The Five Buddha-Family Traits: Maitri Space Awareness

Recap of the Previous Session 

Previously, we discussed how the Buddha-families speak of various groups of factors we all have that will either transform into various aspects of a Buddha or account for the fact that we can have these factors of a Buddha. We saw that there were many different systems and ways of explaining the various members of these five families, or five groups. This indicates the richness of the topic rather than disagreement among various masters. The more we learn about various systems, the richer our possibilities become to be able to use a broader range of these Buddha-nature aspects. 

One of the most general ways of dividing these five families is in terms of the factors that will transform into the complete aspects of a Buddha. This refers to – in simple language – body, speech, mind, good qualities and activity, or the ability to influence. We all have these as our basic working materials. Everybody has them, including a worm, and Buddha has them as well; it’s just a matter of how highly developed these aspects are. 

We then looked in a more refined way at these five and saw them all in terms of how each of them could refer to mental activity. This mental activity has positive qualities. These express themselves in terms of our physical expression and our verbal expression, and all of this has an influence on others and ourselves. 

Then, we saw that each of these five aspects likewise has five different flavors in accordance with these five families. We started to work with mental activity. We looked at one basic system of these five in terms of the five types of deep awareness, as is presented in the highest class of tantra: anuttarayoga tantra. We saw there were two variants on that: what we find in the Gelugpa tradition, and what we find in the non-Gelugpa traditions – Kagyu, Sakya and Nyingma. We looked at those two variants. 

The Namshe Yeshe System 

Now, let us go on with another of the major systems in respect to mental activity, which is what we find in the particular approach to mahamudra that we find in the Karma Kagyu tradition. This is a system that is usually referred to by the Tibetan name “namshe yeshe,” which means “specific awareness and deep awareness.” It’s a very sophisticated, rather complex system. It is one of the many systems of analyzing how the mind works. Tibetan Buddhism has many different approaches to understanding the mind and mental activity, and this is one of them. We have a presentation of the five types of deep awareness in accordance with that. 

This is the tradition in which we find the presentation of these five families that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche gives in his Maitri space awareness program. By the way, the original text on the namshe yeshe system was written by the Third Karmapa. As we saw with the anuttarayoga tantra, there can be two variants in which the mirror-like awareness and the reality awareness can be switched; however, that doesn’t make a huge difference. We won’t fixate on the names of these different types of awareness, because there’s variation; let’s just look at what they do and how we can utilize them for our development, which is the whole point of learning about these. 

The first of these is mirror-like or reality awareness. It is the basic “opening up” to the basis, which would be the deep awareness – the clear light mind, it’s called. We open up to the entire scope, in which everything is there. To make this a little bit easier to follow, let’s use an example that we’ll do in an exercise. Let’s say we want to deal with our personalities. With this first awareness, we open up to the entire picture of the personality, just a basic opening up. This means to quiet down so that the whole picture is there. Then, the second is to focus on the personality so that the general picture comes in focus, so that we become aware of the general structure of what’s there. There’s this aspect of the personality, that aspect of the personality, and so on. The thing starts to take a form in terms of the structure and how it’s operating, without judgments, without making stories about it – this is the structure that’s there. For instance, if we call the first one mirror, this one is the reality; or if we call the first one the reality, then this is the mirror. This variation really doesn’t make much difference. The first one would be called the “Buddha family,” the second one, the “vajra family,” but which of the wisdoms is within that family is just a matter of the nomenclature. It doesn’t make any difference. I just mentioned that so that when we read other books about it, we don’t get confused. 

Then, the equalizing awareness is to have equal regard for all the different aspects of our personality. It’s the basis of having equanimity toward the whole thing. Remember, we had equalizing as looking at several things together. Here it takes the flavor of looking at the whole thing: all the aspects together with equal regard, equal respect. That’s the “ratna family.” 

Next, we have the individualizing awareness, which we would focus on one specific aspect of our personalities with all its specific details. Maybe in dealing with our personalities, we’d like to focus on one aspect of it, which could be the tendency to become dependent on other people, to rebel – or whatever it is – we focus on one aspect in detail. That’s the “lotus family.” 

The final one is accomplishing awareness. This deals with how to relate to this aspect of our personality. What do we do with it? How do we integrate it into our lives? How do we deal with it? If we’re trying to work on ourselves, what would be the best way of using that in a productive way in our lives, rather than in a destructive, neurotic way? Of course, all of these fit together because, obviously, with the equalizing awareness we see that one aspect of our personality in the context of equal regard for all aspects: it’s neither more nor less important than any other aspect of our personalities. That’s all within the context of opening up to the whole thing and seeing the structure, the general picture of the whole thing, how it fits together. 

