April 26, 2011 Tuesday Evening, Emerald Isle

This isn't something we normally bring into a vipassana retreat. I've brought it in because we're working with the elements, and because a half dozen of you are in Venture Fourth where we've talked about it. But I see a value in understanding the direct experience of the akashic field because it is the ground, quite literally, out of which much expresses.

I explained today that pure awareness, or consciousness, are citta, forms of consciousness, mundane and supramundane. Every citta takes an object. The elements, and also the aggregates, are objects that consciousness may hold, connect with.

The akashic field is also to some degree an object, but it's more a supramundane object. It's the ground, quite literally. Barbara did not bring her computer downstairs with her. There was a poem I wanted to read with you. I would need to see it... (someone fetches the computer).

So we explore the akashic field, which is a, I hesitate to call it a doorway into the Unconditioned; doorway feels too limited. It's part of the passageway that you move through.

Awareness of the akashic field is really is very connected to the traditional Theravada pathway that's described in the sutras and the commentaries. One watches the arising and passing away of objects, begins to see the distinction between the objects and the mind that touches the object. Mentality/ materiality,; nama, rupa. One sees that's it's all arising and passing away out of conditions, not of the essence of a separate self, that it's all impermanent, and that clinging to it as self creates suffering.

Eventually one sees that everything is impermanent and not of the nature of a separate self, and lets go of that idea. When this insight first comes, there's fear. "Everything is dissolving, I will dissolve." One takes that fear itself as the object and sees this is also just a conditioned object, and moves beyond the fear, where the fear itself dissolves into an experience of emptiness. There can be a profound experience of the whole body dissolving, of the ego structure dissolving.

This dissolution can happen with a certain level of awareness that watches the process, asking, "Whose awareness is this?" If there's no self, what or who is aware? Or it can happen without that level of awareness, just moving through, Pow! No self! Then coming back out, "What was that?"

Just as resting in awareness makes it easier to move into the experience of emptiness, in my experience an experiential understanding of the akashic field makes it easier. It's just getting to know this ground of being.

Let me find the poem...

This is from Hongzhi who was a 12thcentury Zen master. His book, Cultivating the Empty Field, has many very beautiful short teaching songs, most of them less than a page. You could spend a week's retreat reflecting on each one. It's a very profound and beautiful book.

The Bright, Boundless Field

The field of boundless emptiness is what exists from the very beginning. You must purify, cure, grind down or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness. Utter emptiness has no image, upright independence does not rely on anything. Just expand and illuminate the original truth unconcerned by external conditions. Accordingly we are told to realize that not a single thing exists. In this field birth and death do not appear. The deep source, transparent down to the bottom, can radiantly shine and can respond unencumbered to each speck of dust without becoming its partner. The subtlety of seeing and hearing transcends mere colors and sounds. The whole affair functions without leaving traces, and mirrors without obscurations. Very naturally, mind and dharmas emerge and harmonize. An ancient said that non-mind embodies and fulfills the way of non-mind. Embodying and fulfilling the way of non-mind, finally you can rest. Proceeding you are able to guide the assembly. With thoughts clear, sitting silently, wander into the center of the circle of wonder. This is how you must penetrate and study.

Let me read you one more, but in this Bright Boundless Field, basically he's describing the akashic field.

This is less directly related to the akashic field but is a favorite of both mine and Barbara's.

Simply Drop Off Everything

Silently dwell in the self, in true suchness abandon conditioning. Open minded and bright without defilement, simply penetrate and drop off everything. Today is not your first arrival here. Since the ancient home before the empty kalpa, clearly nothing has been obscured. Although you are inherently spirited and splendid, still you must go ahead and enact it. When doing so, immediately display every atom without hiding a speck of dirt. Dry and cool in deep repose, profoundly understand. if your rest is not satisfying and you yearn to go beyond birth and death, there can be no such place. Just burst through and you will discern without thought-dusts, pure without reasons for anxiety. Stepping back with open hands, (giving up everything) is thoroughly comprehending life and death. Immediately you can sparkle and respond to the world. Merge together with all things. Everywhere is just right. Accordingly we are told that from ancient to modern times all dharmas are not concealed, always apparent and exposed.

