Class Three, Spirituality in Daily Life - November 14, 2007

Barbara: As we sit tonight, begin by bringing attention to the body and the breath, present with the breath. If a body sensation, thought, or emotion pulls you away from the breath, move to it. It may be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral in its feeling.

With an arising body sensation or emotion, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant there may be tension. If something difficult comes into your experience, a sensation, thought or emotion, feel the tension in it. Pull at the rubber band, just feeling the tension in the rubber band. Feel the tension in the belly or the throat or the chest or wherever in your body you may be feeling it, and the tension in the rubber band.

I don't want you to simply say, 'I release this;' that can be a way of trying to push it away. Rather, I want you to slip the rubber band off your hand and note, 'This rubber band has the nature of openness, and yet under certain conditions there's tension.' Right there with the tension is that which is open, relaxed, soft.

Slip it back on, tensed. Then bring your attention back to this sensation or emotion, an emotion or some body sensation you don't want. The tension may be of aversion to the object. If so, know it as aversion. Right there with the tension, right there with the aversion, find that which is soft and open.

I want you to see, with each object that arises with tension, that right there with the tension is that which is not tense. Just watch both, don't try to stop the tension. Be aware of the tension and that which is not tense. If that which is not tense becomes predominant, bring your attention to it.

Relax; be open. At that point, it may cease to be a strong object. Just come back to your breath. But if it does continue as a strong object, open also to spaciousness and ease. Stay with the object as long as it's predominant. If it all changes or you become confused, simply come back to your breath. Do you understand the instructions? Any questions? Okay, let us sit.

(pause for sitting)

We're talking about C's email and my reply to the email. I want to keep it clear that we don't want to get caught up into just intellectualizing. But there's a point to this, which is, coming to know the different expressions of the Unconditioned as we experience them in ourselves and in the world. What is it we're calling Divine, God, Unconditioned or Dhamma or whatever we want to name it?

The Buddhist tradition talks about the 3 kayas. The word kaya means body. There is Dharmakaya, which is the truth body. The Unconditioned itself, not just unconditioned out there vs. unconditioned in here; there is no out there vs. in here. It's simply that which is, the deepest level of being. Nirmanakaya is at the opposite end of the spectrum, is the form body, not just form in terms of physical form, but the forms of emotions and thoughts. The heavier material, emotional and mental bodies.

So we have dharmakaya and nirmanakaya. If we can see them like, (placing two objects a short distance apart) this on this side of the bridge and that on that side of the bridge, it seems at first as if they are separate. The third kaya is sambhogakaya, which we might see as a bridge with deep foundation on each side.

Dharmakaya, nirmanakaya; so easy to see them as separate, but here is sambhogakaya as the bridge. It has deep roots to both Dharmakaya and nirmanakaya. It's not just sitting on the top, it's connected. Sambhogakaya is sometimes translated as wealth body, as in riches. I like the translation, transition body. It's that which connects the everyday outer expression of that divinity and the divinity itself. It's one, it's not 3 separate things, it's one, because the sambhogakaya is connected deeply at each end.

Thus far, it's conceptual. Think of an everyday experience, such as a strenuous physical experience, walking fast, energy, feeling the body moving. It's a physical experience. If we think of it as completely separate from the Dharmakaya, then we lose this everyday holiness aspect of it, there's that which is holy and that which is separate.

Let's not use walking, let's use gardening. You're digging in your garden, you're working, you're exerting yourself digging holes. It's spring, you're planting flowers, shrubs and seeds, working the soil and getting it ready for seeds. It's a strong physical experience.

And yet on another level, what you're doing is co-creating life, literally, from this little seed. Can you feel the sacred aspect of that? There's a love to it. It's not just a physical experience, there's that which is connected to everything. Each time we put that seed in the ground, we're re-creating the world. I want you to get into your own experience, and if my garden metaphor doesn't work for you, try to think of something that does. Bathing a baby, a physical experience and yet we can touch into that on that which is truly sacred in that experience.

Can you tie this into your own experience?

Q: Doing the dishes without love is very boring.

Barbara: We can do it without love, we can cut ourselves off. In other words, here is the nirmanakaya, there is the Dharmakaya, but they are connected and we have a choice. This is our free will choice to know the connection or to cut ourselves off from the connection and see everything as either mundane or divine.

