May 1, 2012 Tuesday Evening, Emerald Isle Retreat, Barbara

The Dharma Path; the Path of Knowledges and Wisdoms; dependent origination; Theravada lists that point out supports; Eightfold Path; power of intention; karma and intention; Visuddhi Magga;


Barbara: I'd like to take an overview look with you at the whole dharma path. What are we doing here? We say we aspire to liberation. We say we want to grow in wisdom and compassion, to be free of the ensnarement of karma that brings us back into the repetition of both unwholesome moments and of new lifetimes,.

The dharma is vast and it has so many beautiful qualities and characteristics, so many wonderful supports. There's no tool that's going to be perfect all the time. I see it more as creating a toolbox and becoming familiar enough with the various tools that when you need one, you know which one to pull out. As Aaron has said, if you need to cut wood in half, you don't pull out a hammer. You know how to use your saw. But if you need to put two pieces of wood together, you're not going to bang it with the blunt end of the saw handle, but use a hammer.

What are our tools? Vipassana is the obvious place to start. What is vipassana? We say it's a tool, we say it's a practice. What is it? The word passana means seeing, and vipassana means a clearer, deeper seeing. It's a way of seeing deeply into each moment wherein we gain information about the mind/body experience and interrelationships and start to understand other pieces of the dharma.

When we're very present in the moment, we see that objects arise because conditions are present for their arising and that they dissolve when the conditions dissolve. We see that all mundane arising and dissolving objects are impermanent and it's not of the nature of a self.

In any of these understandings we can swing off into a distortion. We spoke this morning of spiritual bypassing, using a spiritual practice to avoid an experience rather than to go deeper into and to grow in compassion and wisdom from the experience. So vipassana can become spiritual bypassing. It can become a way of avoiding experience. Whatever we're doing, we need to do it with love, with skill, with kindness, with gentleness to ourselves.

John talked about dependent origination the other day; the sense organ making contact, consciousness arising. With consciousness, there are feeling and perception. If the feeling is pleasant, there may be the mental formation of grasping. If it's unpleasant, there may be aversion. We keep watching this progression. After a while, we really catch on to ourselves. “Ah, here is this arising because the conditions are present.” We don't always know what the conditions are. We don't always have to know.

If anger comes up in me, in this mind and body, I don't have to examine every single condition that gave rise to the anger. In this moment, here's anger. Is it pleasant or unpleasant? You might think, “Well of course it's unpleasant,” but not always. Sometimes our anger is very pleasant. We use it to manipulate, to get our own way, to feel powerful and safe. Maybe pleasant isn't the right word, but there's a certain preference to have anger at that moment. At other times it's very unpleasant.

I don't need to know all the causes of the anger. The Buddha talked about a person shot by an arrow that had some poison in it. They take him to the physician and the physician says, “Here's the cause and prognosis. An arrow shot you. I'm going to remove the arrow and use something to help draw out the poison, and we'll bandage it to help it heal.” And you say, “No, wait a minute. I want to know who shot the arrow and what kind of poison they used. What tribe they're from. Where they lived.” Well, by the time you get all that information, you're going to be dead. We just go directly to this moment's experience. Here is anger, or fear, or frustration, or confusion. Can we open our heart to it and be there in the moment?

The Theravada teachings are filled with lists, endless lists. Three - the Three Characteristics of Experiences and the Triple Gem. Four - The Four Noble Truths. Five - The Five physical sense gates. Six  - the 5 sense gates and the mind. Seven - the Factors of Enlightenment. Eight  the Eightfold Path, and so forth. These are all supportive teachings. It is helpful to understand, how do these all go together? What is this dharma really about?

So rather than studying lists and details in that way, we want to feel it in our experience. We start with presence. What is arising in this mind and body in this moment? Knowing the physical sensations. Knowing that there's thinking. Knowing the feeling of it if it's pleasant or unpleasant. Watching that active moment and the shift from pleasant to grasping, from unpleasant to aversion. Watching, how I am relating to whatever has arisen? How am I relating to it if there's grasping, if there's aversion? That becomes the new predominant object. What is the experience with it?

We need to ask ourselves, then, what drives my practice? John spoke with you last night about what is your highest intention. One could say, “My highest intention is to get by with as little damage to myself as possible.” To squeak through. Not to get beaten up over and over again. If that's the case, I want to live my life a certain way. If I say my highest intention is to really learn a deep love, compassion, wisdom, to act according to that compassion and wisdom in service to all beings, then I'm going to make different choices.

