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Mahayana Mind Training 8


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Good morning. This morning we’re going to talk about guidelines. We have these two long sections, one with commitments, one on guidelines. And one might ask, okay, what’s the difference here? Well, as I said yesterday, Chekawa, when he was composing these seven points of mind training chose a very, very strong word for commitments. And if you look over the commitments these are things—are all things—which violate not only the letter, but also the spirit of mind training: using mind training to build up a sense of self; causing harm or wishing harm to come to others.

I mean these are completely against the spirit of mind training, so that’s why they’re called commitments. These are things that a person who was thoroughly trained in this practice just would never do. That’s what I mean about the descriptive aspect of morality here.

Guidelines are instructions, which will help to create the environment, the internal environment, so that you can practice effectively: things that keep you from running into obstacles or problems in your practice; things that make it productive. So again, there’s a relatively long list here. And again I’m going to say that learning all this stuff is really helpful because then it becomes available to you.

The other advantage is that as you practice this over a period of time you begin to appreciate how these different instructions interact with each other. If you go onto the Unfettered Mind website we have a section on mind training. In the static version I listed a bunch of instructions which were related to it so you can just explore it that way. We also have the mind-map version where you can click it on, and it opens up into this network of things, and you can just explore and click and all of the links are programmed into that, so you can play with that. The other thing is, in that form of it, we also have the postcard facility so that if you have a friend and he’s not behaving the way that he’s meant to you can send him a postcard with the right instruction for him. [Laughter] Like Don’t lash out. or Don’t rely on a sense of duty. or “this was all a dream,” or whatever you want. I’ve always thought it would be very interesting to do postcards because they arrive out of the blue. A lot of them have a rather admonishing tone. Okay.


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Use one practice for everything.

Somebody asked the other day about practice, and I talked a bit about how it’s very helpful when you’re practicing to focus on one practice and go very, very deep in it. This actually is pretty well necessary. Our retreat director, his practice was mahamudra, it was just literally all he did. He taught three, three-year retreats, and after that Rinpoche let him go into retreat himself. And I imagine that’s just what he’s done for the last like twenty years or so. But even when he was teaching us, you know, he had his own house, and he would sit in his meditation box. When he got tired he’d go to sleep, he’d sleep sitting up, and wake, go back to his meditation. Have a meal now and then. Meditate. When he got really tired, go to sleep. That is just what he did the whole time.

Taking and sending is a practice that you can do. And one of the great things about taking and sending is you can always do it. It can be applied in every situation. It’s not difficult to apply it. There are many other practices. A lot of the deity practices you ritualize every aspect of your life, and that way you’re always engaged in the practice. But the ritualizing can be more or less elaborate—there are things to think about, etc.,—and you’ve got to remember all of that and do it. But taking and sending is just so much easier, you know. It’s very simple. In with the bad air, out with the good. Whatever the situation. So bring taking and sending to bear on everything you experience in formal meditation and in daily life. So anything, absolutely everything that you experience, you embrace it or meet it with taking and sending. Because let’s face it, everything that arises in our lives stimulates one emotion or another. And if it stimulates no emotion, we’re just going like, “duh,” then we’re dealing with stupidity.

So there’s always something to work with. And keep it simple. You know, some people have said, “Well I take in this, but I can’t figure out anything to match it sending it out.” You don’t have to match it. When you take something in, then you send something out. They don’t have to correspond. Or you might find yourself feeling really good. Send something out. You don’t have to take something corresponding to that in, you just take whatever occurs to you. So, it can become very spontaneous. The main thing is that, everything that you’re experiencing you’re giving away what feels good and joyful to you; you’re taking in what is suffering, hurtful, and painful in situations. And the result of this is that you’re neither carried away nor overwhelmed by any experience. You’re able to meet every experience that arises.

And then something along very similar lines:

Use one remedy for everything.

Now this notion of remedy is very widespread in Buddhist practice. I’m not sure that remedy is the best translation even though the term is the one, you know, if you take poison then you take the remedy for the poison. That’s the term they’re using. But, we have all kinds of lists of emotional reactions and the appropriate remedy, or different forms of attachment to a sense of self and the appropriate remedy. So, for instance, loving kindness is the remedy for anger, and equanimity is the remedy for pride, and celebrating the success of others is the remedy for jealousy, and so forth, and so forth. If you go into one of the great Theravadan texts the Visuddhimagga, you’ll find long lists of reactive emotions and the remedies for them—and this one for this one and this one—you know, if you’re a greed type then you should live in this kind of house, and you should do this kind of practice, and so forth, and so forth. And if you’re an anger type, you do it this way and this way and this way. So this is stuff that’s been mapped out over the centuries, and it’s all very effective. And, it’s a lot to remember.

