Emrich June 21, 1994, The Experience of the Unconditioned in Daily Life

This talk was given by the discarnate spirit, Aaron, and channeled by Barbara Brodsky. The talk was originally presented in June 1994 during the Summer Meditation Retreat.

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all, I am Aaron. We have been speaking much here about conditioned arising and dependant origination. In John's talk last night he explained how you move into rebirth and what creates rebirth consciousness. Yes, in its simplest terms it's karma, but there are specific conditions that, when present, establish rebirth consciousness, which leads to materiality and mentality and the creation of the aggregates, as John described.

Is that all a human is? This morning we were asked about the unconditioned: what is it? Is the unconditioned also in us? What is the relationship between the unconditioned and the conditioned? At first glance the practice of Vipassana seems to exclude the unconditioned from investigation, because you are busy watching and understanding conditioned arising. Some of you, through your Vipassana practice, may eventually come to a deep experience of the unconditioned. But it's not the only way to come to that experience.

First, let us speak to the question, what is the unconditioned? There's a Buddhist scripture, the Udana scripture. The Buddha is speaking to a group of monks and says, "Oh, monks, there is an unborn, undying, unchanging, uncreated. If it were not so, there would be no reason for our work." Perhaps this is as close a description of the unconditioned as one can come to. It is, and it is unborn, undying, unchanging, uncreated.

Buddhist teaching speaks of nirvana, but it never says precisely what nirvana is. It leaves it up to you to experience it, and then you'll know. This deathless and birthless, unborn and undying: what is its nature? If in its essence it is unlimited, how could there be anything in the universe that doesn't contain it? How can something be everywhere and not be in you? I will offer a metaphor which may help you to see this more clearly. Think of a child's drawing of the sun, with sunbeams as those little triangles that children are apt to put on their sun drawings. Let us call that sun "God," simply a label by which we may name the Unknowable. I do not speak here of "God" in the sense of one who pulls the strings and runs the universe. Is there anything in the sunbeam that is not of the same nature as the sun? It's a projection of the sun. If you take that sharp point of the triangle and push, it goes right back into the sun, and yet it's clearly not the whole sun, just a projection. One of an unlimited number of projections. This is the essence of each of you.

Each of you has what I call a pure awareness body. This is the projection of God, or Unconditioned, which is within you. We may call it the light body. This light body is the essence of yourself, totally clear, with no trace of personal self. That energy and light runs down into the physical body. This light body is the highest aspect of you, completely empty of self-concept. There is no physical form, no thought, no feeling, no perception, no consciousness; none of the skandas are present. It is simply that core of energy and light. This is that of the unconditioned within you.

When I spoke of the sun I used it as metaphor for God. Can we say, then, that God and unconditioned are synonymous? God is funny word. It picks up the connotations of different religions and cultures. You live in a Western, Judeo-Christian culture and some of the teachings of Christianity hold up God as creator or puppet master. Therefore, there are beings who would pray to God to make this or that happen, as if God had the deciding power-"Yes, I'll make this team win and that team lose because this team has prayed harder this week"-of course that's not how it is. God also doesn't say "I'll make this army win and that army lose because this army's cause is just." God doesn't make things happen in that way, at least not the God of my experience. God is simply energy and light, the unconditioned.

You may ask, "Then why do I pray to God?" Your prayer is a message to the deepest and truest essence of yourself. It allows you to manifest your energy purely, from that space where you are interconnected with all that is. From that space entirely empty of ego, greed or aversion you move from a place of deep love and interconnection with all beings. Simply put, when you move from that space you're empowered. You can only be thus empowered when there is no personal concern for power, but when that desire for empowerment comes from the absolute purity of a heart that desires to serve all beings. So when you pray to God, it's not that you're putting weights on the scale in your favor, but that you are opening to the deepest truth of your being and manifesting your energy from that place of truth. Is God powerless, then? What is God? This that we are calling God is simply this totality of unborn, undying, unchanging, uncreated, manifest and unmanifest. It is the place of deepest truth in all of you; the place where you are all truly one. Not just humans, but these little oak seedling's, the newborn kittens; all of it.

Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, by which I mean it does not believe in a manipulative or creator God. The teachings of Buddhism are that everything arises when the conditions are present for arising and ceases when the conditions cease. When the conditions for your rebirth cease through passage beyond this illusion of a separate self, then you no longer move into birth. Barbara's talk on karma later in the week will explain how that happens, so I won't go into how rebirth and karma cease here. So Buddhist teaching does not feel comfortable with the idea, "I can pray to God, and God will end my suffering." Only you can end your suffering. Yes, in a sense it's God that ends your suffering because it is the discovering of that God, or divinity, within yourself and learning to address the world from that place of pure awareness, pure energy, that ends your suffering. So yes, God ends your suffering, but not because God has simply pointed you out and said, "This one's had enough, it's ripe, no more suffering. That one, we'll let it suffer a little more. Suffer, don't suffer, suffer, don't suffer." God doesn't do that; what kind of unjust God would that be?

Is the unconditioned synonymous with God, then? It's not synonymous with the Judeo-Christian concept of God. It is synonymous with my experience of that which for simplicity's sake I prefer to call God, which is simply this unlimited and eternal energy and light-this force of infinite love and intelligence, which is the core of all that is.

Much of Buddhist practice is directed towards experiencing the unconditioned, or experiencing God, if you prefer to say it that way. A Buddhist will argue with you on this label, but our name for the infinite does not change the nature of that energy. There are many kinds of Buddhist practice, all aimed at the experience of the unconditional and the integration of that experience into one's relative reality. Vipassana is a very powerful practice for doing that. However, its focus is largely on awareness of conditioned arising, which leads into the experience of the unconditioned. It's also valuable to balance that work by starting at the other end. If there is that of God within you, can't you experience it right now? What does it take to experience it? There are Tibetan teachings called Dzogchen which concern themselves especially with this question. These are the essential teachings of the non-dual. None of you here are Tibetan Buddhists, so as I present this material I want to put it into a, let us say, American-Christian idiom.

Dzogchen teachings speak of that which we can best translate into "luminous pure awareness." This is that place of awareness where thought, feelings and conceptual mind has completely ceased. In reality there is no mystery to that aspect of yourself; there is no one in this room who hasn't experienced it. Is that the same as touching nirvana, as enlightenment experience? Yes and no. It's not just the experience, but awareness of the experience. One who has sat through countless hours of spiritual practice and finally moved to that deep level of experience beyond all conditioned arising knows, after the experience, that one has been in that space. One may still have trouble integrating that experience into daily life, but at least one knows one has experienced it. Those of you who have sat with a symphony or a sunset so totally connected with that experience that there ceased completely to be any subject or object, that all sense of boundary of self fell away, have at that moment experienced pure awareness, but there was no awareness of awareness. You may have felt later that it was a wonderful experience, but the foundation has not been given to you to understand that experience.

Your meditation practice starts to provide you with that foundation. So when you're sitting with that same symphony and "hearing" of subject hearing object ceases because subject and object division fall away,-I won't say noting mind knows because at that point there is no noting mind,-when you return from the experience then noting mind notes that you were in that space of pure awareness. The first part of this is to learn to recognize that experience of pure awareness. And the second part is to stabilize it. To learn how to simply rest there.

You are in that space of pure awareness more than you know, but you are unaware of it. One of the reasons you are unaware is that you are so deeply conditioned to focus on the shadow side of yourself that you rarely notice the perfection, or even more accurately, you find duality between the shadow and the perfection. You think, "This is good and I'll keep it, that's bad and I'll toss it."

With apologies to those of you who have seen this display before, I ask you to look at this perfect white sheet of paper {Barbara holds it up}. No wrinkles in it at all. {Barbara crumples up the paper and smooths it out again.} Are there wrinkles now? Where has the perfect sheet of paper gone? Can you see that the perfect sheet is still there, within the wrinkled sheet? It hasn't gone anywhere, it's always there. It's like one of those optical illusions, where you see either the face or the vase. They are both always present.

