March 25, 2010 Thursday afternoon, Venture Fourth #3

This transcript has only been lightly reviewed, filling in any blanks.

Keywords: pure awareness practice, dzogchen, kayas, vipassana, access concentration, kuttara/lokuttara, citta, Visuddhi Magga, change of lineage knowledge

Barbara: I'm going to read you Song 1 from Flight of the Garuda. I am trusting that you are all familiar with this. Now, Flight of the Garuda is a dzogchen teaching song so as I read it to you, remembering what I said this morning, what I'm teaching you here is pure awareness practice that closely resembles the dzogchen but let's not call it dzogchen.

The first dzogchen retreat I went to was a month-long retreat with Lama Surya Das. I actually went to two month-long retreats with him but the first one, the retreat manager was supposed to take notes for me, that was how it had been arranged. But the first 3 or 4 days went by and the manager was very busy with a lot of people at the retreat, getting things organized, was not coming to the sittings, was not coming to the instruction periods and was not taking notes.

Surya knew I was deaf. About the 4th day he walked up to me and said, "Are you getting anything?" because he knew the manager was busy. "Come to my office." We didn't know each other, we had never met before that. So I came to his office and said, "You know I'm deaf. I'm not getting anything that you're teaching at all. But I have this inner teacher, a spirit guide, Aaron, and he's been telling me what to do. So I've been writing it down."

He said, "Let me see it." I showed it to him, and he read through 5 or 6 pages of Aaron's detailed instructions. He said, "This is perfect. Aaron knows this. Just listen to Aaron and if you have questions, come back and ask me." I checked in with him about once a week and he would check through Aaron's instructions and sometimes add a couple of sentences or something additional that he thought might be helpful. But basically I can't say I did a dzogchen retreat with Surya, I did a dzogchen retreat with Aaron! I never heard this in Surya's voice, I heard it in Aaron's voice.

So I have not been instructed in this from the perspective of a dzogchen teacher. Of course I read eventually; everything was taped and was transcribed and I read it. But that was long after the retreat; that was not while I was sitting at the retreat.

Anyhow, with that preamble, I just love this Song 1 and I want to read it to you.

EHMAHO! I, the untroubled and carefree renunciate, will now sing this song about the view entitled Flight of the Garuda. It enables one to swiftly traverse all the levels and paths. Listen carefully, fortunate children of my heart.

In both samsara and nirvana the renown of the enlightened state is widely heard like thunder throughout the sky. As this always remains in minds of beings of the 6 realms, how amazing that one is never separate from it, for even an instant.

Not knowing that this state is within one's self, how amazing that one searches for it elsewhere. When it is clearly manifest like the radiant disk of the sun, how amazing that so few see it!

Having no father and no mother, one's mind is the true Buddha. How amazing that it knows neither birth nor death.

When he says 'one's mind' here he's not talking about the everyday mind but the pure awareness mind, this blank, clear slate of awareness. Not the everyday mind that says, "Gee, I should have put on warmer socks, I wonder if the rain's going to stop." Pure awareness. But they're one and the same mind. Is there anyone here who's not familiar with the 3 kayas? Almost everyone knows the 3 kayas. Good.

Kaya means body. Nirmanakaya is the form body. Dharmakaya is the, let's call it the ever-perfect pure awareness body, the radiant awakened aspect. And sambhogakaya is the bridge that ties them together. Nirmana means form, dharma-- you know the meaning of dharma, the truth body. Sambhoga is translated sometimes as wealth, the wealth body. Transition is another term that's sometimes used.

The image that Aaron often uses with this is a bridge over a deep chasm, not just a bridge loosely resting on either side but with pillars buried deep, deep, deep into the rock on either side. Because it's deep in, it is an extension of that side. It's as if the rock on this side had extended out and the rock on that side had extended out and they come to meet. But here it's not two, it's one. The bridge that literally ties together dharmakaya and nirmanakaya.

What this means is that when we're aware we cannot lose dharmakaya. No matter how far off into nirmanakaya we go, we can't lose dharmakaya because dharmakaya extends with its sambhogakaya bridge footing all the way out and touching nirmanakaya. You can't lose it. Even if you get way off into nirmanakaya, that footing is still there into it reminding you, "Come back! Come back!" It's always there.

I love this Song because it's such a strong reminder.

One's mind is the true Buddha. How amazing that it knows neither birth nor death. No matter how much happiness or sorrow is experienced, how amazing that it is never impaired or improved even in the slightest. How amazing that without being fabricated, this mind which is unborn and primordially pure, is spontaneously present from the beginning. This self-awareness is naturally free from the very first. How amazing that it is liberated by just resting at ease in whatever happens.

How many of you have never done formal pure awareness as a practice with me? Is there anyone who hasn't? ... Practice sitting, eyes open. Okay, a few. I am going to give some brief instructions and then let us sit for half an hour and we'll come back and offer more instruction.

For those of you with interest, it's 3:30 now in Brazil and Abidiania and the Casa current is in session, so as you're sitting like this you might also want to tune into that current and energy which of course is no different than your own awakened mind.

The form here is different than our vipassana practice. Sitting with the back erect but the body relaxed. You can be leaning back like that but just not scrunched over. Put your feet out, relax!

Eyes open. If you have glasses on, take them off. That helps the eyes not to be too overly focused on objects...

