May 17, 2000

Barbara: Welcome. I want to start with a few brief things before Aaron begins to talk. Today is the Full Moon day which is the celebration of the Buddha's birthday, death and enlightenment. Sister T (a visiting Theravadin nun) will tell us a little bit about this. I'd also like to introduce Michele M who just surprised me by walking in the door from California. Michele, along with Carl and David Brown, was one of the people who founded Deep Spring Center way back when. They came to me at a point when I was sick and exhausted and said, 'You're killing yourself. We want to create a non-profit organization to take all of the retreat planning and organizational work off of your hands so that all you have to do is teach." It was the three of their loving energy really that came up with the idea of Deep Spring Center as a non-profit organization and created it. Thank you and welcome, Michele!

Sr. T: In the Buddhist world, today is one of the most potent and memorable festival days of the whole Buddhist year because it celebrates the Buddha's birthday, death day, and enlightenment day. It gives an occasion to just contemplate and reflect on the Buddhist teachings, what was offered in terms of a path of realization. But more importantly it actually gives everyone the opportunity to consider that awakening, enlightenment, complete freedom from suffering, is not only something which is possible but is something that is innately part of a human experience in terms of our pure nature; something which can be realized. So it is very auspicious. And having a gathering of people today interested in awakening, each in our own way, is a lovely opportunity to consider what does it mean to be completely awake and free from all traces of suffering.

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. It is a joy to welcome all of you, old friends and new.

As Sister T has briefly described, this full moon day is celebrated as the Buddha's birth, death and enlightenment day. While we are not formally a Buddhist center, it feels important to me that we honor the special days of different religions because all of these great masters are our teachers. I know this instrument relates to the Buddha very much as her teacher, with great reverence and respect, and I also do. So I want to share with you the meaning I find in this day.

The Buddha was not a god; he was a man, an everyday human born to a human mother. Like all of you, he experienced suffering. The story is told that in his childhood he was very much protected. At his birth a seer told his father that he would either be a great worldly leader or a great spiritual teacher. His father, who was-I use the word king, loosely-who was a political leader, wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. He didn't want him to become a spiritual teacher.

The father feared that contact with the world would awaken spiritual tendencies. Thus, the child Siddhartha was protected and did not experience the suffering of the world. He was kept cloistered behind the walls of his father's palace. I don't ask you to take this literally, that he never went out, but he was sheltered and everything he needed was brought in. There was good food and entertainment, smiling faces everywhere.

So the story is told that one day he asked his carriage driver to go out with him to see the city. There he saw somebody sitting on the street ill, just lying on the curb as people will do in India. 'What is that?" he asked, and his friend said, 'That is sickness." 'Will that happen to me and my loved ones?" 'Oh yes, it happens to everyone." They went on a bit and he saw for the first time a very old person, feeble and bent. 'What is that? What is that person?" 'That is old age." 'And will that happen to me and my loved ones?" 'Oh yes, it happens to everyone." And then for the first time as they traveled, he saw a dead body on the street, a corpse. 'What is that!" 'That, sire, is death." 'And will that happen to me too?" 'Yes, and to your loved ones. No matter how joyful the life you live, you cannot escape old age and sickness and death."

They went on and then he saw a spiritual practitioner, perhaps dressed in a loincloth. 'What is that?" 'That one is a seeker, a spiritual seeker. He has put aside worldly things and seeks to find freedom from this cycle of birth and death, from this cycle of suffering." So this prince, Siddhartha, was awakened to suffering and realized that his work in life was to seek this freedom, not for himself only but for all beings. He had confidence that if there is sickness, old age and death, and that no matter how good life is there will be suffering, there must be freedom from suffering. And he had confidence in himself.

At this time he was a young man, newly married and with infant son. He left his home, left his wife and young child and his parents, left all the happiness and security he had known, and went into the wilderness. He found a poor man and gave away his rich clothing. He shaved his head, put on a monk's clothing, and set off into the wilderness to find where freedom lay.

He first sought out those religious teachers who taught the traditional practices that were taught in India at that time. First he found those teachers who taught a concentration practice called jhanna or states of absorption. Here concentration leads one into very profound states of great peace and bliss. He learned quickly from his teachers and found that he could eventually enter even the highest of these states at will. But when he came out of these states, the suffering was still there. He felt these states were, let us call it a vacation from suffering and not liberation from suffering.

These teachers were very taken with his abilities. They asked him, 'Please stay. Become the one who will take over as I become more aged. You can teach this practice of peace to so many." They offered him all kinds of temptations. But he was very clear. 'This is not the path that I seek. I do not seek bliss, I seek liberation."

So he left and wandered further. Another spiritual practice in his time was one of great austerity. The body was not protected from intense heat or cold. The body was barely fed, never washed. It was a practice intended to discipline the body, with the notion that one could force away the experience of self through self-discipline. What happened simply was that he felt himself starving to death, low in energy and unable to practice in any meaningful way. He came to the edge of death, so severely did he starve. He realized this was also not the path. He then understood that there must be a middle road, neither the indulgence of wealthy worldly life nor self-mortification, but rather a path of respect for this body which is inhabited, and for all beings, a path of kindness.

So he began to practice in what might be termed this middle way. Remember, although we speak here of a man who took human birth, through many previous lives he had readied himself for the work he now did. Just as a 6 year old doesn't go to the university and attend graduate school until first he learns the preliminaries, to read and write, to learn how to learn and to develop his understanding of literature and science and history, and so forth, so through his many past lives, the prince Siddhartha had readied himself. Now his work was beginning to bear fruit.