In Buddhist countries like Thailand, the practice starts with sila, moral awareness. People aren't necessarily taught vipassana when they're young. That may come later. But there's a very deep moral awareness. People take the precepts regularly. So people bring a lot of attention to how am I acting and why am I acting that way? People offer alms regularly and practice generosity, gratitude and opening the heart.

Even these actions may come from a place of self-centeredness. Am I acting this way so I can get what I want? When we pay attention in our lives, we start to see that whatever choices we make have repercussions. If we're acting to get what we want, we're going to find that we start getting what we don't want, and that we have to experience the consequences of our self-centeredness and greed. If we then blame it on everybody and everything else, we're going to experience those consequences.

Eventually we're lying there maimed and bleeding and we have to ask, what caused this? How did I get here? And to give some self-honesty to the choices that we made that led us to that place. Now, it doesn't always work the other way. We may act with enormous loving kindness in service to others, and we still end up maimed and bleeding. We need to look at that. What happened? How did I get here? In what way might I have invited this pain, this confusion?

So we start to see, with deep honesty, the little side programs that are running. They're not the predominant program but sometimes they're so deeply habituated that we don't know how to avoid them.

I remember many years ago when I first had my summer cabin in Michigan, and there was a main path up the hill from the lake. My cabin was 30 yards, 40 yards off the main path. I first thought to myself, I'll make a new path so I don't have to go all the way up to the top and around and back down. And then I thought, no, I don't really want a path through the woods. So I'm not going to go all the way around, but each day I'm going to walk it a different way, walking through different ways to get over from the main path to my cabin.

This was my intention. I did not want to create a path. But I would find myself not being fully present and simply walking the way I had walked the day before, and in seemingly no time at all there was a path. And then I looked at it and said, “How did that path get there! I don't want a path here. I wanted the woods to be here.” I was simply not paying close attention. Other people would come up and they would see just the barest fragment of a path, so they would cut through that way until it got worn down. And now there's a very nice path with a set of steps up the steep part! Okay, it's helpful. But there is a path through what was once a lovely piece of unspoiled woods.

It just comes from not being mindful in each moment. But yet, we have to give ourselves a little bit of leeway. Being human, we're probably not going to be mindful in every moment. Can we not fret the small stuff? Okay, so there's a path. But, meanwhile, the choices that I've made that seem more important, like creating a really harmonious relationship with my husband, well, I'm doing better with that. I'm being more mindful of my responses to him. I'm not being short-tempered with him. Or if anger comes up, I'm taking time to resolve the anger before I reply. I'm simply trying to be more loving and patient, and he in return is being more loving and patient with me. We're not going to cover every path perfectly, every choice perfectly. But it's very important that we pay attention to the small places where we may sabotage ourselves, and sometimes we do sabotage ourselves.

I had an important meeting I had to plan for next week. I get home Saturday night. Saturday is Hal and my anniversary. I get home at 7 at night. We'll go out for dinner. He very lovingly said, fine, this is the week you have to have your retreat. It's okay if you're gone for our anniversary. We'll have a late dinner together, and we'll have Sunday together. But it turned out that Sunday was the only day that we could have the Deep Spring Center annual sangha meeting. There was no other time. I'm away next weekend, and then it just was getting too late into May. There was no other time.

So Hal again said, lovingly, okay, you can have the Deep Spring meeting on Sunday, and then we'll have Sunday and time on Monday together. It's important to both of us to have time together. But I've also got things I've got to get done. Now there's a meeting I have to schedule to do some planning for an event on May 20, that I have to schedule before I go away to visit my mother on May 11. People said, how about Sunday evening? How about Sunday at 5pm? And I immediately said, “That sounds great.” I didn't ask Hal. I just said, “That sounds great.” And I copied him on the email. I got a blasting email from Hal in return! “I am so disappointed! I am so sad and angry!” Well, all I can do is apologize. He's right.

I was focused on what I wanted. I was not present with what he needed, what we really both need, which is time to be with each other, to celebrate our anniversary; to have a quiet day together, maybe go out to the lake to take a walk or a swim or whatever. So I picked up the flak from that one, a big angry email from him, and a couple of very angry iChats before he settled down and accepted my apology. And of course I changed the Sunday meeting. Not the Sunday sangha meeting but the Sunday second meeting.

