September 8, 2001- Sunnyside Retreat

Barbara: At Aaron's request, I'm reading from the Dhammapada.

"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind and the world will follow you as the ox draws the cart. We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakeable. 'Look how he abused me and beat me, how he threw me down and robbed me.' Live with such thoughts and you live in hate. 'Look how he abused me and beat me, how he threw me down and robbed me.' Abandon such thoughts and love. In this world, hate never dispelled hate; only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible."

Aaron: Good evening. My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. It is indeed a joy to watch you deepening your dharma practice, and your intention of lovingkindness and clarity.

The ground of your being is this lovingkindness and clarity. You think you've lost it. How could you ever lose what you most purely are? I asked Barbara to tear off this clean smooth piece of paper. Some of you have seen this demonstration before. I appreciate your patience with me while I repeat it.

Unblemished sheet of paper, smooth. (Crinkles it up.) Where is our unwrinkled sheet of paper? Can you see that it's still here and merely has wrinkles on it? How could we lose that unwrinkled sheet of paper? It's still here. Where would it go? Take a look. Open it out; . It's perfect and on the surface it has wrinkles. The difficulty you get into is that you start to believe those wrinkles are self. You identify with them. And then you begin to wage a war with them. There is no way I would suggest you enact your negativity in the world. The opposite of this enactment is not war, but is just to be present and make space for what arises.

Here we come to a basic distortion which has occurred through many centuries, even millennium, in these teachings. The scripture Barbara just read gives us an example. "Abandon such thoughts." There's a beautiful sutra (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of the Twos, #10), words of the Buddha, that says,

"Abandon what is unskillful. One can abandon the unskillful. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If this abandoning of the unskillful would bring harm and suffering, I would not ask you to abandon it. But as it brings benefit and happiness, therefore I say, abandon what is unskillful.

"Cultivate the good. One can cultivate the good. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If this cultivation were to bring harm and suffering, I would not ask you to do it. But as this cultivation brings joy and happiness, I say cultivate the good."

The difficulty people get into is they make a duality out of this. They think that to abandon means to pick up a knife and stab it, and to cultivate means grasping. So this instruction is partially about right effort. To abandon simply means that opening of the hand, letting it be, offering the intention not to be in a relationship with it.

You are beings of strong, ancient conditioning. But one moment's clarity breaks through so much conditioning. The difficulty is not that these mind states arise, they simply arise out of conditions. The difficulty is that you twist an identity around them, condemn yourself for them out of your great desire to purify the self. Then you give the negative thought more energy. You hate the negative thought and as the Dhammapada says, "Hate never dispelled hate." To abandon doesn't mean to hate, simply to bring awareness to it, to understand this arose out of conditions. It is a result. I don't have to be afraid of it nor do I have to enact it in the world.

This is how we cultivate the good. By cultivating the good, what you're doing is looking at the wrinkles on the piece of paper and instead of going and getting your eraser to erase them, your iron to iron them out, you are simply saying, "Let them be. Here is the perfect piece of paper and it is here where I will rest. The wrinkles will go when they are ready. I cease to offer them energy through enactment or aversion."

I wish you could see yourselves as I see you; see the deep and loving intention to clarify and purify your energy. Then you would trust more deeply that you can abandon the unskillful in this way.

Barbara once asked a group of students to do a simple assignment. Take a piece of paper and make a list. On the one side, qualities I admire or like about myself. On the other, qualities I dislike about myself. She said, try to make the list at least somewhat equal. As people began to write down these qualities, they discovered something interesting. They would write "patient" and then think, "Yes, but sometimes I'm impatient. If I'm impatient, I can't be patient. Cross out patient. I'm impatient."

The trouble was, if they saw they were impatient 5% of the time, the other 95% didn't count. There is so much struggle with these negative qualities, but my dear ones, once more, they are results. You do not change results by attacking them but by bringing awareness to the conditions. To purify impatience we bring attention to fear, sadness, vulnerability, and also to all the habitual tendencies, (the Pali word is anusaya) and to the outflow of these tendencies, asava. .

When you get to know how habitual tendencies arise and fall away, and that they're like something floating on the water, ready to blow off at the first gust of breeze, there's no more war with them. Let them be and deepen the intention, #1, not to enact them in the world, and #2, to notice that right there in impatience is patience. Right there with anger is kindness. Right there with greed is generosity. Stop giving the negative qualities so much weight. .