Finally on a full moon night, he sat down under a tree and made the vow to all, 'I will sit here until I find liberation. I will not rise from this spot." It wasn't a statement of pride. It grew out of an awareness of his readiness to do this and his commitment to find this path, for the good of all beings.

The story tells that through the night he was tempted by the forces of Mara, the temptress. He was tempted with greed, with lust, with aversion. He said no to these. This was the strength of his karma through so many lifetimes. When asked, 'How dare you sit there and claim that you are the one who will be the realized, awakened one? What right have you to that?" he put his hand on the earth and asked the earth itself to bear witness to all his lifetimes of struggle and learning, of generosity and love, which had earned him this right.

He sat through the night. In the course of that sitting, he finally realized his true nature; that is, what exists beyond this personal body and mind. He opened into the direct experience of what we might call the Unconditioned, the Unborn and Undying,

Moving from that direct experience of the Unconditioned, he began to open to the entire flow of karma that had led into rebirth in one lifetime after another. He gained insight into the entire nature of arising and dissolution. He began to see how everything in the conditioned realm arose out of conditions, and when those conditions were no longer present, it ceased.

Finally he began to see clearly the entire path to realization of the Unconditioned. The insights unfolded before him of what are called the Four Noble Truths. The truth that suffering exists, the causes of suffering, that there is a path out of suffering, and then the unfolding of that path, what came to be called the Eightfold Path, which is a combination of moral awareness, deepening concentration and mindfulness, and wisdom.

All of this was revealed to him that night. I state it this way because he did not create the dhamma, but it was revealed, in all its splendor. He was still the same man, Siddhartha. But because of the strength of his realization, he was radiant, filled with deep peace and joy. One, meeting him walking down the street soon after, commented on his radiance and said, 'Are you a god?" 'No," he said. 'Well, what are you?" His answer: 'I am awake. Awake to the truth of how things really are. Awake to my true being."

The title, Buddha, simply means 'one who is awake." The Buddha was not a Buddhist. That came later. People began to call him The Buddha, the One Who Is Awake. Because he was awake, that title was acceptable to him.

To me, the most important thing that he taught was that we all have this capacity to awaken. This is our innate nature. We are all Buddhas ready to awaken. In awakening, we become free, liberated from this cycle of birth and death. In other words you are all of the nature to awaken, ready to open your eyes. Freedom is not something that will come to you somewhere a thousand lifetimes. Freedom is right here and right now, in this lifetime, in this moment.

If a mosquito lands on your arm, right now as I'm talking, and moved by compassion and a sense of joy of this celebration of the Buddha's birth and enlightenment, you hold back the hand that was about to slap the mosquito, there's an opening of compassion there and a realization, 'I don't have to kill this small being. It's okay to flick him off my arm gently if I wish, or I can even just let him have his meal." Right there is awakened mind. Right there is freedom. It's the freedom not to kill another being because of reactivity, fear, selfishness or even habit. It may not be ultimate freedom. The conditioned mind is still there to the point that if a horde of mosquitoes then attacks you, you may begin to slap at them. But slowly the old conditioning dissolves. And the already-awakened heart reveals itself.

What speaks most powerfully to me of the Buddha's teaching is how my heart resonates with his statement, 'We all have the capacity to awaken. Not only the capacity but the birthright to awaken."

Recently in a talk I quoted to you from a Buddhist sutra, Anguttara Nikaya, the Book of Twos, No. 10, in which the Buddha says, 'Abandon the unskillful. One can abandon the unskillful. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If this abandoning of the unskillful were to bring harm and suffering, I would not ask you to abandon it. But as it brings benefit and happiness, therefore I say, abandon the unskillful. Cultivate the good, the wholesome. One can cultivate the good. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If this cultivation were to bring harm and suffering, I would not ask you to do it. But as this cultivation brings happiness and goodness, I say to you, cultivate the good."

I love this statement. 'If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it." In it I feel the depth of his love and compassion, and his statement of clarity, 'It is possible."

I have given talks here many times as has this instrument on the meaning of 'abandon the unwholesome and cultivate the wholesome," and I will not repeat that now, only to say that to abandon the unwholesome does not mean to get rid of the kilesas (heavy mind states and emotions) with fear and control-based mind. As you come to see your true nature, to know the inherent beautiful qualities of generosity, kindness, sympathetic joy, equanimity, patience, attentiveness and more, and come to trust that these qualities are within you, increasingly you allow them to flourish. Just as a flower that is hidden in a dark, dry place cannot flourish, so these wonderful qualities cannot flourish unless they are attended to, cherished, brought into the light and nurtured. You all have the ability to nurture these qualities.

Furthermore, you all have the wish to nurture these qualities, but very often you hold on to the unskillful qualities thinking that you need them for protection. You may not wish to be angry or greedy, but it seems to you that without your anger or greed you feel naked. This belief is just old habit, old conditioning.

If you had been mauled by a bear and then years later were invited by a friend to come and visit him, and enter into the fenced area where he kept his tamed bears, think of how much courage it would require to leave your knife or sword outside, to figuratively walk naked into that place of terror. You have put on this cloak of ego and all of its weapons of greed, of anger, as ways to keep what seems to be a separate self safe in the world. You have believed that you needed these weapons. You can't see that the bears are tame because the old conditioning that says, 'Bear! Horror! Attack!" is so strong.

