important that you not be reactive then. Very important. And you may very well have to restrain them, but there’s a huge difference in restraining them and fighting them. You’re raising quite difficult questions which are a little beyond the scope of what we can do here today. And there’s also a whole history there, because these things don’t just arise by chance. So all of that comes into play. And in the actual moment you’re going to need to do what needs to be done so that nobody gets injured, because when physical injury occurs, things are just massively compounded on both sides. So physical safety’s very important. But then, one has to address not that behavior but what is actually happening in the relationship that produced that result. Because a physical attack in that kind of close relationship is a symptom—not a cause—but a symptom of other problems, and problems that have been ignored for a long time.



Student: In both the philosophy and the practice of Aikido is to take that kind of aggression and be able to move into a place where it’s benign.

Ken: That’s not exactly Aikido.

Student: Excuse me?

Ken: Aikido is not a particularly benign martial art.

Student: Well it depends on its practice. The way it was taught by the sensei, it was to take an aggressive act and render it neutral. I’ve seen many instances of it practiced that way. And I know that there are other schools that…

Ken: Well, it’s not up to you. And this is one of the things one needs to understand about conflict. This is taking us in a different direction. How far a conflict goes is always up to the other person. So yes, you may make a move, neutralize them. Do they stop? Maybe they stop—that’s good. If they don’t, they determine how far you have to go. You don’t control the course of conflict—there is no control. You can do your best to neutralize it, but that may not be what happens. Depends on the other party.

You can say, “No, no, I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to fight.” And they’ll swing at you anyway. And you take that swing, you deflect it, and you say, “I don’t want to fight.” And they come back, and they try to hit you twice. So you throw them and they end up flat on the ground. And you say, “I don’t want to fight.” And they keep coming back. Where do you stop? You don’t control this.

Student: I think the best thing I’ve ever heard a martial arts instructor say was on the first day of class asking the question, “What do you the best part of your body is to use as a weapon? And a really [unclear] student said, ”Your feet, your feet.“ And the instructor turned around and ran away, and she ran out of the class. And then she walked back and she said, ”That shows the [unclear].“

Ken: Yeah. I studied martial arts myself. You know, what’s the good outcome of a street fight? You walk home. That’s the good outcome. And you don’t control what happens, because it depends on how far the other person is going to take it. That’s what’s it’s like on the street, yeah.

Now, certainly in many martial arts, you learn how to neutralize things. But you do not know in a given situation whether neutralization is going to be enough to stop the fight. You and I, we mentioned Cool Hand Luke; you know, he never stopped.

One of the big dangers—particularly for people who study martial arts—is they think they can control situations. Control is an illusion—you don’t know who you’re dealing with. You don’t know what they’re going to do. You may think you’ve neutralized them and they pull out a knife. Now what do you do? If you’re good enough, maybe you can disarm them. They pull out a gun; now what do you do? You know, you disarm them, start to walk home, they’ve called fifteen buddies and now they’re going to take you apart limb by limb. You don’t know.

You never know, if you’re going into conflict, particularly physical conflict, how it’s going to end up. Well, all we can do is increase the probabilities that it ends without someone getting hurt. You can increase those probabilities, but you can’t control them.

Student: Yet the greatest the chance of being shot is doing good.

Ken: Oh, yes. Yep.



Paul: How does that fit with Gandhi’s non-violence and the British leaving India without barely a shot, his saying to his assassin at the moment that he was being shot, ”Bless you my son.“

Ken: Yeah.

Paul: How does it fit with Nelson Mandela, and Bishop Tutu and the whole reconciliation that has taken place in South Africa? Or we could cite many other examples…

Ken: Yeah.

Paul: …but aren’t there those who have lived incredible lives committed to non-violence committed to breaking the cycle of violence by receiving blows and not responding in kind. How does that fit with your response?

Ken: Well, I was just responding [to the statement that] in Aikido, ”You can neutralize them.“ I’m saying you may or may not be able to. I was just talking about one incident. Now in terms of non-violence, it’s very complex. One of the questions—would Gandhi’s methods have been effective against Nazi Germany? You know, that’s a question that’s often thrown out.

Paul: Gandhi himself raised that question.

Ken: Yeah, and it’s important; there’s something about the British sense of fair play [laughs], you know, which they got trapped by themselves. And there’s actually quite a lot of historical studies on how the British created a system of government in India—the logical conclusion of which is they were going to have to get out at some point. Which is what happened. And as you say it was relatively without violence—there was some.


There’s huge power, huge power, in being a spokesperson for what is. Gandhi was such; Nelson Mandela and others. They were spokespeople for what is. So in India, the British brought in the salt tax; Gandhi walks to the sea, picks up some sea water, lets it fall, dries, makes some salt—has broken the rule. That’s what is—this is a ridiculous tax. And because of the depth of his contemplation, really, he was able to see into the depth of things and expose them that way.

Now, there is an important proviso here—you have to be willing to die. You can’t guarantee that you will live.

A story is told of a young Japanese nobleman, he was the youngest in his family and had elected to study the tea ceremony, and at a relatively young age and become …came through the marketplace and a ronin—that is, an unemployed samurai—who thought, ”Ah, there’s an easy mark.“ And he jostled him. And then the samurai took offense and said, ”You pushed me.“ You know, ”You’ve dishonored me; we have to settle this.“ And the idea was that he would challenge this young scion to a duel, who would want to back out of it and have to pay a ransom, and [the samurai] would earn some money.