In your posture, just not (scrunched sound) but open, connected. Let the mouth be lightly open, not forced open but so that the air can go through. Ahhh... Tongue not touching the roof of the mouth or the teeth, just ahhh. Allow out a soft ahhh...

You may want to turn so that you can see out the window there. You don't have to but if you want to, it's okay. You can just look out through the stained glass or inward, look at the altar, but looking out at spaciousness is helpful. Everything is spaciousness, but sometimes in the beginning it's sometimes helpful to see spaciousness.

Breathing in, only breathe in, there's no limit to what we breathe in. It's not like we have a little space helmet and we can only breathe in what's in that helmet, you're breathing in the whole universe. Breathe it in, then ahhh, letting it go. Releasing everything that's self out into the universe, drawing the whole universe into the self...

In the beginning you can actually move arms with it. Breathing in, breathing everything into the self, and then a vocal ahhh.... Releasing, ahhh... Awareness touching on the in-breath, ahhh...ahhh...

Letting the gaze be soft and unfocused. You may be seeing lake, trees, sky, but don't try to define them. In seeing, just seeing, objects, no need to know what the objects are. Everything dissolving into that naked awareness with a sense of ease and joy. This is not a doing but a not doing, just being.

There's a wonderful poem from Alan Ginsberg.

Follow your breath right outta your nose

Follow it out as far as it goes

You can't think straight

And you don't know who to call

It's never to late to do nothing at all.

That's basically what we're doing: follow the breath right out of your nose and do nothing at all.

Most of you have had instruction in this. For those who have not had instruction I'll give more detail later. For now, simply remember: if a thought comes and pulls you away from the spaciousness, simply ask after it, "Anything there that's not an expression of the Unconditioned? Anything there I need to fix, change? Anything separate from this awareness?" And here the depth of your vipassana practice shines through with the instant answer, "Nothing. Can't find anything separate."

With that not-separate, we just let it go. You're not pushing the object away, you're just letting it go. When it goes, spaciousness remains, just rest there in the spaciousness. So whatever arises, don't fixate on it, just resting in spaciousness, resting in ease. Don't try to make anything happen, just leave things alone just the way they are.

If there's a strong object that comes like body sensation that's uncomfortable, move into vipassana practice temporarily if you need to, to note it-- "pulsating, throbbing, unpleasant." See if there's any tension that has arisen around that unpleasantness. Using your vipassana practice begin to see the emptiness of all of this, just sensations and feelings and perceptions and thoughts, one arising upon the other, all empty of a self.

The sensation may not go away, may remain there as a strong sensation, unpleasant. Just let it be. Just because the sensation remains doesn't mean there's no spaciousness. Rest in the spaciousness and if it's necessary to bring some kind attention to the unpleasant sensation, to the painful sensation, you can do that.

This is the simultaneity of nirmanakaya and dharmakaya. So the sensation, or perhaps it's a difficult thought, a memory that came up and is grabbing at your attention as a painful memory-- you've all done this exercise with me with the fingers, looking through. There are just objects and the spaciousness that exists beyond. Resting in spaciousness.

I mentioned teaching this practice to a friend who is a senior monk and after some period of working together on it and talking about it, Ajahn finally said to me, "It works better for me when I just ask 'What is it?' when an object arises, because from my vipassana practice I know when I ask 'What is it?' it takes me right back to 'It's nothing, just the outplay of conditions.' And immediately, then, there's emptiness."

When you rest in this spaciousness, don't let it be something. Even the spaciousness will dissolve if it is conditioned. What transcends that conditioned spaciousness, which is more a concept of spaciousness? Just keep going out.

He says – I love this – we have a big yard sale to get rid of this stuff. We feel "Ah, relief!" at getting rid of it but soon we are accumulating new stuff. Don't focus on the absence of the stuff but discover the presence of the light in that space.

As you come into the spaciousness, for those who have done this a lot before especially, become increasingly aware that a predominant quality of that spaciousness is luminosity. Don't try to make it luminous, just allow light.

Most people who have done this practice with me have said they need sunglasses because of the way the eyes are, soft and unfocused and letting everything in, but it's more than that. It's that as we relax our gaze in that way we start to touch on the true luminosity that's there. People are looking for something like a light, like that, light, but it's not that, it's just everywhere is light. It radiates. Just rest in it.

Ahh... Ahh... If the eyes want to close simply note that as you would any other strong object. It's an impulse. Anything separate from the Unconditioned there? Seeing the impulse, just go through it. What is it? Empty.

I'll be quiet now. We'll practice for a period.

(sitting 30 minutes)

When we meditate with vipassana practice we may eventually move into access concentration. With access concentration the sense of a separate self has dissolved. Things continue to be felt as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. In other words if there's an acrid smell that's burning it may be felt as unpleasant. If there's a very joyful experience, it may be felt as pleasant, but there's no attachment or aversion, there's no energy contraction, there's no going out to the object or pushing the object away.

That sense of a separate self dissolves. One is deeply aware of objects arising out of spaciousness and dissolving back into spaciousness. But the focus is more the object and with the wisdom mind, seeing how objects arise out of emptiness and dissolve back into emptiness. There's not a strong shifting of the attention into the emptiness.

So the impermanence and emptiness of the object is the predominant experience with access concentration. Emptiness is experienced in that way through the objects as having a separate self, but the vast spaciousness is not experienced and luminosity is often not experienced.