So how do we live as if it's all divine, literally? How do we start to connect to our whole lives on this level, really knowing everything as expression of God or of Unconditioned? Unless we can do this, we start to live our lives in a very dualistic way. Get through all this stuff of daily life, all of these physical experiences and emotions, and finally I have a chance to sit and meditate and connect with something else. But if you live your life in that way, you're not going to be able to connect with that something else because you can't do it for half an hour sitting on a cushion and then forget about it for 23 1/2  hours. How do we really live this connection?

Sambhogakaya—wealth body, I said, is one translation—just keeping in mind this vast wealth of love, which is our birthright. This wealth of ability to pay attention, to be connected in the world, to live our inter-connection with everything.

How many of you have done tonglen meditation practice? Not all; okay, very briefly. Tonglen is from the Tibetan tradition. You envision light, love, peace and well-being. It's there, it's coming through the crown chakra right into the heart. Envision a place where there is suffering and send this right out to the place where there is suffering. Really feel that deep suffering. Then, breathe the suffering into your heart. This is hard. Our natural tendency is to keep that away. What does it mean to really breathe that into our hearts? And then, feeling that heavy suffering like a black tar-like mass—heavy, muddy, tar-like, sticky, unpleasant; release it. It's a very powerful practice that connects the mundane and the divine. It's right here, bringing it in and sending it out.

When we first start to do it, it's largely conceptual. But I've had occasional experiences with it where I have gone so deep. I am thinking of one night 10 or more years ago at hospice with a friend who was dying, who eventually died a few hours after I left the building. Through those hours sitting with him, he was clearly suffering; it was very hard to breathe. He was dying of a painful cancer and he was on strong medication, but still, he knew he was dying. It was so hard at first to let that dying in. At first the attitude was that this is his dying and I will work with him to try and ease this process in some way. But with this practice, we get to a place where we really can connect, it's no longer him and me, it's the whole world, thousands of people in the world in this moment are dying. Can I bring that into me? Can I allow myself to be that intimate with the suffering of the world?

Here we come to Mussar and what in us is willing to allow ourselves to be intimate with the suffering of the world. He says…I'm reading from page 70.

'The Biblical story of Jonah gives us a model of the journey to an open heart. Jonah is onboard a ship trying to avoid the destiny God has planned for him. A great storm develops and will only abate when Jonah is thrown overboard to begin the darkest leg of his journey. The Bible tells us clearly that the crew on Jonah's ship did not want to throw him overboard, which means it was Jonah himself who thought about that descent. That was the start of his transformative passage.

'The story is telling us that the journey of transformation begins with our taking action. We must not be afraid of diving into the depths. We must be passive, for it is only we ourselves who can initiate the process of our own spiritual renewal. As Jonah descends to the very depths of the sea, the description of his slide makes it explicit, that he is diving into the depths of his soul. ‘The waters surrounded me, even to the soul,' it reads.

'When he has reached the darkest depths, Jonah cries out to God. He has penetrated to the inner reaches of his soul and his heart is opened. That is the meaning of his cry. And what is the result, ‘You brought up my life from the pit,' Jonah says to God, and at that moment he begins his spiritual ascent.

'Calling this transition a circumcision lets us know that it's a kind of initiation, and like an actual circumcision it can be a difficult experience. When the protective shell that we allow to grow up over our heart is cut or broken or smashed, it exposes the tenderness beneath, and that can be painful.'

In doing tonglen, we're moving with every breath from the mundane, from the nirmanakaya out to the Dharmakaya and back to the nirmanakaya again. We bring through this light, this radiance and love. And we're willing to serve as the bridge that connects it to the suffering of the world. That bridge has got to be deeply grounded at both ends, which means we have to really know that radiance, not as something out there but in ourselves. And we have to be willing to let ourselves be touched deeply, intimately, by the nirmanakaya experience of the suffering sentient beings. Everything within us says, 'No, I don't want to be touched by that!'

