Class Two, True Nature/Releasing Negativity - October 31, 2007

Aaron: I am Aaron. When we first considered a class with this book, I suggested to Barbara that we make it a full semester to do it justice. But there are numerous demands on her time. We just finished an intense, 4-session class with retreat on Consciousness and Its Objects. So those people's needs went in a different direction, to deepen meditation practice.

We settled for a 6-week class. We can't cover everything in 6 weeks. Actually the class is beyond 6 weeks as there are extra weeks between some classes. But I'm going to ask you to work hard to do the reading and to do the practice, to do your regular meditation practice and the exercises in the book so that the book and the class bear rich fruit for you. That is my pep talk for the evening.

In the beginning of the first chapter he points out that you are souls. I would put it in a slightly different way, but the end meaning is the same. You have 4 bodies, physical, mental, emotional, and a spirit body. The physical body is impermanent. It began and it will end. Through your life it's constantly changing. The emotional body is constantly changing. The mind is constantly changing.

These 3 heavier bodies are conditioned. They arise out of conditions, and when the conditions change, they change or pass away. Given different conditions, each of these 3 bodies will change. Sometimes there's patience, gratitude and joy; sometimes there's anger, impatience, and tension. Sometimes the body is healthy, sometimes it's sick. It all arises from conditions and passes away.

This is the entire conditioned realm. The Buddha said, in a very beautiful sutra addressing a gathering of monks, 'Monks, there is an Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated. If it were not so, there would be no reason for your lives.' The physical body is not in itself unborn and undying, it comes out of conditions and it passes away. The same is true of the emotional and mental bodies.

The spirit body is an aspect of that Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated—what we call the Unconditioned. This is what the Buddha instructs us to realize when he speaks of 'true nature,' the Unconditioned spirit body. When we say it is the Unconditioned, it is the expression of the Unconditioned in the same way that if we hung a beautiful crystal in the window, and the sunlight came through it, you might find a radiant rainbow shining across the floor of the room. The rainbow is an expression of the crystal and the sun. You are expressions of the Unconditioned.

In the Judeo-Christian articulation, you are souls. In Buddhism, we don't use the term soul, but is there any difference, really, if we speak of the Unconditioned? You are the Unconditioned. This is your true nature.

Then we ask, what is the nature of the Unconditioned, beyond that it is unborn and undying? We talk about some of the qualities that you hope to nurture in yourselves, such as generosity, kindness, patience, joy, and so forth. You do not start without these and create them. Rather, you are of the nature to express them all, just as that crystal has that nature to express the light. When certain conditions are present, that light can be seen. The capacity to express light is innate in the crystal, yet for the rainbow to appear, the crystal also needs the sun to shine through it, and it needs a background on which the rainbow will show itself. But innate to the crystal is the capacity to express the rainbow. Innate to all of you is this capacity to express love, lovingkindness, goodness, and so forth.

It's important to recognize that you do not have to attain these traits, but rather to find where they've been hidden and what it is that leads them to express or remain hidden. To see this, you must pay attention. This means that instead of scolding yourself when there's a negative thought, when there's fear, greed, or anger, you stop and twang that rubber band. A mindfulness reminder: 'Ah, right here in this moment, where is kindness? Right here in this moment, where is generosity?'

So it's important to note that we are starting with trust in your true nature and your capacity to develop it if you pay attention, rather than beginning with a sense of hopelessness that says, 'I'm just rotten, and maybe if I work hard enough, something in me will be fixed.' This is not a fix-it practice, this is a revealing practice. It's like if you had a very tarnished bowl and I said, 'It would be nice to have a bright bowl.' Would you go out and buy a new bowl, or would you simply rub the tarnish off? The nature of the bowl is brilliance; just rub the tarnish off.

These weeks we will be looking at the ways we can invite that true nature to radiate out, and looking at the ways we habitually address the tarnish. For many of you this is in a scolding, critical way, and it would be more skillful to address the tarnish with kindness and yet with persistence. If you didn't believe that the bowl was capable of shining, would you bother to polish it? You've got to start with that understanding. You are angels, you are radiant. You shine. And there's some tarnish. We're not denying the tarnish.

So you set to work lovingly. If you were to attack the bowl with heavy steel wool, would it shine or would it simply scratch? That's not what you're after. You're not out to scour these negative tendencies off the self but something to polish them gently and persistently and find the radiance underneath. And when you find it, to practice it s it shines out.

