The Teacher

Important (impressive) section not only for me...

The Teacher (from TNE04: There is No Enemy (retreat) 00:49:44.00 - 01:01:46.00)

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Now, the usual sources of refuge are the three jewels, buddha, dharma, and sangha and I'll come to those in a minute.

In the Tibetan tradition great emphasis is placed on the teacher. And I've come to feel that's very very important, for a very unfortunate reason.

It doesn't matter what discipline, when you study with somebody, that person represents your aspirations in that discipline--is a symbol for your aspirations.

I worked for a very short time with a concert violinist. And he studied with a teacher who was a brilliant brilliant violinist. And he learned a lot from him. But he learned a few other things too. ...


He represents your own spiritual aspirations to you. So, our teacher is, like it or not, how we experience awakened mind. ...



Too Many Projects

Too Many Projects (from MMT09: Mahayana Mind Training (retreat) 00:39:03.50 - 00:39:56.00)

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Don't plan many different projects for the present or future. ...



Conflict (from PAP10: Power and Presence (retreat) 00:06:47.00 - 00:12:00.00)

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Now - most people want to know something about power, because they don't know how to handle conflict.

So I want to talk a bit about conflict.

First bit: what is conflict.

Conflict is the experience of resistance to change when two or more worlds interact.


Conflict only arises in the context of relationship. If there is no relationship, there is no conflict.


So what conflict represents is a problem in a relationship.

And you never have any idea of how the conflict is going to evolve. You have a lot of experience, you can make some fairly good guesses, but you can never actually know. There are always too many factors in operation. Some of them can be just the operation of chance.

Which means that when you enter a conflict, you can not know the result.

I'll come back and say a bit more about that in a moment.


To Be In One Thing

To Be In One Thing (WS01) (from WS01: Warrior's Solution (retreat) (revised) -

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In terms of exercise, from this moment on, form the intention to be in one thing, whatever you are doing.

So, if you are walking from here to your room, form the intention to be in the experience of walking. If you are brushing your teeth, form the intention to be in the experience of brushing your teeth and do it. If you are going to sleep, form the intention of going to sleep. And go to sleep.

So this is being in one thing completely.

So that's your exercise!


Feeling Tones

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutra) is a fundamental text in both the Theravadan and Zen Traditions. The second Foundation of Mindfulness is being able to stay present in feelings. Here feelings don’t refer to emotions. It would be better to call them feeling tones. Ken explains this in session 35 of the Then and Now class.

Feeling Tones (Tan 35) (from TAN35 -   (download into iTunes)
"Then the second Foundation of Mindfulness is being able to stay present in feelings. Now, here feelings don’t refer to emotions. It would be better to call these feeling tones. Accompanying every sensory experience, there are five, any of five feeling tones. Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, physical and mental. And you get one of the first group, and one of the first three, pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, and one of the second two, the last two and physical or mental. And these are very rapid things. They occur virtually simultaneously, with a sensory perception. And it’s the quality of experience which engages the emotional reactive process. So if it’s pleasant we’re attracted to it, if it's unpleasant we’re averse to it, and if it’s neutral we’re indifferent to it.

So, in the Theravadan tradition, for instance, the whole Buddhist path comes down to being able to detect that pleasant, unpleasant, neutral in every moment of experience and not react to it. Now, not reacting doesn’t mean suppressing, it means training sufficient level of attention that you simply don’t react. A pleasant sensation doesn’t elicit attraction, an unpleasant sensation doesn’t elicit aversion and a neutral sensation doesn’t elicit indifference. And if one can do that then one is largely freed from reacting to experience, which is the end of suffering."


WKC: Willingness, Know-how and Capacity

Willingness, Know-how and Capacity -- this is a framework that Ken McLeod presents over and over again in classes and retreats.

