Wednesday Evening with Aaron
April 23, 2008

Note: This document has not been reviewed and may contain errors:

Keywords: Buddha/Buddhism, Awareness/Pure awareness, Dependent Origin/Arising, Freedom/Liberation, Karma, Non-duality, Awakening/Enlightenment, True Nature

Barbara: I was deeply moved by the Dalai Lama's presentation. I was there all day Saturday and Sunday. Even beyond his words, his energy, personality, humility, and his kindness shine through. Of course, he's a very learned Buddhist scholar and I deeply respect that. His native language is Tibetan, and in part he was talking Tibetan with a translator. In part, especially on Sunday, he spoke for himself in his very excellent, but still, not native language English.

Many people asked me and Aaron questions through both days, so Aaron decided that he wanted to offer his talk tonight in some degree of explanation about the topics on which the Dalai Lama spoke, not as a scholarly treatise but rather to try to simplify what His Holiness said and make it more accessible to us as a living teaching. He said to me today as we were preparing for it, to remember while this teaching comes through the Buddhist tradition, it's not a Buddhist teaching. As His Holiness emphasized, it's a teaching of lovingkindness and of being skillful and wise in the world, which applies to anybody of any religion.

That said, I'm going to quiet myself and invite you to meditate for a few minutes. Aaron will incorporate into my body and will talk.

(tape paused)

Aaron: My blessings and love to all of you. I am Aaron...I want to turn up the lights a bit, better to see your shining faces ...

Throughout the history of humankind, there have always been beings who have strived to live their lives with love and in service to other beings, and strived to overcome the feelings of greed and anger and fear, not to act them out in the world.

Harm to others is not wrong because it's against the law, it's against the law because it's wrong. Religions say that it's wrong, but you don't need a religion to tell you; your heart tells you. Do no harm to others. Cherish every sentient being.

Beings have not known how to do that because anger does arise, fear does arise, greed does arise; these are conditioned states of mind, conditioned by your culture and literally conditioned by your body. Your body moves into a state of fear as part of a survival mechanism. It's not wrong that it does so, it's just the way the body is. But you as beings of higher consciousness have the ability to work with the emotions and body impulses that arise so as to release them in a harmless way rather than enacting them in ways that are destructive.

For millennia, humans have been caught up with wondering, "How do I live my life with love?" Various spiritual teachers have offered input into how one might do this. Jesus, or Jeshua, said, "Love one another. Turn the other cheek." But he did not offer precise guidance to people what to do with the heavy emotions, other than just to withdraw, just step back with them. So at times–please, do not misunderstand me, I have enormous love for this Master, and this is not offered as criticism–but because he did not specifically tell us what to do, it's helpful to look elsewhere. And I think one of the reasons he did not tell us how to work with anger and heavy emotion is that he was familiar with the Buddhist teachings. The Buddha had preceded him by 500 years. And so he said to himself, "Why repeat what's already been said? The important thing is to remind people they don't have to act out these emotions." And he had practiced in this way. So it's not that he didn't know it but simply that for Jeshua the important thing was to make it clear, "Love one another. Don't forget that. Stay with that. Love one another."

So we step back 500 years to the Buddha's time. At the time of his incarnation in India, there was a Hindu culture with an almost fatalistic belief in many gods. If somebody has misfortune it was because of the caste he was born in, or that the gods were frowning on him in some way. So people did not accept that they had free will and choice, that nothing was pre-ordained. You do have karma, that's true, but that doesn't mean that as the result of your karma you are forced into some flow of action. You always have a choice.

The Buddha was first aware of the reality of the karmic necessity of rebirth, that as you were caught up in your karma, you came into another birth and another and another. The only escape from this cycle of samsara is to resolve the karma. He felt that since this cycle existed there had to be liberation from it, and out of his compassion, he devoted his life to first discovering that means of liberation and then teaching it.

What he saw in the evening of his enlightenment is called the Four Noble Truths, but we don't have to call it by any fancy title. There's first the reality: suffering exists. Any argument with that? Anybody here who hasn't suffered?

Next comes the causes of suffering. At first people tend to blame it on somebody else, something outside of themselves. One might think, "I am suffering because my boss doesn't appreciate me and therefore isn't giving me a raise, and my neighbor just got a new car; it's not fair. If only my boss appreciated me and I got more money, I could get a new car and then I wouldn't be suffering." At least not until somebody opened their own car door into it and dinged it. That may bring suffering again.