Taking and sending, I mean this is purely the lazy man’s approach to enlightenment, because you only have to remember one thing: in with the bad, out with the good. And that’s it.


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Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon? Yeah exactly, that’s it. Yeah, I can remember this! Okay, so there you are, you’ve had a totally bad day, okay? “May the bad days of all sentient beings come into this bad day of mine.” Done. Okay? You get totally excited about something, and you’re absolutely nuts and you go, “Wow!” You know it’s wonderful, you say, “Well, I give all of this to everybody.” Oh, done. So it’s very easy. And whenever you run into difficulties in your practice, either getting carried away by what is good, or getting overwhelmed and depressed by what is bad, you just do taking and sending, and it works in every situation. So there’s only one thing you have to remember: in with the bad, out with the good. It’s very simple. That’s why I like this practice. I can remember that. [Laughs]

You know, I mean mahamudra, and other forms of practice you can similarly apply in every situation. It’s a little more difficult, because if you can’t recognize the emptiness or the peace within a reactive emotion, then you’re still caught up in it. But you don’t have that problem with taking and sending. You can be totally caught up in it, and still do taking and sending. So, very useful.

Linda you had a question? There’s a microphone please. We missed a couple of things yesterday so please make a point. In other words you can’t speak spontaneously; you have to get the microphone and then speak spontaneously.

Linda: When you send or when you take it in, it has to be heartfelt doesn’t it? I mean you have to have some sort of emotional connection? Because it seems like you could just say, “I’m sending this to you,” and feel nothing, you know, and it just becomes rote saying these things back and forth. So, I mean, it takes time, and it takes emotional energy to actually have that be heartfelt, or have some emotional connection to what you’re sending and what you’re taking.

Ken: Is that true?

Linda: Which part?

Ken: What you just said. It has to be heartfelt.

Linda: It doesn’t have to be heartfelt. It can just be words.

Ken: You tell me.

Linda: I don’t think so. I think it has to be heartfelt.

Ken: How does something become heartfelt?

Linda: Well, if you’re in a reactive situation, then you’ve already got your heart there, that’s true. But if you’re just sitting in meditation and doing it, it seems like words.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. How does something become heartfelt?

Linda: You have to have some kind of attachment to it; you have to feel compassion for someone within it, but actually feel it…

Ken: But how do you get there?

Linda: By your experiences?

Ken: Sometimes it just starts with words. And you say the words over and over again, and you begin to take them seriously after a while. And of course, you’re right, in the sense that if it is heartfelt, it’s a much more effective practice. But to say don’t do this unless it is heartfelt, that’s questionable.

You give somebody something to say and, you know, like Langri Tangpa’s I give all victory to others, I take all defeat for myself. And maybe for the first fifty years they just say that. But just saying that’s going to have an effect over time. And then maybe one day they actually start doing it.

Linda: Is it kind of like positive brainwashing?

Ken: [Laughs] All learning is a form of brainwashing. [Laughs] We usually use brainwashing to refer to the instilling of ideas and sentiments against a person’s will. That’s not what we’re talking about. Nobody’s forcing you to do this. But…so many people say, “I don’t really mean it, so there’s no point in me doing the practice.” And this is nonsense. You start thinking it, and after a while you think it, you know, maybe it starts to make sense to you, and then it makes so much sense you begin, “Gee maybe I should actually do this.”

Student: Isn’t this the thing about momentum? I mean you set up a momentum even if it’s…at first it feels wooden to you, or not heartfelt or whatever, and then it becomes more natural as you do it through practice.

Ken: Yeah.

Student: And after you’ve gone there a while, it’s useful because it clicks in when the going gets tough, when you have something real.

Ken: That’s right. We tend to be very idealistic. This is the puritan and the cowboy again. You know, we want to do it the right way, and if we can’t do it absolutely the right way then a lot of us say, “Well, there’s no point in doing it.” But, if we took that approach to everything, we’d never learn anything. There’s not a single thing I’ve learned that I did it the right way first. So you learn. Okay?


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Student: It’s about the self in mind training. So it seems that we have a very intimate relationship with seeing ourself coming, right? But, when we take care of it, we don’t really know that it’s not there. Like in mahamudra.

Ken: You’re going to have to help me here. Try this again.

Student: Well, in a way it feels very natural. You see the self, you do taking and sending, and you move on, right?

Ken: Yes, and your question?