It's so easy to slip into those old karmic patterns. For me the pattern that was predominant there was simply, I need to take care of things. This is what I want. I see this slot. I'm the organizer, the one that can get it all together, get it all done. But not really paying attention to other people's needs, or at least not to Hal's needs or even my own. Paying attention to other people's needs: we need the meeting.

We do make these errors. We experience the consequences, and hopefully we learn from them. Rather than beating myself up about it, am I able to say, “I blew it this time. I apologized. I changed it. And in the future I have to be really careful not to infringe on Hal in that way because it's not fair to him.” That's the loving thing to do.

I look at the resistance in me that says, “But when will I have the meeting?” Well, that's beside the point. What's my highest purpose here? Is it to have harmony and a good relationship with my husband, or to have a meeting that I somehow believe I have to have? And what if we don't have the meeting? What if we do it by phone? What if? Can I let go?

So we keep going into the dharma in these ways, taking it back to our practice and looking at the places where we get stuck. For me, that situation is not a deep habitual tendency. I usually am pretty mindful of checking in with Hal about what we will do, what plans we'll make, how we will meet both our needs.

But I know I have certain habitual tendencies that are frequent visitors. One is probably just taking on more than I can easily do. Trying to do it all. I watch that with skillfulness. Who needs to do it all? What aspect of me needs to do it all? Where is this coming from?

If it does harm to others, I really need to acknowledge it, to step back, and to ask myself, what's going on here, because this is not in accordance with what I say are my highest values. Am I willing to, as we talked about this morning, put my head in the ogre's mouth, to really go into this? When I do that, I see the place that feels, people are asking a lot of different things from me. I'm trying to balance everything. I sometimes feel - overwhelmed is not the right word, but simply pushed to the edge. At the point where I feel thusly pushed, who is pushing? Others or my own ego?  I am capable of stopping and saying, “No, I cannot do it.” But I don't stop habitually until I feel myself right at that edge. And I see that it's not a wholesome habitual tendency. I have to learn to stop before I reach that edge.

When I put my head in that ogre's mouth, I see not so much about habitual karmic patterns. There's no longer a real need to please people. There's no longer a strong need to be loved by people and a fear I won't be loved if I don't take care of everybody. It's not that at all. It's just old habit. It really doesn't go beyond habit; being the one who can get things done.

Sometimes we find karmic roots. In other words, if I were still stuck in the mode where I have to please people in order to feel loved, I'd need to look at that in the karma of this lifetime, at least, in my meditation or even possibly in therapy, to see what that was about. But for me, when I look deeply at this, I see that the idea of not doing it doesn't bring up any special fear, any special feelings that I won't be loved, I won't meet people's needs, I won't be the good one. It's just rolling on its own steam. Do you understand what I mean by that?

So at that point I can use a practice like the Four Empowerments. Just seeing each time this comes up how much it is just rolling on its own steam, and how I can step back and hold it with spaciousness. There is compassionate regret that this has arisen again. The decision, I do not want to perpetuate this particular karmic stream. It's unwholesome for me and those around me. Then there's the willingness to bring the antidote, to bring in the balance, which in this case would probably be cultivating more spaciousness in my life in every way. Just stepping back, not making decisions hastily. Not being abrupt. I don't consider myself hasty in making decisions. I consider some people slow in making decisions! But basically if I'm honest with myself, I just look at something and say, “Okay, we'll do that. Okay, this way.” Slow down. Stop and look more carefully at all of the ramifications of this. Just bring that spaciousness and pause into movement. So that would be the antidote.

Practicing in this way means practicing with an open heart, a willingness to look at the habitual tendencies, a willingness to see where they are not suitable to what I say is my highest intention, but all of this coming from a very spacious open place of kindness, of compassion, and never from a fix-it energy.

I've learned to look very deeply at contraction. It's always a giveaway for me. When my whole energy field is contracted, even subtly contracted, it's like a flashing yellow light saying, “Warning! Warning! Warning! Slow down! There's something going on here that you're not paying attention to.” It doesn't have to be strong fear or anger, it's just subtle contracted pushing, need to get it right, want to do it this way. Attachment to views. Coming back into spaciousness, again and again.

So our practice takes us to the ability to watch these things arise, these movements of the body and of the mind. Sila takes us to the deep commitment to non-harm. That commitment to non-harm comes, not out of a “Thou shalt not” kind of expression, but from deeply knowing our oneness with everything. Doing harm to another is doing harm to myself, and vice versa. So this ground for sila is really knowing the unity of all that is. We get to that place of knowing the unity through meditation.