As long as you are in human form the wrinkles, the shadow side of yourself, are going to be present. You may get as close as 99% unwrinkled, but if the conditions arise there's still going to be desire or aversion, or some form of delusion, because you're human. Yes, as John described in the life story of the Buddha last night, it is possible to reach that perfect realization and the perfect expression of it in the world. This raises the distinction between realization and liberation. I offer the example of realization as the igniting of a wood fire, flames catching on the wood through constant touch of energy and mindfulness. Liberation is the extinction of the fire as the wood is all burned away; there is nothing left to burn.

To move beyond this plane, beyond what has been titled the samsaric cycle of birth and death, you do not have to attain that total liberation where emotions completely cease to arise, but only to find equanimity with emotion. Then reactivity ceases and karma ceases. Equanimity, grown out of clear seeing and understanding, ends the delusion of self, which in turn dissolves karma. So, the potential is there, all of you can become that perfectly realized, liberated, Buddha, but most of you will not make a leap from this human form into fully liberated. You go through all the transitory stages into some form of realization, but still have the need to allow the emotional body to fall away slowly, once equanimity is established and the delusion of separation has been cut.

So the wrinkles are always there. Knowing those wrinkles, most of you fix your gaze on the wrinkles. What about the perfect sheet of paper? That perfect sheet of paper hasn't gone anywhere, it is your true nature. How could it go anywhere? There is a poem by Kabir I would like to have read here.

The small ruby everyone wants has fallen out on the road
Some think it is east of us, others west of us
Some say, "among primitive earth rocks," others, "in the deep waters."
Kabir's instinct told him it was inside, and what it was worth,
and he wrapped it up carefully in his heart cloth.

You think of attainment, that you must attain something in order to be perfect, rather than knowing that the innate essence of you is already perfect. That ruby isn't east or west or north or south, it's right here, it has always been here. How could it be anywhere else? You do not have to do anything, to get anything, only allow yourself to manifest what has always been present. Several nights ago Barbara spoke of the spiritual faculties, faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. The seeds for them are always present; you do not attain the unconditioned but open to the unconditioned in yourself.

We return to the metaphor of the still water with waves on the surface. Your anger, jealousy, greed, impatience and pride are just waves on the surface. The waves do not change the nature of the water. The nature of you is divine. That's as clearly as I can put it. That unconditioned is your true nature. Your work here is not to get rid of the wrinkles so that you may attain the perfect sheet of paper. Simply stated, where do you put your focus, on the wrinkles or on the perfect sheet of paper? These teachings are geared to help us learn to rest in the perfect sheet of paper.

This does not deny the presence of the wrinkles; we understand that there is a relative and ultimate reality. In ultimate reality you are and always have been perfect. In relative reality none of you have learned to fully manifest that perfection. So we've got the perfect sheet of paper which contains wrinkles and the perfect unwrinkled sheet. One!

Your practice, then, becomes a matter of finding a balance-learning to express your perfection, to nurture it, to stabilize the experience of it, and simultaneously to understand that you are responsible for the wrinkles. You must continue to do this work with conditioned mind, work with your reactivity, your fears, your delusion and neurotic expressions of delusion Thus, you continue to refine your energy and learn how to express it with more love. At the same time you allow to drop away the fear that you've got to get rid of all there wrinkles. Rather, you start to more fully live the pureness and beauty of your true nature.

Ultimate reality and relative reality. I like to think of the intersection, not as a sharp corner but as a curve. Let us put relative reality on the horizontal plane and ultimate reality as the sword of truth that cuts through it. If you will picture something that rolls back and forth along the curve at the junction between the two, that's what you are doing. You rest in different places on the curve. If you rest way out on the relative plane you forget who you are and you start to think that you must get rid of this and attain that. If you rest up on the vertical, ultimate plane, you escape into ultimate reality and turn your back on the suffering of the world. You're after the balance between the two.

There are many practices that are offered in these Tibetan teachings. Some of them have a considerable amount of formal ritual, which I do not feel is appropriate for a group such as this. There are also some very simple practices that will help you rest in this ultimate part of yourself and allow it to balance your fear and pain as you work with the relative. I'd like to introduce you to two of these practices. One is somewhat of a very simple guided meditation with the breath. Another is a practice that you can take outdoors and do. I'm going to explain the first simply, and let us do it together. Then I am going to explain the second and end my talk. During the walking period perhaps you would like to experiment with it on your own.