So we have suffering and the causes of suffering, the causes being grasping and craving for things to be different than they are. It's important not to misunderstand this teaching. There's nothing wrong with working toward improvement of the self and the world, to working toward change. Yesterday was Earth Day. It's a day to be deeply aware of the ways you relate to this earth on the other 364 days of the year, your interrelationship with the earth and each other. As His Holiness phrased it, "Taking care of our only home."

So you work to change the conditions but you can do it without grasping. Just because there is a condition that feels unwholesome and unpleasant to you doesn't mean there has to be grasping at changing it. Can you work with it with love? If you have a bad headache and you start to grasp at getting rid of the headache, is that going to make the headache better? More and more headache. What if you just relax and massage the neck here, perhaps put an ice bag over the brow? Breathe deeply. Relax into presence with what is. Then you're attending to the headache, but you're not grasping to change it. It is the way it is AND you attend to it. So, there is suffering and we see the causes of suffering.

The third Truth is simply that there is an end to suffering; we look deeply at that statement. It ends moment to moment. In that moment when you relax and say, "Okay, I'm going to have a headache for awhile. Can I just treat that lovingly?", there's still a headache but you're not suffering anymore. So kind attention changes everything.

The Buddha was not just teaching about that momentary liberation from suffering but about complete liberation. We see it in our lives; then the observed momentary liberation helps you to have faith in the teaching that there is a permanent end to suffering, too, liberation from the mind state of the separate self that's got to be in control of everything, fixing everything, always grasping, always afraid.

The fourth step is the path out of suffering through awareness, through your interrelation with other people and with the earth itself, through awareness of the power of meditation and mindfulness, the quiet mind. And through the deepening of wisdom that comes when the mind is a bit quiet, and when you live your life with more awareness of the interconnection of all things.

In the beginning, there was not even a written format of the Buddhist teachings, of the Buddha's teachings–they were not Buddhist yet, this man's teachings, the awakened one. The word Buddha simply means the one who is awake. He began to be called the Buddha because he was the one who was awake; present, awake. Awake to the fullness of his being.

After his death there was a coming together of about 500 of the most enlightened monks. Some of the monks had very powerful memories and they recited to the other monks all that they remembered of his teachings, of the rules for monastic living, and the sutras, the beautiful teachings that he gave through so many different situations and to so many different people. And the monks discussed all these teachings and finally, more than 200 years after his passing, some of it came to be written down.

At that point there was one collective, what we might call, way of the path of awakening, way of Buddhism. But then others began to comment on the commentary with different ideas–what does this mean? What does that mean? And of course if you get 2 learned people in a room, they're likely to debate on scholarly issues.

Clean to here

One area in which people became confused is that the Buddha said, "Nothing exists independently of everything else." This is his doctrine of dependent arising, everything arises out of conditions and then it passes away. Everything is dependent on something else. Could you have rain without there being a flow of clouds, wind, humidity in the air? Lakes and seas from which the water might evaporate, and so forth? Rain can't exist in itself. If the rain cannot exist in itself, can the flower exist in itself? Can there be a separate flower? Right there in the flower is the sun and the rain, the earth; everything is there in the flower. Your loving eyes, your loving gaze, is there in the flower.

So some people believed that this is what the Buddha meant but others took it a step further and said, "If everything arises upon conditions, then nothing exists." So it was a <> almost a nihilism, nothing is real. And this was upsetting to some people because if you state that nothing is real, then you have no responsibility to anything. If your earth is not real, then why have an Earth Day? Why take care of your Earth? There's nothing there anyway, just your mind. But of course there is an Earth.

I want to feed you a bit of specific history here, but not too much, I promise. Usually I do not speak from notes but I wanted to write down some of these teachings in order so I <>.

The Buddha taught a doctrine called the Middle Way.

During his early years before his enlightenment, he practiced extreme asceticism and he almost died, almost starved himself. Earlier in his life, he had grown up in a noble family filled with plenty and he saw how easy it was to get caught up in the material world. And he saw that neither extreme worked.

So he understood this idea of the middle way between an excess of materialism and total asceticism. But the Middle Way has a further meaning. And here we come to this question, do things exist or do they not exist? The Middle Way is simply, they both do and do not exist. They exist but not in the way you believe they exist.