Student: I don’t know that I don’t have the self at that moment. Afterwards, maybe. But maybe it doesn’t matter, you know, just…

Ken: I don’t know that I don’t have a self. As opposed to mahamudra when you do know that you don’t have a self?

Student: When you reach that place where you know that you don’t know.

Ken: Ah, you’re talking about don’t know mind. Is that right?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: This is very interesting. The way things work in compassion, a little differently from the way they work in insight. One could say that mahamudra—I think it’s fair to say that essentially it’s an insight technique. And so you end up resting in not knowing. And when you can rest in that not knowing, then one becomes completely open, etc.

Taking and sending is very definitely a compassion technique. So the sense of separation is removed, not by resting in not knowing, but by responding immediately and appropriately in service of whatever’s arising. You follow? So, I think you’re right, I think it has a different feel to it. And there’s just a naturalness—something arises and you respond. Something else arises, and you respond. And as this ability to respond is refined and matured through taking and sending practice, there is less and less filtration, or imposition of a sense of self in the process. There’s just—something arises and you respond; something arises and you respond. Is that what you’re talking about?

Student: Yeah. It seems that it really fits our life, you know, so because we are very active. And it’s a more active form of practice maybe?

Ken: Well I hesitate to say that it really “fits our life,” because I think it’s far more individual than that.

Student: Fits my life.

Ken: [Laughs] You know, everybody’s different, and this is what’s important is to find a technique that speaks to you. But for some people, they’re really able to negotiate life, say through loving kindness, which is different from this. This is compassion. Loving-kindness is a much more ecstatic technique, and they just open to everything. Other people, it’s through insight, so there’s a different sense of whatever is arising, and they’re just in the moment and not knowing. Here it’s one of responding. Responding without any sense of separation or self. Yeah, so, whatever works for you. Okay. Michelle.


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Michelle: Every so often someone who is strongly Christian will say to me that they’ve been praying for my eternal soul because they realize that since I’m a non-believer I’m damned to hell forever. And you know my emotional reaction to this is not positive. [Laughter] How is doing taking and sending for someone fundamentally different from that?

Ken: [Laughs] You don’t do taking and sending for somebody else. Where does that come from? I think it said, Give up any hope for results.

Michelle: I think it would be fair to say that anyone who prays for me has also given up any hope for results. [Laughter]

Ken: No, it may be the case that anybody who prays for you is exercising futility, but I very much doubt that they’ve given up hope for results, and I think that’s precisely why they’re praying for you. But let’s go a step further. Why do you react negatively? [Laughs]

Michelle: I’ve actually taken to trying to see it as “I’ll take all the help I can get!”

Ken: Well, that’s very selfish of you. [Laughter] Let’s try this again, why do you react negatively?

Michelle: I think my sort of fundamental internal response is, what makes this person’s belief system more valid than mine, and who are they to tell me how to run my life.

Ken: Yes, one can often interpret it that way. Is there another way?

Michelle: I believe that what they’re trying to say is that because this is their framework for seeing the world they simply want the best for me, and this is the best way that they know for how to make that come about.

Ken: And how do you feel with that?

Michelle: I’ll take all the help I can get.

Ken: Okay.


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Two things to do: one at the beginning, one at the end.

Again, this is very much about momentum. Start the day forming the intention to be awake and present in one’s life, and to meet every situation with taking and sending. At the end of the day, check out how you did. Well, missed that one. You know, but it’s a very, very good thing to do. And again, this is not with a sense of beating yourself up. We’re so good at that. But just say, “Okay, I missed that; and I missed that.” And just by noting that, and maybe even tracking down what did I get caught by, okay, then you know where to put your attention the next day. So there’s a constant improvement in the quality of your attention and the focus of your attention.

Now, again:

Give up all hope for results.

This is very, very important. There’s a huge difference—and this is, I think, quite a difficult point—there’s a huge difference between bringing your attention to an emotional reaction, and say, okay, there it is, and carrying the expectation that one day you’re going to work through it.

A Zen teacher was once asked, “What have you got out of your years and years of practice of Zen?” He said, “I used to be like a tiger. Now I’m like a kitten.”

Hadn’t worked through anything, but the relationship had changed. It’s difficult, because on the one hand, we aspire and we want to be clear and present in our lives, and on the other hand, this stuff just keeps coming up. As practice matures you learn that the problem isn’t the stuff coming up, it’s how you experience it when it does comes up. And that’s what we’re transforming in our practice of taking and sending.

