Aaron's Dharma Talk
October 25, 2008 (Saturday Night)
Howell Retreat

Keywords: Freedom/liberation, dependent origination/arising, refuges, awareness, habit energy, fear, space, limitation, dharma basics

Aaron: Good evening. My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron. I hope you’ve all had a very good day. It is a beautiful place to practice. I hope some of you got out, walked on these paths and sat beside the lake.

Barbara was watching a large goose. She was sitting on a dock over the lake and from the other end of the dock, a goose approached her, just walked up to her. He came within about 5 feet and he stopped. It was clear that was his limit. Humans are trustworthy, up to 5 feet! No closer. She sat there motionless. He turned his head; he looked at her. Perhaps he was waiting for some food. There he stood for several minutes.

She began chanting a metta chant in a soft voice. He stood and looked at her for perhaps 20 minutes as she chanted. She chanted; he looked, head sometimes tilted to one side. About once a minute he approached one more footstep, a few inches at a time, and then would pause and looked at her again. She just looked at him and kept chanting, keeping her body motionless. Finally he came close enough that he could have reached out to her, with his strong beak. At that point she said in a louder voice, “That’s close enough.” (laughter) He stopped very willingly and just stood there and looked at her.

I have a point to this story. Each of you has limits in which you have believed; ideas of who and what you are, how far you can go; what you can accomplish for yourself and others in service; how high you can evolve. Sometimes your life invites you to take one more step, and that step may be frightening. Metta keeps singing in your heart, inviting you forward.

Each of you has the ability to take that one more step. That’s what a retreat like this really is about. It’s about the willingness to take it one step further, the willingness to explore areas that you have not previously felt safe to explore, to let go of old limits, old self-concepts, old habits, and begin to express the highest consciousness of which you are presently capable.

This is liberation, perhaps not liberation in the grandest sense, but a very real liberation. Many of you ask me, “What is liberation, Aaron, and when will I get there?” Like the goose, one step at a time.

Today, talking to you, I’ve seen a number of you look at old ways of regarding the mind and the body, that is, ways in which you felt entrapped, and let go. It takes a lot of courage to let go. If you have a fence around you, it holds you in but it also keeps danger out. When you are willing to let go of those fear-based fences, you start to know the unlimited self, the Buddha nature, Christ consciousness, or highest level of your being, and to know that you can express that higher consciousness in the world.

Freedom starts small and simple. If you set out in your practice to say, “In this lifetime I am going to attain arahantship, full liberation,” well, that’s a big step. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. If you don’t, you’re not a failure. What freedom DO you have? Do you have more loving relationships now than you did 5 years ago? Are you more at ease when challenges come up in your life than you were 5 years ago? Are you less caught up in your own opinions and holding to your own beliefs? Are you more able to hear others? Are you more able to have compassion for others with whom you have a vastly differing view, and not be so attached to self-righteousness about your view and blame others? This is freedom.

Imagine if you had a big thorn in your foot, buried deep under the skin, and every time you put your foot down it hurt. The process of walking hurt, and you did not want that pain so you suffered. You understand that the pain and the suffering are not the same thing, but sometimes they come together. If you have not recognized the nature of the relationship to the pain and there’s strong grasping to be rid of the pain, you suffer. So here is the thorn creating pain, and here is the suffering based on aversion to the pain and grasping to be free of it.

In that situation, one of two things can happen. There could be a profound enlightenment experience in which you suddenly deeply recognize the nature of your suffering and let go of it. Although the foot still hurts when you walk, there’s no more suffering. That’s very real freedom. There could also be a kind person who comes along and says, “I can take the thorn out,” and removes it for you. Ahhh… That’s also freedom.

I see so many of you disregarding these small levels of freedom, intent on the vast freedom that you hope to attain, but disregarding the reality, “I now have a more loving relationship with certain people in my life than I did a few years ago.” The thorn is working its way out. You haven’t yet fully resolved the suffering but there’s more joy, there’s more ease, there’s more space.

