Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and my guest today is Kenneth Folk. Buddha, the gas pump or batgap.com is the website is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually Awakening people. If you’d like to investigate all the past interviews and or support our work, please go to batgap.com Thanks. So Kenneth is a personal meditation trainer, known worldwide for his innovative approach to secular Buddhist meditation. After 20 years of training in the Burmese Theravada Buddhism Buddhist tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw did that right, including three years of intensive Silent Retreat in monasteries in Asian us, Kenneth began to spread his own findings, successfully stripping away religious dogma to make meditation accessible to modern practitioners can just came back from three years in Silicon Valley and has been recognized by Wired Magazine as an influential voice in Silicon Valley’s tech culture, a quote power player of the mindfulness movement end quote, so welcome, Ken.
Kenneth Folk: Thank you happy to be here.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Do people I was calling Kenneth or can call you Ken also?
Kenneth Folk: Kenneth is my preference,
Rick Archer: okay, I’ll stick with Kenneth. And Kenneth and I had spoken earlier by email and agreed that we’re not going to spend a heck of a lot of time on his personal story. But we want to spend a little bit just so people get to know who he is. And you know, what he’s been through a little bit as a foundation for the meat of what we’re going to talk about, which is, well, we’ll talk about it when we talk about it. So. So just give us a sort of a nutshell overview of your spiritual life, you know, where it’s, where it’s, where you’ve been, and where it’s brought you.
Kenneth Folk: Okay, the Quickie version is that up until I was about 2324 years old, which was 1982. I had no interest whatsoever in anything spiritual, I thought it was irrelevant nonsense. However, in 1982, I was a professional musician in Los Angeles. And I was a cocaine addict, like all the other musicians I knew, and I was suicidally depressed. And one night, when nobody else was around at home, when I ran out of coke, I was very depressed. And so, in order to in order, in order to assuage my feelings of despair, I took four hits of acid, seemed like the right thing to do. And, and I began to meditate. Now, I did have some basic understanding of how to meditate because of my older brother, who was also a musician, and in the band, at the time, had taught me a very simple concentration technique, where you just close your eyes, and kind of go into the darkness in the visual field, and get concentrated. And I had done it a few times before. So this night, under the influence of my LSD, I meditated, and I had a spectacular experience of union with what appeared to be universal consciousness. And it seemed to me at that time, to be the most real thing I had ever, ever experienced. So much so that I thought, while I was happening, everything that’s happened before was a dream. This alone is real kind of thing. And furthermore, when I came down from that experience, I was no longer interested in taking cocaine. So this really got my attention. On the one hand, my mind was blown open. And on the other hand, I had this kind of kind of objective validation that something extraordinary had happened, because I was no longer addicted to coke. This set me on a, basically a lifelong journey of being interested in, in meditation and, and awakening. And let’s see, where to go from there. I have had a series of kind of punctuated evolution. Events changing the way I see things. And my tentative conclusion so far, is that awakening is is a very real phenomenon. And in that awakening is a reasonable word to use to talk about it. Enlightenment is synonymous with awakening in that context. And that what the old timers of the of the Buddhist texts we’re talking about AI is, I believe what we’re talking about what I’m talking about now, when I use the word awakening.
Rick Archer: And what is that, because in my experience, both personally and talking to people, there’s, although the general agreement on what we’re talking about, there seem to be many degrees of awakening, and all kinds of possibilities and tendencies for people to jump to conclusions when they have some sort of awakening and assume that it’s a lot more ultimate that may actually be. So you know, would it be more accurate to say that there are many levels of awakening? And would we want to reserve the word Enlightenment for something more? Kind of ultimate or superlative or something? Or? Or what? Let’s get our technology. Let’s get our technology terminology straight.
Kenneth Folk: Yeah, well, you did you jumped right into the meat of it. Yes. Not only do I think there are many degrees of awakening, in other words, awakening is a process. Furthermore, there isn’t only one awakening. And there certainly it certainly is not the case that that everyone who uses the word means the same thing. I can tell you what I mean by it. And I can argue the case for for my interpretation being valuable. Even the idea that there wouldn’t be some monolithic awakening, that would happen to everyone if they meditated enough. So this is this what I jokingly call the pernicious convergence theory. That everybody, almost anyone you ask, who hasn’t thought very much about this? will say, Oh, of course, I know what awakening Enlightenment is, it is and they’ll tell you the name of their favorite teacher, their their spiritual champion. The problem is, those champions don’t all look alike. And there’s another problem, which is that we don’t I don’t know of any kind of human development, that always goes to the same place. So I like to use sports analogies. So I say it’s perfectly obvious to me on the face of it that Michael Jordan, the great basketball player was actually not a great athlete. And before you become re outraged, let me tell you, the reason I know it’s true is because he couldn’t possibly beat my favorite athletes, Serena Williams, at tennis?
Rick Archer: No, it’s absurd, right? And he would be pretty lousy against Lindsey, Lindsey Vonn in the downhill, you know?
Kenneth Folk: Exactly.
Rick Archer: Right.
Kenneth Folk: We know he wasn’t very good at baseball,
Rick Archer: but they’re all great athletes, all three of the names you just mentioned.
Kenneth Folk: They’re all great athletes. So the we wouldn’t accept this convergence theory in any arena of human development, other than spirituality, and we shouldn’t accept it there. What actually happens as I look around, what do I see happening? People train the mind in various ways, and they bring to it their own talent, and their own individuality. And they do the training they do, and something happens. So there’s something that we can loosely call awakening, or spiritual development, if you like, in the same way that we can talk about physical fitness. But the idea that there would be one way to be physically fit, and that there would be one perfect exemplar of perfect physical fitness. It doesn’t fly.
Rick Archer: I think there is, I think, some people might argue that the sports metaphor doesn’t apply to awakening because, you know, we understand that sports pertains, you know, sports, means different relative skills that you have to train for, and you can’t be, you know, pro and all of them. But with with Enlightenment, or awakening, we’re supposedly talking about the ultimate reality of the universe, the ultimate reality of existence. And so people would say, well, however you come out that if you actually get to it, wouldn’t you all be experiencing the same thing? You know, if you put Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad and Krishna and all the rest of them in the same room, even though they’re from different cultures speaking different languages, wouldn’t they all actually agree that they were experiencing the same ultimate reality?
Kenneth Folk: Yeah, if one were to posit ultimate reality, that then that would be a reasonable conclusion, which is another reason I reject the entire affair. I don’t know that there’s an ultimate reality. In fact, it seems very unlike likely to me that there is so what that would be would that would be if you’re not As a theist, if you are talking about ultimate reality from a, I don’t know Upanishad sort of an idea or some new age interpretation of Buddhism, it’s a what I would call a backdoor into God. You know, fair enough, if you believe that I don’t buy it any more that I believe any more than I believe that evolution is going someplace that there’s some, some ultimate destination of evolution. And the to make this concrete, I like to say, there is a place where evolution is going. It’s the it’s the cricket, or the Grasshopper. Grasshopper is better, because it’s prettier. Look how beautiful grasshopper is, it’s perfectly adapted to its environment. That’s where this is going. Now, anything that is not a grasshopper just hasn’t gotten there yet. And if evolved enough, it’s going to get to the grasshopper, and stick. And again, you would say, ridiculous, and you’d be right. And I would say it’s equally ridiculous to imagine that there is one spiritual right way to be. I’m not buying it, what I see is happening is that humans can develop, they can train the mind to use one lens, let’s look at the train the brain in various ways, and something really interesting, and I think valuable happens when we do that.
Rick Archer: Okay, let me bounce this back to you. Regarding the ultimate reality thing, I guess one of the reasons people think that is that there are so many scriptures, which talks about it in those terms. And then even these days, physicists are trying to sort of correlate their understanding with those scriptures. And you know, physics, physics is always looking for the ultimate theory of everything. I think that is not the name of that new Stephen Hawking movie that’s coming out something like that. So there’s this understanding in both disciplines, both traditions that there is some ground state of the universe, and both disciplines in their own respective ways are trying to arrive at that ground state. So I’ll let you respond to that before I go on to that anymore.
Kenneth Folk: I’m not a physicist, and I have only a passing acquaintance with the the ideas. However, I don’t actually understand that physicists think there’s a ground state of the universe, even though they would certainly like to come up with a theory that would explain how things work. I may be wrong. As far as the ground state of the universe in the spiritual discussion, all I can say is, I’m not a believer in that. I don’t think that there is some let’s put it this way. I don’t believe that there’s some ultimate reality that can be a can be apprehended by a human. And suddenly all of the filters fall away. And there’s complete union between between the human and this ground state. That seems to me unlikely and fantastical. Now, not that I haven’t had experience where I was absolutely convinced that that was happening. I have had those experience. And in that moment, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind, I would if you had asked me, I would have said, I just did it, I just wasn’t even me, I’m gonna what I would have tortured language to explain that this thing that can’t be talked about, is what I’m now talking about. And what I would say about that now, since we know that these peak experiences can be by definition, self validating, you’re absolutely convinced that this is the truth. Right? And that feeling of self validation is also an experience. So I like to think of this this giant graphic equalizer of, of the constituents of experience. So there’s the the itching slider fader, you know, you can slide up the itch. Now that’s very itchy. And there’s the here there’s hearing in various ways. One of the faders that you can slide up is self validation. Now, when you paying self validation to 10, whatever is happening, you’re absolutely convinced that it’s the is the truth of the universe. To me, it’s all experience. So in fact, this goes full circle to what do I think awakening is? It’s the ability to see experience, as process
Rick Archer: ability to see experiences process, we’ll have to have you elaborate on that a little bit more.