Just to take an extreme example, we start off with an angry person—really, really angry person. The practice is taking and sending. He continues to be a terribly angry person. Every thought, every instant of his life he greets with anger and opposition, except that through his taking and sending, as soon as that anger comes up, he says, “May all the anger of sentient beings come into me; may my happiness go to them.” And so he never acts on the anger. It’s never even expressed. Then how much does it matter that it keeps coming up? To him or to others? It just becomes movement in the mind. So, if you’re completely on top of everything—because your practice is so alive, present, and ingrained, it has that much momentum—it doesn’t matter what you think, because your practice is going to transform it, right there. Ah ha! Hand Linda the microphone; she does not like this one. [Laughter] Make sure it’s on. Yes! Grrr!

Linda: It seems to me like he never has peace that way though. If he’s constantly angry, what value is the practice if he never reaches a place of peace and quiet in his mind—if everything makes him angry all the time? Even if he doesn’t show it, he’s still got it.

Ken: But look what’s happening inside him. Is he being roiled in anger? No, every moment is transformed. Try it. You may be surprised.

Linda: But it’s for angry people, so… [Laughter]

Ken: We can arrange things. [Laughs] We believe in being infinitely kind. [Laughter]

Student: It’s why emotions are… [unclear]

Ken: We wouldn’t want you to miss any experience. [Laughs] I’ll see what I can do Linda.


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Whatever happens, good or bad, be patient.

Most people find it much easier to bring their practice to bear on really unpleasant situations. You know, the death of someone close to them, difficulties in their life, and they learn through their practice that all things are impermanent, “this too shall pass,” there’s opportunities in this, etc. And as they practice more and more, they find they’re able to relate with less and less disturbance to painful and difficult situations. It’s not that they’re suppressing them, but they’re able to be awake and present and feel everything.

Much more difficult for many people to do the same thing with good or pleasant experiences. Much more difficult. But, they’re equally as transient, ephemeral, and meaningless. It’s just that we attach to them. So, hence the suggestion, whatever happens—good or bad—be patient. And so, in your practice train yourself, that when you’re feeling good about things, give it away. And people go, “Nooo, I worked so hard for this.” All the more reason—give it away. Okay?


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Keep these two, even if your life is at risk.

The two that he’s talking about are your commitment to internal transformation, to waking up, and that’s the more general one, the bigger picture. And the particular one is the technique of mind training, or taking and sending. You make a commitment, and then you maintain those two.

Now, …even if your life is at risk. I would probably, if I had written this I would say, keep these two, especially if your life is at risk, rather than even. Maybe I should change that to especially. Why do I say that? I’m going to say something a little drastic here: It’s more important that you keep these commitments than it is to live. You’re going to let me get away with that one? Leslie, what’s behind your question?

Leslie: Well, the first thing that came to mind was if you are alive, at least you can do some good.

Ken: Yeah. What I mean here: as you practice—any form of practice, here we’re talking about mind training and taking and sending—you’re going to come to a point, probably several times in your practice, where part of you—you’re going to have a choice, either you maintain this part of you or this part of your life, and compromise your practice, or you maintain your practice, and that part of you, and that part of your life dies. Now, we’re so afraid of dying. We’re so afraid of letting something that’s a part of our life die, that frequently, we just compromise the practice, but then we’ve missed the opportunity. When we let that part of our life die—that is, we no longer relate to the world that way—we often find, almost always find, a new dimension of freedom which we could not have known because it was denied to us in the way that we were approaching life. So when your practice brings you to that kind of edge, maintain your commitment and let yourself die.

Student: What was the first choice? [Laughter]

Ken: You compromise your practice.

Student: Compromise…?

Ken: Your practice. You compromise your commitment; you let it go so that you can keep this part of your life unaffected.

Student: Wouldn’t it die anyway?

Ken: No, actually it doesn’t really die, it comes to run you. You die. That is…very few people tell you this, so I suppose someone should tell you. When you reach a certain point in practice, usually after about four or five years, you’re screwed. [Laughter]

Raquel: It doesn’t take that long.

Ken: Pardon?

Raquel: I don’t think it takes that long to get screwed. [Laughter]

Ken: Raquel said it doesn’t take that long to get screwed.

Okay, why do I say this? Because if you’ve been practicing consistently for about that period of time, you will have developed a certain momentum in your practice, and there is a movement towards letting go of the sense of self as we’ve been talking about it. And you run into an area where the attachment to who or what you are, or how you relate to the world, you’re not going to let the practice touch. You are not going to question that part. Then you run into the problem that I was describing the other day. If you continue to practice, and you protect that part, then you get into really serious problems. So suppose you stop practicing. This is where the being screwed part comes up. Well, the practice already has its own momentum, and it’s going to continue anyway, so you can either relate to that, and do the work that’s necessary, or as I’ve observed in most people, you go crazy. Sometimes very subtle ways, but there will always be that discontent, that lack of resolution, that incompleteness in you.

