April 9, 1997 Awakened Heart, Part 6, Right Effort

97.04.09 WC.doc

April 9, 1997

Wednesday Night Group

Awakened Heart, part 6

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good evening and my love to you all. Tonight I want to offer the next piece of the Awakened Heart series. I will backtrack very briefly to fill in your memories.

We began this series by talking about the various heavy mind states, and noted that our work up till then had been simply to learn to make space for these mind states and not to judge the self because they had arisen. Implicit in that statement is that you are not acting out these mind states, that you have that degree of self-control and resolve not to harm others. Nevertheless, the mind state is there, it's very uncomfortable and some of the energy of it leaks out.

In December I pointed out that since these mind states arise when conditions are present for them to arise, you cannot cut off the mind state but you can begin to more deeply investigate the conditions that lead it to arise. To do so is very difficult. This entire series of talks is to familiarize you with the various supports for doing this difficult work. In offering this series I am borrowing from a beautiful, lengthy poem by a teacher named Shantideva. I emphasize that this is not a re-statement of Shantideva, nor commentary on his poem, I've simply used his thoughts as a rough outline to build upon with my own teaching. Most of that teaching runs parallel but not all of it.

We talk of the awakened heart, the ever-loving awakened heart, that is inherent in all of you. This is not something you need to attain but something you nurture so that that seed that's already there will blossom. To look deeply at the conditions that give rise to fear, anger, greed, and delusion, it is most helpful when there is access to the heart which is deeply opened and loving. It can't be reached in a mechanical way or with force. The open heart must present itself willingly..

We observed and practiced with the various steps to open to the awakened heart. This is the Seven-Step Prayer. Then we talked about those practices which help to keep the heart open and accessible, primarily, deepening carefulness, awareness and patience. Now we are moving into part 3 with the question, what supports your aspiration to live from that awakened heart. You've made contact with it, you've stabilized it, now you want to live from it. Shantideva offers 3 factors and I'm going to discuss each of them on a different Wednesday night. None of them is sufficient unto itself. They must support each other. These are: energy and effort, deepening concentration, and wisdom. Tonight, we will talk about energy and effort, what right effort really means.

All of you understand what it means to make an effort, to have some goal in mind and make an effort to meet that goal. I believe you can clearly see that the motivation for that effort can come predominantly from a place of love or a place of fear. There may be strong effort in a distorted direction to get rid of anger, which effort takes the form of an attack on the anger, or there can be effort from a place of love, which deeply opens the heart and chooses skillful means to understand the conditions out of which the anger arose. Only with such understanding does anger cease to arise.

What might these conditions be? Clearly the illusion of a separate self is primary condition for fear based emotion. But if that illusion exists, you can't just say “I don't want it any more” and throw it out. You cannot approach it by saying, “I want to get rid of the illusion. Where is a knife that will cut it away.” Here is where your dedicated spiritual practice becomes the tool that cuts through the illusion. You could begin with the steps of the 7-Branch Prayer, with deep-seeing that there is an inherent Christ or Buddha nature which you can express in the world, with regret for the pain that your illusion causes yourself and others, and with a deepening resolve to understand.

Here is where you can begin to feel the heart open. Then you may still be aware, “I am living in the delusion of a separate self” but instead of a need to attack, there is a gentleness and mercy. The open heart simply notes the way you move into separation based largely on fear. It brings kindness to the human which is afraid, and also starts to see you do have a choice. You know, “I do not have to jump into this illusion of separation in order to feel strong and in control. I can rest in the spaciousness and connection in which unlimitedness equals infinite power.”

To work with great effort in this way, four supports are offered. Let's take them one at a time. The first is aspiration. In some texts by Shantideva it's translated as “desire.” But desire here is not a grasping and fear-based energy, which is how you usually interpret desire, but is aspiration. This grows out of that deep resolve to purify your energy, to offer your energy lovingly to others, to do no harm. So for effort, there has to be aspiration, and it must come from a place of love or it becomes distorted and shifts us off into this whole fear-based distortion of getting rid of the heavy emotions, killing them, attacking them.

I present these in my own order. The second support, traditionally listed as third, is joy. Earlier this week I spoke to a friend who talked about the way his spiritual path seemed to lead him increasingly into a narrow and dark place. If you view the heavy arisings of the emotions as something evil and have the misconception that you must destroy this evil in order to be pure and worthy of God, then spiritual practice is going to lead you into increasing darkness. Where is joy? Where is love? When you read the writings of some of the great mystical teachers through the centuries, Theresa of Avila comes to mind, as does the poet Rumi, their writings of God express a love affair, literally. There is such deep joy offered.