Kenneth Folk: When, when I look at experience and see that all of these things are happening, there’s the seeing, and there’s the hearing and the pressure and the coldness, and the excitement, engagement, interest, nervousness, all of this is happening, all of those are experience or experiences. There is also from time to time, the sense that this is happening to me, this refers back to me as the identity of Kenneth, that’s also an experience, there are from time to time, and because I’ve been so actively training in this for so long now, I can, more or less on demand, have had the experience of what seems to be a kind of diffuse, universal field of awareness. Now, at first glance, that might even appear to be the ultimate, in my own experience, the ultimate nature of the universe stripped down to its core. However, when I really get meticulous about, when I get audits, about noticing what’s going on, I find that that too, is an experience. For me, what has happened is that the playing field just gets increasingly leveled, I can no longer privilege the awareness as being as having somehow more significance than this itch. And that’s simultaneously devastating and discouraging, and incredibly liberating.
Rick Archer: Okay, so to play devil’s advocate, and I’m sure you know, all this stuff that I’m questioning you on, because you’ve been around and read the scriptures and talk to teachers, and so on, so forth. But you know, scriptures and various teachers have said, you know, well, this, you know, that the, this ultimate reality with the use that term, again, is beyond the senses is that it’s not something the senses realize, the self realizes itself by itself and so on, as the Gita says, then, you know, their whole tradition is built on the notion that, that this is the this whole spirituality thing goes far beyond individual sensory input, it actually is, is intended to bring you bring you to a place where you, as an individual no longer exist, and that you know, the reality, the ultimate foundation of things, pure consciousness, or whatever, sort of resides in its own nature. And then you eventually integrate that and are able to live that along with activity. But that’s not what I hear you saying here. So and you’re being true to your own experience, which is great. And, and I’m not being true to mind, because I’m not living this as fully as I’m describing it. But it’s sort of like, you know, if you take a scientific theory, in order to test it and study it, it may take a long time before you actually arrive at some experimental experiential conclusion. But you still take theories that you haven’t yet confirmed, and maybe other scientists have have said, Yeah, this is what I experienced, and you set about to try to refute or confirm their experience. So you know, we have a tradition going back 1000s of years of, quote, unquote, science, scientists of consciousness who’ve put forth these theories. And what I hear you saying so far, is that well, I don’t really buy those theories, you know, they don’t jive with my experience. And I think there’s actually a different different thing going on in this whole spiritual world of spirituality.
Kenneth Folk: That’s right, in Furthermore, I would, I would say that my my interpretation of the of the early Buddhist teachings, so Tera, Vaada, Buddhist, and using the Pali texts, and my interpretation of what I learned from my Burmese and American Tera, Vaada Buddhist teachers. It’s not that at all, I don’t believe that’s what the early Buddhists were saying. In fact, I would say that the the early Buddha’s main contribution to the literature was to debunk exactly that. Exactly. The idea that there’s some awareness ground state of the universe that is the right, the right way to be or the right thing to understand. My understanding is that the Buddha was pretty good about avoiding making claims about the ultimate nature of reality. He was pretty good at dodging ontological statements.
Rick Archer: In your notes, the media said said something along the lines of waiting for the Buddha 2500 years late, I’m still waiting for the Buddhist revolution to arrive in the West. My interpretation of what the historical Buddha meant by nibbana. It’s not a cosmic bliss out. So I think what we’re now talking about is along the lines of that, that little note you sent me. So, if the Buddha did not mean by Nirvana and Nirvana, some kind of opening up to the Ultimate Reality of Things becoming that living as that knowing that, then what did he mean?
Kenneth Folk: My understanding of this, and I think my Buddhists, my Burmese Buddhist teachers would agree, but I can’t be absolutely sure of that. Just because of the vagaries of language. Nibbana means extinction, it’s the complete lack of experience, it’s not a special experience, it’s not a better experience, it’s not a not some kind of not experience, it’s actually an experience, it simply is a lack of experience. So a way to set this up is to, is to say, the very first thing I learned from my teacher, who my main teacher was an American Buddhist man named Bill Hamilton. He died in 99. I met him in 1990. And the very first thing he told me is that the according to the Buddha, there were six realms of of existence they were God realms and human realms and hungry ghost realms and jealous god realms and so on. And it didn’t matter which realm of existence you were reborn into, you would be reborn into many potentially infinite numbers of realms. None of them was satisfactory, in other words, dukkha applied in every case. So even if you were born as one of the embodied gods, the day was or Day of us, who have nothing but dancing and singing and pleasure feasts and wonderful sensual pleasures, and sex and anything you can imagine that’s pleasant, for a very long time, these beings can live for eons. That would end and and when it ended, who knows what kind of unfortunate circumstance you might be reborn into. Then there were the disembodied gods, the Brahmas, who were just a mental mental experience, for a very long time, which was so much better than the embodied gods, I mean, complete trumped them. There was even great Brahma great Brahma would be something that would, would correspond, I would think, to this kind of universal awareness, which is the ground state of the universe, according to some interpretation of the apana shots earlier text, even that, if I remember this, right, didn’t great Brahma go whining and complaining to the Buddha, this is going to end and what should I do? So with that in mind, what was the Buddha’s recommendation, according to my interpretation of it, he was saying, You need to get off the wheel of death and rebirth. Simply don’t get reborn don’t get reborn as a human, a hill being a god, great Brahma. And what would it mean to not be reborn? Would it be some kind of special non experienced experience now, that’s great Brahma. What it would mean is the complete lack of experience at all. That’s what I think he meant by nibbana. Now, this is fascinating from a couple of directions. For one thing, because of the milieu in which the Buddha came up, I don’t know that it would even have occurred to him to question rebirth. Of course, people get reborn, infinite amounts of time, that’s infinite numbers of time. times, that’s what happens. But now, for us growing up in our culture, we assume we don’t assume rebirth, most of us, we assume that when you die, it’s over. So we’re starting with the thing that Buddha was saying you had to work very hard to get to, which is don’t get reborn, that I find interesting. And then the fact that so many of us consider ourselves a Buddhist, without even considering that most of what the Buddha was talking about, we should work toward, we assume as default. However, there was a second part of the Buddha’s agenda, which is basically to make the best of a bad situation. Since the first Noble Truth is dukkha. There is there is dissatisfaction. What are you going to do about it? while you’re still alive, so how do you have a life well lived within the truth of dukkha. And that is what I’m so much more interested in. Because that’s relevant to every one of us. Irrespective of whether we’re reborn, or we go into nibbana, or what Nibbana is, here we are, here we sit, and how do we? How do we be okay? How do we, how do we be good to one another? Now?
Rick Archer: Yeah. Okay, let me respond to some of that. Well, first of all, I probably the Buddha would say, I don’t care whether these people believe in or understand reincarnation, that that’s the way it works anyway. And so that they might not think it works that way. But when they die, they’re going to discover that they’re going to be reborn again. Or anybody who’s steeped in that way of thinking would probably rebut your your point that way, but also, I was gonna say, oh, yeah, the end of experience Nirvana, Nirvana, extinction. I mean, that kind of experience, that kind of extinction can occur in a single meditation, you’ve probably experienced it where there is no longer any kind of sensory activity going on whatsoever, you become completely absorbed, like a tortoise withdrawing its limbs, as the Gita says, and, and, you know, and the idea is to somehow and you know, Indian tradition talks about different kinds of Samadhi, some of them temporary, some of them permanent, the idea is to make the temporary thing eventually permanent. So that that sort of level of creation, which is in which there is that extinction, is actually live paradoxically, along with sensory experience and activity and life. So that’s the response to that bit, but then there’s a whole nother bit you just brought out about enjoying life and just, you know, having it be more worth living. Right. Go ahead. Well, let me respond to what I just said. Before we get back into that.
Kenneth Folk: I, you said a couple of things. One, the Buddha, the Buddha presumably would say, I don’t care whether you believe it or not. That’s how it is. Well, my response to that would be, so what I mean, I can find anybody on the street who will tell me, I don’t care what you think this is the way it is.
Rick Archer: Yeah, we take the Buddha, presumably, at some sort of authority, I’m just using, we’re using him as a case in point of some
Kenneth Folk: that’s, that’s a different can of worms. I mean, I would reject that authority, I would say, the Buddha is is useful and interesting to the extent that he is, seems to have given us conceptual frameworks and techniques that are useful to us. So some of what he said, some of what he said, I don’t buy at all. And
Rick Archer: then he himself said to do that, by the way, he said, just because I said it, you don’t have to believe it, you shouldn’t believe it, you should go by what you can verify in your own experience.
