May 21, 1997 Awakened Heart, Part 8, Wisdom

97.05.21 WC incomplete.doc

May 21, 1997

Wednesday Night Group

Awakened Heart, part 8

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. Tonight I would like to take one more step into the Awakened Heart series. As you know, this series of talks is dedicated to the idea that while physical sensations, thoughts and emotions WILL continue to arise as long as you are human, including those emotions we consider heavy emotions, there is also within each of you the innate Awakened Heart, which has the ability to be so present with those emotions and with the conditions that give rise to those emotions, that the conditions do come to cessation. You must be willing to look at the conditions out of which your anger, your fear, your pride, your jealousy and greed, arise. We do not condemn the self that these have arisen but encourage great compassion for the self. And yet, we do have a choice. Are you going to allow these emotions to arise forever without attending to the conditions, with a sense of helplessness, or to investigate the conditions which give rise to them?

These talks have included three parts: meeting the Awakened Heart, stabilizing the experience of it, and living from it. Within that “living from it” section I have given two talks, one on effort and one on meditation. The third leg here is wisdom. This is the third support for living from this Awakened Heart.

What is wisdom? You know that I am basing this series on a thousand year old poem by Shantideva. I am not offering a commentary on that poem. Many scholars have already done that. There's no need for another commentary. But I like the foundation which he wrote. And I agree with him that wisdom is perhaps THE primary support for living from this Awakened Heart.

Before we examine the question, “What is wisdom?” let us ask, what does it mean to live from the Awakened Heart? Another way of saying this is, what does it mean to live from your divinity? You're all familiar with my term “angels in earthsuits”—what does it mean to enact the angel despite the fear and pain of the human in the earthsuit? It does not mean that you disregard that human and its fear and pain. It means that you cut through the human confusion, opening your heart with such deep compassion to the human and yet so stable in your wisdom of how things really are, so that you do not need to act out that pain, fear and confusion, but can come back to this very stable, centered, wise aspect of the self and really live from it.

When I ask, what is wisdom?, one could almost answer that wisdom is the ability to live from the Awakened Heart. It's interesting. Wisdom is what gives you the ability, and yet in another aspect of wisdom, wisdom in itself is the ability, to live from the Awakened Heart.

Wisdom is that which knows how things really are. It knows what's real in terms of absolute reality and what's real in terms of relative reality. It does not choose one over the other. It embraces both but understands that relative is relative and ultimate is ultimate. It further understands that the Ultimate is always present and the relative is an expression of the Ultimate. What do I mean by all of this? Let us take this wooden chair for an example. I don't think there's anyone in the room who would say the wooden chair doesn't exist. In relative reality, we have a wooden chair. If you take this wooden chair to the top of a high building and drop it off, will you still have a wooden chair? You'll have a pile of fragments of wood. Do we say then that the chairness is simply in the assembly of the wood? Is “chair” merely a concept which implies something to sit upon? What happens to “chair” when the form changes?

The chair is made of wood. What if I bend a tree, a sapling, at such an angle that one can sit upon it. Is it a chair? You may say no, that for it to become a chair, there had to be other ingredients such as the logger, and the craftsman. There had to be intentionality. Let's bring them in, let the logger cut the sapling, the craftsman nail the pieces together as one would fireplace logs, piled atop one another. Is it a chair? Not quite!

What if we burn the shattered chair and the logs. Can you then tell which was which?

If we take that pile of wood that resulted from dropping it from a high building, burn it in the fireplace so it's ash, pile the ash in a little pile and invite one of you to sit on it, am I inviting you to sit on a chair? What's the difference? Why is it not a wooden chair any more? It's rearranged and chemically altered by burning, but the same elements are present in this altered form., and the logger and craftsman were once involved with it.

The wooden chair exists but it is simply a composition of elements. It has no independent existence, no “self.” It exists when the elements that compose it are shaped in a certain way and relate to one another in a certain way. Then it becomes something else.

