Putting it all together as ongoing practice; Blindness to significant patterns
[Beginning of session is missing. Audio starts in the middle of a sentence.]
…getting in touch with the elements. There are a lot of other ways you can use this.
Another exercise I often do with people is have them tell a story—the same story—in each of the five elements. And different points will be emphasized.
Another exercise is to observe and act in one element one day, another element the next day, and so forth. And so you really get a sense of how it operates. Another possibility is to take a specific activity, one that you do everyday, and do it in each of the five elements. What are the differences.
It’s important both a practical level but also in terms of our practice to develop a relationship with each of the five elements. We’ll always probably going to have a preference for one or another. But consistently when we get stuck in a conversation or a situation, a surprising number of times, it’s because in that situation one of elements is off-limits to us usually because of our own internal conditioning, sometimes because of the constraints in the situation. And so we can’t make any headway through that impasse because the way that we need to is unavailable to us. And I’ve run into this time and time again when I’ve been working with people about practical situations. Why don’t you do that? And the typical answer is, “Oh, I never thought of that.”
And that’s literally like the story I was telling yesterday about when my federal agent student, when asked could you demonstrate earth element in a conversation said, “No.” And the other woman saying, “But you’re not allowed to do that.” She came from a very refined section of society where you would never just refuse to do something. You would always have to do it, using water or something like that. So she had no sense of like “No. I’m not going to do that!”
And then when we were in retreat, I ran into this all the time. One of the reasons French-American relationships are always difficult is that Americans are very very direct. And the French have no way to handle that kind of directness in their culture. So they just go straight into shock. They don’t know how to respond.
Because I watched a friend mine—after the 3-year-retreat—and another person having this interaction. This other person wanted my friend to be the teacher at a certain center. And this conversation took place over at dinner. And it was just so fascinating to watch. Because after the dinner got rolling he very obliquely made some reference to this. And my friend, being French, knew exactly where he was going, and he quietly set up all his defensive positions without making any reference to the actual situation. And so the person had no way in to do it. And so the actual topic was never discussed. But everything was decided and agreed upon. It wasn’t going to happen. And I just went “Wow.” You’d never have a conversation like that on this side of the ocean.
Student: So what did they [unclear]?
Ken: What…that’s a lot of water. And in cultures in which—and Tibetan culture is like this also—the cost of any kind of direct confrontation is going to be high, then you use indirect methods such water or air to make your point.
If you want to tell somebody in Tibetan, in Khampa culture, which is eastern Tibet, that you disagree with them, and you don’t like them, you go and you’ll be having this conversation. You pick up something, like say a bell and say, “This looks like a nice bell.” And the person will say, “Yeah it’s a very good bell.” And then you look at it, “Well, no it’s got a crack in it.” Whether it has a crack in it or not is your way of telling him, “No I disagree with you and I don’t want to talk about it.” But you’d never say that directly. Because if you said it directly you’d have to have a fight. So different cultures have different ways of communicating these things.
Student: Because inversely is it proportional to the level of emotional control people have in the culture? So the less emotional control the more indirect you have to be.
Ken: I honestly haven’t studied it enough to be able to…It’s a very interesting theory but I have no idea. You’d have to dig up a bunch of research for that one. But it may have something like that. Generally, I think you’re right in one sense, that people who feel that they aren’t able to control their emotions usually suppress them and inhibit themselves from talking about emotional things. Because as soon as they do they feel like they’re out of control and they don’t know what’s going to happen. So it may apply in a cultural level as well.
Okay. Meditation practice. Any questions or any observations about working with all five dakinis in sequence. Maya.
Maya: Can you say something about…you know at one point I was very much with a…being in panic. But I only recognized the panic. What comes before that? Is there way for me to…
Ken: Which element?
Maya: This is in void.
Ken: In void it’s the fear of not existing. And what precedes that is a feeling of bewilderment and confusion. You just don’t know what to do in any way. And that’s what precipitates the fear of not existening.
Maya: Very, very quick.
Ken: It’s very fast. Yes, all of these are very fast. But as an example which may be able to connect with it better. You go into a situation about which you know absolutely nothing You have no idea what the rules are, you don’t know anybody, you don’t even know why you’re there. What’s it like?
