April 26, 2011 Tuesday Afternoon on the Beach, Emerald Isle Retreat

(Speaking over the sound of surf and jets.)

Aaron: My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron... Many airplanes flying through, I will not try to speak over them...

Today let us address akasha. The akasha is different than the elements. It's sometimes considered one of the elements but it's not quite the same. I would not call the elements things; they express themselves through things. The water element here expresses itself through the ocean; the ocean itself is not the water element, it's a very powerful expression of the water element. The sun is not the fire element but is a very powerful expression of the fire element. And so forth.

What are the bare elements? Can we also consider them things? Let's look for a moment at the aggregates: the aggregate of form, the mental aggregate, consciousness aggregate. We can consider these things, they are objects. The fire element is not an object in the same way but implants itself in objects, or expresses through objects.

If you move beyond the fire element, where did it come from? Does it arise and pass away? The aggregates arise and pass away. But the elements do not seem to arise and pass away, they simply are, on the earth plane, because consciousness does not experience beyond that from which they arise and beyond that into which they pass. . They are still conditioned. These same elements are not identical on other planes of being.

I'd like you to imagine a vast container that holds a mix of all of an infinite variety of objects, like bubbles, red bubbles, blue bubbles, yellow bubbles, green bubbles. They have motion and respond to touch, moving if poked. When moved they may collide, and even absorb into each other. Yet they stay in the container.

What is the container itself? Let us call it relative reality. The akasha is more than the container; the akasha has an energetic component, but in one sense it is the greater container out of which all arises. We can compare it to what we sometimes call ground of being.

What's the use of knowing akasha? One of you was talking in the small group today about watching dissolution, even awareness watching itself and that dissolving. What does it dissolve into? What remains?

We might call akasha an intermediary step in the process of dissolution. Eventually even the akasha seems to dissolve, seems to because that which is capable of perceiving the akasha has dissolved. But the akasha still remains.

So far, this is concept. What I'm going to ask you to do today is, you don't have to sit with your feet in the water today but to sit facing the water, ideally on damp sand. You don't have to sit so you get soaked but I'd like you to feel the dampness. Feel the sand. You are then experiencing water element and earth element through your body, through your eyes, through touch. Let's concentrate first on just those two elements, water and earth.

There's a place as the wave comes in, between coming and going; look at it now. Watch the wave... See it soaking into the sand, and then you're left with wet sand. There's a place where water and earth element completely intermingle. I want you to use that as a place to break through, into the akasha. You're seeing the surface elements; move through. It's like your baking, T. There's the batter and the bowl. The batter may be sugar, flour, eggs and other objects but they lose their distinct identity when combined and become something new. You scrape the bowl very well with the spatula, put the cookies on the cookie sheet and you put them in the oven. The bare bowl is left, and the empty egg shells, perhaps.

What was the batter? Is there any one thing you can point to and say, "This is the batter?" What held the batter? A bowl, yes; but what is the bowl? It is also made of conditioned objects and the elements. I want you to break through and experientially to find that container.

If it's useful, you can pull in the air or fire element but you may find it easier to do with just 2 elements. If you wish, you can use air and fire instead of earth and water. It doesn't matter that much which 2 elements you use, only choose 2 very immediately identifiable elements that you can feel within the body and see within the landscape.

Resting in awareness; your vipassana is put aside here a bit and it's more pure awareness practice. Awareness present with these elements, seeing the water element expressing itself powerfully through the ocean, the earth element expressing itself powerfully through the sand. See the place where they come together, seeing that both elements continue and are also impermanent in any immediate form. Where do they come from? Break through into the akashic field. You notice I don't say akashic element but akashic field, the vast field in which these elements root themselves and then express as ocean or beach or whatever.

You can also investigate within the self but I think you'll find it easier just to watch the ocean, keeping your hand on the earth, feeling the damp sand. Get a sense of breaking through. I'd like to hear any questions; then we'll do this for 30 minutes, and then we'll talk about it.

Some of you are thinking, "I can't do this!" Just try!

Q: Is it the same as the space out of which objects arise?

Aaron: Exactly. That's another way to come to know akashic field, that space. Energy, movement of body energy, is not any of the elements specifically, it contains all of them. It's not quite another element and yet it's similar to the elements. Those of you who are very attuned to the body and body energy can look for the akashic field by watching the moment of body energy and going down, or (within) to the source of that energy. So these are all different ways to watch it.

Watching the breath. The aperture between the breaths and going through; break through into the akashic field that holds that space.

Q: When Barbara was talking yesterday about her experience of dissolution as she sat by the ocean, is that space the akashic realm?

Aaron: It's the akashic field. And the akashic field is the doorway to the Unconditioned.