WKC (TAN34) (from TAN34 -
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"Now how this happens in practice--it takes time. One has to work at it over and over again usually best done for relatively short periods. So you really practice that clarity aspect and that's why I had you over the last couple of weeks just dropping into that clarity because we live in the world the way we do we're not monastics, we don't live in monasteries, we don't live in secluded environments. The way we approach practice of this type isn't developing states of attention and trying to hold onto them or stabilize them that way but developing the facility of returning, returning, returning, returning and resting. And you know that that's the way I've taught you in meditation, rest in the experience of breathing whenever you find yourself distracted. Return to the experience and just rest there. So it's resting in the experience of everything. And it's the same with this clear mind. When you can, know that clarity, then you just drop into it and rest there. Whether you're washing dishes, gardening or talking with someone or actually practicing meditation. You just drop into it and rest and when it dissipates it dissipates you let it go. And then you drop into it again. So there isn't any sense of trying to hold onto something or work at something. You just drop into it and rest. And that's where you get don't be distracted, don't fall into distraction, or like I've said, no wandering, no control, no work. And you do that and if you have the opportunity to do retreats then you can do this for like ten days at a time or three weeks at a time. We did a Dzogchen retreat which is what people do. You just keep doing this all the time and you build up a momentum. It becomes cumulative and you begin to let go of things more and more deeply and things can really open up.

But it all depends on three qualities which you've heard me talk about before. One is you have to be willing to drop into that clarity and it's not the way, it's not the mind from which we ordinarily function and being willing to drop into that clarity involves letting go all kinds of conditioning and habituated ways of doing things and ways that we're very, very comfortable with.

The second quality that you need is to have the know-how to do this. There's a skill involved so you aren't falling into this kind of self-delusion. A lot of people think they're doing something when they're really just thinking. So that is something I have been trying to teach you through this whole course and through the retreats.

And then the third thing is developing capacity and that is what I was referring to a few moments ago, where you actually build up the level of attention that enables you to do this first in relatively simple situations like meditation or doing routine manual tasks and then gradually in more involved situations where there are strong reactive emotions are parading or you're having conversations or interactions with people and you still have that same ability to drop into that clarity, rest and actually function from there. And that takes years and years of training to do that. But that's basically what were involved in. Okay, how is this for you? Is this making sense? Somewhat helpful?"


Repetition (from MMT06: Mahayana Mind Training (retreat) 00:17:51.00 - 00:28:20.00)

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This clip was pointed out and located by Valerie. Thanks.


Basic skills

Basic Skills (from DFF06: Death: Friend or Foe (retreat) 00:46:20.20 - 00:51:03.00)

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Ken: This morning—during the breakfast break—I was thinking, “You know, I really haven’t done a very good job teaching people.” I realized if I was going to start all over again, I’d do it very, very differently. So, now I’m going to tell you the right way. [Laughs]
Jean: Oh boy!
Ken: Finally! Well—pardon?
Student: This just came over breakfast?
Ken: This just came over breakfast, yes. You have to do something to fill the time, you know.
So, the first things one needs if you’re going to learn to do anything well are the basic skills. For instance, how do you learn how to write? You make the shapes of the letters over and over again. How do you learn arithmetic? Well, you practice addition and subtraction. So, it seemed to me, that probably the first thing you should learn when you’re meditating is how to pay attention to one breath. So, screw this 30 minutes of practice every day.
I’ve got a new client who wants to learn to meditate, so I think I’m going to try this on him. Say—[Laughter] “Poor guy,” says Jim, but maybe he’s lucky! So, forget about meditating for half an hour at a time. The first thing you do is--every morning--you get up and you practice a hundred one-breath meditations.
[Ken models doing one breath.] Finished. [Ken models another one-breath meditation.] Basic skill, right? Being present with one breath.
So, move onto death and impermanence. Same kind of thing. You really want to learn this stuff? Practice it. Take in one thing that changes every day. Doesn’t really matter what. It may be the movement of shadow as the sun goes. You go, “Oh.” And what this is going to do is bring attention to some minutiae in your life, and you see change. And you’re practicing exposing yourself to change. Basic skills. I don’t have all of the levels worked out, but you get the idea.
Just for interest, what would it be like if you’d learned meditation that way? Really basic skills. So, I’m gonna try that. I’ll let you know how it goes.
So, this is not theoretical stuff. This is not philosophy. This is learning, practicing, doing. And they can be broken down into really basic skills that we can learn. So that’s something I encourage you to do is, “Look, okay, how can I really take this in?” And don’t deal with the abstract; don’t deal with the philosophical. “How can I really take this in?”
Another practice that I’ve sometimes given people when they’re doing death and impermanence meditation is that every day—all the time they’re doing meditation—they have to buy a cut flower and put it in a vase where they meditate and not give it any water. So every day they sit down, they see the plants change. And eventually it shrivels up and dies, and then they get another flower and do the same thing. It’s like, “There is change.”