As an aside, I'm very much enjoying G out this window. He's stretched out on the recliner chair meditating in the rain. He's gotten himself comfortable with a tarp and whatever raingear he's got on. He's been out there the whole time we've been meditating.

With this practice the attention rests briefly on the object but the attention is given much more to the spaciousness than the object itself. We see the impermanence and emptiness of the objects, that's a given, but this spaciousness becomes so prevalent and so strong, and the merging of objects, the merging of the elements, the unity of everything, the falling away of any separation.

For me in my experience with access concentration, any sense of a body dissolves, in terms of my body, but there is still a body. I've not reached a point where there's total body dissolution at that level of access concentration. There's mostly ego dissolution but there's still a subtle sense of somebody who is noting objects, so it's not a self, it's just the observer, witness. Just this small glimmer of, I would call it subtly contracted consciousness. It's not pure awareness. There's something that's focusing it on one thing or another.

But with pure awareness practice, awareness opens and there's just spaciousness. And objects may seem to rise up and go. Often when we talk about this we use soap bubbles and I didn't bring any with me. J has a bubble machine she often brings and they send out hundreds of bubbles. And we just see them floating away-- pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Objects dissolving, nothing there.

So there's a difference between this and pure awareness. I usually start with one practice or the other practice with the intention to do a sitting with one practice or the other, and stay with that practice through the length of the sitting.

Sometimes I start with this pure awareness practice, eyes open, and after 15 or 20 minutes the eyes will want to close and I allow them to close and bring attention to whatever is the predominant object and shift into a vipassana practice.

I had a very powerful experience maybe 15 years ago, on a self-retreat where I was sitting all day doing this kind of pure awareness practice outdoors. The luminosity, the radiance, was so vast; this luminosity became the predominant object. Everything was simply luminosity, everything dissolving into that light. No self, just light and very strong awareness, very strong concentration.

As dusk came each evening I moved into the meditation hall and sat with vipassana practice. And almost immediately when I sat, the primary object was not nada but luminosity. Whatever arose within the sitting in terms of body sensations or thoughts dissolved into luminosity.

It was powerful for me at that time because while I had had deep experiences of the Unconditioned, there had been a wall beyond which I had not seemed to be able to go. At this point as I sat with vipassana, everything simply became light. There was strong access concentration but for the first time in vipassana practice I had the experience with access concentration of a subtle shift, where instead of paying attention just to arising objects falling away, that wisdom aspect of it and seeing everything is empty, suddenly there was a shift into the spaciousness and the light. I felt like I was sitting on the outside of a vast cornucopia of some sort, just sitting on the rim watching everything fall away, beyond, within. Objects would arise up out of this space, show themselves, and dissolve. Then suddenly the whole thing was just a field of light and everything evaporated, everything dissolved, there was nothing but light and brilliant radiance. There was a very strong experience of body and ego dissolution but still awareness.

I'm trying to find a way to explain this and I've never tried to describe it before so forgive me if I stumble around a little trying to find my way here.

There's a difference between consciousness and awareness. I'm using the terms in specific ways. Consciousness as the mundane consciousness, mind and body consciousness, where the sense organ or mind touches the object and consciousness arises. The various citta: kuttara, mundane, and lokuttara: supramundane. So the kuttara citta arises, consciousness arises, with contact.

The mundane and supramundane citta are not stretched out linearly but are simultaneous. It's like the experience if you're on a lake and the water is a little bit murky or is stirred by waves and you can only see down a few inches. The clear water is always there, the bottom is there, but there's a murkiness that distorts it so you can't see through.

Then the supramundane citta, the lokuttara citta, open and whoosh, you can see right through 50 feet to the bottom. Aaron and I use the term awareness for that supramundane consciousness.

So what happened for me on that retreat was that access concentration is the edge of mundane consciousness. The kuttara citta very open, strong presence, objects arising and passing away. Fully present with that. And then the doorway opens, the supramundane citta become accessible. I don't attain them. They are recognized or realized. They have always been there. That shift from object orientation to space orientation became available to me because of the light. The light was what helped awareness shift from the objects to simply resting in space.

As the supramundane citta became accessible, suddenly there was just complete body and ego dissolution and day after day as I sat with this it went deeper until there was just complete cessation of arising and dissolution. There was just nothing but vast spaciousness. For several days, every time I sat, the experience of that radiance took me right back into that cessation experience. It was very, very powerful, it taught me a great deal about the nature of mind and the nature of reality.

I'm just trying to draw a picture for you of how these practices can support each other and how they are not separate from each other. I don't want us to think of them so much as vipassana practice and pure awareness practice but just practices that work together along a spectrum.

Aaron talks sometimes about us as having a bit toolbox and he's helping us to develop the tools. He says if you are a carpenter and you have a toolbox and you want to attach 2 pieces of wood together, you'll get your hammer out and a nail. If you want to cut a piece of wood in half, you get out your saw because you know how these tools work. You don't use your saw and bang the nail with the saw. You don't take the hammer and try to chop away into the wood so it breaks in half. You know which tool does what.

Vipassana practice is a tool, a very powerful tool. Resting in pure awareness, I hesitate to call that at tool but in some ways it is. It's a vehicle, let's use the term that way. Not tool but vehicle. These are not separate vehicles but they slide into each other. You'll start to learn which is appropriate in the moment.