Maya: It sounds like—
Ken: Your last job. Yes I know.
What’s it like?
Maya: [Unclear] scary.
Ken: There’s the panic, right. What comes just before the panic?
Ken: Yes. Why are you confused?
Maya: I don’t know why I’m there.
Ken: Yeah. There you are, you know. And you don’t know why you’re there, you don’t what you’re doing there. You don’t know what to do, you know, and it is just like, “Aachh.”[Ken makes panic sound]. Okay?
There a comment over here? No. Okay. Any other comments about…yes, Mary.
Mary; Regarding fire, could you explain again the quality knowing. I understand, you know, the reaction and the others, but knowing. Letting you know the limits of what I need to control consuming intensity and all that.
Ken: Now this is probably an exercise we should have done. We can do it right now.
So partner up with somebody who is close by. Everybody. And just look at the other person. You’re going to look at each other, just for a minute or two. Okay? No need to talk. You’re just going to look at each other until you know something about this person. And when you come to that knowing, just signal with a small movement of your hand, and wait ’til they signal with a small movement of their hand. Then you’re finished.
Everybody finished? Okay. Come back together.
Mary, how did you know?
Ken: Not what did you know, how did you know? How did you know you knew?
Maya: How did I know that I knew?
Ken: Yes. Because you moved your hand.
Ken: How did you know?
Mary: I just had a sense of it.
Ken: That’s fire.
Mary: I know. For me, I knew.
Ken: That’s fire element.
Ken: The knowing.
Mary: But I don’t see the connection to the other columns. Consuming intensity. Where was the consuming intensity?
Ken: We weren’t doing it. We were doing this fire and presence. You looked, you’re right there, [Ken snaps his fingers] and there is a knowing that arises. That’s what fire transforms into. It’s that kind of knowing. Direct knowing.
Mary: So a person that’s passionate and intense knows?
Ken: Oh no, they are all caught up in their things. This is the transforming part.
Mary: The good…the good quality.
Ken: Well, I’d prefer to call it the transform. If you think in terms of good and bad, we get into a whole ’nother thing. Okay. But you just know. It’s very direct. It’s immediate.
Mary: But you know something.
Ken: Yeah, in this case you knew something. The details of what you actually know for our purposes are not important. It’s the quality of knowing that you were asking about. Was there a sense of connection?
Ken: Okay. And the connection is based on exactly that knowing. I know.
Mary: It got me into a state of [unclear].
Ken: No. But I seem to be succeeding anyway. Part of the difficulty here is this is a non-conceptual knowing. It does not depend on an intellectual process.
Mary: But you see I’m trying to make the link to this—the reaction.
Ken: Yes, I know. You’re trying to understand it. You had the experience.
Ken: Live with it!
Ken: The knowing came, right?
Ken: It didn’t come through inference, deduction, analysis or any of the other tools which we usually think we that we come to know something. You just knew in a moment of connection. That’s actually how all problems are solved. We think that we solve problems through strategizing and figuring out and logic etc., etc., etc. But most problems, whether they are math problems, business problems, scientific problems, things like that, that’s not actually what happens. You think about them, you get lots of information, you talk about them with people, etc., etc., etc. Some people go for rides on subways, some people go to art museums, some people go to sleep and they wake up and they go, “Oh, now I see what to do.” And it comes when you join with the problem. It’s a direct knowing. But it’s nonconceptual which is what drives everybody nuts.
Once Jeremy asked me to give a guest lecture at his course in Clairmont. And we were doing a thing on the five elements—an exercise we’ll do tomorrow—which involves knowing what to say. And this one person…two people in this interaction. And he was just struggling and struggling. And said, “Go to your body and say whatever comes.” And it was exactly the right thing, just came out. Everybody got it immediately. And he just sat there like this. Because he had never experienced doing something directly from his knowing without thinking about it. Really disturbing to a lot of people.
Mary: Something to think about.
Ken: No! [Laughter] There you go! Yes?
Student: Are you saying that our knowing quality comes from fire?
Ken: That knowing quality is the fire element of mind.