The parts of the Eightfold Path, of sila, panna, and samadhi. Panna is wisdom. As we slow down and pay more attention with our meditation, with mindfulness, deeper wisdom develops, and we become increasingly committed to our highest intentions to do no harm, to live in service to others, to live in kindness and loving kindness. As we do live with more kindness, we find more ease, and that allows mind to stop churning so much. It slows down again. We're able to see deeper, then. Then there's deeper wisdom. The Eightfold Path spirals in this way, deepening.

Eventually we really understand everything is arising out of conditions, is impermanent and not self. We understand that if we take it as self, if we take it as permanent, we will suffer and cause suffering for others. We start to see the ground for suffering, and that it's not on something out there but is directly seen in how we're relating to our experience.

In the commentaries to the Buddha's scripture, especially one called Visuddhi Magga, the Path of Purification, there is a very detailed exposition of the path. It's a series of Insights and Knowledges. I pulled them up on my computer, but I think it's too technical to read them all to you. You don't need all that detailed information on this retreat. You may like to look at them later and I will append them to the transcript.

Just skimming through, the first thing we come to is the clear seeing of conditioned arising and dissolution, and what is called the delineation of mind and matter. In other words, we start to see that something arises in the physical experience in the body. If it's unpleasant, the mind takes that object, the unpleasantness of it, and starts to think about it, to create stories about it and perhaps an aversion to it. What happens in the mind is in the mind. What happens in the body is in the body. But the mind picks up what's happening in the body and builds these stories about it.

So this is the first insight, really seeing the distinction, nama/rupa, mind and body; really knowing what's happening in the mind, what's happening in the body, and seeing how each is conditioning the other.

We move on to see how it truly is all impermanent and not self. We begin to see the whole process of arising expressing out of conditions, and the whole process of dissolution. We watch this, often with some awe, really seeing. We wonder, how is that I lived my life without seeing this before? But finally we really get it.

So we see everything's arising and passing away, and gradually the focus shifts, not on the arising but on dissolution. Everything seems to be dissolving everywhere. Sometimes this is terrifying. People start to think, I'll annihilate myself. What if I keep going with this? So there can be a lot of fear there. At that point we release the stories and take the direct experience of fear as the predominant object. Just knowing, here is fear, and this also is conditioned and impermanent. Not of a nature of self, just arising out of conditions. Attend to the fear but don't make something solid about the fear. That spiritual bypassing would lead one to move into a very blissful place and say, No fear permitted here. And the opposite extreme, to say, “Here's this fear. We have to fix the fear.” That doesn't do any good either.

It's always the same answer, the title of Aaron's book: Presence, Kindness, and Freedom. We're present with the object with an attitude of kindness until we see through it, really see how it has arisen and how it's dissolving, and are free of the stickiness of it. That doesn't mean it's gone, it just means we're free of the stickiness of it.

Eventually we experience the body dissolving and the ego dissolving, everything dissolving. As the fear recedes we start to rest in the spaciousness. The objects arise out of the akashic field, out of the Unconditioned. They dissolve back into it. We begin to rest more in spaciousness beyond arising and dissolution.

At this point in our practice, having the background of resting in awareness can be a very helpful support. If all we've watched are conditioned objects arising and dissolving, arising and dissolving, and we've paid no attention to the space between the objects, then we're going to be more terrified of what happens when everything dissolves. But when you have a deep foundation of resting in awareness, resting in that spaciousness and stillness, and literally seeing the object just expressing out of conditions, and you know it's just conditioned and it will go, then you know what was there before the object arose and after it's gone. There's an ease in which we're not disoriented by objects arising or passing away. We know their nature. We rest increasingly in the spaciousness.

So this whole practice of pure awareness is a very valuable piece to the supports. The practice can be done without that but it's much harder. That's why we teach it this way. We move through this terror of dissolution. We move into a spaciousness that is named Change of Lineage Knowledge. It's an odd term. What it means is, suddenly we shift from feeling ourselves completely within the conditioned realm to seeing the reality of the unconditioned, open to both. We have been seeking liberation in the Conditioned realm and suddenly we understand that the  way is through the Unconditioned.

The consciousness that's been open, for the most part, up to that point, has been mundane consciousness, but we start to open to supramundane consciousness. The Pali words are kuttara (mundane) and lokuttara citta. Citta is consciousness.

