March 6, 2004, Aaron's Evening Talk

Barbara: Aaron has asked me to read 2 brief things to you before we begin.

I've just begun reading Natural Liberation, Padmasambhava's's Teachings on the Six Bardos, a Tibetan Buddhist book about liberation from the bardos. The basic teaching that this is a commentary on is called, "The Natural Liberation of the Three Poisons without Rejecting Them."  The term "3 poisons" refers to delusion, grasping or greed, and aversion.

I'm reading excerpts here, not the whole thing.

"May ignorance and delusion be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. May attachment and clinging be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. May misconceptions and hatred be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. May dualistic grasping onto subject and object be naturally liberated without rejecting it…. Alas for every one of these miserable sentient beings who wander in the cycle of existence out of delusion and foolishness, without realizing their own minds as Dharmakaya…."

I'm going to read that last phrase again.

"Alas for every one of these miserable sentient beings", us, "who wander in the cycle of existence out of delusion and foolishness, without recognizing their own minds as the Dharmakaya…."

That second thing that I want to read to you, another excerpt,

"To refrain from doing evil. To commit oneself to that which is wholly good and to purify the heart; these are the teachings of the Buddhas. 

Aaron will talk.

Aaron: Good evening. My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. I hope you have had a good day of practice, a day that has led you deeper into your own heart.

"To refrain from doing evil, to commit to that which is wholly good, and to purify the heart; these are the teachings of the Buddhas and the awakened ones." This is all the awakened ones teach, the awakened ones of any spiritual tradition.

I want to put this teaching together with what Barbara just read from the Tibetan sutra, which speaks of the experience of natural liberation without rejecting anything. The rejecting mind is that which creates the duality, "This is good; that is bad," and enhances that duality.

And yet, if there is no perception of good and evil, how do we come to this statement, "to refrain from doing evil, to commit to that which is wholly good"? Can we perceive relative "good" and "evil" without rejecting them, and still work to purify the self?

On the relative level, of course, we experience harm and non-harm. We experience the negative tendencies, and we see the impulse to act out those tendencies.

I try to avoid the word "evil" because it has so many emotional connotations, and because so many religions create such a duality of good and evil, heaven and hell. But without using the word evil, we certainly can understand that which is wholesome, and that which is unwholesome. There is that which creates pain in ourselves and in the world, and that which supports happiness, joy, freedom, and peace.

The commitment asked in your lives is not that negative thought not arise but that you refrain from enacting such negative thought in the world, that you commit to bring forth in the world that which is clear and beautiful, good for all beings. What this means is that yes, negative thought will sometimes arise, and it becomes the ground for practice of the innate or natural compassion. If nothing was ever uncomfortable, if nothing ever stimulated fear, grasping, aversion, and delusion, how would you practice with these? This is one of the difficulties of what is sometimes called a heaven realm. For beings who manifest into these heavenly realms, it's a very blissful experience, but there's not the opportunity for practice. Thus, there is not the opportunity for liberation. This is why this very rare and precious human life offers you such a profound opportunity in yourself and all beings, for true liberation, not just temporary absence of discomfort, but true liberation from the delusions that lead you into greed, anger, fear, and so forth.

I'd like to use the windows of this room as an example. The sutra speaks of, "purifying the heart." That could lead you into thinking that the heart is defective somehow, and it needs to be re-created in some way. That's not what is meant. The glass in these windows is perfect. There are no deep gouges, no burn marks, no cracks; it's clear, it's perfect. And the glass has some streaks on it. If the streaks were permitted to accumulate, never washed off, eventually the glass would become so covered with filth as to become opaque. The nature of the glass would not be changed, but you could not see through it.

Thus, it is skillful to attend to the streaks on the glass, washing the glass. But we don't think we're improving the glass itself in any way; we're simply removing the surface grime.

Purifying the heart is like this. This pure heart, pure mind, it's inherently perfect. Right here is the awake, fully enlightened being. And yet, it does get streaks on it, streaks of old delusion, streaks of misunderstanding, streaks created by fear, which lead to grasping and aversion. We purify the heart by attending to the streaks so that this radiant heart can shine out.

