Aaron on Dzogchen, Day 2
May 2, 2006, Emerald Isle, NC

This entire body of teaching was given over 5 days on the ocean beach at Emerald Isle, NC, May 1 through May 5, 2006, senior student weeklong retreat. Day one was a refresher of basic Pure Awareness practice and was not recorded.

Aaron: The practice that I'm going to begin to teach you today is a practice for releasing the old karma in body and mind. We will use contraction as a teacher. Karma exists in contraction. Without contraction there is no karma. In your vipassana practice, you work with conditioned objects: the breath arising and falling away, thoughts and sensations arising and falling away. Your teachers have suggested to be aware of contraction in the body, watching how certain kinds of thoughts or physical sensations serve as condition to contract the body, which contraction then releases. The Pure Awareness mind may not fully see or experience contraction. Contraction comes when you snap out of Awareness and back into the mundane experience.

Many of you have worked with the natural contractions of the body. In a balanced state, the body contracts, then releases, then contracts, then releases, as does all of nature. For example, hold out one hand. Bring forth the other hand as if you were going to put something in the first hand. Can you feel the subtle energy contraction with the expectation, waiting to receive. Then touch and feel it relax. Can you feel that reaching energy, and then relaxation?

You can see the same energy in the ocean, watching the waves as they are just breaking on the shore (we are sitting on the beach). Watch as they build up and then slap down and come to a rest. As they wash back out, the energy builds up again.

This flow of energy is a constant rhythm. There's contraction and release, contraction and release, but the contraction is never held, just builds up and releases. All of life has that rhythm. It's necessary to life.

It's right there in the breath. Breathe in. Feel the subtle contraction at the top of the in-breath, if you hold your breath longer than is comfortable. As you release, "Ahhh", and then it builds up into a contracted state again with the exhale. Every cell in your body carries this flow of contraction and release.

Right there within that contraction and release is spaciousness. If there is no secondary contraction around the contraction, the spaciousness is evident. When there is contraction around the contraction, there is still spaciousness. There is always spaciousness if we know where to find it! In vipassana we take contraction as object. That which is aware of contraction is not contracted. Spacious Awareness notes contraction. With the dzogchen practice, resting in Awareness, we watch contraction come and go. Resting in Awareness, there's no contraction around the contraction; we see contraction as arising naturally from conditions and realize the space around it. So long as you are resting in Awareness, nothing is solid. There's no sense of a solid self, or of solid objects; everything is arising out of spaciousness and releasing into spaciousness.

Literally everything is energy. There is nothing that is not energy. One of the primary expressions of energy is light. Another primary expression is space. It is not accurate, really, to call them expressions. Space and light are inherent to the energy. Where there is energy there is space and light. We call them 'direct expressions.'

Energy contracts and releases. That is the nature of energy. The contraction is motion. At the end of the release is stillness. Space is in both motion and stillness. Light is there too, but harder to perceive, so we'll focus first on space.

Many of you have learned in your vipassana practice to find the space between the objects. The breath; space. A thought arising and passing away, and the space after the thought is gone. A sensation, and the space when it dissolves. You've learned to observe those spaces. You learned to invite consciousness to be aware of both object and space as conditioned objects.

You have also learned how to rest in Pure Awareness and watch the arising of conditioned objects and the space between. In this practice you may have perceived the Unconditioned nature of space. Mundane consciousness cannot perceive the Unconditioned aspect but Awareness can. Thus there is seeing on two levels. Mundane consciousness perceives the conditioned level of space. Awareness knows the Unconditioned essence of space.

All material or mental objects have a conditioned expression and an Unconditioned essence. Space has both a conditioned expression and an Unconditioned nature. With space as object, this insight into the conditioned expression and unconditioned nature is more accessible than with most objects.

So it's all there together, conditioned and Unconditioned. Resting in Awareness, you no longer take the conditioned objects as solid things, separate from a self, but simply see them. The hand opens and the sand pours out (doing this with the sand). The ground of being opens and expression pours out. Think of a giant cornucopia. All you see pouring out is sand and sea and sky and sun. Somewhere at the bottom is the Pure heart of it all.

We're talking about the simultaneity of relative and absolute. On the relative plane, objects arise out of conditions. On the ultimate plane, there is the Unborn, Undying, that we may call Source or Ground of Being, Love, God or Goddess, whatever you want to name it. It doesn't matter what you call it. This is the Ground out of which everything has exploded. Some people think that there was a Big Bang and everything came into being; others think God said, "Let it be" and it came into being. These concepts do not matter. There is this Ground and everything is expression of it.