So that one night I was talking about, I found that I could experience this practice in a way that I had never experienced it before. For the first time it stopped being conceptual because I really loved this man. He was one of our DSC teachers, and was a wonderful person. It was so hard to see the suffering. So I was willing to let his suffering touch me. I found that I really could bring that light through and connect with him, and it transformed everything. I think it's the first time that I fully experienced that connection, that the Divine is right here in every moment of our worst suffering. And that we have the ability to transform that suffering.

Before I go on further into C's question about these specific terms in the book, I want to read you something else that's related in the book, Open Secrets. We talked about this in the last class. This book is fictional; he's writing as if he's addressing … he had come here to this country and he's writing letters to his older rabbi in Europe. And the rabbi is writing back. So this is the fictional account, the fictional statement, the rabbi writing back to him.

 'You're quite right to raise the verse from Deuteronomy, and you shall know this day and reflect in your heart that he is God, there is no other. My teacher taught me concerning this verse and I shall do my best to pass on his wisdom. Torah cannot be saying there is no other God for it is superfluous to even state this. Instead, Torah is saying there is no other reality besides God. Both the physical and the spiritual are aspects of God, the one true reality. Some would argue that God is a divine spark inside each being. Others would argue that God is above and outside creation. I teach neither position. God is not inside or outside, God is the very thing itself. And when there is no thing but empty space, God is that as well.

'Picture a bowl, in your mind. Define the bowl. Is it just the clay that forms its walls? Or is it the empty space that fills with soup? Without the space, the bowl is useless. Without the walls, the bowl is useless. So which is the bowl? The answer is both. To be a bowl it must have both being, the walls, and emptiness, the space.

'It is the same with God. For God to be God, for God to be All, God must manifest as both being, the Hebrew word yesh, and ayin, emptiness. Yesh is the manifestation of God that appears to us as separate entities—physical, spiritual, and psychological. Ayin is the manifestation of God that reveals all separation from God to be illusory. Everything is simply God in different forms. God is all, there's nothing else.

'This teaching is called schlemut… the completeness of God. To be schlemut, God must contain all possibilities and paradoxes. To be schlemut, God must transcend the notion of opposites and reveal everything as complimentary. God must be both yesh and ayim, being and emptiness, simultaneously. Yesh and ayim both reside in and are expressions of God's wholeness, schlemut. These 3 terms are crucial to understanding God and almost everything else. It is vital to everything we will discuss that you understand these 3 words. They are the key to your spiritual awakening and tranquility. Learn them well.'

Clearly I've chosen to read them here because they're also critical to this class in understanding form and emptiness. Are you familiar with the heart sutra? My quoting may not be perfect.

'Form is emptiness, emptiness form.
The same is true of feeling, thought, impulse and consciousness.
All dharmas are empty.
They are not born nor annihilated.
They are not defiled nor immaculate.
They do not increase nor decrease.
So in emptiness no form, no feeling, no thought, no impulse, no consciousness.

Now, what does this mean, form is emptiness and emptiness is form? Is it saying anything different than the rabbi says in his book? Do you understand what he's getting at? Let me hear from you. What does 'form is emptiness; emptiness is form' mean to you?

What does emptiness mean, let's start with that. Empty of what?

Q: I think of the space between atoms.

Barbara: As empty. Empty of what?

Q: Another duality is that of light, particles and waves.

Barbara: Isn't light particles and waves. I'm not a scientist so I don't know.

Q: It is another seeming paradox.

Barbara: Okay, if I understand this correctly, if light is composed or is, particles and waves, expresses as particles and waves, can the light exist without the particles, and without the waves. So we have yesh and ayin and schlemut, another way of saying it.

What I want to get at is, what is emptiness? What does it mean when we say 'form is emptiness and emptiness is form'?

Q: They cannot be separated, one can only be described in terms of the other. They form one whole.

Barbara: Exactly. If there was no bowl outer form, (holding up the bell) what would define the space? If there was no space, well you'd have a form that was just solid, then, but it would not be a bowl, it would be a different kind of object.

Let's look at this in a slightly different way. When we say emptiness, what we're saying is empty of a separate self. We talked about this already in this class, looking at the chair. What is the chair? Is there anything you can point to and say that's the chair? Is the seat the chair? Are the u-shaped metal supports that we call the legs the chair? Is the back the chair? Is there anything you can point to and say, 'That's a chair'?

