April 26, 2010 Monday AM Instructions, Emerald Isle Retreat

Keywords: dependent origination, citta, space/spaciousness, walking meditation, standing meditation, active moment

Aaron: My blessings and love to all of you. I am Aaron...

Yesterday Barbara offered very clear basic instructions. I think of your practice as having a relative level and an ultimate level. I sometimes think of it as a horizontal practice, linear-- this, then this, then this, then this-- or a vertical practice that cuts through.

What Barbara described yesterday is more or less the horizontal practice. We watch objects arise; we watch them pass away. If they're strong we watch the feelings that

arise with them and the mental formations. We watch to perceive the connections between rupa and nama, how thoughts and feelings and opinions and judgments and all mental objects arise based on the physical object. We watch to see how it all passes away.

Out of this practice you derive the deep wisdom: whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease and is not self. It is all arising out of conditions, not self.

Here you are looking entirely at mundane objects. By mundane I mean the world of earth plane conditions. A mundane object is a tree or a car or human body, a mundane sound, a thought, a memory, an idea, the great birds flying overhead. These are mundane objects.

The Pali word citta, speaks of consciousness. Mundane citta takes a mundane object. When the organ, the eye, touches the ocean, seeing consciousness arises. The ocean is a mundane object and it arises out of mundane conditions. The ear touches the splashing of the waves and the mundane level of hearing arises.

Mundane consciousness cannot take a supramundane object. What I'm teaching you here is all from the Abhidharma, which is one segment of the Buddhist sutras, and from a commentary on the sutras called Visuddhi Magga, which speaks with great precision on how consciousness arises and how it passes away. So it's very basic Buddhist thought.

There are also supramundane citta. Citta can be mundane or supramundane. By supramundane citta, we are talking of that which is, which exists free of any conditioning. The supramundane realm is always present but you may not see it. If you look with your eye into water that has a lot of turbulence in it, you might be able to see an inch or two down. That's as far as the eye can see. When the water stills, you can see all the way down 30 feet to the bottom.

The bottom has always been there. The natural clarity of the water has always been there, but the various currents and other conditions that created turbulence in the water prevented you from recognizing the natural clarity and from observing the bottom. As the water stills, its natural clarity comes into focus and you can see through the water and see the bottom that's always been there.

Citta is like this. Mundane citta can only see the top surface, the waves. Supramundane citta cuts through and sees the essence of the water. Supramundane consciousness can perceive a supramundane object, which is, at its deepest level, the Unconditioned, but nada, luminosity, space, and so forth will be recognized as direct expressions of the Unconditioned.

Today we are going to gently direct your practice into attending to the already present supramundane citta, through the choice of connecting with a supramundane object or an expression of the supramundane. The piece of that that we're going to use today is space.

When an object arises, let's use sound, for example. Now it is quiet (pause), and then noting the sound of the bell(bell), "hearing, hearing." As the sound goes out, simply go with it. Where did it go? (repeats: quiet then bell again)

You might only be in that space for a second, and then mind says, what next? Simply note "thinking" and come back to the breath. Or perhaps you're in that space and the space seems to close in and disappear and grasping comes, "I want the space back." Note "grasping, tensing." Come back to the breath. Let's do it again. Let me say one more thing. If the space remains, just rest there. There's no place to go.

(quiet, then bell)

So it's as if the turbulent water had stilled itself and suddenly you could see through and see the true nature of the water as clear and luminous. And then the turbulence comes back. You come back up to the top of the sea, you don't keep trying to reach the bottom. It's not that it is not there; it's simply that it is temporarily not available. It is obscured by conditions. So we move back and forth between the mundane and the supramundane citta.

We call both nada and luminosity direct expressions of the Unconditioned. They are still conditioned objects but they take the Unconditioned itself as the condition for being. Since the Unconditioned is literally the Unborn, Undying, it does not come and go; thus nada and luminosity do not come and go. But the doorway to perception must be open.