Student: But this sense of just knowing, the awareness and stuff.
Student: Knowing only comes from fire and clarity only comes from water?
Ken: Well. The language you’re using is interesting. “Knowing only comes from fire, clarity only comes from water.” It would be comparable to saying blue only comes from the sky. No, that sky happens to be blue. And the clarity element of mind we call water, the water element. The knowing quality of mind we call fire. Okay? So it’s not that it comes from it. That’s just the terminology we use so we can talk about it. And the reason we call it fire, or the fire element associated with that, is because it is immediate, it’s direct—like fire. Whereas that clarity is like water, it’s clear. And allows everything to be seen. Okay?
Student: Thank you.
Student: And so when you have that knowing but immediately doubt it, that’s jumping out of presence. Is that—
Ken: That’s exactly right. Yeah. When you have that immediate knowing and you doubt it you’re stepping out of your own experience. Yeah.
Maya: This must be projection, also? How do you know that you’re right? I mean, you know nothing about that other person, possibly. Or the situation. Or maybe you just think that you do. I might be something else that happened to you before. You react, you know, to what happened in the past.
Ken: You’re quite right. In some cases it’s going to be projection. In this practice we’re learning to experience things without the projection of thoughts and emotion. So we just see what actually is there. Now postmodern theory denies that possibility. But we happen to know that it actually can happen, so we don’t worry about what post modernists think on this one.
Now many times it’s going to be colored, so we can only see to the limit of our perception. If we haven’t overcome a certain projection then that’s going to color it. So yes there are definitely dangers here. And sometimes when we see we won’t see accurately and we’ll make mistakes. But then when it blows up in our face we get a reward. We get to see the projection we couldn’t see before.
Maya: I see.
George: Is that why is it we build up logic and inference as a way to kind of check ourselves and try to do a reality check because we don’t trust the direct knowing. So we start grasping at structures and rules to prove something that’s real.
Ken: Well, we do put all of that earth machinery—because that’s what you’re talking about—in place, because we don’t trust our own knowing. Or because other people don’t trust it so we want to justify it.
In other cultures, this knowing was intentionally cultivated. And North American Indians played a game where one person would hold a rock…they hold their hands like this and one of them would have a small rock in it. And you would practice this until you could guess which rock the hand was in, consistently.
Students: Which hand the rock was in.
Ken: Sorry. Which rock…which hand? Yes. Thank you. So you practice going into that direct knowing. We don’t have anything or very little in our culture in which we actually cultivate this.
George: There’s a difference between direct knowing and—what do I want to say—knowing innately. You know, what’s right. In other words this is a quality. Though we know somebody is friendly and through 40, 50 years of experience, right? I hope [unclear] I’m making the distinction.
Ken: Well, you’re talking about the difference between an inferred knowing and a direct…an innate knowing.
George: Well the idea of a direct knowing suggests that there is no cultural conditioning. You know, that regardless of what society you’re in or whether you’re born three thousand years ago, that you’re all going to know directly the same thing.
Ken: This is a very very deep topic and I have only just begun to think about it. We need to discuss it in preparation for October.
Ken: Because the relationship between direct knowing and culture is something that I’ve given some thought to. But there are a whole bunch of aspects that need to be probed in exactly the way you’re suggesting. So I don’t want to get into that right now.
Peter, you had a question I thought.
Peter: Yeah I sort of have a sense of direct knowing as you described. But clarity it seems…when you clearly see something—it seems almost like the same thing.
Ken: Clarity is more the potential for knowing. Knowing is the actual knowing.
Student: Clarity is the potential for what?
Ken: Potential for knowing.
Student: It’s before the step of knowing.
Ken: Yeah, I hate to put it in a sequential order because they all arise together. We’re just making some distinctions here. Because when you’re talking about mind or mind nature, the groundlessness, which is the equivalent of the earth element, is the basis, if you can excuse the language, for the clarity, which in turn makes the knowing possible. But in fact they all occur at the same time. What we’re doing is we’re just talking about different aspects of the same thing. So that’s why I hesitate to put them in the sequential process. Okay.
Any other comments about your experience working with all five dakinis, or questions. How was this for you?