That last one is the “karma family,” of accomplishing, relating, using it. Seeing how we can work with it to fit it in. Now, since many of us are acquainted with this system, perhaps this is a slightly different angle of looking at it: how we can apply it in a very practical way. Maybe it might be helpful to take a few minutes and digest what we just discussed and try to fit it together with what we know already about these systems. 

We could also discuss how the worm has these five. The worm also opens up to a sense field, sees the whole thing in terms of the whole picture, can focus on one thing, is having the whole thing in some equal perspective, and deals with some specific aspect; we could find this on the basis level of the worm, but the application here is more in terms of the path, how we work with these. Let’s try to digest this and fit it in with what we learned before. Then, we can ask questions. 


Do you have any questions about this? 


Thinking of it in terms of working with my own personality, the first step for me seems the most difficult: to open up to the whole, because I find that I have the tendency to rather look in the padma way into myself – the fourth way of awareness – for the details. So, is there any means to gain experience with this opening up? 

The general approach to opening up is what we find in mahamudra meditation, which is basically quieting down on a very deep level. That means not just quieting the voice in our head, but trying to quiet the preconceptions, judgments and attitudes we have about ourselves. Concepts cover much more than verbal thoughts. It’s a mahamudra method because, when we are just focusing on the details, the mind is very tight; it doesn’t have to be with tension – often it is – but it’s very tight and narrow in its outlook. 

It’s a matter of relaxing it, and the more relaxed it is, the more open and broader it is. To relax, we have to be quite careful not to use that in a trivial sense, as it has quite a deep meaning. That’s why we have to do this in connection with mahamudra because we need to be able to identify what is mental activity – of just producing mental appearances and cognizing them – and this activity is occurring without a separate “me” making it happen, controlling and observing it. If we can stay in just that mental activity – which is occurring all the time anyway – without that feeling or belief in a solid “me,” that allows us to open up. As soon as we are doing this in a dualistic way, from the point of view of a solid “me” separate from it and observing it, then we’re tight. It’s not just, “Sit there and relax and everything is wonderful, la-di-da!” It’s much more profound and difficult and deeper than that. 

What about the aspects of our personality that we’re not even aware of? 

There are several factors that might be involved here. One could be the denial of aspects that are there, usually on the basis of a solid “me” that doesn’t want to identify with these things and identifies with other things. The denial is taken care of the more that we get into just mental activity as opposed to the solid “me” that just wants to deny. The other reason can be just that these aspects are very subtle, or we’re naive; we just don’t know, and so on. The more that we quiet down and open up, then there’s a certain quality of being able to know, to understand, which is part of this talent of the mind. The mind becomes clearer and clearer so that these more subtle aspects of our personality become more and more evident. 

The more that we quiet down, the more open we become to not only being able to overcome our naivety about ourselves, but also being open to access the more subtle clarity of the mind, to understand; also, we become more open to feedback from other people about ourselves. The more open we become to seeing the effects of our behavior and our interactions on others, the type of relations we’re in, that gives us more and more information about these aspects of our personality that we didn’t realize we had. It’s not just a matter of finding them within ourselves, but we can also learn the signs from others as well. 

We need to recognize that this openness is there as a Buddha-nature factor, although this is very subtle. We can understand this, I think, by the analogy of a television. We turn the television to another channel, which is like switching from seeing to hearing, or to thinking, or something like that. We turn the television to another channel, and now it is open to receiving the entire signal of that channel. It takes in the whole picture equally, then we can focus on the details, and after that, relate to it. 

It’s maybe helpful to see that it isn’t that only the padma aspect exists alone, but that the other families are there as well. If we are too self-critical with ourselves, it goes in the direction of the padma neurosis, and we forget about the other aspect of openness and the mirror-like aspect. That’s what I wanted to mention. It may be helpful for us to understand because the way that we learn about the five families was much more in a separate way. We identified ourselves with only one of these energies. That’s why we also somehow feel much more of the neurotic aspect of this energy and don’t see the wisdom. 

This is an important point. It’s why, at the very beginning of this seminar, I mentioned that if our emphasis is on Buddha-nature, then it’s not about which family we are, in terms of our general tendency, but to realize that we have all five of these aspects as talents, potentialities, or however we want to describe them – in all of us, including a worm – and these five network with each other; they all connect with each other, or all five are complete in each one. We’ve seen this from the point of view of the five general aspects: body, speech, mind, etc. Each of those can have the five variants. We can go further and further in terms of each one, always finding the five together. Each subdivision always has the five together again. It works like that; it’s this image of the mirrors in the net all reflecting each other on all levels. 

Now, when we look at our entire personalities, for example, we might be able to see, or to understand, aspects of all five family approaches in ourselves. One may be more dominant than the others, but there is no need to identify one hundred percent with that because, in fact, I’m sure we can find – if we look objectively at our lives and our personalities – aspects of all. Then, we can apply this type of exercise: How can we work with that dominant feature in a more productive way so that it doesn’t become neurotic? Or how do we work with this minor feature so that we can enhance its quality and bring it more into balance? There are many ways of working with this material. 