The Self

On the Unfettered Mind Ning discussion forum about people's favorite passage from Ken's podcasts, Jim Ellsworth wrote the following:
Reply by Jim Ellsworth on April 5, 2009 at 12:07am

Ann...Here's a zinger from the Power and Presence #5 podcast (about 35 minutes in):

"Everybody’s trying to get rid of the self. You know, we have this little thing in Buddhism called the “non-self.” Can you get rid of something that doesn’t exist? Can you wake up a person who’s pretending to be asleep? One way of looking at the “self,” it is a fiction that arises as a way to give the appearance of continuity and rationality to what is actually a long series of random events."

A few minutes later, Jeff suggested that "response to the environment" was a better choice of words than "random events," to which Ken agreed. I find letting go of the "self" by opening into a simple, yet completely full, experience of the present moment to be the heart of practice. It's still so hard to trust that this moment is all there is.
And here is the corresponding clip (with an extra minute added):

The Self (from Power and Presence (retreat) 00:35:06.00 - 00:37:26.70)

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Wanting To Be Loved

Wanting To Be Loved (from Three Jewels 00:19:54.35 - 00:23:01.00)

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And then there’s all the emotional reactions which we’re getting stuck on all the time. So here’s where the Dharma comes in: relating to experience completely.

Well, very interesting things happen then. For instance, you take a typical emotional reaction, say, wanting to be loved. Now if you go into this completely, you’re going to have to figure out what there is in you to be loved. Right? And who’s going to do all of that loving? And as with any facet of our experience the more deeply you go into it the less you find to hold onto.

And you find that in the case of wanting to be loved, means that the only way to do that – to meet that is to be completely open to all of experience yourself. In other words, to love everything. And you find that this turn happens over and over again when we go into experience.

Anger, the other thing; If you’re going to be angry you’ve got to be angry at something, you can’t be angry at nothing. So to really go into that you’ve got to find what you’re angry at. And because anger has so much energy the more that you go into it the more difficult it is to find anything to be angry at, but the clearer and clearer your mind grows. So this is what it means to go into your experience completely. And that’s the Dharma.


The Breath

From Claudia Hansson:

The Breath (from MUB01: Monsters Under The Bed (retreat) 00:00:00.00 - 00:04:48.50)

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Claudia: I’m going to start by talking about the breath. Everything that you read about meditation, certainly in all the Buddhist literature, you see the focus on the breath, and for shamatha practice this is what we’re doing. We are moving into the experience of breathing. The breath can seem like a very ordinary process. It’s something that, if we don’t direct our attention to it, the body does it anyway. The body knows how to breathe. We don’t have to control it. We don’t have to regulate it. And if we let ourselves just move into that very deep experience of just feeling the breath, everything else tends to follow along.

Sometimes, I know I’ve gone there myself, we sit for a while, and we think, “This is kind of a boring thing, paying attention to my breath, what’s the big deal about this?” But I think if you reflect on it a little bit, you can move into an experience where breath is pretty amazing.

Any of you have children, in the room? Okay, I wonder if you can remember what that experience was like when you first heard your child take that breath. Anybody want to share what that felt like?

Student: One second.

Student: The interesting thing for me is that I kept waking up at night and checking on him to make sure that he was still breathing.

Claudia: Yes.

Student: And then later when I talked to other mothers, they had all had similar experiences with their children.

Claudia: And monitors make it even worse now because they’re sitting right there, and every breath is coming at you. Anyone else?

I remember it very, very clearly, and very distinctly. I don’t remember much about the pain. I don’t remember much about the process. It’s kind of faded over the years, but I don’t think I will ever forget those first breaths that my children took.

About a year and a half ago, my father passed away. He was 86, and he was out hiking. He simply collapsed in the mountains. Fortunately I happened to be on an airplane, on my way to San Diego, to go and visit him so I was there when he was airlifted to the hospital.

When I got there, he was on a respirator, which they removed later. I had the deep honor and privilege of sitting with him while he took those last breaths. I will tell you that it moved me so deeply that it actually shifted my practice when I was resting with the breath, because the breath is our life. It means we’re here. It means we’re alive. We have this wonderful opportunity to practice.

The thing about the breath is, to be in that experience, not to be trying to control it or move it or change it. As the breath settles, the entire physiology of the body also starts to change. George is going to be talking about the body when we sit, but everything is carried with the breath.



