Yidams (from Guru, Deity, Protector (GDP04) 00:11:16.00 - 00:19:47.20)

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...most of the time we relate to experience with an identity of some kind or another, a sense of self, of being some thing. We have many of them, actually. We have all of the ones that come with living in a society: parent, child, sibling, and with whatever our profession is: artist, poet, doctor, lawyer, plumber, massage therapist, salesman and so on.

We also have ideas about ourselves, which is another whole level of identity. So even though we may be a bank clerk, we kind of think of ourselves as a poet. And even though we are directing a corporation, we may think of ourselves as a humanitarian, and so on.

And then we have another whole level of identities, ones that usually come from earlier when our lives are being shaped. "I'm a person who does everything right all the time. I'm a person who never does anything right. I'm the best; no matter what situation I encounter, I'm the best person for it. It doesn't matter what situation I encounter, I always do something wrong. I'm not lovable. Everybody loves me." And you go on and on and on. I mean, we could take a poll here, different identities. You all know what I'm talking about, right?

Now the extraordinary thing is that even though we have this multiplicity of identities, and we actually operate as different people in different circumstances with a different view of things and different behaviors and so forth, we have the idea that there's just one thing. We don't even notice that we're switching personalities. We're like the shards of a shattered mirror and we don't know when we move from the reflections in one shard to the reflections in another. So, this is a mess. [Laughter]

One can say--and this may be a little different perspective for some of you--that the function of yidam meditation is to tidy up this mess. You adopt one identity and that's it. [Laughter] You don't get to choose all the other ones.
[Segment about clay cups and rocks, not transcribed]
The purpose for adopting an identity is to be able to let go of having any identity. So, in a certain sense, we're sweeping up the shards of the mirror, and then we discover we don't need the mirror. Or, as Trungpa said once, "If you're going to use a crutch, you might as well use a gold crutch."

And this is a very, very profound method of practice and quite unlike anything in the western spiritual traditions--at least that I know of.
So, we use identities and these are called yidams or deities. What are they? Well, they are expressions of awakened mind. That's the gold crutch. They're expressions of awakened mind.


The princess and the pea

Princess and pea (from POI01: Pointing Out Instructions (retreat) 00:24:05.08 - 00:26:23.04)

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Now how many of you know the story of The Princess and the Pea? Okay. Anybody not familiar with that story? Well, it's a fairy tale, I can't remember all the details but the prince is looking for a princess to marry and he's told by a wise old woman that the only way to find out who a proper princess is, is to put a pea under a hundred mattresses. And so he invites one woman over after another and they sleep on this bed. Eventually one woman says, "I couldn't sleep at all last night. Just black and blue. That was the lumpiest bed I've ever had." So, this is the true princess because she can feel a pea under a hundred mattresses.

Now there are additional elements to that story but the main point here is that when you actually rest then you feel all the stuff that prevents you from resting more deeply. And it just brings you right into connection with it.

This is often not comfortable. You're like the princess, you get black and blue. But mahamudra practice and the direct awareness practice, in general, consists primarily of learning how to rest deeply at first with, and eventually in one's internal material. And this is found also in the Theravadan tradition in the four foundations of mindfulness and particularly in the Full Awareness of Breathing Sutra, in which the breath is used as a way of coming to that deep resting.


Culture, dharma and salt

Too much salt (from Guru, Deity, Protector: GDP02) 00:01:36.09 - 00:06:48.05)

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Ken: What I want to try to do is, on the one hand, you might say, demythologize Vajrayana, because there's a great deal of myth about it. And on the other hand, try to convey the power and sense of the practice or these practices, or this approach to practice, in a way that you can relate to without going through what are sometimes quite considerable cultural distortions. Do you know of which I speak?

Student: Some, yeah.

Ken: The last few years, one of the central questions I've pondered is: In the post-modern society in which we all live, what is the appropriate form of the guru-student relationship? And to answer this question or to explore it I think we need to take a look at both the cultural form of the guru-student relationship in India and Tibet, and also its soteriological function, that is to say its spiritual function.

In 1989, when Kalu Rinpoche died, I was in a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. I'd been asked to come to the retreat. My expenses had been paid. When I got there, I said to an organizer who had invited me, "I know that there's a string attached, I just don't know what it is." "Oh," she said. "You're giving the presentation on Wednesday night." This is Monday. I said, "Oh. And what do you want me to do?" "Upset the apple cart," she said. "Oh."

Rinpoche died Wednesday morning. Interesting coincidence. So I gave a talk, and the next morning, Thich Nhat Hanh, who was not present at it, swept the whole thing under the rug. It was kind of interesting to experience.

And then he was asked by someone in the audience, "What's the relationship between culture and dharma?" He said, "Well, culture is like the salt--it gives flavor to the vegetables."

And of course, the question that immediately popped into my mind was, "What if there's too much salt?"

There is the possibility of there being too much salt. I think there has been in the past. And that's just natural. It just has to go that way. So, you don't have to add quite as much salt anymore. And that's what I mean about demythologizing.


Right effort, pragmatically speaking

This clip from the second class on the eightfold path is a clear expression of the pragmatic quality of Buddhist teaching.