If as you're sitting there's loud incessant noise, your neighbor cutting wood with a chainsaw, loud noise, and it hurts your ears, it's irritating, you can't really move mind to anything else, then what helps? What kind of practice will help you find the truth of that experience as simply arising from conditions, both sound and any unpleasant feeling? The external conditions of the (chainsaw sound), ear, contact consciousness, unpleasant, nothing basically unpleasant about it. If your house had just collapsed on top of your family and your neighbor came over with his chainsaw and said, "Quick! I'm going to cut through these beams," it would be the most beautiful noise in the world. There's nothing inherently unpleasant about anything, even strong pain.

We think it is unpleasant. We don't want it. We contract around it. We want to get rid of it. We fail to note the tension, the arising mental formation of strong aversion. We lose presence and we're just wandering around in samsara.

When we note what's happening, even with strong pain, there can be a feeling of spaciousness and ease, and I speak from experience here. Strong pain can be a very challenging object to work with but we can learn to work with it in ways where there's a lot of spaciousness and ease and the pain is just sensation, unpleasant. Not even unpleasant, just strongly focused sensation. And then it changes. It never stays the same for too long, it changes.

When there's that shift, so that we learn just to settle back and rest in awareness watching consciousness-- let me say this again, awareness watching consciousness taking objects, having feelings about objects, attaching or averse to objects, suddenly awareness just says, "Ah so, enough of that, shall we just go off and rest in that space?"

It's not an abandonment of relative reality, if there's something that needs to be attended to we can attend to it, but it's not being sucked into it with the idea, "this is self, this is a somebody to whom this is happening, a somebody who has to fix anything." There's just spaciousness and ease and joy.

So on that retreat, sitting in that meditation hall at night and, it was a very pretty, very simple building about this size, candles glowing on the altar, a beautiful, vast view out the window of rolling hills, and the whole room just, immediately as I came in and sat, it seemed flooded with light. And the citta that are capable of perceiving the Unconditioned, which were borderline to being open as I sat out there on the hillside, eyes open in the daytime, just everything shifted into this sense of complete dissolution of body and ego. Everything opening. Everything ceasing. Nothing arising or ceasing, just peace, presence.

And what happens when one goes deep into that space of no arising or cessation? If there was a clear day we could watch the sun rise and go over and sit, and we would talk about it that way, the sun rises, the sun sets. It seems to move. But if you took a spaceship out to outer space and got far enough out, you'd see that the sun never rises or sets, it's just there and the Earth is spinning. There's nothing moving. Well in that case the Earth is spinning, yes, but at a certain level nothing is happening anywhere, everything just is as it is in that moment. Radiance exploding out and yet nothing is exploding out.

I have a feeling I am speaking words that really can't explain the experience and I'm not getting through! I see dazed looks on some of your faces.

Q: What does citta mean?

Barbara: Citta means consciousness. It's a Pali word for consciousness.

Q: It may be unexplainable. You have to have experienced it to understand what you're saying.

Barbara: I cannot give you my experiences; all I can do is encourage you through my experiences. There's no you to have the experience but this awareness will also experience. Basically don't try to separate these practices too much, yet sit with the intention to do one or the other.

And then we bring the elements practice into it and we bring work with your guides into it, pausing if you're confused about something to ask your guides for help. Watching your body energy, if you're feeling contracted, asking for help to open up to a less contracted state. Asking your guides literally for guidance. What should I do next? Inviting them to support you.

Q: We talked about eyes open as the meditation practice to access luminosity, and my sense was that you're saying access concentration, you can have your eyes closed. I'm not sure I'm really clear on whether or not you can have your eyes closed and experience luminosity, and your eyes open and experience access concentration.

Barbara: Access concentration arises within the vipassana practice and the eyes are usually closed but they can be open. No hard rules there. I just thought as I said that, I wonder if in Zen practice they experience access concentration, I don't know. I'll have to ask a friend who's Zen-based, I don't know.

After access concentration is strong, then it can walk around with us, eyes open and so forth. But the first establishment of access concentration in getting to know it is very much like the first practice of pure awareness. First we do the meditation. In dzogchen tradition they teach it as seeing the view. First just getting to know what this pure awareness mind is. Then the meditation that stabilizes it. Then action, taking it out into the world. In the same way, access concentration, first we have to get the idea, "Oh, that's access concentration, that's what it is." And then we stabilize it through practice and eventually we can take it out into the world.

Q: One of the things I was having some difficulty with is when you were talking about doing one or the other, I understand that the suggestion is to start with awareness. What I read said start with awareness and then go to vipassana or something else, but I'm not sure that's what you were saying when you explained it to us.

Barbara: Okay, let me rephrase this. It is not so much a doing as a being. A being present with, being in terms of presence with arising objects and seeing the nature of arising and cessation. Seeing the nature of objects; whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. All objects arise out of conditions and cease. This is the first fruit of vipassana practice, to really see this deeply.

One starts with the intention to have this kind of deepening knowledge. Vipassana practice is a vehicle toward that knowledge so one works with vipassana practice to deepen that knowledge, to really see it clearly so there is absolute certainty, no conditioned object can arise when the conditions are not present. When the conditions cease to be present, it will cease. And it has no permanent self to it. This is a very powerful thing to know in an unshakeable knowing.