That which arises in your life, that which is uncomfortable, could lead to the impulse to strike out in ways that do harm to others. If instead, we are mindful of that arising and allow it to remind us of the inherently pure heart, and of our commitment to bring forth that which is wholly good, then we find we do not need to enact the negative. Yes, sometimes it slips out, because the habit energy is so strong. When that happens, we must make amends for it, literally in our everyday life, and there will be karma that will need to be balanced. So one pays a price for those places where the negativity slips out.

On the other hand - all I can think of is the negativity slipping out so you punch somebody who punches you back. (hands acting this out, punching outward and then a punch toward the self ) (I did not intend to punch Barbara in the nose right now! She's not fully aware of what I'm saying, only that I said I punched her in the nose. My heartfelt apology to her.)

We punch somebody and they punch us back. We bear the immediate fruits of our actions. It's painful to be punched in the nose. It makes you stop short and look at the way you've used or misused your energy, bringing harm to another and bringing that harm back to yourself. The result of that insight hopefully will not be self-judgment but compassion - awareness that these various conditions came together in a way that led to the expression of negativity, compassion for the human who acted in that way, and deep commitment to understand how that happened and refrain from expressing in that way again. To refrain from doing harm, or evil.

These two intentions go together, to refrain from doing harm, and to commit to that which is wholly good. The third step is to purify the heart, but not to purify the heart in terms of attacking the heart. When you see grime on the window, you don't get out a hammer and break the window, you just wash off the dirt. You know the inherent purity of the window.

So your practice must move in this direction, to see the arising of negativity, and not to fear that arising but to attend to it deeply. Rather than stating "to purify the heart," I would rather have it phrased, "to return to the inherent purity of the heart." To recognize that inherent purity and bring it forth. Here we come back to the teaching in the Tibetan book that Barbara just read to you. I'm going to ask her to read those first lines again. One moment please.

Reading: "May ignorance and delusion be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. May attachment and clinging be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. May misconceptions and hatred be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. May dualistic grasping onto subject and object be naturally liberated without rejecting it…. "

Aaron: I am Aaron. May the grime on the window be naturally liberated without rejecting the pure glass of the window. Again, you do not break the window and replace the glass, you attend to the grime. The enlightened self is already present. Your job is not to become enlightened but to realize your true nature. It might sound like the same thing, but it's not. You don't have to get from where you are to someplace else; you have to realize what you are. In that process, nothing is rejected. Everything is welcomed as part of the training. Everything is respected with awareness that it arose out of conditions, and that it will cease when the conditions cease. The negativity, that grasping, the delusion, are results. They are grime on the surface.

Grime attaches to the surface of the window because there is some kind of surface tension that attracts the molecules of the dirt. It can be washed off easily, but it doesn't just slip off. It's like dust on a table. The molecular surface tension is such that the dust lands on the table.

I like the comparison of Velcro and Teflon here, sticky and non-stick. If you have a Velcro window, everything's going to stick to it. If you have a Teflon window, everything will just slip off. To purify the heart means to bring forth that Teflon, non-stick quality. The conditions may still arise, for fear, for doubt, for anger, for greed. If you reject what has arisen, you move into a more contracted state. Fear creates a separation of self and other. In a sense it creates Velcro, something sticky.

Thus, in the very rejection of arising mind states, you move into a sticky relationship with mind. We do not have to reject something in order to step out of its path. If children are playing in the snow and throwing snowballs as I pass, I don't have to reject the snowballs to dodge them skillfully.

What is the meaning of slipping into this Teflon skin, so to speak? How does that feel in your experience? Here's another example.

Perhaps you tell your child he may not go to the party where all his friends are going and where no adults will be present. He becomes infuriated, "But Mom! But Dad! All the kids are going! Why don't you trust me? You're mean! I hate you!" You don't have to get pulled into his stories. You don't have to feel defensive when he says, "You're mean, I hate you!" Remember, we're talking Teflon here, not a sheet of steel armor over the heart. That bare heart is sensitive, but non-stick. You allow yourself to feel his pain. You understand he's sad and he's angry and he wants things his way. You feel openhearted and sympathetic to him, and yet you still understand this party is not a safe situation for him. He may not go. You don't take his anger personally. That's Teflon. The Velcro heart gets caught up in his stories; walks out in a huff thinking, "Maybe I'm a bad parent. Why does my child hate me?" The armored heart walks out disconnected to the child; angry at the child. The Teflon heart is right there beating with the child, remembering what it was like when you were 15. And yet, committed to the fact, "You may not go to the party."