So in vipassana you see the conditioned objects and you begin to see the Ground. You see the Ground in part through the space between objects, the bits of the Unconditioned that filter through between the objects. In dzogchen you rest in Pure Awareness mind touching everything. Nothing is solid. Everything that arises is simply expression of the Unconditioned, arising and passing away. You cease to distinguish between conditioned and Unconditioned objects with dzogchen. The sand of course rose out of conditions on the relative plane and yet right here is a handful of the Unconditioned. What else would it be?

In your personal experience, when something comes up that jars you, creates agitation, fear, or discomfort, you contract. It's not a release/contract kind of movement, it's contraction. It's held in the cellular tissues of your body, it's held karmically from this and many past lives, held in the body. It's held in the emotions. It's held in the mind. There is the experience of contraction that feels solid.

I want you to try an experiment with me. I'd like you to think of something painful, unpleasant. Think about it as if it were really approaching you, a person you don't like, whom you see walking down the path, a big storm blowing in from the sea, or sharp pain in the body that might be building up. Feel the tension around it. Allow yourself to feel contraction. I want you to be able to label, "This is contraction." (long pause) Now release it. Send it on its way with the wind.

Now bring in a very pleasant thought. Something joyful, perhaps a thought of gratitude: how wonderful it is to be sitting on this beautiful beach sharing the dhamma together. What a gift! Feel the joy. Can you feel the spaciousness in your body? Can you feel that it is a very different experience than the contraction?

Resting in Awareness, when your thought comes, it's an unpleasant thought, there's contraction that pulls you out of rigpa, out of Awareness. The instruction is to ask, anything here that is other than the Unconditioned?

Your ability to answer that question is dependent upon your vipassana practice at first. If I asked the question to somebody who doesn't have any clue about what the Unconditioned is, they can't say, "Yes, this an expression of the Unconditioned." How would they know that? What is the Unconditioned?

But when you've done some vipassana practice and rested in that space and had glimpses of the Unconditioned, you start to be able to answer with more certainty. This negative thought, this angry or grudging thought, it's just an expression of the Unconditioned. This itch, this heat or cold, the Unconditioned expressing itself in myriad ways. You have learned not to create something separate.

As long as you are resting in Awareness, you are literally out of the karmic field. Resting in Awareness, there is no self. But when you ask, "What is it?", there is an asker, and you snap back into mundane consciousness of the karmic field. Whatever karma is stored within the cellular tissue of the body, whatever karma is stored in the mind, it is then present again. With clarity you may be able to say, "Ah, this unpleasant object is just an expression of the Unconditioned" and return to Awareness. This shift doesn't release the stored karma, it simply takes you back out of the karmic field.

As long as you rest in rigpa, you are out of the karmic field, but the karmic field remains in the conditioned level of your being. Since none of you has totally stable capacity to rest in Awareness all the time, you keep coming into that karmic field and it keeps repeating. The habit energy we've been talking about is reinforced in the mind and the body repeatedly, over and over again.

So that you have spaces of time where there is the ability to touch deeply on Awareness, to respond to the world from Awareness, but then boom! Something happens. You snap back into the everyday mind. The self returns and with it, karma returns.

Here is an example; let's say you've been sitting and doing dzogchen, eyes open, relaxed, nothing separate, very open and connected, experiencing a lot of joy. Objects are clear but there is no sense of a self and no fixation on what arises. Suddenly a very wet sandy dog leaps up onto your lap. You contract. You look at it, anything other-than the Unconditioned here? No. You relax and shift into Awareness. And then the dog is licking your face, trying to climb on you. You come out of Awareness again. There's irritation.

At this point we shift the practice, and bring attention to contraction itself. Can you see the light and space within the contracted experience. We literally release the contracted experienced, and allow it to dissolve in light and space.

Now you can't think your way through this, so just like the baby learning to walk, we have to take some baby steps. You can't just say, "Now I'm going to release this." So we practice in a very specific way with light and space.

We begin with the dzogchen practice, resting in Awareness. When something comes in and pulls you out of Awareness, instead of asking, "Anything other-than?" and finding your way back to Awareness, you bring attention to the nature and texture of the contraction.

Whatever out there drew you out of Awareness, like a loud noise or the sloppy dog, the contraction itself becomes the primary object. The practice is to invite contraction to dissolve in light and space. Once the contraction is dissolved, if you find yourself back resting in Awareness, that's fine. If not, begin again as at the start of a sitting.

When there is another object that arises that pulls you out of Awareness again, instead of asking, "Anything other-than?" and returning to Awareness, note again, "A contracted state."