With pure awareness practice one starts with a different intention, to just sit back and see things just as they are. In that sitting back and seeing things just as they are, we do see that everything is arising out of conditions and passing away, impermanent and not self, but we start to see the nature of the awareness itself and not just of the objects that are arising and passing away. So it's about the relationship of the awareness to the conditioned world. Awareness then turning around and looking at itself: what is this awareness? Does this also arise and pass away? And if it doesn't, what is it? Is there any self to it? What is it? What is this awareness?

Q: When you were at the retreat and you went inside the meditation hall and you experienced this luminosity, were your eyes closed?

Barbara: Yes. This is probably 15 years ago and I don't remember all the details of that particular experience and I've had many experiences similar and deeper experiences since then. It was just the first experience of bringing these practices together. I think it was 15 years ago because it was the year after my second dzogchen retreat with Surya Das. I think that second retreat was in '95 so this was 14 years ago; it was the next year.

So I'm trying to remember what happened then. I probably have journals about it, I have journals about everything but I haven't looked at them. (later note; these journals went out with my hard drive; if they are retrievable, I will make some available to those who wish to see them)

My eyes were closed but it was such an important turning point for me because without the outdoor pure awareness practice and the luminosity – it was a several-weeks retreat and in the beginning of that retreat I was just sitting inside in the meditation hall all day – energy was too contracted, effort was too tight, I was trying to make something happen. There was too much somebody-ness.

And then when I went and sat outside for hours just there, just awareness hanging out in spaciousness, the luminosity became so prevalent. When I came inside with it, it just shifted the whole practice into that kind of spaciousness and ease and light that allowed this deeper experience.

Q: Two questions, one quick one. The poem you recited by Ginsberg, the last line which was "Do nothing," is that good advice?

Barbara: Yes. Because most of us are grasping and trying too hard! It's basically a dzogchen poem. He practiced this. It's not good advice in terms of, there has to be some effort in traditional Theravada Buddhist terms. We talk about Right Effort and Right Energy and there's got to be effort. But it's an effort that's empty of a self. So if we say "Do nothing," it's a reminder, "Don't be a somebody trying to do this and then do that and then do that," because that just obscures everything. That radiant nature of mind can never shine through as long as there's a somebody constantly trying to push things around.

Q: It's really a delicate thing because if you make any effort while you're not a solid personality, it brings you into it, or back into it.

Barbara: Yes. Let's call it effortless effort, okay? Presence, strong presence; awakeness. This isn't just, "Let's go to sleep." Strong presence; strong intention to liberation. No grasping, no self. What is there to grasp at? That liberated mind, what I just read, it's already there. Grasping at what? Just opening the window, letting one see what's already there.

If these windows were covered with dirt, lots of mud and dirt, we would not get hammers and break out the windows and install new glass, we'd wash the windows. The nature of the glass is clear. The nature of mind is clear.

Distorted effort wants to break out the glass, fix something, change something but all we're doing is releasing the layers of obscurations and distortions so that the true radiance of mind can be seen. And when we know it for what it is, we recognize that this mind is, as he says in Flight of the Garuda, primordially pure from the very beginning. This is what we are. This is the nature of everything, this clear awareness.

Q: It seems from my practice, from the beginning, that as one would expect you to learn with baby steps, you learn to see the object and parse the object and then watch it dissolve and so forth, you do that month after month and year after year. In my experience after quite a number of years I have an idea in my own mind or an experience that shows me this process in one gestalt. I don't know what it means, I know it's important, and it's only after I read your explanation of access consciousness can I really comprehend what I experienced. But there's no effort involved so it surprised me that I got that experience. So I'm not washing any windows. I guess the whole training is washing the windows.

Barbara: I'm not sure what the question is. You're saying the direct experience of access concentration once you experienced it was effortless. That's the release of the effort and just being present.

Q: So what is the next step in that process?

Barbara: With access concentration, once access concentration is developed and strong, that is the doorway in which the citta are available that are capable of perceiving the Unconditioned. The next step is simply, it's in the, are you familiar with VisuddhiMagga? In VisuddhiMagga there's a long list of specific knowledges that arise in a certain order.

Once access concentration is developed and strong we have what we call change of lineage knowledge. What that means basically is, we've watched this whole conditioned realm arising and dissolving and arising and dissolving, empty, and the Unconditioned isn't there. We cannot find what we're seeking in the mundane realm. We shift to the Unconditioned. Then finally we're ready to open our eyes and say, "It's not here, it must be there." That shift.

At that point we often move into a strong sense of everything dissolving. There's nothing we can hold onto. The whole world seems to be dissolving. And then there can come a sense of wonderousness, everything is arising, everything is there, strong. It can come in the reverse order-- everything arising, wow! But then it's all dissolving, we can't hold on to it, we can't stop it.

There develops equanimity with this whole arising and dissolution. Then with that equanimity, what I'm looking for is not here in this conditioned realm. Change of lineage knowledge. So this knowledge of arising, knowledge of dissolution, equanimity with arising and dissolution, and then change of lineage knowledge, they come very quickly, within just a few minutes of each other.

Then at that point the lokuttara citta are open and there's a willingness to see the Unconditioned, but if there's still any small sense of self, anybody doing it in any way or in striving toward or grasping or contraction, there's still too much self, we can't get there.