Well, the young nobleman said, ”My apologies to you. What are you suggesting here?“ And he says, ”Well, we meet tomorrow at six o’clock (at such and such a place) in the morning. Bring your sword. And we’ll have this out.“

The young man said, ”Okay.“ And then he went to one of his uncles who was a master swordsman, and he said, ”What do I do? I don’t want to pay him off—that would bring dishonor to our family. But how do I handle this situation?“ And his uncle said, ”You’ve studied tea haven’t you?“ He said, ”Yes.“ ”Serve tea.“

So got out the implements and went through the tea ceremony. And the uncle said, ”Hmm, okay here’s what you do. Arrive at five after six and apologize profusely for being late. Then bind up your sleeves this way.“ And he showed him how to bind his sleeves up the way that a master swordsman binds his sleeves so his clothes don’t get in the way. ”Then raise your sword over your head like this. When you feel his sword enter your body bring your sword down. Both of you will die and that’s that.“

This young nobleman said, ”Thank you.“ Next morning he went off and did exactly as his uncle had suggested. He arrived at five after six. The ronin, meantime, was thinking, ”Hmm, where’s that young nobleman? I’m going to have to go and tell his family that he didn’t show up and he’s brought disgrace. And it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth.“

And then this person shows up says, ”I’m sorry I’m late.“ And the ronin’s puzzled, because this person seems to be more concerned with being late than with the fact that he’s going to die in a few minutes. And then he sees him start binding his sleeves up. And the ronin thinks, ”Hmm, that’s how an expert swordsman binds his sleeves. I may have made a mistake here.“ And then he sees the young nobleman stand in this very, very unusual posture for sword fighting [laughter]. Says, ”You know, never mind, bad idea. Forget the whole matter.“ And leaves, and that’s it.

Doesn’t always work out that way—you don’t know. But like Gandhi, like Mandela, and others he was willing to die, for, in this case, what he believed in—the honor of his family. Gandhi was absolutely ready to die for India. And that’s the other half here.


Student: It seems to me I remember some story in Tibetan history when the Chinese had invaded Tibet and ordered all the monks to leave the monasteries. And one monk refused to leave and stood in the midst of despair. And as I recall the story, the Chinese marched him [unclear] that single monk who was unwilling to move. And as the story goes, I think, the commander, the Chinese commander said, ”You know, without blinking an eye I could run my sword directly through you.“ And I think the response was, ”And you are looking at a man who could stand perfectly still while you drive your sword through me.“

Ken: Yeah.

Student: And we don’t know who told that story.


Ken: But there are similar stories from many other traditions. My favorite is…they had a lot of fighting in Japan at various ages. And one time a Zen monastery was overrun, and a soldier there was about to cut, slash the master. And the master looked at him and said, ”Like a flash of lightning your sword moves with the spring breeze.“ [Laughter] The soldier was so terrified that this person, at the moment of his death, could make up spontaneous poetry that he dropped his sword and ran.

I mean, it doesn’t have to be quite so dramatic. Sasaki Roshi was giving a sesshin in Vancouver. This was in the late ’60s, early ’70s, and that time people weren’t being screened properly. And for one of the meditation interviews—it was Rinzai; it’s a little high pressure, with Sasaki Roshi particularly—this person came in with a knife. And Sasaki Roshi just screamed. The person was so startled at the scream that he dropped the knife, bowed, and left—ran away. Senior students rushed in, go, ”What happened?“ And Sasaki Roshi described what had happened. And the senior student said, ”That was so brilliant!“ And Sasaki Roshi looked at him and said, ”Brilliant, shit! I was scared.” [Laughter]

And he was right in his fear and gave voice to it [laughter].

Okay, so this is about presence; it’s not about making things work out—that’s a very important distinction. Often, when we are present, things work out—that’s nice. But the practice is about being present—very important.


You had a question back here?

Student: Yes. To go back to something you said, about your voice. Yesterday, you talked about paying attention to your voice, and I’d like to decouple voice from dress [unclear], and also if you’re talking about volume as well as the words, you know, what you say…

Ken: When you listen to the sound of your own voice when you speak, you hear everything. You hear the volume, you hear the pitch, you hear the words, you hear the content. And you’ll also hear whether it’s your voice you’re talking in, or whether it’s somebody else’s—you know, one of your teachers, one of your parents, so forth. You’ll also hear whether what you are saying matches what you are feeling, whether the tone of voice aligns emotionally or doesn’t align emotionally with what you are feeling, and so forth. You hear all of this. And by listening to the sound of your own voice, whenever there is an imbalance, you will start detecting it and automatically, quite naturally, start adjusting it. So bit by bit as you do this practice, you will speak more and more in your own voice. And what you say is what you intend to say. And you will say it the way that you intend to say it. And it all comes from just being in attention when you speak. So it’s all of that, okay?


Let’s turn to meditation. I think we just have time to do two sessions before we close at five. Right? Okay, I want you to continue the practice of the five-step process, so that you’re resting in the experience of the difficult feelings in your patterns. Now is anybody short on difficult feelings? Everybody’s got material to work with? If not I will supply you with some.

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