Everything is an expression of God: sorrow, anger, fear—these are all faces of God. As you move deeper in your spiritual work, you come to see that these are distortions of love. We've talked about that idea here before and I will not speak in depth to it now, but will only say that you can easily see that fear is a distortion of love. When there is a thought that one will be hurt or one's needs won't be met, that leads one into a distortion of fear because of love of the self. But the self is no less divine than anything else. It is a love-based distortion.

So we could say, perhaps, that the truth of God is love, and all else is a distortion of love. Within love is joy. Yes, of course there's sadness. For example, if that which is beloved leaves, departs or dies, there's going to be a sense of sadness and loss. But even the loss and sadness carries an aspect of joy because of the depth of your loving and the wonder of your memories. Nothing can ever really go away. When Ramana Maharshi was dying, his disciples were gathered around and saying, “Oh no, Master, don't leave us! Please don't leave us!” He looked around and said, “Where would I go?” Where would anything go?

When you rest in the divine and understand your interconnection with all things, there is joy. When you cease to attack the fearful arisings of the self, but learn to offer love to them instead, then there is joy. For right effort, there must be joy. If your effort is taking you increasingly into a place of darkness, then here is a spot where you must stop and ask, “How have I gone astray?” Ask your own inner wisdom. Ask God. Ask your friends. Where has joy gone?

I'm not talking about one who spends his life in constant laughter which denies suffering in the world. Rather, there is a certain deep joy which comprehends the suffering of the world but has such deep acceptance, love and faith that it finds beauty even in the suffering. It looks at a flower which opens its blossom just for a few hours and then dies, and sees both the loss of that flower and the exquisite gift of the few hours of its blossom. Its ephemerality makes that beauty even more precious. That's not denial, in my mind, but clear-seeing. This clear-seeing and the joy it carries are great supports for right effort.

The third and fourth facets I would take together, and that's why I have changed the order. The third in Shantideva's book is called pride, and here again we have a semantic distortion. What this third factor really is is self-confidence. It is knowing who you are, the deepest truth of yourself, and of what you are capable. If you deny your divinity, then fear will continue to overcome you. Effort will be difficult because you will feel, “I can't do it anyhow.” Then there's a certain kind of laziness. What is laziness? The word for laziness in Sanskrit, “allasya,” translates to “not taking hold of what is there.”

“Not taking hold of what is there.” What blocks you from taking hold of what is there? What really is laziness? There's lack of aspiration in laziness. There's of lack of joy, which one could translate simply into fear, depression, and darkness. There's lack of self-confidence, lack of getting in touch with the deepest truth of the self.

There comes a certain time in your spiritual growth when you have largely moved past the arisings of fear-based pride which wants to be better-than so that it can feel safe, comfortable and loved. Then you become increasingly willing to consider the deep truth of the self, your wonder, your brilliance, your divinity, and that you do have the ability to enact these in the world. The great ancient Zen Master, Hongzhi says, 1 “you are inherently spirited and splendid, still you must still go ahead and enact it.” This thought of inherent divinity is not based on ego centered pride but an honest assessment. Certainly the mind wants to play with that evaluation. The ego likes it and says, “Oh, am I really that good?” Don't be afraid of the way the ego grabs hold of it. Just say, “Shhhh!” to the ego and come back to knowing the truth of who you are.

The fourth factor is the balance to this self-confidence. One might call it moderation. In knowing the truth of who you are you must also know if you have human limits. A very simple example. If you are on a ship that sinks a mile off from shore and you have two babies in your arms, you may have enough confidence in your swimming ability that although it would be very difficult, you CAN make it to shore with these 2 babies. Fear might lead you to say, “No, that's pride. I can't do that. I'm not that good a swimmer,” and to drop one. But a deeper confidence knows, “Yes, I can do this.” You begin to swim when you see a frantic splashing a hundred yards away, and see that another child is also in the water, clinging to some fragment of wood. To make the decision not to try to save that child is in some ways harder than to make the decision to try to save it. Here one is honest with oneself. “No, I cannot do this. If this child is to be saved, it will have to be saved in another way. Perhaps it will be able to hold that fragment of wood until I get to shore and return.” A will-based pride, might prompt you to say, “Well, I'm going to save the third one, too” and you all drown. It takes as much wisdom and courage to say “no” as it took to say “yes.”