First this simple breath practice. Breathing in, breathing out. … In and out. … With the next in-breath, I want you to notice the subtle pause or aperture before and after the exhale. … Again. … You may extend that pause just a fraction of a second; not holding your breath, but simply holding it long enough to notice, "pause." In, pause, out, pause. If only one pause is noted strongly, stay with that one, before or after exhale; if both, note both.

Label it for a few breaths and then let go of the label. The label will separate you from the direct experience. Just as with Vipassana, as awareness deepens, we let go of labeling the inhale and exhale and simply know when we're breathing in and breathing out, without needing to tack a label or mental note onto it. So I want you to let go of the mental note and feel the experience in your body of the in-breath, the pause, and the out-breath. … With the inhale you are moving from the past into the present. With the exhale you are moving on into the future; as you exhale you know, at some level, that you are going to need to take an inhale. That pause is now. It is the most present that you can be. Just thirty seconds of this won't do it, so later when you have time we'll try it for a longer period. For now, let's do it for just about five minutes. If mind wanders, simply note, "wandering," and bring it back.

This breath practice is in no way to replace the foundation of Vipassana practice. It is simply a tool that you can bring in, to balance the Vipassana work, which leads you to see conditioned mind, to see conditioned arising, and work skillfully with it. Awareness of this aperture in the breath is the tool that helps you remember that the essence of the unconditioned is also there, and that you can learn to manifest your energy from that space of the unconditioned.

The question has been raised, how does this "now" relate to enlightenment experience? They support one another. Enlightenment experience is just an experience. You still must learn to integrate that experience into your life. This is a tool that helps you learn to integrate that experience. Integration is only possible when you are present. It also makes it easier for you to allow that kind of enlightenment experience, because the unconditioned is no longer thought of as something that you must attain somewhere else. You start to understand that it is your true essence, and all you need to do is let yourself become still enough to find it in there; nowhere else but within you-you are the Buddha.

Enlightenment experience-touching nibbana-and these moments of pure awareness are related but not identical. One might consider these moments as the momentary experiences of the sun as clouds part, and nibbana as experience of the sun when clouds, and even atmosphere, are not present at all, the sun when you have entered directly into it.

The other practice is one of letting go of boundaries. Of starting to merge with the divine in everything. You can do this with those baby oaks in pots, (a student working to weed a garden has transplanted many tiny oak seedling's into pots) or the trees outside. Perhaps its simplest form, the form that I'm going to suggest, is called sky yoga.

This is a matter of sitting with your eyes open, looking at the stars or the clouds or the blue sky. Eyes are soft, unfocused. As preliminary, breathe out and feel your breath move out infinitely. Is there any limit, any place breath stops? Does it stop at the end of the earth's atmosphere? Perhaps this one little breath that you've given doesn't actually reach out beyond the earth's atmosphere because it's not sent out with enough force. But you can see that as you breathe out your breath touches everything. It's breathed in by your neighbor; the same air moves in and out of both of your lungs. You breathe in oxygen and let out carbon dioxide; trees, through photosynthesis, convert that carbon dioxide. Your breath is in everything. The breath that you breathe is in everything and from everything.

This isn't about breath, though, but about awareness. The first step is to sit and simply breathe, sending your breathe out and feeling your limits fall away. As the breath moves out, so your energy moves out. As you receive energy without shielding, and receive breath without shielding, you feel yourself deeply connected to the universe. Then you allow yourself to move to as pure a space of awareness as you can. Simply noting, "aware, aware." Sending awareness out in the same way.

Can you allow yourself to experience, even for a fraction of a second, that aspect of your mind which is the awareness of all that is? Do you dare? Rest there. That's all there is!

Send awareness out beyond the clouds, beyond the heavens. Find that space of pure awareness within and rest there. I can not tell you where to find the pure awareness, only that it's inside. But the place to start is simply with the breath, resting awareness on the breath. Simply do it for ten or fifteen minutes and then you tell me what happens to your awareness. Again, this is not to replace Vipassana practice, it is a support practice that helps you to come back to your true nature, find the ability to rest in that truth and use it as an ally in your work with conditioned mind.

Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brodsky