February 14, 2001

Aaron: Good evening and my love to all of you. I am Aaron. Love is the subject tonight, no surprise. Love is such a simple word. It has so many meanings. In Sanskrit there are over twenty words to define different aspects of love. Even in French and Spanish there are different words. English gives us only ?love," so we need to begin by understanding what we mean by love.

What are the different modes in which love presents itself? We think of the love of two beings for one another, a romantic love. We think of deep friendship, platonic love. Love of a parent for a child. And we also must consider that which we call unconditional love. I think these first forms of love are all training for unconditional love. They're very valuable to you, although they do have some fear-base or grasping to them.

The love of lovers for one another can be very pure and reach the level of unconditional love, but usually there is a condition to it of seeking to find one's completion in one's lover. Romantically you are attracted to people who bring out in you that which you aspire to have brought out, or sometimes to people who bring out the worst in you. At some level you want to bring that worst out. We're not going to go into the why of it. That certainly is a distortion of love. But let's focus on the lover who brings out the best in you, brings out your generosity, your kindness, your intellect, your playfulness and also perhaps has characteristics that you wish you had.

There is always some balance of unconditional presence and grasping. When the unconditional presence is predominant, we can appreciate the object of our love without the fear, ?What will happen if I lose this person?" Then there is deep joy. But sometimes there's enormous fear. I do not see this fear as sign that love is not there, only, this fear is a distortion of love. So here's a first glimpse of fear as a distortion of love. Notice I'm not saying that fear is dual with love and only one can exist at the same time, but that fear is a distortion of love.

In platonic love, the love of one friend for another, it's the same thing. There are things that you admire about your friends and perhaps also things you don't particularly like about your friends. But when the heart is open, there's an acceptance of that person just as they are. You're able to regard with compassion those qualities that are less than ideal, make space for them, acknowledge them to your friend when it's appropriate but not make a big deal over them because there is no big deal. Who is perfect? And you deeply appreciate that which is beautiful in your friend. Here we approach unconditional love.

With the distortion of fear, when our friend enacts some kind of unfavorable characteristic, we feel squeamish as if that characteristic will reflect on us. One may feel, ?What will people think of me because she is that way?" In the same vein, if our friend displays a favorable characteristic, we want to get close to them so people will think we must also have this characteristic if our friend is with us. Here we're using friendship, or misusing it. Again, the distortion of fear.

The love of a parent for a child. Very much the same. In the purest sense, the parent simply finds great joy in the life and energy and vitality of the child. When there is distortion, the parent clings to the child, afraid that the child will be hurt or lost. The parent overcorrects the child. Indeed, truly, the parent is correcting him or herself as exhibited through the child because our children do mimic us and we see all our little imperfections in them.

Love is openhearted. Love sees the imperfections in the child, the friend, the beloved, and has no fear. When fear appears, it does not negate friendship, does not negate love, but distorts it so that it becomes conditional. In the human form, unconditional love is very rare. Possible but rare. The distortions are not bad. They may be painful. What is important is that you use those distortions as a learning experience.

When as lover or friend or parent your heart closes to the other through judgment and fear, it is simply a sign that you do the same thing to yourself. When your heart no longer closes to yourself, it will no longer close to your loved ones. So often when the heart closes, so much judgment arises, and then anger at the other and at the self. Here again is the opportunity for compassion. This is what you have come into the incarnation to practice. You did not come to be perfect, you came to learn more wisdom, compassion and love, and it is possible to do that. If these distortions never arose, you would lose the opportunity for practice. That doesn't mean we encourage the distortions; only, we do not fear the distortions. We acknowledge them. They become our teachers.

The question I'd like you to ask in the face of judgment, doubt, fear or anger, is where is compassion to be found? Right here. Right here in the midst of anger, confusion, judgment, compassion is found. Right there, that's where you find it; not somewhere else.

The process is by watching the arising of these fear-based distortions with presence, basic kindness and spaciousness. You learn to relate to them differently and this is the path to unconditional love.