Ken: No. Working with all five dakinis. ’Cause I asked you or instructed. Any of you able to do this? What did you experience when you had everything lined up inside?
Student: I couldn’t get anything like that inside. [Unclear]
Ken: Earth, jewel.
Student: I got there.
Ken: Water, mirror.
Student: I had forgotten that.
Ken: Yeah. Fire, flower. They both start with “f.” It’s easy.
Ken: Air, sword. Void, ring of light.
Ken: Okay. Yes.
Student: Do we dissolve those as we do with the dakini?
Ken: No. They come in and what I want you to do is experience all them lined up in you. And then radiate them out…light. And then they dissolve into light.
Student: They seem to stay in active mediation.
Ken: Yeah. And how was that?
Student: Ken, I have another question. Okay?
Student: It seems like within each dakini meditation there’s two opportunities to touch emptiness. Like when you completely empty out before the right…before you realize…it’s when you realize it’s a phantom, all of it, you go to emptiness, right?
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Yeah.
Student: If you would realize that and then again at the end when we rest we’re emptiness again.
Ken: Yeah. We believe in giving you lots of opportunities. Okay. Good.
Student: This is more logistical but I noticed that when I did each one I was able to stay like remembering what was going for each one but once I did all five I started to notice that some I forgot. Well, I forgot some light there and [unclear].
Ken: This is part of learning it. We’re going very quickly but I wanted you to have this experience. And we’re going to be building on this now. So here’s the next step in your practice…oh, Sue.
Sue: So, when we’re doing the five dakinis at once. This time we started doing void a couple times but [unclear] sequence. Should we start with earth and [unclear]?
Ken: Yes. Start with earth and build up. That’s exactly right.
Sue: Always end with void.
Ken: Yeah. You’re moving up like this. Then you have all five in you. Then you imagine they fill everything with light, so everything dissolves into light, you rest in light. Okay?
Diane: I have a question.
Ken: Yes, Diane.
Diane: So, you do each dakini and then like the earth one’s gone and then the water one and that one’s gone. Right? I mean—
Ken: Yes, but the jewel is still there.
Diane: Oh. Okay, that’s…I wasn’t so clear about that. The jewel stays and then the mirror stays.
Diane: And what do you do with them. You visualize them? Or are they just there?
Ken: They’re just there.
Diane: Okay. So then you finish void, and then you’ve got all those there and then you visualize all five of those.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Filling your body with light. Filling your whole world of experience with light—
Ken: …and then everything dissolving into light, including you.
Ken: Okay. All right. Everybody clear? Good. ’Cause now we change it.
Okay. You’re going to start with the earth dakini. You invite her. You look into her eyes. You connect, you connect very, very deeply. And in that moment of connection, you become her. And you do the whole process of transformation on yourself. So it’s like you switch. You become her, and now you’re looking at yourself.
Student: We become her outside of ourselves?
Ken: So you get to feel what it’s like to be the embodiment of awake earth.
Student: So I get where you can go with that one over there [unclear] dakini. But is there—
Ken: Let me finish.
Student: Okay. Sorry.
Ken: And so you see yourself making the gesture. And you walk forward, you pour the elixer in. You see it go down to the earth center and you see all of the reactions and understanding taking place. Everything you’ve been experiencing, you watch it happening in you.
You with me?
[Students answer affirmatively]
Ken: Okay. And in the end when the light goes out and all of the dakinis are invited in, you are invited in. You merge and you become you again. And then you do the same thing with the water dakini. And then the fire, air, and void.
So, you become the dakini when you connect eye to eye, and you return to being yourself when all of you and all of the dakinis are absorbed into your own form, and turn to light. Is it clear, Scott?
Students: Could you just repeat that last segment.
Ken: Yeah. I can do that. With each of the dakinis—at the point where you’re looking into her eyes—that’s where you become her. And now you observe the process taking place on you as if you’re outside yourself. Requires a little imagination. And at the point towards the end of the process where light goes out from your heart and all of the dakinis are invited and pour elixer in and are absorbed into her, since your the dakini, your also absosrbed in to your own form. And then you become you again. This clear?