Kenneth Folk: Right? There was the other thing you talked about Nibbana as extinction. And actually, none of what you described is an Ibanez, I’m sure that none of that is the definition I’m using. So when I say lack of experience, I mean, complete and utter lack of spirit of experience. And in the same way that my went to sleep last night, and for some period of time, I have no idea whatsoever, what happened. I don’t think I had any consciousness during that time. That’s a pretty good parallel, or being dead. In the very simplistic way of thinking of it. It’s just over. It’s not this special kind of experience. It’s just nothing. Now, if you say what that is, is at least experientially, or in the in the way of no experience whatsoever. indistinguishable from from Sorry, I’m losing the word I’m trying to come up with.
Rick Archer: Oblivion or
Kenneth Folk: Oblivion, sort of trying to come up with oblivion. You’re right. If there’s no experience, there’s no experience. So that’s another thing that I find interesting, provocative that oblivion and Nibbana from the point of view of the person who’s not having the experience, or the self same phenomenon with different spin. In the case of Oblivion, we would say, holy moly, there’s not going to be experienced how horrible that is. nevermind the fact that we wouldn’t be there to notice how horrible it is. In the case of Nevada Nibbana Nirvana as I’m describing it, there isn’t anybody there and yet we’re saying, Oh, the bliss of Nirvana, this is peace. nevermind the fact that there isn’t any Are you there to have an experience?
Rick Archer: Well, but the Buddha supposedly attained nirvana. And yet he wasn’t oblivious. He went on for decades to teach and interact with people and so on. So how do you reconcile that
Kenneth Folk: it’s a two tiered society in terms of nibbana. Because the Buddha didn’t really get to the good part that party nibbana, the permanent Ivana until after he died. So the reason the very fact that there are two words is Nirvana, and then there’s probably nibbana, or nirvana is when a Buddha or an arahant dies, and isn’t reborn. So it’s just over for that person. He’s off the wheel
Rick Archer: in Hinduism to talk about Samadhi, and then Maha Samadhi. When you die. Yeah.
Kenneth Folk: That could be somewhat of a parallel Yeah. And in the case of nibbana, as the as the Burmese Buddhists, or to the Burmese Maha See, Buddha’s are teaching it, in my interpretation of what they’re teaching, is that it’s a temporary phenomenon. And yes, you can train, and we do train to be able to have these moments of cessation, fruition, nibbana, those are synonymous terms in this tradition. And during those moments, those time periods, there is no experience at all. And then that ends, because you’re not dead yet. And you go on having experience, but that lack of experience is considered the best of all possible situations. This is an extremely radical idea. And really, this is what I mean by the waiting for the Buddha, the Buddhist revolution has not arrived yet. Because we don’t understand how radical the early Buddha was talking.
Rick Archer: And so if the Buddhist revolution were to arrive, what would we discover,
Kenneth Folk: we might discover that Buddhism isn’t very relevant to us,
Rick Archer: because it emphasizes so much on lack of experience, because
Kenneth Folk: it emphasizes getting off the wheel, if the main thing that you’re trying to do is get off the wheel of life and death and rebirth. And as a kind of average, in culture rated Westerner, we never thought that was likely in the first place. Thin the idea that we would work very hard for that. It’s a non starter. And that’s kind of where I’m at with it. But then there’s this part two of the of the program, which is a life well lived within Dukkha.
Rick Archer: Yeah, well, you know, for what it’s worth, I actually agree with this. Because, I mean, there was a time decades ago, where I felt like I would love to get off the wheel, because life was not that enjoyable. These days, I sort of feel like whether there’s a wheel, and I’m happy to stay on it. As long as I’m making a contribution. And you know, I’m a kind of a servant of the Divine or whatever. But I’ve heard it said, I’ve heard people say that, you know, this off the wheel, emphasis was perhaps more characteristic of a society in which, you know, toothache could kill you. And, you know, if you needed some kind of surgery, you were going to get it, you know, biting on a stick to bear the pain, you weren’t going to have anesthesia, it was a much tougher world to live in than we have now. And that, in our modern society, that kind of emphasis is just not going to fly as successfully as it might have, then.
Kenneth Folk: It’s good point, although it’s probably I feel obligated to mention that. Although I am very privileged throughout my life, compared to most of the people in the world. If I were more representative of what most people in the world have to endure, I might still be on that. Yeah, toothache, since a toothache can kill me. It’s questionable whether this is such a good
Rick Archer: deal. I have a friend who went to Nepal to do offer free dental work to people up there. And in Tibet, maybe it was or maybe it was just Nepal. But you know, he was encountering people who, for whom tooth, a toothache meant death or they developed these severe infections, you know, he was trying to so obviously, yeah, so there are but you know, that harkens back to what you were saying earlier about all the different realms and or logos in which all sorts of beings might live. And even though even the really sumptuous, delightful painfree ones, there’s still some something missing in terms of what’s ultimately possible. But you know, pardon me if I’m talking too much, but there seems to be two emphases to this whole emptiness thing one is yes, emptiness, extinction, nothingness. The other is more that Vairagin referring to the very same reality, fullness, you know, totality completeness. And it’s sort of an they actually have Sanskrit names to refer to these two different emphases. But it seems to me with it’s just a slight shift of orientation, one can see extinction as a merging into an ocean of totality rather than some kind of oblivion.
Kenneth Folk: Right? Right. And why not? My, if I kind of track my own phases, through through the years, and through the decades, I’ve been through phases where I was very, very much interested in totality, and in kind of melding with the, with the divine, or or absorb, kind of becoming absorbed into awareness. However, at least for me, and at least in my current phase, as I think about what was underpinning my fascination with that, when my desire to, to meld with that awareness, it was the, it was the belief or the interpretation of that experience, as ultimate reality. And actually, I’ve gone through phases of it, where I will get to I encountered the, the witness that unexperienced that you could call dwelling as the witness. I am the timeless witness. Before my mother and father were born. I am, yeah, now from this point of view, and then there’s a there’s a state that you can get into, and I’m sure you know, it. It’s an interesting state. In some ways, it feels like an upgrade from my default personality as Kenneth state, because from the point of view of the witness, and let me conjure it up here now. From the point of view of the witness, I have no, I have no stake in whether Kenneth lives or dies, the witness doesn’t know time. It’s very quiet. The narrative. I’m half laughing here, because I’m putting myself into witness trance, but I really am doing it. The mind is very quiet. And what a relief, I don’t have to be concerned about Kenneth. Now, I can see from my disembodied point of view here, there might be some downsides to it. One thing, so I don’t care whether Kenneth lives or dies, I damn sure don’t care whether Rick lives or dies. And that’s gonna be off putting. So so the witness, it’s a point of view, it’s, it’s, I’m coming out of it now. Yeah, it’s a lens. And, and it’s possible to fetishize that lens to fall in love with it, and consider it to be the end of my problems. And I did, I did. And I’m embarrassed now to to admit that I that I’ve gone through these phases, but it happened this way. I completely bought in. And I was going around telling everybody, all you got to do is learn how to dwell as a witness look. And the idea was that you could extrapolate from being able to have the witness trance at all, well, then I can do it more and more. And I can get the point where I never do anything other. I never have any other experience, then the witness. And that would be good. Well, there’s there’s a fundamental problem with that. If you think the Buddha was right, about the first noble truth, and about impermanence, for example, it couldn’t possibly happen that way. You can be reborn as the witness and stay there forever, any more than you could be reborn as great Brahma and stay there forever. It’s going to end. And then what?
Rick Archer: Well, the way you just presented that whole witness thing, and even the tone in your voice, you know, when he got into, or the witness kind of implies that it’s something one evokes willfully and that it actually is a bit of a mood, you know, that I’m in the witness state, that it that it’s not totally spontaneous and natural. And I would contend that there’s another definition of the witness state or perhaps another level of it, which is more spontaneous, more natural, in fact, entirely spontaneous and natural that you don’t think about any more than you have to think about breathing. It’s just the part it’s just a dimension of your reality, the dimension of your daily living experience. Doesn’t matter if you’re tired. herder, even asleep, that that witness consciousness could persist and be totally imperturbable under any and all circumstances. So, you know, it should be if it if the my understanding of what the witness really should mean, it says, as much as an automatic thing if it’s if it has been attained as your heart beating, and you know, you don’t live you obviously, gratefully, unfortunately, we don’t have to put any conscious attention on having our heartbeat it just continues on its own. And so with the witness once it’s really been established.
Kenneth Folk: No, I mean, the wit, there is this aspect of experience that can be identified. The witnessing, it’s the fader on the giant graphic equalizer, you can say, there’s this, this sense of witnessing, and it can be it can happen spontaneously, as you say. But much more likely, that’s kind of like saying, you could spontaneously become a great tennis player, more likely as if you train very diligently, you would realize your potential as a tennis player. Same thing with the witness, if you train to be able to, to cultivate the witnessing experience, then you can cultivate it, you can have it more often. However, your I like I was gonna say you’re right, I think I heard some implication, or that this is not it. So anyway,
Rick Archer: I don’t think this witness we’re referring to as the ultimate realization, but it’s the stage.