This is a very hard call, as this instrument would say. You have got to be utterly honest with yourself. You also have got to be deeply tuned in to the inner wisdom of the self, resting in the place of the divine in the self. If the voice prompts you, then go, go to the other child, don't be afraid. Then you've got to be willing to follow that voice knowing this is not the ego, that perhaps that scrap of wood will be strong enough to support all 4 of you and you can kick your way to shore. If the same voice says to you, “No, you cannot do this. Save these two.” then that is what you must do.

How do we know whether it's the voice of fear or the voice of love? This is a very difficult thing to know. The ability to discern comes as a fruit of ongoing spiritual practice. One trains oneself to listen. One trains oneself to feel how fear is experienced in the body and how one feels when one is deeply open. This kind of discernment cannot be learned instantaneously; it comes as a fruit of practice. As you become more confident in your ability to make this kind of discernment, effort becomes easier because you are not plagued by doubts but have a sense of clarity. When resting in center, you know you are resting in center. When out of center and pushed by the discursive mind, you know that you are being pushed by discursive mind. This is essentially the practice of connecting and resting in the awakened heart, combined with your vipassana practice which teaches you deep awareness, honesty and fearlessness.

These are the four traditional supports for right effort, and I would add one more, which is endurance. What do I mean by endurance? I want to share a story with you, of a Japanese Buddhist priest, an abbot. It was a time when Russians had taken over that particular area of China. The Japanese people who lived there were told they must leave and go back to Japanese territory but only those who were capable of walking out of their home on their own two feet might go. They were packed into buses to be transported back into Japan, but they were forced at gun point to leave the babies behind. All of the townsfolk were not moved at once; but, this block and then that block. After the parents were packed into the buses and taken away, not knowing what would befall their babies, the Russian authorities simply came and boarded up the houses, leaving those infants to a dreadful fate.

This abbot had chosen to stay. What he did was, at night after curfew, to sneak out, wind his way through dark alleys and listen. If he heard a whimper or cry, then very stealthily, because if he was heard he would be killed, very stealthily he would pull the boards off a window or door, creep in and find the child. In this way he found and brought a great many babies to safety. They were cared for and sneaked out to a secret place. Then people began to get sick with some kind of fever, maybe typhoid; the abbot also got sick. He was very thin, feverish, but he did not stop. He knew he had only a certain amount of time before these children died. As parents were forced to leave, his rescue was an ongoing process over several weeks. Despite his typhoid, despite his illness, lying in his bed he would think he heard a baby cry, drag himself down the street with his heart open, asking, “Where is this child I need to find?” and allow himself to be drawn to it. When he heard it he would open that house and rescue the baby. He became famous for what he had done.

He was not driven by fear. He was not driven by ego. He was driven by love. We might call this part of aspiration but it's really something different. It's a mixture of aspiration and effort. They come together. Aspiration is only the dream to do; effort can become distorted by ego. But aspiration, clarity and effort married together become joyful, infinite endurance.

So these are the supports for right effort. It is very possible to nurture these in conscious awareness. Simply bring attention to whether or not the supports are present and, if they seem not to be present, ask what blocks them. Please remember that these qualities of aspiration, joy, self-confidence, moderation borne out of wisdom, and endurance are inherent in you. When the clouds of fear are dissolved, these qualities will shine forth.

Once you have the support in place for right effort then you must ask, “Effort to do what?” Traditionally, right effort is described as having four aspects: to nurture wholesome mind states already arisen; to support the arising of wholesome mind states that have not yet arisen, to prevent unwholesome mind states from arising, and to allow the dissolution of unwholesome mind states already arisen. In the fourth, the traditional phrasing is “get rid of,” but I find this phrasing to be distortion. We simply “allow to dissolve.” There is never attack on the unwholesome mind states, but just deep awareness of their arising and the conditions out of which they arose. With mercy and understanding, these conditions, such as the delusion of separate self, themselves lose their solidity, and then the unwholesome mind states which are resultant from the conditions naturally dissolve.

Four parts. “To nurture wholesome mind states that already have arisen” might seem to be easiest but in some ways it's very hard. It is difficult because you are all so critical with yourself and do not honor yourself when these mind states are present in you. You can't nurture them if you deny that they're there. You tell yourself, “It's ego. It's pride.” to feel that this wholesome state is present. My dear ones, cherish yourselves. Cherish your beauty. Cherish your divinity.