Ken: Do you want to be led through it once or twice?
[Several students talking at once]
Ken: Yeah. Just do exactly the same as before. Then you do the next dakini and the next dakini. And you still end up with all of the symbols for each of the five elements at the end. And then you rest in light again .
Student: Take us through it.
Ken: So we’ll just go through the earth dakini. We may have time for a little more.
Student: There’s a clinical name for this. [Laughter]
Student: Starts with s.
Student: Dissociated Dakini Disorder.
Ken: Well, we have a lot of very serious diagnosis. There’s gross grandiosity, too, which comes in many many different forms. And there’s necrophilia. It’s a long long list here.
Okay. So let mind and body settle.
And feel that everything, your body, your environment, is like a dream. So not only is it clear appearance, vivid appearance but without substantiality. Also things are very fluid.
Mary, could you close the door, please. Thank you.
So you rest there. And in your dream the earth dakini appears, clad in the rich colors of autumn, gold and russet, and red, yellow. She is the embodiment of awake earth. Solidly comfortable in her body, relaxed and present. Very grounded without a hint of stiffness or defensiveness.
You look into her eyes and you can tell she sees you completely without judgment. And you experience this profound connection. And something happens. And you are now her. Looking at yourself, your own form. You see yourself completely. Without any judgment. And you see your form make a gesture indicating the intention to experience the transformation of the earth element.
So you walk forward. Raise your left hand in which you’re holding a gold flask filled with liquid light. And you pour this light into your form. And you can see the light go down the center of the body. Down, down right to the earth center which is four fingers below the navel, a couple of inches in front of the spine. And you see the light collecting there. And you see in your form all the rigidity, all the stubbornness, all the stiffness reflected in the body and in the face. And you can sense your form, or you, feeling the uncertainty, the hollowness, the vulnerability and the fear of losing balance or losing footing, like an earthquake just happened. And you see the grasping for something to hold onto. And you see how that grasping turns into an imprisonment. And you can see the awareness of all of this.
And then you notice that your form takes in all this. And light radiating from the earth center, illuminating all of these reactions so that they turn into light. A transformation takes place in which that stiffness and rigidity releases. And you can see your form, or you, becoming stable. Not relying on any external support for this stability, but coming from completely resting in the groundlessness of experience itself.
And you see the dawning of being able to experience things without judgment. And the extraordinary relief and relaxation that comes with that kind of equanimity. And the light of balanced pristine awareness shining from your eyes, reflected in how you posture.
Now you see light shining from your form’s heart. And hundreds of thousands of dakinis, just like you, falling from the sky, rising out of the earth, pouring the elixer of awareness into you. And light shines from the jewel that forms in the center and the heart. And you find yourself dissolving into light and dissolving into your own form. And you rest in the light.
And then, you are your own form again. With a jewel at the earth center.
Now you invite the water dakini. And she appears clad in brilliant white. The extraordinary clarity of a clear winter day after a new snow fall. And you look into her eyes. And it is like looking into crystal itself.
And something happens and you are the water dakini. And you look back at yourself and see yourself completely clearly, everything you know about yourself you see. And you see everything you don’t know about yourself too. And you see yourself make a gesture indicating the willingness to experience the water transformation.
So you step forward and hold up the crystal vase you hold in your left hand, pouring a stream of light into yourself. It comes down the center of the body, down to the water center, halfway between solar plexus and the navel. It forms a pool of light and it radiates light, illuminating the water reaction, the dispersion of energy, the feeling of threat and attack, the fear of being engulfed, the impulse to deflect, disperse, ending in frozen immobility.
And that light continues to grow in intensity, so you see all those reactions dissolving into light. And you see in yourself transformation of clarity. Mind is clear and open. Everything arising like reflections in a mirror. And you see a mirror form at the water center in yourself.
And then light radiating from your heart, inviting all the water dakinis who pour their streams of elixer into yourself so your whole body is filled with light. Radiating light, you become light, along with all the other dakinis, merge into your form. And you sit in the light.