It's easy to say, see the light and space within the contracted space, but it's not so easy to do. Here's where the baby steps come in.

I'm going to ask you here to turn around so you can see the ocean. I'm going to lead you in a guided meditation here.

Eyes soft and unfocused, just as in the traditional dzogchen practice. Yet let there be a recognition there is sky, there is sea, there is sand, and on your body you can feel the sunlight. This is the simultaneity of relative and absolute.

Feel the breeze blowing. Hear the waves. Feel the heat of the sun and of the sand beneath you. (pause) Focus especially on the sight of sea and sky and the light reflecting from both.

Now here is what may seem at first a conceptual question. The sky is the sky and the sea is the sea. Is that not so? Let the sky become the sea and the sea become the sky. Let them mix. How can the sea not be in the sky—the sky is not filled with visible clouds but of course there's water vapor in it. How can the sky not be in the sea, which certainly has oxygen as part of the water element.

Don't do this conceptually though; do it with a soft gaze that allows you to see that they are one. They are 2 expressions of the One. There's nothing separate there. (pause) Once you have established the unity of sea and sky, bring in the sand, the earth element. Mingle the earth element with the sea and the sky. (pause) You can add the fire element in either of two ways, with the feeling of the sun on your back or the brightness of the sun as it touches the sand and sea and sky. So practice in this way until all four elements are mingled together.

I'm going to pause my talk let you work for about 10 minutes with this and then we'll talk. (long pause)

Please note that while they mingle, the sea also remains sea, the sky is sky, the sand is sand, fire is fire. We're not denying the relative reality expression, only transcending that expression. Each element is unique and each element includes all of the others. (pause) If you have come to a place where they seem to mingle, then include space in it. I can only give you clues here. For example, within your breath, the in-breath, space, and out-breath. The space you have found at the end of a thought before a new thought arises. Look at the sea and sky and sand that break up. Find all the space, not just mundane space as the space between molecules, but find the vastness, the Unconditioned, mingling with these elements. (long pause)

When this tool becomes stable, this is the tool you will use within the contractions in the body and mind. I will talk further about that. Let us simply hear some of your experiences and your questions. Then I'll leave you to practice it. Tomorrow we'll see if we have more instruction or just practice and some question time. The next step in instruction will be how this relates to the contraction in the body, but I want to keep it a step by step learning. So today please focus just on mingling sky, sea, sand, and fire and the space.

What have you experienced, what questions do you have? Let me begin with the simple question, did anybody feel it begin to mingle? Tell me about it, tell us all about it. How did that feel?

Q: Vipassana noted the mundane aspect of the elements as separate but I also was resting in awareness where the elements mingled. It came together.

Aaron: So consciousness observed the presence of the elements and then Awareness observed simultaneity, shifting back and forth. When you say shifting back into vipassana, you mean back into the conscious mind, (yes) and then back into Awareness. That's fine. It's very helpful that you recognized the shift.

Q: I rested in Awareness. Everything became blurred. Everything lacked substance including me. The wind was blowing through me, and I had a sharp awareness that everything expresses in just a different amount of solidity, but nothing is really solid. Everything dissolved.

Aaron: (imprecise transcription due to wind distortion) This relates to what Q1 was experiencing. These two experiences are an essential part of the work that we'll be doing with karma and the release of the contraction. On one level there's nothing to release. On another level, we release it. But we don't release it again and again, we simply come to that place where it all dissolves. There's nothing solid. But we come to that through the conscious mind and not just Awareness. The Awareness mind already knows this. We then bring it to a more conscious experience through the body, through the chakras. We will turn these outer elements into the inward air, water, fire and ground elements. We'll watch how they all intermingle with space. We'll watch the arising of the contraction into that intermingled space, and observe that the contraction is just that earth, air, water, fire energy.

Q: I felt a strong contraction when an airplane, a jet, made a lot of noise. Then the noise merged with all other sounds. At the time I heard the jet, there was a strong contraction in my spine and then this air just moved through it and dissolved.

Aaron: This relates to energy and it relates to the vibrational frequency of the body. The jet has a certain vibrational frequency. Your body was very open and (sound effect), interacted with that. It all becomes just as the air, water, ground, and fire; it becomes part of everything with in you and dissolves into space.

Q: I was amazed at how solid the contraction was, and/yet it was not solid.

Aaron: Exactly. This is the power of this practice. It's very, very powerful. I don't want to call it a beginner's luck, you have been practicing for many years, but it does demonstrate the power of this. But also don't expect it to happen regularly in that way until it stabilizes.

Q: I was confused.

Aaron: You were confused. Share it with us.

