It Is Not A Thing

It Is Not A Thing (from TAN02: Then and Now (class) 00:36:25.50 - 00:39:21.50)

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Well, the quality of being that anything has, is that it is not a thing, in the same way we saw above, these pieces of paper: big isn’t a thing. It’s relative. It depends on the relationship with other things. So the quality of being that everything has is that it is not a thing. Which means that a Buddha is just as much not a thing as a sentient being. None of us are things.

One way we talk about it in the modern times is that we’re not things, we’re processes. But that actually causes just as much problem. There’s nothing — this goes back to a point I made earlier — there is no thing that I can point to and say, “That is me, that is what I am.” There isn’t anything like that, and that is as true of a Buddha as it is of a sentient being.

This is wonderfully illustrated by a woman, Belle Hooks, who is a student of Lama Yeshe. One day — I think she was in Nepal at this point — she was really, really angry, and it was obvious that she was very angry; she was throwing a tantrum. And in the middle of this Lama Yeshe came up and whispered in her ear, “Buddha mind is very angry today.” [laughter]

Now what would you do if you were very angry and someone kept saying, “Buddha mind is very angry today?” How long would your anger last? This was extremely skillful on the one hand, but it’s also profoundly true.

In just what I was saying earlier, this quality of being awake — this possibility of quiet — is present in everything that we experience — even when we’re extremely angry or extremely caught up in jealousy, or desire, or stupidity, or depression, or anything like that. That quality of being awake is there. It may or may not be something that we can access and that’s what we’re going to move into in a minute.

It isn’t good, it isn’t bad, it isn’t this, it isn’t that, it’s not many, it’s not one, it’s not eternal, it’s not eteralism, it’s not nihilism, it’s.... There isn’t any quality you can put on it, but it is something — an experience that is always available to us. One can argue that the main thrust of Buddhist practice is to experience that. And when we do, we experience being without projection and that’s one way (without projection/without confusion) of talking about being awake.


Of Gods and Jobs

Of Gods and Jobs (from 37P 03: 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva 00:04:41.20 - 00:12:11.20)

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Julia: About the eight worldly concerns?

Well that's exactly what focusing on this life means. You're concerned with happiness and unhappiness, success and failure, gain and loss, fame and obscurity, respect and disdain. That's what one focuses on.

Robert: The words "ordinary gods"?

Sure, The Tibetan is jig rten pai lha (pronounced jig ten pi lha). Jig ten is the word for the world of ordinary experience. And it literally means the container for everything that can be desttroyed, which is a great way to refer to the universe. But what does that mean? Well everything is destroyed by impermanance, and so when it says "the ordinary gods," you'll see this almost always translated as "worldly gods." But again, I just didn't like that in terms of the English. It's standard Buddhist Enlgish, but I'm very tired of Buddhist English and am trying to put it into English English, So that's why I chose the word "ordinary" because these people or these gods have not stepped out of reactive patterns. They're caught up in them in exactly the same way that we are.

Robert: In Buddhism or in the Tibetan text are they actually using the word "gods"?

And again one can look at this in different terms--different ways of interpretation. So to respond to Michelle, the Buddhist role is beating up on the Hindus so they regard Brahma and Vishnu, Indra etc as wordly gods. Indra lives in the heaven with the 33 levels, or the 33-level palace--or whatever it is--and thinks he's lord of the universe. But actually he's just got a hell of a lot of good karma and it's going to last him for a few billion eons. But then he'll be back in the hell realms like the rest of us. And I think it's in the Surangama Sutra--there's a categorization of various forms of meditation and fixations, and the corresponding god realm that you'll be born in. So if you have this kind of fixation you'll become a god who thinks he's the creator of the universe. And if you get this one you'll become a god who thinks he's this, and so forth. And he goes through all of the various notions of deity and tracks them down to coming down from very particular meditation fixations. It's kind of interesting that way--devastating to all the other religions, but that's another matter.

