March 17, 2004

Barbara: A bit of background before Aaron speaks. In spiritual inquiry class last week, Aaron had us do an exercise with energy. He asked us to try to push our energy out, consciously to try to make ourselves big. We divided into small groups, each group with one or several people sitting in the center of the circle, others on the outside. The one in the center was to "try" to expand his/ her energy. The harder one tried, the smaller one's energy field seemed to be. The people on the outside were unable to feel it, "Try harder! Try harder!" As you try harder, you set up a wall around yourself. There's so much ego in it.

Then through a guided meditation, he asked us to come into a place of deep centeredness, deep ease and presence. Breathe out, and expand outward, not forcing anything, no doer, nothing done, just allowing the natural outward expression of our energy field. Done this way, the people in the outer circle of the groups for the most part could feel the energy expanding out.

Someone who read the transcript sent this email and Aaron said he would like to talk about it tonight, since it's directly relevant to people's experience.

In his talk, Aaron mentioned when I was in Tokyo last spring and the trains were very crowded. Literally, they have pushers on the platform; they work there. Their job is to push people into trains. As people pushed on, I found the more I tried to inflate my energy field, the more people pushed against me. And the more I tried to diminish my energy field and disappear, the more they pushed against me. But if I stayed in a very neutral space, not pushing, just holding a space, as crowded as the train was, people didn't push hard against me. There was a little space. What I was doing was to neither push nor withdraw, which are both contracted states, but to allow my energy to be as it is, full and expansive, no self or pusher.

This was what caught our questioner's attention. She says, "The Japanese trains reminded me, when I rode the buses in Ann Arbor, sometimes when some guy got on who looked like he might want to start up a conversation, perhaps drunk or looking for a good-time female, I neither pushed out nor withdrew but put up a neutral energy field between us, that I imagined to be like a thick clear plate of glass. I'm going to think about how this fits into the exercise, because it seems to have elements of contraction in the creation, but also an uncontracting. It never failed, and if I didn't do it there were sometimes unhappy outcomes. It leads me to think about what goes into putting up any energy boundary, when someone else is using their energy field invasively."

That's the question Aaron wants to look at tonight. What goes into putting up any energy boundary? He says to phrase it, not just energy boundaries but verbal boundaries, any kind of boundary, when someone is using their energy field invasively. How do we establish wholesome boundaries within the ultimate reality of no-self?

She continues.. Going beyond that, I wonder how to take that past any energy blocking at all. I know we are allowed personal boundaries, not to be doormats, but it seems like Reality is about no separation, so any boundary casts a shadow on the light, even one from kindness. So perhaps there is a way to be in a relative reality and not create energy boundaries, either by allowing whatever comes to flow past energetically or psychologically, or if it sticks, then to work with what comes up inside, such as judging it negative, or by holding such positive intentions that one no longer co-creates such situations with others. But, referring to situations with others, even Jesus was beset by thieves along the road in Aaron's stories.

I will move into a trance state and let Aaron speak.

Aaron: Good evening. My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. Your spring weather reminds me of the ways that spring would come to the high mountains in the parts of the world near the Alps where I lived in several very joyful lifetimes. The winter snows would melt away. We would rejoice in a few days of sunshine, and then the snows would come again, of course, because winter was not yet past. But soon we would see small alpine flowers peeking through the snow, and the small areas of green opened by the sun.

In that climate, winter lasted far longer, and sometimes in early May there would be a feeling that spring would never come. Then that brief glimpse at spring showed its face and then hid away behind a late May blizzard.

I found as I lived in those lifetimes that I needed to carry spring with me in the heart, to remember that it was always spring. Sometimes the flowers were in a growing stage, sometimes in a dormant stage. But the flowers were always there. There were just times when I couldn't see them. The sun was always there. Spring was eternal.

Using this as a metaphor, you might observe the doubts you have that your heart will ever fully flower in the ways that you wish that it would. You may have doubt that you will ever be free of anger, jealousy, greed, judgment, and other difficult emotions.