This is why the Tibetans have a saying, Perhaps better not to start, but once started better to finish. [Laughter]

Student: Could you repeat that?

Ken: Perhaps better not to start, but once started better to finish. So, most of you are screwed, so that’s not my problem. [Laughter] Yes, I’m totally responsible, but it’s not my problem. [Laughs] It’s your problem. Okay.


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Learn to meet three challenges.

You come across this in many, many guises in all kinds of teachings. Here it’s presented as the first challenge is being able to recognize an emotional reaction. The second is developing a way of working with it. And the third is to maintain that way of working with it until your relationship with that emotional reaction is transformed. Which is basically, that whenever that emotional reaction comes up it transforms into attention—the example of the angry guy that I was talking about.

Of course, the question I always get is which of these is the most difficult. And the answer is all of them. If you can’t recognize an emotional reaction, then you just…you’re in ignorance, it’s very, very difficult, and many times the only way we recognize an emotional reaction is when circumstances in our life point it out to us in ways that we cannot possibly miss. Which can range from anything from a friend or colleague saying, “You know, just maybe you should look at that.” Which we usually ignore until we lose our job and our wife leaves us, and our house burns down, and things like that, and we go, hmm, something’s wrong here.

Developing a way of working with an emotional reaction means that we have to at least pay lip service to the idea that we actually want to change the way we live, and are prepared to do so. And then continuing that, until our whole relationship with that reaction has shifted. That involves just what I was talking about: letting various parts of our lives, and the way we relate to them, die. And that can be quite difficult, too. So these are our three challenges.


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Foster three key elements.

A teacher, an effective practice, and the conditions conducive to practice. Well, I’m often asked, “Is a teacher necessary?” Except for exceptionally rare individuals, I would say, yes. And I say that only because I don’t want to exclude the possibility that some people can spontaneously come to a very deep level of awakening. And I’ve met some people who are very, very awake and present. Most of them, the awakening is incomplete. They’ve got a piece of it. And they think it’s all, and that’s unfortunate.

Some of them somehow or other see that even after their awakening’s arisen they still have an act of work, and so they’re extending it into all areas of their lives. But such people are very, very rare. It’s a bit like musicians. There are some people who are natural musicians. But even very, very talented musicians usually become better musicians if they study with a teacher. And, particularly in this arena, it is so easy to be fooled by our own projections that it’s much better—much, much better—to have someone around who can point things out. So, seeking out and finding a good teacher, that’s one of the most difficult aspects of spiritual practice. It’s also very, very important. ‘Cause let’s face it, most of us when we start on this path, don’t have a clue where to actually start. Even if we practice meditation for a while, it’s still very, very difficult to have any sense of, “What should I be doing?” or “How does this work?”

The second thing is an effective practice. An effective practice is one which is producing change in the way that we experience the world. If it produces change in the way that we experience the world, then it produces change in the way that we behave, and interact, and conduct ourselves. There are some people who just like to have a practice because it makes them look good—either to themselves or to others. That’s not an effective practice. An effective practice is one which is changing how you experience the world—how you experience yourself.

And the third thing that’s important is fostering the conditions that enable you to practice. This basically means that as we move into a deeper relationship with our practice it is going to become, I would say, the number one priority in our lives, because the rest of our life actually depends on our practice. If we’re not present and awake, then we’re living automatically, and we’re missing our life anyway.

So the next instruction returns to these same three points. Take care to prevent three kinds of damage.

He says, okay, pay attention. What are the things that could damage your relationship with a teacher? Bring special attention to those. What damages your effectiveness at your practice? It’s your lack of enthusiasm, and your lack of attention to your life will lead to the disintegration or the dispersion of the conditions which make it possible for you to practice. And I run into this all the time with people. One gets involved in one project, and then another project, and now you have no time to practice. And so by not paying attention to balance in one’s life, one’s actually undermined one’s practice. So, these are three elements that are very, very important, and the corresponding effort is, okay, how do I take care of these three elements so that they are always in my life?


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Engage all three faculties.

This is very straightforward: body, speech, and mind. Linda will like this one, because it means going beyond lip service. And that’s very important. So, it isn’t simply going through the motions—you put your heart in it. One has to remember that when we talk about mind in Buddhism it could equally be translated as heart. So when it says in mind [training] cultivate attention in taking and sending all the time is basically another way of saying put your heart into it.