Along with the fact that it has no independent existence but is simply a construct created out of other things, we would say that it has impermanence of form or function. It was a chair. It has ceased to be a chair.

What about yourselves? Is there anything that has independent existence there? Do you have the same form you had 18 years ago? What if we dropped you off the building? Are you permanent? No. Do you have independent existence in your form, in your thoughts, in your emotions, in your perceptions, in your consciousness? No.

Nobody needs to tell you that nothing in the phenomenal world exists in a permanent form. You can find it out for yourselves if you pay attention and check out objects as they come into your experience. You'll find nothing in the phenomenal world that has what we call inherent existence. And yet, if nothing in the universe had inherent existence, there would be no reason for anything. It would be complete nihilism to state and believe that nothing has inherent existence.

Shantideva's chapter on wisdom includes a great deal of philosophical debate, especially the prevalent debates of his time, debates between those who believed in the above kind of nihilism, and those on the other extreme who believed in an, I do not want to use the term “existentialism,” this instrument cannot find a proper word—believed in a solidification of existence of objects. I take a middle path. We will avoid the various metaphysical and philosophical meanderings in this talk. They deal with concept, not experience.

What I want to bring to you is an answer to the question, what is wisdom? How is it useful in your life? How can you nurture it? In the last Awakened Heart talk I spoke about being meditation rather than doing meditation. Similarly, I would speak about being wisdom rather than doing wisdom.

When you allow yourself access into the deepest and most centered wisdom of your being, which understands how things really are, then you see that both are true. The chair exists, the human exists, and because they exist, compassion is a necessity. They exist in relative reality but there is no inherent self to them.

It is traditionally taught that the Buddha denied the existence of a soul. Since the Buddha's life pre-dated Christianity, we cannot talk here of the Christian concept of soul. Ancient Judaism and other religions such as Hinduism of the Buddha's time did have a concept of soul. or in Hindu, Atman. It was often personified, given attributes of thought and personality. The Buddha said to those who believed in that kind of a soul, in something permanent, with thought and personality, with “self,” he said “Self has no inherent existence.” But to those who believed in nihilism and said, “nothing exists,” he said “Look around you. Things exist.” He said precisely that there is neither self nor no-self. This is not a contradiction.

When you understand that statement and can live it, then you have opened into your deepest wisdom. You must live as if there is neither self nor no-self, as if nothing exists, including this “no-self” which so quickly becomes a “something” and also you must live as if things do exist. To deny either is to misunderstand! . Am I creating paradoxes? Please listen. But be aware that my words can only take you so far. My words can only be a map on a journey and not give you the direct experience that travel on that road would give you.

We observe conditioned reality, the chair, the arising of thought or emotion, the physical sensation such as an itch. These are all conditioned objects. When we investigate them from our own experience we can see that they are interdependent, that is, they arise because conditions are present for them to arise. When the various parts come together in certain form, we have a chair. When certain catalysts are present along with your own sense of self, certain emotions will arise. If certain conditions are present on the skin, and their is a nervous system and perceptive faculty, itching will arise. When the conditions cease, that which arose ceases.

There is a Buddhist scripture in which the Buddha is quoted as saying to a group of monks, “Monks, there is an Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated. If it were not so, there would be no reason for our work.” This “Unborn, Undying” is the essence out of which chairs and itches, thoughts and emotions, ants, elephants and humans all spring. But it is not a “thing. We could give it the name God or Eternal, Unconditioned. You can name it in whatever way you like. Your names are a concept. It is within everything. But things are not created by this Unconditioned, they are merely form body expressions of it. There is nothing there that we could call Self, nothing we can point to and say, “This is it.” .

If I take a dozen eye droppers, each with one drop of water, if we drop each drop into the ocean, the drop of water existed—where is it now? Has it ceased to exist? Of course not. It still exists. But it has no independent existence. Because the sea exists, the drop exists.