The reason I’m focused on this is that so many of you have a sense of some degree of frustration about your practice because you hold that ideal of full enlightenment, and you’re such perfectionists about yourselves. You are old souls, all of you, and part of the nature of the old soul is to aspire to purity, to clarity, to love. And often old souls are perfectionists. At some level you see that radiance and light to which you aspire and you see the shadow, what you name as the shadow in the self, and you think you’ve got to scrub it off; that you are only going to be worthy of that light and be able to merge with that light, if you fully purify the shadow.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that aspiration, to purify the shadow. Certainly that’s wholesome, to release negativity. But my dear ones, scouring yourself is only going to leave bleeding. You don’t need to scrub the shadow in that way. What you may do is to turn to the negative in the self with an open heart, with kindness, and with the wisdom, “This negative thought is simply the result of conditions. I have to attend to the thought so it will not harm another person, but I don’t have to be afraid of the thought, it’s just the result of conditions.” You work to resolve the conditions and simply attend to the results. You must attend to the results, but without fear of them.

You don’t have to fix the results; you just know it as a result. If we had the glass of water here and we knocked it over, the water spill on the rug would be the result of conditions. I don’t have to say, “Oh me! Oh me, oh my! I’m clumsy! Look at this! What a mess!” I just get a towel and mop it up. I use more mindfulness in the future about where the water is placed and about where the foot moves. That’s all. Stop making such a big deal out of these negative arisings, but hold spaciousness for them and know, “This is the result of conditions.” That knowing is the fruit of your practice, the bringing forth of wisdom that sees how every conditioned object arises out of conditions, is impermanent and not self.

So for many of you, the frustration is not that you hold your aim too high but that you still believe that there’s some self that’s got to fix this and this and that. And so you’re fighting with rather than working harmoniously with, these conditioned mind and body states that arise. Just the understanding that this is so gives you a big piece of liberation, the freedom to stop waging war with your experiences but rather to open your heart mercifully to this human being that you are. How can you be merciful to others if you can’t offer mercy to yourselves?

The bigger liberation will come. We look at the quotes from the Buddha. If you practice this for 7 years, or 7 lifetimes…. Well he’s not saying it’s precisely this, we’ve got to take that “seven” with a grain of salt, but he is saying that if you practice in a skillful way, you will resolve this whole cycle of birth and death. It has to happen. When you contract around a negative thought, it keeps it going. When you relax and hold space for it, it resolves itself, it stops feeding it energy. This is part of the benefit of the practice that Barbara and John were teaching you today–perhaps I should say reminding you of, today.

There are the seemingly solid objects that arise, the thoughts, the physical sensations. And there is the space. Everything arises in space and passes away. Nothing is solid. Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.

When you only see the object arising and become caught up with it, that’s when the war begins. First with judgment: this one is good, we’ll keep it; that one is bad, we’ll get rid of it, fix it. But when you relax and say, “Ah, here is this. I don’t even need to know what conditions led to its arising, I just know it arose out of conditions. There are some conditions that are not yet purified in this mind and body. That’s all I need to know. My intention is to purify those conditions and the purification means always involves kindness.” Therefore to say, “Fix it” is only going to perpetuate it. To relax and say, “Ah, here is anger. The conditions for anger are not yet fully purified. With the intention to purify those conditions, I hold space for the anger. I see how the anger arose in a vast space. I take care of the anger to see that it doesn’t hit anything and cause harm. And I rest in the spaciousness, willing to stay present with that anger until it resolves itself.” And of course it will resolve itself. Whatever arises will dissolve.

We have some very specific teachings here from the Buddha. For example, the Bhayabherava sutra. The Buddha, before his enlightenment, wanted to meditate at a haunted shrine. He contemplated this desire. He had heard from others that it was a very terrifying place to go. A lot of fear and dread arose from people with this intention. Some people went to this haunted shrine and ran away screaming.

So he became committed to practice there. There was a powerful energy at this shrine and if he could skillfully utilize this energy, it could bring him closer to enlightenment. He said, “I’m going to go and sit there. I’m going to stay there and meditate there.” So he resolved, “I will sit with the fear and dread if it arises, and allow the experience of it until it resolves itself.” It’s not simple, it takes a lot of courage to sit with fear and dread. It takes a lot of courage to sit with grief or body pain, with feelings of unworthiness and so forth. But with each, the teaching is the same as that, really word for word from this beautiful sutra: to sit with what has arisen and allow the experience of it until it resolves itself.