Just like the flower in its dormant stage beneath the snow, your innate lovingkindness is always there, although sometimes it's in a very dormant stage, and all you feel is the bitter blast of winter.

When you carry the intention to remember your own radiance and goodness, even through the darkest period, you begin to develop a deep trust of that innate radiance and goodness, and you lose touch with it less often.

How does this connect with the letter that Barbara just read? The issue is not about the setting of boundaries, but about how those boundaries are set, and what predominant force leads to the setting of them, fear or an intention to kindness.

When you are in a difficult situation, fear may arise. This is natural for the human being, natural in that most of you are deeply conditioned to self-protectiveness, and there is an almost instinctive withdrawal or barricading of the energy when something feels threatening to that energy.

So something comes up. An aggressive person gets on the bus. He/ she is a bit drunk, trying to pick you up. He sits down in the empty seat next to you. You're afraid he's going to get off the bus at your stop and follow you. There is a feeling of threat, of somebody invading your space. A very natural sequence for the human is that this sense of threat would lead you into fear.

I want to distinguish here - feeling threatened does not have to bring on deepening fear. Feeling threatened is one condition out of which fear is likely to arise. But "threatened" is just an idea held in mind and body, and when seen as it is, fear may not arise.

There's a story that I love. A Zen master was traveling in New York City with several of his students. He was not a New Yorker but a visitor there. They got onto the subway. A very drunk man entered the subway car. He began trying to pick fights with people, to draw them into argument. Some people had tried to move to the ends of the car, and he was roaring at them, "What, are you afraid of me?" and following them. It was very early in the morning and the car was not full.

The Zen master's students tried to surround him to protect him; they felt threatened. But he brushed them aside. He walked up to the man and smiled. "Hello, friend." This drunk man was crying, he was angry. He was trying to tell people how unjust the world was, and his being of one race, that it was the other race's fault. He was holding a clenched fist up to people.

So our Zen master, who was of a third racial background, walked up and smiled, looked deep in the man's eyes with true friendliness and curiosity. "You're very angry." The man said, I would edit out the inappropriate language-"You're (expletive) right. I'm very angry."

"Why don't you tell me how your anger feels." The man looked at him, startled. "What do you mean, how my anger feels?" "Well, do you feel it in your toes, do you feel it in your fingers? Tell me about anger. How does it feel?" So he got him shifted from trying to place blame for a situation to looking directly at anger, but he did it in a friendly way. The man thought about it for a moment, quieted for a moment..

Then he yelled, "I'm angry at you", with considerably stronger language. "What right do you have to stand there questioning me?" The Zen master was not afraid. He was being threatened by the man; the man was holding a fist in his face, but he was not afraid. He smiled and said, "I'm interested in people. You clearly have a story to tell."

He was not aggressive and he did not back away. His non-fear had to be authentic. The non-fear comes from knowing the innate radiance and goodness of your being, knowing who you are beyond the body, mind, and emotions. So he was able to ask him, "Tell me about it." The students tried to stay close but the Zen master brushed them away. He put his arm around the man's shoulder. "Let's sit down."

They rode quite a distance, certainly beyond where they intended to go. The man quieted down and began to talk. The train, I believe, reached a terminal of some sort and turned around, half an hour later coming back to the original destination. The Zen master said, "This is where we get off, come with us." So the man got off the train and he was staggering, he was drunk. The Zen master put his arm around the man's shoulder, and as the man staggered to the right, the Zen master staggered with him. They both laughed, and then he staggered to the left, and the Zen master staggered with him. I hold a beautiful image of these two men walking down the street staggering and laughing.

He got the man to talk about his anger, to reflect on his anger, and to reflect on his impulse to find someone to blame for his situation. He helped the man to see beyond his anger. He could not have done that if he had been aggressive with the man, saying, "No, no." Or if he had been afraid and withdrawn. And he could not have done that if he had put a glass wall in front of him, trying to be neutral.