This is where the spaciousness, when we've trained in this pure awareness practice, it intuitively kicks in and we move into that spaciousness. We let go of the conditioned realm entirely and simply move off into this field of vast awareness. Light-- one thing will become predominant. For many people it's light. It may be nada, it may be light, it may be energy. But for many people it's light.

The light is just the Unconditioned shining out and it just opens us into itself. The whole conditioned realm falls away and there's a direct contact with the Unconditioned.

Q: It seems to me that vipassana and pure awareness training more powerfully than any other technique man has devised reaches down into the unconscious part of our being and changes the negativity.

Barbara: I think you're right, but there has to have been either years or lifetimes of purification practice, the kinds of work you've all been doing with the Mussar practice. That strong intention to releasing unwholesome habit energies is necessary, as is the strong intention to non-harm and to service to all beings. And this is all built on that. I can't say it's the strongest practice. It works for me, that's why I practice it and teach it. I've not practice other things so I don't know what else there may be in the world. If a vehicle works I'm satisfied not to go wandering off and see what other vehicles may also work.

Many of the more traditional vipassana teachers are now teaching this combination of vipassana and pure awareness. That first dzogchen retreat I went to, I guess in 1993, a month-long retreat, there were about 30 vipassana teachers there including people like Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein. Many senior vipassana teachers were there. There were probably over 30 of us and most of them have developed their teaching into some balance between classical vipassana and pure awareness without creating a distinction of, this is one, this is the other.

Ajahn Amaro has a beautiful book Small Boat, Great Mountain that's about the combination of practices. I have a .PDF of that, I can mail it out to you. (this is gone with my defunct hard drive. Perhaps it will be retrieved as my back-up downloads) Joseph Goldstein has a book, One Dharma, that's basically pulling together these 2 practices.

Q: I think my question ties in to what B was saying but I need to say it because I want to be sure. It's sort of 2 parts. I hear what you said that you did. When I sit down to meditate, even at my current level, I can decide if I want to do pure awareness practice or just maybe 15 minutes of pure awareness, and with pure awareness, one offshoot of that can be luminosity. Or I can do vipassana, or do the pure awareness practice first and then go into vipassana. If I do vipassana practice, using choiceless awareness, that will then give me an experience of objects arising and fading away; that eventually can lead me into access concentration. But I can do both of these in one meditation period; is that right? Am I understanding it?

Barbara: Are you asking, can you both practice with Pure Awareness and perhaps experience luminosity, and then practice with vipassana, a choiceless awareness practice, and experience access concentration, in one sitting? Yes, you can do both but the question here is to ask yourself, to keep asking yourself, what most needs deepening right now? Where am I right now, today? Is there still some uncertainty about the truth of "the conditioned realm is impermanent and not self"? Would it help me to ground even deeper in that truth through more intensive vipassana sittings and access concentration?

Or as you enter that state and there's access concentration, does that get to be a kind of joyful resting place and one just says, "Ah, here's a nice place, a nice plateau, I think I'll just park here for awhile"? Then at that point, if the practice doesn't deepen any more, if it becomes a kind of plateau, one will want to ask, "what would invite deepening?" Because pleasant though access concentration is, there's a lot more beyond it. Ask before sitting, "What is it that most needs to be attended to, or deepened, or supported in my practice today, this morning, or this afternoon. What practice will be most supportive to bring me there."

This is partly why I was describing that retreat and in the beginning week of the retreat there was this plateau. Access concentration was strong but that was it. Aaron said to go outside and sit with my eyes open. You don't have Aaron to tell you but you do have your own guides and you do have your own intuition. You do have your own experience. My focus was too narrow, too tight. Go outside and sit with that space, eyes open. Get more into that spaciousness and light; really rest stably in awareness. Get to know awareness and exactly what it is, how it feels. Then bring it back to the vipassana practice and see what happens. This is part of the reason you're practicing with a teacher because if you do this and then you share back with me and Aaron, we'll probably tell you, maybe you should try this or that. Explore it. The teacher sometimes can see the blind spots and we all have those.

Q: I have a question that builds on B's question. I appreciate the effortless effort or non-doing of just resting in clear awareness. However, I have really enjoyed the 5-step meditation where I answer the question, "What is mind? What is emptiness?" So there's a little bit of a doer when I ask that question. And sometimes to answer "What is emptiness?" there's a bit of a doing to look straight at awareness and look at the emptiness. And that takes me into the clarity and the light.

So my question is ...(repeating for signer) There's a bit of self or effort to look directly at the emptiness and say "what is that?" But it's very powerful for me.

Barbara: If it's a powerful practice then do it. There's no one right path. These are different tools or vehicles. We mix them up a bit. We see what works. It's like getting lost in the woods and you can tell the direction by where the sun is, to know which direction you want to go. You're very sure home is that way probably 5 miles or so. The woods is thick and as you walk you come into bogs and little canyons that you've got to get around, so you can't just walk in a straight line. You follow this path as long as it goes. When it comes to a place where you can't follow it anymore you take a different path. You know that all paths are leading home, you just keep following it.

