Barbara - First Morning Instruction, April 26, 2005

Barbara: Good evening. I decided early today to talk about the 3 Dharma Gates of suffering, emptiness and impermanence. Tonight my body is giving me a perfect illustration of all three. I'm allergic to soy. I know that I shouldn't eat soy. Sometimes my greed gets ahead of me; I see something good that has soy in it, I eat a taste of it and I experience the consequences. For the past hour I've been running to the bathroom with cramps.

They hit me yesterday because I ate the soy unknowingly. Then I was fine until dinner tonight. I should have eaten a very simple dinner knowing that my stomach was not back to normal, but I ate greedily, and then sat there saying, "Oh no! I have to give a dharma talk! How am I going to give a dharma talk when I have to keep running to the bathroom?"

Why am I suffering? I'm suffering because I think my body should behave in a certain way, and it's not behaving the way I want it to. Tomorrow it will be fine. I know as soon as the soy is out of my system it will be fine. Tonight it's not. I don't want it! Suffering.

The Buddha says there are 3 gates through which we may pass to liberation. We experience all of the 3, sometimes more of one, sometimes more another. But they also are integrated. It's like an omelet. You've got eggs, you've got cheese, you've got vegetables. Each one is distinct. The eggs are not the cheese. The mushrooms are not the eggs. But when you eat the omelet, you get one taste, of omelet. Sometimes you bite into a big mouthful of cheese and you know that cheese is there. Other times they seem to blend more. So there are 3 gates: suffering, emptiness, and impermanence. Sometimes one is distinct and really stands out, sometimes they blend. It changes through our lives. We keep deepening in understanding of these 3 gates, deepening in realization.

What are these gates? Let's start with suffering. The Pali word is "dukha." I find "suffering" to be a poor translation. "Ka" means the hub of a wheel. "Du" means the hub is off-center. Then when the cart rolls, it lurches because the wheel is off-center. There's an unsatisfactoriness to it. It's rolling true and then kurches and then it rolls true a little bit more and just as we think it's back on track it lurches again. The lurching isn't the problem. How many of you have been to an amusement park and ridden on a rollercoaster? If it didn't lurch you'd be upset and want your money back. The lurching is a problem only when we want it to run true. We want to know what's going to happen next. We want everything to just stay the way it is, to stay stable. I want the belly to be the way it was this afternoon. I don't want it to be cramping and twisting.

Dukha. The unsatisfactoriness of conditioned experience. Unsatisfactory in that we want it to be one way and it's another way.

So suffering is not inherent in what's going on. The belly pain is not suffering, the belly pain is just belly pain. Wanting there to be this smooth rolling cart, my body and getting something else is suffering. I'm going to bring this body here and it's going to give a dharma talk and have no problems. Shh! Body stay quiet! But it's not going to do that. Can you hear the belly grumbling? Well, at least it didn't get rolled by the ocean! (laughter) So this is the nature of dukha.

There's a wonderful song that was created by some members of the Zen Temple in Ann Arbor. I wish I could sing it, but my voice is pretty poor so I will just give you the words. But it's to the tune of the song, "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain." Do you know that? OK, give me one verse of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain."

(Group sings)

She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes
She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes
She'll be comin' round the mountain
She'll be comin' round the mountain
She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes

OK. You'll have to put this to the music yourselves.

(Barbara half-sings the lines):

Let me sing you the Four Noble Truths
Let me sing you the Four Noble Truths
You're a frightened child, you say
Well you're Buddha anyway
That's the core of the Four Noble Truths

Everybody suffers just like you
Everybody suffers just like you
They suffer just like you
That's what sentient beings do
Everybody suffers just like you

You suffer cause you grasp and you crave
You suffer cause you grasp and you crave
You grasp and you crave
To desire, you're a slave
You suffer cause you grasp and you crave

There's a way out of suffering for good
There's a way out of suffering for good
Out of suffering for good
Realize your Buddhahood
There's a way out of suffering for good

Let me sing you the Four Noble Truths
Let me sing you the Four Noble Truths
You're a frightened child, you say
Well you're Buddha anyway
That's the core of the Four Noble Truths


So dukha is the first of the Four Noble Truths. This is the first thing the Buddha realized in his enlightenment experience. Dukha exists. The causes: grasping and craving are the causes of dukha. Now we listen to that and we say, what about aversion? But aversion is just one form of grasping and craving. I have aversion to this belly turmoil. I'm grasping at a quiet body.So aversion and grasping are really just two sides of the same coin. The Third Noble Truth, there is an end to suffering. And the Fourth is the path out of suffering, the Noble Eightfold Path.

