Emerald Isle Retreat
Aaron's Dharma Talk
April 22, 2007 (first evening)

Aaron: I am Aaron. My blessings and love to you. I hope you had a lovely day. I saw you building sand castles, swimming in the ocean, and deep in meditation. I saw some of you picking up shell fragments. How many of you found a piece of shell and thought how lovely it would be if it only had been whole? But of course it is whole, it is a whole fragment. You looked at it and said, 'It's too bad that the shell isn't intact.' But the piece you held was perfect and the rest of the shell is scattered around the beach and in the sea, just where it needed to be. Was the fragment you held any less beautiful because part of it was missing?

Think about why you discarded it, or maybe you kept it. Barbara was about to toss out the first very beautiful fragment she found when I said to her, 'Wait! Why would you throw it away?' And she said, 'Because it's broken.' And I said, 'What difference does it make, is it beautiful?' 'Yes.' So she collected a pocket of fragments of shells.

Most of you have seen me do this exercise before. The perfect sheet of paper, unwrinkled. (Crumples it) Wrinkled, yes? Can you see the perfect sheet? Is it still there? It hasn't gone anywhere. It just also has wrinkles. I asked Barbara to put this broken conch shell on the altar, to serve as your symbol for the retreat. Can you see the perfect shell? Is it still there? Wrinkled sheet and perfect sheet are non-dual. Broken shell and perfect, whole shell, non-dual. See the part that's missing. Find the little pieces—they're out there, scattered across the sand. It's perfect.

The shell is no less beautiful because it is broken. It has suffered an experience of life, one might say, has become battered a bit, lost pieces of itself, and yet, it holds together. It's not crumbled into a thousand pieces, it's intact. Is it really any different than any of you? All of you have brittle and broken spots, and yet you are intact and beautiful. Do you spend your time trying to find the little pieces and glue them together, or can you simply cherish your radiance and beauty and know your innate perfection, know that the whole radiant, divine self, is right there.

Bring us some more shell fragments, as well as these intact ones. Let's not put only perfect shells on the altar this year; let's put broken shells on the altar and find the perfection.

This thought goes quite deep. Once upon a time, you, other beings like you, were perfect unbroken shells. I'm going to talk a bit about Earth history now, an unlikely subject for a dhamma talk.

Take these words as history or simply as myth, as you like. There was a time on the earth plane when there was a great civilization known as Lemuria. The beings in that civilization knew their divinity. There was no forgetting of who they were as they moved into the incarnation. They knew their interdependence, each upon everything else. They lived in a deeply uncontracted state. They had a sense of being part of everything around them. Their structure was on a crystal base rather than the carbon-based humans that you are, so there was a different structure. The crystal can hold a much higher frequency. With the support of this frequency, beings were fully telepathic. There was no fear, there was no contraction, and there was no illusion of self. There was no dualistic fixation.

Even the dzogchen teachings talk about this—not using the name Lemuria as an example but simply saying, 'In the time before time…' The great beings dwelt upon the earth without dualistic fixation, without any notion of samsara and nirvana. The dzogchen teachings talk about how beings then fell into the dualistic fixation and became entrapped in karma. The dzogchen teachings don't take it beyond that so I'm taking it a bit deeper tonight with this bit of Earth history or myth, as you prefer.

One might think this was a blissful situation, and indeed it was. There was no pain, there was only joy. Beings lived as long as they chose and when they were ready, they simply released their crystalline structure, but there was no illness or lower vibrational breakdown leading to transition.

There was no work needed to maintain oneself. With telepathy, everything was simply invited and co-created. If there was desire for a new structure, a number of beings simply came together and envisioned it and invited it out of the crystalline essence of the Earth, literally shaping the blocks of crystal and levitating them into place. It was not considered work but done the way a child creates with blocks, out of joy.

Most people's time was spent in creation: music, dancing, the visual arts, poetry, architecture. The whole essence of life was of co-creation. But you did not incarnate simply for pleasure. You incarnated for growth and learning, and especially the enhancement of compassion and wisdom. The fatal flaw for Lemuria, if I could call it that, was simply that there was no negative catalyst, no challenge. It's very easy to love a little baby, a bit harder to love a teenager, perhaps, or a negative person who's constantly challenging you. They stimulate compassion. In Lemuria, lacking catalyst, compassion did not grow. Wisdom did not grow.

There were those who, after some time, began to understand what was missing but had no idea how to create it. Why bring negativity into such a heavenly realm, and how would beings bring negativity in? And yet, without such catalyst, what would invite the growth? So this was the dilemma, how to learn wisdom and compassion.