Train on every object without preference. Training must be broad and deep.

You’ve heard me talk earlier about not protecting any area of your practice. Here you’re seeing it stated explicitly by Chekawa. Every object, everything that arises in your life, is an object of training, and make your training not only deep, but also covering every aspect of experience. Leave no stone unturned. I like the next one:

Always work on what makes you boil.

That’s where the juice is. That’s where you lose attention most quickly. And the following one again echoes a theme we’ve already touched on:

Don’t be dependent on extraneous conditions.

It doesn’t matter what your situation is in life, you can practice taking and sending even if you’ve got involved in a bunch of activity, and you have no time for practices. You’re running around, you can say, “May all the busyness of sentient beings come into mine, and may they all be free of all of this crazy activity.” Running, running, running, and you just keep that going, things will change. At a certain point you’re just going to say, “Why am I doing all of this?” And now you start to question your life, which is exactly what it’s about.

Practice what’s important now.

Kongtrul does a nice job on this. He says, Now that you have this opportunity to practice, stay focused on what’s important. [This is being traditionally expressed, so…] Future lives are more important than this life. Freedom is more important than samsara. Welfare of others is more important than your own. Of practicing and teaching the dharma, practicing is more important. Training in awakening mind is more important than any other practice. [paraphrase from Great Path of Awakening, p. 41]

So, that’s just delineating the priorities very nicely. One of the questions that I encourage you to ask is, “Why am I doing this?” Another way of asking that, “What is important to me, in my life?” It’s a very good question to come back to again, and again, and again, so that what is really important to you is uppermost in your mind, and then your life is going to be moving in the direction you want it to, or you’re going to be moving in the direction you want. A lot of time management and life management practices apply a version of the 80/20 rule here. It is, put 80 percent of your energy into the 20 percent of things that are most important to you. It’s a good principle. I do this with my business clients all the time. Make a list of the things that you’re doing. And you can order them in terms of amount of time that they’re taking or the amount of energy that they take. And then prioritize them, and you may be very surprised to find that you’re putting a great deal of energy into things that aren’t particularly important to you. So it’s good to check that out from time to time.

Student: Ken could you repeat the 80/20 rule?

Ken: Put 80 percent of your energy into 20 percent of the things that are most important to you.


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Student: Could you say more on future lives are more important than this life?

Ken: Well, again, he’s talking in traditional context. The way that I would interpret that line for myself is that the term this life, refers to the life that society defines for us. You know, what we’re meant to be as a good member of society. And in spiritual practice what we’re interested in is the actual life that we experience, which isn’t defined by society, our life of actual experience. To do that we have to go beyond the life; we have to die to our life in society. So that’s our future life. It’s a bit of a stretch, but that’s how I interpret it. Okay?

Another thing, and Kongtrul goes on a bit of a rant on this one:

Don’t get things wrong.

So nice when they go on a bit of a rant, you know, then you feel oh these guys had…because they’re writing about all this wonderful stuff, and they were just so nice about it, and then every now and then they just let loose, so…well, actually, no, this isn’t where he goes…no, this isn’t actually where he goes on his rant, where was that? I can’t remember…anyway.

Avoid six mistakes. He says:

To endure patiently the suffering of subduing enemies, protecting friends, and working to make money and not to endure patiently the difficulties of dharma practice is wrong [mistaken] patience. [Great Path, p. 42]

People endure so much hardship in trying to make money; if they would endure even a fraction of that hardship in their dharma practice they’d probably be enlightened.

To want wealth, happiness, and comfort in this life and to have no inclination to practice dharma thoroughly is mistaken inclination [or intention]. To enjoy the taste of wealth and possessions and not to enjoy the taste of hearing, reflection, and meditation on the dharma is mistaken enjoyment. To have compassion for a person who puts up with hardship in order to practice dharma and not to have compassion for those who do evil is mistaken compassion.

Persons practicing the dharma, they’re fine.

To engage people who look to you in bettering only their own position in this life and not to engage them in dharma is mistaken care. To take joy in other people’s unhappiness and in the sufferings of your enemies and not to take joy in virtue and happiness in spiritual practice [nirvana or samsara] is mistaken joy.

So, there’s definitely a reordering of ideas there.

Student: What page is that?

Ken: That is on page 42.


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Don’t switch on and off.

Student: Ken?

Ken: Yeah?

Student: It sounds like he’s encouraging some kind of evangelism there with the mistaken care.

Ken: How do you hear that?