The big question is, how to let them be? If it were so easy, you all would have mastered it. Yesterday Barbara spoke of Joseph Campbell's work about the path of the hero. Take my word for it, you are heroes. I don't ask you to take my word for very much. My usual statement is, "Doubt me. Don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself." But I'd like you to take my word for this one. You're heroes. You're going to discover it eventually but I hope my faith in you and recognition who you are will help you along the path.

In the path Campbell delineates, first there is this first awakening. This is the awakening to who you are and your interrelationship with all that is. It's the moment when you suddenly begin to see that what you do has results that come back to you, that you cannot harm others without doing harm to the self. At first you refrain from harm to protect yourself, but as you mature, you refrain from harm simply because you must, because each other being is yourself.

Each of you will have certain memories of when you first began to perceive how deeply you're connected to all that is. Barbara was led last month to remember the stream across the road from her house when she was a little girl. There were crayfish under the rocks. The neighborhood children liked to lift the rocks and catch the crayfish, put them in jars. She brought home a jar of crayfish one day. She was 6 years old. Showed them off to everybody. Of course they died overnight. The next morning her 9 years old brother said to her, "You can't do that any more. You're killing them." She was a bit defiant. "Well so what, they're only crayfish." "Yes, but they're living creatures." So he talked to all the children that afternoon. "Let's not collect the crayfish any more." "What will we do?' they asked. 'How will we know how many we caught?" He said, "Find a pebble and put it in your pocket each time you find a crayfish. And then wish it well and put the rock back on top of it and it will be there tomorrow for you to find again."

What was important for Barbara at that moment was for the first time she recognized that this small shelled creature was a sentient being that also suffered, that wanted to be happy. She was blessed to have such a teacher in her brother, but each of you have had such teachers in your life. And sometimes your own wisdom has been the teacher.

This moment of first awakening to the true nature of your being and your ability to choose between doing harm or refraining from harm is the beginning of the hero's path. . The next phase Campbell mentions is the great renunciation. What does renunciation mean? Who is renouncing what? Does there have to be a somebody in order for there to be renunciation?

Perhaps at first there does. I think that the self is the last thing we renounce. But you've got to understand what renunciation means. In the purest sense, to me it simply means entertaining the possibility of letting go of those places where there is attachment. Note that I start with 'entertaining the possibility'. This is where it starts. You're not expected to do it yet, just reflect that it's possible. The old impulses arise in you, "But I want that!" and the thought, "Yes, but it's not wholesome. It will do harm to others. Maybe I don't need it."

We start with watching impulse and the deep realization, "I do not have to enact each impulse." As you mature., it may become more difficult because what's asked of you is more difficult. Renouncing an extra dessert is not so hard. Renouncing vengeance or greed is challenging. But your great heart and aspiration to be loving to all beings supports the process. Finally we come around to this renunciation of the whole centeredness in a separate self. This is a tough one. For many of you it feels like jumping off a cliff.

Here you have got to understand the relationship between the conditioned and the unconditioned. To renounce the notion of a separate self doesn't mean you cease to exist. The relative being is here; the body is here; the mind is here. Rather, what you are renouncing is the identification with it as all that you are.

Next, the great struggle comes in, on all levels. It's not a great struggle for most people to renounce punching somebody in the nose. But it becomes a great struggle when you are caught in deep old conditioned patterns which you see are unwholesome, and see the aspiration to release those patterns and the enormous fear around such release. To do this work, then, you need all the support that's possible. Your vipassana practice , indeed, all of your spiritual practice, supports this growth. Within vipassana there must be the opening of the heart. There must be metta and karuna, compassion. You develop mudita, sympathetic joy. You develop upekkha, equanimity. You develop all of the perfections. Wisdom deepens. And yet there is still this sense of struggle. A number of you spoke of this struggle today.

What your stories come back to repeatedly, in different unique details is, "There is this fear in myself that gets in the way. How do I get rid of it?" Enough! Enough! We're back to hatred! Who's got the perfect piece of paper? Hold it up. Show us. The wrinkles are there; the perfect piece of paper is there. Your practice is not to get rid of anything, it's to pay attention and develop the wisdom that sees that the negative thoughts, the movements of the mind, are results. You have the choice to stop giving them energy. Here is where you need to be heroes.

What would it mean to be standing in a field, have a bully come up and start pushing you? You've met this bully before. Each time he's pushed you, you've pushed back. What does he do, then? He pushes back harder. You know this. Your fear, your desire, your confusion; these are all bullies that surround you. Don't give them energy. Don't push back. The real hero is not the one who whips out his sword to slay the bully, while knowing that a new replica is going to appear in a moment. It's the one who leaves his sword sheathed.