Two things happen when you do that. One, your faith deepens. You learn that you do have the ability to stay with it. Here we use the refuges as a support. Taking refuge, for the Buddha at that time, he didn’t take refuge in a being called the Buddha, he took refuge in the awakened mind. The small self, the everyday mind, was quaking in terror. But he knew there also was that which was not afraid. That which is aware of fear is not afraid. He knew that. He took refuge in this clarity, this fearlessness.

He took refuge in the dhamma, knowing that whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. So if fear and dread come, he knew they were simply expressions of the conditioned mind. That’s the second part of it, the deepening of faith in the Buddha nature, and then the deepening of wisdom, truly knowing if it has the nature to arise, it has the nature to cease. It is impermanent and not self.

And finally, experiencing the release of fear and dread, that faith is confirmed. Yes, it does cease. Well, if fear and dread will cease at a haunted shrine, surely your suffering will cease. The cessation experience is real, not only the cessation of suffering but the cessation of all these karmic tendencies. There’s another beautiful sutra that I’ve recited with some of you many times.

“Abandon the unwholesome. One can abandon the unwholesome. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If such abandonment brought pain and suffering, I would not ask you to abandon it. But as it brings good and happiness, I say to you, abandon the unwholesome. Cultivate the wholesome. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If such cultivation brought suffering, I would not ask you to cultivate it. But as it brings good and happiness, I say to you, cultivate the wholesome.”

It really is as simple as that. You are gardeners. This mind and body are your garden. Wholesome and unwholesome impulses and thoughts arise. You regard them and note which ones are wholesome and which are unwholesome. You find the faith in yourself to release the unwholesome, as hard as it may be. Sometimes you hold onto that unwholesome for many lifetimes, feeling you’ll need it for protection. Finally you realize how hard it’s been carrying this around, and you become ready to release.

Imagine if once, walking in the woods, in the distance you saw a bear. You said to your companion, “What’s that?” “A bear?” “Is it dangerous?” “Oh yes, it can tear you to pieces.” You love to walk in the woods but now when you walk, you carry what seems to be a cage. It weighs about 60 lbs. It’s got bars all the way around it, thick enough so that the bear can’t reach in his claws and get you. You have a rig so this contraption can go over your shoulders, and if you see a bear all you have to do is stop and drop it on the ground; it’s so heavy, and you barely have to hold it down. You’re safe.

Is it going to change the nature of your walks in the woods? How long are you going to carry this thing? A bear does come, once. He sniffs at you and walks on. Maybe another bear comes and growls at you. Deer come, raccoons come, birds come, and they fly through the bars.

One day you’re walking down a steep slope. You haven’t seen a bear for months. You’ve seen footprints; you know they’re still there. But all your companions say, “No, I don’t carry a cage with me.” Think of how wonderful it’s going to feel when you step out of that cage and leave it behind you. And yet it’s going to be scary. Imagine those first steps. You’re not yet out of sight of the cage and you see some more bear footprints on the ground–“Should I turn around and run back? Should I get it?” You’ve been walking with companions and they’ve walked on ahead, tired of going at your pace while you carry this heavy thing. Let it go. Freedom. If the bear comes, you’ll deal with the bear.

This is a whole different part of the dharma. Why would you attract a bear to you in the first place? If you carry a cage, you’ll probably attract a lot more bears than if you simply put the cage down and walked down the path singing to let the bear know you’re coming and to give him a chance to get away. If you’re certain you have no intention or desire to attract a bear, you probably won’t attract a bear. No guarantees, there are never guarantees in your lives. But probably you won’t attract a bear.

What are you drawing to you? You hold certain kinds of defensive attitudes to protect yourself from the judgment or blame of others, from feelings of unworthiness, from grief that comes from loss, that keep you distant and lacking intimacy. Are you ready to put these down? So much of your practice now is, as John said to you today, how long do I have to carry it? Let it go.

You need to know that you have a choice. This letting go of old beliefs, old limits, old habits, is the foundation for the greater liberation that you seek because the final thing that you let go of is this illusion of a separate self. Can you see what a heavy cage that is? Have you ever considered what you’re dragging around? What is that separate self? How much does it weigh? How much lighter would you be without it? How wondrous would it be, how joyful, how connected, without that burden of the separate self?