I think it’s more a matter of recognition because, within the padma family, there are the others as well: within one family, there are the other aspects as well. 

This gets into the whole image of the network, how a network actually works, and how we conceive of it. Regardless of how we conceive of the network, in any case, on the most basic level, all the five are interconnected. What I was saying in terms of that is that this aspect of seeing all five complete in each one is extremely, extremely subtle. That requires a great deal of sophistication to be able to see that, and if we lack that sophistication, that’s quite okay. The point is that even if we see the five as not within each other, nevertheless, they don’t exist independently; they all are interrelated and networked together. 

How do we reach this level of extreme sophistication in which we see that all is in this one? 

How do we reach this level of deeper sophistication? Obviously, we do it with familiarity. The more we work with these systems, the more we understand them, and then we go deeper and deeper. It’s a very natural process. That’s very elegant. 

Can you give an example? 

Why don’t we ask Matthias for the example since you brought it up? 

I think when one exaggerates this being self-critical, and one is too uptight, then one doesn’t recognize that there is also the mental activity that produces this state. So, in opening up, the other aspects come more to the surface, and you get a feeling for the space that is in it for the mirror-like aspect: how the mind makes it appear as if I have this inherent property that makes me a bad person and so on. 

I think it is more productive to work with the positive aspects of these things rather than the neurotic aspects. When we say that there are subfamilies of each family, what is usually meant by that is that we have mental activity, speech and so on, but there are five variants of mental activity according to the five families, five variants of speech and five variants of the body in terms of the elements. It’s the same thing here. 

For instance, if we are focused very much on detail, the individual detail, there are five variants in which we can focus on detail. We can focus on detail in terms of being very open, relaxed about it. We can focus on detail in terms of the emphasis on structure. We can focus on it in terms of the emphasis on trying to get an equal picture of the whole thing by looking at all the details. We can focus on details in terms of how to relate with them, how to integrate them. Or we can just focus on details in terms of, we like a lot of details! In astrology terms, it is the Virgo type. That’s what’s usually meant by the five variants within each family. 

It doesn’t have to be that we’re fixated on them – that’s a negative aspect. If we like details, that’s fine – there’s no problem in liking details. There is nothing wrong with any of these five families. I think this is very important: to not emphasize the neurotic aspect, but to emphasize the positive aspect of these things non-judgmentally. The whole reason for working with the neurotic aspects of these things is to be able to overcome them and use the positive aspects of this family trait. That’s usually done in terms of being able to recognize the underlying deep awareness that’s being distorted into the neurotic aspect. In order to do that, there are, obviously, a number of different methods we could use. 

Applying the Namshe Yeshe Presentation to Our Personalities 

Applying this presentation of the five types of deep awareness requires quite a bit of introspection. Now, of course, there are undoubtedly many other ways of applying them like, for instance, what you do here at this yoga center with applying them to different styles of yoga; however, the one I’m familiar with and have worked with the most is one that has this orientation. Because I think that, for most Westerners, we tend to have a general proclivity toward a psychological analysis of ourselves, our family structure, these sorts of things. This is often the way we approach things. 

Here what I’m suggesting is that we look at our personalities, but if that’s not so comfortable, we can also look at our family structure, the structure of our work, or whatever; we can apply the same type of approach. As I was explaining in the example, quieting down, seeing the structure of the whole thing, that means already having a little bit of introspective work about what are the aspects of our personality, of our dynamic family situation or home situation, or whatever it might be. To just do it all of a sudden just like that, without ever having really worked with becoming aware of our personalities, would be quite difficult. It takes a bit of time. This is sort of an apology before we do the exercise. 

When we talk about “analyzing” here, I wasn’t really using that word; I’m not talking about doing a Freudian or Jungian analysis. That’s not the point here. The point is to just try to be aware of the various aspects of our personalities, the general aspects of our personality. Do we tend to be very active and pushy? Do we tend to be passive? How do we deal with people? Are we very calm? Are we very nervous? Do we worry a lot? How do we deal with sexuality? How do we deal with money issues? How do we deal with issues of being a woman or being a man? How do we deal with power or control? Do we always have to have everything under control, or are we more adventurous and relaxed? These sorts of aspects are very basic, common components of a personality. Do we have a lot of attachment or a lot of anger? These are very, very fundamental things to get the general picture of what are the components of our personality. What is our level of intelligence? How much education do we have? How many professional skills do we have? What about health and all these things? How do we feel about them? Everything fits in. As we open up, we try to open up to all these aspects, the whole picture of ourselves. 