Progression (from TAN16 Then and Now (class) 00:57:47.50 - 01:03:52.00) (download into iTunes)
Ken: Most of you here, and I know you have, Susan, have been exposed to teachings of mahamudra and dzogchen. These are advanced teachings, even they're given out to all kinds of people. But a lot of people who receive them don’t appreciate their subtlety or where they fit in the progression that I'm describing.

I can describe the progression in another way and that is in terms of attachment to ideas about the world.

So, we start off, think, well, you know, life isn’t bad, but I'm having a certain kind of difficulty and if I could just learn a few skills then everything would just be great, you know. If I could learn not to react so much, then my life would be great. So, sit down and learn how to meditate. And it's true. I learn how not to react so much. But in the process of learning how not to react which is basically letting go of thoughts and feelings as facts and just experience them as thoughts and feelings.

In developing that ability we become aware of a much deeper problem. That all of that reactivity is organized around a sense of self, and serves to protect that sense of self. And so we go, "Ah, there's more of a bigger problem here, didn't realize this. Well if I could just let go of the sense of self, you know, then I wouldn't react at all. That'd be so cool."

So, now meditation and one's practice takes on a different tenor. And you begin to develop not just a calm mind, a mind which is less reactive, but you also develop a certain ability to see into the nature of things because an intellectual understanding that there is no self doesn't change anything as you well know. It has to be a direct experience. So you're beginning to move into the realm of direct experience and direct awareness, which is a beginning to approach rigpa and awareness and all of those things. And so, you come to a point where you go, “Wow, I don’t exist as a thing.” Then, that’s a very definite experience. Some people say, “That’s totally cool,” some people say, "This freaks me out.” People have different reactions to that experience. But, it opens up more possibilities.

But again, it reveals a deeper problem. And that is "Well, if I don’t exist as a thing, then what is all this? And where does confusion arise? And where does being awake arise? If there's no entity which is me what do all of these things mean?" That's a really difficult question. This leads to another level of exploration which is basically what bodhicitta, and mahamudra, and dzogchen, middle way is more bodhicitta, are about is: there is just this experience which is simultaneously vivid and empty. When one can actually experience that moment to moment in a completely non-conceptual awareness that's what you're calling rigpa. That's what mahamudra and dzogchen. Now, that's the progression as a progressive letting go of more and more.

This Gampopa's writing when you get The Perfection of Wisdom you'll see he does write about mahamudra and matyamaka. He doesn't write explicitly about dzogchen. It's implicit in this approach but here this is a path, a graded path, a step-by-step path where the dzogchen and mahamudra teachings in the vadjrayana take the perspective this is present in us right now. It doesn't have to be grown, you don't have to go through a process, you can relate to it right now. That’s a different approach. It's a very effective approach. And usually in the Tibetan tradition one worked with both approaches simultaneously because there were abilities that needed to be cultivated, as you well know, one has to have a certain ability in attention otherwise one simply can't practice dzogchen. One can think one's practicing dzogchen but you're not. That's where a lot of people are today. Does this answer your question?


The Central Practice

The Central Practice (from HSW01: Heart Sutra Workshop 00:18:10.60 - 00:35:49.00)

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I bow to Lady Perfection of Wisdom.
Thus I have heard.

At one time, Lord Buddha was staying at Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagriha, with a great gathering of the monastic sangha and the bodhisattva sangha. 
At that time, Lord Buddha entered an absorption, called Profound Radiance, in which all elements of experience are present. 
I think we have to stop right here. Jess, you can put down the book for a moment.  So, here's Buddha. He's meditating. And you notice the situation, they're perched on top of a mountain top which is a place that exactly exists in India. I've been there. And he's surrounded by monastics and bodhisattvas. We'll talk a bit more about that in a few minutes. And he entered an absorption, called Profound Illumination or Profound Radiance--it's translated in different ways--in which all elements of experience are present. How many of you know this absorption? How many of you would like to know this absorption? Oh, you know this absorption, do you? Oh, good. So, let's spend a few minutes.