I am not suggesting that a glass wall is inappropriate. You have got to know what your intention is, and you have got to know what your abilities are. Not all of you are Zen masters.

You don't go to a ski resort and ski down the expert hill if you're a novice or an intermediate skier. There are appropriate slopes on different levels of human interaction, and you have got to be honest with yourself. Honest, but also not afraid of working right at the edge of your experience, not choosing the safest and easiest place.

That skier who stays on the beginner's hill day after day after day, will cease to pick up new skills because the slope does not challenge her. The novice skier who goes down the Black Diamond slope will break her neck. You have got to be honest with yourself.

So I think the first question to raise for yourself, when you feel yourself in a situation where another is threatening or abusive, is a two-fold question: what is my intention here? And speaking honestly, do I have the skills to bring forth the intention? Or another way of phrasing that, does the intentional voice come more from truth or from ego? We note that the choice to be safe is an acceptable one.

If I am a non-swimmer and I see somebody's boat overturn 100 yards from shore, it would be ego to say, "I'm going to swim out and save them." That would just give others 2 people to save instead of one! It's a kind of fear-response to the situation. Feeling helpless, the impulse energy may deny helplessness and say, "I'll save him." Or one runs the other way, moaning, "I am helpless." . In truth one could don a life vest, get into a boat and row out to him, rather than just collapsing on the ground in tears saying, "He's drowning and I can't swim."

In this moment, what are you capable of? There is no shame not to know how to swim. There is no shame still to feel that you are too uncomfortable with another's abuse that you can't walk up to them, as our Zen master did, with true friendliness and smiling eyes and say, "Tell me about it." We have got to be where we are, and honest about that.

For me the primary distinction made here is to ask, what is the primary force in my motivation? Is it fear or is it love? If it's fear, there will certainly be some love present; if it's love, there may certainly be some fear present. But what is primary?

The second related issue is: seeing one as primary, can you see both? First, you've got to see one, and it doesn't matter whether you see the fear or the love. Here the enemy is delusion, the delusion that says, "There is no love"; or "there is no fear," and disassociates from the situation. You've got to be present. Once you are present, it doesn't matter what you find, because anything you find is a starting place.

I'm asking Barbara to make a small symbol with her fingers. (Palms facing but apart, thumbs touching, pointed down. Finger tips touching, pointed up.) Look at her hands and see two hands, fingers and thumbs. Now, look again and see the diamond shape created within those fingers and thumbs. Moving her hands slowly apart, see the shape still there. The outer object is there, fingers and thumbs, and the shaped space is there, the space between the objects. You can focus on either object or space, or see that both exist together.

Fear comes up as an object. It comes out of space and falls back into space. It is just fear, just an object. You cannot find the space so long as you're absorbed into the fear object and the judgments about it.

There needs to be enough wisdom not to take the objects that appear so personally. This is not only true of an object that generates fear. It could be a love object, something beautiful, such as a magnificent butterfly fluttering around your face, landing for a moment on your shoulder, flying again. Oh! How beautiful! Then you notice more and more of them; 100 of them. They're looping, dipping, brushing your cheek with velvety wings. Landing on your glasses. You become absorbed into them and follow them. You are so absorbed you do not pay attention to the ground beneath your feet, and suddenly the next step leads you over the edge of a cliff!

So the work here is not just with difficult objects, and self-identification creating stories around these, but even with blissful objects. Any place that the story comes up, a story of self, stories about holding on, getting rid of. Stories about blame, judgment, ownership, greed, whenever such stories arise, it's not a problem, but this is the place to work.