Obviously, the picture of ourselves is very wide-reaching, isn’t it? What’s really quite difficult in this whole process, I must say, is step number two in which we see the whole picture. In opening up, we can open up; however, to see the whole picture, and the structure of that picture, that is the difficult one, unless we’ve already had some sort of introspective experience. Again, when we talk about the structure, I don’t know how much emphasis we wants to put on that because to see a structure actually implies a great deal of understanding and analysis in order to be able to see that structure. Doesn’t it? 

Here it’s much more important to just get the full picture; we might not understand really how everything works together and what some of the underlying patterns might be. That requires a lot of work, and perhaps the other system we learned in terms of putting things into patterns is more applicable. Here it would be to just get all the elements there – I don’t mean earth, water and fire – I mean all the components there, so we get the whole picture. 

You just look at what is there at the moment. We don’t go into the past. Is it like that? 

I don’t think we need to limit ourselves to what we are feeling right now. That is one aspect. Another aspect is our history. Our history does affect us, and that gets into a whole other approach, which I had thought for another weekend seminar here, of how we deal with our own personal histories and integrate them into a mandala. That’s another seminar. 

Certainly, our personal histories are very much part of who we are. We might have been married for a certain part of our lives but got divorced or our partner died. We raised children, but now they are married and away from home. I mean, that’s part of our experience, isn’t it? In terms of seeing a large picture, obviously, “large” means as much as we can bring in. Everything is interrelated and affects each other like a network. Remember, at this stage – this second stage – we’re not looking at the details of any of this. It’s just that there’s a family aspect, a sexual aspect, an intellectual aspect, all these aspects without the detail. They are all equally important, worthwhile; they are all equally parts of us. One is not more important than the other. Then, we can choose one to actually focus on and go into detail. 

The point of the second one is to get the whole context; otherwise, without a context, we may just look at one little part of us, and the danger of that is that we might identify with that to the exclusion of everything else. For instance, “That’s the most important thing in my life: my gender, my profession, or the fact that I’m a mother, and nothing else matters.” It is very important to have this second step, which is to see the full picture, the context – the context of one aspect of our personality. Are there any other questions? 

If it’s a picture, could it be as if you are looking at a rose? First, you look at the flower in total, and then you start looking at the petals, colors, stem, thorns, leaves and so on. 

Yes, the rose – but I mean the whole thing: the rose bush, the garden, the whole thing. 

I’ll describe it in terms of personality, but if you want to do it terms of your family structure or whatever, you’re free to do it as you wish. The family structure contains the mother, the father, the children and the grandparents. That’s the whole picture. We can focus on one specific interaction that’s going on in that family dynamic. For instance, maybe there’s a problem, but that exists in the context of the whole structure of the family, and everybody’s viewpoint and experience in the family is equally valid. That’s equalizing awareness. This would be the way to apply this system of analysis to something like family counseling. The effect of the problem that occurs on every other member of the family is equally important, to be taken into consideration as the equalizing awareness. It’s the same in terms of an office dynamic, in a school, a sports team, or even a society, if we want to really become sophisticated here; it becomes very interesting – think of it on a global level. 

The Exercise 

Let’s quiet down by focusing on the breath. The first step is to get to this openness. Just opening up the room in our minds, as it were, to work with this whole process. We do that by calming down, letting go of our thoughts, preconceptions, self-judgments and all these sorts of things. The simplest way of doing that is to just imagine that we release and let go of these things as we breathe out in a gentle, normal way. If we really want to go deeper into this process, it is really helpful to bring to consciousness what our preconceptions and self-judgments might be, and then to let them go. 

While doing this letting-go process, it’s also very helpful to relax any muscle tension that we might have and to try to feel that physical tension releasing as we release our mental and emotional tension. We let go, as well, of any attitude of attachment to one aspect or another of our personalities, the attitude of rejection and the attitude of ignoring. We’re not going to cling to, reject, or ignore any aspect of ourselves. Similarly, we let go of any dullness or sleepiness that we might have by trying to feel refreshed like we have just stepped out of the shower.


Now with this open, receptive and fresh state of mind – this open awareness – we turn to the full scope of our personalities, the full picture. Whether we work with this in a visual way, or however we want to do this, just try to have a large picture of all these aspects of our personality: the emotional life, the sexual life, the financial matters, all these sorts of family things – just the general picture of the whole thing. Some little pictorial things to represent it may be helpful. It depends; each person finds it different. Although we are aware of the general flavor of each of these components, we are not looking at specific details. In working with this step, there are several ways of doing it. One could be to build up features one by one to get the larger picture or to just think in terms of the whole picture moving from vagueness to focusing on the general aspects. 


Then, we try to view all the different components and aspects as equally relevant, equally valid and equally there. They all equally play a role in my life. 


Now within this context of the whole picture, we focus on one individual aspect with a little bit of detail. When we look at the details, we’re not just looking at this, and this, and this; we are also looking at the benefits and disadvantages of this particular aspect of our lives. 