But you can’t go straight to the separate self and the release of it, you need to practice, first seeing how it would feel to let go of judgment for a moment, how it would feel to let go of blame, feelings of unworthiness, anger, confusion. Not even to let go. You continue to hold it, for example, your judgment, and there is that vast space of non-judgment. You might say, “Alright, I think I’ll hold onto judgment for awhile. It might prove useful. But I’m not going to get too caught up in it, I’ll just put it near me where I can get it easily if I need it. I’m going to risk being in this space of non-judgment, feeling the spaciousness and joy of non-judgment.” And then somebody says something hurtful to you and you grasp, “I’ve got my judgment! Be careful!”

But understanding continues, “Ah, that’s my old habit energy, isn’t it?” Maybe you don’t need to do that this time. Put it down and see the spaciousness of non-judgment. Turn to the person who’s blaming you. “I hear your anger. I don’t see it your way but I hear that you’re angry. My heart is open to you. I’ll consider what you’ve said.” Feel the spaciousness there. You don’t have to get caught up in it. He’s judging you; you don’t have to reflect it back to him. That’s freedom.

As you practice these small bits of letting go, you prepare yourself for that greater letting go, the letting go of the whole illusion of a separate self, and know you’re not going to lose your deepest essence when you let go of illusion of separate self.

Barbara’s husband was speaking yesterday of a play he planned to see last night, a woman who is the single actor in a play with 9 characters. She plays each of the characters in turn, each different. Could she do that if she held onto one identity? And yet if she’s going to do a convincing job on the stage, she needs to believe in the identity while she’s in it while knowing it’s only a charade. Can you do that? You have personalities and they’re beautiful. Can you enjoy your personality, play it up, but not get caught in self-identity with it? It is only a costume.

Is there any one of you who has worn the same clothing for the past 5 years, unceasing? Putting it in the wash at night, putting it on in the morning? “My favorite clothes. I have to wear this. This is who I am.” No matter how much you love it, you take it off and put something else on. One day you feel like blue; another day you feel like red. One day you feel free and flowing, another day, more gathered in.

Relax and wear your personality the way you wear your clothes. Let go of the idea, “this is who I am.” When an opinion, comes up of you, stop and look at it. “Ah, what kind of character is this one?” Play with it. See how it feels to have that view.

I think, perhaps not here at silent retreat but a very interesting exercise for many of you would be to divide yourselves in half and each take the part of supporting one of the 2 presidential candidates. Can you support the candidate whom you do not truly support? Could you speak up in support of that candidate, in support of his views? Or perhaps the vice-presidential candidate (laughter). Could you speak up supporting the vice-presidential candidate whose views you don’t endorse? Just see how it feels; see where you’re attached. I’m not suggesting you change your vote, only that you talk about it and see where you’re attached.

Where are you attached to self, to this whole idea of who you are, the habits that have been with you, and so forth? Can you just let it go a little bit? Catch it with the other hand? Practice letting it go that way until you’re ready to fully drop it? How does it feel to be without it momentarily?

Each of you has karmic tendencies that you came into the incarnation to explore and to release. Do it! What’s stopping you? Only fear. Resolve to sit with the fear and watch the experience of it until it resolves itself, and when the fear has resolved, let go of that karmic tendency. It really is as simple as that.

I’d like each of you to think of one strong habit energy you have, such as the judging mind, feeling of unworthiness, attachment to opinions, hatred of snakes or belief that you are not capable in one way or another, not bright enough or not mechanically inclined, or whatever. Pick one belief and look at it. Use the little words, “Is that so?” each time this thought comes up. “Oh, I can’t do that.” “Oh, I hate snakes.” Whatever it is, ask, “Is that so?”

At one level there is human who is afraid of snakes, at another level there is the human who is able to just sit and watch these creatures. At one level there’s the human who can’t figure out how to change the tire, and at another level there’s the human who says, “Of course I can. Of course I can.”

Let it go. What blocks that letting go? It’s really a kind of addiction, an addiction to who you thought you were, which is the limited, small self, instead of being who you truly are.

I was a young monk, a novice, walking in the forest in Thailand. I’d rarely been out of my village, which was in a different and tamer part of Thailand. Now I was in the northeast where there were more thick forests and wild animals. I had met my teacher while he was on a journey where I lived, had ordained with him, and was following him back to where he lived most of the year.