Because that which we call the Unconditioned exists, the myriad expressions of the Unconditioned exist in the phenomenal world. We have what we would call the truth body, or Dharmakaya, that core, metaphorically, the sea, the eternal, the Unconditioned, the divine, and we have the myriad form body expressions of that truth body, nirmanakaya. The expressions are no less real than the eternal out of which they have expressed, but they do not have independent existence. So, we say they have no inherent reality in their outer form. Does that mean they have no inherent reality at all? This is a tricky phrase, inherent reality. We cannot say it has or has not inherent reality. The form of the chair has no inherent reality. The form of each human in this room has no inherent reality. The form of the physical body, the form of the mental body, the thoughts, they also have no inherent reality. The perceptions have no inherent reality. Even consciousness has no inherent reality. And here we get to the hard part. Because it has no inherent reality does not mean it does not exist.

This core essence, call it pure awareness mind, pure heart mind, Christ Consciousness or Buddha nature, it can't be defined. There's no way you can look around and say, “Ah, that's it!” Anything that you can point to and say, That's it, that's a conditioned phenomena and it can't be it. At best it's an expression of “It.” The conceptual mind cannot know this pure awareness. And yet, when you rest there you have no doubt. There's no sense of self when you rest there. No self identity. But one who allows oneself to move into that profound meditation experience touches the ultimate reality which has given rise to the conditioned expressions and understands that these are nothing different and never have been and never could be different, than that ultimate reality. My series of talks on the three kayas and the relationship of Dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya will help the practitioner to conceptually understand this teaching. 1

Wisdom is that which begins to understand all of this, not just in the conceptual but in an experiential mode. It's that which can note the joys and sorrows, the health and illness, the happiness and the pain, and observe that they are all temporary, all conditioned states of being. You begin to understand that with one simple tool: presence!. If you're not present, not awake, there's no way that you're going to have anything but conceptual understanding. When you ARE present, you begin to note both the fear and tension within you, and also that part of you with very deep wisdom that knows, “This is okay” and is able to make space for whatever has arisen.

This kind of wisdom does not open itself out like a light with an on/off switch, but is much more like a dimmer switch. It keeps getting brighter and brighter and brighter.

Wisdom becomes increasingly able to see how things really are. But it does not become deluded into the belief that either the relative or the ultimate exist alone. The nature of the ultimate, the nature of the divine, is to express itself. The expressions on the relative plane are no less a direct experience of the divine than is the experience of sitting in a profound meditational space, in what is sometimes called a cessation experience, cessation of all arising and dissolution, and cutting directly into the heart of that divine. If you are still saying one is better or more clearly the divine than the other, you are still suffering from a delusion.

Wisdom understands that both are real. And it learns how to walk the balance between them.

The important thing here is not to be wise but to live your life with love. To live your life with mercy and kindness and skill.

I said earlier that being wisdom allows you to live from the Awakened Heart. And when you live from the Awakened Heart, you are wisdom. Wisdom at this level is not separate from compassion. We're not talking about an intellectual understanding that is austere and comes only from the brain. That kind of understanding is simply fear's effort to be safe and in control. We're talking about an understanding that comes from the heart. It has nothing to do with control. In fact, with that level of wisdom the heart will break. It will break ten thousand times. You can't look at the suffering of the world and say “oh, it's not real,” or, “it's just their karma.” You must attend to it with an open heart that lets itself be touched, be changed, by the suffering. And yet you must do it from a place that is changeless, from that “Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated,” from the center.

You let the conditioned aspects of the self be touched, and you live from the unconditioned. You work with all your might to alleviate the suffering around you, and at the same time you understand that there is nobody to alleviate the suffering. And there's nothing out there that needs to be fixed, it's all perfect just as it is, and yet you must attend to it. When I say it's all perfect just as it is, if a child falls off a boat and is drowning, you do not say, “It's his or her karma to drown, it's perfect the way it is,” and sit back and let the child drown. You do everything in your power to save the child. If despite what you do the child does drown, then you don't blame yourself and say, “I should have done more, I could have done better.” It's this kind of acceptance, this kind of wisdom which sees the terrible tragedy in a drowning child, and yet accepts that on the relative plane everything is impermanent. Everything does arise because the conditions are present for it to arise and ceases when the conditions cease.