Kenneth Folk: Okay, good. So I want to kind of go to the next thing in my own development of fetishizing experience. Let
Rick Archer: me just touch one more point on the witness, and then let you go with that. And that is that I think what I’m alluding to is that there’s a level of awareness, which is so silent, that it precedes the mind, it lies. It’s a state at which before which thoughts have begun to arise, and that can be consciously open to one’s experience in a permanent and stable way. Such that well fully engaged in thinking and acting and so on. Simultaneously, one lives in that field of silence and as that field of silence and there’s a very real sense that I am not doing anything, I am not involved in activity, I am just sort of the silent, this I am the silence and And on a more superficial level, I am also I also have my active phase. And again, I don’t think that’s the ultimate realization, but it’s a very real experience. Okay, very real stage of experience.
Kenneth Folk: Right. So if you think of this, in kind of predictable phases of development, once one discovers the witness, it’s not unlikely that one will fall in love with the witness and cult try to cultivate that to the exclusion of all other experience could fail. And then, as they’re kind of being more honest, and more investigative of their own experience, including the witness, they might discover, if especially if they have some, some guidance and even more sublime experience of diffuse what seems to be diffused awareness, self aware awareness, which also can be fetishized as the right or the desirable experience. And then there will be some attempt for some period of years or decades usually, to cultivate that to the exclusion of all other experiences, or at least to to have it as the continuous backdrop, within which everything else is unfolding. The problem here, as I see, it, is the privileging of that aspect of experience over any other that’s what I’m interested in, looking at very, very honestly very clearly, very, with some elements of courage because it hurts to debunk your own stuff. But this is this is part of my this has been part of my experience to to realize that even this wonderful awareness is an experience however sublime, however subtle and does not. When I really look at it clearly when I really Intuit it as best I can when I invest instigated with critical thinking, I don’t find any basis to privilege it over an itch, or coldness, or a thought it’s an experience
Rick Archer: might be comparing apples and oranges. I mean, everybody in the world has itches and coldness and thoughts and so on. But it’s what’s really important is the context in which they have them. You know, I mean, the state of consciousness which is been developed in which predominates in one’s life, the Buddha had itches and coldness and thoughts and hunger and all that I imagine as a human being. But he experienced those within a context, which is far different than what one might argue, preferable to the context in which the average person who’s in a kind of a muddled confused state would experience such things.
Kenneth Folk: I have no doubt very little doubt that if there was a historical Buddha, who said most of the things, we think he said in the early texts, that his experience was preferable to somebody who is kind of clueless and on awake. And certainly, my own, my own experience of life has improved, as I do my practice. However, that’s not the same as saying that. That in some ontological hierarchy, that some experience is better than another or that it’s, it’s more, it’s what is it holier, I mean, really, this gets, we have to look at our own religious assumptions. Really. If I don’t make these religious assumptions, what I come up with is that any experience has exactly the same status as any other, or at least I’m not in the position to evaluate them. My subjective experience that getting in touch with awareness as awareness is sublime. And, and subtle and exquisite. Right? Does that mean, it should be ontologically? privileged? No, I don’t come to that conclusion at all. And for me, this is a development, this is an improvement, you might say, on, on how I saw it before or a more accurate way, than the way I’ve seen it before. Because as long as I believed that there was this other there was this way of experiencing life that I had access to sometimes, and was increasing my ability to access it. But I was a slave to that. If I wasn’t having that experience, on some level, I knew I was doing it wrong. And I had to work harder to have this to have the right experience. Even though on some level, I understood that was never going to happen, that if the Buddha was right, I was never going to have this persistent experience of anything.
Rick Archer: I imagined that, you know, if given the choice, you wouldn’t trade your current state for the way you were when you were a cocaine addict. I mean, there must be something intrinsically more gratifying and enjoyable in the way you now live and experience life than there was 3040 years ago. Right? No question. Yeah. So there has been a progression. And you had itches, then you have itches, now you were thirsty, then you’re thirsty now, that also but it’s, it’s an it’s on a completely different level and a complete will you have a completely different orientation to your experiences in life than you did then. And probably then the guys who shot up the newspaper in Paris have and in terms of their orientation, Alexa doesn’t seem to me to be too judgmental, to make kind of qualitative evaluation evaluations about the different possibilities for our experience and the impact that spiritual pursuit and practice might have on improving our experience.
Kenneth Folk: Yes, I agree. And which is why I go around trying to teach other people to develop themselves, right, which, as you don’t have to explain this to you, but that’s what worth mentioning. That’s not the same as saying that. Awareness is the truth of the universe.
Rick Archer: No, but that’s a whole nother that’s another topic which we could still debate and which which we could not only debate intellectually, but which we could continue to conduct experiments, experiments through our practice to confirm or refute. Yes. Yeah. And, and which have, which has, you know, practical implications because if it is, and if the nature of awareness is such Chetananda You know, it’s bliss consciousness, then I know you said here and your notes about Nirvana, that being some cosmic bliss out. But traditionally, Enlightenment is described as a very blissful way in which to live because of the inherent nature of consciousness as bliss,
Kenneth Folk: I think we should be careful of use of the word traditionally, because there isn’t only one tradition, and there isn’t only one way to interpret any given tradition.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And you and I referring to Buddhist and Hindu things, mostly, but there are other traditions all around the world who might be saying completely different things. Yes. Yeah. Having said that, you know, I guess, you know, you talked earlier about the Grasshopper and evolution and if I can, if I understood your point about is there a sort of an evolutionary direction to things which is governing the, the events unfolding in the universe. And correct me if I completely misunderstood your point. But having said that, it seems that whatever different ways these different traditions around the world have interpreted or pursued spiritual experience, there’s this kind of underlying drive or emphasis to discover deeper reality to be dissatisfied with the with the mundane existence as it’s ordinarily perceived, and to discover what what may lie in a deeper and truer realm of of life. What’s happening, then he wires getting tangled up.
Kenneth Folk: No, no, the wiser. Okay, it’s just I have stiff neck. Oh, yeah. Trying to get some comfort here. Dukkha. So, yeah, there is this movement. In various people, I think the the writer and spiritual practitioner and philosopher, Roger Walsh has talked about this, that there is a, there’s a poll or a drive built into humans, to have to have experiences of altered states, for example, and to have to kind of push the envelope of their own understanding of what we’re talking about as the spiritual realm, in the same way that we have drives, to eat, and to reproduce, and to breathe, for crying out loud. And that makes sense to me, I certainly feel that we, we don’t know whether that’s coming from some great consciousness in the sky. Or whether that’s just adaptive in terms of evolution, and natural selection, people who are interested in exploring new things and are never satisfied. There’s a little something suspicious about this for me. Maybe those are the ones who reproduce the most.
Rick Archer: Or not, maybe they’re the ones who take vows of celibacy.
Kenneth Folk: In which cases, right. But the very fact that you and I are still here, and we and we are so fascinated by this, this game, this endeavor, somebody must have passed on the genes.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I’m kind of in the great intelligence in the sky camp, as you can tell, you know, I just sort of feel like it’s, it’s built into the very core functioning of the universe, that there’s this evolutionary momentum that’s driving everything along. But, you know, I may be wrong. It’s an open experiment. I don’t want to sound dogmatic, I just, you know, we’re kind of playing with ideas here that are a bit beyond our reach. But they’re, they’re fascinating, and that you kind of have to deal with a bit if you’re going to devote hours a day, year upon year to spiritual practice, you have to sort of like ask yourself, you know, why am I doing this? Where is it leading, you know, you know, what is the ultimate purpose of it?
Kenneth Folk: Yeah, I mean, it helps to have some kind of a conceptual framework that can boy you up in the end, in the difficult times. And that conceptual framework doesn’t have to be static.
Rick Archer: No, it can be subject to revision at all times. Yeah. And if we’d like to think of this as a scientific procedure or scientific process that we’re in gauged in, then that’s that’s the way it should be, because, you know, I mean, science doesn’t actually work this way. But ideally, it’s supposed to work in such a way that paradigms are allowed to shift if new evidence indicates that they should.
Kenneth Folk: Yes. There’s something else that I’d like to talk about if you don’t mind, Rick.
Rick Archer: Sure
Kenneth Folk: Mindfulness has become all the rage. So you’ve got the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in, in Silicon Valley. And now it’s kind of around the country and maybe around the world. My experience hanging out with the with the tech people over the last three years in San Francisco is that there’s a lot of interest in meditation, and mindfulness. So mindfulness has become a huge buzzword. However, it’s, I think about the scene in The Princess Bride where the guy says you use the word a lot. And I don’t think it means what you think it means. I don’t think mindfulness means what people think it means often. The reason I say that is because sometimes if I ask somebody, do you meditate? And somebody will say, Well, no, I mean, it seems kind of cool. And I’ve tried mindfulness, but I couldn’t quiet my mind. Well, as I understand mindfulness, that would be a complete misunderstanding of what mindfulness is. And in fact, my understanding of the reason we have the mindfulness word relating to meditation, is because it was used at various points along the way, as a translation of the Pali word sati. Sati, is this aspect of a mental factor of bringing attention to an object and knowing as you’re attending to the object, knowing what it is. So there’s this these elements of investigation, and alertness, and interest, and I would add self awareness. There’s this sense, here I am, or here is something, knowing looking at this object, these are all things related to mindfulness.
Rick Archer: So let me just clarify my understanding of what you just said. So if I look at the flowers on your table behind you there, I know they’re flowers. And anybody, any reasonable person would know that they’re flowers. So how does that differ from mindfulness practice? Yeah.
