Dharma & Meditation: Deepening Practice
November 18, 2008
Class Five

Keywords: Refuges, sila/moral awareness, Eightfold Path, ahimsa, satyagraha,

Aaron: Good evening. My blessings and love to you. We've been talking for several weeks about the refuges and the Four Noble Truths and specifically the Eightfold Path, and how they all come together to support your practice. You understand that no one piece of the dhamma stands alone, it's all interconnected.

The Eightfold Path aspects of sila, panna, and samadhi are refuges. Consider the inner refuge of sila, knowing your own commitment to living your life without harm, and the refuge of sila within your sangha, knowing that others have thusly committed. Consider the refuge of samadhi, let us call it of the quiet mind and of awareness. And the refuge of your blossoming wisdom that begins to deeply understand the dharma that Ajahn Sumedho has written about in your reading for tonight. He notes, "This is how it is." This is how the body is; this is how the mind is. Sometimes there's alertness, sometimes the mind is sleepy. Sometimes the body is energized and sometimes it's low in energy. Sometimes there is calmness and tranquility, sometimes the immediate experience is that of agitation. From a standpoint of growing wisdom, it doesn't matter what is experienced but how you walk through that experience, which is what Ajahn Sumedho expresses so clearly. To watch the judging mind without judgment; to watch the opinions and preferences; not to get caught in self-belief that you are the personality self; this is the start of true wisdom.

This is very different than a denial of one experience. There's no suppression in the experience but only the fullest presence with it, but there's no enhancement of the experience. If there's anger, there's no need to blame one's self or another or to enhance the anger, and there's no need to stop the anger. Here is where wisdom develops. Whatever has arisen is the result of conditions; it's impermanent; it's not self.

There's one place I especially marked here to read to you... (lower 139; top 140)

"Notice what it's like when you're open to emotional feelings, to moods, without judging them, without making any problem out of them or trying to get rid of them, change them or think about them. Just totally accept the mood you're in, the emotional state or the physical sensations.... When I do this I notice the "changingness." When you willing to let something be the way it is, it changes."

The question then arises, when you are willing to be with things as they are, not trying to fix, when and how do you act in moral ways in the world? We have a commitment to sila, which means not only actively not to harm but not to allow harm. If you see somebody slapping a child, do you sit and say, "Anger is coming. Seeing, unpleasant. This is just the way it is."? What steps forth and says no to the observed abusive acts?

We have to understand these teachings in terms of living them in a way that doesn't create more unwholesome karma for oneself and others, and that doesn't create more of an ego personality that believes, "I did this. He was slapping his child and I stepped in and I stopped him. Aren't I good? Did anybody notice?"

When you note that those questions are also present, "Should I act?" just know doubt, the direct experience of doubt. Knowing fear, knowing confusion. As Ajahn Sumedho said in what I just read, when you watch, you notice that it all changes. It is out of this basis that compassionate action can arise, compassionate action that does not have a basis in self but in this "one who knows."

I like the Thai, that phrasing of it. Ajahn Chah was apparently quite known for his speaking about "poo roo", the one who knows.

A friend of ours many years ago had gone to India to be on retreat with Goenka. This is probably 40 years ago. The day before the retreat was to begin and various meditators were gathering in the town where the retreat would be held, she was walking in the street when she saw a car hit a puppy. The puppy began to yelp and scream. It was lying in the road just crying. Nobody paid attention.

She ran out into the street and picked up this small puppy. It was bleeding on her, it was crying. She got out of traffic and she stood there saying aloud, "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do." She was feeling quite frantic when suddenly she felt a hand on her shoulder from behind, and a very quiet voice said, "You do know what to do." And that was it. She knew there was somebody there but not who. A voice, a hand, and then gone. But right there with the "I don't know what to do," that voice reminded her, "Yes, I do know what to do. A puppy this young, it must have a mother somewhere nearby. Let me see if I can find the mother."

So she looked behind bushes and fences and so forth and she found the mother dog with several other puppies in the litter. She laid the puppy down and the mother began to wash the puppy, attend to the puppy. The puppy nuzzled in to nurse. She says she realized that at first she did not know what to do. The ego was looking for an answer; the ego did not know what to do. But at a deeper level she did know what to do. So skillful and compassionate action from the place of no self was possible.

It's so important to remember this, right there when you don't know what to do from the ego perspective, if you simply let it settle, knowing doubt, knowing tension, that which does know what to do will come forth.

As an interesting afterword; the next morning she went to the meditation center and sat in the room with others. She was sitting with her eyes closed waiting for Goinka to appear. Suddenly she heard a voice from the front of the room, "Good morning!" And of course it was the "You do know what to do" voice. It was Goenka.