So we start with the reality, you are a soul and you are a radiant and beautiful soul. We start also with the reality that soul has fallen in the mud and some of the radiance is not quite visible.

In my emailed letter to you a few days ago, I suggested working with the rubber band, watching how when there's anger in the self—I'm using anger here as one character trait you might be working with, but it could be impatience or grasping or any trait that feels appropriate—when that energy comes up, there's tension in the body. Seeing tension, there is, for many of you probably, a judgment, 'I shouldn't be feeling this.' Just more tension. You reach for the rubber band…slip it on your finger on your hand. Twang it, feel the tension. Let the tension help you realize the body's tension. The tension in this note of anger, of aversion, of grasping, whatever has come.

Then slip the rubber band off. Feel it. Is there tension when it's off? Become the rubber band. It's soft, it's yielding. It has the capability for tension but there's no tension in it right now. Take the tension in your body and let it go right into where the slack rubber band is. Become the slack rubber band. Not forcing, just inviting, allowing. Do you all have rubber bands? (not all; we get some from the office) I want people to wear them, live with them 24 hours a day, sleep with them, so if you wake up in the middle of the night with anger coming up in a dream, you can slip your rubber band on. Keep it right there. Really use this rubber band.

I want to lead you on a guided meditation. First just hold the rubber band in your hand slack. Bring to your mind a recent situation in which anger arose, and allow yourself to remember and feel that anger. Remember the stories, 'That shouldn't have happened. Who's to blame for that? That was unpleasant. I didn't want that.' Feel the tension. Where is the tension felt? Is it in the belly, the chest, the throat?

Feeling that tension, slide the rubber band back over your hand. Pull it. Feel the tension of it. Feel the rubber band's tension and the tension in the body, anger tension. You can let the rubber band go once or twice. Feel the sting of it against the palm. Tension. The rubber band has the capability for tension.

Now slip it off the hand. Feel it soft and yielding in the palm. Free of tension.

Figuratively reach into the body and pull out the rubber band, releasing it. Feel the tension of anger release. Just as you can remove the rubber band, with the intention, 'This is tight, it's uncomfortable, I will remove it,' so there is a choice—not a choice about whether anger arises but a choice about whether you will maintain the anger or release it.

When conditions are present, anger will arise. The problem is not that the anger has arisen but that there is a habit energy that grabs hold of the anger. I think of a dog that's been given a bone. He doesn't want to let go, he shakes it, he gnaws it. He's attached to it. In what ways are you attached to your anger or to whatever negative mind state might have arisen?

The whole focus of these first two chapters, for me, is the noting, 'You have a choice.' When you pay attention to what has arisen in the mind and body, you can decide how you will take care of it. The rubber band is a metaphor. It has the capability of tension and the capability of flaccidity, softness, ease. And so do your emotions. The question then is, in what way are you attached to your anger? Or to the sense of unworthiness or to pride, to getting your own way, to control, and so forth. What is there that doesn't want to release that old habit energy?

We work on two levels. One is awareness, to be aware when there is a negative mind state, and know that it's present. Feel it in the body; feel the tension of it. The other is to look deeply at intention, not with scolding but remembering yourself to be that radiant angel. Remember the intention to do no harm in the world, to do only good, to do good for all beings. There are many different kinds of precepts about not taking another life, not stealing, not speaking wrongly, but what they all come down to is, do no harm. Do good, only good. Do good for all beings.

The 'do good for all beings' is important. It includes yourself. Then there is the ethical reflection that helps you to understand what harm is, what good is. If an obviously drunk man on the street approaches you asking for a dollar so he can buy another drink, do you give it to him? Are you doing harm if you give it to him? How about if he's accompanied by another man who's not drunk but says, 'I'm hungry. Can I have a dollar for a sandwich?'

How do you live your life true to your values and to your commitment to do no harm? He brings up in the book a beautiful question, a man who asks his rabbi in the concentration camp, 'My son is going to be put into the gas chamber, and I have enough money to buy him free but if I buy him free, they'll put somebody else in his place. What shall I do?'