There will be a predominant path, which for most of you is vipassana. The predominant path is akin to, in that illustration, knowing where the sun is, knowing which way you want to keep going. But whoops, here we come to a river, I guess I'm going to have to put on my bathing suit and swim across. Then maybe I'll find another path on the other side. "Ahh, here's my original path." Go back on it. Here is a marsh. I have to go at a ninety degree angle to where I think I need to go. I just try it and see what happens. And then I can go back in the right direction again after I pass the marsh.

No right or wrong. So much of this is a question of balance and maintaining that effortless effort, "not too tight and not too loose," as the Buddha puts it. That's one reason why we're working with the elements. That practice does help us stay balanced. We'll work again with a guided meditation with the elements and vipassana and pure awareness practice, trying to put it all together. You can bring that 5-step Vision as Mind practice into it too.

As example: in this moment, ahh, nothing out of balance. Nothing to do; just sit; rest in awareness. Mind pops up saying, "Oh, but I have to cook dinner." "I'm late." "I've got to do this and that and I promised so-and-so I'd take care of this." "Tension, tension."

"Breathing in and aware of tension, breathing out I smile to the tension." I may work with the tension as an object within vipassana practice. I may work with it with this Vision as Mind practice, "what is it," just seeing it dissolve. I may look at the elements, the strong earth energy and fire energy that are there and how the air and water elements are out of balance and do literally an element meditation to balance the energy. I might do metta. I would probably not move into a Pure Awareness practice at that moment, that would try to force the mind into spaciousness in denial of tension.

As mind comes into balance and there's clarity, there are just these thoughts and nobody thinking them. Dinner will get made. This human form will go off and make dinner but nobody is going to do it. No more tension about it, just go in, put the food in the oven, come back and sit. Tension is gone. At that point I might pick up the vipassana practice again. If the vipassana practice starts to feel too heavy and too structured, I'd move into something that balances it with more spaciousness and light, perhaps Pure Awareness practice.

So it's just a constant balancing and rebalancing, getting to know the tools well enough that you can choose the tool that's useful. I didn't mention all the tools but we've done some shamanic journeying, we've done the breathing. You can hold your crystal and ask it for guidance. We've got lots of tools. They're all valid and useful tools. If I was feeling very stuck, lots of tension, mind very agitated through a number of sittings, I might do some breath work to see if it helps to clarify what the tension is about. Or I might just sit with vipassana and go deeply into the experience of tension, watching it in the body, seeing how it moves and changes, watching the impulse to create stories out of the agitation, until it finally dissolves or the sense of a 'someone' experiencing the tension and agitated by it, dissolves.

I never use force, but I use my commitment to liberation, literally, I use metta, and my commitment to live the precepts, to support staying with the difficult moments of practice. Watch for a 'somebody' that's trying to get somewhere. That's force. "If I only could figure out the right tools, finally I'll get it right." Like me in Brazil-- "If only I do something right, he'll come up and put his hands on my ears and I'll be able to hear." Let it go. As he said, love heals. Just love. Opening into the space of love, of awareness, of ease, trust you are already awakened; there's no place to go. So just relax and do your practice. All of the practice, continuing to work with the challenging habit energies, all of it.

It's 4, I want to take a 15 minute break and we'll come back. We will have more time for questions tonight.


Continuing with a guided meditation with Aaron. (pauses are there, but not noted)

Aaron: I want you to begin, eyes closed, bringing attention to the breath. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in and breathing out...

Hearing; hearing my voice. Ear touching the object, contact, unconsciousness, hearing. I imagine it is somewhat a neutral. Then it stops...

Rest in the spaciousness that remains. No need to rush back to a primary object. But if the spaciousness does not feel strong or present then turn to the primary object. So we want to be awake and present...

If you move to the spaciousness and it doesn't feel strong, sinking mind can develop, low in energy. Or grasping to make the object feel stronger may develop.

Now you've returned to the primary object and here is my voice again. Hearing, hearing, neutral. I suppose I could sing a few lines to give you an unpleasant object. Neutral, hearing. As the last of my voice goes, rest in what remains...

(banging) Hearing, hearing. Perhaps neutral, perhaps unpleasant. (banging) And it stops. Objects arising out of conditions and passing away.

Take a moment now to do a scan of your body energy. If you feel tension somewhere in the body bring loving attention to it. Just hold that tension gently with presence until it dissolves. But if it doesn't dissolve let it be, not trying to fix it or force it away...

Various sounds in the room, not just my voice but small movement. I imagine you can hear the water out there gently lapping on the shore. Pleasant sounds, unpleasant sounds, neutral sounds, nothing really to make them pleasant or unpleasant except your old perception of them. "Ah, this is lovely. This is the water on the shore." Or, that is unwanted, that is somebody moving in their seat. Watch with the so-called unpleasantness to see if any tension comes up with it, tension of aversion...

And if such tension arises, how is that felt in the balance of the body energy and the elements? ... Does one element predominate, out of balance? Attend to it briefly. Then rest in balance again.

(longer pause)

I ask you now to invite in the direct experience of an unpleasant memory or perhaps there is present a body sensation that's uncomfortable. In other words, this moment's "famous person." Try to find something that brings up tension, as anger, as fear, as grasping, and feel any shift in the body...It may be felt as heat or cold, as energy movement, as blockage...

Whatever has arisen is just another object. Bring awareness to it. If you feel a lot of heat, excess of fire energy, with your eyes closed envision the lake and the coolness. Breathe in water, cooling and balancing...