This is how we purify the heart without rejecting anything. Sometimes instead of the adolescent saying, "I hate you," it's your partner your parent, or your boss. Perhaps they are not saying it in so many words, but the boss pointing and saying, "This is sloppy. I don't like it." Your partner accusing you of something. Or sometimes it's your own voice judging the self. "How could I be so stupid? Why did I do that?" Shame arises. Just as we don't take the 15 year old child's stories personally, we don't take these varied stories personally. And yet we do look introspectively to see if we've been careless.

Perhaps you promised your boss that the work would be done and forgot about it. He's angry. To not take his comments personally is very different than to not take his comments seriously. That's putting the armor on the heart, saying, "He's always complaining." And the other is to say, "I'm just a clod. I'm inept." That's taking it personally.

With the Teflon heart, we listen carefully to the other's pain. We don't build personal stories about it, nor do we deny our participation in the situation. If appropriate, we apologize. We ask, "What can I do now to amend this situation?" In other words, we clean off the dirt. We let the radiant heart shine through.

This is what is meant in the Tibetan teaching by not rejecting anything. Whatever comes - I'm hesitant to say it is a teacher, because when we think of something or everything as teachers, we put ourselves in a certain relationship to it, perhaps a subservient relationship to it. Let us say, not everything is a teacher but - everything is a teaching. We participate in that teaching, co-create that teaching. There's no subservience here. There's the full attention open to the teachings that come from outside the self and from within the self.

Fear is a teaching. Fear is bright lights flashing and clapping hands saying, "Hey! Pay attention! Old mind is functioning here; pay attention." Our relationship with fear is no different than how we related to the 15 year old. What is your habitual pattern? When fear arises in the mind and body, do you take it personally with a feeling of self-judgment, "I shouldn't be afraid. I'm inept; I'm hopeless." Do you shut the armor and say, "No fear allowed here." Or, without rejecting fear, can we deeply open our heart to the teaching power of it? This mind and body state of fear arises out of conditions and draws us to recognize how we habitually respond. Each time we experience fear and have the opportunity to investigate our habitual response, and to see the possibility of a very clear and openhearted response, we are in a sense getting out the squeegee and cleaning the dirt off the window.

Everything is within the realm of practice. Body pain, discomfort, fear, sadness, longing; it doesn't matter what it is, pleasant or unpleasant.

(One moment please...) Aaron: We are laughing here. Barbara needed water. I reached for the place where I felt water to be, and began to pick up the freshly watered plant. The water bottle is closed and I didn't feel the water there as strongly as I felt it in the plant. Interesting!

I continue. Everything is part of practice. Again, I'm going to ask Barbara to read these lines I've selected from the Tibetan teaching.

Reading: "I pray with heartfelt reverence and devotion: may ignorance and delusion be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. I pray with heartfelt reverence and devotion: may attachment and clinging be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. I pray with heartfelt reverence and devotion: may misconceptions and hatred be naturally liberated without rejecting them…. I pray with heartfelt reverence and devotion: may dualistic grasping onto subject and object be naturally liberated without rejecting it…."

Aaron: I am Aaron. I continue. Get to know the direct experience of rejecting. It's a very precise energy. It's an imbalanced, contracted state. Rejecting.

Let's pretend I've just prepared something that's much a delicacy in the Middle East. I'm going to surprise you with a treat here. I've just roasted a sheep, and you as my honored guest, I'm going to give you the eyeballs. Can you feel the revulsion that would trigger? What, you don't want these eyeballs? They're the best part of the lamb. Come on, take some, take some! How about the cheeks?

(people laughing)

Now, I know it's hard to take this seriously. Clearly, I'm not serving you this. I'm trying to call up something that will bring forth a spontaneous experience of rejection in you.

Can you feel that energy of rejection? "I don't want this." But it's more than a calm, "No thank-you." The energy contracts, you pull back. You feel it in the body, rejecting, rejecting.

Now let's try this a different way. "My honored guests, here in the Middle East, one of our favorite dishes is lamb, and tradition has it that the most honored guest is offered what is considered the most special slices of the lamb, the cuttings from the cheek and the eyeball. But I recognize that you as Americans might find this offensive. I will not be offended if you say no; that's fine with me. My family here would love to have these parts of the lamb. But I offer them to you first."