We do not fix in this situation, we attend. There is a vast difference. Fear fixes, wisdom attends. Wisdom is present, loving and open.

I began by talking about the 3 legs of support for living from the Awakened Heart: effort, meditation, and wisdom. Your wisdom leads you both into seeing how things really are, and into a willingness to be present with what is seen. You don't have to like it, just to be present with it. Then there is a vast change in you and it is out of this change that real freedom arises.

We have spoken here many times about the contraction when there is a noise. For example, this instrument will make a noise. Hey! (shout and hands clap) You can feel your energy field contracting and then it passes. Is there a voice that gets into a relationship with that contraction and says, “I shouldn't contract”? Or “I should have done something different.” When a certain catalyst is present, certain conditions are present, then certain results will arise.

Wisdom understands that the relative self contracts. Wisdom also understands in a profound way that the whole sense of self which contracted is an illusion. Nobody contracted, no solid object contracted. Nerves and muscles and thoughts, the nervous system and so forth, all of this contracted. No different from the chair, just pieces. If you hit it with a hammer it collapses. If you light a fire under it it burns. In the human body, if you make a loud noise, there's going to be a certain response. There's no inherent self in whom that response is happening. When you understand that, when you allow your deepest wisdom to prevail, and open to the understanding, then and only then can there be deep compassion for the human in whom that contraction occurred. You don't have to fix anything.

That which views the contraction without needing to get into a relationship with it is that which literally is free of karma. It rests in that perfect balance, able to offer deep compassion to the human experience, able deeply to attend what needs to be attended, but without getting caught up in the idea of a self to whom it's happening. And thus, free of secondary contraction, the energy field stays open. When there is no notion of self, there is freedom. But as soon as the notion of no-self becomes a defense against pain, there's no longer freedom.

This wisdom truly is the fruit of every spiritual path. And yet, there is no fruit there and no path, because the wisdom in itself doesn't have inherent existence. That pure heart mind which is nothing else but wisdom and compassion together has inherent existence, because it is the Unconditioned, and not a conditioned “fruit.” No self in it. There's nothing separate in it. So we think of “fruit,” but what really happens is the obscurations are wiped away and you open into that which has always been, into the Buddha Nature.

Here we come back to the process of doing wisdom, nurturing wisdom, all of which are useful along the path. And finally, being wisdom. This being is not nurturing or grasping or gaining, it's simply allowing yourself to come back into the center of the heart, into what has always been there and always will be there, and to live from that space. No, in human form you may not be able to do it perfectly, and that's fine. The angel lives in an earthsuit and the earthsuit at times is enormously distracting. Your practice is in observing the myriad distractions. Having nurtured the willingness not to get lost in those distractions, the distractions themselves become a reminder to come back home. Is there pain? Are you contracting around that pain? Just remind yourself, this pain is a conditioned expression of the One, of the true heart. Let the pain itself bring you home.

If there is a very unpleasant physical sensation such as a loud noise, physical pain or acrid smell, don't contract around it. It's not “other than” the Unconditioned itself. But if contraction does happen, that contraction also is not “other than.” Just be present with all arising a dissolution, without allowing the self to become stuck in it. Note the contractions and remember, this is an expression of the true heart, of the One. Let it lead you home. Is there rage? Fear? Desire? Note it with openhearted presence. Note the tension in the body that arises when these emotions appear. Note the desire to be rid of the catalyst for those emotions. Note all of this conditioned display, and ask yourself, is there anything here that is other than an expression of the divine? When the answer comes back, No, rest in that reply and let it lead you home. The Awakened Heart is always there. That which IS wisdom is always there. You always have a choice: to be within that wisdom mind or to be pulled out of it.