The slight discomfort amongst those few who perceived the lack became the gradual catalyst that led people into playing with the illusion of separation, fully knowing it as illusion, as one would on a stage set, playing the roles, pretending, 'What if we truly were separate? What if we had different opinions and could not hear each other? What might it bring up?' So there was the playing with it, to try to draw forth these emotions so they could be met with greater compassion and wisdom. And yet, of course it was a dangerous game because some people got lost in the illusion and moved into negativity.

Up until that time, there was no unbalanced contraction. There will always be the contraction: the breath that goes in and out, the fist that opens and closes, but it's a balanced contraction. But until that time there was no unbalanced contraction and no thought of 'me' as separate.

There was, in your linear time, quite a long period of time where beings were able to play within the illusion without getting lost in it, but gradually beings did become lost in it, and lost in unbalanced contraction. At that point, the civilization of Lemuria began to crumble. As I said, take this as fact or as myth, as you please, because it amounts to the same thing. At some point, just as the dzogchen teachings put it, we slipped out of that knowing of non-duality and into the dualistic fixation in which there is samsara and nirvana, and we created two where there was only one.

It was not a misfortune that you did this; rather, it was a necessary step. Think about the young infant. It does not perceive a distinction between itself and the mother. What if it never perceived a distinction? What if it grew into adolescence believing that it and mother were one? Could it mature? It must go through the step of seeing itself as separate from the mother in order to grow. If it follows a path leading to enlightenment, it will eventually move back to knowledge of non-duality. So blissful though that situation was in many ways, it was incomplete. It was necessary to move ahead, to experience the painful situation of belief in duality and to live that experience of illusory duality before you were ready to transcend the experience of duality and come back to a now mature understanding of the non-dual.

Gradually the civilization you know as Atlantis followed Lemuria. In Atlantis there were many beings that understood that the idea of duality was simply an illusion you were to play with as catalyst for learning, and had no ultimate reality. But there were other beings that increasingly forgot that it was illusion and moved into the belief in duality.

Civilizations followed civilizations, each of them increasingly dualistic. All understanding of the non-dual disappeared in 98% of the earth. Little bits of it remained, teachings that were preserved in far corners of the earth. Of course, because non-duality is an ultimate truth, it was available to be re-discovered.

Two thousand years ago in India, the teachings were very dualistic. There were gods, and there were men and women believed to exist on many levels such as Brahmins, everyday people, and the Untouchables. There was a concept we would call para-atman, the ultimate Atman or divinity, but this was not considered to be within the self. Only through great purification could one finally transform oneself to be worthy to experience such external divinity.

Those who were considered most unworthy were the Untouchables, deemed to be so far from this experience that it could never be attained for them, or at least not for millions of lifetimes. And there was the belief that one was experiencing one's karma. If one had taken birth as an Untouchable, for example, or even as a middle of the road being, there would just be a lot of suffering, and there would not be any possibility of freedom from suffering in this lifetime.

And then along came Siddhartha Gautama, and he said no, that's not how it is. That is a hopeless idea. I do not believe it. I believe that freedom is possible for every being in this life because that of the divine, that innate perfection, Buddha nature, is within everything.

In the beginning it was just a belief, but he went out and did his work, meditated, and found what he was seeking--liberation for himself, and the truth through his own experience that this awakened nature, this innate perfection, is available, is within each being. Rather, that you each are within the innate perfection of the universe, are one expression of it. It is within you and you are within it. It's everywhere. No duality.

On the altar we have the book, In This Very Life. It's a beautiful title. U Pandita Sayadaw is saying liberation is possible today, in this very life, even this week. I don't want to set up a lot of grasping and craving for it, but it's right here and now so why settle for less?

You are following a very beautiful path. You have moved through the whole illusion of duality in this and in past lives. You have struggled with believing the divine is out there and separate, believing you were not worthy to experience it, and then you have come to understand it's here, it's everywhere, and the duality you believe in is a concept that you may transcend. But you cannot transcend it mentally, you must transcend it experientially.

You are at the forefront of a massive shift in consciousness in the Earth. The Earth is coming full circle from the knowing of the non-dual and resting in innocence and immaturity, then tumbling off into darkness into the belief of duality, and working with the catalysts of fear, greed, hatred, and so forth. You have been learning how to not succumb to such negativity. Learning first through relative reality, simply the decision, 'I do not want to be mired in hatred,' but not yet knowing what to do about the hatred in yourself and in the world.

You have come around full circle, and suddenly as you come up the other side of the circle, you begin to see the possibility of non-duality again. But you cannot enter that innocent non-duality of Lemuria. You are not innocent anymore. In the Biblical sense, you have tasted that apple in the garden. The knowledge of—I do not like the word 'evil,' but the knowledge of positivity and negativity, the knowledge of expansion and contraction, the knowledge of love and fear, are within you.