If with this challenging energy you feel blockage, feel yourself to be the heavy rock mountain, stable but with no movement, no air, no light, no fluidity. Invite in whatever it feels will bring balance. Be careful here, this is not a doing, not a somebody trying to fix but simply lovingly attending...

Envision how you would experience it if you were making a pot of soup. You taste the soup and it needs a little bit of salt. You're not fixing the soup, You are lovingly bringing the soup to its own perfection. Add a sprinkling of this herb or of that, keep tasting until it feels just right... You can feel the difference in that energy; fixing is contracted.

That painful body sensation or the challenging memory or image of the difficult person may still be there but there's no longer any contraction around it. It is just held in spaciousness and love.

So the instructions are this: bring awareness to any contraction and then as with the pot of soup, add whatever is needed to bring it into balance. As it comes into balance and there is no longer contraction, simply hold it until it dissolves. When the object dissolves, rest in spaciousness. Don't rush off to find another object, just rest in spaciousness. I'll be quiet for a few minutes.


As the object has dissolved, if spaciousness is strong, stay with the spaciousness. But if another object comes in such as my voice right now, move attention to it. In this way you are always bringing together 2 things: the arising of objects out of emptiness and their passing away when the conditions for them cease, and the nature of that emptiness. These are the 2 areas of focus, the impermanent selfless nature of conditioned objects and the direct experience of the emptiness out of which they arise and into which they pass...

I'm going to create a very specific object, one ring of the bell. I want you to listen, hearing, hearing, arisen out of conditions, striker touching the bell producing sound. Ear organ touching the sound resulting in hearing, hearing consciousness. As the sound fades away, two things will happen. One is the wisdom, that which has arisen from conditions, empty of self, is now fading. And the other is the awareness, this has arisen out of emptiness, out of that vast clarity and spaciousness, and it passes away into that emptiness. It arose into mind, Vision as Mind, mind as empty.

Then I want you to use a direct intention of consciousness for the next step, as a temporary learning tool. As the sound passes away, feel, see, taste, smell, feel the emptiness into which it's going and bring forth in your imagination an image of brilliant light. So I want you literally to hear this sound dying away into the light. It's fine simply to imagine it.

What you are imagining is something real that some of you experience directly and some of you have not yet fully experienced directly, so you need just to imagine it. So there will be hearing, mind's recognition of hearing, how both sound and hearing are arising out of conditions, no self, passing away. As the sound fades, visualize it fading into this vast realm of light and simply rest in the light.

If the light fades after a moment, that's okay, don't try to hold it there. Simply come back to the breath or whatever is the primary object. If the light remains strong, simply stay there resting in the light. You may find other qualities in the light. You may find it has a taste or smell; that's fine. Don't try to make it have any other qualities, but if they are predominant, note them. Otherwise, just let it be.

(bell; long pause)

"Hearing." For a number of you there was tension before I invited the bell. "What if I don't get it right? What if I can't find the light?" As such tension arises feel the imbalance in the body energy, the imbalance in the elements. We go back to making the soup, not a fixing. The imbalance is not a problem, it's not bad, but the highest intention is for balance and clarity. So we add a little bit of this or that seasoning, inviting balance.

Then we can do it again. Remember I'm creating a specific object here but in your regular practice objects will keep appearing: a bird sound, raindrops, a person's cough, a memory. As each one arises, be present with it, watch it dissolving, arisen out of conditions, impermanent, not self. And as it dissolves, let it dissolve into a field of light.

But if in that moment you feel that the body is unbalanced, that the tension is unbalanced, that the elements are unbalanced, then gently shift the practice into inviting balance, and once there is balance, begin again, and again, and again.

(bell; long pause )

In this way we are mingling these practices. The vipassana practice is predominant. The arising and passing away of objects is noted. If any tension is seen, if the energy, elements and mind become unbalanced, move into that which helps support or may invite balance. The practice is one of ease, the effortless effort Barbara spoke of earlier, no one trying to fix anything, just gently holding space, inviting ease and balance with deep presence and kindness.

Right now we have too short a practice period for you to experience access concentration, we'll be ending in just a few minutes, but after dinner and our discussion we'll do this again, not so much as a guided meditation, just maybe a few words but a much longer sitting period.

I hope that some of you may experience deepening presence, perhaps to access concentration; the deep wisdom of objects arising out of conditions and passing away and equanimity with that arising and passing away. And simultaneously a sense of the spacious empty luminosity of mind into which the objects arise and from which they dissolve. With a special focus on allowing the experience of luminosity if it is there, of clarity, of space...

(short sitting; bell bell bell)

It is a place of love, a place of ease and joy. You have a song I've heard some of you sing, Love is the Law. Do some of you know that song? I don't know it, I don't think Barbara knows it, we've just heard it. Does anybody know it? Love is the law of the universe...? I don't know the music and I don't know all the words.

(Group sings)

Love is the law

Love is the law

Love is the law of the universe.

All you need to do is feel it inside yourself, to know Love is the Law.

It seems like a fitting closing to this afternoon.

You have a break now and dinner. We'll come back together at 6:30. We will sit, we will have first a sitting, silent sitting, then a prolonged Q&A period, then a final sitting and then you will be in silence until Saturday morning at breakfast. So do your talking now.

(session ends)