Space is the same. It's hard to tell you how to identify space other than the hints I have given.

The way I'd ask you to practice today is, when an object arises to bring attention to it if it becomes predominant. If there are strong feelings – pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral – the feeling itself may become the next object. Strong unpleasant feeling; just be with that. What is that? How does strong unpleasantness feel in the body, or strong pleasantness, for that matter? If aversion arises out of that unpleasant experience, that sensation may become the predominant object of that moment.

As you stay with each one, eventually you will begin to see the object dissolve and there will be spaciousness. Sometimes fleeting spaciousness, sometimes for quite awhile. It's simply the space before the next object arises.

Yesterday when I shouted, a number of you said you felt that space after the shout. Barbara was deeply experiencing that space this morning in her sitting on the beach, watching the waves arising, folding over, crashing down, and then there was no wave for a moment, there was just space.

The mist was such that earth, sea, and sky fully released any separateness. The sea was in the earth, the sky was in the sea. It was all there together. So the experience of a concrete anything disappeared, there was just the flow of the aggregates and flow of the elements.

Into that flow came a great sense of space until space finally became the predominant object for her, just space, empty of any self, empty of any separation, just space. I can only give you hints about how somebody might experience this. I'd like to hear from some of you how you experience space as this may give others a better sense of what I'm talking about. Is there anybody who has had a strong experience of space in the last few days who's willing to talk about it?

Q: This isn't a strong experience nor was it in the last few days. However, I have worked with the expansion of space at the top of my breath and at the bottom of the breath. I find that the more I work with that, the longer I can stay in the space at each of those points.

Aaron: Thank you, that's helpful. Let's review that exercise because it's a helpful one for many people.

Sitting up, eyes closed. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, and breathing out. It seems like the breath is connected, the inhale simply giving way to the exhale, as the waves at first seem to come in, the cresting wave giving way to the falling wave. And then the new wave coming and cresting.

Between the inhale and exhale and again between the exhale and the next inhale, there is a space often called the aperture, spelled like a camera aperture. Breathing in, space. Breathing out, space. Breathing in, space. Breathing out, space.

We'll watch the space arise at the end of the inhale and at the end of the exhale, and one will feel predominant, will feel bigger than the other. (pause) Bring your attention now to that one so that you're breathing in, aware of the space, not hurrying the exhale and not withholding it, just resting in that space for whatever seconds or fractions of a second before the exhale begins. Or it may be the other way and the predominant space is at the end of the exhale. Try it for a minute...(pause)

So that is the space to which Q is referring. Thank you, Q. Others, your experiences of space?

Q: The space at the end of the exhalation is my primary object. And it feels like everything is dissolving or, here's a metaphor. It's like going somewhere without a vehicle. And then sometimes I lose awareness and at the end of the sitting I don't know where I've been.

Aaron: So the space has the quality of being immense and you can get lost in it. I would suggest that if you keep mindfulness strong; you won't get lost in it so much. What is the direct experience of that space? Is there something within it on which oyu can hold the attention? So again we have space with the breath.

Q: It's seductive.

Aaron: Because it's immense. Do you experience any luminosity? If so, you may wish to try using that as a primary object.

Q: Yes. A general radiance. Thank you.

Q: Sometimes I feel, especially when I'm meditating outside, as though I'm in a wind tunnel and wind kind of flattens me back, strong ... waves.

Aaron: I understand that. Can you note pleasant, unpleasant, neutral with those waves? Thank you.

Q: I have been experiencing the spaciousness getting more moment to moment where in daily life where there's the cessation of a thought or other sense perception and then there's space after the sensation of that object. So I'm finding the spaciousness more moment to moment awareness.

Aaron: The importance of it in daily life cannot be understated. Space is everywhere. This is, when I say, " that which is aware of fear is not afraid," there is on the mundane level the experience of fear and on the supramundane level, that supramundane citta rests in spaciousness; pure awareness rests in spaciousness, and there's no fear there. That which is able to rest in spaciousness can watch fear without any self-identity with fear or with anger or with loneliness or frustration or whatever may have come.