Let us take this teaching a step further. If the conditions are present, negative thought will arise. It's not a bad or good thought, it's just a thought, sometimes with negative or fear-based content. The habitual tendency is to name it "good" or "bad" and identify with it. But it is not "you," it is just a thought. As illustration, if you are walking down the street and a store has colored lights shining out on the sidewalk, and mirrors in the shop windows, so as you walk you see yourself, first in a very clear natural light, and then in lights of very intense colors, what if you don't like orange? Suddenly the orange light shines on your body. You see yourself in the mirror radiating orange. Do you say in shock, "Oh! What's wrong with me? Why have I turned orange?" Of course not. If you don't like it you simply step beyond the range of that orange light. But knowing it as "not self," you do not need to run to escape this light. You know you are not orange. The orange light bathes the body and gives the appearance of it being orange, just appearance!.

Just like the colored light, sometimes the energy of anger may come up. It bathes the physical, emotional and mental bodies. It creates a real change in the body, a temporary change. You do not need to say, "Oh, I am bad because anger arose," nor do you deny the experience of anger. You simply note the anger that has arisen and you rest in the spaciousness of that which is not angry, while simultaneously you acknowledge the anger and work to balance it.

We call this equanimity with the arising of emotion. When the conditions are present, the emotion will arise. When the conditions cease, it will cease. Fear is one of the conditions out of which anger arises. Fear of fear and judgment of fear is still fear. It is still bringing forth anger. You can take it a step further, noting the fear of the fear. A fierce denial, "I will not be afraid," is just more rigidity. It conditions more anger. You can feel all of this in the contraction of the energy field, and the move into self, a somebody separate from others and who must protect itself. The more fear, the more you move into that space of separation.

As soon as you are able to note that arising and say, "Here is fear, here is the contracted body energy, here is the mind, contracted and tense. Here is grasping or aversion. Here is 'orange'." As soon as you do that, you are practicing kindness. This is what the Zen master did. He didn't say, "Now don't be angry." He didn't say, Oh woe is me; what shall we do?; what is to blame?" He didn't turn his back on the anger. He just said, "Here is anger. How does it feel? What are you experiencing?" So he helped to bring the man's attention away from the stories of the anger and into the direct experience of anger. In doing so he gave him a way to be kinder and more openhearted with his anger.

Our usual habit energy with any difficult emotion is to either try to control it or to run from it. One of the ways we both control and run is by finding someone to blame, or by expressing the anger outwardly. When you're shouting at somebody, more and more anger is coming through, but you learn to avoid that angry energy. You just hand it off; it comes and you hand it off again and again.

But it doesn't dissipate in the body. It's a bit like eating too much candy, feeling a bit of discomfort in the belly and thinking, "I know, I'll eat a piece of candy to settle my stomach." And of course, there's more discomfort. "Well, I guess I need another piece of candy."

Candy, a drink, whatever kind of compensatory behavior you indulge in, it's a way to avoid being present with what you are experiencing. The path of kindness is to be with that experience. I will not say free of judgment from it, but if judgment arises, we know the judgment also as an object. It's not a problem. This object giving rise to that object, giving rise to that object; they keep coming.

After awhile, noting these objects arising and passing away, you develop the ability to rest in the space between the objects, to attend to the objects but not to become lost in them.

So equanimity develops, but you have to be honest with yourself and to know when there is not equanimity. That's okay. Today when Barbara looked into Paulie's mouth and saw the blue gunk of the missing bar of rat poison on his teeth, there was a moment where she was very far from equanimity! (Barbara's collie, Paulie, got into a bar of rat poison that had fallen from the attic as someone cleaned up there, and ate it. A very quick trip to the vet followed; his stomach was emptied. He is fine.) The important process for her, though, was to recognize, "Here is fear." She could see the stories start. "He's going to die!" Then came, "Now, wait a minute. All that happened in this moment is that he has rat poison in his mouth, and he has swallowed some. The important thing is to get it out of his system. Don't have him dead already; just take him to the vet. Know the fear, and take him to the vet."