Can you see that when I phrase it that way, that rejection energy doesn't come up. I'm not forcing it on you, there's no sense of shame. It's easy to say, "Thank you, Aaron, but no thank you. I'll pass on that." Can you feel the difference?

If this example doesn't work for you, think of your own. Watch yourself carefully in the next day until you come to an experience of rejection and see how that feels in the mind and body. Then experiment. How can I say no to this without that imbalanced contraction of the rejection?

I'm going to borrow Barbara's son Mike's story here. Mike please forgive me if I do not tell this with your humor and clarity. Mike was sent to a place in the Middle East as part of an international team of election observers, to monitor the election process and be sure it was honest. Several people were monitors for each district. After the election, the officials of the city had a dinner. As one of the team of observers, Mike was an honored guest at the dinner. It was in a place where they drink a lot of vodka. So first they kept handing him glasses of vodka. He kept taking a sip and then pouring it into a water glass. The faster he emptied it, the faster they kept pouring it.

Finally, that lamb came in. The host began to carve, cutting out the cheeks, taking out the eyes. And then, I don't mean to disgust you, but these delicacies were placed on a plate and served to Mike! This is a true story. He told me that first, watching them carve, he was filled with disgust. The thought, "They're not going to eat that, are they?" He hadn't yet thought, "Are they going to ask me to eat it?" His first thought was just, "They're not going to eat that, are they?" Then as they finished serving and looked at him, he thought, "Oh no!"

He says, he was able to just stop and watch this whole process of disgust, of judgment, of strong distaste. And finally he turned to his hosts and said, "It looks wonderful and thank you for the honor. But I've had this bellyache all day, and diarrhea. I don't really think I ought to eat anything right now." Of course, he was then offered a dozen different home remedies for his bellyache, all of which he graciously turned down saying, "I have medicine in my hotel room. I have medicine." He didn't judge himself; he didn't judge them. So you might want to think of this tale when you think of rejection. What would you do if you were there as the guest of honor? 

So first you have got to know the experience of rejection, how it feels in the body. The contracted, imbalanced contracted energy that comes with it. Then you have got to know the very clear experience, free of contraction, free of imbalance, of saying, "No thank you."

Then take that experience on to the next phase. Just as I offered you something which was not to your liking, various conditions may come forth to offer you anger, fear, disgust, sadness. Instead of that "No! Don't want it!" kind of contraction, think of the way I offered you these eyeballs the second time. Conditions have served you up a tray of impatience, or even hatred. Without rejecting it, that is, closing your heart and clamping down, can you just say, "No thank-you. I'm not going to get into a personal relationship with this. This impatience or hatred is simply the result of conditions and not self. I don't have to deny that it has arisen, and I don't have to take it personally and build stories on it. I become Teflon; I just say no thank-you. I take the hose out and wash the window."

The rejecting mind is so strong, and we are so habituated to reject the negative arisings of others and of ourselves. How many of you can experience strong anger in another or yourself without the rejecting mind jumping in?

This brings us to the practices we've been working with today, the Seven Branch Prayer and the related vipassana practice. We watch the rejecting mind and the body experience of rejecting. We watch that imbalanced contraction, and we know it to be habit energy. We work on the relative plane with the balance or antidote, in this case, of metta, kindness for the self and for others. We work with the ultimate level of practice, coming back to that radiant heart, that already purified heart. Resting in that spaciousness, nothing to reject, nothing to fix. And yet, whatever is coming through the mind and body must be attended; not either/or, but both.

"To refrain from doing evil," from doing harm; that is, to watch the impulses and intentions with care, and not bring them forth in this relative experience. "To commit to that which is wholly good"; to hold that intention shining forth from the heart. To bring kindness to every situation. And, "To purify the heart;" or better phrased, to invite the innate radiance, the innate purity of the heart to shine out, which can only happen when you have allowed yourself to become familiar with that radiant heart, which is the ground of your being. "These are the teachings of the Buddhas and the awakened ones." This is all that you have come to earth to practice. And you are doing a wonderful job of it. Give yourself credit for the degree which you have ceased to bring forth negativity, for the degree to which you have lived your lives to bring forth that which is good and wholesome, for the degree to which you have come to know this innate radiance of your being and invite it forth.

Let it shine forth ever more brightly. May you find liberation, happiness, and peace. I thank you. That is all.

Copyright © 2004 by Barbara Brodsky