Then, we look at this specific aspect in terms of how we deal with it, how we can relate to it, how we can maximize the benefits of it, minimize the disadvantages of it, fit it into our lives in a more harmonious way and fit it into that whole picture in a more harmonious way – whether it’s accepting it or dealing with it in a positive way.


Finally, we let the experience settle, and once it’s settled a little bit, we focus on the breath. 


Comments? Questions? 


For me, the point of view to open up to the whole, to look at the whole picture, is a stressful way of looking at it. Since sometimes I tried to look only at certain points, maybe with the intention to encourage the positive points and not to get stuck so much with negative self-view. But, of course, then there is a certain doubt in my contribution. It could be that even though we don’t look at those negative aspects too much, they have more and more of an effect on life. 

First of all, I should say that this type of practice is actually quite advanced, as you might have gathered. In order to be able to do it in its fullest way, we have to be relatively emotionally mature and stable. Of course, many of us may not be at that point in our own personal development. This is quite natural. Therefore, when we have some block, discomfort, or unresolved areas in our personalities or our lives, we need to proceed much more carefully and slowly. 

In the work that we began – for instance, looking at ourselves in the manner that we did yesterday – with that presentation of the five types of deep awareness, just to see what the facts are, and to discover what the patterns are, would certainly be the first step before doing this type of practice. If we are working on this level of practice and there are areas that are quite difficult and stressful in our lives, then there’s no need to open up to the entirety. To start with, we would open up to whatever scope we are comfortable with and work with that, and then slowly open up to more and more aspects. 

You might have noted that one of the steps in opening up was to try to release this clinging and being attached to certain aspects of our personality and rejecting, ignoring or denying. We have to work with that – fear, being afraid of certain aspects. We have to work on that step before going further. If that’s a difficult step, then we have to spend quite a lot of time on that step, and maybe just this letting go method is not strong enough, and we need deeper and stronger methods for dealing with that. 

Here, we’re just introducing a type of work that we can do with these five types of deep awareness, but that doesn’t mean that we need to practice it. It’s like being familiar with all the different things that are in our first aid kit. We know what’s in our first aid kit, but that doesn’t mean we have to use all of them. Only use a specific one when we’re ready to use it or need to use it. Without being intimidated by it – there’s nothing to be intimidated by – it’s just another medicine in the first aid kit. 

In terms of doing this exercise, my experience was that in opening up, I felt more of the room, of space, of openness, and then it was difficult to go further in terms of dealing with more specifics. 

This is also something that frequently happens. It is nothing surprising. Exercises, particularly the more complex ones, require a great deal of familiarity. If, in the process, we can just really get to the first step – which is just being open – well, maybe the first time we do it we may not be able to go to the second, third, fourth and fifth steps, but it’s pretty good that we got to the first step. It’s a basis for going further. It’s like learning to walk as a baby: we have to start step by step, and it’s not very easy, and obviously, it’s not very fair to say, here’s something complex, all the five steps, and then expect us to do all five for the first time. Some people may be able to, but most people can’t. Don’t worry about it. 

Also, to help with this type of experience that we had, to help to overcome what you experienced, or to prevent it, then we have this step that we let go as well, or try to let go, of a feeling of dullness, of becoming bedazzled or bewitched, or something like that, by this openness, by imagining that our minds are fresh like coming out of a refreshing shower. When there’s that freshness there, that helps to go on to the next steps and not just, “Ahhhh, I’m so open and relaxed,” which often is a tendency to become a bit dull, a little bit sleepy. It’s like staying in our nice, warm cozy bed. That’s the purpose of that step. Anything else? 

In your first aid kit is there a certain container which has a sign, “Be careful. Danger. Don’t open too early!” or something like that. “For side effects, ask your physician.” 

In any type of meditation dealing with voidness, particularly in terms of the self, we have to be very careful that we don’t go too far and deny the conventional existence of “me.” Then, we really go to the whole extreme of nihilism, and there can really be quite a lot of dangers. We have to be very careful with Buddhist meditation. “Well, I don’t think I exist at all, so it doesn’t matter what I do, and no consequences,” like that. This is a danger if we misunderstand. 

Another area that we have to be quite careful about is working with our imagination concerning our self-image. If we work without some understanding of how the self exists, then we run the danger of being like a crazy person thinking that they are Cleopatra or Napoleon. 

Also, to play with this analogy of the first aid kit, there are certain things that we should only take with a doctor’s prescription and the doctor’s supervision. Similarly, there’s a lot in Buddhist practice that really needs the supervision of a well-qualified teacher. 