Student: To help people in their mundane lives without helping them in the dharma. This is how I understood.

Ken: Well, one thing, I think it’s good to remember the context. He’s talking primarily to monks and teachers. And so as a teacher if you’re just helping people get their lives together, and not engaging them in practice, then you’re doing the wrong sort of thing. Buddhism is not a very evangelical religion. Never really has been. Mainly, because one of the precepts in Buddhism is, don’t teach anybody who isn’t interested. So the traditional way that Buddhism has spread is that somebody notices something about how a person’s comporting themselves in their lives, and they say, “How come you’re so peaceful all the time when everything’s crazy around here?” And the conversation starts there, which leads into a discussion of meditation and practice.

So it’s very, very much about the example, not about trying to teach people. So here he’s saying that nurturing people’s spiritual interests is a deeper, or a higher form of care than just helping them get their lives together. And I would interpret that very broadly saying whatever their spiritual interests are, not necessarily saying you have to practice this, which is the evangelical approach, you know, say, just as Michelle was describing. And you’ve heard me say this before, I think that for me anyway, I’m very interested in helping people discover what their questions are, and helping them find their answers, and that’s very different from telling them what to believe and how to behave. John? Is there a second mic?


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John: Sounds like it’s fine to have…to take joy in other people’s unhappiness and sufferings of my enemies just as long as I take joy in virtue and happiness in nirvana or samsara from the way that reads.

Ken: Well, if it reads that way then I wrote in incorrectly.

John: [Reading text] To take joy in other people’s unhappiness and in the suffering of your enemies and not take joy in virtue…

Ken: …virtue and happiness of nirvana and samsara is mistaken joy.

John: …is mistaken joy.

Ken: So, taking joy in other people’s unhappiness…

John: …is mistaken joy.

Ken: Yes, that’s mistaken joy. I mean the English probably could be a little smoother, but I was trying to reflect the Tibetan construction. What it means is, if you get happy because your enemies are suffering, or if your source of joy is the suffering of your enemies and not the cultivation in yourself or others of spiritual understanding, that’s the wrong sort of joy. Okay?

John: I agree. It just seems like maybe you would have already been there and seen that be…not being too much of a virtue.

Ken: Well, but that’s not the case for most people. Most people—I mean take the whole obsession with capital punishment. A lot of people feel that it…

John: …it’s justified.

Ken: Well, no, more than, “it’s justified.” That when they see that other person being put to death—suppose somebody’s killed your daughter—a lot of people believe that if they see that the person who killed their daughter being put to death, they will feel better. And it’s like taking joy in the suffering of another person. What was interesting is that after the Oklahoma bombing, Timothy McVeigh was executed. The people that were left—who had lost children who were in the day care center, and wives and husbands who’d been working in the building—after he was executed, they realized they didn’t feel any better.

[Audio recording distortion beginning 1:09:23 - 1:11:00]

And they turned around and stopped the execution of Terry Nichols. And instead they sat down and had a series of conversations with Terry Nichols, and through that they were able to tell Terry how much his actions hurt. And Terry sat there and listened to them and came to the understanding of what actual harm he had done these people. And his attitude to his own actions changed. And that was the beginning of [unclear] retribution of…

Student: …reconciliation.

Ken: Yeah, that’s right, reconciliation not retribution. Because they felt that having had that exchange and being able to express that and come to terms with the event allowed them, or enabled them, to come to terms with the loss in a very, very different way, which the retribution of just executing Timothy McVeigh hadn’t done. But there are still many, many people who will say, “If somebody hurts someone close to me, I will feel good when that person suffers. I want to see them suffer,” and it just doesn’t work that way. Okay. Guy, then Julia.

Guy: This instruction would be very useful to me if, for example, Dick Cheney were indicted for war crimes. [Laughter] And I’m not joking, I mean, you know, I…it would be useful to me to not…to watch my tendency to feel victorious, or, you know, that…good about that.

Ken: Yep, okay, Julia.

Julia: Is this a sort of form of glee? The sort of talk about corruptive joy being…

Ken: Glee is a form of corrupted joy, you’re quite right, yeah.

Julia: So would be…like watching an execution be a sort of a magnified form of glee?

Ken: Possibly for some people. I wouldn’t say for everybody. I imagine that some people would not be feeling particularly gleeful, but would still believe in a way that this was satisfying in some sense, and very often after a while they realize it isn’t satisfying. Okay.


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Don’t switch on and off.
Train wholeheartedly.

These are very similar things. Consistency is very, very important in order to develop momentum in practice, so if you’re on again, off again, it doesn’t work.