As we walked through the forest, I could hear many different animal sounds including a roaring, snarling sound, and I asked him, “What’s that?” “That’s a tiger.” This was new to me. I had heard there were tigers in the forest, but here was the reality of the tiger.

It was a long walk. Dusk fell, so my teacher simply sat down, hung his mosquito netting to a branch, and said to good night to me. I was quaking with fear, but I watched him and he looked very at ease. He just sat himself down and began to meditate. I thought to myself, “If there was any real danger he would not be so at ease; it must be safe.” So I hung my mosquito netting, put my robe on the ground, and sat. And I also began to meditate, one eye open, keeping a watch. Just in case.

I heard the snarls far away, closer up, far away again, and things slithering around; a great variety of night sounds. Through the little thread of moonlight coming through the trees, I could just barely make out my teacher’s form. After several hours, he lay himself down and went to sleep, so I thought to myself, “It must be safe.” I lay myself down and slept a fitful sleep, but as the night passed, into a more comfortable sleep. At one time I heard padding footsteps go by. In my imagination it was an enormous tiger but of course it could have just been something small.

We rose pre-dawn, packed our robes and mosquito netting, and walked on, several hours walk to the nearest village, not breaking silence as we walked. I was laughing at my fear of the night before, now that it was day. How could I have been so afraid? He’s not afraid. And so I let go of my fear and the sounds of the forest began to sound intriguing and friendly.

We came to the town, offered our alms bowls and were given a meal. We retired back into the edge of the forest to eat. Finally, at the end of the meal, talk was permitted, and I said to him, “I was so afraid in the forest last night. But you were so clearly unafraid, and that gave me courage. I saw how silly my fears were, that there was nothing at all to fear because you were sitting there in such serenity, totally unafraid.”

He looked at me and said, “Me? Not afraid of tigers? I was terrified!” I could not understand this. I said, “But you were so serene!” He said, “There was just the fear of the tiger. If there is fear of the tiger, there’s just fear of the tiger. There doesn’t have to be a story that the tiger will come and eat me, there’s just the experience of fear. I sat with that fear and dread and allowed the experience of it until it resolved itself.” Then a tiger would snarl and fear would come again, and I would note the fear and drop it, again and again. Cultivating the wholesome, abandoning the unwholesome, releasing the stories.”

This was an important teaching to me. Can you see how different it would have been if he truly were not afraid? Then somehow I would have had to learn how to be not afraid. It’s much harder to learn to be not afraid than it is to simply be present with fear and observe the experience of it, knowing that it’s conditioned and impermanent and will pass. I don’t have to be afraid of fear; it simply has arisen out of conditions. I don’t have to act it out.

This is freedom. Yes, you might say, to be totally be unafraid, that would be an amazing freedom. And it comes to a few. But to be able to say, “Yes, when fear arises, I hold space for fear. That which is aware of fear is not afraid. I rest in awareness, watching this object of fear, compassionately watching the body quaking with fear, until it resolves itself.” You can do it.

Find that tendency with which you’d like to work. Do not wage war on that tendency; rather, be a scientist investigating it. Under what kinds of conditions does it arise? How are you presently relating to it? Can you begin to find spaciousness around it? So watch what happens to it. In what ways does it change? Can you see it literally dissolve itself?

Here is freedom. And it will give you much confidence in your abilities to cultivate ever-greater freedom. Truly to live this Buddha nature; to live as an awakened being, with love and courage.

I hope I have inspired you. Thank you for your attention.

If there are any questions about my talk, I would be happy to hear just a few.

Q: I feel a disconnect between, or at least I’m not able to integrate the talks that we had this morning, or even yesterday, about supramundane and then this reflection piece, looking at the object, being curious about the objects. I’m not sure what the transition is between sitting and being in spaciousness and watching objects come and go, and then…

Aaron: Let me see if I understand your question. We talk about objects arising and passing away, the mundane world. These objects, the body, the mind, feelings, perceptions, consciousness, and they arise and pass away, and there is space from which they arise and into which they pass away. Are you asking the relationship of the object and space?

Q: No…If I watch the object arise and pass away–like fear, but more it feels like, I don’t investigate it. I see it come up, and I see it go away, but I don’t investigate it. And that’s very different than investigating the objects when they arise.