His Holiness used an example of the snake in the rope, that you see the rope and you say, "Ah, a snake!" And you behave as if it really was a snake.

< > were leading a retreat at Southern Dharma, and <a retreat here in the mountains of North Carolina> with a steep flight of stairs that leads up to the meditation hall-- two ways to get to the meditation hall but one way is a steep flight of stairs. In the dusk, as she was coming for the evening talk, Barbara saw what appeared to be a snake on the path, unusual at that time of day. She had been warned that there were some poisonous snakes and if she saw a snake, not to disturb it. She was not afraid of it but respectful of it. So she backed down the stairs and went up the other way, the other way being more challenging for her because there is no handrail for her balance.

She started to come down the stairs at the end of the evening, down the steeper flight of stairs with the handrail, and there was the snake. She went around again and the next morning, there was the snake. It was just barely dawn, still dark–why is the snake lying there overnight?

It was a rope, a piece of rope somebody had left there on the path. So seeing the snake, she acted as if it was a snake. What was it? When she saw it and walked around it and it had all the attributes of a snake, was it indeed a snake? In some ways we could say yes, and yet there was never a snake there. And yet, part of the reason why she saw a snake there was the day before, there had been a snake that slithered out of the way as she climbed the steps. So it was a logical assumption: here was another one. Not fear, respect. But still, seeing the snake.

Let me come back and give you a bit of history and then we'll come back to the place where we are now, snake or rope.

Around 150 A.D., some 650 years after the Buddha's time, the Indian teacher Nagurjuna wrote a book called, I don't know how to pronounce this in your English language, Mulamadhyamaka-karika. The word madhyamaka means "middle way." So he wrote a book basically about the Middle Way.

He was speaking in his writing about this schism that had been developing. On the one hand, nothing is absolute, everything exists in relation to everything else so we can say that nothing is existent on its own. But at the same time we cannot say it doesn't exist. Nagurjuna did not say it doesn't exist but some people that followed him created what is called the "mind-only" school of which the Dalai Lama spoke. Those who first spoke of the mind-only school, called Yogachara, the two primary teachers were Asanga and Vasubandhu. They said that everything that exists is mind or consciousness but they did not say that means it's non-existent, they said it exists in the way that that thing on the step existed, as rope or snake.

We talk often in classes about the mind touching an object. The eye touches an object, like the foot. Eye seeing the foot. Eye contact, the eye touching the foot and seeing-consciousness arises. One person might see it as a foot and another might think, Oh, there's a puppet there, there's some kind of hand, maybe there's a little <mop> or some kind of animal in that sock. Who knows <how> it's connected to this leg. What is it? We don't know what it is. It's all in the mind. But we don't say, "Well nothing exists," so much as just <> because it's not there. We treat it with <> whether it's a <mop>, a puppet or a foot.

In the beginning the teachings were clear but people got carried away with it and started to argue, as people will argue, "It's this way," "It's this way." Into discussion of nihilism, nothing exists, it's all in our minds. Or an eternalism that says everything exists in its own way.

The object exists separate from the way the subject perceives it. So the question would be, do you see a water bottle? What is a water bottle? Is there anything really there or is it completely in your mind? Does it have any substantial reality? Yes, I agree, it does. But a certain school would say it has no reality. Another school would argue it has a reality only in the way it's seen, and each person sees it differently. For example, I'm going to ask for a show of hands <this one time>. Please raise one hand if you see the water bottle as blue and two hands if you see it as purple: now... Okay, most of you see it as purple. (Group: Ahhh) Still purple, in the daylight it's more blue. That was not an effective attention getter <lost to group laughter> But in the daylight it appears more blue, a little bit blue.

Q: K is saying the top looked blue.

Aaron: More blue when you hold it up to the light...

Q: And the bottom looks more violet.

Aaron: You get the idea of what I'm talking about. Regardless of the color, is there water in there or is there clear soda pop?

Q: Gin. (laughter)

Aaron: Gin! Vodka!

So it has its own reality AND it has a reality as perceived by the mind and by the conditioning. What the Buddha taught is not any of this, precisely. What the Buddha taught is things do have a reality connected to everything else. If you look at the ocean, you might just see it as a body of water, and yet there are fish in it and salt, there are ships sailing upon it, there are plants growing on the ocean floor or in parts of the ocean, there's sand that's mixed in with the water. So when you first look at it you say, "Oh, the ocean–that's water."Well, is it water? Is it salt? Is it fish? Is it sand? Is it everything all put together? And what happens to the ocean or to a lake. Let's use just a small pond. What happens to a pond when a lot of farm fertilizer washes into it? It changes the water. What happens when that farmer is very careful with the fertilizer and uses only fertilizer that will not harm the water?