If she had spent time judging herself for not having equanimity, or saying, "No, I won't be afraid," she would have blocked out the spaciousness and clarity that knew what to do. Certainly Barbara has a lot of meditative training, but each of you knows what to do. Each of you knows how to respond from that place of center. Each of you can hear the voices of fear, anger, greed, wanting to control, wanting to blame, can see the habit energy pushing you; each of you is capable of saying, "Not this time." As soon as you do that, you change the habit.

The important point here is that both fear and love are likely to be present, and your response must include the awareness of both, and the intention to work from love while working with fear.

For our questioner on the bus, her neutral stance was appropriate to her. It was not a dissociative stance. She was not trying to barricade herself, and certainly she was not being aggressive. It's a useful tool for as long as it feels helpful. At a certain point, one may realize, "It is no longer useful to withdraw in this way." Then you do something else. The choice will depend who is haranguing you also and may be different if it's somebody drunk, aggressive, or with a weapon, rather than just a rude person. It will be different if it's 3 in the morning and you have to get off a bus and walk several blocks home.

When one feels threatened, first one notes, "Feeling threatened," and may ask, "Am I really unsafe here?" and "What is my highest priority?" If the highest priority is simply to get away, to avoid contact, then the neutral stance described is appropriate. If somebody is drunk, belligerent, potentially dangerous, you probably don't want to ask them, "What's wrong?" But sometimes you may want to do that. Are you really unsafe? Is the intention only to protect yourself and the other or may the intention be to reach out to the other's pain. It is only safe to do so when you can speak or act from a place of center. In that situation, there is nobody acting. The question or act is simply raised from this deep center, "What is wrong? You are angry. Tell me about it." You're not inviting him back to your house, to your bed. You set appropriate limits What has to be decided is what those limits are and how they may be maintained firmly but kindly.

Would our Zen master have gone with the man had his students not been following? I don't know; perhaps not. Perhaps he knew that he was physically safe. I suspect, from what I have heard of this man, that safety was not an issue for him, but it may be for you, and that's fine.

When you act from a place of fear, you invite aggression. One can act aggressively from a place of fear through aggression, or by withdrawing. That withdrawal led by fear still invites aggression. When you act from a place of kindness, you quiet aggression. That act from kindness may be to step forward and ask, as our friend did, "Tell me about your anger." It may be, as the questioner did, to move into a neutral place, in a sense not to give off any energy at all. It may be to move into a quiet space and offer silent wishes of lovingkindness for this and all beings, and for yourself. It is not the action that determines whether you invite an aggressive response or not; it is the energy that promotes the action. And since you cannot always control that energy, since there may be fear, you need to understand how to rest in that spaciousness that is present right there with fear, addressing not only the other person's aggressiveness, but your own fear, with kindness. You do this until the self largely disappears and all that is there is kindness, compassion, wisdom. And within that space, you know what is appropriate, you do know what to do.

Several days after the attack on September 11, Barbara had to fly. Her seat partner was an unshaven young man of Middle Eastern appearance, and was very nervous, eyes red, restless. Barbara was very uncomfortable. She thought to herself, "the flight attendants must have noticed and talked with him." But her fear grew as she watched his dis-ease. Stories of terrorism began to flood her consciousness. She saw herself sliding into a pit of fear. She noted "fear," and the old mind's stories. She knew what she had to do was to find the reality by speaking to the man. First she silently did metta directed at the man and to herself and her discomfort. Then she spoke. She was direct. "You look very upset. Is something wrong?" Immediately his eyes flooded with tears and he began to speak of his very ill young daughter, in a hospital in another state. He had been at home with his other young children and now was returning to her hospital, with the hope that a bone marrow transplant from him might save her life. He had pictures of her and his other children. Suddenly he was no longer a potential terrorist but a suffering father.

He had not been abusive, only distressed, but the principle is the same. Do you go with the old stories or move into a possibility for clarity and healing?