Aaron: We have 2 different phases of practice here. To be present with, and to investigate are two different things. With many objects, when they arise and pass away there is really no need to investigate anything. It simply arose, a result of external conditions and one’s karmic conditioning. When there is a loud noise, one is conditioned to startle. You don’t have to investigate it; just to know, it’s a reflexive action, it’s part of the mammalian reflex.

Other conditioning is not so reflexive. (Throws cushion) When I threw it, did you instinctively put your hands out? Reflexive. Can you NOT reach your hands out? Just relax. (Throws again) So, aware of that, were you aware of the subtle tension, and just relaxing it, did nothing to investigate; you see it’s just habit energy? I’m not throwing a heavy rock at you, I’m throwing a soft meditation cushion. Just presence is enough.

One knows because of the ground of your practice, old conditioning is bringing forth this impulse. Right there with the impulse is that which is not caught up in the impulse. You can rest in that spaciousness; you don’t have to act out the impulse.

If there is a habitual pattern that doesn’t yield to that attention, let’s use for example somebody who has an ongoing sense of incompetence, whenever they’re asked to do something, great shame and fear come up–“I can’t do that. I might fail. I might not do it well enough. People will be disappointed in me,”–then one needs to stop and investigate it. It’s a very different kind of work, but after you’ve investigated it and are very clear, “This is just the result of old conditioning,” then you start to work with it as with the cushion. If it’s repetitive and obsessive, so that there is no freedom to just let it hit you and let it go, then you need to investigate it in a different way. Okay? (yes)

Q: This idea of spaciousness is a little confusing to me. It seems as if, for the more complicated conditionings, as in the fear of the tiger in the story that you told us, the investigation of the fear is what helps to put some perspective, a prerequisite to put perspective on the fear and create the sense of spaciousness. Am I thinking correctly there about this idea of spaciousness?

Aaron: There’s a fundamental distortion there, and a very common one, which is that you’re thinking through the perspective of an ego that wants to control things and get it right. And has been working to do it skillfully with love, but still from the perspective from somebody who’s finally going to get a handle on this, get it right, do it right. If the fear comes up and then you say, “If I investigate this and really understand all the parts of it, finally I’m going to conquer it,” you’re in a sense giving power to the fear. As I just said to you, there’s a time when you do have to do it that way because it doesn’t yield. So you will need to take it apart a bit to get some confidence in working with it. But as soon as possible, you need to shift to the spaciousness of that which is not afraid.

You don’t begin with the tiger, you begin with the mouse. You find the hornet that flies around your head, or the mouse that runs over your foot, breathing, right here with fear, the bee is flying around your head, “Right here with fear is that which is not afraid. Can I center in that which is truly not afraid, that can send metta to this quaking human and to the bee, and not get caught up in trying to fix the fear or the situation? Can I simply hold space for it, knowing it grew out of conditions and it will release, as long as I don’t give it energy?” The bee is a good example because the more you swat at the bee, the more agitated it gets. If you leave it alone it will go. The same is really true of the bear. If you leave it alone, it will go. If you’re fighting with it, it will fight back.

So you develop the skill to hold space around what arises and to rest in the spaciousness, watching, let’s not use fear here but anger, for example. Right there with anger is that which is not angry. Feel the reverberations of anger and with full commitment not to enact that anger and do harm. Ask, “Can I simply breathe and hold space,” and watch how the anger gradually resolves. When you do this enough times you become absolutely convinced, “Right there with the anger is that which is not angry.” And then it becomes a question of choice.

We use the practice of clear comprehension of purpose–what is my highest purpose here. Is it to be right and thus, permissible to abuse another because they’re wrong or is the highest purpose to create harmony? Is my yelling at them, yelling out my anger, going to create harmony? Clear comprehension of suitability asks, is what I am about to do suitable to my deepest purpose? You start to find that you do have a choice. You always have a choice. And that if you go into the deepest heart, you can pull forth the more skillful choice and release the unskillful choice. As you get practice in that, working with the bee, working with someone who said something cruel that brought up anger, then when there’s a tiger, you don’t have to start to investigate it. I’ll use a figurative tiger here because when there’s a real tiger, you don’t have much time to investigate it! You get the letter in the mail saying your tax return is going to be investigated, “Oh!” Fear. You don’t have to investigate it, you just have to hold space for the human who is afraid. You stop giving energy to it.