So the mind-only school of which His Holiness spoke can be pushed to a degree where it loses touch with consensus reality and says nothing is real, nothing exists. And that was some people's response in history to an exist–I don't know what the proper term would be–a school of thought that believed that everything had an inherent separate reality. We need to come back to that Middle Way.

The reason we need the Middle Way is that if everything is seen as having no existence, one might logically draw that conclusion, but there's no compassion there. How do you respond sensitively to each other, to the earth? If you look at a car accident and see people screaming, "Help me! Help me!" and the car is starting to burst into flames and you say, "Well, there's nobody really there," it's a good escape, isn't it? One can simply close one's heart, have no compassion in the world.

On the other hand, if one believes that everything has a unique separate existence, separate from anything else, than one can become overly clinging to outer forms and believe that since we can't find anything in anything else, if we believe everything is separate, then there's a lot of fear there. Everything is separate. So we can't really live our lives with <best> in that everything is separate. If we think everything is separate and the flower is dying, do we water the flower? The flower is separate from the water; why give the flower water? That would be a waste of water?

I'm drawing it to absurd lengths here. His Holiness' point in offering this teaching is that everything is interconnected. It IS all in the mind. Let me rephrase. The way we relate to objects is all in the mind and our conditioning with that object. Another person walking up that flight of stairs at Southern Dharma might have said, "Oh, a snake," and then <overjoyed> and sat down on the step to watch it for awhile and then as they got up close to it said, "Oh, it's only a rope." Another person might have been terrified and run away screaming. Still, a snake is a snake and a rope is a rope. And it's not hard to discern the difference.

Mind-only does not mean that all things not mind are mere projections of mind, though that is one level of meaning. It does mean that mind is the ultimate experiencer of all things, including mind itself. I say that in a very precise way. The mind is the ultimate experiencer.

What is this mind that we're calling experiencer? Here we must differentiate between the everyday mind, the brain and the emotions and the mind that says, "Oh, there's a snake–hurray," or "Oh, there's a snake–ahhh!" and what we call a pure awareness mind.

This is the deepest aspect of yourself, this one that really knows, knows things as they are. It's the level of your awareness that's not tempted by old conditioning. You might think you don't have access to that level of awareness, but I disagree with you. It takes practice to access it but each of you CAN learn to access it.

Think about the situation where you might look down and see what you think is a snake. How many of you are thrilled by it? How many of you are terrified by it? And how many of you are blasé? It could be, "Okay, just a snake." When you see that snake--maybe it's got a rattle and you hear it too, rattling-- more fear--and you stop and you breathe, and right there with that which is afraid is that which is not afraid. That which is aware of fear is not afraid. You see the snake and you hear the rattle, you feel the fear. These are all arising into the everyday consciousnesses: hearing consciousness, seeing consciousness, thinking consciousness, feeling consciousness. But there's a deeper part of you that says, "This is okay." Have you been there? Do you know what I'm talking about? That place that knows, "This is okay. And just because I hear this sound that I've been conditioned to hear as threatening, just because I feel fear arising doesn't mean I have to get caught up in it." In respect I may choose to back up and move away from this rattlesnake, but I don't have to get caught up in the stories, "It's going to come after me and bite me." It's more scared than I am. Let it be. Respect it. Let it go its way and I can go my way.

So I think that the point His Holiness was trying to make is that we must avoid this eternalism that says everything is separate, and we must avoid the level of being that separates from the world, saying nothing exists, it's not real. We must know our direct connection with everything. Treat everything with love. In Buddhism they're fond of saying, "Everything could be your mother," because in so many incarnations, perhaps every being has been the mother of every other being. Does the snake look a bit different if you think about, maybe this was once my mother? In this life it's still a snake.

If you're about to take a long, perhaps a hatchet of some sort with a <> handle, and bring it down on the snake, and then you stop and say, "Maybe in a past life this was my mother," could you just then let it slither off the path? Saying "this was my mother" is more extreme, but simply knowing everything has a place in this world. Everything is interrelated. The bees that are flying around and bothering you as you try to eat your apple are also the bees that are pollinating your flowers and creating the honey that you have spread on your sandwich. Everything is interrelated.