(A kalpa is a very long period of time.)

So this is just a taste of Hongzhi.

The experiential understanding of the akashic field is not a necessity for your practice, it's simply a helpful tool. Just as pure awareness practice is not a necessity for liberation but a helpful tool. We add these helpful tools where we can because you as humans have a tendency to get stuck in different places, including that small container of relative reality.

So we're helping you explore the connecting bridge between relative and ultimate reality, which is what the akashic field really is. How does that little bear (in the red relative/ultimate canisters) jump from one container to the other? There can be a pow! kind of meditation experience, or there can be a gradual bridge connecting relative and ultimate reality, and we could call that bridge the akashic field.

The exercise I'd like you to do: a few of you may have done this with me at some time in the past. It comes from Stephen Levine. It's all the "Ah Breath" exercise. We will break into pairs. You will take turns. One person first lying on the floor or the sofa, as is appropriate for you, and the partner watching. The person lying down will breath normally, normal breath. (deep breath) It may be a deep, long breath, or it may be a shallow breath. You are not trying to change the breath, just to breathe.

Your partner will either place his or her hand on the abdomen or just watch, noting the rising and the falling of the breath for a few breaths. Breathing right along with you, your partners breath rising with your breath and falling with your breath. And after a few breaths, your partner will begin to say, "Ahhh..." with every exhale. Your exhale. You're lying down, you breathe in, you breathe out. As you breathe out, you hear your partner's "Ahhh....". Let it be loud enough for your partner to hear it clearly but not so loud that it echoes across the room so everybody hears it. If you are touching the abdomen, gradually release that touch so just the breath is touching.

For the person who is lying down, this can be a profound experience of connection. Somebody so close to you for 10 or 15 minutes that they're actually breathing with you, catching every nuance of your breath. For the partner who is sitting and saying, "Ahhh...", who is doing this? It brings us back to the question, who is serving?

You begin to see that this Ahhh cannot come from the place of the small ego. You can't do it, there's too much effort. You can't stay with it. But when you relax into emptiness and love simply watches, breathes, and says "Ahhh..." for many people there's a profound experience of letting go of the self, of letting go of the one who is trying, who is doing, and simply relaxing into pure being, just breathing and saying "Ahhh...".

Do this one direction, it should take 10 to 15 minutes, and then you will switch. So it should take about half an hour to do this exercise.

I want to tell you a brief story that Ondrea Levine told us. They had picked up a dog that was scheduled to be destroyed because it snapped at people. It was a lovely looking dog but it was very frightened and seemed to be vicious. So Ondrea and Stephen brought it home. They had a small kennel in their yard.

For several weeks Ondrea fed the dog, just opening the door enough to push in the dog food, and sat on the ground outside the cage talking to the dog. But still, whenever she approached, the dog snarled. When she started to open the catch, he would snarl. She didn't know what to do. She knew if she failed this dog it was going to die.

One day after the dog ate, he laid down. He was just lying there breathing. He was no longer growling at her, just had fallen asleep; she was sitting very still. She began to watch his breath, "Ahhh...". She spent about half an hour just breathing with him. After about half an hour he got up, tail wagging, and walked over for the first time and put his nose against the edge of the cage, tail wagging, trying to get his nose to her.

She continued the "Ahhh..." even though he was now upright. Staying with his breath, she opened the cage and he sniffed at her hand, licked at her hand. That was it. She said this dog never snarled again. This touched something deep inside him and allowed him to release his fear and defendedness.

It's a very powerful exercise. The exercise is optional. If you do not wish to participate, that's fine. You may wish to simply sit quietly and meditate...

So form your groups, choose a partner. Are there any questions? No...

(exercise; recording ends)