This can never be used as a way of getting away from whatever has arisen and is unpleasant. In other words, you can't say, "I want to go someplace else because I don't like feeling pain in my back or feeling anger," only, to know they exist simultaneously. As long as there's any intention to get away from something by going someplace else, you're distorting the practice and in the long run it will not serve you.

So the question is, how do you hold both simultaneously? It can be done, very easily done. It's not something tricky to learn, it just comes with practice.

If the weather permits us, we'll be practicing some with it this afternoon on the beach, watching the aggregates on the ocean arising and dissolving, watching the elements. Seeing the space. I'll talk more about that this afternoon.

You can practice with it in walking meditation, focusing on lifting and moving, placing, standing. Watch the intention and impulse to raise the next foot. Lifting, intention, impulse to move, lifting, moving, placing. So do that for a few minutes.

Then begin to do it much more slow motion, aware of the intention, impulse to lift the foot, lifting and the moving, and between these objects, feel the space. For example, see the impulse to move the foot, then moving, moving, moving. Next, see the impulse and as the impulse to move the foot stops, with the cessation of that impulse and before movement, rest in the space. Then movement, and with the cessation of the movement, space. Just be aware of that moment of space. And then putting the foot down. As the foot is fully seated, space.

It's good to practice with walking meditation because your attention can be fully given to it and you're more fully in the world than you are sitting with your eyes closed. The point here is to become stable at seeing and experiencing the space right there with the object.

At first it seems to be linear, the in breath and then space, the exhale and then space, the lifting and then space, the moving and then space. But gradually you begin to experience how all these objects are not so much coming in a linear progression but that space is behind the object. And it's always there, the objects arising out of and dissolving back into that space.

One of the best places to see this is with the waves. Here is the form aggregate arisen out of conditions to what seems like a big cresting wave with a very clear form, but it's a momentary form, constantly changing. Then it folds over and it crashes down and there's just this run of water up on the beach. Where did the wave go? The wave arose out of the ocean and dissolves back into the ocean.

So metaphorically we can use the ocean as a metaphor for the dharmakaya. The waves arising out of the dharmakaya and pouring back into it. And what is the ocean? The sky is in the ocean, especially when it's cloudy or raining. The horizon disappears entirely; which is sea and which is sky? The waves come up and soak into the sand; which is earth and which is water? It all dissolves into one, and the vastness and radiance of dharmakaya as ground for it all.

So during the day, do some sitting on the beach regardless of whether you join us for this afternoon's instruction. Do some sitting on the beach, and do some walking meditation.

John, you spoke to me about the walking meditation, suggesting we talk more about it. Is there anything you want to add to this?

Clean to here

John: No, but I'd like to ask another question. Actually 2 questions.

The first one is standing meditation-- either standing looking at the ocean or standing in some other place in the retreat area here, say before moving into walking meditation. What would be some ways of working with awareness of space in the context of standing meditation?

Aaron: For me with standing meditation, the primary experience is that of the feet connecting with the earth. At first there seems like a separation of the self and the earth. Then you start to feel the energy movement between them. Using the elements is helpful. You are of the earth element, the earth is of the earth element, and the other elements in different degrees, balancing differently in the human body than in the ground. But you start to see where it comes together.

At that place where there is no longer any separate self or earth, it's not that there's dissolution of self in the deepest sense, but there's dissolution of any identity of me, just merging with the earth. When you feel the emptiness of self there, feel the space in that emptiness. This is one linkage of space and emptiness. You are no longer the small self, but vast, spacious.

Watch the waves; "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." The waves are coming up into form and dissolving into emptiness. The "self" standing here is the wave; feeling the weight on feet, the earth, the energy going into the earth. And then the whole body/self dissolving, just as does the ocean wave. You might (demonstrating) try a meditation, standing, standing, standing, and then be a wave. Feel yourself arising up, becoming a wave, cresting, as form. And dissolving into emptiness. Coming back into the earth. And then feel the space at the end. So I think that could be helpful.