I think the question is not about knowing what to do, but trusting that knowledge. The knowledge comes out of the spaciousness. Fear remains on either side. It's like walking on a hanging bridge over a deep ravine. If you just keep your eye on the bridge in front of you, there's nothing there but the bridge. It's not hard to walk it. But if you look to either side, all you see is death on the rocks below. Then you can't walk any more. And yet, you cannot walk that bridge with denial that there is a drop, and you cannot deny that there's fear of the drop. You make the decision not to enhance the stories.

The reality of the situation is that the dog could die. The walker could die falling off the bridge. That knowledge helps us to be more present, but it does not have to bring up fear's stories. And if the stories come, we do not have to get lost in them. Then there's just the bridge, just the present moment. Just the man making a pass on the bus, drunk and aggressive. Your loving heart knows what to do.

I know that you have questions, and I have been talking for a long time to you. Let me pause to let you stretch for a few minutes, and then I would be happy to answer your questions. I pause.

Q: I have a sick cat with diabetes. I would appreciate information related to caring for sick animals and information about euthanizing, putting to sleep....

Barbara: How old is your cat? (Q: 8.) Have you had it since it was a kitten? (Q: 5 months) Is it responding to medication? (Q: Fairly well.) Does the vet feel that the diabetes can be controlled by medication? (Q: Hopefully.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. Your animal, and especially your sick pet, is very sensitive to your moods. Here is a wonderful incentive to you to be more present with kindness and spaciousness with your own fears, anger, and sadness. You are not expected not to be afraid, not to be sad or angry at the potential loss of your pet, but to find that place of loving center right there with whatever difficult emotions have arisen. The more you are able to be in that place of center, the more it invites your pet to be there. And, the more the pet can rest in that place of center itself, the greater its potential to heal.

If you can't do it, you certainly are not killing your pet. I don't want to create a situation of guilt here. Only, do the best you can not to let the stories run wild. One will also quite naturally experience anger toward the situation, toward yourself that you cannot save the pet, and toward the pet for getting sick. You say, "But it's not logical to blame him for being sick." Fear is not logical. Once such anger arises we don't push it aside with the statement, "It's illogical." We open our heart and create a container so spacious that the anger can rest there until it dissolves.

If you have a small container of water, a small cup filled to the top, and you shake it a little bit, the water will slosh out. If you put that same water in a big container and shake it, the water will just slosh around, and when the shaking stops the water will settle. Allow space for fear, sadness and anger.

The decision of when it is appropriate to euthanize a sick animal is one of the most difficult decisions that one can make because you love your animals so much, and there is often so much guilt at not being able to protect them, to save them. Each of you is capable of making the most loving decision. It's the same question. We do not say, "Is this decision based on fear or is it based on love?" But we acknowledge that both are here. And yet, even with the presence of fear, I can come to trust that fear is not what is speaking. I can only do that when I am able to make space for the fear. Only then can you hear love and make an appropriate decision based on that love. I pause.

Barbara: I'm paraphrasing him, he is saying it is so important not to get off into guilt, "I should be able to help him, to do something." And he says, sometimes for pets, one of the difficulties is financial. He says, for example, my old dog had cancer and we spent a considerable amount of money to treat it. He was not helped. It was clear it was time to put him to sleep. He was really suffering. And yet part of me was holding on to this thought, "Well, if I put $10,000 more into treatment, might I save him?" I knew that that was only my grief at his dying, that it wasn't what he needed. But there was also that sense of guilt, of, "I should be willing to put more money into it." It's hard.

Aaron says, the question of euthanasia of course doesn't come up here, but what about dying friends, parents, and so forth? How do we let people go from a place of love, and attend to their dying from a place of love and not of fear? He says, you can never do that by denying the fear.

Q: not recorded

Barbara: This relates to the question of, how do we deal with somebody who is invading our space? Aaron says, can you see that fear can have many responses? And some of those responses look like they're kindness but they're not really kindness, they're fear. And kindness, genuine kindness, can have many responses. There's no one right way to do it. It comes to trusting yourself and your ability not to get caught up in the fear and its stories. When you trust that, your whole energy field relaxes to the point that you're able to trust yourself to respond appropriately.