There are so many "do-gooders" in the world who make a mess of things because they're working from a place of fear. They're trying but they're working from the ego self and trying to push this and pull that. Everybody has conflicting views about how it should be done. There are those who back up and say, "I can't do anything because I don't know what to do. I will just sit and watch everything and see it arise and pass away." But that is equally unwholesome. One does have to participate in the world. But the self doesn't participate, love participates, and kindness.

The Eightfold Path will steer you through this dilemma of, "I know what to do; I'm going to do this," versus "I can't act, I don't know what to do." The Eightfold Path is your guide. It's not just a meditation guide; it's a practical life guide, to work with sila, with centered awareness, and with wisdom.

In another place in the book, in the chapter that you were assigned, he speaks of the duality of eternalism versus nihilism. In a sense, this is what we're talking about; the eternalism that says, "I have to get it right," emphasis on the I, "I have to get it right," and thinks of the self that's a solid self and either it's good or it's bad; versus the nihilism that says not just there's no self. There's nothing, so no action is possible.

But of course there's something. Is there anybody who is on sitting in this room? Are you here? What is here? What are you? What are you?

Q: An angel.

Aaron: An angel. Are you sure? Okay.

What are you?

Q: A human being.

Aaron: Are you sure?

Q: No.

Aaron: Were you a human being 70 years ago? What were you then?

Q: Spirit.

Aaron: What are you?

Q: A person sitting in a room.

Aaron: At one level, yes. I'm not going to go all the way around, you understand what I'm asking. We keep asking this question, "What am I?" and there's no right answer, of course, but you can begin to dispense with what you are not. That doesn't mean that the body doesn't exist, only that it is not the essence of what you are. The emotions are not the essence of what you are. Don't take them so personally. Like Q said, you are angels. Perhaps that's closest to the correct answer, and yet even that is so much of a capsule that it doesn't catch the whole thing. You are energy, you are light, you are intelligence, you are love.

Q: I thought we were angels in earthsuits.

Aaron: Yes, but that's just a capsule. It's my summation of what you are, yes. But what is an angel in an earthsuit? What is an angel? We know what an earthsuit is–what is an angel?

So you are energy and light and intelligence and love. You are the expression of the divine in the world, the expression of God or Goddess.

I just want to point out that it comes to the same question–people can lean toward nihilism or toward an eternalism that believes in an infinite soul that exists and comes into a body and then dies out of a body and comes into a body but will exist forever. But in my experience even that soul is impermanent. When the soul itself dissolves, it doesn't cease any more than the flower ceases to exist after death. When the flower dies and decays into the soil so it's just dust, there's no more visual experience of flower left. It's completely broken up into tiny particles. And yet it nurtures the soil. It hasn't ceased to exist. The large tree that decays into the soil, does it cease to exist? (Q: No)

I don't want you to think of the soul as something eternal, either, because it fosters too much belief in the self, and it's too easy to get caught up in confusing the personality with the soul.

You are light. That light that you are can never cease and it will take different forms. Yes, for what may seem an eternity to you, for a great number of lifetimes, this particular intelligence and energy and light moves sometimes into a new form and sometimes out of that form, and the spirit comes back into form again. But don't start thinking about that eternal soul that's going to knock on the gates one day and say, "Can I come into heaven now?"

This is hard to explain because you do not cease to exist. It brings us back to Ajahn Sumedho's intuitive awareness. That awareness continues. You might ask, "Is the awareness not the same as the soul?" That's a semantic issue; I can't say it is, I can't say it isn't–how do you define soul? The soul is not the personality. The soul is not the habit energies. Nevertheless, there's something that exists, so we look back into awareness – that presence when there's no thought, but full presence – and out of that presence, knowing what to do.

There's a story that I very much like, of a Zen master who sat with a group of his students around a table at a meeting in a room where there were several open windows. There were some papers on the table. The wind blowing in the window picked up an important piece of paper and carried it the length of the table.

This elder Zen master had been sitting with his eyes closed, and the younger people were lovingly smiling, "The old man is asleep." The wind stirred, the papers rustled. One lifted up and nobody moved as they watched it fly down the table. But this elderly Zen master, eyes closed, just (sound effect) grabbed it, set it back down, closed his eyes again.

Presence. At some level, something probably registered–breeze touching, hearing. Maybe hearing the "Oh!" gasp of people as all the papers started to fly. Presence.

So it is this presence, intention to sila, and deep wisdom that inform your actions in the world and that inform your practice. This is the place where "you," this love and light and intelligence, does know what to do.

Let's have some questions now and then a break, and Barbara will come back to lead the discussion part of the class. But are there questions for me?

Q: Could you talk a little bit more about each part of the Eightfold Path?

