Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Awakening From Belief" -- Podcast Retreat with Ken McLeod

We are beginning to listen to Ken's 12-part podcast, "Awakening from Belief," which covers the same territory as Chapter Five of his book, Wake Up to Your Life. When I was at retreat with Ken in August, he suggested that we listen to the podcast as a way of working with the principles in Chapter Five.

Here are notes from the first session, taken on the fly:

Awakening from Belief
Podcast 1

AFB 01: Awakening From Belief (retreat)
Opening talk of retreat, St. Johnsbury, Vermont, June 2004
Karma as instruction vs. karma as belief, meditation as building a capacity of attention, resting in the experience of breathing, Q&A
Duration 00:50:21

Karma as instruction vs. karma as belief

Nothing exists in its own right. Everything is interdependent. Which is different from saying everything is relative.

We're happy to go along with the idea of interdependence until it comes to one thing… our sense of self. "I'm here, how can you say that?" But is that true?

If we don't exist independently, it invites questions.
Do we exist dependently, and if so, what does that mean?
Or more fundamentally, do we exist?

Dejun Rinpoche, a Sakya lama and one of Ken's teachers: An early teacher asked, "Do you believe in karma?" "Yes, of course!" Teacher: "You're really lucky; I find it very difficult."

One of the big sources of confusion around karma is for some people it is a belief, and one gets into all kinds of problems when you approach it that way. On the other hand, you have what so many teachers have sais, "When you understand emptiness, your understanding of karma becomes very precise." (Milarepa)

The teaching of karma is a giant injunction about mindfulness.

Kalu Rinpoche taught karma like a tree… starting with a seed.
The translation "cause and effect" is misleading.
Does an acorn "cause" an oak tree? Yes, but it's not the way we normally use the word "cause."
Karma is much more a process of evolution.

The actions that we do now are like the acorn. Something we've done, and in doing that action, we've started a process, and that process evolves in a number of different ways, into an experienced result. It creates conditions so that other things happen, and it goes on and on and on.

When you begin to look at karma as a process of evolution, what processes are you starting when you get angry with your spouse? Is that a process you want taking place in your world of experience?

When a process is initiated by a reaction… a reaction is always an effort to avoid experiencing something. Whatever process is initiated by the effort to avoid x, it delivers the result x.

Being aware of what we're actually doing in each moment. Every moment that we're not, that we're checking out and avoiding something, we're starting an evolutionary process that will eventually deliver what we're trying to avoid. You can pay for it up front or you can pay for it at the end, and it's a lot more expensive at the end.

Meditation is building a capacity of attention.
The fundamental effort in Buddhist practice is to develop a sufficient capacity in attention so that you can experience your own non-existence. That's exactly what Buddha did under the bodhi tree. Such a relief! You don't have to BE anybody.

All forms of meditation practice are developing attention… sometimes very directly, sometimes getting rid of the blocks to attention, sometimes developing energy that you're going to use to power attention (guru yoga, lovingkindness), and esoteric methods. It's all about developing attention so you can experience what is.

Many people think attention is an intellectual activity. It's not; it's emotional energy. Sanskrit chitta, Tibetan "sem", you could translate it as heart. Heart/mind. Thoughts, feelings, all that.

And we use the breath as a base. Rather than focusing attention ON the breath, which is how a lot of people think about meditation, rest in the experience of breathing. If you're going to rest in the experience of breathing, where do you have to be? In your body. Your body's doing the breathing. So you sit. And you're in the body. And the body is breathing. And you rest in that experience. Just let the body breathe naturally, no fancy tricks. And rest in the experience of breathing.

Now, what happens when you practice meditation?

We place our attention in the experience of breathing, and it falls off. One of the great miracles of our being is that the mind always returns to itself.

Saraha: Just as a bird flying from a ship in the middle of the ocean has nowhere else to return but the ship, so a thought must return to the mind.

"Oh, I'm supposed to be meditating."

The "oh" is the important point.

Then go back in the experience of attention.

Place the attention.
Fall off.
Recognition happens.
Fall off.

And it continues… return and rest. This quality of resting is so important in your practice. It's where the power really develops.

Ken tells the story of seeing the Karmapa meditating in a movie: absolute rest.

In your meditation practice, be at rest. That's how the practice deepens, by being at rest, not pushing or forcing. Whenever we force, we ignore. If you tense your arm and have someone touch it, it's hard to feel it.

One of the effects of belief is that they prevent you from seeing what actually is.

Our experience may tell us something is true. But it may be an experience which is based on a belief.

Some mystery has brought us to this, which is quite wonderful, and what we do with it from here is up to us.

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