Now, if you're going to have all elements of experience, it's probably better if you have your eyes open, so you aren't shutting things out. So, start just by sitting and resting with something we all know, resting in the experience of breathing. Now, generally when we rest in the experience of breathing, the first thing we become aware of is the sensation of the breath through the nostrils. But that's only part of the experience of breathing. You may also notice that the breath flows through one or either of the nostrils more than the other. Maybe the temperature is slightly different. You may also notice a sensation, a cool sensation at the back of your throat when you breathe in. Movement of the lungs and the chest. Movement in the diaphragm and stomach. So, just experience all of that. 
You may also experience your back moving, a little bit. When you breathe in, the body straightens up, a little bit. When you breathe out, it bends forward, a little bit. It may only be a couple of millimeters. You may notice that your head moves accordingly, the chin moves very slightly up and down. Whoever said that meditation was actually sitting still? There may be other sensations taking place in your body connected with breathing, experience all of them. You may find your attention moving from one sensation to the other. You don't need to do that, you can experience them all at the same time.  
So experience all the tactile and kinesthetic sensations associated with breathing. Then include a bit more: all of the tactile and kinesthetic sensations associated with your body. Sensation of clothes touching your body, the sensation of your body sitting, sensation of your hands and feet touching or interacting with each other. In addition to that, all the sensations connected with breathing. Just experience all of it. All at the same time. You may find that your attention collapses down on one or other thing, and as soon as you notice that, just expand from that thing that you are focusing on to include everything connected with breathing and your body. Just sit there for a few moments, in the experience of breathing. 
But our sense of the organ of the body is only one of the five senses. There is also sight. So, as you sit there in the experience of breathing, you could also include everything that is in your field of vision. From where I sit, that's the faces and bodies and clothes of all of you. All of the details of the thangkas and the glittering of the brocade that frames the thangkas, the lights, the ceiling, the floor, the windows, the walls. That's all part of the experience of breathing, it's all part of what we experience right now. Also include the sound of my voice and the sound of the traffic, just include everything. The feelings of your body when you breathe and all of the other sensations that arise in any of the senses.  
You sit in a field of sensory experience. And you may notice, as you sit in this field, that there are other elements of experience. Maybe some thoughts arise because of the honking outside, saying, "I wish it would go away." And there's feelings of dislike or displeasure. Maybe there are other thoughts, other emotions. In other words, there is all this internal stuff that goes on, too. So, just include that: the sensations of the body, all the other senses, thoughts, feelings, sensory sensations, emotional sensations, cognitive sensations, we call those thoughts. Don't push any of it away, don't try to organize or understand any of it, just experience it all. And whenever you find yourself collapsing down on one thing, just expand back and include everything. You don't have to actually sit still to do this, you can let your eyes move gently and slowly around the room, taking in all the visuals, but including the body sensations that are involved in that.

So, here we are in a field of experience: sensations, thoughts and feelings. You sit in this way long enough and you begin to wonder what outside and inside mean. So, maybe we could just let those go and have this field of experience. Now, open your heart to this field of experience. Some of you may say, what does that mean? But you know what it is to open your heart to your spouse, or your partner or your child. So, you just do the same thing with what you are experiencing: just open your heart. 
So you have all of the physical sensations and all of the sensory sensations and all of the internal material, the thoughts and feelings and so forth, and you have an open heart. Now, in a moment, I am going to suggest a question. I don't want you to answer the question. I simply want you to pose the question to yourself. When you do this, you'll probably experience some kind of shift. When you experience that shift, just include that experience, too, with everything else. So, physical sensations are breathing, all the sensation with the body, all the other sensory sensations: sight and sound, taste and smell. All the mental and emotional sensations: thoughts and feelings. The whole field of experience which we experience with an open heart. The question is, "What experiences all this?" As I say, don't try to answer the question, just experience the shift and then include the experience of the shift with everything else. What experiences all this?

[Silence, Gong]

So that's what Buddha was doing. 
How was this for you?

Central Practice Comment (from HSW01: Heart Sutra Workshop 00:42:05.50 - 00:50:36.00)

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This is how you experience everything. All elements of experience are present. You see, things are much simpler than they are often presented to us. There are only three things we experience: thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Everything else is a construct, or an abstraction from that.



I originally titled this post Absorption Meditation.  It's is a much longer version of The Primary Practice, which Ken uses and introduces in many retreats and classes.

Early this week Ken suggested renaming it to The Central Practice:
"Very good to have this up and available. And, yes, the title could be better. The friend who developed it calls it "The primary practice" but I've never liked this term.

If it's not too late, perhaps change the name to "the central practice". And I'll start to use this terminology in my talks."
Renaming done.