“To allow wholesome mind states that have not arisen to arise,: “ Here you must be aware that the mind state truly is already present but is hidden beneath the surface, like a seed in the soil. You must ask and over and over, “What blocks it?” and attend lovingly and with great dedication to this question, to understand what blocks it and allow it to dissolve.

As you work to let the wholesome mind states grow and ask what blocks them, you are led directly to the unwholesome mind states. As soon as you ask, “How do I allow wholesome mind states that have not yet arisen to arise?” you become aware “I do this by attending to unwholesome mind states.” You note the presence of these unwholesome states and allow the light of non judgmental, choiceless awareness to shine upon them and the conditions out of which they sprang. In this way you allow them to dissolve and also allow the force of your identity with those states to shatter. Coming to know your innate perfection, you cease to be caught in the myth that such unwholesome mind states as pass through you now and then are who you are. You see them simply as the play of conditions, the play of the mind and of the universe. There is no longer self-identity. Rather, the arising of such mind states becomes an ever more powerful reminder of non-duality. Each heavy thought is also expression of the Unconditioned and leads you back, repeatedly, to the truth body, to rest in pure awareness which watches all arising without fear, contraction, or need to move into relationship with that arising.

Here we're dealing with karmic tendencies. Where the tendency was the blame of others and statement of helplessness, that very thought of “it's not my fault,” solidified the relationship with the mind state and created an oppositional pattern. To be helpless/ to control; they are directly related. When the thought was the blame of self as antagonistic criticism, that thought also kept you safe from the pain of the situation, gave you a way to attempt to wrest control. The root is still helplessness and control, and the illusion of separate self out of which these ideas spring. Such a pattern keeps you caught in the recreation of such mind states. There must be willingness to see that this pattern exists, a willingness to let go of old, fear-based patterns. Such willingness grows out of such practices as the Clear Comprehension of Purpose and the steps of the Seven Branch prayer, such as resolve.

It is out of that willingness and resolve that change begins. These supports assist you to look into and more deeply understand the nature of conditioned arising and the truths of impermanence and interconnection of all things. Then you can regard the forces that push you into unwholesome mind states and can understand, “I do have a choice. I do not have to get into a relationship with this mind state. I do not have to act it out. I have a choice.”

Right effort, then, is one of the three supports which must be nurtured for continuous expression of Bodhicitta or Awakened Heart . The other two are deepening meditative concentration and wisdom. When you ask yourself in sorrow, “What do I do about the anger, greed, jealousy or pride which continue to arise in me?” please recognize that there are these wonderful supports for understanding the conditions that gave rise to these mind states, supports for disconnecting yourself with identification with the mind states and need to enact them. With skillful practice, the mind states do decline but even more important, there is no contraction about them when they do arise. We simply note their presence and they lead us deeper into compassion as we allow the wind to blow them away. That is all.

Barbara: Are there questions?

Q: I'm not sure I understood this correctly. question about Rumi; unclear. Did Aaron say the self is distortion?

Barbara: Aaron says he was talking about Rumi's deep devotion to God and the deep joy he expresses in union of self as aspect of God with the Divine itself.

Q: In talking about the great love the mystics have for all that is, including the self ...

Barbara: Aaron says, forgive his interruption but there is no differentiation between the self and anything else. It's all expression of God. But this particular expression of God wishes to experience full union with God. For mystics such as Rumi or Theresa of Avila, union was there every moment and through that union there was such a deep experience of joy. Aaron is saying all that separates us from that deep experience of union is our own belief in the negativity in ourselves and our own belief that we're not worthy of that union. Because how could we ever be completely separate from God? He wants to speak for himself.

Aaron: I am Aaron. What I am saying here is that you do not allow yourself to experience joy because you dwell so strongly on the negative arisings of the self, find such blame and judgment, move into the distorted fear-based track that you must get rid of these, must attack and kill them, and then you'll be worthy of God. You erroneously believe you must destroy the negative side rather than just coming back to the divinity of the self. I don't mean that you don't have to attend these heavy emotions. But you attend them with love, not fear which attacks. The joy comes when you allow the experience of the union to whatever degree you're able. And the myth that you must attack and kill some part of the self is what brings closure and darkness. I pause.

Q: The concept of the self is not a dualistic concept, then.

Aaron: It is a concept which depends on another concept, that of duality, for it's existence. Duality is not ultimately real; it too is a concept. Separate self is another concept. The true “Self” is like the drop of water in non-dual existence with the sea.

