January 24, 1996 Project Expand, Rebirth Consciousness/Skandhas

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good morning and my love to you both and to those distant friends whom I gather will join these sessions via your electronic imitation of telepathic sharing. Last week we began with an overview. Today let us begin with an intense observation of the steps in the process which leads to karmic rebirth. This material will involve some repetition for a few of you but I wish to be certain we all have the same foundation, and will be taking it deeper than we have before. It is important that we understand this process which I shall describe as groundwork for our understanding of rebirth consciousness. Please note that when I use the term “rebirth” I am speaking of the creation of the next moment. Reincarnation is one form which rebirth consciousness takes.

We begin with contact. The human body is a mass of elements, amongst them nerves which are part of the sensory vehicles. Nerves of the skin sensory system evolved into the body for self-preservation. Without these nerves as warning system, and lacking the ability to re-grow body parts, you would find yourself missing most of your appendages before you reached maturity. Other body senses bear a similar function. They allow you to know the objects which the body has contacted so that there may be appropriate response in relationship to those objects. You are never asked to over-ride the natural functions of the body. For example, touching an extremely hot object results in pain and withdrawal. This is not conditioned so much as reflexive response to pain. Therefore, we must differentiate between the natural functions of the body, which we respect, and conditioned reactions based on response to that which is received through the body's senses.

Contact is just contact. Eyes touch eye-object and the consciousness of seeing results. Ears touch object and the consciousness of hearing results. Tasting, smelling - also consciousnesses. Touch may seem a bit different because of the immediately apparent involvement of the nerves but truly it is the same. If fingertips touch something sharp, skin and nerves are all involved in that touching. Through the nerves there may be pain.

We tend to think of nerves more in relationship to touch than the other senses. Nerves convey a message to the brain. With touch, the message may be one of pain or lack of pain, sharp, soft, smooth, rough, hot, cold. If it is very sharp or very hot, the experience that the flesh may be damaged by that contact is carried to the brain. We know that the item which is object of touch does not have innate intention to harm. It is simply being how it is, being sharp, being hot. The hot coal has no intention to burn you, it is simply being itself. The teeth themselves on a piranha have not intention to harm. The intention comes from the mind which controls the teeth. There is sharp touch and a reaction to the pain.

In the other physical senses, the nerves are an equal part of the contact but their work is not recognized as readily. Seeing: eye touching object. Nerves from eye to brain register that seeing. If what is seen is a brilliant flash of light, there may be pain. A one hundred twenty decibel sound - there will be pain. We might call pain a very high degree of the sensation of unpleasant.

With any physical sense contact, it is the brain that registers the pleasant or unpleasant, not the sense organ itself. Therefore, there must be contact and consciousness, at which stage the nerves and brain have become involved.

Mind is the nonphysical sense. Mind touches object of mind and mind consciousness, or knowing, results.

We have here the first phases then: contact and consciousness. What follows next are sensation and perception, in either order, although sensation almost always comes first. Sensation is simply the registration of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Sensation is necessary result of consciousness.

Pain is an extreme state of unpleasantness. There is an important distinction here. One does not dislike pain because it is painful, but because it is unpleasant. We fear that which is unpleasant, fear the ability of the human to tolerate, to control, to deal with skillfully. Without mindfulness, “unpleasant” gives rise to dislike and then to aversion.

Pain is very interesting. Several months ago when the doctors were treating Barbara's shoulder, they decided to inject cortisone. There were several large needles, the mere appearance of which gave rise to the notion of fear. Furthermore, they said to her, “This process may be somewhat painful.” I asked her to relax, not to think in terms of “pain,” but to simply notice each moment of contact and the accompanying sensation. She found there was a burning sensation, and also pushing. She could feel it move through the layers of the shoulder, through skin, muscle, into bone. She observed that it was unpleasant, but in no way unendurable. There was mental reaction to the idea of pain, which reaction gave rise to fear, and that the whole reaction had little to do with the actual physical sensation. “Pain” is enormous. “Touch, burning, pressure, tingling.” These are all relatively workable. I say “relatively” because if one is being tortured by a hot iron burning the flesh, the nerves are overwhelmed by the mass of the sensation and it does indeed cease to be workable for the sentient mind-body complex. For now, as we seek to understand this process, it would be best if we avoid such examples of extreme sensory overload.