The mixture of wisdom and compassion brings us to the point of knowing the interrelationship of all life, acting as if everything truly is our mother, relating to it with kindness. And yet, if your mother was walking towards you, perhaps sleepwalking and holding a knife, you would step out of her way. Perhaps in a moment of sleepwalking she doesn't recognize you. It's not skillful to stand in front of her and say, "Well she won't hurt me, she's my mother." We step out of the way. We do it without fear. We do it with kindness.

So this is where His Holiness was going with his talk. --This is where I believe he was going; I certainly would not say this is where he was going, but I believe this is where he was going.

We talk a lot in meditation class about the mind and the objects of mind...

The observer and that which is observed... Whatever one may think of as an object of mind could only be perceived or known with mind. Think about that. This bowl–seeing is an object of mind. It can only be perceived through the mind, through consciousness. Each of you may see this bowl differently. For example, is the bowl black? Anybody want to say that the bowl is brass? Can you see the brass in the bowl?

We perceive it differently. Mind sees based on conditioning and yet there is something that we recognize as a solid object and yet not separate from anything else. It's a beautifully hammered bowl of brass, made from a sheet of brass, probably, heated and hammered into this sheet. What is brass? It's a mix of copper and I think nickel. I'm not certain, exactly. Two metals combined together.

So we can say that here this is a copper mine. Here there is a pile of rocks. Here there is a miner, a cup of coffee he drank before he went out to the mine for the day. Here is his wife who ground the coffee for him. It's all there in the bowl. The bowl exists and everything that created the bowl, everything the bowl is, all exists. We don't relate to it as separate, we relate to it with cherishing. This is where we develop that mix of wisdom and compassion.

What I've attempted to relate here is not a complete history of these movements, a philosophy, to any extent but just a very surface level glance at what His Holiness meant by mind-only school, which many people have asked me about, and how that relates to the teachings of wisdom and compassion. At this point I would be happy to hear your questions. Your questions do not need to relate to the talk but I welcome the questions that do relate to the talk as well as other questions.

Q: Because the Buddha was human, he could only have certain level of understanding of reality. I mean, he can't understand, I don't know, more than a human is capable of.

Aaron: He could understand only what a human is capable of but a human is capable of getting him- or herself outside of the whole ego/self-related consciousness perception and into an enlightened or awakened perception.

I would use this as a metaphor, J. You have a stream in your back yard from which you water your garden. You wake up one morning and find the stream has overflowed its bank and your whole garden is flooded. You're angry. Who flooded my garden? Did a neighbor further downstream build a dam? What's happening here?

So you go off walking, trying to find the cause. Why is my garden flooding? You want something to blame. There's nothing downstream, everything is flooded and the water is flowing. You begin to walk upstream and slowly you climb a mountain. As you climb the mountain, you can see that the land looks quite flooded all the way to the sea. You feel the hot sun as you climb, it's a very clear day. And as you get higher up the mountain, you see how the sun is melting the glacier. You see all the waterfalls rushing off the mountain. Who are you going to blame? It's just the way things are. It's spring. The hot sun is melting the snows. Everything is running downhill.

But here you have a higher perspective. I'm using this as a metaphor for the higher mind. As you get up higher, you can see the vast view and really see things as they are, whereas when you're right up close, knee-deep in your flood, you really can't see what's happening. The awakened mind allows us the mountaintop perspective, to be able to take all the different facets and bring them together and clearly understand things as they are.

It is out of this awakened perspective that the Buddha was able to formulate his whole path, for example, and the ideas of dependent arising, and so forth. It was all clear to him. He understood exactly how karma works, what creates unwholesome karma and what releases it. One could say yes, he could only see as much as a human can see, but all of you have this capacity for liberation, literally. The capacity to wake through the conditioned mind to see things as they truly are without those layers of old conditioning that entrap you into your fears and prejudices and confusion.

Q: I was wondering, how do you avoid becoming attached to things when you see that interrelatedness of things. You gave an example-- the bowl, right? You look at it for the effort of the miner who built it, and the wife, you come to honor it. How do you avoid getting attached to this bowl, or people or things?