A friend was relating a story to us last week. Some of you were swimming at the lake, and one being found a leech on her foot after she waded out through some grass. The leech had not attached itself and was soon gently removed. But one friend related how in Sri Lanka she had experienced the biting of leeches, and that, as one is committed to non-harm, one cannot burn or otherwise attack the leech to get it to release its bite. If you just let it sit there, it will fill itself, gorging on blood until it's ready to drop off. How would this feel? Could you sit there watching this creature clamp its teeth in and then begin to swell itself up to the size of a little ball, gorging on your blood? Could you just walk around and do whatever you need to do? He doesn't know who you are; to him you're lunch. His intention is not to do harm, his intention is merely to eat. Will you let him be?

What within you would enable you to let him be? He is a living creature. No one is asking you to go and collect leeches and put them on you to gorge themselves, but if one happens to do that can you let him be? On a simpler level, what would it mean, the next time a mosquito lands on your arm, to allow him to eat? Certainly not to kill it, but not even to brush it away? What if you let it feed? There's going to be an itchy bite. If he has already started to feed, there's going to be an itchy bite anyhow. Actually the itchy bites form in part out of your reaction to this creature, and when you relax and just let him feed, very often there is no itchy place.

I'm trying to offer you some very simple examples. The self conditioning is so strong, and you've needed that to some degree. There was a phase in your evolution where you had to learn to fight with bears and tigers, and with others who would harm you. This was part of learning to say 'no" appropriately, which skill is part of learning compassion. Because fear was present in those times, you learned not only to fight with them, saying, 'No, you may not harm me," but you moved into a conditioned pattern of hatred, based on fear. It's fine to say no to the leech, it's fine to pick it off and put it back down on the ground. It's okay to say no to the mosquito. If another human tries to abuse you, it's not only okay to say no but essential to say no. We'll remark here that the mosquito is not trying to abuse you, you're just hamburger to it. But if somebody is abusing you, you must say no. But, if you watch very carefully you see that that 'no" can come from a very clear, compassionate space. Hatred and fear, distrust and revulsion, do not need to accompany that statement. These are learned characteristics.

So we come back to the statement, 'If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it." You can learn to understand this whole conditioned mind and body and not move into the distortions which you had previously thought were inevitable. I want to state this very carefully because my teaching for so many years has been that as long as you are in a human body, certain uncomfortable mind and body states will arise as the result of old conditioning. Greed may arise; anger may arise, and the body will experience tensions based on old conditioning. You also may bruise it or cut it; there will be pain. There may be aversion to this pain.

When we say, 'Abandon the unwholesome," we are not saying to cut off these mind and body movements, nor to see them as evil. What we are saying is, turn yourself to the beautiful qualities that are simultaneously existent with these difficult mind and body states. Do not be identified with the difficult mind and body states as self. Then there's no contraction around these states. The heart is open. There is deep compassion for the one with the cut on his hand, compassion for the one who is experiencing jealousy or impatience. You are responsible not to enact that jealousy or impatience or other emotion into the world, but there's no contraction around it, one simply develops the wisdom, 'Ah, this is the result of certain conditions, especially the condition of fear. There is a fear that I will not be safe, that my needs will not be met, or some other similar fear, and mind is following the old habitual tendency and moving into a difficult mental state. Can I offer kindness to the human who is thus caught?

This moment of kindness and intention toward kindness is what brings in the light and clarity, what allows you instead to nurture the wholesome, because this is your highest intention. This is where karma is changed. This is the path to liberation, and the Buddha's great gift to us all, to point out the path and remind us that we can walk it, as he did.

Those of you who know me know that I deeply revere many spiritual teachers, each of whom has been a great master to me in one lifetime or another, whose teachings have been passed down to me and helped me. I have special reverence for the Buddha because it was through the path delineated by Theravadin Buddhism that I found final liberation from this cycle of birth and death. And so I have special love of these teachings and deep intention to pass on this truth of liberation to others. Freedom is possible. Not somewhere a thousand miles away, but right now in this moment. If it were not possible, he would not ask you to do it.

Last week we spoke about conditioning. I'll be speaking a bit more about that tonight. I spoke last week as an introductory talk about the various kinds of distortions of the physical body and the mind. We would ask one of you to read the yellow area at the top of last week's transcript, just the one paragraph from page 5. Please tap this instrument's foot gently when you are through.

Q: (Reading from the May 10, 2000, Wednesday night transcript.) 'I am Aaron. One type of physical distortion of the body is the decaying of the organs resultant from habitual contraction, resultant from distortion in the emotional/mental bodies. Another type is such as the breaking of the leg, an accident, some impact or inopportune meeting with another physical object. One might say there are no accidents. At some level this is also emotionally/mentally conditioned. It is not necessarily a chronic condition, as happens in the first situation. Situation three, the meeting of bacteria, virus, fungus, which attack the body. I'm simply laying an outline for this tonight and we will go back and explore these three situations in more depth in another evening. Then we come to what is traditionally called mental illness. What is mental illness?"

Barbara: He thanks you.

Aaron: I am Aaron. It's very interesting to observe how physical and mental distortion is the result of conditioning, and that one does not need to recondition into a different path, although that is possible, so much as simply to understand, 'This is the result of conditioning and I don't have to do it any more." Before such understanding arises, one must work with the tendencies. For example, for one who is deeply conditioned to greed, it can be very helpful to practice generosity. That cuts into the greed. This process is followed with any strong unwholesome and difficult habitual tendency and its antidote.