Within the Noble Eightfold Path we have 8 steps, of course. But divided into 3 basic parts: sila, moral awareness, panya, deepening wisdom, and samadhi, mindfulness and concentration, the mind getting quiet. These come together, and in a sense what we do is apply sila, panya, and samadhi, our sense of being in the world in a clear and loving way, with mindfulness and growing wisdom. We apply that to suffering. We look at the nature of suffering. We don't lash out at other people because the belly hurts. We observe the phenomena that are arising, here the phenomena of sensations. We observe the unpleasantness of the sensation and note the aversion to them, and wisdom begins to understand that what is arising is impermanent, grown out of conditions, not self.

So we use the Noble Eightfold Path to apply to dukha and to impermanence and emptiness, and in that way we begin to understand the nature of all conditioned experience. This is the way out of suffering.

So the first dharma gate is dukha. I don't have to tell you too much more about dukha, you know it well. I think the most important thing here is that instead of regarding it as an obstacle that we've got to get past, we begin to regard it as a teacher. When dukha comes, there's immediately the insight that our conditioning is creating this experience of dukha. There's a saying, "Pain comes; dukha is optional." When there's suffering, it's because of what's going on in our mind and bodies from our own conditioning. The belly hurts. That's also born out of conditioning, but it's just physical sensation. But the "I don't want that", brings suffering. And we can begin to use these ongoing experiences for insight. Dukha is just such a constant reminder in our lives. So much comes that we don't want. We begin to see through it, to choose the option not to suffer in this moment. And we CAN choose that option. We can't change what comes in our lives but we can change how we're going to relate to it.

When my vision became blurry in September, you better believe I was suffering! I was very angry, very upset. Why me? Haven't I had to bear enough in my life with the deafness? It's not fair. I don't want this.

Aaron asked me about 2 days into it, "Are you angry?" I said, "Darn right! Very angry!" He said, "OK, you're angry. Just be there with the anger." But the anger at the situation and the contracted aversion as "I don't want this" are two different experiences. It's sometimes hard to see the difference because we think of anger and aversion together. But anger is just a clean energy that comes through, and the grasping, wanting it to be otherwise, has a very different feeling to it. Can you feel that difference?

It's subtle. But I found when Aaron pointed it out to me, I was able to feel the anger at my situation and it just moved through and released. Whereas I was holding on with the grasping. It was continuing and taking me into a downward spiral where there was less and less and less space. The anger was just clean, anger. "Don't like this". It's almost the difference between unpleasant, don't like it, it's unpleasant, and that contracted aversion, "Get rid of it."

So I found after 2 or 3 days I was able to stop at unpleasant, and it was just unpleasant. Poor vision, unpleasant. Anger coming through, but the stories stopped flowing so I stopped feeding the suffering because I stopped running with the stories. I did that simply by each time a story arose, looking at it and saying, "Ah, that's just going to make it worse. Don't go there."

We start to recognize that those stories of "unfair", or "why me", and so forth, that they just make it worse. It's like having a sore on your leg with a scab and you pick at the scab. You know it's going to make it worse. Stop! So that playing with the stories really becomes like picking at the scab. Stop. Wisdom comes in and says, "This isn't going to help. Stop."

What of the other Gates? I'd like to read you a favorite quote of mine. This is from the book, The Holy Teachings of the Vamalakirti. This book is in the Mahayana tradition. Vamalakirti was a lay practitioner who was enlightened and the focus is on his teachings. I'm going to cut out some of the technical names. This man was speaking to the Buddha and said, "I remember one day after you had given some brief instructions to the monks, I was defining the expressions of that discourse by teaching the meanings of impermanence, suffering, selflessness and peace. Vamalakirti came there and said to me, 'Reverend, do not teach an ultimate reality endowed with activity, production, and destruction. Reverend, nothing was ever destroyed, is destroyed, or will be destroyed. Such is the meaning of impermanence.'"

It goes on to talk about suffering. I'll skip that.

"That which has no intrinsic substance, and no other sort of substance, does not burn, and what does not burn is not extinguished. Such lack of extinction is the meaning of peace."

This is one of my favorite lines in any Buddhist literature. It goes deep into impermanence and no-self.