I can hear some of you saying, ?That's fine, Aaron, but it's a bit dry. How about some good love stories?" I think we can provide that.

Here is one to begin with. Long ago the being that I was had two children. His wife had died during childbirth. They were fraternal twins, these children, a boy and a girl. He lived high up in the mountains. Relatives suggested, ?Let us take the babies and raise them. You, a man, can't do that." But he loved these children and he felt he could give them more love than anybody else. And also, that he had so much to share with them. At first that love was a bit attached. They were all that remained of their beloved mother. So he kept them with him. And indeed it really was what was best for the children. But there was also some attachment.

Children did not go to school in those days. Not in formal classrooms. But this being that I was, he was literate. He loved to write poetry. He loved to paint. He knew how to raise vegetables, flowers. How to milk a cow and gather eggs. How to weave cloth, to lace together moccasins for winter wear. He shared all of these skills with his children but more important than the skills themselves, he shared a reverence for the material. He shared the reverence for the leather in which he fashioned the moccasins and the animals who had given that leather and reverence for the earth which provided such bounty. A reverence for sunrises and sunsets, raindrops and spring flowers. A reverence for the deep snows of winter, and winters were fierce in those high mountains.

He watched these children flourish, grow into beautiful adolescents Very occasionally they came down the mountains to get supplies in the village. But for the most part they were self-sufficient. This being that I was, he lived on the land and I suppose you could call him a farmer, but as I said, he was also a poet and he was a dharma teacher in a sense. People climbed the mountain, came to him for teachings. In return for the teachings they brought things such as candles, soap, things that that man that I was could have made but were a welcome gift. So the children did have some exposure to others. Often such students would stay for a meal or even a few days. But on the whole they were very isolated, lived very independently.

There was such deep love between us. My life-when I say, ?my life," you understand I mean the life of that being I was-felt so complete. I even ceased to grieve for my beloved who was their mother, for I saw her expression in them every day.

I remember climbing up the mountain early in the spring, climbing several hundred feet to a high meadow which was sheltered by a higher stand of rocks so it was a place where early spring flowers bloomed. Such color! Every color you can imagine bursting out of the earth-red, orange, yellow, pink! And the scent was more heavenly than any incense.

It was a family tradition, the first day in our little valley that smelled of spring, of fresh growth, we would climb up to that small meadow and in that sheltered spot we would always find flowers. We would bring bread and cheese with us, sit and bask in this first hot afternoon of spring. Usually we would stay for the sunset, to watch it descend over the distant hills as we had not been able to do all winter. And then, wrapping our cloaks against the quickly-coming evening chill, we would climb our way down the steep path to our small cabin.

I remember the looks on these children's faces when they were little and we would climb to this flower-filled meadow, trudging up a path that was still covered with mud and snow. With such reverence I would kneel and offer thanks to God for the fullness of my life. I remember sitting behind one or both of these children holding their hands together in prayer, my arms wrapped around them, while together we offered thanks.

Change is inevitable. They grew up. They grew to an age where they needed others. My relatives and students, who lived in the town far below us in the valley, said they would be welcome to live there. In fact as I grew older, in the winters they begged me to come live there, but the mountains were my home. But it was time to release the children. Time for them to go and be with others their own ages, to learn skills beyond those that I could teach them.

The most loving thing I did for those children was not to raise them but to let them go, and it was the hardest thing. The raising them was easy. Unconditional love. Asking nothing but the other's well-being. On retreats you often sing the song, ?All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you." Asking nothing. And yet, that asking nothing must come from a place of love and not a place of fear. It is not a statement, ?I should ask nothing" but ?I do ask nothing." I could only come to that place when I acknowledged my own grief fully, both enormous joy for these children and grief because they would no longer share my daily life.

I was not afraid to live alone. I found great joy in solitude. I did not need the children to protect me from solitude. But I loved them and I missed them. This is an important point. We talk about attachment and love. I was not attached to the children from a place of fear. I did not need them to complete me nor to protect me from anything. I knew that.