But there comes a moment of deep insight. 'This greed is a result of my fear. The fear is the result of so many conditioned moments. I am not my greed. I don't have to do this any more." I have seen beings who struggled for many years with, for example, a self-image of unworthiness, trying to learn to treat themselves kindly and convince themselves that they were worthy, but that sense of unworthiness was still lying underneath the surface, ready to spring out. Suddenly there was the insight, 'All of this is just the result of conditioned mind. Nobody was ever worthy or unworthy. I don't have to do this any more." It's very powerful.

As long as the conditioning is not recognized for what it is, it lodges itself inside the physical, mental and emotional bodies, bringing dis-ease, distortion.

Let's try a very simple exercise. I had planned originally to do an exercise which some of you have done with me before, of tossing zafus gently back and forth, but there are many of you, and I would not choose to create such chaos in the room tonight. In that exercise, the catcher stood with eyes closed and just felt the gently tossed zafu bounce against his or her belly or chest. I asked them to watch the contraction of energy. Even though they knew it was safe, the energy field contracted. For some people, the energy contraction was held in the jaw or the shoulders; for another, in the belly. We simply noted it as 'contraction" and observed that it is the result of conditions and you don't have to fret about it. You don't have to fix it.

So my plan was to do that exercise tonight but as I said, we will not do that which involves so much movement. Rather, I would ask you each to find a partner, and if there is an uneven number of you, one group of three can be formed. Please just turn to the person nearest you.

I'm going to ask this instrument to lead the exercise, then I will speak further.

Barbara: Does everybody have a partner? Okay. Aaron is saying, what he'd like you to do is designate one as A and one B. And if there are three of you, then one B and two A's. He wants the A's to close their eyes. He wants person B to reach out their hand, or in the case of the threesome, both hands. One finger, touch with real pressure but not too hard, somewhere on the chest or belly or shoulder of person B. He says, do it suddenly: touch and withdraw your hand. Touch again.

He's asking that the person receiving the touch watch the subtle contraction. Simply label it as contracting. Feel the energy field contract. If it's unpleasant, know it's unpleasant. B's, do it again with an irregular pace; touch and withdraw; touch again and withdraw. Vary the place that you touch so it's a surprise: sometimes in the shoulder, sometimes in the chest. He's asking A's to watch any discomfort that arises and especially he wants you to see where you hold the energy of that discomfort. Just a small tension, 'contracting." Some of you, he's saying, are clenching your teeth. Some of you are tightening your shoulders. Some of you are pulling in your chest as if you could back up from this touch. Some of you are pulling in the belly. Some of your backs have changed their posture and become very rigid. Where are you holding the tension?

When you've seen where you're holding the tension and how you're holding it, begin to acknowledge simply, 'Here is tension, contraction." As you bring kind attention to that area of tension, what happens to it? The tension may change; it may not change. Just be aware, what happens to it?

He says, some of you who are the one giving the touch are experiencing difficulty in touching firmly, uncomfortable with feeling aggression or what seems to be aggression. Watch the tension in yourself; how and where do you hold that energy? He says, of course you don't want to hurt the other but it's okay to touch firmly.

(Some time of practice.)

When you feel you've seen what you need to see, then switch. He says, in the threesome, just another one touching the other two …

He's asking which is harder, to be the toucher or the one who receives the touch?

(Some time of practice.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. I believe that is sufficient. You have all seen what I hoped you would see, which is that most of you have a different part of the body that contracts, as part of a habitual pattern. It doesn't matter whether the catalyst is a friend touching you lightly or a stranger yelling at you, a boss speaking abusively to you, or an angry wild animal chasing you. You have an area of the body in which you habitually store tension. Is it any surprise that that area of the body eventually experiences a physical distortion?

I have some homework for you, then. I would request each of you to take this area of distortion that you have discovered through our exercise, or perhaps were already very familiar with before the exercise. I want you to observe with mindfulness through the week any time there is contraction in that area of the body. Simply note it as 'contracting." If you're in a situation where it's possible, I want you to bring your hands to that area, to the throat, the belly, to the back. I want you to consciously breathe light into that area. I want you to acknowledge to yourself, 'This is very old. It is a very long-held habit. Perhaps I don't need to do it any more." Ask yourself, 'If in this moment I soften this place that has hardened, what might happen? What healing might I find?" Just that.

We're going to work with this for many weeks, exploring the roots of disease in the mind and body. So we're starting with this very simple exercise about conditioning. Keep liberation in mind, in the immediate sense and the ultimate sense, that such is possible. No grasping at it. Just the kindness to acknowledge, 'Maybe I don't need to do this any more. What might happen if I bring light and kindness into this area of hardness and holding?" Your bodies are going to be an experiment field for this. Then we're going to move on to examine the interrelationship between emotional and mental conditioning and body conditioning and how it influences disharmony and disease in the body.

I thank you very much for sharing your time and energy with me. I will be happy to answer your questions after your break. That is all.

Barbara: May we hear your questions.

M: The Buddha found the Unconditioned. Before he found it, he had many lifetimes in which he accumulated merit. In other words, he had good karma. Now, it seems to me that this would lead us to conclude that karma, which is a condition, that having good karma is a condition for enlightenment, for liberation. But this is a condition, so it seems to me that it doesn't matter what kind of karma, habits, beliefs, lives, you have had in the past because our true nature is unconditioned. I see that letting go helps one to ultimately let go, but it is NOT a precondition.