The work now is to transcend negativity and fear but also and equally important, to transmute it. Your work is not to get rid of negativity and fear but to find the perfection in it, to find that which is whole and radiant and beautiful. When you look at yourself and see all the cracks and brokenness, to know you are perfect, just the way you are, and that the core of love and goodness, of generosity and kindness, of compassion, are your innate being and cannot be lost and have never been lost.

It is not easy work. It takes enormous courage because your practice asks you now to look deeply at the wrinkles and not to take them personally but rather to accept them as gifts, whether they be emotional wrinkles of negative thought, the physical wrinkles of body distortion, or the mental wrinkles of outmoded belief, to take these as gift.

What you created, literally what you created so many billions of years ago. You or your ancestors undertook this journey to maturity, wisdom, and compassion, the hero's journey. I think many of you have heard me talk about my final human lifetime. I'll be brief.

The being that I was, was a monk, a meditation master in Thailand, much respected and loved, and I had the ignorance to believe I was fully enlightened. My life was peaceful and joyful. I loved to share the dhamma. I had equanimity about almost everything. I had the capacity to work with that which created tension and not make stories about it. So if an emotion, thought or sensation was a bit sticky, I would stop and work with presence with what had arisen, find the space around it, rest in that spaciousness and know that whatever emotion or body pain had arisen was impermanent and not self. So emotions and discomfort still arose and there was temporary aversion to discomfort. But it did not stick for long. The aversion itself was seen as just another object arising, impermanent and not self.

But then there was an event in which a beloved disciple was killed by an angry man who meant to kill me. The disciple stepped in front and intercepted the spear that was meant for me. I understood the ways that I had contributed to the anger of the one who threw the spear, that I was not blameless, but that my attachment had helped create the situation, and I saw my grief for the loss of this young man who I loved as a son.

I saw then how far I was from enlightenment. So I left the monastery where I taught and wandered in the jungle for many years, living a very solitary life. About 10 years later in a very bad storm on a dark jungle path, a large thorn tree tumbled down on top of me, pinning me to the ground, face in the mud. My skin was scratched but I was not impaled nor badly injured. There were long thorns, big thorns on both sides of me. They caught in my clothes. They were pressing and just barely breaking the surface. I could not move.

It was pouring. I was very uncomfortable, cold, wet, with a bit of pain. I was not afraid, I knew somebody would come along eventually and find me. I knew I could survive there a day or two if I needed to. So I was somewhat at peace. It was just discomfort.

I began to meditate. Then into my peace came a sound of footsteps that I immediately recognized as a tiger. She had smelled my blood. I could hear her breath. She was seeking a way to get at me. What would go first? Would she eat my foot? Would she get an ear? What would she eat? Mind started to build stories.

I could see the fear mounting in me and the sense of separation: me, tiger, tree, all separate. I determined that if I was to die that night, it would not be in fear. So I came back to my practice, just breathing, watching the experience of fear. Mind watched hearing, which was the predominant way of knowing the presence of the tiger, hearing her breath, hearing her footsteps, hearing her scratching at the tree, hearing her growl. The ear organ touching the sound, and 'hearing, hearing.' There is nothing unpleasant in that hearing, just a growl, just padding footsteps. The unpleasantness was with the idea that came—she will eat me. Fear.

As I practiced, all sense of separation dissolved. Like this shell. What's missing here is scattered on the beach, or it's been washed back in the ocean, or it's in the sand in your shoes, or perhaps you swallowed a piece of it. Nothing is separate. I understand I am already in the tiger and she is already in me. My face is in the mud, the mud is in me. The tree that has pierced my skin is in me. There's nothing separate here, and nothing to be afraid of. I could hear her franticness, wanting so badly to get at me. I began to do metta for her and for myself, this human lying in discomfort, not knowing if it would live for another hour.

In that moment of lovingkindness and deep wisdom, all duality dissolved. There was such deep seeing into how we create the idea of duality and move into this dualistic fixation, move into the illusion of a separate self. And yet there was also knowing that there must be compassion for the human who was experiencing something difficult. We cannot deny the reality of the human.

At that point the mind just completely let go. There was only love. If the tiger ate me, it was just me eating myself. There was nothing to gain, nothing to lose. I relaxed completely into an infinite space of love.

I was no longer sending out the energy of a prey. There was still the blood smell, but somehow I was no longer prey and the tiger just gave up and went away. Hours passed and finally some monks came down the trail, just at dawn. They lifted the tree off. They helped to wash the scratches on my back. I walked with them on their morning alms round. We held out our bowls and received some food to eat; life went on. There was nothing remarkable, just some alms and some time to rest. Then I knew it was time to resume teaching, to resume contact with others.