And he definitely uses the word "gods" as something that we regard as higher or superior and has some kind of power to intervene in this. The way that my colleague Michael Conklin and I and a lot of other people now approach this is--well, what are the gods in our society? Well, what are the gods? Beauty, money, thinness, fame. And if you look at Greek mythology, that's exactly who their gods were. Well, there was Aphrodite, beauty, and there was war and some people regard war as a god--Ares that's the Roman name. Mars--Mars is Roman, Ares is the Greek, and so forth.

A mythology consists of the anthropomorphization of our own obsessions. And then it becomes a whole pantheon etc. etc. But that's what our gods are: money, power and so forth. And health is another one. I'm going to be perfectly healthy. A friend of mine who used to counsel people with AIDS--all of these people living such pure lives and in the end they're going to find themselves dying of absolutely nothing.

And when it says "go for refuge" this means where do we go for security? And absolutely in our society people go for security in money. And they think that's where they're going to find security and happiness and fulfilment and it's a bit of a shock that they don't.

In my work in HBO one person left while I was coaching her. And there's a good possibility another person is. So I'm going to have an interesting reputation there. And the reason is, through our interaction they came to, or they're coming to realise that the job they have isn't the sum total of who they want to be. But in the institutional setting, that's exactly what you're trying to sell the person--this job is you. And people are chained into an organization, but it isn't. And one of the things I've found consistently with meditation practice is that after oh about somewhere around 9 months of a consistent mediation practice --sometimes it's a bit longer, sometimes it's two or three years, but it usually begin at around 9 months. People start letting go of their identification of themselves with their job. They still will do their work competently but their job is no longer what they are. And that's a very, very important transition, because it's stopping taking refuge in work, which is exactly what a lot of people do.



Practice, practice, practice...

Practice (from Relationships and Emotional Reactions (talk) 00:16:25.70 - 00:19:29.50)

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And if you want to give a sports analogy, this is like going out and hitting tennis balls against the wall. Plop, plop, plop... And that's what you do, just breathe, breathe, breathe - same thing. And that's practice. It's really helpful.



Difference in Buddhism

Difference in Buddhism (from TAN01: Then and Now (class) 01:12:29.91 - 01:17:54.96)

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Agnes: Are there differences really between Buddhism as 500 BC versus Tibetan Buddhism? Or is it just... Why do you call it Tibetan Buddhism, just because it is from Tibet, rather than Cambodia Buddhism or others?

Ken: Well, this is a very interesting point. When you look at Buddhism in China, Tibet, well I was going to say Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand, to the outside observer you’re dealing with really different religions because you’ll find almost no forms that are common.

In terms of rituals: in Thailand they have the bathing of the Buddha, unknown in the Tibetan tradition.

In the Tibetan tradition you have these lama dances, unknown in the Theravadan tradition; it just looks like demon worship.

In Zen, in Japan you have people going around hitting each other, unknown in Theravadan, not unknown in Tibet, but done very differently in Tibet, nothing like the precision and formality in Japanese.

So they really look like very, very different religions. Yet when Buddhists from those different countries start talking with each other they find that they’re working with very, very similar material, some of it more elaborate and some of it less elaborate, but with very similar understanding, virtually the same understanding.

When you contrast that with Christianity, Islam and Judaism, which are totally comparable because they all stem from Abraham. They are one religion and yet there is these tremendous difficulties and tensions among them in the way that this does not exist among the Buddhist traditions.

So the reason that we call things Tibetan Buddhism and Cambodian and things like that is primarily because of the geographical isolation that these different Buddhist traditions experienced for hundreds of years, thousands really.

And now that geographical isolation has ended, there is a great deal of interaction taking place, which is very interesting. So we’re seeing different forms emerge. But that’s the primary reason is because these are the ones associated with different countries.