Barbara: Aaron will speak. He says you have not really asked a question but he'll speak anyway.

Aaron: I am Aaron. As to your statement, 'karma is a condition, so it seems to me that it doesn't matter what kind of karma, habits, beliefs, lives, you have had in the past because our true nature is unconditioned," I give this both a yes and a no. On the ultimate level, yes, your true nature is unconditioned and all you have to do is realize that and everything is instantly purified within that realization. On the relative level, you cannot get to the point of having the ability to realize your true nature until you resolve some of the karma. On this same relative level, you must still balance that which was purified, even when you understand that nothing was ever stained.

It is not necessary to resolve all unwholesome karma to open into the Unconditioned. And that opening in itself shatters much of the unwholesome karma, which still must be balanced, but is no longer functioning as a force drawing one toward unwholesome acts and thoughts.

However, there must be a karma that is built up through many lifetimes, of deep intention to live one's life with no harm. One lacks an essential factor necessary for realization if one has not moved beyond the conditioning of putting oneself ahead of others and being willing to allow others to suffer pain for one's own benefit. The further understanding of nondifferentiation of self/other will come, but this much is needed.

So we might say that there are different kinds of karma. All of the karmic streams do not need to be resolved, but there must be release of conditioning of seeing everything revolving around the self, of that kind of greed and fear this conditioning generates, or there cannot possibly be realization.

What one most needs is an open heart, a willingness to see deeply into the suffering in the world, to see deeply how fear pushes one into the illusion of separation and then into unwholesome deeds based on that fear and sense of separation. And there must be an awareness that doing this is creating suffering for yourself and others, and a determination to move beyond this.

One might call this combination of factors a first awakening. It's a basic awakening into the truth, 'I am part of the problem. I am not a victim of suffering in the world, I am a creator of suffering because of my old habitual tendencies. I am still a slave to those tendencies but I am determined to find the roots and cut them." Then one may proceed either way: moving slowly to understand the various roots, balance them, resolve them, which is one kind of path. Another kind of path is a devotional path, just letting the heart open with deep devotion and building of faith. Another path is a wisdom path, seeing how all of these tendencies have accrued because of old conditioning. These are not the only paths, only some basic ones. What I find works best is a balance. So no, the karma does not need to be totally purified before one opens into the Unconditioned, but there does need to be certain groundwork in place. I pause.


R: Did I hear him say that we are never victims but always create our own pain? Because I can't quite accept that.

Aaron: I am Aaron. This is a subtle misinterpretation of what I have said. On the ultimate level, you are not victims but participants, always enacting your own free will. On the relative level, you certainly do experience being a victim. A young child who is terribly abused, that child is a victim in every sense of the word. That child did not ask to be abused and did not create the situation for that abuse. But on the ultimate level, in some way that child, I would phrase this very carefully, entered karmically into this situation of abuse, either with intention of experiencing something for himself, of hoping to teach another, being willing at some level to suffer the abuse to teach another, perhaps using this as a tool to balance old karma.

So we've got to separate the two. Really, this doesn't matter. It's not useful to look at it saying, 'Am I a victim or am I not a victim?" That's just trying to lay blame, trying to come back into control. What matters is, 'Right here there is suffering and confusion. What is the most skillful way to relate to that suffering and confusion that I directly experience or that I observe in others?" When one focuses in this way without even asking the question, 'What karma needs to be purified here? Why is this happening?" which are all voices of fear, just acknowledging, 'This is happening. How may I relate to it skillfully?" and one begins to see the habitual tendencies, such as desire to lay blame, to fix, to control, with wisdom and an open heart, one may then respond in a much more skillful way to what may be a habitual situation.

If one sees another being abused the response is the same. We do not ask, 'Is this abuse useful for this person?" You can't know what is really going on, at all levels. All you can do is say 'no" emphatically to each and every exhibit of abuse. Does this sufficiently answer your question? I pause.

R: I am thinking of the terrible horrors of, say, the Holocaust or some of the terrible tortures in Tibet and Yugoslavia. My mind cannot quite absorb that kind of suffering.

Barbara: I'm paraphrasing Aaron, he is asking, is there anybody in this room that was not a baby some time in their life? Anybody? He's asking, is there anybody in this room who has not killed an insect? Is there anybody in this room who has not experienced rage? He says, what? Nobody?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Please remember in this life you have experienced rage, you have killed an insect, you have been a baby, helpless, screaming when it felt discomfort, demanding others attend to you, this is the nature of a baby. Rage is one of the things that's experienced in human form. The reaction when an insect bites you is to kill it. This is old karmic conditioning. You've all experienced this. Is it any surprise to you then when I say that there is not one of you in this room that in some distant past life was not a murderer?

You've all moved well beyond that. And yet, the potential to be a murderer still exists in each of you. What would it take? Imagine yourself with the person who is most beloved to you in the world. You are standing in a doorway when a robber climbs through the window. You happen to have a platter with you on which there is a big carving knife. The robber climbs through the window and grabs your loved one around the neck. He's holding a knife to his or her throat and mutters in an angry voice, 'I am going to kill you." What are you going to do? Some of you might say, 'No, I still would not kill." That's fine, that's where you are right now. Can you at least see the potential that you might act out your anger and fear and pain? Or at least might act in what seems to be a skillful way? He started it. When is it okay to kill him? I have said you must say 'no" to abuse. Is it ever right to kill him?