In the Buddhist teachings, the sutras talk about this with a chariot and ask, is the chariot the wheels? Is it the shafts that attach it to the horse? Is it the place where the driver stands? Is it the axle? Without any of those, there can't be a chariot.

Every conditioned object consists of a number of different parts, conditions. When those conditions are present, we end up with something that we give a name to, like chair or chariot.

Q: Or anger or love or any other conditioned thing.

Barbara: Yes, it's a thing. It consists of various conditions and when you change the conditions, you change the object. Therefore, we say it's empty of a separate self. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but it's empty of a separate self. It's existent, it is. There is love. There are chairs and chariots. There are individual people. You exist. But you only exist as the result of conditions.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. We think of form as the expression of mundane world and we tend to think of emptiness, that vastness of the supramundane, divine. But it's all one.

The reason I'm talking about this at such length is that the whole of our spiritual practice, whether it's dharma practice or Mussar or whatever kind of practice we think we're doing, whatever label we stick on it, the whole of it can come from one of two places. A place of separation where I am somebody trying to fix myself and move myself from this blemished place into that radiant place, or a place of connection where I already am in that radiant place but I still need to polish away the grit. And there's a vast difference. If our spiritual practice comes from that fix-it place, it's never going to be centered in love. And we're only going to frustrate ourselves.

So before we can do this Mussar practice or dharma practice or any kind of spiritual practice, we need to understand we're not going anywhere, we're already there. Back to the Heart Sutra:

So in emptiness no form, no feeling, no thought, no impulse, no consciousness.

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
no form, sound, smell, taste, touch or objects of mind.
No realm of sight; no realm of consciousness.

No ignorance nor extinction of ignorance,
no old age and death, nor extinction of them.

No suffering, no cause of suffering, no path to lead out of suffering;
no knowledge, no attainment, no realization
for there is nothing to attain.

I love that last line. It's that perfectly clear window glass with mud on it. We're polishing off, washing off the mud. But we're already there. This nirmanakaya human and the divinity that I'm seeking to find in the world and express in myself are already there and together. I'll have to approach it from that point or I'm just… pushing. The myth of Sisyphus. I'm just pushing that ball up the hill, and I try to keep pushing and pushing. And believe that eventually if I do it hard enough and try long enough, I'm going to get it to the top and stay there. We'll never do it, but that doesn't mean it's a hopeless task and we stop because in trying to push the ball up the hill, if we're doing it in a skillful way, we're doing it from a place of love. We're not trying to get the ball up the hill anymore; we're simply trying to express our energy with love, in the world.

Then, starting with that basis, we look at a certain characteristic like impatience and say, what am I going to do with this particular ball and hill? Am I going to beat it with a stick? I'm going to embrace it and understand, and also seek to understand what gives rise to the impatience. Right there with impatience is that which is patient; I invite myself to rest there. But I'm doing this all from a place of love and free will and understanding I have a choice. There's no contraction in it, there's no tension, there's just flowing with it. It's a very different practice.

This is the greatest function of the rubber band, that when the rubber band is pulled tight, we're feeling the tension in ourselves. We're working at whatever we're working at from a place of duality. (Sound effect twanging rubber band) equals duality. Relaxed equals non-duality.

I'm not saying that there's never any tension. If we work hard at something, there will be balanced contraction and release. But we're not getting into the sense of self, 'me, I'm gonna fix this! I'm going to do this! I'm going to get rid of my anger!' It doesn't work. So looking now, briefly, at these terms…

I don't know how to pronounce these. Nashama.

Q: There is the Hebrew pronunciation and the Yiddish pronunciation. Yiddish, NaSHAma.

Barbara: The next word, ruach.

Q: The other word, schlemut… (shlay-moot) The Hebrew.

Barbara: Let's use the Hebrew pronunciation of these words…

(chatter about language)

Barbara: Ruach. Nashama. Nefesh.

Discussion of language and pronunciation.

Barbara: I want to get beyond these individual concepts into the whole picture of non-duality. This is not like a linear progression. The way I experience dharmakaya and nirmanakaya is like a… a depth. You can see different levels further and further down. You can just see the top, like looking at the top of the ocean or the lake where there may be things floating. And looking down and down through the depths. The depths are there and the surface is there. So the nirmanakaya is like the surface, but the surface of the sea is still part of the sea.