The Second Gate is emptiness. By emptiness we mean that which arises in the conditioned realm is empty of a separate self. Things arise out of conditions. They arise just because the conditions are present. What do we mean by "empty of a separate self"? In the traditional teachings, the Buddha used a chariot as an example. He asked people looking at the parts of the chariot, "Are the wheels the chariot? But without wheels it can't be a chariot. How about the seat where the driver can sit, is that the chariot? How about the traces that hold it to the horses, is that the chariot? Without any of those parts, we don't have a chariot. But the chariot is the sum of all those parts. There's nothing you can point to and say, that's it."

Look at this chair that L is sitting on. It's got wood, I suppose, and some kind of cane. (tapping) A cushion, maybe cotton. Are the legs the chair? Without the legs would we have a chair? Is the seat the chair? The arms, the back, the cushion? We could probably do without the cushion and still have a chair. We could even do without the back, except that then it would be a stool. So we need the back. We could do without the arms and the cushion, but the rest is chair. We said wood, what is wood? The sky is right there in the wood. Rain, without the rain there couldn't be a forest, and thus no tree from which the wood came. Without the sun there couldn't be a chair. There's nothing you can point to and say, "That's the chair." Everything is in there, the earth which supported the roots of the tree, rain, the clouds out there are in the chair. The sun is in the chair. The lumberjack who cut the tree down is in the chair. The artisan who built the chair is in the chair. The cow that gave the milk that fed them when they were children so that they could grow up to be a lumberjack and an artisan, it's all there in the chair. There's nothing you can point to and say, "That's the chair." This is what we mean by emptiness. It's empty of a separate self. There's nothing you can point to and say, "That's it."

So I was sitting in my room reflecting on my talk, that there's nothing we can point to and say, "This is the stomachache." Is the soy the stomachache? The muscles in my body, the nerves? Certain reactivity of my body? The stomachache is simply arisen out of conditions. It comes, and when the conditions cease, it will cease. No self.

Look at yourselves. Are you the same person you were 20 years ago? Is it the same body? Obviously no. Same thoughts? For the most part, no. Our total body cells replace themselves every 7 years. No cell that's here now was present eight years ago So what is the self?

The Buddha's teachings talk about the aggregates. Form, which is the physical body, feelings of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, thoughts, impulse, and consciousness. By consciousness we don't mean awareness, we mean sense and mind consciousness as in eye seeing object and seeing consciousness arising, mind touching memory and remembering consciousness arising. Consciousness arises and we think, "This is me. This is what I am." But this arising is simply the manifestation of this collection of aggregates, and there's no self to it, nothing solid.

It is because we think in terms of a solid self that we get into trouble. For example, when I was a child, I experienced the abandonment of a caretaker, a nurse in my house who took care of me. My parents were there and they were loving parents, but they were often busy and I was very close to Nanny. When I was 5 years old she got sick and left suddenly. I was told, "Don't be angry, it's not her fault; she was sick." But of course I was angry, and I needed to direct that anger somewhere so I directed it to myself. If she's not the bad one, I must be.

So I grew up with a lot of issues of somebody who has been abandoned and a lot of feelings of unworthiness. I worked in my late teens and early 20s with a very compassionate therapist who helped me see through this. And that work allowed me to get on with my life: to meet Hal, to get married, to have work that was gratifying to me, friends, and so forth. But feelings of unworthiness still arose. I would go to a party, somebody would start to talk to me and I'd feel a little bit shy and I'd feel ashamed, many of you know this feeling.

It didn't control my life. I had reached a point where I understood I was not unworthy, that this was just habit energy, and I pushed myself to talk. So from the outside people would not have known what I was experiencing, but nevertheless the feelings came up. Decades went by and they still came up. Losing my hearing exacerbated it; watching people talk and feeling excluded, a sense of unworthiness came up more strongly.

A long time ago, maybe 13 years ago, at a month-long meditation retreat, I noticed when I was walking and somebody came past me, if I starting to make eye contact, they turned away. Of course the instructions were not to make eye contact But as soon as they turned away, feelings of unworthiness came. Of course there was nobody who was unworthy, and nobody abandoning another; they were just following the instructions were for the practice: no eye contact.

I launched this activity 15, 20 times a day, consciously inviting eye contact with someone to initiate that looking away, and feeling that recoil and the thought, "unworthy." It was so clear what was happening. I had to work with it within the dharma practice, seeing that "unworthy" was mostly a thought, but also with a physical component, that had arisen out of conditions. Just habit energy.