Now, people in the Holocaust, they weren't holding a knife to somebody's throat, somebody just came along and held a knife to their throat. And I'm not suggesting that it is okay to kill them, I am only asking you to be honest and acknowledge the potential, that it still exists, that none of you have completely resolved this karmic tendency. None of you knows for certain that even with the greatest of provocation you would not harm. You can't really know that until you're in that situation. Within the situation you may find that you are past doing harm.

The important thing here is that these beings were participating in some kind of a group karma. My own sense is that something enormous is learned in the world through these kinds of situations. A being may not be ready to stop killing others for his own benefit, for his own comfort and convenience, but after killing how many does he finally need to stop and look at what he's doing?

There's a Buddhist teaching story of which I'm fond. There was a man who was a horrendous murderer. He killed people and cut fingers off, collected them on a gruesome necklace. People were terrified of him. He had killed so many people. The Buddha walked into the village and nobody was out on the streets. Somebody cracked the door open and said, 'Come! Come quickly!" and told the Buddha that this murderer was out somewhere in the village. 'Come! Come stay safe behind my locked door." And the Buddha said no. He went on and walked down the street.

Then he heard this man's voice behind him saying, 'You there! Stop!" He didn't stop; he kept walking. He knew exactly who was behind him. The man came closer to him. 'You! I said stop!" He kept walking. So finally this murderer circled him and stood in front of him. 'Stop! Don't you know who I am? I said stop!" The Buddha simply said, 'I have stopped. It's you who haven't stopped." The Buddha was deeply centered and filled with compassion, and was not afraid of this man. His view offered the spiritual opening for this man to see what he was doing. In that moment of kindness, of compassion, our hearts crack open and we begin to understand that there's another way to live. How many deaths will it take? There's the song, 'Blowin' in the Wind." 'How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? The answer is blowing in the wind."

So, from my perspective these people, yes they are victims on one level but they are also participants and teachers whose enormous generosity offers younger beings the opportunity to learn that they may not enact their greed and fear on others. Some of you may think that the universe is created in a terrible way, that there should be a kinder way to learn. But remember that also these people in giving in this way, not consciously, but at some level aware of giving, that they're balancing their karma. They're returning the gift that was given to them.

This instrument has a karmic memory of a very, very early lifetime in which the being she was lived in poverty along a coast in a country like Thailand or India. Pirates came into the village in their ship. People were hiding. The one this instrument was was a young man, filled with bravado and wanting to be important. He came to the pirates and said, 'I know where the valuables are in this town." So they bade him to go to a temple. It was not a Buddhist temple, it was before the Buddha's time. They said, 'Bring the valuables from the temple, and if you do that successfully we'll let you join us and you can come on our ship."

He went into the temple. The priest, whom he had known since his boyhood, was praying. He didn't say to the priest, 'I have come to steal the valuables in your temple and you must not oppose me." He didn't even attempt to catch him and tie him up, he just took a knife and stabbed him in the back. It's very likely if he had said, 'This is what I need to do" the priest would have talked to him, even talked him out of it, because he had known him all his life. Perhaps in fear that he would be talked out of it, he just stabbed him in the back. The priest fell over. Because he was who he was, with distortions but still with some real readiness to learn kindness, as the priest fell over he reached out and caught him. So here he had this dying priest in his arms, victim of his own aggression and confusion.

The priest looked up at him and his final words were, 'I forgive you. May you learn to forgive yourself." It's very powerful. For this instrument it was the lifetime of first awakening, awakening into the awareness, 'I am not the center of the world and I cannot harm and abuse people for my own need. I no longer can do that. I must stop." All the old karmic tendencies were still there. It would take many lifetimes to resolve those tendencies, but it was the first moment of awakening. Was this priest a victim or was he a great teacher? Everything that this instrument does now she offers in gratitude to this priest and considers him her spiritual father, as certainly he is.

Look at Jesus, hanging there on the cross in agony. Was he a victim or was he a teacher? I pause.

K: Balancing karma can seem like a kind of accounting and a kind of mechanical process. I think it probably is not like that. Could Aaron speak about that, please?

Barbara: It's not like that at all but I understand why people think that it is.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Let's take a very simple example. You come home to find a stray dog outside your house. As you approach, it snarls at you. Seeing it snarl, you pick up a stick and hit it. It runs away for a moment and then it comes back and bites you, so you pick up a stick and hit it again. And it bites you again. Finally you get into the house and you say, 'I HATE dogs." The next day when you come home, there's a different stray. It wags its tail a bit sheepishly, cringes a bit, tries to crawl up to you, but you pick up a stick and hit it. So it bites you.

You go in the house exclaiming again how much you hate dogs as you bandage the bite. The third day there's a very adorable puppy. You take one look at it and pick up your stick. You hit it. It whimpers. You hit it again and a third time and a fourth time and finally it bites you. See, you can't trust these dogs.

Then one day you are taking a shortcut home across the pond and you fall in through the ice. You're in the frigid water screaming for help but your neighbors are not home. But your screams don't go unheard. Who comes out on the ice but another stray dog. He whimpers in fear, and yet he cannot resist your plea. He knows that you're in mortal danger and so he inches himself along the ice until you can grab his ruff and then he backs up, pulling you up on the ice. Shivering, you make your way home, and this dog follows you. Now, he's gotten to your doorstep before you and there he's standing. What are you going to do, are you going to pick up a stick and hit him? He's just saved your life.