Q: It seems that when Pure Awareness is stable, there's no sense of body.

Aaron: There's no self. Yes.

Q: So I don't get the connection.

Aaron: When there's no sense of body, is there any sense of a separateness of sea and sky?

Q: No.

Aaron: That's fine. Can you carry that state with you 24 hours a day? No. When the umbrella blows or the jet flies through, does the body come back for a moment? (Q: Yes.) And then the sea is the sea and the sky is the sky.

At that point, instead of practicing in the old way of saying "Anything other-than?" and reminding yourself to come back into the Unconditioned, work with the conditioned experience of contraction. Relax into the intermingling of the elements on the conditioned level.

Q: So back to vipassana?

Aaron: Not quite. You come back to vipassana temporarily; you are back to conscious noting. But you are still resting in awareness. There is a self that begins the practice noting the intermingling of the elements, bringing it all together. And each time something jars you out of that connection, you remind yourself to re-invite it. The reason this is such a good place to practice is that we have the elements here. But then you're going to need to take it indoors, do it in a closed space, finding the elements within your body and working with them.

Q: Then when I'm in my body, that's not dzogchen?

Aaron: We begin dzogchen in the body. We invite the opening into the Pure Awareness in the body. As the Pure Awareness mind opens, there still may be a strong sense that there's a body present, it's simply no longer your body. There's no self-identity with it. But you're not spaced out into a place where the body is absent. One of the powerful facets of dzogchen is that mind remains, body remains. It's not like the deeper vipassana experience where the mind and body simply dissolve. There IS a body; there's no self-identity with the body. Within that body, mind can investigate the interplay of the elements, of the merging of the elements. Then one brings that same practice to contraction within the body, so there has to be body awareness. But it's not conditioned consciousness that's aware of the body, it's Pure Awareness that's aware of the body. And then Pure Awareness that's aware of the arising of the contraction, just like it's aware of the jet flying through. And then one brings light and space into the contraction, sees the whole karmic nature of it and releases it. And at that point, it truly releases out of the system, not a temporary release. It can be reintroduced but for that moment it's released. I don't want to say for that moment; at that time, the whole karmic stream of that particular factor is released, although it can be reintroduced if one is not careful.

Q: When there is a contraction, do you bring light and space to the contraction or is the light and space inside the contraction?

Aaron: It's already inside the contraction but one may need to go through the process of practice before one recognizes it within. One practices in this step by step way, mingling the elements outside the body then mingling the elements inside the body, then mingling the elements and space outside the body, mingling them inside the body. Then bring that same Awareness to the contraction, seeing the elements in the contraction and mingling them with space and light. But you've got to practice, you've got to get stable at this in meditation before you turn to the contraction itself.

Q: I was watching it dissolve. It was very powerful.

Aaron: Yes, and eventually one literally finds the karmic knots in the karmic stream within the body that are holding that particular kind of thought or habit energy, and sees it as a knot. When rope is tangled, if you try to pull at it, it tangles more but if you shake it, it comes apart. It releases. That's really what you're doing with karmic knots. There are more factors to this.

Ideally if we had a month to work with this practice, with some vipassana but mostly this, I would have all of you working for the first week intensively with the chakras and identifying the core and back meridians of chakras. I would have all of you observing the varied vibrational frequencies in the body and getting to know high vibrational frequency of spaciousness, and the low vibrational frequency of the contraction, the karmic knot.

And then we would do this practice and begin to bring this deeper insight of the simultaneity of the elements, not separate from one another, into observed contraction. But we have just this week. Just stabilize this for now and if it feels stable, then turn your gaze in to the elements in the body and become aware of the non-duality of elements and space within the body. And then when that becomes somewhat stable, bring attention to habitual contraction. Begin to see it as a knot and see the elements in it, and feel the light and space in it and feel it shake apart.

Q: Is the light and space synonymous with Divine Love?

Aaron: That's a very hard question for me to answer. The light and space is in no way incompatible or different than Divine Love but I would not say it's synonymous. Divine Love is one expression or one face of that light and space, but it's not the only face of it. The light and space is an aspect of the Unconditioned, which you might call Divine Love. So it depends how you use the term Divine Love but I think as you're using it, you're using it as one expression of the totality of divinity or Unconditioned.

We're getting to know all of these expressions and the ever-presence of them within what we had previously experienced as contracted. On the supramundane level there is no karma. There's nothing to release. Nevertheless on the mundane level, there's karma. In order to release the karma, we have to do it from within the mundane level while knowing that there was nothing to release.

That's enough for today. My blessings to all of you. We meet again tomorrow, same place and time.

(taping ends)

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