Q: But the concept of a separate self is dual.

Aaron: Self is merely a concept! It does not exist. How can it be dual when it is illusion? But duality is also concept and illusion. The concept of a separate self is an illusion which bears a causal relationship to the concept of duality.

Barbara: Have we any questions?

Q: That's a pretty profound statement, that the limitation on our joy is the result of our negative feelings for ourselves. Am I hearing that right?

Barbara: Aaron says, yes, that is the way he sees it.

Q: Pretty profound.

Q: I would like to share a story from this week. Q and I were working at the hospice with a man who was in the final stages of dying. He was having a great deal of difficulty breathing and having a very difficult time getting into any comfortable position. He could get comfortable for about 5 minutes then he began to cough and he couldn't breathe. He was in a lot of pain and discomfort. His mother and sister were with him and his young nephew and niece were there too. We all worked together to help him get as comfortable as possible.

At first, I was noticing a lot of contraction in my own body around his pain, but I was working to be gentle with myself about my own pain, not having to fix him for myself, but offering love to everyone and praying a lot just to be as open-hearted as possible. After about an hour he was sitting on a couch with J on one side working with his energy and his sister was supporting him on the other side. She began to pray a very traditional prayer about, “Jesus be with us all. Jesus be with this man. Bring comfort to his body. Jesus we love you, Jesus we thank you.” Very repetitive prayer. A she was praying, I was aware of a deep melting in my own heart and an ability to just be present. Somehow, joy was what came up. We all were there together for the next half hour or so and there was so much love and joy. He began to relax and was not in as much pain. It was one of the most profoundly joyous experiences I have ever had. Somehow it seems to relate to this whole practice. It was about letting go of any negative emotion I had about the entire situation and allowing my own joy to emerge. Somehow while Aaron was talking it helped me to understand at a deeper level the emotional experience of that. It felt as if I was resting in rigpa. We were so deeply able to touch love. There was very little separation.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Thank you for sharing this story. This work takes you to the same experience that Rumi or Theresa of Avila is talking about: the direct union with God. As soon as you acknowledge that your work is with divine energy, that you are simply instrument for that energy, the small ego self dissolves and you are left with that which is inherently pure and with that experience of union. It may not be a full and profound experience, but nevertheless, it at least touches on that union and there is much joy. As soon as the spirit acknowledges its truth, it opens into the light and into joy. As long as it hides itself in the delusion of separation, it maintains its fear. It cuts itself off and holds itself in darkness.

Several years ago, Q made a profound statement that is written in one of the Project Expand transcripts. She said that she realized as she was meditating, that although she has given lip service to wanting union with the divine, there is that within her that really did not want it. Not just the small ego self that wanted to maintain separation for safety, but as she came to investigate that first self-awareness, she saw the ways that that newly aware self began almost immediately to vie with God, to see the ideas of power and glory and so forth, and want some of that for itself. So it set itself up, in a sense, in opposition to God. So she said she began to see how the shame about doing that was one of the primary factors that prevented her from letting go into this experience of union, of complete emptiness and cessation of arising and dissolution.. I pause.

Q: I want to add a piece. I also experienced that unity, and had deep understanding in that space. Afterwards the director came up and asked what was going on with this man, where was he, related to death. Was it imminent? I could feel myself wanting to reject the access, clarity and insights that had come through me. I could feel the fear of having such access, wanting to deny it.

Barbara: I understand that very well. That's something I experience in channeling, especially in private meetings, that as I'm channeling Aaron sometimes I also have real clarity about what's happening in that person. I'm not quite catching Aaron's words but see it through my own clearest awareness. It's scary, there's a sense of, I don't want to label it super-humanness, and it's not just that it appeals to the ego in small ways and that I want to push that away. For me it has more to do with responsibility.

Q: Assuming the responsibility and resting in this very deep sense of joy.

Barbara: Aaron says this is the responsibility of the one who is saving the children a mile out from shore, and can feel immense joy in saving the 2 children even if he can't save the third. He knows what he can do and what he can't do and accepts whatever message he gets: go and save the third child or leave the third child. There's a deep sadness in leaving the third child but there's a deep sense of joy simply in participating with the universe in helping everything just be as it needs to be. He says part of what you've just described is your increasing non-need to save these people who are dying, your ability to just be there and let them die with peace and love.

1Hongzei, Cultivating the Empty Field, “Practice Instructions; Simply Drop Off Everything,”  North Point Press, San Francisco, 1991