In connection with that, one of the most dangerous areas that we have to really be careful with is the relationship with the spiritual teacher. I wrote a whole book on that, which I’d recommend, which is about building a healthy relationship with your spiritual teacher. It’s very easy to get into a very unhealthy, neurotic relationship even if the teacher is well qualified – let alone if the teacher is a charlatan, which many are. This is an area that we have to be really careful in terms of the attitude toward the teacher, how we relate to the teacher, and so on. Also, I think, in working with Buddhist meditation methods, it is important, like with medicine, to know the strength of the method. It’s just like how we don’t use antibiotics for a headache. Some methods are mild. Some methods are very strong. Which are the mild methods that we try first? If they don’t work, what’s the stronger method to use?

Five Basic Ways in Which We Influence Others 

The five Buddha-families can also describe five different ways of influencing others or acting, which can then reflect in five different ways in which we speak and communicate and in other areas as well. There are several different ways of describing these. As we have seen, there are different approaches to the Buddha-families; likewise, they generate slightly different descriptions of these different types of activity or speech. What is important in our training here, in this context, is to realize that we can act and speak in all of these ways. Therefore, if we want to develop ourselves and help others more, we need to develop these possibilities or talents that we have of acting and communicating in these various ways. We learn to use them where they are appropriate, because different situations, different people, and so on, will call for different ways of acting, different ways of speaking and so on. 

We have the ability to do all of that in many different ways. Despite whichever style is dominant in us, there is no need to feel locked into that particular mode of behavior and communication. We have the ability to act and communicate in different ways as well. 

What are these five methods or five styles? Let’s explain them in the general anuttarayoga system. This always seems to be the easier method, for lack of a better word, where we would start. Again, which family it belongs to, and so on, there’s going to be slight diversity, as we’ve seen before between the Buddha family and the vajra family. 

Pacifying Action

The first type of activity is pacifying action. This is the action that calms others down. This could be in terms of our speech: to speak in a very soothing, calming type of manner. Remember, when we talk about these types of activities, we’re not talking about them exclusively from the point of view of what’s happening from our side. Although some people translate this term as “activity,” it’s speaking more in terms of what type of influence we have on others. Of course, not only are we calm, but the point is that we have the influence on others to calm them down, to be soothing to them if they are stressed, nervous, frightened, or something like that. That actually is the main emphasis: the influence that we have on others. The whole point of acting and communicating is not this Western concept, “I need to express myself,” where the emphasis is on me. The emphasis is that we communicate and act with the focus on the other person that we are communicating with. 

Stimulating Action

The next way in which we could act or influence others is in a stimulating way, in a way that will stimulate the good qualities in others to grow. We stimulate them by being generous, magnanimous – this is usually the jewel family – in a very regal type of way. The point is to increase their happiness, to stimulate their intelligence, their interest, their self-confidence and their energy. In terms of our speech, it would be to speak in a very stimulating manner with a very rich vocabulary, with encouragement and in a very regal way. 

Charismatic Action

The third style that we have is to bring everything into order and under control. This is a manner in which we speak and act in a charismatic way that is very polite and gentle and charms others completely, so that they do what we would like them to do, or they feel comfortable to get everything in order with themselves. However, it also has this aspect of being very well-organized, beautifully well-organized. For example, when we say it nicely in German, “Alles klar, alles in Ordnung, that everything is clear, everything is in order, everything is well-arranged and so on,” so that it makes the other person be in the same way so that they are influenced by us. In this example, likewise, to get everything in order, everything together and working harmoniously. 

If we’re teaching something, we present it in a very well-organized, clear, elegant and beautiful way, then the other person can follow very clearly and isn’t lost or anything like that. It’s also so they come under our control, in that sense – not in a power trip – but within our sphere, so that they likewise can have a well-organized clear way of understanding; they’re taken by it, and it captivates their mind because it’s just so perfect. If we’re the head of a company or a committee and can present the plans of the project in a very well-organized, clear, beautiful and elegant manner, then everybody in the team will very happily join in and can all work together as a team. In this sense, that’s why it’s called “bringing everything in order and under control.” 

Forceful Action

The next one is forceful action. By being extremely powerful and strong, it causes others to stop being lazy, inefficient or doing things incorrectly. Being very strong gets everybody to accomplish a great deal. If we think of the example of a strong, forceful military commander, by being very strong, he is able to cut away – like the symbol of the sword – the fear or the hesitation in the troops; he can get the troops to actually act. This isn’t negative. Don’t think of having a forceful influence on others as negative, but often when people are lacking self-confidence, “I can’t do it” or “I’m afraid,” we say, “Come on, you can do it!” in a very strong, very self-confident way. A coach of a team that was losing the first half of a football game says, “Come on, stop feeling defeated. Go out there!” It is this type of forceful strong talk. 

Diverse Action

The last one in this system is diverse action. This means a varied type of action. Diverse action is action that has intelligence behind it. With our intelligence, we see and discriminate how everything fits together so that we become very sharp and precise and are able to make very quick, clear decisions to deal with everything because we are using intelligence to figure it out. It’s a quick, clear decision that is diverse and flexible to deal with whatever situation might come up and is able to adapt as the situation develops. 