Agnes: What you’re describing, the differences seemed to be more the ritual. What about the essence, the dharma itself? Does it have basic differences between these countries?

Ken: Not in my experience.

There are some people who would say that Dzogchen and Theravadan are different religions; I don’t buy it. I think they’re different ways of talking about the same thing.

The rituals and the forms that go with them are very, very different. To a certain extent the spiritual ideals are different. That is, you have a different picture of what they look like, but in the actual experience and everything I don’t find those differences.

I have a colleague who is very, very similar to me except that his training was all in the Theravadan tradition. Whereas I know Tibetan, he knows Pali. He’s put a lot of thought into translation and we have very, very interesting discussions.

Because Theravadans are all set up as straw dogs in the Mahayana — you know, it’s the “Hinayana” [lesser vehicle]. And I discovered much to my amusement that the Mahayanists are set up as straw dogs [ed. in the Therevadan tradition].

He said once, “Oh you Mahayana essentialists!” which is like, you know, a terrible thing to call a Buddhist, an essentialist. But we have virtually no differences in our understanding of what Buddhism is actually about and what the aim is. He’s evolved a way of teaching which is quite unique, which is different from — but is analogous to what I’ve evolved. There’s just that kind of commonality.


Confident Faith

There are actually two points here, but both are short and loosely connected, so you get the first remark on Christianity for free:).

Ken talks about three kinds of faith in the GDP series (among others), of which the confident faith is maybe the weakest, nevertheless it is maybe also the easiest to get to. IMHO it also helps if there is a track record before you listen to someone.

Confident Faith (from GDP03: Guru, Deity, Protector (retreat) 00:00:25.60 - 00:04:15.60)

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Confident faith is described as the feeling of solidity that comes from a rational appreciation. That is, you study the stuff, you think about it, it makes sense. So you say, "Okay, I’ll give it a try.“ And this is one of the reasons why I like Buddhist practice and Buddhist perspective; it’s because it actually does make sense.

Christianity, for instance, doesn’t. And the consequence of that is, faith as a practice in Christianity has to be stronger because it doesn’t make sense. And it’s not just Christianity, actually, it applies to most of the Abrahamic traditions, because somehow or other they ended up with a problem. And the problem was, if there is an all-loving, all-mighty God, why do we suffer? The problem of pain which C.S. Lewis wrote about.

Buddhism, on the other hand, says "There is suffering." That’s where we start. So its existence isn’t regarded as a problem; it’s regarded as a fact. No explanation required; there it is. And so a rational appreciation is for many people an important starting point. And I know this from my work with people who are not particularly into spiritual stuff. You know, if you want to get them to do something, it’s got to make sense to them ’cause they’re not going to do it out of clear appreciation or longing or anything like that.


Completing the Process

Completing the Process (from TAN01: Then and Now (class) 00:59:40.95 - 01:02:40.10)

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Jessica: Why is it that when you practice for a while and then you stop practicing, the energy that you’ve built up in the practice then goes back into that cycle even worse?

Ken: Well, electricity is a good example. You put a lightning rod on top of your house to lead the electricity down into the ground. And practice, in a certain sense, is a way of grounding us very profoundly. Okay? Now suppose you leave that nice iron spike on top of your house but you break the connection with the ground. Now what happens?

Jessica: I don’t know, but it’s not good.

Ken: Well, lightning is far more likely to strike your house and kaboom! So when you build up some energy, but are no longer making an effort in attention, that energy’s going to go somewhere. And it’s going to flow where there are habituated patterns; but because there’s more energy in the system, the habituated patterns are going to be stronger. You follow?

And your question is quite relevant here because Gampopa’s just said samsara doesn’t dissolve itself, so we start working on it. And it becomes important once you start working on it to complete the process because otherwise you end up worse than before.

Jessica: What does that mean, really: “completing the process?”

Ken: Well I think there are different stages of completion, but at the very least, come to a point where there is a self-sustaining shift in the system.