Kenneth Folk: Right. One way that I think about this is when I teach mindfulness, I’ll ask people to note in Mahasi, style, to name the thing to name what it is experienced, they’re having. If I were to look at the light and say, light, that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is noticing that I’m seeing seeing is the experience that’s relevant here. Because we’ve all been playing I spy with my little eye. Since we were children, it didn’t lead to awakening. So what we want to do is notice the experience is seeing so there’s this element of, of self reflection here, nevermind the fact that we’re probably find out, we can’t find a self. But initially, it seems this way. There’s seeing there is tightness, there is curiosity, there is hearing, those are the kinds of experiences that can be lit up, lit up through mindfulness. Another way of talking about this if you say, well, some superficial understanding of what the Buddha taught, the Buddha taught people to meditate so they could become awake. Another way of understanding it is the Buddha debunked meditation, and taught people to, to notice what was going on. So I call this meditation, a meditation B, actually, the Buddha taught both, and advocated both as far as I understand it. So meditation A is designed to put you into a state. I meditate in order to get calm, that’s meditation, a, I meditate in order to be concentrated, to enter a gigantic state of absorption, those auto meditation A, so the metric for success is how well did I get calm? How concentrated or did I get meditation be? doesn’t care what state you’re in. It doesn’t care what’s happening. And that’s what I mean by mindfulness meditation. So from the point of view of meditation be if I’m anxious, and noticing anxiety, and lighting it up through awareness and saying, anxiety, aversion, fear, annoyance, shame, that is exactly as good as noticing joy, happiness, bliss, love It simply doesn’t matter what experience I’m having, if I know I’m having it in real time.
Rick Archer: So, so it sounds like meditation, as you describe, it might be considered more manipulative, like you’re trying to evoke a certain state, whereas meditation be is more innocent. And you’re just kind of noting, whatever is being experienced in a more kind of non judgmental way or something.
Kenneth Folk: Yes, yes, although I might add, that judgment happens to and could also be lit up. So you could just note that, you can note that I can, no manipulation. And I can say, I can only kind of trace the innocence of it back to the initial agenda, which is to be mindful. And I can say, okay, that’s, I can’t go further back than that. That’s just my value system. It’s worth my trouble to be to be mindful. And therefore I’m doing it.
Rick Archer: Do you advocate or teach both? Or do I teach both?
Kenneth Folk: I emphasize meditation be. It’s axiomatic in in early Buddhism, that meditation, what I’m calling meditation, a, essentially concentration, meditation does not lead to awakening. So this is one of the first things Bill Hamilton, my teacher told me, you can be, could get into all these God realms, which are analogous to these meditation states. So when you’re in a very deep state of concentration, it feels like a God Realm you’re living, but it ends, and therefore it’s unsatisfactory. And therefore it’s unsatisfactory. And and if that’s not awakening, you can you can be reborn in serial God realms, and hell realms and what have you, till the cows come home, you won’t wake up, you wake up. When you do meditation, V. This, I think, is a very important part of the Buddhist contribution to the literature. He damn sure didn’t invent meditation, the the people have been meditating. As, as long as we know about people.
Rick Archer: So So you’re saying then that meditation be, as you put it, just this, that I heard you do it on various recordings on YouTube, just to kind of noting, seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, you know, that that actually can lead to awakening? And I’ll just bundle a couple of questions in here and let you answer and so with meditation be be something that you would do all day long? Or would it be something you just sit and do for half an hour, morning and evening or something? And then just go about your day?
Kenneth Folk: Right? Okay, so Oh, I’ll get to the second part of that in a second. The first thing, you set it up by saying that meditation V can lead to awakening to what you said, right? That’s exactly what I said. And I would go further meditation be is the only thing that will lead to awakening.
Rick Archer: Whoa, that’s a broad statements. So for anybody anywhere, or just in terms of what you understand, for anybody,
Kenneth Folk: anywhere, by the definition I’m using. So So these things go together, lighting up the objects of of experience, to ultimately see that all experience is experience. That is awakening. And this process of lighting it up is part and parcel of having the experience that it’s process. It’s it’s circular.
Rick Archer: I guess this kind of gets us back to defining awakening, because I interview a lot of people who say they’ve awakened or had profound awakenings or whatever, who have never practiced meditation be. So you might say that, you know, they’re not actually as awakened as they think they are, maybe, I don’t know,
Kenneth Folk: I might, but I might not. I mean, it’s possible that people do concentration meditation, which is meditation A, and because the mind is so, so well trained, and so powerful, that they spontaneously objectify phenomena, which is another way to talk about this mindfulness, and awaken in that through that effort. So that’s case by case.
Rick Archer: And I also know people who have practiced types of meditation that are that are effortless, that don’t involve concentration and have resulted in awakening. So there just seems to be so many possibilities and one size does not fit all and as far as I can tell,
Kenneth Folk: yeah, me too. And to get to get to the other part of what you said, which I don’t actually remember, I wanted to talk
Rick Archer: about whether you would do this type of noting sensory noting thing 24/7 Or just as data in practice, you know, morning and evening or something.
Kenneth Folk: Yeah. Generally speaking, the more the merrier, but practically speaking, it is not necessary. How to do it all day long. The reason I say that is because basically nobody ever does that. And they awaken anyway. So, so here again, the sports analogy, I think works great. If you train, you get better, you train a lot, you get better faster. If you really make it your project in life, you can realize your potential, whatever that is. Now, this brings up another potentially provocative topic. Can every buddy become completely awake? While on the one hand? There probably isn’t any such thing as completely awakened any more than there is completely physically fit perfectly, physically fit. And we all have different abilities and potentials and restraints on our constraints on our time. So is everybody going to be a brilliant athlete? No, we know that’s not going to happen. In fact, most of us are going to be in the fat part of the bell curve, very average. Is that the case with awakening, of course, it’s the case with awakening. Of course it is. Some people will be spiritual superstars, and realize something that other people don’t most people couldn’t possibly realize. And most people won’t, they’ll be average, and some people will be completely clueless. Now, the good news is that once we bring this down to earth and stop making a bigger deal of it than it is, it’s actually super good to be an average meditator. In the same way that it’s super good to be to have average physical fitness. Because like a couch potato has below average physical fitness, and will live as long right?
Rick Archer: To me, this gets back to the the notion of what awakening is, and whether it’s actually the cognition and the living experience of a more universal field. And I like to use the analogy of electricity, which is a field and electrical field, and various apparatus and you know, light bulbs that let’s let’s take light bulbs of various wattage is they’re all tapping into the same electrical field, but one has a 40 watt bulb one has 100 watt bulb one has a big bright search light or something. So you know, we were wired differently. We have different aptitudes, different dharmas, different tendencies. And so to my way of thinking, you can take a whole group of 100, people who are actually conscious of that universal field of awareness, they’ve awakened to that, yet, they they appear very different, they shine with different degrees of luminosity, you know, both literally and figuratively. And, you know, most will be in the middle of the bell curve, as you say, you know, pretty average looking people, some may actually seem kind of dull, some might be real shining superstars, but, but whether whatever the case, they’re all plugged into that field in a conscious way, which the average light bulb, let’s say, is not has not been, or does that day. Go ahead, I’m
Kenneth Folk: sorry. That is one of the understandings of awakening that is often presented. That’s not what I mean by it at all. For me, it has nothing to do with with a field that can be plugged into, it has to do has to do with a, a real time the perception, the experience, that even being plugged into that field is impermanent. It’s not referring back to anybody. And it’s unsatisfactory.
Rick Archer: You and I just have such different ways of defining things. But this is good, because I mean, I’m definitely kind of ingrained in a certain way of thinking and it’s, it’s refreshing to play with you about this. To me, the field itself is not impermanent is that the Unreal has no being the real never ceases to be, and that field is accessible. And so if we access it, then we’ve tapped into something which never ceases to be, and which therefore is impermanent, our body will be impermanent, it’ll die. But once the field is realized, then that Oh, who knows what happens when the body dies or when you get Alzheimer’s or whatever, but there’s a permanency to one’s experience which Don’s which hadn’t been there before, which now is and which is a nice way to live. And that to me is awakening.
Kenneth Folk: Yeah, so it’s good that we’re talking about this because it just makes it so clear that people are not talking about the same exactly with regard to awakening, in fact, both of us could kind of flip this statement. I think awakening is when you get beyond what you’re talking about. You would probably say the same thing to me. So, but
Rick Archer: maybe a bowl fan thing where it’s a kind of a bit of a larger reality, which includes both.
Kenneth Folk: Maybe something that that we completely have don’t even have access to as humans. I like to imagine. What if I were 10 times smarter? And I don’t know, 10 times more talented, spiritually, what could I experience? And what I would there be some kind of awakening that’s accessible to me that isn’t accessible now? Yeah, I guess. Now. This is related to the question. If To what extent is my awakening as I define it, dependent on my ability to access various states experiences, other realities? It’s a great question. Actually one of the most awake people I know, by my definition, I don’t think he really has much experience of altered states doesn’t have much experience of tuning in to the, to the field.