Aaron: Seeing deeply into the nature of things does not stop attachment. One might look at one's child and realize that the child has grown out of the sperm and egg and the fetus, and that it has its own consciousness and it's a mixture of so many things and yet one is still attached to the child. The way one really frees oneself from attachment is to closely observe how much suffering arises when one is attached, and secondly, to know that one can cherish without attachment.

Attachment grows out of fear of loss. When there is no fear of loss, there is cherishing without attachment. Each time that fear of loss comes up, one must note it. I like the question, "Is that so?" And of course it is so. Our loved ones die, our bowls break. So the real question is not, "Can it be lost?" because of course it CAN be lost in the more superficial material sense, but, "Can I ever be totally separated from it?" And your loved ones, you can lose them on this earth plane, they pass on. But you cannot lose the energy and the memory and the joy of them, it's held in your heart. This bowl could be melted in a fire. It would go, it would be destroyed. But the sound that you've held in your heart cannot be destroyed. That sound (rings bowl) it can never be lost; it's right there within all of you.

Each time you find yourself attached, a wonderful question is simply, "What do I fear and how can I relate more kindly to this fear? Am I opening my heart to myself and to my fear or am I judging myself for my fear and therefore trying to push it away?"

Q: His Holiness spoke so much about emptiness. Would you please speak about emptiness for us?

Aaron: We'll take our bowl again as a template. Look at it. Space... If we put water in it, then there would not be so much space in it any more, there would be water in it. So when we use the term emptiness, we have to say, empty of what? We can say, right now the bowl is empty of solid brass, it's filled with space. If we fill it with water, we would say it's empty of space-- it doesn't have any space in it, it's filled with water.

When I use the word emptiness, I mean empty of a separate self. That takes us full circle, here. It has no separate existence, separate from anything else. It's not just that it exists in the mind, it does have an existence. There's a real bowl. If I put a bunch of thumbtacks upright on the floor and ask you all to walk barefoot, nobody would deny that there are thumbtacks there, nobody would say, "Well, it's all in my head." People walk on nails, people walk on fire. What happens when people walk on fire? They aren't burned. How do they do it? Is the heat just in their head?

I'm getting away from emptiness here because this is the power of mind. The power of mind to, when the body doesn't contract with fear and say, "This will burn me," but notes, "This is possible, the skin can bring forth enough moisture to walk quickly over these coals," then one can do it. But that doesn't mean the coals don't exist.

Coming back to emptiness, when we say that something is empty of a separate self, we learned of a friend whose 8-year-old son died in a tragic automobile accident. On the one hand, there is real grief, real mourning for this child. We cannot deny that a child, a human being, died. But what died? What survives?

When we say empty of a separate self–let me use a different example, a woods where trees are constantly falling down and decaying and then new trees growing up. What is the self of the woods? Can we find it in any one tree? The woods exist. We would say it's empty of a separate self. And how many birds and squirrels have picked up seeds from that woods and carried them miles away? So even if that entire woods was bulldozed away, can we say the woods has ceased to exist? It's empty of any separate self. It exists interrelated with everything.

So when we use the word "empty," we must ask, empty of what? Empty of a separate self. But that doesn't mean it's non-existent, only that it inter-is with everything else.

Q: It's dependent on causes and conditions? He talked about that.

Aaron: It's depended on causes and conditions but it goes further than that. Is the ocean in that woods? The ocean, the water evaporates. It <pulls> over as clouds, it rains. Is the ocean in the woods? Is the sun in the woods? Is the earth element in the woods? Is the air element in the woods? Are there living beings in the woods? Are the squirrels essential to the woods? They dig the soul and bring the seeds and so forth. Are the bird essential to the woods? What is the woods? Is there anything you can point to and say, "That's the woods"?

So it's not only that it's dependent on conditions but literally that it inter-is with everything and there's nothing you can point to and say, "That's what it is?" What is Dottie? All of the aggregates. You have the form, the physical elements, the mind element, feelings, a lot of water element in there. All of these things are Dottie. Are you the ocean?

Q: Yes

Aaron: Are you the sun? Yes. Are you the earth element? All of what you eat and what's grown in the earth, of course. If you eat the food that has the earth element contained in it, then it's contained in you. Can you point to anything separate and say, "This is Dottie"? And yet we do not deny that you exist. And yet if we went around the room and asked each person to describe Dottie, we'd probably get a dozen different answers because each person has the idea of Dottie in their mind. Because none of them can grasp the whole that is Dottie, and neither can you because you're changing from moment to moment.