We talked this morning about "anusaya" and "asava" the habit energy and outflow of it. The habit energy was the jumping into the conclusion of "I'm unworthy," and the outflow was the physical sensations of shame that came.

Watching it moment by moment, day by day, is there any self this is happening to? Slowing down in that retreat, it became very clear this is simply the outflow of conditions. There's nobody who's ever been unworthy, it was just an idea. It was idea that was useful to the child because she had to make sense of what was happening to her, and it was a safe way to make sense of it. Painful, but safe. Much safer for the child than expressing the anger when people were saying, "No, don't be angry." Okay, if I can't be angry, I'll be unworthy, that's safe. But it was just an idea. How can anybody ever really be unworthy? We can act in an unskillful way, but we can't be unworthy.

So here there was a mixture: dukha, the unsatisfactoriness of the experience, which was painful enough that it provoked me into looking at what was really happening there; a deep insight into emptiness, which grew out of the practice, seeing this entire movement of mind and body as the result of conditions, no separate self here. The response of unworthiness is empty of self. It just is the flowing of conditions.

So this is what I mean by emptiness. I don't mean "nonexistent." We need to be careful about that idea. We can get into a kind of nihilism that says, okay, if the unworthiness is non-existent and there's no self that's unworthy, maybe there's just nothing. Void. Non-existent. We can use that as a way of avoiding heavy emotions or body pain. If there's no self, then the stomach can't be cramping up; ignore it. That's not very kind to do. We have to take care of our bodies. If we have sadness, we have to take care of our sadness.

So there's a balance. We understand that there's no separate self that's experiencing phenomena and yet there's this experience and we have to attend to the experience and we have to attend to it lovingly. I'll talk more about this. Let's go on first to impermanence.

From the Buddha's first sutra, "That which has the nature to arise has the nature to cease." Very beautiful line. Tomorrow it's going to be better. It has the nature to arise, it has the nature to cease. It's impermanent.

This week I've been sitting on the beach and entering deeply into the experience of impermanence. I'm finding it very powerful to see all the shells, and the sand, and to know that the sand is the broken down shell. The shells once contained living creatures and now they're dead empty shells. Someday they'll be sand.

The sea goes out, it comes in, goes out, it comes in. The ocean doesn't care whether it's at high tide or low tide, it's just moving. The tides are impermanent. As soon as it's high tide, it's turning toward low tide. As soon as it's low tide, it's turning toward high tide. Sitting there, I can really feel that flow in my body. In my body now, the tide has turned and low tide is present. I'm in my 60s. The tide is going out. But when the tide goes fully out, it's going to come back. I, Barbara, won't know it as it comes back, but nevertheless the manifestations of this karmic stream run out and will run back. It's all impermanent.

And yet, here we get, back to Vimalakirti's wonderful line, "Do not teach an ultimate reality endowed with activity, production, and destruction. Nothing was ever destroyed, is destroyed, or will ever be destroyed. Such is the meaning of impermanence."

When the sea washes way up high on the beach in a storm, so that's it right up against the dunes. We can no longer see the beach. Is the beach destroyed? When the sea recedes again, the tide goes out and the storm is over, there's the beach. On the relative level, we could say, "Yes, the beach is gone. The water is right there lapping against the steps. The beach is gone." But on the ultimate level, the beach is always there, we just can't access it at that moment.

On the relative level, everything is impermanent. All conditioned phenomena are impermanent. The Buddha's teaching is not only about conditioned phenomena but about the Unconditioned. Speaking to a group of monks, he says, "Oh monks, there is an Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated. If it were not so, there would be no reason for our lives." How do we put together that Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated, and impermanence? How can something be undying and still be impermanent?

So we have the relative level of our experience and the ultimate level of our experience, and we have to hold them both together. On the relative level, all conditioned phenomena are impermanent. And on the ultimate level, we can deeply touch that which is, that, let's call it ground of being, God, Goddess, Unconditioned. I love the term Unconditioned because it does not say what it is or is not. We think of God and we get involved in a thing. Even God/Goddess, is it a masculine or feminine thing? But Unconditioned is simply that which exists. It is. It exists free of any conditions.

