How to get precisely what you're trying to avoid

From: Awakening From Belief 1
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When you begin to look at karma as a process of evolution, then what evolutionary processes are you starting when you get angry with your spouse? Is that a process you want taking place in your world of experience? Well, some of you may say yes. But I will tell you one thing and I’ve had so many illustrations of this. When a process is initiated by a reaction—that is by confusion or ignorance—it’s always an effort to avoid experiencing something. Well, the nature of the beast is that whatever process is initiated by that effort to avoid experiencing, let’s say x, guess what that reactive process delivers? It delivers precisely x every time.


Recognizing Reactive Patterns

From: Awakening From Belief 7
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Ken: Several people have asked how you recognize a reactive pattern. Well, one of the features of a reactive pattern is, as I mentioned, that they're mechanical in nature. What's one of the characteristics of a mechanical system?

Student: No variation.

Ken: No variation. It just runs one way. So, a way to identify a reactive pattern--and it's very useful to do this--is, "Must be this way, can't be that. Have to have this, can't have that. Must have this, can't have that." Any time you have that going in you, chances are you're running a reactive pattern. We run into this all the time. The retreat that I did recently in Santa Fe, there was a little confusion the first day, and there was no coffee at breakfast. [Laughter]

Student: Not a good move.

Student: Ah, love it.

Ken: See, there we are, right there. "Must be this way, can't have that."

Student: I have it on good authority that they have coffee in the bardo.

Ken: Yeah, so a nobleman once asked a dervish, "I've been a student of the path for many years but I feel I have gained no understanding at all." And the dervish replied, "That is because you are too arrogant." And the nobleman said, "If you weren't a holy man I would take offense at that remark; however, I am willing to listen. I will do whatever you say." And the dervish replied, "The situation is beyond hope. You will not do what I say, and so you cannot learn anything on this path." And the nobleman said, "I don't accept that. Give me your instruction." And the dervish said, "I want you to take off your fine clothes, put on some rags, wear a horse's feedbag full of oats in front of you and a sign saying 'Kick me' on the back." "I can't do that." "Exactly," said the dervish, "so you cannot learn."

We run into this all the time--when you hear yourself say, and we have many ways of saying it, "Has to be this way." Some of the examples that were given in earlier conversations: "Have to be peaceful, can't have conflict." Reactive pattern. You know, "It's against the rules." Other people, their conversations can't be peaceful, have to be conflict. Same thing. It's just the reactive pattern running in a different direction. So anytime you run into that kind of inflexibility--black and white, this way or that--you're dealing with a reactive pattern. 


Like an acorn

From: Awakening from Belief 1
Full transcript (Available soon)
When I studied with Kalu Rinpoche in India in the early seventies, Rinpoche taught us about karma, which as you well know is usually translated as the law of cause and effect. He would always draw a diagram of a tree. We have a seed which grows into a shoot, and grows into a tree, and it has branches, and then it has leaves, and then it has fruit, and then the whole thing starts up again.

The translation as cause and effect is, I think, quite wrong, quite misleading. And I've had the discussion with a number of translators, and the first thing they do is they laugh me out of the room. I had one person said, "Well, if this word in Tibetan isn't cause, then this isn't a book!" And he held up a book. He just thought it was the most ridiculous thing.

But I want to pose a question to you: does an acorn cause an oak tree? Is the acorn a cause of an oak tree? Well, in a certain philosophical sense yes, but it's not how we normally use the word cause. Karma is much more a process of evolution. That's what happens with an acorn. You put it into the ground, and water soaks into it, and things start happening inside it. And after it goes through all of these changes, and roots starts to go down, stuff starts to come up, and then breaks above the ground, and then it starts getting stuff from the sun. And it evolves stage by stage into an oak tree, which then evolves into leaves, and flowers, and things happen to them and they eventually become other acorns. But in the process, the original acorn is long since gone.

So, the idea that actions that we do now cause things to happen in the future--which is often how people think about karma--that's not how I've come to understand it. It's that the actions that we do now are like the acorn. That's something we've done and in doing that action we've started a process and that process evolves in a number of different ways--and if we have time over the next few days, I'll try and sketch that out--but it evolves into an experienced result. It doesn't cause an experienced result. The action itself evolves into an experienced result, because it creates conditions so that other things happen--and just goes on, and on, and on.


Niguma's warning

From: Learning from the Lives of the Lineage Holders 2
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I just want to turn to the other section of Niguma’s where Khyungpo Naljor has this encounter with her. Just to review very quickly: there’s Khyungpo Naljor’s seeking with very deep devotion, very deep longing to meet her. Eventually finds her—she appears. Offers his gold, she just throws it away, scatters it in the jungle. Says, “I don’t need it,” and confers empowerments, and then this wonderful song that samsara is propelled by the forces of attraction and aversion, and when you know their nature then everything is like gold. And that we live in illusion, experience a suffering that’s like an illusion. When we practice it’s like…illusion’s not really quite the right word, it’s like magic. And so the suffering arises like magic, we do a practice which is like magic, we experience an enlightenment or awakening which is like magic, all through the power of faith.
And when I first heard those lines, many, many years ago now, they just struck me so very, very deeply. One of the ways that we’ve been talking about this is by going into the experience of things and experiencing them completely. When you experience something completely you know what it is. You know what it is, you know its nature. What is the nature of thought?
Student: It comes and it goes.
Ken: Yeah, and it’s empty. What is the nature of emotion? Okay, what is the nature of all experience? We just did the Heart Sutra on this, you guys should know this—it’s empty. When you know your experience completely you know that’s its nature. Now, that knowing is not an intellectual knowing—one can read about this and yeah it’s all there but the actual knowing when it arises isn’t an intellectual knowing. It's a knowing which comes from being one with the experience. And that’s how you know its nature, because you’re one with it and there’s no separation. And at that point there’s no confusion so it doesn’t matter what arises, it’s just an experience. Like a dream, like a mirage, vivid—very clear—but no confusion. And this is what Niguma is pointing to here. Okay? Joe.
Joe: She also threatens him or perhaps more correctly warns him against…that she will eat him.
Student: Right.
Ken: Yes.
Joe: Because he will be annihilated which is perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t go here…why it’s hard to go here.
Ken: Yes, that’s the act of manifestation of awakening. You’re not going to survive this process ideally. Not and have the same habituated way of relating to things—that has to die, quite right.


Mindfulness is not some mystical magical quality

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Now as I said a few moments ago one is never actually in balance. Instead what happens is you become more and more adept at detecting imbalances, and are able to address them earlier and earlier. So there’s more continuity and less huge fluctuation. And it feels like you’re doing very little, but a great deal is being accomplished. 
So we rely on awareness for the detection of imbalance. In particular, meditation, we have two components of attention. The first, and here I’m using the Mahayana definitions which are different from the Theravadan definitions. Two components of attention are mindfulness and awareness. Not the big awareness, the direct awareness, just awareness. 
Mindfulness here is defined as being present with the object of attention. So if that’s your breath you’re present with your breath. If it’s a book your attention is resting on the book. If it’s nature of mind you’re experiencing nature of mind. 
Mindfulness is the quality that you always start with. And basically you establish a connection with mindfulness when you are able to rest on the breath for three or more breaths in a row. You have then experienced mindfulness. So it’s not some mystical magical quality. Very ordinary quality, just a certain steadiness in attention.