And yet for me, when I ask "What is Dottie?" what comes forth is this pure awareness mind, this essence of your being. All the rest changes. This essence of being, this doesn't change. But this is not Dottie, this is Dottie's portion of That Which Is. This is the Dottie expression of That Which Is.

Q: Of the emptiness?

Aaron: Yes.

Q: Pure awareness is empty?

Aaron: Pure awareness is the Dottie expression of form and emptiness. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. We can't separate them. The emptiness constantly takes expression as various forms here. The form is empty of any separate self.

If we had a costume, some kind of a big cape kind of costume with a head of some kind on top, and we passed it around and each of you put it on, if everybody went into one room leaving just one of you out here to watch, and one by one they came out in that costume, nobody could tell who was in the costume. This is the outer form and yet there's an essence underneath. But it's important not to make that essence into something separate.

What I speak of as pure awareness is like that, I sometimes use the drop of water that has fallen into the ocean and is so much a part of the ocean you cannot extract that single drop of water again. This drop of water has not ceased to exist. The ocean is there, the drop of water is part of the ocean.

This pure mind can be directed and can focus on things but in the long run, there's nothing separate there. It does not <> a separate self. And yet it's existent. And this is where some of the schools different because this nihilist school says there's nothing there and since everything is interdependent on everything else and there's no self, there's nothing.

The opposite extreme is to say there is a separate soul that continues forever with mental capacity and personality and so forth. Something that's eternal. What I see is that that which is eternal is not separate from anything else. At that point where the physical body has fallen away, the emotional body, the mental body, there's just pure being. Love, we could call it. It is that unborn, undying, unchanging, uncreated, but it doesn't cease to exist.

Q: Is that what gets reborn in a new incarnation?

Aaron: That's what would get reborn if an arahat were to incarnate. What gets reborn for most of you in a new incarnation is all of the physical, emotional, and mental aspects that you have carried with you that you have not fully released and have self-identification with. They are part of the karma that comes back in again. Do you understand what I'm saying?

If you think, if as you die, perhaps in an automobile accident where a careless driving is running a red light and crashing into you and great rage comes at the moment of death, "How dare he not be paying attention? He's going to kill me! I'm going to get even!" that energy takes rebirth. And the new incarnation <> with that energy of anger which must then be released. Compare that to what you've perhaps heard of Gandhi's death where he watched somebody raised a gun, saw that the bullet was coming and just said, "Ram." Centered himself and his final consciousness was of love and humility, <>, and then that's what gets reborn.

This is why dying is such an important thing, how people die, something that your culture pays very little attention to-- helping people to die peacefully and with love. So often people are surrounded by wailing relatives, a lot of fear, a lot of clinging. It's very hard to die peacefully with that going on. But when people can be helped to move into a clear peaceful, centered, loving space at the time of death, then they're much more likely to break through all the ideas of self-identification with the body, mind, and emotions, and in that period of transition, really to open to the light. A very powerful place of liberation is in that transition experience when people have been prepared for it and are ready literally to see that light, that luminosity and space of awareness and to know, "I am that." And with that "I am that," all self-identification with the small body/mind/emotions dissolves and you know what you truly are. And then if there is unresolved karma that brings you back, you come back in a much clearer way without self-identification with that, "I'm going to get that" –excuse my language–"bastard who crashed into me, who ran the red light."

I'm not sure what time this session is to end...

Q: Is our identification with our thoughts what keeps us from realizing who we really are?

Aaron: Exactly, my brother. Yes, because you think that you are the thoughts or the physical body or the emotions. You've had <a> breakthrough to see what you truly are. And there's such a strong habit energy of self-identification with these surface aspects of the being. But this does not mean that you should not cherish these surface aspects of the being. You cherish them knowing they are not the true self, and nevertheless they are radiant and beautiful expressions of the true self.

Q: I always thought that we come into life to achieve material things or knowledge. Since I (have practiced) with meditation, I felt these experiences in life are just tools that we use to learn or to reach awareness. How do we apply the Middle Way to balance life and the lessons we learn on the spiritual path?

Aaron: I'm hearing the words, my sister, but I'm not completely clear on the meaning–could you rephrase your question one more time?

Q: We have to live and to work and to relate to others and to achieve certain things in life. I believe those are tools for us...