There's a beautiful book called, "Open Secrets" by a Jewish rabbi, Rami Shapiro. He talks about this very eloquently. "What does it mean to be All? God is Reality. God is the Source and Substance of all things and nothing. There is no thing or feeling or thought that is not God, even the idea that there is no God! For this is what it is to be All: God must embrace even God's own negation." So God, or Unconditioned, Unborn and Undying, Uncreated, encompasses being and non-being. How can there be being if we don't consider the possibility of non-being. And yet, there can be no non-being, and we seem to get into a paradox. So we start to see into this, that on the relative level there is being and non-being, this seeming duality, and on the ultimate level, there is only being.

Many years ago John and I were leading a retreat in western NC. Before the retreat, we went swimming in a fast-moving river with stage 3 and 4 rapids and waterfalls. There was a waterfall 10 feet high, flanked by high rocks and with a big pool below. People were jumping off a rock, 12 feet down into the pool. There was a very fast current shooting downstream 50 yards from the pool; then the river broadened out and became shallow. There were Boy Scouts, jumping off the rocks. It's hard to say, "Gee, maybe it's dangerous," when you see kids and their scoutmaster jumping in.

John jumped right away. I stood on the rocks for a while. Finally I jumped. The current caught me. Whoosh! Because I don't have any inner ear mechanism, I don't have any balance or sense of up and down. I was spinning around underwater, feeling out of control. I could tell "up" by the light, but the body kept moving. Fear came. Then Aaron said, "Just put your feet down." So there I was spinning, spinning in samsara. "Just put your feet down. The ground is there." Sure enough, when I put my feet down, the water was only hip deep.

Through the years I found this to be a very clear metaphor. The ground is always there.

The ground is always there. On the relative level, we have impermanence, and on the ultimate level we have this ground of being. Let me read the Vimalakirti quote to you one more time. "Do not teach an ultimate reality endowed with activity, production, and destruction." We can know a relative reality endowed with those, but not an ultimate reality. "Nothing was ever destroyed, is destroyed, or will be destroyed." We walk the beach and see the empty shells. Do the living creature and shell cease to exist? The shell breaks down and becomes sand. It's just taking another form. The creature itself died; maybe a seagull ate it, then flew off and dropped its droppings over a woods nearby. They fertilized a tree so that clam's now in the tree. Nothing is ever destroyed; it just takes a new kind of birth, moves onto a new way of expressing. But the impermanent clam is gone! "Nothing is ever destroyed, is destroyed, or will ever be destroyed. Such is the meaning of impermanence."

So we see both sides of it. When a loved one dies, we've lost that loved one. But the memories, the deeds, so much of that loved one lives on. And even 3 generations later, when no one living remembers that individual, they're still using her recipe for carrot cake. They still have a certain quality of loving kindness that was passed on through the generations too. It's not lost.

So we need to be aware of the balance between relative and ultimate. We've been working in Ann Arbor a lot this year with what Aaron has called a pole meditation. Feet planted in relative reality, head up in ultimate reality. We can go to either place. We can despair this starfish died, and we can say, nothing dies. On the one hand, whatever it is that we loved, now it's gone. And on another level, nothing has died. It's not either/or; we have to hold both. In the same way, we can't say, "Anger has arisen but it's simply an illusion. It's just the outplay of the skandas; it's not real," and use that reasoning as a way to deny the experience of anger. Nor can we get lost in the anger and say, "There's nothing here but anger. I am anger." They both are true.

On one level, it's all an illusion. On another level, these are very strong illusions, the illusions of anger, fear, desire, and more. The whole illusion of self is a very strong illusion. If right now that's what's in my experience, I can't deny it. That's not the path to liberation. To understand the 3 dharma gates, is to hold the gate of impermanence knowing the both, everything is impermanent and nothing is impermanent, both. There is no separate self, and yet there is this ground of being. It's not me, it's not separate self, but that ground of being is always there.

This holding of both is the path to liberation. Then we're increasingly willing to go directly into the relative experience without fear because we understand it to be illusory, not self, impermanent. But we don't muck around in it building stories about it; we use it as a ground for investigation, literally as the ground for freedom. We hold the bigger awareness that knows something is horribly painful, but also it's okay. Equanimity develops. That can't happen as long as we are unwilling to go deeply and directly into our experience. Trust in the practice develops. Trust in the Buddha nature develops. We find we can hold that big space. As Aaron said to me in that river, just put your feet down. It's a very powerful experience, finding that ground of being in every moment. keeping our hearts open and really connected to it.