This is Linda’s instruction, the next one: Train wholeheartedly. Right? Going through the motions isn’t enough. There’re always going to be periods in your practice where you feel like you are just going through the motions, but that’s often just before you start going into the next layer, it can feel kind of stagnant and flat. But it’s something to pay attention to.

Find freedom by probing and testing.

This goes back to something that I was discussing the other day. You’ve got to go to the limit, go the edge of your comfort zone, and that’s where you work.

I love these last few:

Don’t boast.

I’m the champion mind trainer. I’m better at taking and sending than anybody else. Totally absurd, but you’d be amazed at what people do.

Don’t be hypersensitive.

If you’re reacting to everything that comes up, again, there’s no stability.

Don’t be impulsive.

That undermines consistency and stability. And finally, and this is his ending note:

Don’t expect thanks.

Because in the end, why are you practicing? You’re practicing because you want to be awake and more present so there’s no reason to expect thanks from anybody else for the efforts you’re making in this.

And, so if you find yourself doing good, and helping people as an expression of your taking and sending practice, don’t expect any thanks. You know why you’re doing it, and that’s fine. Now people often say on this one, “Well, aren’t you doing this for the welfare of all beings?” Yes, we practice in order to be able to help all beings. Why? Because when our practice reaches that level of maturity, that’s what’s important to us. So again, no reason to expect any thanks. That just happens to be what’s important to us. You follow? Agnes, microphone.

Agnes: There’s something kind of elusive for me. Find freedom by pushing the limits, meaning we want to be free from our own, whatever, suffering. By pushing the limits…somehow I just have a little…

Ken: By pushing the limits of our own experience. That doesn’t mean you drive your car faster. It means, okay, there’s a person that I have difficulty interacting with; maybe I don’t want to see them at all. So I see how my practice is coming along, and I sit down and meet with them, and see how much reactivity comes up in me. A lot. Okay, now I know where I have to work in my practice. So you see where the limits of your ability to be present in your life are, and those are the limits that you push. Do you follow?

Agnes: Not totally, because when you use that example I thought about what you said another time, to choose your friends carefully. So you know, there are certain people I don’t want to…

Ken: And that’s a very good point. We choose our friends carefully, and that’s an instruction from the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, because that’s part of creating an environment and a situation in our lives that’s conducive to our practice. But as our practice matures, then we can start pushing limits. Theoretically, you can learn how to wind surf in a hurricane, but in practice it’s probably a little difficult.

I know that in one…I don’t think it was Katrina, but there were a couple of other hurricanes in Florida, and people were going out, they wanted to surf in them. If you can imagine, but they did. But those are people at a very, very high level of skill. So when we’re in the beginning stages of practice we want to create an environment in which we can actually develop ability. As ability develops then we want to exercise that ability and extend it into new areas of life, and that’s what this probing and testing is about. Okay? It’s the same way with physical exercise. If you hadn’t done any physical exercise for a long time you wouldn’t think of hiking, okay, Mt. Everest, take an extreme example. That’s something that you would work up to, right? It’s the same idea. Okay. Carolyn, then Leslie.


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Carolyn: I would really appreciate it if you’d give a little bit more about that saying, The illusion of choice is an indication of a lack of freedom. You know, because the word choose and choice is in here all the time in the speech, and, you know, I don’t think I really understand this.

Ken: Okay. What’s your profession?

Carolyn: Caretaker of my mom right now. I’m retired.

Ken: Okay. What did you do before that?

Carolyn: A myriad of things.

Ken: Okay, what’s one of them you were good at?

Carolyn: I was a program director for an international program.

Ken: Okay. As a program director you acquired a lot of experience, and situations would arise. I’d imagine that either your colleagues or your subordinates or whomever, would say, “Well, why don’t we do x, and why don’t we do y, and why don’t we do z?” But because of your experience you knew none of those were viable options, right? You could say, “No, this is the only thing that we can do here.”

Carolyn: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: The illusion of choice—the indication of a lack of freedom. To your colleagues or your subordinates, who didn’t have as much experience, they had the illusion of choice.

Carolyn: But how did that relate to their lack of freedom?

Ken: The more completely you understand a situation, the more free you are. Not to…

Carolyn: To act in the right way?

Ken: Exactly.

Carolyn: Okay. Yeah.

Ken: Okay?

Carolyn: Yes. Thank you.

Ken: Leslie, you had a question?

Leslie: I’ll save it for…

Ken: Okay. We should close here we’re a bit late, so who’s on han today? Okay, could you start immediately?


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