April 24, 2010 Saturday evening, Emerald Isle

Keywords: vipassana, precepts

Aaron: We are here at Emerald Isle at the beach retreat, April 24, 2010. When you've lived as long as I have the years are as hard to keep straight as for you to recall what day of the week it is. It's not a matter of memory, I'm just not used to that way of dating the seasons.

I asked John and Barbara for the opportunity to speak to you just to set the ground for the retreat. It's a vipassana retreat, of course, and that is a core of our practice.

With vipassana practice we note objects that arise into the experience. As they become predominant, you are present with that object. As it passes away, you come back to whatever you're using as a primary object. I know some of you may use different primary objects at different times: the breath, nada and luminosity.

With your usual vipassana practice, when something becomes predominant – voice, hearing, tension, touch – and pulls at your attention, you'll note it. As that sound changes or dissolves you return to the primary object, the breath, nada or whatever. As the practice settles down, mind becomes very focused, very clear.

Gradually you begin to discern the space out of which the object has arisen and into which it dissolves again. You've all done this "looking through the fingers" exercise with me. Looking at the fingers, looking through at the vast space.

This leads us to a practice that is similar to dzogchen practice but I don't want to call it dzogchen or give it any special name, it's simply that spaciousness or luminosity itself becomes so predominant that you rest there. This becomes the primary object.

We can notice the arising of a mundane object like a scent as an arisen predominant object, or perhaps a sound like a voice. If there is no predominant mundane object, we rest with the primary object. Spaciousness or light may become predominant in your experience; as you open into that spaciousness or luminosity, you observe that it differs from mundane objects in that it does not arise and pass away, but merely moves into or out of your direct experience. Hence, at first it seems to be an arisen object but as you remain with it, it shifts and becomes the primary object.

What I want to do with you in this retreat is help you develop your vipassana practice to the point where you're experiencing a great deal of spaciousness and luminosity. This retreat is an excellent place to do that because you have the vast landscape of sea and sky.

We'll talk a lot about this in the coming days. This is not to be an instruction period, just a brief introduction to the retreat. In the afternoons, not tomorrow, tomorrow just sitting, but Monday through Friday we'll have our usual optional instruction period on the beach. I'm not going to repeat anything we've done in the past but hopefully to take you into some new places, working with the elements and especially with light and space. Working experientially, not just talking about it.

So those of you who are more drawn to doing a more traditional vipassana practice and just want to be quiet in the afternoons, that's fine. Others of you may be drawn to explore, I don't even want to call it a traditional vs. a non-traditional vipassana practice, it's really a vipassana practice that's focused on the arising and passing away of mundane objects vs. a vipassana practice that's more openly inclusive of the various kinds of objects that arise--working with energy, with light, with space, and so forth.

I'm very much looking forward to sharing this period of time with you. I want to note here that 7 of you are either in Venture Fourth or working alongside of it. Some of what I want to do here overlaps that material. In our small groups we'll touch on some of that material, especially for those of you who are in the program and who have been working with it. Here I'm talking about working with luminosity, with the elements, with energy, and so forth.

But don't get the idea that this is in any way different than vipassana. The word passana means "seeing". Vipassana means a deeper clearer seeing. We're seeing deeply into the nature of things as they are, both the conditioned realm and the unconditioned, and that is our practice.

Thank you.

I'm going to lead you now in the precepts. We're not working from a sheet, just follow along behind me...

Please recite after me...

In order to do our practice, we must be calm and settled, not at war with ourselves or others. So we start with a base of sila. These are not hard and fast rules of conduct as much as mindfulness exercises because when you make a statement "I will not kill," how then are you going to walk on the sand where there may be small microorganisms?

But it becomes too complex to say, "I will not intentionally kill through malice." Think about what it means to do harm or not to do harm, the energy that comes up in you when you willfully harm another, or take from another or lie to another. This is what we're talking about, to become aware of that energy and the acting out from it, and to make the choice not to go there, not to act out negativity. So it's a mindfulness exercise.

But it also, because all of you agree to this, it helps people to feel safe. Nobody's going to be talking about them behind their back or go into their room and take something from their belongings. You feel safe here.

Let us begin.

I undertake the precept to do no harm to any living being.


I undertake the precept not to take that which is not freely given.


I undertake the precept to be mindful of speech so that I will not harm other beings through incorrect speech.


I undertake the precept to be mindful of the energies of my body, to watch sexual energy, emotional energy, and not to use my body energy in ways that may harm others.


I undertake the precept not to bring into my body any substances that will harm the body or lessen mindfulness and presence.


This last one is going to create an interesting challenge because of the delicious food here and the tendency some of you have to overeat. Watch how that overeating lowers the mindfulness and presence, makes the body sluggish. But, oh that brownie was so good and you just wanted another one! Or the strawberries or whatever it was that enticed you. Can you fully enjoy this food with mindfulness that takes only what the body needs?

Work with each of the precepts in this way. Ask yourself, "How does this apply to my life right here and now?" Not to take that which is not freely given. When you slam a door you're taking the quiet away from other people. Be aware, that's all it takes.

The taking of the precepts is deep commitment to be present and to watch the habitual movements of mind and body.

Thank you.... I want to say a special hello to you before I leave the body, to each of you actually. Looking around, a few of you do not know everybody else. Would you simply say your names? (everyone says their name) Thank you.

(John speaks and leads refuges, not transcribed by request)