Remember, we’re talking about influencing others, so by being very clear and precise and dealing with the situation in others, it suits them – in the sense that we can help them, we can communicate with them in precisely the right way. If they are a child, if they are upset, if they are an adult, if they speak this language or that language, whatever it is, we are able to work with and reach them in a way that will suit them that is intelligent and appropriate. Because we’re relating to them in that type of intelligent, flexible, precise way, then that opens up the possibility for them to actually use all their abilities, their intelligence and so on, because we are actually communicating. If we are not quite communicating because we are speaking to a child as if they were an adult, or an adult as if they were a child, then we are not connecting. The adult can’t really use all of his or her abilities because we haven’t opened up the possibility for that. In terms of speaking, it would be to speak in a flexible but precise manner in styles that suit the other person. 

General Observations about These Five 

We might notice with these styles that the boundaries between them are not absolutely fixed and clear. Many aspects of them fall over into other categories, and so this is why we always say that these things network. All of them fit into each other. If we are speaking in a very forceful way, actually inside, we need to be quite calm. This we learn very much in martial arts training. We are able to shout, “Haaaa!” but we can stay very calm inside and have that not upset our energy at all. These things always combine with each other. If we are strong and then that makes all our energy upset, we are completely unable to deal with this situation. 

I use that example of being forceful and yet calm because they seem to be the most contradictory, but actually, they only work if they are supporting each other. Obviously, if we’re very calm and quiet with someone, we also still need to be quite forceful and strict in terms of setting boundaries, for example. That doesn’t have to be yelling at somebody, but we’re firm. We can be firm in a very calm type of way and not get upset by it. It’s like we said before, each of the five can be in each of the five different styles. 

“I’m so sorry. That’s not possible. I just can’t do that.” It’s very calm, but still very forceful and clear. Because perhaps saying, “I can’t do it!” could make the other person very uneasy. We want to be able to be forceful but in a very calm type of way. 

We can do that in a way that is very well-organized so that they can go along with us. “I can only help this much, but I can’t help you that much.” It works with all of these five. Let me clarify that example. “I can’t give you all of my time. I’m very sorry, but I can meet with you once a week. We’ll have our time together at such-and-such a time each week, but more than that, I can’t do, sorry.” We are combining here being very forceful, making clear the boundaries, and being very calm about it, but it’s well organized because we give them the possibility – “Ok, well, you can have this much.” That allows them to be able to go along with it. They come under our control in that sense. We make it very precise so that they know what are and are not the possibilities so that it allows them to use all their abilities in that more limited situation. 

What is the name of this system? 

The pacifying, stimulating, control, forceful and diverse are the five types of activity that are always discussed in general anuttarayoga tantra, the five types of enlightening influence, activity, or however we want to translate “Buddha-activity.” It’s just a matter of applying it and figuring it out, such as how it would apply to speech. I have not actually seen a place where they describe the different types of speech, but I’m just putting it all together, but those are the five standard types of activity found in any general anuttarayoga system. We get this classification scheme, for instance, in texts on fire pujas, specific types of rituals we do for having these different types of influence on situations and so on. That is where it comes from. They do these rituals to try to bring world peace or to stimulate the harvest and the fields or get people all together and well-organized so that they can deal with a situation that is difficult. They do rituals that are associated with these different types of influence from that general, widespread system. 

Are there any questions about these different styles? 

How to Train in the Five Styles of Activity 

How are these activities trained? Does it come along with the awareness aspect? If we develop the awareness aspect, does the action aspect come with it? 

I don’t think it would automatically come. They’re associated. For instance, in terms of the stimulating type of activity, it is based on stimulating others’ good qualities, and to grow in terms of seeing that everybody is equal, so they also have the possibility to develop it, and so on. However, it’s not that if we have that equalizing awareness, then automatically, we are going to be able to stimulate others. I think that it’s separate training. It’s related, but separate. 

To actually develop it, I would propose something similar to the approach we use in the sensitivity training, although I haven’t really developed it in that program yet, but we do two steps. The first step is to imagine what it would be like to speak in this way or act in this way – this is similar to any tantra visualization practice. Here we can be quite creative and imagine it. What would it be like? We play-act, which is what we do in a visualization. 