Q: I had that experience last year but I could not stay there because I had this, Wow! And came out of it.

Aaron: As you come to understand it better, it is easier; one help of conceptual understanding is there's no less of appreciation of it but you're not so wow'd by it. It makes sense. "This is what I've come to know."

Q: It felt like love.

Aaron: Yes. I think love is a very direct, I don't want to call it expression but component of the akashic field. Love and compassion are components of the akashic field. Light is a component of the akashic field.

So, speaking of what Barbara experienced yesterday, sitting and watching the waves, being the waves, as you were doing yesterday, feeling each of the elements in the body and feeling the whole body dissolve as ocean. It's like when you sound the bell and you go out with the sound of the bell, out into the akashic field, literally. Have you experienced that, at times when the bell sounds? Just consciousness, following into the akashic field. This experience of dissolution of the body through the dissolving into the elements is another way of deeply experiencing the akasha.

I just want you to get what it is because as I said, it is one useful doorway into the Unconditioned and it's helpful to understand it. Ah, here's the door! It's not the Unconditioned itself, it's the vestibule into the Unconditioned. Are there any questions?

Q: You are using the term "breaking through". Is it also like an opening...? (inaudible)

Aaron: You're breaking through something that seems solid into the space beyond. "Opening" is not quite correct, an opening implies just a small aperture, but the akasha is infinite. You're falling through from the whole conditioned personal experience into what lies beyond it.

Have you ever climbed a high mountain and found the peak enveloped in clouds, sat at the peak, no view, just clouds, and suddenly the clouds blow away and there's the vast landscape? It's that kind of experience. It's always been there. You can't see it unless you get to the peak, otherwise your view is inhibited by trees, brush and other obstacles. But when you get to the peak, there still are clouds. As you break through the clouds, or in this case the clouds melt away, there is the vast view.

What I am after is for you to have at least a taste of the akashic field, to get to know it well enough to say, "Okay, I understand what it is." Then we'll talk more about the usefulness of knowing what and where the akasha is. First, let's just taste it.

Okay, about 30 minutes...

(practice period)

Barbara: Continuing now after a period of practice, with people's experiences...

Q: I want to talk before anyone else so I don't get afraid to say, I went somewhere different or weird or something. If I did this correctly, I found it easier to use all 4 elements. It was hard to ignore two. I believe I got to a place where the tears came and I said, "Who will be there to meet me, over there?" And they said, "We will." And I said, "Okay." But then I came back to the sand. And I feel grateful I got a taste. And I feel grateful I got a glimpse.

Q: I sat for quite awhile with my eyes open, trying desperately to get to that space. Of course, I knew I was trying too hard. So I slowed down and relaxed, and I felt a profound sense of sadness. What came to me next was compassionate regret. And then I was able to simply close my eyes and feel the oneness. I too got a glimpse of it, the oneness. It was warm and compassionate.

Q: For me it was like sitting on top of a Ferris wheel and then just about going over, and then falling over and getting caught by a basket of love, just being supported and held.

Q: I went for a long walk after lunch and watched the dance of the earth and the water all along the beach. So I've been watching that dance. I too went somewhere, saw lots of colors, and suddenly there was a shift and I felt tears. And the message I heard was, the same thing that Aaron told me the first time I was in conversation with him through Barbara, that is, "You belong." More tears. I too am grateful for this experience.

Q: I don't know. There was falling into dzogchen and that was the predominant experience.

Q: I didn't have any luck using two elements. I had more luck when I opened up into a more dzogchen-like experience.

Barbara: Aaron is saying, the using of 2 elements was just to simplify, but for those of you who found it easier with 4, that's fine, that's perfect. He is also saying that rigpa and the akashic field are interwoven but not identical.

Rigpa or pure awareness is citta. The akashic field is the object of which citta becomes aware. You can experience the akashic field best resting in pure awareness, but even when you're not in pure awareness, you can break through the solidity of the aggregates, the solidity of the elements, into this "bright boundless field." He's using a term from a poem he says he will have me pull off my computer and paste in the transcript, "The Bright Boundless Field," by Hongzhi, a 12th century Zen master.

The Bright, Boundless Field1

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.

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.

Aaron says pure awareness or whatever level of consciousness exists is citta and touches the object of the akashic field. The akashic field is a boundless radiant object out of which everything seems to be expressing.

An experience I have had many times but I did not have today, while sitting with a mix of vipassana and dzogchen, is resting in awareness and feeling like I was sitting on the edge of a giant container, like a cauldron. I sit on the edge and observe objects emerging out of it. This was 15 or more years ago, that I first had this experience. I had no idea what the container was, only that everything was emerging out of that container and sinking back in as it dissolved. I see now that that container is the akashic field, a giant stewpot out of which everything is expressing.