When you are pulled out of it, know that you are making that choice, perhaps to defend the self, to be safe, to be comfortable. No need to attack the self, just notice how you are getting caught in the delusion of a self. By nurturing wisdom (with a small “w”) you come back to the essential Wisdom Heart, wisdom with a capital “W.” When you rest in that Wisdom Heart, you are home. From there you extend yourself back out into the phenomenal world, with the utmost skill, compassion and kindness.

Let yourself be touched by this illusory world. Let the presence of your heart keep you in center, the presence of your joyful or aching heart. Let your love for all beings and your determination to help all beings be free of suffering invite you back to this Wisdom Mind, Wisdom Heart. After awhile you may surprise yourself and find that you do rest there much more often than you did before. As I said, it is a dimmer switch and the light glows with increasing brilliance. The light radiating from you, from that seed of divinity which is the essence of you. I thank you for your attention. I ask you to sit silently and reflect on my words. Then I would be glad to answer your questions. I pause.

Barbara: Everybody looks wiped out with Aaron's opening talk. We ought to take a before and after picture!

Q: It was an excellent talk. I enjoyed it!

Q: I like the idea of the picture afterwards! Just an afterwards. And the caption would be: “After several sessions with Aaron, you too can achieve this level of enlightenment!”

Q: Aaron mentioned briefly about cutting through to a place in meditation where one experiences the divine directly and there are no arisings. Does he call that pure awareness also, like what we were studying in dzogchen class, or is there another name for it?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question. This relates to dissolution and cessation. What is cessation? The term is used in several ways, referring to cessation of all arising and dissolution, and also to cessation of the negative mind states.

There are not degrees of this cessation experience in ultimate terms. And yet in relative terms there seem to be. If you are standing outdoors in the sunshine, that's an experience of the sun. If you go 10 feet underwater and look up, you'll still see the sun but it's filtered. We can say that there is a filter dimming your experience of the sun but it's the same sun. If you go out of the earth's atmosphere, you have an even clearer experience of the sun than you would on the ground. Less filters. And then you can go right into the heart of the sun.

In meditation this instrument often experiences what she has referred to as a kind of cornucopia, a horn or cone shape with a center and the entire conditioned universe pouring out of that center.. In very profound levels of meditation practice, one can drop down right into the center. If you use this metaphor you would see that if you stood on the edge of this cornucopia, you'd see everything exploding out and would have a sense that there was a center out of which it expressed. If you went further in there might be more and more stillness but things are still erupting out of the center. But in the eye of the center, as in the eye of the hurricane, there's no sense of anything expressing, it's absolutely still. Nothing arises, nothing ceases. No arising or dissolution. This is called cessation. It is not quite a space, nor an experience, but simply IS. It is the nature of everything.

The pure awareness practice we've been doing takes you to a place where you become absolutely certain that everything in the phenomenal world is expressing out of this center, and so you begin to understand that the center exists. I relate this to a human who has never seen the sun directly, who has grown up, lived in a placed that was always cloudy. It could distinguish day from night but it had no sense of that which we call sun. Then one day there's a little rift in the clouds and a small bit of the sun, the sun itself, is seen through, just for moment and then it closes again. And it opens and closes, opens and closes, you keep getting glimpses of it. It's not a direct experience of the sun but now you start to know there's a sun there.

When you rest in pure awareness, in dzogchen practice, you rest in that which understands without any question the existence of this core of stillness out of which all expresses. It knows it experientially, not by direct immersion in the heart of it but by glimpses of it. This pure awareness mind is nothing other than that which eventually rests in the center. But we cannot say that it has as of yet rested in the center. There is the hint of cessation but not yet the full experience.

The other use of cessation is the cessation of the arising of negative mind states, which is a result of the first described cessation experience.

Does this answer your question? I pause. (Yes)

Barbara: Questions?

Q: (Talking about a book) It's called Suitcases and it's written by refugees from the Bosnian war. It tore my heart apart to really read it. Every time I think about it I wonder, what the heck is it all about? Where is the perfection? And I get filled with doubt about the harmony in the universe. Where is God?