So the lokuttara citta begin to open, to supramundane consciousness, in all its different aspects, and we feel more grounded in that consciousness. That's basically what Aaron had you doing today on the beach, doing walking meditation backwards in ankle-deep water. Just feeling yourselves moving into that space of awareness, grounded with the elements, grounded in the body. Really feeling this “One Who Knows” directing you rather than the everyday mind that normally watches where you're going. The ego can't function so well when you're trying to decide where to step when you're walking backwards. You've got to release ego-centered control a bit.

Here is the whole process of opening to the supramundane citta and stabilizing them. This doesn't mean that the mundane citta have gone anywhere. There's still consciousness of this mundane world, this mundane body, this everyday mind. But it's no longer given top rating. It's seen clearly as just the human experience. No big deal. I have preferences. If I step on a squishy jellyfish, it's probably going to be unpleasant. Did anybody? I was wondering if anybody would. When Aaron told me ahead of time he was going to have you do this exercise, and I said, “But Aaron, there are jellyfish lying there on the beach.” he said, “It won't hurt them. The jellyfish are dead and the feet won't be hurt by them.”

So we see the simultaneity. It's not really simultaneous, it's just such a fast switching back and forth, mundane, supramundane. But we see that awareness CAN rest in both, can be stable in both. It's only the ego fear that either wants to choose to be only in the supramundane citta, pushing away the mind and body experience, or the ego that says, “No, I'm just going to stay here in this mind and body.”

We come back to, “what is my highest priority here? What are my intentions?” and really ground ourselves with prayer, with the open heart, the Brahma Vaharas, knowing, “My highest intention is for the highest good for all beings and harm to none and in service to all beings; to live my life with love, with wisdom, with compassion.” It just keeps bringing us back to the possibility of making a more skillful choice in each moment, which in turn shifts the karma.

People have asked me, if a karmic stream runs very deep, how many lifetimes is it going to take to shift it? Just this moment. If I would leave that path through the woods for one summer and start walking on many different trails to my cabin instead, that path would grow over with greens. New shrubbery would sprout up. By next year there would not be a path there anymore.

This isn't a perfect metaphor but it's close, because if I really watch and stop walking these unskillful paths, practicing these unskillful patterns, not all at once, not with a “got to fix everything about myself” kind of attitude, but from a place of kindness, paying attention to any self-destructiveness, to any fear-based pattern that comes up, to aversion to confusion, to whatever it is, if I really watch certain predominant patterns and take care of them for a few days every time they come up, within a week or so there's a huge shift. And within a few weeks, often these patterns are no longer an issue.

Now, if a big catalyst comes up and that ancient pattern went very deep, it might be triggered by the big catalyst and re-occur. We just pay attention. . Say you haven't seen that pattern for months and suddenly there it is. Just say, “ Ah, I know you. Come on, open your mouth, I'll stick my head in! Or at least I'll give you tea.”

So we just keep working with them, and they do dissolve. I see old patterns in myself that went so deep, years ago, and that are only very infrequent visitors now. I won't say they never come up, but they're infrequent visitors, and when they come up I can just stop and look them in the eye and smile and say, “I know you. Something triggered your arrival. Okay, I will just sit and be present with you.” I don't really have to stick my head in its mouth anymore. That was years ago. Now all I have to do is serve it tea because there's nothing holding it in place. But I have to pay attention to it. I can't brush past it, turning my back, or it will follow me, grab hold.

So we keep doing the practice. Eventually we do have deep openings into the direct experience of the Unconditioned, and they can be life-changing experiences. But we cannot live in that unconditioned experience. We've got to come back to this mind and body, to the pleasant and unpleasant sensations of the body, thoughts of the mind, emotions, and so forth. We just have to keep attending to this human experience, and that's fine. We're here in a human body. Aaron once said, why waste a perfectly good lifetime practicing discarnate experience? We'll have the opportunity for that after the lifetime. For now, can we use the human experience and the lessons of the human experience for our growth and awakening?

Many of you have practiced with me working with meditative experiences like access concentration, pure awareness, even a few of you with jhana, and these are all helpful tools. Is there anyone here who does not know what access concentration is? (one) 

It's the point where mind becomes so still and focused that objects are seen arising and passing away, sometimes still felt as pleasant or unpleasant; like if the skunk lets out a smell, it's acrid and it will burn. Burning is noted, an unpleasant experience, but there's no possibility of moving into aversion with it. There are no stories about it. It's simply noted, attended to if appropriate, like closing the windows so the skunk smell doesn't come in the room. But the window is closed out of kindness, not aversion. There is no contraction; there is no deepening of old, unwholesome karma.