But there was such joy in their presence and I missed them. There was grief. Grief does not come only from attachment. It comes from love.

Of course, these children flourished. They married. There were many grandchildren and they would come and live with me, sometimes for years at a time. One or another or several of them. And sometimes there would be months or years of solitude which were also very, very good. So here is love as letting go, not attached, not fearful.

Here is another story. I was a young man and there was a young woman who to me was the light of the world. She was so exquisite in her every movement, her every word, I found such delight just to sit in her presence and joy beyond measure to hold her, to kiss her. I cherished her.

I had a brother who was just a year younger than I was. For most of his life he had been an invalid. It did not seem he would have long to live.

Then invaders came to our country, cruel barbarians. All the young men were conscripted into the army. I cannot say I had no choice. I could have said no. I would have been shot. The being that I was in those days did not find it difficult to join the army and fight such invaders. Now I would not choose to do that, I would simply be shot. This is not a statement that you should be where I am, or that where I am is better than where somebody else is; only, this is where that lad was.

So he went off to join the army. Let's say it in the first person. This being that I was, I, went off to join the army. My brother, who was an invalid, was not conscripted. He had loved my beloved from afar as a brother but also with a passion that he found hard to hide. But he did subdue that passion for our sake, in my presence and through all the first years I was gone. And then the story came back to my village that I had died in battle. Indeed, I had not. Perhaps it was someone who looked like me; but that was the news they received.

My family grieved for me, my parents and my siblings, including this brother who was dearly beloved to me. My beautiful love, she grieved enormously. Over a year passed and still I had not come home and they believed me dead. And finally my brother allowed himself to act on his love. I know she did not love him as she loved me and yet she did love him, and not just with pity. And I also had loved him. Because he had been an invalid, oft times I had carried him. When I would go out to the meadow to plant, I would carry him on my back. He was slight of stature, not a burden. I would bring him things that I found such as an egg fallen from its nest, even a baby bird, and watch with awe while he nursed the baby bird to health. I would share my dreams with him and pray for him.

My beloved knew how much I loved this brother. So they came into a primary relationship with each other and were committed to marry. She knew that he was an invalid, would not live so long. But she was determined to help him be comfortable and happy in his life. Perhaps she saw me in him.

Just before the marriage, I came home. The faces turned white as if they had seen a ghost. They did not wish me dead but they had reconciled themselves to the fact that I was said to be dead, was indeed to them dead. And here I was, not even injured.

If she had not loved him, I could not have stood aside. Once, just once, we held each other, although chastely, and she cried. We both knew that if she turned back to me it would kill him. Neither of us could do that to him. She was his life. Perhaps it was an unwholesome dependence, but she was his light and his life.

So I knew then that I had to stay for the wedding, offer them my love, and go away because I knew that I was not strong enough to live there and watch their love, watch their marriage.

This was perhaps the most selfless act that I had ever been able to offer in that or any prior lifetime. To truly put another's needs first. Sometimes such selflessness can be distorted, one makes a martyr of oneself in ways that are truly unkind to oneself. I needed her. I loved her. I worshipped her. And yet, I had lived for six years without her, suffering as a soldier and banishing these invaders from our land. I knew I would survive. But I could not survive hurting my brother. And I could not survive hurting her. As much as she loved him she also would have suffered enormously to watch my brother languish and die. Love is selfless. Here is another characteristic of it. Love lets go, love is selfless.

He did very well, he flourished under her care and her love, lived far longer than anyone expected and actually became stronger. They had many children. It brought me much joy when I came to visit to see how well they did. As for me, I made the decision not to marry. Actually, I became a monk, not because I thought I could never find another woman whom I could love but because I began to realize that my love of God was the greatest love I had. So perhaps the selflessness opened the door to that love of God and it brought me enormous joy in that lifetime.

We will pause to turn the tapes.