Let Aaron say this.

Aaron: I am Aaron. There was a time for me in a distant life when that being who I was, was threatened. A man who was rather out of his mind with grief had a spear or sharp implement. The one that I was, was caught up in the self-centered, ego-centered space. There was anger and disbelief, also righteousness. There was a moment when I literally could have stopped him. I could have acted, not out of anger but out of kindness, and stopped him. It played like a slow-motion movie in my mind, seeing him draw the spear back, getting ready to throw it at me, and then a beloved companion stepped in the way and received the thrust of that spear that was directed at me. As I looked back on that scene, dishonesty about my response and also a distortion about the meaning of non-harm, held me back from taking action. My action need not have led to any harm to this man, but I did not trust myself because of the anger and grief. I was committed not to act from anger. I missed the fact that the action would have been from kindness.

It didn't matter whether he killed me or killed the one who intervened. In either way, harm came to him, great anguish, because his grief was speaking and he did not really intend to kill anyone. I was also responsible for the death my companion because I did not act appropriately to prevent it.

This is an easy case to look at because I could have stopped him without harming him. What if you can only stop the person by killing him? I can't answer that. I can only tell you what I have learned, and it comes back to this: you must be honest with yourself and where you are. If I stop him with hatred, I bear that karma. It is very, very difficult to kill another human being only with love and concern for their well-being. A few great masters may have the ability to do that, but I did not know if I had such ability. And so through many lifetimes, my choice was to allow myself to be killed rather than to kill another. Thus, I was prepared to let him kill me. Can you see the self-righteousness in that act? Yes, it could be noble and loving, but here it was self-righteous.

There was a different incident actually in that same lifetime. When I was sleeping in the forest, in the jungle, and I awoke hearing a tiger. There were tigers where I lived and I had learned not to be afraid of them. If I sat in meditation and was peaceful and calm, they would come up and even sniff me and go away. But this one was sick, injured. She found me asleep and she was stalking me. Just moments after I first heard her, she pounced.

There was a rock near me, and my hand went out to it and smashed it into her nose. I did not damage her in any real way. I'm sure she was able to hunt again in an hour. But she stopped hunting me. It was a very clear way of saying, "No, you may not have me for dinner."

There are inspiring stories of the Buddha in a prior lifetime, literally allowing himself to be devoured by a hungry animal. But that's not where I was. There's no rule that it is kindness or it is not kindness to allow yourself to be a meal for another. It is kindness if you are truly ready to give of yourself in that way. It is not kindness if it is forced, as it harms both of you. . Perhaps some beings can truly offer themselves in that way, but if you can't, then you create karma for the animal. You can't change your mind half way through. And since most of us are not ready to be devoured in that way, and if we have a commitment to do no harm, then we have to stop the animal, stop the human, stop the abuse in whatever way feels appropriate. There is almost always a way to say no clearly and without harm.

For the questioner at the start of my talk, her neutral stance said no. Others of you may have had different experiences. I would like to hear about what ways have you found to say no compassionately and with respect for your intention to do no harm, and to allow no harm to come to you. I pause.

M: I am confused. Aaron said that he was as responsible for his friend's death as the person who killed his friend because he did not stop the man when he could have. At what point is one responsible for not stopping another in their actions that result in karma?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I would phrase it in this way. You are all responsible, although indirectly, for the horrors of the World Trade Center attack, for the trains just blown up in Spain, for the atrocities in Iraq. You are all responsible but you also must not get into a guilt trip and say, "It's all my fault!". You cannot stop those people directly. We cannot say you have equal responsibility, as I did in that situation, but you have responsibility. In what ways are you living your life from a place of separation, of self-righteousness? In what ways are you materialistic and taking more than your share in the world? In what ways does fear govern your relationship with the world and other people?