Aaron: Let's save that for the later discussion and go around and let each of you talk about one piece of the Eightfold Path, clarify it for yourselves. Any others?

Q: Not a question, but I've found it very helpful to think about action directed by the ego vs. action directed by the Watcher, the energy of the non-ego. It's very helpful...

Aaron: That's a very important distinction. After Barbara taught in Seattle this weekend, on Sunday night after the retreat some friends asked her to talk more about some of her experiences in the south in the '60s.

They began to talk about ahimsa1, dynamic compassion. Ahimsa recognizes that the question is not whether one acts or refrains from acting but who or what acts, and that harm is done by withholding action just as by acting. So the question is not whether we act or do not act but whether the choice is made from the deepest place of wisdom and love, and trusting that "I know what to do." And what comes forth may be different from one person to another. That "I know what to do" is not one right action but the expression of the soul's highest truth.

So when we speak of the Eightfold Path's "Right Action," we must not think of it in terms of one action that's right and everything else that's wrong, but action that comes from this place of love and wisdom.

Barbara was pointing out that one of the greatest challenges in that work is that many people would be centered and clear and acting from a loving place, and others sitting beside them on a Freedom Ride bus or lunch counter would not understand this at all and would be acting very much from a place of self-righteousness that accused others, "My way is right, your way is wrong!" It was that ego voice that inspired the violence.

So she talked about the situations that were highly volatile, in which instead of the action involving a large group of people, there were just a small group who were very clear. And seeing that with the power of love, Gandhi's satyagraha, with the power of that love, I would not say always but often, there was not violence. When the action came from a clear and loving place for all who were offering the action, more often than not there was not violence. When the action came from a person's ego place, much more often there was violence, even though they were saying, "We will not be violent." We won't be violent but we'll simply stick ourselves here in the middle of your lunch counter. But there was just an attitude, an energy, of belligerence.

This to me is the heart of why you do this dharma practice. You are learning how to be in the world from this centered place of love and wisdom. It really is the only hope for the world. If enough of you learn it and pass it on to others, the world can heal itself.

Thank you. Any other questions or sharing?

Q: We are beings of energy and light. And we come and go in and out of incarnation. So when we die, where does the energy and light go?

Aaron: It remains with you... Let's look at the skandas. The aggregate of form. That releases, of course; the body dies. The mental aggregate. When you die the mental aggregate remains, but it changes. There are different kinds of thoughts. Sometimes there are angry thoughts; sometimes there are loving thoughts. The mental aggregate does not disappear but you learn that the thought is impermanent, not to believe in your thoughts and not to self-identify with them.

I said that the physical body disappears but the energy body doesn't disappear. The physical body goes. The energy body remains. In a sense, the chakras remain; they're simply not grounded in a material form during the period of disembodiment.

Consciousness remains. You are not your consciousness. It's one of the skandas. Consciousness changes. So consciousness remains on the non-material plane, on the astral plane, but there's less self-identification with it. You don't suddenly become devoid of personality on the astral plane but you regard your personality with a smile. You are not hooked into believing that it's self and permanent; it's just another conditioned aspect.

As you move through these densities that I've mentioned, finally into 6th density –– for example, for me as a 6th density being, certainly I have energy. You've felt my energy, you know I have energy. I have a mind but there's no self-identification with the mind at all. I've said to you that people have asked me, what do I do when I'm not busy with Barbara? And I say, "I take vacation. I go on retreat." In essence I move into 7th density. I drop all sense of personality and thought, I rest in that spaciousness that some of you experience during meditation when everything dissolves. I just rest in that space. If there's some urgency I come back into this 6th density expression; otherwise I rest in spaciousness.

I've said that I cannot describe 8th density because it's a path of no return. I've not been in 8th density. The 8th density form is simply letting go of everything, yet I know that those who have moved into 8th density, while they no longer have any personal expression –– I cannot talk to them –– I can feel their energy as the grounding of everything. It's not that they cease to exist.

Think of a forest 1000 years old. Are all the trees that died 1000, 900, 800, 700 years ago still there? Where are they? They've decayed into the forest floor. Where are they?

Q: Where else could they go?

Aaron: Nowhere, they're there. Nothing dies, nothing disappears; it just changes its expression.

Q: So the astral plane, is that right here with the earth plane, mixed in?

Aaron: Yes and no. I'm on the astral plane and I'm right here. Let us bring this discussion back to our vipassana practice. Come tomorrow night and we'll answer some of these questions in the general evening of spiritual inquiry. Let's stay focused on vipassana and dharma here. Tomorrow night, the broader range of questions.

Okay, a 5 minute stretch...My blessings and love to you all. (recording ends)

Class discussion of the Eighfold Path and the reading not recorded.