So we have contact, consciousness of contact and the accompanying sensations: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral to whatever degree they appear. I have said that perception usually follows sensation rather than the other way around. If you step on a tack, the burning of skin being pierced and the unpleasant quality of that experience precede the mind's understanding, “I have stepped on a tack.” You may see something beautiful in the distance, a mingling of colors and shapes, and find the pattern beautiful, “pleasant,” before you know what it is. “Pleasant, pleasant.” Perception need not be precise. You may smell something sweet, breathe it in. “Pleasant, pleasant.” You do not have to know that it's an apple pie and envision that pie to know the smell is pleasant. Probably you will note that something is baking, so there is some anticipation. The smell is pleasant in itself, but it also touches old conditioning which anticipates the delight of eating that which smells so good.

This is an important place to look deeper. The sensation may be pleasant or unpleasant, entirely free of any old conditioning. Sensation here is the direct experience of this moment as perceived by one or more senses. When you are present with the direct experience, any contraction around pleasant or unpleasant is merely the body's response. In itself, it does not carry adhering karma. This is vital. The shift from direct experience into perception which thinks about the experience, reacts to the experience through arising mental formation. It is the mental formations which may lead to adhering karma. I say “may” with emphasis. If the mental formation is known as just another contact, the pleasant or unpleasant quality noted, it stops there. There is no adhering karma.

Let me offer several different, concrete examples. The pie is in the oven. You have just entered the door. “Smelling, smelling.” You note “pleasant, pleasant,” and any contraction of the energy field. There is not yet desire. It hasn't been identified as “pie.” Thus, perception and old mind have not entered. “Pleasant, pleasant.” If liking is present you note “liking, liking.” Still no contraction of energy. Liking in itself does not need to carry contraction.

Liking and craving are not the same thing. The image of “pie” appears, as perception of the nature of this smell and desire for it. With that image you are no longer in the present; you are imagining, anticipating. Old conditioning reminds you of past experience eating fresh pie, how good it tastes. There are two possibilities here. One leads to adhering karma and one does not.

“Liking, liking.” And here the path diverges. With the image of that pie, with anticipation and mounting desire, the energy field contracts into craving. Immediately, there is a sense of solid self and of something “out there” which “I” need.

Here I ask you to pause for a moment, bring to mind a delightful and identifiable scent. As best you can, imagine that scent: “pleasant, pleasant.” This is subtle. See if you can feel the energy contraction as the mind moves into images of what that object might be and memory about prior experience with it. I wish you to focus on feeling that contraction. I will pause here for a moment. (pause)

Come back to the same point of “liking, liking.” Notice the image forming, perception and the beginnings of mental arising. What happens to that tension of desire when you note, “imaging, imaging?” Or simply note the arising desire as “contracting, contracting,” or “tension, tension?” Move to whatever is primary. You are not attempting to keep the image of an apple pie from arising. You are not attempting to keep memory of the delight experienced in eating past pies from the mind. You rest in a space outside of relationship with the arising which knows all of it as conditioned arising. If contraction arises as resultant of the memory, simply know that contraction has arisen. There is no need to act upon contraction. The contact is just contact. The pleasantness is just pleasantness. Liking is just liking. Remembering is just remembering.

I want you to focus on this chain of experience in the coming week, specifically with pleasant sensation. You may be able to feel, see visually, even hear or taste the energy contraction in the body when you move out of the experience of the present and into a relationship with whatever has arisen. I request you to observe that energy and contracted state. It is the constant repetition of encountering this contraction with lack of mindfulness which perpetuates the particular karmic stream of desire.

At the point where you become aware of that perhaps very subtle contraction, please see if you can note the unpleasant quality of the contraction. Here is where you have become locked in. All that came before is what I call the “primary contraction.” When met with mindfulness, even desire is just desire. There is nothing to be done about it. There is no adhering karma essential to the state of desire. But once this process has moved into desire, desire is unpleasant and you move into a relationship with it. Here, precisely, is where the seed is planted. I would request feedback from all who are involved. That is all.