A story. William Penn became a Quaker. He was used to wearing a sword. He asked, "Now that I have made the commitment to be a Quaker, when do I have to stop wearing my sword?" The answer, very simple, "Wear it until you can't wear it any more."

If you're going to attack your negativity, my friends, do it mindfully so that you see the results, so you see you're simply compounding the situation. Then you are called to be a hero. At that moment, within this great struggle, picture an alternative that had been unthinkable, to take off the sword, to stop perpetuating the ego self, to stop perpetuating the negative thoughts, to come back to that innate perfection with the commitment, "I can manifest this perfection in the world. Not only can but I do, already."

"Cultivate the wholesome. One can cultivate the wholesome." Give yourself credit - the wholesome is already there.

Campbell calls the final stage of his hero's path Great Awakening, I find this a bit of a misstatement. Of course, there can be a (clap) great awakening, a moment of immense clarity. But that happens because you have laid the ground for it,. It's like a fruit tree in your garden, planted as a small seed, barely visible. You cultivated the soil. You made sure it had adequate water. You watched over it. Suddenly one day there's an apple! But it didn't happen suddenly. It happened because all the conditions were right for that apple to appear, conditions applied over a long period of time. So this great awakening isn't something that comes smack out of the blue; it comes because you have invited and nurtured all of the conditions and are ripe for this awakening.

Awakening to what? It all depends. Certainly there are levels of insight to which one opens. You saw the sunset tonight. It was very beautiful. You did not actually see the sun itself set because it was behind the clouds. Yet noone here would deny that you saw the sunset. You saw the expression of the setting sun playing on the clouds in the sky.

This process of awakening is just the same. You see the expressions of wisdom and compassion maturing. Each step toward more freedom is an immense gift and yet each step leads you to one more step, one more understanding. Fear falls away; doubt falls away. You begin to understand the whole relationship between conditioned and unconditioned and cease to create dualities of good and evil. At the same time there is deep intention to do no harm. You begin to understand karma and how each act, word and thought is a seed which gives rise to the future. With this deeper insight into karma you become more aware, "I can't carry the sword anymore."

You gain insight into dependent origination, which is a very deep teaching. You begin literally to understand vinnana, rebirth consciousness, not through moving into a transition state and taking rebirth but by seeing what it is precisely that comes together and creates the next moment. At that point you begin to understand the importance of the contracted state vs. the uncontracted state. They're non-dual of course. Like the perfect sheet of paper, the uncontracted state is always there. You learn to enact it more often.

Releasing this whole identify of self, the whole sense of possession, "I have anger, I have kindness.,' there is just anger or kindness, no self to it. Sensations, feelings and thoughts arise. There is no contraction. This is the fruit of Great Awakening, which in itself is the fruit of your years, and lifetimes, of practice.

Finally you are led back into the great renunciation and struggle. Repeatedly you face the desire to perpetuate this contracted state which seeks to control and fix. This self that has thought through eons that it needed to defend, to control, is abandoned in the purest sense. The concept still arises but you let it be and it no longer spurs action. Wisdom has seen deeper, to the Ground. If the self arises and desires to fix and control, it is seen for what it is and you let it be. But this doesn't happen without struggle. The ego struggles to maintain itself.

After the struggle, appropriate loving action is still possible but it doesn't come from a place of self. You become far more powerful in the world because the ego self is no longer the master. When you rest in this ground of being, this pure awareness, that which remains is unlimited. The full expression of the Unconditioned comes through you, and your innate radiance and goodness shine out into the world. You know what's appropriate then with the bully who pushes you. You know what's appropriate when there is pain or terror. This hero is not afraid to speak up but there's nobody speaking, just kindness and clarity speaking. You must speak up because to withhold that which must be offered is another way of doing harm. But you don't speak up from a righteous stance, you speak up because it's what's needed. It comes directly from the heart and you have got to learn to trust this clarity and innate goodness of your hearts.

So we come through this path, through the various phases of full awakening. You need to be aware that each stage leads you to more freedom. No grasping for the end of the path; there's no place to go. One moment of clarity and light, of clear understanding, breaks through eons of karma. Don't be afraid to be who you are and to express this innate radiance into the world. I know that's what each of you are doing here on retreat, hoping to learn how to bring this radiance into the world. Please, my dear ones, do it with kindness and not with fear and hatred.

Thank you for listening to my thoughts tonight. Let us sit in silence now.

Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Brodsky