And now as yourself you invite the fire dakini who appears before you. She’s clothed in red. But her clothes swirl and flicker as if they were fire. And her eyes have a passionate intensity. When you look into them there is this sense of knowing and connection like you’ve never experienced before. And something happens and you are the fire dakini looking at yourself with passionate intensity, again, knowing everything.
And you see the gesture and you step forward and you pour the elixer in. It comes down to the level of the heart. Forms a pool of light and this light illuminates the reactions. First of consuming, consuming quality, needing to experience this and that. And underneath that, the loneliness, coming from the sense, fear of isolation and rejection, like a featureless desert. And the reforming of the reaction, grabbing onto anything for some kind of sensation or feeling or experience, which turns into consuming fire, which burns you to ash.
And you see all of this, and you see the light in the heart growing in intensity so that all of those reactions become light themselves. And you see the shift take place. You see yourself relaxing in the profound knowing which knows all the particulars, all the details, but without any grasping.
And you see a red flower, lotus or a rose, form at the heart, in the presence of distinguishing pristine awareness. Light shines from your heart inviting all the fire dakinis who come thronging from sky and from the earth, pouring in their elixer of awareness. Then you too dissolve into light along with them and are absorbed into your own form.
Now you’re as your own form, with the jewel, the mirror, and the red rose.
And you invite the fire…the air dakini who appears to the woman clad in green clothes. She has the feeling of summer. The green of leaves. When you look at her you see that she gets everything done, simply and effectively. And as soon as you look into her eyes and connect you become her. And you look back at your own form and you see everything that needs to be done. And you know how to do it.
So when the gesture comes…is made you step forward and pour your elixer of liquid light into your form. It comes down to the level of the throat, where it forms a pool of light which radiates, illuminating all of the reactions associated with air, all of that business, just to keep busy. And the discomfort of anxiety, nervousness, about what I am, what I should do. And under that, the fear of not knowing who you are, and the sensation of falling and falling and falling from some stupendous height. And the reaction to that loss of definition by looking for something, anything, to do, and eventually being caught up in a whirlwind of activity and torn to bits by it.
And the light in the throat grows stronger so that all of these components of the reaction also dissolve into light. And you see the shift take place. So no longer is there the sense of frenetic activity. But a knowing what to do in which the knowing and the doing become one or are one. And you see a sword appear at your throat and sense the dawning or the uncovering of effective pristine awareness.
Now light shines from your heart inviting all of the air dakinis to pour their elixer in, and you dissolve into the light along with them and absorbed into your own form.
And again in your own form, you invite the void dakini who appears before you clad in deep blue. When you look into her eyes it’s like looking into the sky, into infinite space and infinite knowing. And you become her.
And you look back at your own form. See the gesture, step forward and pour from your sapphire flask, a stream of light comes down to the center of the head, at the level of the eyebrows, forming a pool of light and you see the void reaction. The dull confusion which masks or covers much deeper confusion, bewilderment, in which there’s no sense of knowing what to do or how to do anything. And the fear of being nothing, that blankness, and the reaction to that which is disintegration into pieces, manifesting any of the other four elements and ending in total fragmentation. Dust.
And all of these components are illuminated by the light radiating from the center of your head so they become light. And you see a sense of presence in your form, in yourself .
And you see the symbol of presence, a ring of light at the center of the head. And you can feel the presence of that total awareness.
Light radiates from your form’s heart inviting all of the void dakinis. And you who pour in their flasks…from their sapphire flasks streams of liquid awareness. And your whole form glows, shines with light. You yourself become light, along with all the other dakinis, absorbed into your form.
And now as you, you have a jewel at the dantien, a mirror at the water center, a red rose at the heart, sword at the throat, and a ring of light at the void center.
And you can feel all of those elements connected in you. Light shines from each of these symbols filling your whole body with light, coming out of all of the pores of your skin, filling your whole environment with light. Everything becomes light. And you rest in the light.
When you’re ready, form the intention to come here. Come back into this room. And the light comes with you.
Okay, Is that clear? That’s your practice now.
How are you feeling? Mary. Yes. Okay. Just checking.
Student: I notice there are a lot of like physical shifts in the [unclear].
Ken: Yes. Yep. We store a lot of stuff in the body.
Okay. Let’s turn to the Heart Sutra.