You know that this year I had vision problems, and for a while was blind in one eye and with vision impaired in the other., It was very scary. I couldn't say, "It doesn't matter." To be deaf and then blind does matter, on the relative level. This human does not want that life. No! But on another level, I knew it was okay. There are deaf/ blind people who function in the world and live fulfilling lives. The idea is terrifying; the reality would be just what it is, the experience of this moment. In the relative experience, despair comes, then hope, and both are equally cruel and filled with suffering. Only by acknowledging the human fear and aversion can I open to that space that knows ultimate safety. It's safe because everything is impermanent and not self, but that fact can't lead to denial of the pain of human experience. Participation in that pain, while holding to wisdom, is what brings us compassion. Everything changes; let go.

There's another articulation of this "both" that I've fond helpful. The Tibetan lineage talks about the 3 "kayas". "Kaya" means body. We have on the one hand dharmakaya, the Buddha body, the truth body. On the other hand, nirmanakaya. "Nirmana" means form, so this is the outer form body, not just physical forms but thoughts and impulses, the relative. Here we have the top and bottom of the pole. From the perspective of nirmanakaya, I was experiencing impaired vision. From the perspective of dharmakaya, the body is perfectly balanced; the body is perfect. Both are true.

Looking at emotions, from one perspective I might feel a lot of anger. And simultaneously, literally simultaneously, I can connect with the experience of compassion. I may feel confused, asking, "Am I angry or am I feeling compassion?" But both are true. There is anger in this mind and body. Perhaps I don't like a situation. And yet, that which is wise and capable of loving sees through the conditions that created the situation. The fear-based mind wants to blame yet there's not really anything I can blame. The situation is just the result of conditions. I have a lot of compassion for the turmoil of the people who are part of the situation. The compassion is real but I can't use that compassion to negate my anger, to negate the nirmanakaya experience. I can't hang on to the nirmanakaya experience as a way of denying the deeper truth, of not allowing myself to experience compassion.

When I practice in this way, I find myself increasingly able to stay present with a direct experience, to know it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and to see directly into the mental formations that arise as result of less than full presence. With that presence, the heavy emotions rarely come, and yet I acknowledge the difficulty for the human to be thusly present when there is a traumatic situation. Compassion and wisdom will both grow.

The third kaya, sambhogakaya, it's often translated as "wealth body." I think of it also as transition body, a bridge. Picture a chasm. On one side is the deep clarity and wisdom of the Dharmakaya. On the other side is relative experience with its' suffering, the world of outer forms. Sambhogakaya becomes the bridge that goes over the chasm. It doesn't just sit lightly on each side but is grounded. The footings go deep. Then we can experience compassion for the relative human who's caught in fear of impermanence or attachment to permanence, who's still caught in attachment to self. And we can connect deeply with the ultimate level where we see deeply into the truth of emptiness itself, the truth of impermanence.

For me this possibility is near the heart of vipassana practice. Vipassana is the one tool I've found in my life that allows me to be present in ultimate and relative. If I'm honest with myself and very present, willing to be with each pleasant or unpleasant experience as it comes, I see deeply into both the relative and the ultimate aspect of it, and then I hold that space. Compassion must open to the relative experience, not just hide out in the ultimate experience. Yet compassion also asks me not to get lost in the relative experience where I suffer.

The three signs of dukha, emptiness, impermanence become like a deepening spiral. I keep going around, learning to hold this space between relative and ultimate, to go deeper, to understand it all from both relative and ultimate perspectives. As I deepen in that process, I find suddenly my relationship with the world has changed. I have much more peace in my life, and am more able to hold that space of wisdom and compassion. There is real freedom, maybe not ultimate freedom yet, but it's good.

Vamalakirti's last sentence, "That which has no intrinsic substance, and no other substance, does not burn. And what does not burn is not extinguished. Such lack of extinction is the meaning of peace." I stop thinking of the self as having any intrinsic substance, and yet I honor the aggregates that are this relative human being. I'm not locked into a self-identity with those aggregates. Experience is not always joyful; sometimes it's painful, sometimes it's unpleasant. That's how life is. Sometimes it's joyful and very pleasant. I can't hold on to what's pleasant; it comes and it goes.

"What does not burn is not extinguished." Investigate, if you will, in your sittings tonight and in the morning, what is it that burns? What would it mean to know that which does not burn? "Such lack of extinction is the meaning of peace." I leave you with that.

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