Aaron: I am Aaron. I sometimes tease Barbara and some others of you who have developed a deep level of non-attachment in many ways, but are so attached to getting my voice down on tape, even though I tell you I can always repeat what I have said. I do appreciate the love behind the collecting of these tape archives and transcripts because they are a way of transmitting these teachings out into the world. So while I tease about the attachment I also do feel gratitude for the dedication in making sure these tapes are clear.

Back to love. Love knows how to let go. Love is selfless. One more story.

This is a long, long time ago. The being that I was was a little girl. She lived near a woods. Often baby birds would fall out of their nests and she would find them, bring them home and nurse them. When they grew strong enough she would let them go. She had learned how to let go. When one died she was sad. But she understood this was the nature of life.

Friends used to tease her and her siblings. ?It's just a baby bird, why do you care?" They would be out playing in the fields and the woods and she would leave their play to take this small bird home. And for days, passionately, she would care for it. She did not divert her attention during those days. She gave so much of her energy and love to this small creature. If it thrived and grew, she let it go. They would ask her, ?If you're not even going to keep it, why do you give so much energy to it?" But it brought her enormous joy to give these small creatures an opportunity to thrive.

Her love was passionate. Nothing half-luster about it. She would wake every hour or two through the night to feed such an infant. Her love was passionate. Passion does not contradict non-attachment. In fact, only when you learn non-attachment can you be truly passionate. Passion is based on love, not on fear. Grasping is not passion, although it may pose as passion. True love is passionate, able to give fully of itself, and yet non-attached.

My last story tonight concerns the being I was in my final lifetime. Some of you have heard bits of this story, how the being I was was a monk, a meditation master. Another being attacked me, a man who was hurt and angry. Another monk who was my senior disciple in that time, stepped in the path of this being and was killed in my place.

I realized that I had contributed to this situation. I was attached to this disciple. The man who threw the spear, tragically, was his own father. The older son in the family had died. The father had trekked many days into the forest where we meditated to ask this younger son to disrobe and come home, to care for the father and mother and the orphaned grandchildren, the younger son's orphaned nephews and nieces. If I had told him, ?You must go," he would have gone. I could not tell him, ?You must go." This was his decision. But I could have told him it would be a gift, a kindness, to take another monk and go there, ?Help your parents and family get back on their feet and past their grief at the loss of your brother." I did not do so. I was attached. I just said, ?It's his choice," and in my heart I hoped he would choose to stay with me. I understand how I participated in that event, how I invited this spear.

To make it more complex, and I'll tell you the whole story here, the one who threw the spear was my brother. We loved one another. I knew he did not want to hurt me either, it was his fear and grief speaking. So many years earlier, he had brought to me this younger son who wished to be a monk. I had raised him and he had become the son that I never had. It was a very tragic story. So my brother killed his remaining son without meaning to do so.

Then I did send several monks with him to his house. We reconciled, both of us, grief-stricken at this loss of the one we loved, and I realized that I was not yet free, that I was still attached, and went out into the wilderness where I lived alone as a hermit for many years. I would no longer take a disciple but felt that I first must find my own complete realization. Many of you have heard the story of that experience, of the fierce storm, the large tree that fell on me and the tiger. It's in the transcripts; I will not repeat it here. It's not related to the focus of this story.

I loved my brother, my now-dead nephew who had been my senior disciple, and all beings enough to see that I must follow my path and seek the deepest truth. What I arrived at was compassionate wisdom, another aspect of love. Love is wise. It sees deeply. It understands deeply. It is able to understand in part because it is selfless, non-attached and passionate. With passion there's energy. With non-attachment there's a balance to that energy. With selflessness, there is an opportunity for wisdom, and then deep wisdom can develop.

But the most loving thing that that being that I was did in that lifetime was not to go off into the wilderness and seek realization but to return after he found it. It was the most loving and the most difficult because there was such an extraordinary peace after that realization experience, living alone in that forest in solitude. But one must share this with others. Love lives in connection with all life and not with separation.