Getting to know the wholeness, the schlemut, the completeness. The form and emptiness together. There are so many different articulations of it. The question is, how do we get to this in our own spiritual experience because, I'm repeating myself, as long as we keep creating a duality, there's somebody trying to fix something.

We've often used the image of a bowl filled with water. And the bowl gets shaken a bit and the water starts sloshing over the rim. You try to put your hand on the top to try to stop it from spilling, and of course that's just going to make it slosh more. But when you set it down and let it settle, its nature is stillness.

We can't know God or Unconditioned directly, we can only know the expressions, such as stillness, peacefulness, radiance. But we can get to those directly in our meditation practice.

Until we get to them, it's helpful to just have some kind of concept that helps us remember, it's all sacred, it's all holy. I don't need to create separation.

I'm going to stop talking in a few minutes and give us a chance for discussion of homework and practice, but I want to look at one point first.

Four ongoing things to do as sacred tasks. Let each be something simple. I recommend the first be washing the body or brushing the teeth or hair. Some aspect of caring for your body that you do at least every day, ideally several times a day. Can this be done with loving caring? Just a mindfulness practice, connecting, at some level this is divinity that you're washing. This is every being in the world that you're washing, every expression of the divine that you're washing. Can it be done with that kind of devotion, that kind of love, rather than an impatient, 'Let me get my teeth brushed so I can get out the door'? Can there really be love in it? Use it as an opportunity to experience this the sacred, with whatever terminology you prefer to use: Dharmakaya, God, Unconditioned. 'Here is the connection of Dharmakaya and nirmanakaya as I brush my teeth, right there is the Dharmakaya.'

The second area of mindfulness, something like washing dishes, watering plants, folding laundry, feeding a pet, something you do at least a few times during the week but ideally a few times during the day. Again, instead of just getting this chore out of the way, start to feel the sacredness of it. Really allow yourself time to experience that. What an amazing thing it is to have the opportunity to water a plant, to feed an animal. It's such a simple part of our lives. And yet here we are nurturing life, offering love. So we start with some simple things like washing the body, watering the plant.

Third, take a clear glass, either a window or drinking glass, and wash it daily. I was looking at the window over my kitchen sink when I thought of this assignment, which is splattered a bit with stuff, and I started to wash it off and then I realized I needed to go out and wash it from the outside! But you can use just a drinking glass. You're never going to get it perfectly clean. I want you to feel the innate purity of the glass, the innate radiance and clarity of the glass, and how this soil is simply splattered on the outside and has not changed the nature of the glass. Can you wash it with love, not with trying to fix and scour it? Obviously this is a metaphor, but please literally practice with washing this glass everyday, be it window or drinking glass.

Fourth. Please pause for a few seconds every time you walk through a doorway. It can be just 2 or 3 seconds. Note where you are coming from and going. Know the intention. If there is any anger or impatience, make space in your heart for it. Try to rest in the doorway until it resolves. See the sacredness in this simple act of walking through a doorway. See what kind of transformation can happen for you as you walk through a doorway in this way and stop. Really know, 'where am I coming from and where am I going? What kind of feeling am I carrying with me? Am I proceeding through this doorway through a place of love?'

Begin to think of this as a metaphor for all the internal doorways you walk through: stopping to talk to somebody; that's a kind of a doorway. Stopping to pick up something that's spilled on your floor; that's a kind of doorway. So just this act of pausing for just a few seconds in a doorway.

Continue the meditation and journaling. For now we've worked with the rubber band with tension. Now I want you to choose one character trait to which you would like to attend. See page 113 in the book to help you choose what to watch. I'm going to read to you a bit from p113.

(not transcribed, available in class book)

He was talking here of the ethical issue, somebody who would never consider stealing so robbery is not an ethical issue for him. So he doesn't have to think, when he sees something that he likes, he doesn't have to think, 'Should I steal it?' There's no problem. Of course he won't steal it.


Another man who might rob, he might not have any hesitation over stealing but if somebody confronts him, he might stop and say, 'Is it okay to kill this person?' That might stop him. Where do we get caught up? What are the ethical issues that really capture us? So he says, 'when we are able to pinpoint those issues