Aaron: When you say "to achieve," what kinds of things?

Q: Knowledge. (chatter)

Aaron: Knowledge or wisdom.

Q: I mean, those experiences in life are just the tools to learn lessons that lead us to the spiritual path.

Aaron: Many people misunderstand the primary reasons of the incarnation and think it's to do, to build, to create, even <> music, to build a structure, to be a scholar. These are all things that are perhaps beautiful but this is not why you incarnate. You incarnate to learn love, truly just to learn love. And then you express the love through your dance or music or sculpture or scholasticism. You express the love by becoming a scientist and bringing cure to a disease. But what you're doing here is learning love and expressing that love out into the world.

As soon as there is a separate self that believes itself to be a scholar or musician or scientist, the expression may still be beautiful and it may serve beings, but the human through whom that expression flows is not progressing in its learning of emptiness. It's not progressing in its transcendence of the small ego self. Not learning that it's interconnected to everything. So there's still a small self who is being the musician that's helping people by giving them music, or the doctor who is helping people with his miraculous surgeries. Me, I'll do this for you. But then there's still separation. Then there's not real understanding.

The purpose of the incarnation is really twofold: to serve from a place of emptiness and into the emptiness, not me fixing that but emptiness giving to emptiness and yet giving with so much love because of the beauty of that which is expressed. Nobody doing it, nobody receiving it. But if we slip into the nihilism that says, "Well if there's nobody doing, nobody receiving, then why am I making music? Why am I studying this science and enacting it?" then we've missed the point. And equally one has missed the point if one says, "_I_ am doing this for others." Do you understand? I don't know if that answers your question but I hope it touches on the question.

Q: When you spoke of emptiness and you spoke of different aspects arising, like of our personality for example, and how the empty part kind of interrelated to what is arising or isn't arising at that moment within that person, <inaudible>; when she talks about going up on the mountain and seeing everything, like the flood, from my perspective if I'm mentally affirming emptiness but we're all interconnected, of if I'm feeling appreciation for just a small object, like the bowl, for example, is there a way to manifest that concept of emptiness inside my being that I could appreciate in that one moment? Or is that a term for the experience of having <watched> all of those things arising?

Aaron: Did you hear the Dalai Lama speak?

Q: I saw part of it, the Sunday morning.

Aaron: This man speaks from such a place of emptiness. He has a beautiful personality, his kindness flows through, but there's no sense, and I think that you could feel this, of his taking the stage and saying, "Now I am an enlightened being and I'm going to teach all of you and help you all." Can you feel that that was not present at all? He was just right there with you all–humble, sweet, present, really empty of any self attitudes. It's this quality. When one goes up to the mountain and sees what's causing the flood, one comes down and digs up the plants that are being inundated and moves them to higher ground. Temporarily places them above the flood level so they'll survive. And then as the flood recedes, one plants them back again and there's nobody doing it, just love doing it.

Emptiness fully participates in the world. It doesn't use that idea of no self as an excuse not to participate. If anything it participates with more creativity, more joy. Those of you who have watched a fine dance performance, when the dancer is dancing, is there much self-consciousness? A great pianist performing, is there self-consciousness? Not at all, it's just love coming through, love dancing.

Q: Something you have to do is just getting your ego out of the way.

Aaron: But there is something to do in the route to that, which is learning to see the ego when it arises and to attend to it skillfully, and to develop the practice of noting ego and making sure you don't act from a place of ego. And eventually that goes deep enough that the self-consciousness leaves. Think about those dancers. The first day in the studio learning the new steps, there was certainly some self-consciousness. What am I supposed to do? Do I have the step right? But as they practice, that self aspect dissolves out of it.

It's 9:15, perhaps we'll compromise on that 9 to 9:30 ending... my deepest blessings to you all. Thank you so much for sharing yourselves with me tonight. Please remember that I don't know everything, I simply answer the best that I can. If what I say resonates for you and has value, use it; if not, simply discard it. Just your own hearts, your own intuition. Because each of you is just as I am. I have more access to that place of, let's call it the one who knows, the place of openhearted wisdom, because I've practiced, but you're all in the same place, you have the same heart and mind that I do and your work is to reveal it to yourselves and all beings. Just that. But if there's ever a conflict between what I say and what your heart tells you, trust your heart.

My blessings to you all. I'm going to release the body to Barbara. She will need to sit for a few minutes...

(recording ends)