This goes much deeper. Why would anyone call forth that experience for themselves? You do manifest; you do invite into your life. Not alone, you co-create. But the world really is reflecting what you are seeking back to you. If at some level you want to explore lack and abundance, you keep co-creating that cycle. Once you resolve the issue entirely, you relax and simply enjoy the abundance that’s offered. This doesn’t mean you’re going to be a millionaire, it simply means you’re going to know where your next meal is coming from. You don’t have to worry.

You co-create safety and danger. Those of you who keep finding yourself in dangerous situations, please ask why you are inviting such danger? What is it that you’re exploring? So here is where some kind of investigation can be useful. One can begin to ask, not about this moment of fearfulness but the recurrence of such dangerous situations. Why do I keep getting myself into this situation? Is there something that I do not fully understand here? Is there some program running of which I am not mindful, some way in which I’m trying to sabotage myself? So that’s a different kind of investigation. Does that clarify it for you?

Q: Yes, it does.

Q: This morning, John talked about the Unborn, the Undying, could you speak about the deathless?

Aaron: Who were you before you were born? Who were you, what were you? Do you think there was any awareness of any sort? Don’t know? Okay, don’t know.

Zen teachers sometimes talk about one’s original face. But I understand that, unless you have meditation experience of that, you really can’t know, so let’s approach it in a different way.

I think all of you in the room, or most all of you, have had experiences of objects arising and dissolving, arising and dissolving, even just the breath arising and dissolving. At times you open into that space between the breaths, or thought stops and the space opens between the thought, or the sound of the bell dies away (bell). What’s there when it stops? In that moment when the bell stops, go out with it. What’s left? (bell)

At first you take it on trust. Your teachers talk about it and you trust them so you think they must know what they’re talking about. But slowly you begin to get small glimpses of it. You want big bites of it, not small glimpses. But as you go into these small glimpses, you begin to understand, there is something that remains. It’s almost impossible to articulate. If I could take you there by leading you by the hand, it would be very easy, and none of you would have to come to a meditation retreat, we’d just go through a quick introductory process–“Here, shake hands with the Deathless. Thank you, now you’ve met it. Now you’re on your way.”

This life experience is not about certainty, it’s about faith and love. It’s about deepening in the willingness to honor one’s greatest truth, to trust one’s intuition and experience, to go beyond the way things seem, and deeper into the way things really are. The deeper meditation experiences do take you to a place where everything seems to stop completely. We call this direct experience of the cessation of arising and dissolution a cessation experience. The whole conditioned world dissolves. The sense of the body and ego dissolves. Awareness remains. There’s something there, but when people come out of that experience they don’t say, “I experienced this,” they simply say, “There was space.” There’s no “I” in it. They say, “There was peace.” They never describe it in terms of “I had this experience,” because there’s no self in it. People of different spiritual traditions, not just Buddhists, but Moslems, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Native Americans, Bush tribesmen, people of different cultures and traditions have the same experience. When they try to articulate it and it comes out different because people have different vocabularies. But when you really listen to these experiences, you see they’re the same experience.

There’s a beautiful book called The Ground We Share by a Zen master and a Christian monk. (Brother David Steindl-Rast and Roshi Robert Aitken) It’s a very beautiful book. They are in a dialogue together, each trying to express their experiences, and they come to the conclusion it’s the same experience, they each just have their own articulation of it, but it’s the same experience.

So when you hear this from enough traditions, you start to trust this is real. But you have to taste it for yourself. If I told you that somewhere in Africa there is a tree with a delicious pink fruit; it’s very, very juicy and very sweet but not sweet like sugar, and also not sweet like oranges; it perhaps could best be described as a mixture of watermelon and an apricot, very, very sweet and very, very juicy–can you taste it? You’ve really got to taste it for yourself. I can only tell you about it. I know it’s there because I’ve been there and I’ve eaten the fruit from the tree. I can show you where to go, but I can’t eat it for you. You must taste it for yourself.

We’ll stop here and return to evening practice.

(recording ends)

Copyright © 2008 by Barbara Brodsky