Aaron: I am Aaron. You see only one small glimpse of one aspect of the universe from your human vision. If you sit in meditation and allow yourself to enter this space of center, then you enter the harmony in the universe, that center of the cornucopia where nothing arises, nothing dissolves, it's a place of utmost peace and harmony. Out of that center, everything expresses. God does not decide, “ this is a good one and I'll toss it out, that is a bad one and I'll not toss it out. This is a good one and I'll reward it, that is a bad one and I'll punish it.” That is not the nature of what I refer to as God. What I refer to as God is simply that heart of energy which nature is to express itself in infinite ways, and which possesses an infinite intelligence and capacity for love, in the highest sense of that word. It is ultimately drawing the entire universe into its pattern of infinite intelligence and love. But every expression must move itself toward that pattern, toward that center of love, in its own way and at its own pace. The way that it moves is to learn by figuratively flexing its muscles and seeing what happens. If something pushes you and you push back, you're going to get certain results. If something pushes you and you smile to it, ask it please to stop pushing, absorb its angry energy and return loving energy, you're going to get a different result. If something pushes you and you collapse under it, inviting it to push you further, you're going to get a still different result.

Because each being is at its heart of the same nature as the divine, each being eventually evolves into the profound wisdom founded in its desire to live in peace and create peace, to live free from suffering and create freedom from suffering. The road to this wisdom is filled with peril of your own choosing. Choosing the catalyst which will give you back the result you need to learn what you need to learn so that you may then take the next step on the path. So, no, the experience of the universe on the relative plane is certainly not one of harmony but one of great disharmony. But it is disharmony moving toward harmony.

I think of the tuning of a stringed instrument here. One plays one string and then plays a note on another string and there is discord. One tightens or loosens the second string accordingly, getting feedback from the discord. Plays it again. Perhaps it is closer to harmony. Again you tighten or loosen, working with your feedback, until you bring it in to harmony. Then you start on another string. Each of you has many strings in yourself, tendencies toward fear, desire for power, to control and be safe, illusions of an ego, of a separate self. You work on all of these various strings, testing, getting feedback, sometimes moving further into discord, experiencing the discomfort of the discord and slowly coming back into harmony.

This is so difficult for the human because of your veil, of your limited vision. I assure you that things look much more hopeful when you transcend the human perspective. I pause.

Barbara: We have time for one more question. (Reading question) “Illusions of an ego. Where does this ego come from? Is it created by self and is it in error?”

Aaron: I am Aaron. The ego is not in error, it is part of your agreement to be in this relative plane, in this earthsuit and to learn. It is one of your various catalysts which support your learning on this plane, the physical body, the mental, the emotional bodies and the illusion of an ego, a self. The illusion is painful. Because of the pain, you are led to pay attention and examine the nature of this ego, to ask, “what is this self I seem to be?” You cannot discover “no self” until you begin to attend to what seems to be self. So yes, ego is an illusion on the ultimate plane but just like the body, it's real on the relative plane and it's a tool of the incarnation. It's not something you need to attack. You cannot transcend ego until you accept ego and embrace it. And then you start to see through it and find the true self.

So much of our work here is about learning to live with this ego without identifying with it, to find enough spaciousness to learn to observe it; to make friends with it and see how it tries to run the show, see who it pretends to be. Then you observe that which observes the ego, and move into a deeper level of the aware self, and then ever deeper into this pure awareness mind in which ego is seen really for what it is. The whole process must be done with kindness, never with attack on this ego which is a gift, albeit a painful gift. I repeat, you are an angel in an earthsuit. If you only wanted the perceptions of the angel, you would not have moved into a body. Karma drew you here, but also, you incarnated for a purpose. It was part of the costume you agreed to put on. You don't have to believe in ego as having inherent existence any more than you believe this body as being who you are. This learning is the whole process of your evolution. That is all.

1  Need to find these talks and note dates.