Four right efforts (from 8FP02 01:02:36.08 - 01:07:35.01)

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Now we still have a bit of our Victorian legacy with the word effort. You know we have such wonderful words as diligence, and perseverance, and so forth. All of these words have the notion of nose to the grindstone, you know, you gotta push. The way that effort is usually described in Buddhism, it's very closely related to joy or enthusiasm. Because when you feel good about something you pour your energy into it. That's actually what the word means is that flowing of energy into something because you feel good about it. And that's very, very different from, "I'm gonna push at this and make an effort" etc. Very, very different. 
Now here Buddhist teaching is utterly pragmatic and flies in the face of a lot of idealism, and there is a teaching in Buddhism called the four right efforts. Or that may not be the right title but something along those lines. And they're very simple: reduce the things that you're doing that are making things worse. That's the first one. Second, stop doing the things that are making things worse. Start doing things that make things better. Reinforce those things which make things better. 
Now when you hear this you think, "Oh, it is not rocket science," but it makes a lot of sense. Rather than just trying to turn a switch and move into "Okay, we're just going to do things this way." It never works that way. There's always a transition process and what these four suggestions describe is the transition process. You're going to evolve into a new way of living. So start slowing down or diminishing the things that are making things problematic. And when you get to the point that you can actually stop doing them, then you stop doing them. And then you start the things that make things better, and so forth. 
And what's very important here is to feel that you can be pouring your energy into things, and so that's why when it comes, bring attention into the way that you're exerting effort. People ask you know, "How long should I sit?" or "How much pain should I tolerate?" etc. And some schools of Buddhism you just sit there until you know, you just work through all the pain and that's it. 
But what I generally say to people is as long as you can meet what you're experiencing with some resilience, that is you aren't completely hard, then you can push as hard as you want. But when things become hard, then you stop. Because when things become hard it means that you're shutting something down. You're ignoring something. And that will create an imbalance. So as long as there is some flexibility or softness in your effort then it's fine to push. When things become hard that's when you need to stop and step back a little bit.


How the student-teacher relationship is balanced

What does balance mean in the context of the student-teacher relationship?

Balance (from GDP03 00:15:45.06 - 00:21:18.08)

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Student: I've heard it said by other Tibetan teachers that situations in life can be like a guru in the sense where you have a relationship with something that's got personal [unclear]. You project feeling on that situation...

Ken: Mmm-hmm. What's the question?

Student: So the question is, is that the case that situations can be gurus or am I being too literal? [Unclear]

Ken: In those situations they're really speaking metaphorically. For instance, Serlingpa, at the end of Great Path of Awakening, Kongtrul quotes a number of verses. [He] says, adverse conditions are spiritual friends. And he explains this by saying that they do the same things as a spiritual friend does. You know, challenge you to be patient, bring out your compassion, put you in touch with your internal material, etc., etc., etc. So one can use, and it's very good to use the situations in life to learn from. But that isn't the same thing as having a relationship with a person who is a teacher. Okay?

Now relationship depends on balance. That is, one is putting into the relationship commensurate to what one is receiving from the relationship. And if that isn't happening, then the relationship inevitably moves out of balance, and a relationship cannot survive moving into a permanent state of imbalance. It always leads to problems and eventually dissolution of the relationship.

How is the guru-student relationship balanced? Well, I think it's instructive to look at the parent-child relationship. One of the imbalancing processes which is very prevalent in our culture is that a large number of parents expect their children to return what the parents are putting into the relationship. In other words, they create a demand for attention from the child. This totally screws the child up every time. Right? We're all the walking wounded here. [Laughter]
The way that relationship is balanced is that the child, when he or she has children, provides the same kind of attention that they received from their parents. So balancing a relationship doesn't necessarily mean a direct balancing.

So, as with the parent-child relationship there's a kind of generational understanding in the student-teacher relationship. Attention flows from the teacher to the student. The teacher does not place an emotional demand, a demand for emotional attention on the student. That's not the demand that the teacher places on the student. The teacher places all sorts of other demands--but not that one. And a student receives instruction, guidance, presence--all this kind of stuff--and passes that on. That's how the relationship is balanced.

Confident faith

An insightful clarification from Guru, Deity, Protector, session 3:

Confident faith (from GDP03 00:00:00.00 - 00:03:11.00)

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Ken: If there aren't any questions, then I'll tell stories. Yes.

Student: Could you go over the faith of confidence again.

Ken: Okay. Essentially, 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. Okay?


A contradiction in terms

Thanks to Christy for unearthing this gem from Guru, Deity, Protector, session 3.

Contradiction (from GDP03 00:04:19.03 - 00:08:40.00)

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John: Do you have to appreciate yourself or love yourself before having the confidence to do that, the faith of longing?

Ken: No, I don't think so. No.

John: Thinking back upon the concept of self-love. Pema Chodron talks about it...

Ken: Well, in Tibetan, and I really don't know Pali well enough--but I really doubt in Pali, and certainly not in Tibetan and Sanskrit to my knowledge, the idea of self-love or self-compassion is a contradiction in terms. And we have these concepts flying around really because of the influence of Western psychology.

In Tibetan Buddhism for instance, the wish that others be free of suffering is called compassion. You want others to be free of suffering, that's compassion. The wish thatyou be free of suffering is not called self-compassion. It's called renunciation. Or if you want another translation it's called determination. I want to be free of suffering, I gotta do something about it--I gotta get out of this mess. And so that is the wish thatI want to be free of suffering is disenchantment with the current state of affairs, etc., etc., which leads to that renunciation.

And the capacity to be present with your own pain, that's not self-compassion--that's mindfulness. That's what mindfulness is--just that. I tend to feel--and this may be a bit harsh on my side--you know, it wouldn't be the first time--that these concepts such as self-love, self-compassion, self-forgiveness are often covert or not so covert ways of protecting a very explicit sense of self that does not want to meet the actual state of affairs.