Suddenly there's a shift. Whatever measure of kindness, of gratitude, can peek out through the old conditioned fear patterns, it begins to create a new possibility, a new way of being with that which you previously found so fearful, a new way of being with your own inner movements of fear without needing to react. Out of gratitude you feed this stray. You don't let him into your house but you leave him some food. You begin to feel some affection for him.

Some weeks later while you are out walking, as you come around a bend in the road, who is there but that very first dog that had bitten you. You recognize him immediately and he recognizes you and he shows his teeth and begins to snarl. But you've been transformed a bit. You're not the same person who hit him before. You look at him and are suddenly aware he is terrified of you. 'Well of course, I beat him with a stick." In his terror you see your own terror. So there is a new softness in which you might just stand there and talk to him gently, reach out your hand so he can sniff it, squat down. Reassure him.

What is happening here is that the karmic conditioning has shifted. It's shifted in part because there was so much suffering with this tension that every stray dog was a potential enemy, a terror. Expanding it beyond dogs, every human that you meet is a potential enemy. 'I must always be on my guard." How can one live one's life that way? People do. But eventually, as in the case of the story with the Buddha I recounted, one knows it's time to stop.

That small intention, even if you have not a clue how you can stop, that small intention, becomes the ground. There is awareness, 'I am creating and enhancing this suffering, perpetuating it, that I do have a choice, I have no understanding of how to enact that choice in a skillful way but I am responsible." These bits of understanding lead one to the openings that can shift the karma. One does call to one what one needs.

We got a wonderful letter today from one of you who had been exploring manifestation, looking for a new office space. We had discussed the process of manifesting what one needs, including clearly envisioning it and the intention for the good of all beings. So she did that and the perfect office that she envisioned appeared. She was able to rent it.

Intention is very powerful, especially the intention that is offered for the good of all beings. If you were inherently evil, you could not open your hearts in this way, but because you do have this basic Buddha nature which is the core of your being, this basic awakened radiance and goodness and kindness, if you give it the slightest opportunity, and when there is the power of intention to at least consider allowing this to come forth, it will happen.

The balancing of karma is not a matter of balancing every harmful act you have done. You could never do this and there's nobody up there keeping count. Once you open your heart and begin to treat this one dog well, and then the one in the woods snarls at you and you treat him with kindness, there's been a breakthrough. How many dogs have you hit before that? You don't have to befriend each of those dogs. What you have to do is learn a degree of kindness which cuts through and ends this old pattern. The balancing of the karma may come in stopping a child who is about to hit a dog you have never met and saying, 'No, please don't do that. This dog is snarling because he's afraid of you. Just sit with me and we'll just talk to him and reassure him." That balances the karma.

Not killing a snake who is in your garden balances the karma. Not slapping the mosquito balances the karma. There are two different parts to this karmic process, the learning, which cuts the roots of the karma, and the balancing. The balancing does not need to come in forms specific to the way that karma was enacted. Your kindness does not have to be back to a dog nor to the specific dog you hit with a stick. Perhaps there will be an angry person to whom you will offer the kindness you have learned through your experience with the dog and that will balance the karma.

After cutting the roots of the karma, the balancing releases that which has long been held in the various bodies. The roots are cut and there is nothing to plant a new seed. It's like having a weed filled with seeds; you can cut the roots but the seeds will still drop and take root and a new plant of that species will grow. If you're going to clean it up completely you've got to cut the roots and you've got to collect and tend to the seeds so they can't take root. So we watch the habitual conditioning shaped by the karma. The basic duality and illusion of separate self has been resolved but there are still the habitual patterns; the balancing resolves those habitual patterns so there's nothing left to take root.

I would add something here which may sound like a strange statement to some of you, while others understand it well already. While all of this is happening on one level, on another level there was nothing to resolve. As one looks deeply into this whole conditioned pattern and realizes that the whole thing grew from the delusion of a separate self, there is a certain depth of realization which really balances everything. There's nothing left to balance because nothing ever happened. There was no self who did this and no object who received it. But this is at the end of the road and until you have this depth of realization you still must continue to learn and to balance. Does this answer your question? I pause.

Q: What happened to the murderer in the village who met the Buddha?

Barbara: He became a monk. He was so moved by the Buddha's presence and compassion it awakened awareness of his own true nature and how far he had deviated from that nature. He saw clearly the work he had to do to resolve the habitual tendencies but he also realized the awakened mind and that he was capable of resolving those tendencies.

Q: So the Buddha helped him cut the root but not gather the fruit?

Barbara: Not quite. The inspiration did both, but we must do the work ourselves, each of us. When he would go into villages where he had murdered people, they would stone him. And that was part of the balancing of the karma. He could accept this without blame and without hatred, and that was part of the balancing, learning both compassion and wisdom. As part of wisdom, he learned that one fruit of his karma, one result of his harmful acts, was to experience this hatred from others. We're always responsible for our acts and words and thoughts too. And he developed compassion, and the fruit of the awakened mind. He became a very great monk and enlightened man.

K2: So at times there must be a balancing and rebalancing and rebalancing and other times just one balance and it is complete?