Rick Archer: And but by your definition, is one of the
Kenneth Folk: most well, my definition is very weak, because he can see that it wouldn’t matter that those exclude those are just experiences. And it’s not about that.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I read an article a few days ago, which I found very helpful, which may pretend to this discussion, which was written by someone who’s, you know, had very, very clear experiences of all the chakras opening and, and the what the article presented was that, it there’s such a great variety among people’s experience, because the chakras don’t open sequentially. And they can open in various ways, various sequences, giving rise to all sorts of, you know, experiences and realizations and whatnot. If you buy into the whole idea that there are chakras and all that, you know, some people experience this stuff, but it helps to if we think of the human physiology as the instrument through which we’re experiencing the kind of stuff that you and I are talking about, then that instrument does not everyone, no one is using the instrument in exactly the same way. And so no one’s experiences are exact replica of anybody else’s. And that accounts, I think, for some extent, to the confusion in discussions such as this.
Kenneth Folk: Sure. Whether you use the the meaning making structure of chakras, or whether you use the meaning making structure of neuroscience,
Rick Archer: which aren’t mutually exclusive, by the way.
Kenneth Folk: Okay. Yeah. Either way. The idea that anyone could use it to its full potential, it seems unlikely. Yeah. And we don’t really even know what that would mean, what would full potential be? I mean, we talked about Michael Jordan before, he actually was a great athlete. And he missed about half the time, he was a basketball player who missed about half of his shots. What a crappy idea What a crap record,
Rick Archer: you know, could have done 10% better, maybe some guy a couple of years. And now, William? Well,
Kenneth Folk: actually, there are people who do shoot 60%. But they, they’re not guards. But but in any case, they still miss a whole bunch. And that’s as good as it gets for athletes. When I talk about want to talk about this athlete thing, I like to talk about Hercules to make the point, because we all like to look at a spiritual hero like Ramana Maharshi, saying, There it is, he was the one who got it and realized 100% of his potential. I doubt it. And I think it’s actually meaningless. So, so, there used to, maybe people used to believe that Hercules was real, that he was almost infinitely strong so he could hold up the world when Atlas took a break. And he was almost he was, it couldn’t be defeated in battle and so on. Nobody believes that anymore. And there’s there’s some important implications here for us. The elite training centers around the world for athletes. Don’t talk about Hercules. They don’t say, Well, we know Hercules doesn’t exist. Just but it’s useful to imagine perfection because then you can be bet, Nobody says that. I wonder why I think it’s because it probably doesn’t work as well as accepting the constraints of human human physiology and human psychology, gravity and whatever else we have to be constrained by, that seems to be what’s working and making people as good as they can be in athletics, I suspect that that will find a parallel there with this, this kind of brain development that we loosely call spirituality, if we accept that we don’t even know what perfection is number one. And number two, that’s not what we’re after all we’re looking is to realize individual potential and, frankly, incremental gains. Yeah, for for people who are already good at it.
Rick Archer: I totally agree with you. I mean, using my lightbulb analogy, we’ve harnessed electricity since the 1800s, I guess, and still look at the newer and more interesting things we continue to do with it, you know, and in terms of computers and whatnot, they’re using the same stuff, but actually translating it into more and more interesting and amazing things as we build instruments, which can convert that stuff into something, you know, and you know, even sticking to light, I mean, there are more and more powerful lasers, which take the very same electricity and beam it more powerfully as light. So I think the same as applies to spirituality, there’s no who knows what the possibilities are. I interviewed Shinzen, young about a year ago, or so. And he made interesting point, which is that he, he said that certain, in his experience, certain types of Buddhist practice made one kind of zombie like, and maybe this is what you were referring to before about people trying to cultivate the witness. But I think kind of a one thing to be interesting to discuss a little bit is how every kind of spiritual practice has some sort of effect. And, you know, in some cases, maybe the effects aren’t entirely desirable. But so I suppose one needs to approach spiritual practices of any sort with a little bit of scrutiny. And, you know, have in your own experience, have you encountered this kind of thing and is meditation be as you describe it, pretty much free of negative side effects among those, you’ve taught it to or, or to some people find it a little bit dividing of the mind to be trying to, you know, work on developing the next iPhone, and at the same time thinking, seeing, touching, hearing.
Kenneth Folk: You know, it’s really, it’s actually is distracting, if what you’re trying to do is, is work on the code for for the next great tech thing. It’s useful to, I think, to think about attention as a finite resource, I have a certain amount of attention that I can tap. And I can, if I’m really on my game, I can get most of it going in one direction. Often, it’s just scattered everywhere, and it’s not doing anything. So I think of chickens, if you could get a bunch of chickens all pulling the same direction, they could do a lot of work. But chickens almost never pull us direction. So they don’t get anything done. But with our minds, if we we can train the chickens and harness some significant part of the finite attentional resource available to each of us. We can get some stuff done. Now, what are we trying to get done? If I’m trying to read if I were a coder, and I’m trying to write code for the next great tech thing? I don’t have time for mindfulness. While I’m doing that I have to, to completely ignore mindfulness and become absorbed in my code. But
Rick Archer: isn’t that mindfulness? I mean, wouldn’t you be like you’re focused like a laser beam on your code. And there are many great scientists and inventors and so on who had that capacity to focus with such exclusive and you know, exclusivity just so such intensity that they they really got something done, they weren’t sort of like scattered all over the place. That to me is like a really symptomatic of a high degree of mindfulness. Or again, maybe we’re defining mindfulness differently.
Kenneth Folk: Yeah. So that’s in the definition. So for me that is not at all mindfulness, that’s concentration. And this is, it’s useful to make the point. What do I mean by concentration and mindfulness, both of which, by the way, are listed in the list of seven factors of Enlightenment. So why would concentration and mindfulness be listed? Well, if you think about a cat on the front lawn, by a gopher hole, the cat is looking at the Go for her waiting for the gopher to stick his head out. It’s concentration is superb. The cat can sit there for 10 minutes. Not deviating from looking at the whole, there was
Rick Archer: a Sufi mystic who got enlightened doing that actually watching a cat watching Wow. So,
Kenneth Folk: okay. Now, if you, if you imagine that you’re the cat, you, you can’t imagine that the cat has a lot of self awareness. So the cat, the cat isn’t sitting there going, Oh, look at me watching the Mousehole. The cat is just completely absorbed in the situation. Mindfulness is when the cat goes, I’m looking at a mouse hole. That’s my fullest. So it takes that that that leap of recursive self awareness, self consciousness, that’s mindfulness. I see. And by the way,
Rick Archer: so to start with introspection or self reflection, or something that doesn’t happen with ordinary experience, even
Kenneth Folk: Yes, I think that’s an essential part of mindfulness. There is, there’s a way to illustrate this with a little diagram, which I’ll draw very quickly. If you imagine that on the on the horizontal axis, the x axis, you’ve got concentration gets stronger as it goes to the right, I got that I got it that’s centered, okay. And on the y axis, the vertical axis, you’ve got mindfulness going stronger as it goes up. Okay. So with this, we can plot an experience just about any experience, somewhere on here, in this lower left quadrant, you’re neither concentrated nor mindful. That’s our usual experience throughout the day. Now, let’s say you want to do pure concentration practice, and enter the jhanas is states of absorption, you’re getting very concentrated, very absorb. But you don’t have to know that you’re doing it, you just have to be absorbed with the object, you’re the cat on the lawn, completely absorbed in the gopher hole. Now, at any point along here, whether you’re very concentrated or whether you’re not, you can investigate the situation through mindfulness, you can notice I’m seeing you. So I’d say I’m not very concentrated. So I’m up here in the upper left. And I’m saying, just like right now seeing, itching, thinking, feeling, curiosity, uncertainty, that’s mindfulness, but it’s not very concentrated. Or I can be very concentrated in my janyk state of absorption, and bring awareness to that. And I can say, concentration, enjoyment, pleasure, whatever it is. All the janyk factors can be lit up through mindfulness. At either place in the upper, the top two quadrants here, mindfulness is in play. And this will lead to awakeness. This kind of practice down here. Mindfulness is not in play, and will not lead to awakeness, no matter how concentrated, you get. So when we talk about when somebody says, is that concentration meditation, or is it mindfulness, just about any object could be invested, you could be approached, using either concentration, or mindfulness or a combination.
Rick Archer: Interesting. There’s a whole discussion we could get into which I don’t know if we want to about whether concentration should be employed as an actual method, or whether it’s kind of a more of a symptom of the mind being absorbed in something that enjoys. And like, you know, if you’re watching a really good movie, you’re just totally zoomed into it. You don’t have to make an effort. If you’re watching something really boring, you feel like checking your email or making a phone call or something. And so in terms of meditation practices, there might be methods which provided such sort of sumptuous experience to the mind that it naturally absorbed, absorbed in and became concentrated without actually plying concentration concentration became the outcome rather than the method. And I could have probably talked about that for an hour but it’s just a thought to throw in there.