I would challenge each of you, my friends: look into your lives, your hearts. See which of these aspects of love are strong in you and which need to be nurtured. Right here in your relationships with one another, in your friendships, your romantic liaisons, your families, here is the place to practice love. It is such an enormous gift to have these relationships upon which love may be tested, nurtured and understood. Some of you will find it easy to be passionate, others will find it easy to let go. Note that which is easy and strong already and also note that which needs to be strengthened. Ask yourself constantly and mindfully through your life, ?In what ways might I be more passionate? In what ways might more wisdom develop? In what ways might there be less attachment? What would nurture these?" and then do it because you do have the choice to do it. Do it with love or not at all because if you do it without love you only pull yourself deeper into the shadow. But with love the enormous radiance of your being will blossom and light up everything around you. Do it with love.

I thank you for hearing me. My deepest love to each of you. I would be happy to hear your questions about love or about any subject. I pause.

Q: If you love someone and care deeply for them and see ways in which they could enhance their lives, how do you convey those suggestions?

Barbara: Let me make sure I understand the question. If you love someone and see difficult situations in their lives, how do you convey your suggestions to them?

Q: In a way that respects that person's autonomy and individuality and allows you to remain detached, but my question is how do you offer your suggestions while still respecting that person's necessity to live his or her own life?

Aaron: I am Aaron. First, you must understand your own attachment to this person's learning. You do not need to be free of attachment so much as acknowledge the attachment, which releases some of its power over you. Second, the answer will depend on what kind of negative behavior that person is exhibiting and how it impacts you. If that person, for example, leaves dirty dishes in the sink but does wash them at least once a day, if you're offended because you'd like to see the sink clean, this is a difference of opinion and not something that is legitimately harmful. And yet, you may have an attachment: ?I really like my kitchen to be clean." Here it's important to look at your own attachment and ask, ?Does it really make a difference? Why am I so attached to this?"

But in a totally different situation, if, for example, the person is an alcoholic, and when he or she drinks-let us simplify it, while acknowledging it could be a woman-when he drinks, he becomes abusive to you, to others, here it's very different. There's no debate about whether this is harmful behavior. There still may be an attachment to his stopping but it's harder to separate the attachment in terms of your own opinion and attachment in terms of compassion which says, ?No, you may not do this."

I think where people get most confused is when there are these two motivations. Fear, which says, ?He is hurting me," whether it's because of the dirty dishes in the sink or it's because of the drinking. ?My needs are not being met. He is hurting me." Fear is present. And, compassion which says, ?I cannot participate in this hurt."

Now, by not participating in the hurt with the alcoholic one has to say, ?No, I will cease to cover up for you in any way. I will not allow myself to be in the same room with you when you're drinking. I will in no way support this behavior." Here it's not fear or anger speaking, it's compassion. There may still be an attachment but it's a more, may I call it love-based attachment. It's an attachment to the well-being of both of you and any others that are involved. So it comes from a more wholesome route: aspiration to non-harm.

With the opposite example, the dirty dishes in the sink, you may be angry. You may say, ?You must clean this up." But it's fear speaking. When you reach for compassion in that situation, compassion for both of you, you begin to see through the fear, to realize, ?As long as they're cleaned up by the end of the day, why must I be so upset? In kindness to both of us, can I let go?"

I think that what's most important here is seeing that there are multiple motivations, touching the fear with kindness, which movement develops the capacity for compassionate response. What you're doing is not pushing aside fear-based response so much as allowing it, and thus, inviting compassionate response. This compassionate heart knows what to say and do. Awareness is primary; when fear is present, awareness knows that fear is present, that attachment is present. Then they're no longer such potent forces and the compassion can come forth.

