Insight Meditation Class, Fall 2007, Consciousness and Its Objects, Class 4: October 30, 2007

This question relates to the Howell Advanced Practices Retreat dharma talk - October 27, 2007.

Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. The question is, earlier in that lifetime, why had I thought I was enlightened? How did I discover I was not enlightened? How did I know I finally was enlightened?

First let's toss out the words enlightened or unenlightened, and substitute self -centered or free of self, contacted or open-hearted, seeing only up close or seeing the largest picture. Before this situation with my brother and my disciple, there was still a subtle sense of a separate self. It became revealed to me that I believed in that self. There was tension, trying to reserve that self.

For years I had not seen the self. I lived my life in such a way that there was nothing troubling to me. In the morning I went out and was given alms. I didn't have strong preferences about what I would eat. I was grateful for what came. To that degree, there was realization. There was no craving. My mind didn't create stories about what might come into my food bowl that day. Deep gratitude. Deep gratitude to practice the dhamma. Joy in being able to share the dhamma. If I was hot, or cold, that was just how things were. there was no contraction. That led me to the delusion that I was free.

So my life was set up in such a way that there was no struggle. My body was healthy. There was no severe pain. Certainly at times, some pain, but not to the degree that it was a struggle to make space for it. Life was good. I was content. Out of that contentment and some real degree of equanimity I began to believe I was enlightened.

Then my brother demanded his son return. It was not for me to choose, but I could have told this young monk this would be a loving thing to do, and a temporary service to his father. He would have listened to me. But instead I stepped back and said, 'Well, it's his decision.' As I spoke, I could see my attachment. And when the brother attacked me and ended up killing his son, I was heartbroken, and enraged with both my brother and my self. I saw how much grasping there was. I saw that what I had presumed to be true equanimity was just an equanimity of circumstance. When there was something that was really challenging, there wasn't any equanimity. I was not free.

Then came 10 years of wandering in the jungle, really watching, as you have been instructed to watch, the arising of grasping mind, the arising of aversion. Watching how the object arises, with contact and consciousness, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings; watching the perception of what it is; watching how grasping was built on pleasant feeling, and aversion upon the unpleasant. Watching the mental formations and how a self was built on the thought. I watched until I really understood it. But I still got ensnared in self and its stories when it was difficult; I got ensnared in it that night with the tiger.

Finally, lying there in the mud, I finally understood: if the tiger doesn't kill me, eventually this body is going to die anyhow. That's not what's important. The question is, whether I live or die, can it be done with love? Here was the dissolution of the self as the star character in the drama. There was the realization, love is here in this moment. Fear is also here. If I deny the fear, it makes it impossible to embrace the love. When I open my heart to the fear with compassion to all humans who are afraid, then I can open my heart to the infinite capacity for love within every human, and can manifest that infinite capacity for love. In that moment, there was a realization, this is what I am. I am love. I am infinite love, infinite intelligence. The skandhas come and go. Love remains.

There is no self to it, just within this body of awareness there is love, intelligence and will, which means the ability to direct this energy in ways that are helpful or harmful. So let's not call it enlightenment but realization of my true nature. And with that there was freedom. Using that story, 'somebody is eating the sun,' as an example, there was now clear seeing of what was really happening. There was no need to run around shrieking, 'Somebody is eating the sun!' or 'A tiger is thinking of eating me.' It's just, this chain of circumstances is happening.

One acts in a skillful way, but there's no self acting any more. Then you are free. This is the nature of freedom. Freedom is not about withdrawal from the world but deeper participation in the world, but without core of a self. Who participates, then? I leave that for you to discover.

I want to thank you all for your sharing tonight and your deep commitment and the sharing of yourself at the retreat, for your deep commitment to dhamma and to liberation. May all the blessings of the dhamma be with you.

I will leave this body…

(taping ends)

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