Kenneth Folk: Well, it’s, it’s good one it’s a good thought in any It brings up the question, the practical question of how best to teach meditation. If we’re teaching meditation a concentration? Wouldn’t it be better if we had an object that’s so engaging, that we effortlessly become concentrated in it? Yep. Yeah. Which, which there’s a lot of potential for neurofeedback, and any kind of biofeedback, that that’s effective.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I was a TM teacher for 25 years. And I’m definitely not here to plug TM. But that was the principle upon which that was based, which is that the principle that the mind has a natural tendency to want to experience greater happiness, and that if it’s given the opportunity, it’ll just do that naturally, without having to coerce it in any way. And that, that finer levels of awareness are intrinsically more enjoyable. And so if you have the opportunity to go in that direction, you’ll just go. But anyway, I don’t want to get into a TM lecture. That was the basis of what were the seven factors of Enlightenment you just mentioned? Is that something you came up with?
Kenneth Folk: No, that’s a Buddhist list. And I can probably come up with what they are. If I try, but probably we should encourage your audience to Google that. Check it out.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So in the notes that you sent me, there’s, there’s one thing we haven’t covered yet, which is, I’ll just read what you wrote, objectification. Why does Vipassana meditation or slash mindfulness meditation lead to awakening? And then the answer because it makes subject into object? So what did you mean by that?
Kenneth Folk: What I meant by that, is that and by the way, I’m riffing. And riffing off of not only Buddhism, but also a psychologist named Robert Keegan is a guy at Harvard, who has some really interesting ideas in psychology, very much, very similar to some Buddhist ideas. He talks about this iterative process of, of making the subject into object. So whoever I think I am, if I write that up with with awareness, that’s this iterative process of waking up psychologically. And I think the exact same thing is happening when we meditate. There are always filters operating that we’re not seeing as filters. So metaphorically, at first, let’s imagine that I have this blue plastic, translucent filter over my face, it’s like those filters are called gels that you put over a light in a theater. To change the colors, you put a blue gel or a red gel over the light, mix that color on the stage. Well, imagine there’s this blue plastic gel strapped to my face. Well, everywhere I look, it looks blue. But I don’t know that I’m looking through a gel. So I just assumed that it is blue. That’s what I see. And in fact, I’m identified as blue. Because I am. The filter that isn’t being seen, is always acting as subject. This is my assumption here, my hypothesis. Now, if you say to me, Kenneth, did you know there’s a blue plastic gel strapped to your face? And I’d say, No, I didn’t know that. And then I realized, oh, yeah, there is a blue plastic gel strapped on my face. And that’s why it looks blue, da. Now that doesn’t mean that the gel disappears, immediately, if at all. But it does mean that something different, something has changed. Now, I’m no longer experiencing the blue filtering as subject that isn’t me. That’s something I can look at. I’ve made it into an object. So this is what I mean by objectification making something into object. And in this important case, making something that was functioning as subject into an object. Every time I do this, I wake up a little bit, if I am feeling anxious, and I notice anxiety. That’s a filter that a moment ago, I was identified as embedded in as Ken Wilber would say. And suddenly, I’m no longer embedded, no longer identified, anxiety, anxiety and this and that sensations of anxiety. This is these are now objects that can be worked on, manipulated with by the mind, and I’m not that I am not what I’m looking at, because intuitively, I always seem to be the one who’s looking. I can’t What’s being looked at? If there’s a if there’s an eye? And that’s a question, but if there is an eye, I have to be the one who’s looking in there for what’s what’s looked at. If I do this enough, what I find is that everything in my experience everything and experience, including the sense that I am the one, that including the sense of AI, is an experience and can be objectified, it can be lit up. And this is what awakening is all about. For me. There are you can imagine a threshold below which there are some things we simply cannot see and will never see, I’ll never be able to see the process by which my body, my eyes and my brain somehow are able to convert photons into images that I can understand. I’m not gonna be able to see that. Fair enough. But there’s this what I call the developmental window for awakening, which is between what I’ll never see. And what I don’t see yet. There’s this this gap in everything that exists in this gap is a developmental window. For awakening everything I light up in there, gets me more awake.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I think I followed that. So kind of remind me of that phrase in the Bible of seeing through a glass darkly, you know, and then eventually seeing clearly when you throw in a little William Blake, when the windows of perception are cleaned.
Kenneth Folk: Sweet if we didn’t, and just to riff off of that, in this case, it means seeing the window, I mean, noticing, I’m looking through a window, or I’m looking through a dirty window, I’m looking through a clean window. But but there’s the window when that becomes part of the field of objects. That’s a moment of awakeness Yeah,
Rick Archer: of course, I don’t know if we want to take it this far. But perceptual scientists and neurologists and so on would tell us that what’s what some would say there is no world out there. It’s all just sort of within consciousness. But but if we acknowledge that there is a world out there that, you know, scientists would say that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to what we perceive that our that our senses are just sort of these and our brain are just the sort of input mechanisms and translation mechanisms that make some kind of sense out of something that is, that is completely unlike what we interpret it to be. And you know, you can take examples of other species and how they would interpret the same scene, a bat, or a moth or a cat or something, they’re, you know, they’re interpreting the very same objective world in a completely different way. So, I mean, when you say this at all germane to what you were saying about
Kenneth Folk: absolutely this, this is a huge part of it. So that so there’s a word for that, as you know, eu felt the home felt is the is the slice of reality that we can see, or the way we’re interpreting the part of reality we can see. So we know we have a different result from a bat. Because the bat can hear things we can hear. And we can see things the bat can’t see. We have a different room belt from a rattlesnake pit viper, because or else they can see into the infrared. And we cannot
Rick Archer: it said that birds can actually see magnetic fields and that that’s how they migrate.
Kenneth Folk: Perfect. So all of this is happening all the time, this magnetic fields are bombarding us just as much as they are the birds. But we have no experience of that. And so our own Veldt is this little slice that we can see, this is very much related to something you and I talked about earlier, that I’m skeptical that somehow as a human, we would suddenly throw our meditation get this unfiltered experience of anything so that we would get this unfiltered experience of of reality with a capital R if indeed there were such a thing, which I also doubt. I don’t think so. We have our own Veldt our, the part of reality that the voice what we can see in the sense we make of it as humans, aliens would have a completely different envelop, presumably, and would have a different experience of the ultimate, even assuming there was an ultimate.
Rick Archer: Alright, let’s play with this a little bit more. If you have the time. I’ve got the beer. You know that remember that commercial?
Kenneth Folk: Yeah. Remember the melody to the jingle?
Rick Archer: Let’s say that let’s play. Let’s say for a moment that consciousness is the ultimate reality that there’s a sort of ground state of the universe that’s pure consciousness and that they know perhaps it’s equivalent to the unified field that physics talks about. But that’s a whole then there are physicists who claim that it is but who knows. But let’s say there is such a field have now cognizing that field recognizing it, realizing it as once, in or as one’s true nature, and kind of living experientially from that from that field would not necessarily equate with, it wouldn’t mean that we’re going to take on completely different ways of perceiving as a human being, because we’re human being, you know, a bat is about a cat as a cat. And, and it even plays into what we were talking about earlier about, you know, 100, enlightened people, all actually experiencing somewhat differently and behaving differently in terms of their relative experience of the world based upon their culture, their learning their, their intellectual perceptual capacities. And so all that’s going to be different. But that is not to say that there could not yet be a common experience of the essential field of pure consciousness, and that that would define, ultimately would define awakening or Enlightenment, and that you would not want, it wouldn’t make sense to use any of these Relative Criteria about perception and behavior, and so on as any sort of defining method.
Kenneth Folk: Sure. Okay. Yeah, I can see how that could, you could come up with an internally consistent schema that way. If I were to complain about it, it would just be that it seems kind of arbitrary. To me. I mean, it’s has about as much validity to me is saying, the Christian God is the is the ground. And why do I think that? Well, it’s because I think that now it’s not that one can’t have the sublime experience, you when really can’t. And if I had been guilty of misrepresenting myself today, it’s probably been that I haven’t admitted to you what an experienced junkie I’ve been through for many years, they’ve alluded
Rick Archer: to starting with the cocaine.
Kenneth Folk: Right. And in finding that I was able to create these I was able to access or find stumble upon sometimes stabilize experiences, through meditation, that I valued as much as the cocaine or LSD experiences. I’m really good at it. My my friend Daniel Ingram once said to a friend of mine, Kenneth is the best I’ve ever seen at entering concentrated states. Yeah. And so that’s where I’m coming from. And I really, really wanted some of these states, not just the classic jhanas from Buddhism, but also states of open awareness, and something that I would very much have, have described, similar to the way you did, tapping into this field of reality with with a capital R, as I might say, Now, or pure awareness, or pure conscious awareness. That’s not actually the same as it doesn’t feel the same as the classic jhanas. But nonetheless, though, these are all things that I’ve spent a great deal of time cultivating and exploring and accessing. And my conclusion is that none of them get to be privileged as the right state.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Well, but against states implies sort of different a to use the sun analogy says sun shining on the on water or sun shining on different reflectors, this reflector, that reflector, and this one’s giving a red reflection, this one’s giving a green reflection, this the sun is not those those reflections, you know, I mean, only if there were a perfect reflector with this with the reflection approximate or, you know, resemble the light of the sun. So, you know, the sun is what it is, irrespective of how its reflected or not reflected. And kind of what I hear you saying is that, well, you know, I haven’t realized myself as the sun and therefore I kind of doubt that anybody has or could, and that there is no such litmus test or benchmark or ground state or whatever. And therefore I’m I’m resorting to, you know, all these various other kinds of practices and so on. So I mean, I don’t mean to sound insulting, but it almost seems seems like a little bit of a you know, I tried, I never discovered such a thing. So I really wonder whether there is such a thing and I’m taking a different route, you know, yeah,
Kenneth Folk: don’t I’m glad you said that. Because that’s, that’s the obvious answer. Well, gosh, Ken, Kenneth, your sour Graper you I was gonna use that phrase, but I refreshed Have you haven’t been able to do it yourself? And, and therefore, you know, you don’t know what it is? I don’t think that’s the case that that’s that’s really why I brought up the bragging about, I think that I probably got further with this than most people. And my conclusion is such as it is. I once had a guy in retreat during a discussion, say, he was talking about experience of what he would consider to be the ultimate union with consciousness, say, and his and he said, and you know, if you don’t if you if you don’t think it’s the ultimate thing, you simply haven’t had it. Now, what that reminded me of I’m
Rick Archer: see it was he’s doing that he
Kenneth Folk: had had it yet. So what that reminded me of was, I’m mentally checking the FCC regulations here. So I can tell the story. The first time i It’s the first time I discovered sex by myself. I thought what my immediate impression was, holy moly, this is the greatest thing ever. I’ve discovered this kind of natural high, that doesn’t cost anything. And you don’t even need anybody else for it. And holy moly, nobody else knows about this. Because if they did, they wouldn’t talk about anything else.