These are not questions anybody can answer for you. The answers come from the commitment to live your life with as much love, purity, honesty, and non-harm as is possible. A much simpler statement of that question would be this; if when we pass this bag of candy around, there is just one Hershey bar, and you want the Hershey bar, but it is working its way around the room. One could speak up and say, 'I'd really like the Hershey bar. Does anybody else want that more than anything else? If so, could we share it?' Or one might say, 'Oh, those Reese's peanut butter cups, those used to be such a childhood favorite, I bet everybody loves those!' Then you watch people pulling out the Reese's peanut butter cups. So you're to subtly manipulating people. They were about to take the Hershey bar but they stop and they say, 'Hmm, maybe I ought to take the Reese's peanut butter cup.' But you're not suggesting because you really want them to have the peanut butter cup, you're suggesting it because you want them to leave the Hershey bar for you.

Pass these around (Halloween candy) … Enjoy!

Watch that little bit of ego that comes up and wants to manipulate and see how sly ego can be. Just trying to push something this way or that so you get what you want. The ego can be very subtle. As attention becomes stronger, as intention is clarified, you're going to find more and more places where you catch yourself and say, 'Is it the ego that's trying to push this one way or the other?'

Now, if it is the ego that's trying to push, that's not a problem. You're not bad because of that, you just want to pay attention. It's important that you not scold yourself at that point; that's just another habit energy. Scolding is a habit energy of the ego who's determined to be perfect. Are you all going to be perfect by the end of this class? I doubt it. Actually I hope not because it's your individuation that's part of what makes you so beautiful. You're not trying to become perfectly fitted into one mold; you're just learning to live your life with more love, to yourself and others, with these specific factors, mindfulness or attention, clarifying the intention with which you live, and taking attention and intention out into the world.

Each time ego pops up and says, 'But I wanted it a different way,' it's an opportunity to practice. It's not a problem. Don't create stories that make it into a problem, just say, 'Ah, hello ego.' Do you know the story of Milarepa inviting the demons in for tea? Anybody who has not heard that story from me? (a few)

Milarepa was a Tibetan saint. The story goes that he was meditating at the mouth of his cave when demons of greed, fear, and anger appeared. They were hideous. The flesh hung from the bones—perfect figures for a Halloween night! Gore dripping out, and the bones rattled. They had bloody knives and swords. Milarepa looked up and said, 'Ah, I've been expecting you. Come sit by my fire, have tea.' They said, 'Aren't you afraid of us?' He said, 'No. Your hideous appearance only reminds me to be aware and have mercy. Come sit by my fire and have tea.'

In your spiritual practice, these demons will come 10,000 times. You are not trying to force them away because you cannot do that. You are inviting them to have tea, but you also say to them, 'Shh! No talking. We're not going to get into a dialogue. You can stay as long as you like, and when you're ready, goodbye.'

So you befriend the demons. I would guess for most of you the most frequent ones that come are anger, feelings of unworthiness, desire and jealousy. You open your heart to these and know, 'These have arisen from conditions, and my work is not to put up a giant gate and keep them out, but literally to invite them in for tea.'

The soul cannot be harmed by these demons. It is the physical, emotional, and mental bodies that get caught up in the stories these heavy mind states present. But the soul, we use the example of the clear glass window. No matter how much mud gets on it, it does not change the nature of the glass. In the same way, no matter how many negative mind states arise, the soul remains pure and beautiful, radiant. Your spiritual practice is to learn to be present with what arises, whether it's beautiful or easy to be with, or very difficult and painful to be with. And just to hold space for it. Literally to invite the demons in for tea.

Something interesting happens as they drink their tea—the fangs that you saw, melt away. They turn from grizzly bears into teddy bears. Nothing terrible there, just some anger, just some greed. Just some pride or jealousy or fear. From that place, the soul is running the show, not the physical, emotional, and mental bodies, not the conditioned bodies, with all their stories. Can you live from your soul, from this beautiful, radiant, spirit body?

I'm going to pause here, give you a chance to stretch. Then Barbara will lead you in a discussion. If it's useful, I'll return to reply to some questions. But otherwise Barbara will lead the discussion.

Let me say one more thing before I part. For next class, which is in 2 weeks, we'd like you to read chapters 3 and 4. In chapter 4 you will find on pages 90-93 the exercise, 'Using mental images and contemplation to gain insight.' He takes you, on pages 91-93 on a guided meditation, reflecting on the body from conception through death. Watch how the body, emotions and the mind, all come together, the heavier mental and physical bodies with the emotional body, all arising and passing away.

I'd like you to do his reflection but I'd also like you to look deeply and see how the physical, emotional, and mental body are simply conditioned aspects of your being. You are not your body. You are not your mind. You are not your emotions or thoughts. Then raise the question, 'Who am I? What am I?' I'd like that question to be with you constantly these next 2 weeks. When a thought arises, ask, 'Am I this thought? No. Then who am I? What am I?'