What pulled at me today was not the water element or the earth element but seeing the foam, which is more air element. It wasn't water and it wasn't earth, and it was blowing and disappearing, and literally blowing into my lap, simply blowing around. What is it? And that, "What is it?" took me right into the heart of the akashic field.

Everything stopped being separate. The foam was no longer foam, the foam was simply wind and water element with some earth element mixed in. When the sun caught it, the fire element was mixed in. And it was all blowing out of the akashic field.

Are there any other comments or questions?

Q: I guess for me, it was very hypnotic, more hypnotic than anything for me. I had that sensation with the foam, with the water just touching the sand and then suddenly it was gone, that was the hypnosis piece for me. And then I guess it was the feeling I was looking into the belly of the earth. That was just a feeling, like the belly of the earth. It was a very continuous kind of feeling, but that's kind of where I went.

Q: Would you use the word vehicle to describe the elements? A vehicle for our consciousness? Is that accurate?

Barbara: Consciousness is a vehicle, yes. It also is simply consciousness.

Q: Are the elements are vehicle?

Barbara: You guys don't ask easy questions! Yes, but I think not in the way you mean it. The elements are a vehicle through which the akasha can express itself on the earth plane. The elements are not a vehicle through which we travel, they're a vehicle for the akashic field to, it's not even the akashic field-- Aaron, what would one call it? That Which Is. That Which Is, which rests in the akasha and expresses through the elements onto the earth plane.

Q: Thank you.

Q: I was noticing the energy field above the water and the waves. A woman and a dog walked through that field. It was like they blended perfectly into the field. They entered one end of the field and they just walked out...

Barbara: We've talked about elements. Auras and energy are whole other areas that we're not going to touch on now. I don't want to draw too much into it, I want to keep it simple and as related to practice as possible. But yes, everything emerges out of that field and dissolves back into it.

So I would like you to practice to whatever degree you are able between now and tomorrow, growing increasingly familiar with the experience of the akashic field. Tomorrow morning in the instruction period I'll talk a little bit about how we bring that into our vipassana practice, why it's helpful, and how it relates to dissolution of body and ego and the opening into the Unconditioned. It's a stepping-stone, and it can be very helpful and reassuring to see a familiar friend there as you open more into the Unconditioned.

Q: Last year, Aaron had us play-act in groups each of the 5 elements. The 5th element was spaciousness. I remember because I was that. It changed my relationship to space. Was that the nursery school version of akasha?

Barbara: Space is both an element as expression of the akashic field and also in a very real way IS the akashic field. So this year we're not going into as much depth with space or any of the elements individually. Most of you were here last year and did those element dances, and have a good sense of the elements. Now we're looking at the question, what is the ground out of which the elements emerge and into which they pass away? Space is a characteristic of that ground, an expression of that ground. Luminosity is an expression of that ground. Anyone else?

Q: I arrived late to this group. You may have spoken about this, but what is the relationship between the elements and the aggregates?

Barbara: They are both "things". The elements and the aggregates are both objects, noted as objects of consciousness, or of awareness. So consciousness, citta, touches objects such as the aggregates or the elements. The akashic field is not a consciousness; it's an object. The aggregates pour out of it, the elements pour out of it; it's the container for everything. Yet at a certain point it ceases being a thing. When mind and body dissolve, the next step often for people is that the ground also dissolves. There's no more akashic field, there's no nothing. Okay?

Q: Do you have to experience dissolution of body in order to experience the akashic realm?

Barbara: No, either can come first. So experiencing the akashic realm, as we see it dissolving, the body dissolves with it. But if there is body and ego dissolution and we're resting in the akashic realm, then we see even the akashic realm is a conditioned object and we go through that into emptiness, into the Unconditioned. Either can come first.

So you're not trying to create something. This is why we're looking at the akashic field. As we rest deeply in the akashic field, we begin to experience how everything is pouring out of it and dying into it. Then the conscious or unconscious investigation may take place about this self-consciousness, and how it is arising out of the akashic field and dies into the akashic field, where it goes and what remains.

Q: I thought I needed to have an experience of body dissolution. Like I experienced last year. Like you were talking about yesterday. And I did not experience that today.

Barbara: No. We start wherever we are. Simply hold the concept, there is this thing we call the akashic field. When you find yourself within it, you understand a little bit better what it is. There's not as much confusion about it. There's a better ability to see it simply as the container out of which everything is arising and into which everything is falling back away. And that this also is an object of consciousness. It's still part of the conditioned realm.

Tomorrow morning we'll relate this to vipassana practice and the progression of insights, moving into directly experiencing the Unconditioned.

(recording ends)

1 From Cultivating the Empty Field, Hongzhi, translated by Taigen Dan Leighton