John: The other question relates to habit energy and spaciousness. When habit energy arises, sometimes I experience spaciousness either simultaneously or right after the arising of the habit energy.

Aaron: I want to be sure I am following the question. You experience sometimes the arising of the habit energy and simultaneously there is spaciousness.

John: Either simultaneously or right after the arising of the habit energy is the experience of spaciousness. Can you talk about the relationship between habit energy and spaciousness?

Aaron: I'll speak briefly to this but it needs a longer answer than I can give right here. And perhaps we can address it at the 2:30 discussion period in greater depth.

Habit energies are a kind of impulse energy arising out of conditions. The pattern becomes so conditioned, each follows each follows this like a row of dominoes knocking each other down. As soon as the first one is down, the last one is down even though it has yet to fall, because nothing interrupts that chain.

Then mindfulness can be brought to focus on the chain. There are certain places where the chain can be broken. The work can be done, as I spoke of earlier, on the linear, on the horizontal level of mundane practice or on the vertical level of cutting through, supramundane practice.

On the horizontal level, one can bring mindfulness to the whole flow of the habit energy, catch the-- are you familiar with the term active moment? Do you all know that term?

Let's say that there's a push. (Aaron invites John to push him) Tension comes. Unpleasant feeling. "Unpleasant." I am breathing with it. "Unpleasant." At that point, where unpleasant shifts into aversion with a story of a self – "I don't like this, I'm always getting pushed," – there's a strong tension around it, a strong sense of a self. And there's no space.

At that point, the dominoes are going down and there's no way to stop them until they reach the end. Aversion, anger, self. But (push), tension, tension. Unpleasant. Breathing in, I am aware of the unpleasant feeling, breathing out I smile to the unpleasant feeling. Breathing. Seeing the aversion wanting to arise, the impulse to move into stronger self, the impulse to move into aversion. But now I can rest in that spaciousness. That which is aware of the arising of aversion is not feeling aversion. I just relax with it, like the tree being blown by the wind. So I find the spaciousness there.

This is still horizontal or mundane practice. I'm still thinking of it in terms of a linearity. But gradually I see the simultaneity of it. The unpleasantness hasn't gone away completely but the impulse toward aversion has gone away because the space is so big that it's holding this whole field. There's just pushing, and after awhile there's not even unpleasantness, there's just pushing. Just sway with it. We could do this all day, no problem. (John is pushing, repeatedly, and Aaron is just swaying the body with each push)

So the story of the self, being pushed, the one who gets pushed around, the one who has been abused, the one who doesn't like to be pushed around, the one who feels powerless, this all fades away. The active moment is the moment when it's not too late, before the first domino has toppled. You see the hand coming to push the first domino. Maybe the first one is toppled and you get your hand in just as it gets toppled and it just topples against your hand and doesn't go down the whole chain. Space. When mindfulness sees the dominoes about to tumble and is able to step back there is space. Once they begin to tumble, there is no space.

Does that answer your question, John? It's after 9:30 so let's stop here...

Let me summarize the instructions. Doing the practice as instructed yesterday. Simply become increasingly aware of the space that's there. When objects dissolve, rest in the space into which they dissolve. When objects arise, notice the space out of which they're arising. When there's a push, observe the tension that might arise, or the impulse to react, and begin to see it all just held in this field of spaciousness.

I'll talk more perhaps in my next dharma talk about habit energy and how we work with habitual energy. One of my tasks this morning, which I did not fulfill, was to talk about the hindrances. You are undoubtedly meeting some of the hindrances already. Smile to them. That's my instruction for the hindrances. "Oh you again, have tea." Don't get a stick and try to chase them away. Don't crawl on your hands and knees trying to sneak away, or put on your racing shoes, trying to get away from them. Don't fall flat and think they're going to whip you and beat you. Just smile to them and give them tea.

Thank you.

(session ends)