If a physical sensation comes, maybe a cramp in the leg, 'painful, unpleasant.' Reflecting, 'This sensation has arisen and is unpleasant. But it is not me. I take care of the body. Who is this 'I' who takes care of the body? Who am I? If I am not my leg, who am I?' You take care of the leg, you take care of the challenging thought, but they are not self.

We talk in Buddhist terms of the skandhas or aggregates of the self: form, feeling, thought, impulse, and consciousness. All arising from conditions, all impermanent. Sometimes we use an example of the chair. That chair comes apart. The legs would unscrew, perhaps the back also. The seat unscrews. If we take the legs off, is it still a chair? If we take the seat off, is it still a chair? The chair is constructed of non-chair elements. The seat is not a chair, it's just a cushion. The legs are just U-shaped pieces of metal. The chair is constructed of non-chair elements.

You are constructed of non-you elements. The body is not who you are; you are not the form. It changes constantly. There's nothing you can point to and say, 'That's me, that's it.' It changes. The thoughts change, feelings change. The impulses that come are constantly changing, and even consciousness itself. Hearing consciousness, seeing consciousness, thinking consciousness, smelling, tasting, touching. These are not you.

Who am I, what am I. Use this to lessen the self-identification with the negative thoughts and body sensations but not to deny them. Our work is not about denial but merciful taking care of. If there's pain in the leg, you take care of the pain. If there's a hurtful thought, you take care of the thought. But you don't need to build stories around it, to self-identify with it. That's why I say you invite the demons in for tea and you say, 'Shh! Drink your tea. No talking.' You're not going to get into a dialogue about this particular thought or impulse.' Just let it be. It arose out of conditions; it will pass.

Do you understand what I want you to do?

Q: It seems to me that a soul must also change or we would repeat our lives.

Aaron: From my perspective, the soul does not change in its inherent nature, but the soul washes off the mud that had accumulated on it so its radiance can shine out. One might say that it's changing but inherently that light has always been there or it could not shine out.

Q: I guess, is there a notion of a life task or some way that the soul learns?

Aaron: The higher self, which is the spirit and mental bodies, learns, but not the soul. On the relative level, we could say the soul is learning, but on the ultimate level we cannot say the soul is learning because it's already perfect. We are releasing the illusion that the soul is in some way limited or flawed so that it can fully reflect its innate perfection. There may be specific life tasks because from my perspective there are many lives. This means that this hosing off of the mud doesn't happen all in one lifetime. In one lifetime the task may be about simply learning to pay attention. In another lifetime the task may be about finding true compassion for others. And then in the next lifetime one needs to learn how to apply that compassion to one's self. Sometimes it will all come at once.

You come into the incarnation, each of you, with areas where you more easily get stuck, issues that seem to come up frequently for you. These are the places that you have come to clarify in this incarnation. For those of you who are uncomfortable with the idea of multiple incarnations, one would then have to presume that you do whatever you're able to do in this incarnation. And after this incarnation, you'll see where it goes. If there's not going to be another incarnation, what will there be? If there's nothing it all, if it just stops, then at least in this incarnation you've done the best you can to live your life with love.

On the other hand, if there was nothing beyond this incarnation, then who am I? And for those of you who just shrug and say, 'Well, it's just Barbara with a good imagination,' okay. I'm not going to argue reincarnation. It is not useful because we certainly cannot prove it and it really doesn't matter, because the work you are here to do is the same regardless of whether this is one birth or many births.

Are there questions?

Q: I had a question about your metaphor with the crystal. It seems to me that the rainbow is an expression of the light but not an expression of the crystal.

Aaron: The metaphor is not perfect but it's an expression of both. There must be both crystal and light. But if you shine the light at a brick, you won't get a rainbow. So the crystal has the ability to express light when light is present and to shine it out as a rainbow.

You have the ability to express light and radiance when the light is present. Now the wonder is the light is always present because it's inherent in you. So you are both the light and the crystal.

Q: But the crystal does not have inherent light.

Aaron: That is true, that is true. So the metaphor is flawed in that way. Thank you.

I will return the body to Barbara and give you a chance to stretch. We'll go around and hear from you what happened with your exercise this week with the rubber band and mindfulness.

(recording ends)

Copyright © 2007 by Barbara Brodsky