(Added April 7, 2001 when editing the transcript.) There is another area to consider. You said ?see ways in which they could enhance their lives," which brings us to a person who is not engaged in unwholesome activity so much as not as fully engaged as might be desired in wholesome activity. You may see their unwillingness or inability to act further in such wholesome ways. Again, you must look for attachment. What does it mean to you that they so act? Does your own ego wish to bask in this action, do you see something you wish for them, to be derived from such action, but fail to see they may not wish it for themselves? The example which comes to mind is a parent who knows the child is capable of excellent grades in school and is dissatisfied because of merely good grades. The parent may be attached to excellent grades from an ego perspective, but perhaps not. The parent may feel it knows better than the child what is in the child's best interest. He/she may feel, ?This child doesn't know how important this will be in the future." Perhaps the child does not thus realize. But perhaps the child has different ambitions, does not wish to attend Harvard, but to play ball for Arizona. Or perhaps the child is a naturally great athlete who does not wish to play ball for Arizona but to attend Harvard. Perhaps the parent is so attached to his/her view that he/she cannot hear the child.

What is most helpful here is to investigate attachment to views. You can only present your view to the other when you relinquish an attachment to it as ?right" and begin to know it simply as ?one view." As long as you are ?right" the other is ?wrong," and such confrontation invites polarization. For the other to hear you, you wish to avoid polarization, which means to reflect upon and release attachment to views. Then you can present your view, and let it go, like blowing seeds into the wind which will carry them to fruitful ground if such is for the good of all. Your work is only to release the seed, and then trust it to find fertile soil.

Does this sufficiently answer your question? I pause.

Barbara: Other questions?

Q: I have a question. Something I've been wondering about this week is, why is it that the people we love the most are the hardest to accept?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Dare I answer you in one word? Attachment. But that is too simple because the question then is, why is attachment most predominant with the people you love? Because you have most invested in that relationship. Because there is not yet letting go and selflessness. But this is why these most deeply loving relationships are such powerful teachers, because they do arouse such difficult emotion, and because with the power of your love there is a deeper commitment not to enact that fear but to open your heart more to the situation. I pause.

Barbara: How about one more question and let's go and have some Valentine's cookies and tea.

Q: I am reminded of a meditation on longing. I sat with it and gave it space, which was unusual. I had been avoiding it. I want to share with you what happened and take it deeper. I focused on the bodily sensation in my chest and allowed the painfulness. And it was suddenly clear that the pain of the sensation was bound up with time. Now is not OK; later might be. Seeing that for the first time, I let go of the concept of time. (Briefly!) And without that resistance, the longing became a profoundly expansive feeling of love in the moment. It was surprising.

Barbara: I'm very happy to hear that. First, this is just exactly what we're talking about in meditation practice: being present with experience instead of having to push it away. Having direct intimate contact with an experience like sadness, longing, fear, pain, it's transformed. We see that right there in longing is the open heart. And also we see the impermanence of the feeling, what you said about the time sense.

We were talking about this in meditation class last night, how we see impermanence and the sense of timelessness, that whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. And when we watch it and are able to be present with it, we see that impermanence in it. And it loses the power of, the fear falls out of it. We just see it's impermanent, it's not me or mine. Then there's a spaciousness that opens, and because we're in that spacious place, with trust and love, the open heart can emerge. Then we find that we really don't have to separate ourselves from all the things that we've separated ourselves from in our lives. It starts with one example and then we take it further and further. And there are so many experiences we've had we've not been able to permit ourselves to have. And it's powerful to find it's okay. There can be grief. There can be fear. There can be pain. It's okay. It will pass. If it doesn't pass then there will be space for it.

Q: What was so surprising was how close the physical sensation of the longing was to the openhearted love. Like crying suddenly shifting to laughter; physiologically they're very close.

Barbara: Yes. This is why I keep saying in meditation class, ?Come back to how it feels in the body. Where are you holding this energy? What is the experience of this energy of longing or sadness or joy? How is it experienced?" because that's the direct experience free of stories. When we can know longing, doubt, fear, anger, before any stories start to arise, that's so powerful. Then we can know the open heart as well.

Q: And concepts about time are a story.

Barbara: But the experience of impermanence is not a story; that's a direct experience. Can you see the difference? (Yes.)

Let's sit silently for just a minute or two and then go and have our Valentine party.

(Taping ends.)

Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Brodsky