So it was a profound enlightenment experience, a profound experience of release of any idea of duality. And yet, even as I returned to the places where monks gathered, was welcomed, resumed my teaching, negative thoughts still arose sometimes. So it was not the complete enlightenment of the arahat. It was deep enough that there was no more karma to move me into a new life, but I still had to work with it. If there was a very foul smell, 'smelling, smelling, unpleasant,' aversion would come up because it was conditioned in the mind and body. My daily practice, every moment of the day, became watching of any arising of aversion or grasping and noting the shift—as the experience of aversion arose, for example, the shift into a self, contracting energy, me and that, creating the illusion of separation. Then came a pause to note and say, 'Ah, creating separation. Here is the mind. It's just mental.' But there was no longer a separate being to be caught in the belief of that experience, just mind seeing the conditioned thought. So that was the practice thousands of times through the coming years.

Gradually there was a great diminishment of episodes where mind touched into belief in the aversion or grasping. In other words, some aversion or grasping would come but increasingly there was the ability immediately to know, 'Ah, here is aversion.' See it as an object and see the immense spaciousness around it. Not get caught in it. So it didn't happen instantly. But the power of that experience was such that each time aversion arose, for example, as aversion had arisen to being eaten by the tiger, mind would bring back the memory of the experience, and remember that this idea of 'me' versus 'that' is just created in the head. It wasn't an intellectual exercise; rather, it was resting in what I knew for certain and then being able to release that which was obviously not real.

By way of example, if you were swimming in the ocean today when the waves were small and you were lying on your back, if you saw a wave coming towards you, perhaps there was a moment of contraction, 'Oh, it looks big! It will drown me!' Then you might come back to remembering, 'The waves are small today. It's just my perspective here, lying in a low place. It's really only a 2-foot wave.' The old fear, 'It will drown me,' is just conditioned. You don't hold on to it because you know it's not real.

Imagine if you were walking on the beach and you saw in the ocean what looked like the Loch Ness monster, and you thought, 'Oh, there's a monster!' You decided you must run up to the house screaming, 'There's a monster!' Mind notes, 'Stop. This is just fear. Oh, it's just a group of birds resting on the water, and they briefly appeared in an unrecognizable form.' You're willing to take that which you know to be true from your own experience and not get caught in the stories of old conditioning. 'Monster' is a story. When a story comes up—'I could lose my job,' 'So-and-so hates me,' or 'I am unworthy,'—there must be the willingness to stop and say, 'No, it is not wholesome to let this story play. My deepest experience teaches me that if I lose my job, I will be safe. Something else will come up. If so-and-so is angry at me, that may be so, but it's okay, it's workable. And I am not unworthy, nobody is unworthy.' There's a willingness to investigate each experience, not to get caught in the stories.

In this way, you live your wholeness. Are you going to be all that you are, or are you just going to be this little confused fear that has arisen? Play on the words, wholeness and holeness. You live the entirety, not the hole.

As that life continued, it became easier and easier, as it will for you. All of you have had deep experiences of truth, not necessarily as deep as that enlightenment experience, but that will come also, for you. But each of you knows from your own experience exactly what I'm talking about, the tendency to play with the stories and indulge in the stories rather than to choose your wholeness and divinity and beauty and radiance.

There are many ways we practice with this; we will be talking about these practices through the week. The most important one is this seeing both the wrinkles and the Ever-Perfect unwrinkled sheet of paper. You do not deny the negative thought or the body discomfort. Acknowledge this is present—sadness, pain, fear, aversion, grasping. This has arisen. Right there with fear is that which is not afraid. Right there with anger is love. Right there with grasping is the mind that lets go. It's not one or the other; it's both. I don't have to iron the paper before you can see the unwrinkled sheet, it's right there.

The question is simply, how attached are you to the wrinkles? You've created a self-identity on the wrinkles. Are you ready to let go of that self-identity, know it as the ground of suffering, and come back to remembrance of your innate wholeness? For some of you, that's terrifying because you wonder, 'Can I live up to that?' If right there with fear is fearlessness, can I live with fearlessness in the face of something that's frightening? If right there with anger is love, can I express love and rest in love even when there is anger and discomfort in me? But there's such strong habit energy to use the anger for power, to use the fear for power, rather than to turn to the greatest power, that place of love and innate connection with everything.

Each broken shell fragment is just that big (holding a small fragment) but when you put them together, you have a beach. When you rest in the non-duality, there's nothing outside of you. The tiger can no longer eat you, it is you. And if it eats you then you have simply become the tiger. No problem.

Practice well this week and find some liberation now, in this very lifetime. Thank you for this opportunity to share these thoughts.

Copyright © 2007