Barbara: One keeps balancing and doing that work until one understands that on the relative level there still is a somebody and on the ultimate level there never was anybody. We see how we're pulled in by the idea that things still need to be balanced, and how that's creating a somebodiness. Then there's a shift into the ultimate level which understands the whole thing. The shift itself balances much karma but there will be places where there is still a stickiness. I may understand I can't kill others and still believe I can take a coin from their pocket if I'm hungry. I may understand I can't just hit a dog with a stick, but still think I can do that if he snarls at me first. Old fears; old beliefs; 'somebody" keeps coming back! So one whole area may be resolved but there's still something which needs to be understood and balanced, in this example the whole myth of 'somebody."

I would assume that we reach a place, that we have the potential to reach that place of full realization within which there's nothing that could possibly need to be balanced. But for those of us, which is most of us, who are not yet this fully realized being, as long as the balancing seems necessary, we do it. When we start to see it as just more doing and as creating more somebodiness, then we have clarity and understand, 'I'm just creating more karma here." Then we know the balance is already there, within the open and loving heart. Aaron, do you have anything you want to add to that? He says no, that's fine.

K2: So after looking at the ultimate reality aspects and one still finds a little stickiness, that can be an indicator that somewhere in there, somebody is still getting involved?

Aaron: I am Aaron. During the pure awareness practice, resting in this pure awareness mind, there is no karma. But then, a loud noise pulls you out of that pure awareness space. Contraction arises. Anger comes up. You become defended just for a moment. You are back within the realm of cause and effect. The pure awareness mind is outside the whole flow of cause and effect but because you're human you can't stay there; only the fully realized being can stay there. What you do is to attend to that which is still sticking. You observe how this loud noise created tension, brought you back into the delusion of self and other, redrew you into the patterning of self-protection. Observing this flow in the self, if one comes back to this flow with the statement, 'I won't allow this," that's very judgmental and creates more karma. If one observes, 'Here is this old conditioned reflex. There really was a lot of fear when I heard that noise. Breathing in I am aware of this fear; breathing out I open my heart to my fear," then one will find oneself shifting back into the pure awareness space.

And again, there's nothing that needs balancing. I can best phrase it by saying, 'There's nothing that needs balancing but still one must always act to balance. There is nothing to do, so rest quietly, but also do it." Does that make sense to you? That is not a paradox. I pause.

Barbara: He says because we exist in both the relative and the ultimate simultaneously, on the ultimate level there never was karma and there's nothing that needs to be balanced, but still we must do it.

Q: As long as we are doing.

Barbara: He says, I'm paraphrasing him, but the error that many of us fall into is to get caught up in that which needs balancing and let that become a place to create more somebody, caught in relative doing and fixing. He says you can get as lost in the relative or the ultimate. One lost in the ultimate is in denial about one's participation in the relative. The need is not to get lost in either but to see both clearly and rest comfortably with one foot in each. Always present on the ultimate level but always aware of the needs of the relative level. He says, that is where the balance is to be found, not believing in either as separate or as the only one. He says that people can get caught up in the idea none of this is ultimately real therefore none of this matters. That's escapism. And because there's a solid self making that statement, the delusion of a solid self, then there's still karma. You're still stuck. You can't hide in the ultimate. But people can spend forever trying to balance things without experiencing the ultimate and constantly believing there's something that needs to be fixed. And that just perpetuates it. So there's this balance.

It's 10 o'clock, we need to stop.

K: One thought: when I am open, learning and loving, I am probably doing some balancing also.

Barbara: We're all doing both all the time, but we can become more conscious of what's happening. It's just an increasing consciousness of how we keep moving back into this delusion of separate self and other, subject and object, and how the delusion of separate self creates the situation out of which all the karma grows. And yet we can't lie to ourselves about our experience. The insights deepen over time and we begin to understand better what the whole process is about. The truth that we're already liberated, that, as Aaron says in the book No Chain At All, there is no chain, there has never been a chain …

Let me just read this first paragraph. I'm reading from No Chain At All, page 11.

'I find the expression of law of dependent origination to be one of Buddhism's most valuable contributions to the planet. It is called the chain of becoming. Teachings speak of the way we have each become caught in this chain, moving blindly from one incarnation to another, never able to find freedom from suffering. This is real on one plane. Yet on another level there is no chain at all nor has there ever been. You are all free. You have always been free."

So he goes on to say our work is to become aware of that inherent freedom and to learn to enact it on the physical plane. Both are true. We're chained and yet there's never been a chain. He says we'll continue this another week.

Aaron is saying that we do not balance it on the ultimate level. To balance just creates more karma, because to balance needs a balancer. Rather, compassion balances; wisdom balances. Not 'somebody." It's very different.

Aaron: I am Aaron. You balance it because there's nothing else to do. You don't refrain from hitting the dog out of a fear of further suffering. You stop hitting the dog because you can't hit the dog any more. Not being able to hit the dog, your response of openheartedness balances the fear-based karma. As you offer that kindness to the world, the dog learns from that kindness and it gets passed on.

I would ask you all to practice with this homework, to observe the small pokes life gives you. A splinter in the finger, somebody's anger, a flat tire. The wait in the supermarket. Watch where your energy contracts. What allows it to soften? In what ways is healing possible?

Let us sit quietly for just a few minutes before we end. (Silence)

As always I offer the teachings of the evening for the good of all beings. May all beings everywhere become free of suffering.


May all beings everywhere love and be loved and learn to rest in the open heart.


May all beings be happy and find perfect peace.


(Taping ends.)

Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brodsky