The second step is to ask ourselves whether it is just in our imagination, or do we actually have the ability to act in this way? Now, we get to the Buddha-nature aspect. In order to demonstrate to ourselves that we do have the ability to act like that, then what I use in the sensitivity training is to just remember the most simple, basic examples of when we have acted like that. Everybody has acted like that. For example, what I use in sensitivity training is that we all have the quality of being warm and affectionate, so we try to remember having a small puppy or kitten in our lap and petting it. Most people have had the experience of petting a baby cat or a baby dog in our lap and feeling some sort of warmth or affection. That convinces us that we do have the ability to be warm and affectionate. It’s that same thing with tying our shoes. If we have ever successfully tied our shoes, we have done something with understanding. It is actually quite a complex thing to tie our shoes, but just remembering tying our shoes demonstrates to us that it is possible to understand something – to do something with understanding – so it gives us confidence that we have these basic qualities. Use very common, everyday examples. That’s what convinces us about Buddha-nature. 

We could extend this. A calming activity would be putting a baby to sleep. Maybe not everybody has had that experience, but many of us have had the experience of quieting down a baby and putting it to sleep. Try to think of different ways in which we have acted that would be in these different manners. Many of us have experienced being flexible and precise when driving a car. We have to turn the wheel this way and that way, press this button and that thing. We are able to act in this very precise way. Or using our computer – we’re able to do that – we have this very precise type of activity. As I have said, I haven’t really worked this out, but with a little bit of time and thought, one could find many common everyday examples in which we act in each of these five ways. 

Exercise on the Five Types of Activity 

What we’ll try to work with here is in terms of speech. Again, what I would invite us to do is to break into groups of three or four. We’ll try to give directions on how to get to the railway station in each of these five different manners. It doesn’t depend on us actually knowing how to get to the railway station; just make up anything, in case you don’t know – after all, some people do that anyway so that they don’t disappoint when somebody’s asking for directions. 

We enact a scene pretending that someone has asked the way to the railway station. Person one explains the way to the railway station to person two. Person three is just an observer; they just look at the scene and realize how it works. Person two (the one hearing it as the receiver) also has to observe what is like receiving this type of explanation. Please don’t limit yourself to just speaking in a certain manner; it can also be the style of your gestures, and so on. 

The person two then becomes the one to explain the way to the railway station to person three but does it in the next type of activity. Next, person one, who was the explainer before, becomes the observer. We repeat like this, in a circle. 

After this has happened five times, we have had displayed all the five ways of speaking. Then we change the situation, and we exchange with each other about how we felt about it, our reaction, how we felt when we spoke in such a manner, or how we were affected by being spoken to in such a manner. Of course, also the observer in any of the cases, he or she will contribute from their point of view what they have realized by just merely being a witness of this type of communication. 

Also, I would suggest that it may be the case that it’s somebody’s turn to do it in a particular style and they might not have any idea really how to do it; for example, they don’t have a clear idea, or when they start to do it, maybe it’s not really working or coming out clearly in that style. If that’s the case, then please other people in the group, if you have some ideas of how to do it, suggest, contribute. Don’t feel that that person has to be on the spot and perform. Maybe they can’t figure out that particular type, and maybe somebody else in the group would like to do it who finds that particular style comes to them more easily and can figure out how to do it. Let’s try not to get stuck in a whole big long conversation and discussion about how to do it. Just some suggestions if you get stuck. Let’s try to emphasize “doing it.” 

Do it as naturally as possible. Of course, you can ask if you haven’t quite understood how to go to the railway station. Do it at your own speed, but please keep in mind that you have to get to the railway station. We have to be quite strict in terms of when we finish. We’ll have maybe ten minutes or something like that for the whole exercise, including a bit of discussion within your group. We finish our exercise with speech by stopping speaking and quieting down. 


I’m sorry that we don’t have time to have a larger discussion about your experience with the group or to ask questions. However, this is something you can obviously discuss with yourself or ask your teacher here, Hans-Harald. Of course, I hope that through this type of exercise, we realize that there are many different ways of dealing with this situation – like someone asking directions to the train station – and actually we’re quite capable of handling the situation in any of these manners that would be appropriate to the person in the situation. 

We were speaking a little bit before about what would be the method to learn how to do, speak, or act in these five ways. From the sensitivity training, we saw that the first step would be to imagine what it would be like. Well, here it might not be so easy to imagine these different manners for some of us, and an alternative method is the method we have just done – which is to work with small groups, and we can see how it is done from other people who perhaps find one style or another more natural to them. Then, on that basis, we can look to see within ourselves: “Oh yes, I actually have acted like that at this time, or that time, in my experience.” 

Working with these five Buddha-families, we see that actually it has a very, very wide application and is a very deep topic and one that we can go further and further in as we develop ourselves. What is important within the Buddhist context here, is what would motivate us to pursue all of this – not just because it is interesting – but to pursue it because the more that we develop and work with these various Buddha-families, the more we are able to deal with others in a beneficial way, which is helpful for them and, of course, indirectly helpful to us. 


Let’s end then with the dedication. We think that whatever we have learned, whatever we have experienced, may it go deeper and deeper so that we can digest it and go further with this material. Let it act as a cause to discover and use all our Buddha-nature qualities and abilities to be of best use to everyone.