Each bit of fear is like a spark touching dry grass that will ignite a forest fire. Are you going to toss that lit match, or are you going to make sure it's extinguished before you let it touch others? The troubles in the world today are not because of those people or these people or some other people. They are results of a world karma. All of you are being asked to see the ways that living from the fear vibration enhances negativity in the world, and that you do have a choice. The opportunity to practice with that choice repeatedly is a great gift of the human incarnation. I pause.

M: (hard to hear) I understand that, but if one is equally responsible, when another's actions lead to death because of inaction on an individual's part did not stop that harm...

Aaron: Each has a specific responsibility and karma around the incident.

Barbara: Aaron is asking me to paraphrase because I am tired and not able to hold his full energy. He says what we're talking about here is karma. The man's karma brought forth the enactment of this violence as a reaction to his grief, pain and fear. He needed to blame somebody for his pain, and his habitual response was to strike out. Aaron's habitual response was to disengage, in the name of non-attachment. There was the commitment to do no harm, he's saying, but harm can come just as much from inaction as from action. And so his karma here and his responsibility was that of withholding and inaction, with the thought, "If he's going to kill me, let him kill me," rather than, "It's not skillful to let him kill me, not for him or for me. I have to say no."

He says, had it been him that died, rather than the one who intervened, he would still have been partly responsible. It would be different, Aaron says, if the man had been 100 yards away with a sniper rifle and he, Aaron, had no idea he was there. There's nothing he could have done in that moment. But here in this moment, he says, this man was his brother. He knew him well. He could have said no and the man might have stopped, because the man respected him and would have listened to him. But by moving into a kind of righteous place, "If you're going to kill me, then just kill me," it really triggered the man to keep going. It was an aggressive act to just be quiet in that moment. He says, do you understand?

M: That is exactly the question. (Barbara: What is the question?) Aaron was responsible for the karma of the second man, yes?

Barbara: He was not responsible for the karma. He was partially responsible for the action, because his aggression helped to trigger it. But the man still had free will, to kill or not to kill, regardless of the trigger. The man had his karma and Aaron had different karma.

Q: If you are with someone who means harm to self and you do not stop it, from fear, then am I understanding Aaron that the person who did not act due to fear is equally responsible?

Barbara: Aaron says, let's put aside the term "equally responsible". He says that is not a clear way of phrasing it. What he wishes to impart is that each experiences negative karmic results from this situation. Each experiences the continuation of an unwholesome habitual pattern, and the deepening of that pattern. And that in that situation, there was the opportunity for real resolution of that pattern for both of them, and neither chose that resolution. So both experienced the tragic results of there choices

He says, let us throw out the phrase "equally responsible." Simply, each incurs karmic results from that unwholesome act. And each is responsible for the consequences of the act. He says, we can't balance it and say it's 53% / 47%. But it doesn't matter. Even if it's1%, you still have that karma and it needs to be balanced. It needs to be understood and resolved.

If a person buys a gun and ammunition and leaves it accessible in the house where there is a young child, if the child loads and shoots the gun and kills someone, who is responsible? The child is responsible for shooting the gun. The adult who bought the gun is responsible for buying the gun and leaving it accessible. Each carries it's own karma. In terms of the one killed, each participated in their own way in that murder.

What if the child is a 2 year old with no idea this is a dangerous weapon, simply mimicking what he has seen on television? Then the child is not karmically responsible for the murder because karmic responsibility comes only with intention.

Aaron says where he wants to go with this is with the closing thought, if we must say no to aggression, and yet we must do no harm, how do we balance that? What does it mean to say no to abuse, to aggression, in a way that is truly not harmful?

He is pointing out the main concern is simply, how do we live our lives with more love? How do we bring love into these very difficult situations where people are abusive?

We are out of time. We'll end with a few minutes of silence. (tape ends)

Copyright © 2004 by Barbara Brodsky