Rick Archer: Sounds like your typical 13 year old 12 year old boy.
Kenneth Folk: Yes. And furthermore, this is what I think when somebody says, if you haven’t, you know, if you don’t think that conscious awareness is the ultimate, because you haven’t experienced it. It’s much more analogous to, if you’ve experienced it enough, you start to see the joke, you get the joke, Oh, it wasn’t that people hadn’t had sex, it’s that they totally have integrated that into their lives. And it’s frankly, not that big a deal to them anymore.
Rick Archer: Which can be said of consciousness, you know that. And but you know, which doesn’t, which is not to say that an unbounded field of consciousness doesn’t exist, but it’s not like you’re going to be shouting it from the rooftops, if it’s been integrated in your life, because we’re very integrative beings, aren’t we? I mean, we get used to stuff. And that makes life kind of livable. We get used to suffering, we get used to Bliss. But whatever it is, we kind of integrate it and take it in stride. And don’t make a big fuss about it after a while. Yes, yeah. But still, I mean, that doesn’t, Larry’s not going to like that shout, audio guy, that still doesn’t kind of refute the possibility of consciousness being the ultimate reality, it just means that it can be lived and integrated in such a way that you kind of take it for granted.
Kenneth Folk: Yeah, yeah. It doesn’t say anything about it one way or the other way to whether it’s the ultimate reality. Yeah, yeah.
Rick Archer: And, okay, we’ve kind of come full circle. There’s, there’s a lot, you could take any one point in this discussion and turn it into a whole discussion in itself, you know, flushing it out and elaborating because, and people have been doing that for 1000s of years. I mean, there are whole books written about each little point that we’ve discussed here. But it does seem that the modern spiritual scene is is very much in a state of evolution. And, you know, self scrutiny. Even in the five years since I’ve been doing this show, I’ve seen a lot of change and maturity, I think and in the way people approach this stuff. And it just and it also seems to be building momentum in terms of something that we as a society, are, are interested in, like you like you were saying, mindfulness is all the rage out in Silicon Valley. Well, you know, things usually start in California, and then they spread west or east. So there’s something afoot, and, you know, what, what the personal and social implications of it’ll be 510 20 years down the line? I’m not entirely sure, but I feel like something good is happening.
Kenneth Folk: Yeah, I do, too. I’m glad that people are learning the mindfulness word. And people will like the physical fitness revolution, people will embrace it to whatever extent they will, probably the overall
Rick Archer: level you’ll be the Jane Fonda mindfulness. Well, I
Kenneth Folk: thought about this what we really need is a Jacqueline lane. Of mindful it is not me that sort of clear about, but I think there may be that whether it’s a human or whether it’s an app, I don’t know. And We’ll see. But I mean, if the general level of contemplative Michael contemplative fitness rises in, in a way, similar to the way the general level of physical fitness rose, in the 70s, and 80s. And now, awesome, yeah, that’s great. Some people will really want to take it far, some people like you, and I will become obsessed with it, and take it as far as we can. Most people won’t, we’re looking at the bell curve again, most people will just get a little bit, they’ll, their lives will get a little bit better, hopefully, through their practice, I’m happy.
Rick Archer: But it might just be what the doctor ordered in terms of creating the balance that’s needed in the world to offset these rather dire problems that we’ve cooked up for ourselves, you know, that would be lovely. Yeah. Yeah, wherever we go into that. But there’s, I mean, if if a lot of the problems we see are due to you know, as Jesus said, on the cross, Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do, if a lot of the things that we see happening in the world are due to short sightedness, lack of self awareness, greed, small mindedness than then the kind of thing you and I are talking about would be just the antidote, you know, and, and would affect change at a fundamental enough level to actually ripple out into a significant change on the on the more manifest levels.
Kenneth Folk: That was really my hope in going to San Francisco and, and hoping to teach some of the tech technology plutocrats how to meditate and hopefully some of them would want to take it as far as they could and awaken that, I hope that would change the world because those those people are really influential. I don’t really see that happening. In other words, it’s not happening yet. The percentage of of plutocrats, who would want to get awakened would would become obsessed with this practice is about the same, I would think as it is in the general public population. It’s really, really low. So the truth is, I didn’t find any, I don’t think I kind of made the difference for anybody. And it’s, so it’s a numbers game, I’m just just going there. There’s a there’s a handful of a few 100 People who are really, really influential in Silicon Valley. And I got to talk with some of them and introduce them to so my ideas, did any of them really take this on? In the way that, that I have the gift? No, of course, not the person that the likelihood of it is really low. So the people I work with now are people who found me. I’m at the point now where I don’t even like to do cold, any kind of a cold teaching. I, for example, went to Wikimedia Foundation and taught a couple of series of sessions there. To simulate so the people who worked there if people were already really interested in meditation, then they still we’re after I left, but I didn’t I don’t think I converted anybody. I think that’s the reality of how this works.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I think this whole thing, if we were if we are looking at a social transformation, I think it’s going to be much more grassroots and not so top down. You know, I mean, it’s not like the plutocrats are gonna bring it to us. It’s more organic, more fundamental, more grassroots. You know, that saying that the next Buddha is the Sangha. And I think it is spreading in that way and a real grassroots roots level, and, you know, Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, I think that a person doesn’t have to be influential in a political or economic way to be influential. And, you know, all kinds of analogies we could bring in here, the 100th, monkey principle and all that stuff. But I think that the proliferation of awakening that’s happening in the world on a on a really grassroots level among most, for the most part, totally unknown people, is very potent, and is really going to percolate up into some kind of significant shift.
Kenneth Folk: I hope so. I’m about half hopeful and half skeptical.
Rick Archer: Yeah, me too. more skeptical. more hopeful than skeptical. In my case, I’d have to say, maybe I’m just naive, and overly optimistic, but I really think as Dylan said, Something’s happening here. But you don’t know what it is, you know. Do you Mr. Jones. There’s something afoot. Well, great, I should let you go. Looks like you’re having trouble with your poor neck.
Kenneth Folk: Yeah. Dukkha. These bodies are not reliable.
Rick Archer: Yeah. You’re probably on the rack and your pass. Life are some still working out those kleshas. So let me make some concluding remarks. I’ve been talking to Kenneth Falk. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, Kathy, you’re a great guy to talk to. And I hope I haven’t talked too much. Sometimes people say I do. But the chemistry and each conversation is different. And somehow in this one, we just kind of really started batting the tennis ball back and forth. I will be linking to candidates website from his page on batgap.com, as I always do, and have you written any books that you’ve published? Kenneth,
Kenneth Folk: here’s an unfinished draft of my unfinished book that I linked to from my from my homepage, so people can look at it. There’s a lot there. It’s just not done yet.
Rick Archer: Okay, I tried to get to something, you’d recommend it to me. And it was like, I got this page not found error. So we’ll talk I’ll make sure everything’s
Kenneth Folk: my web development skills.
Rick Archer: And then any case, I’ll link to Kenneth and there’s ways through his website of getting in touch with him if you’d like to, you know, be in touch and perhaps participate in some of what he’s offering. This is an ongoing series, as most people watching this probably realize. And if you would like to check out previous ones, there’s a past interviews menu on batgap.com. And the interviews are categorized in about four or five different ways. There’s upcoming interviews menu, you can see who’s scheduled, there is a place to sign up to be notified by email each time a new interview is posted. You get about one email a week, there’s a Donate button which I depend upon people clicking from time to time if they appreciate the show and in order to enable me to spend as much time as I do on it between my wife and I we spend maybe 4050 hours a week. And what else I don’t know check the check the site out you see what else may be there. Really appreciate you listening or watching next week will be Steven Bodie. And you probably know Steven don’t you can. I know of him but yeah, he looks like an interesting guy. And we have interviewed scheduled all the way into April now. We’ll just keep doing this. I hope to be doing this for many years to come. So thanks for listening and watching and we’ll see you next week.