We can walk around with the experience of access concentration, but rarely do we walk around with it for 24 hours in the day. But if you've had a deep meditation and you get up from the meditation, the access concentration may stay with you for a while. It's just the very clear seeing of objects arising, sometimes knowing the conditions out of which they arose, or not knowing, not needing to know. Just seeing it come up. Seeing it pass away. And there's no, using Aaron's term, ripple of disturbance around it. There's no energetic contraction around it. It simply arises and it passes away.

Access concentration is literally the necessary foundation for these higher insights. We can have insight into arising and dissolution but we can't have deep dissolution experience without access concentration. So we direct our practice in that direction, not by saying, “I'm going to have access concentration today,” because you can't do that. But simply by bringing attention to what John and I and Aaron have been discussing through this whole retreat: objects arising from conditions, seeing impermanence, aware of the non-self nature of the experience; seeing the feelings arising; seeing the shift in the predominant object from this whatever it might be -smelling the pie, pleasant, pleasant. Nose touching the scent, smelling, pleasant, pleasant - and then the mental formation  arising, “Oh, I want that. I wonder what kind of pie it is.” The mental formations arise and then the grasping. Then the grasping or aversion may  become predominant. For example, sitting on the beach and suddenly the raindrops are falling. Touching, touching. Unpleasant, and then aversion.

As we watch this with a kind awareness, gradually it will deepen into access concentration. That's the only way we can invite access concentration. We cannot make it happen. But it will happen. And I think most of you have experienced it.

So that ground of access concentration, the ground of sila based on deep understanding of our interbeing, the love and courage of being willing to stick our head in the demon's mouth; all of these together can lead us to liberation. And liberation does not necessarily mean suddenly I'm an arahant. Liberation here also means freedom from the seeming entrapment of one unwholesome karmic tendency. Really knowing, here it is again and I don't have to obey this impulse right now. I can just sit with the impulse. I don't have to do anything about it. I don't have to fix it. I don't have to act it out. That's liberation. It's not total liberation but it's a big hunk of liberation, for us who are so enslaved in our habit energies. So this is the path.

Tomorrow morning we plan to have a time for questions. My clock tells me I have 10 more minutes, but I can't think of anything else vital to say about this topic, and I can think of about 3 hours of not vital things to say. So maybe this is a good point to stop. Are there any specific questions about what I have spoken about tonight?

Q: You talked about the knowledge of change of lineage. What does that ease into, the next knowledge?

Barbara: Change of lineage knowledge, I'm reading these from Visuddhi Magga.

Contemplation of arising and passing.

Contemplation of dissolution.

Knowledge of appearances and terror. 

What this means it, things are arising and I can't stop them from arising. Terror arises because the ego can't stop things.

Knowledge of danger. This is the danger of falling back into the old traps of being a mundane ego. So we're finding some freedom and we see the danger, how easy it is to slip back into the ego mind.  I'm skipping a little...

Desire for deliverance.

Equanimity about formations. This is the point where we see how everything is arising and passing away. And instead of tension about it, trying to fix it or change it, there's really deep equanimity. Ah, this has arisen from conditions. Here was my beautiful sand castle. A big wave came in—whoosh! Okay, that's how it is. So we're attached. We spent hours with that sand castle getting all the little shells just so, making it perfect—whoosh! Equanimity. Equanimity with arising and dissolution.

At the point where there is that deep equanimity, we move into the Change of Lineage Knowledge. Suddenly we're no longer stuck in the mundane realm but really open to the supramundane.

Knowledge of Path is the next. We start to see that this whole thing is a path. That everything we've been doing in our practice is starting to come together, and suddenly there's some understanding of it. Not just intellectual understanding, but the heart really understands how it's all going to go together. The heart understands that I am not this physical being only, what I am when I am not busy being the aggregates. There's an understanding of the whole path of sila, panna, and samadhi, how it all goes together.

Q: When I am not busy being the aggregates?

Barbara: When I am not identifying myself as the aggregates, what remains. Who am I when I'm not the mind, the body, the thoughts, the sensations.

And then we move into a direct experience of the Unconditioned. It may be a flash. It may be a very deep immersion. And we begin to see the fruit of that experience, reflect upon the fruit. And we review the whole process, how we came to that.

By this time we're probably back in mundane mind again. But there's a difference because we're no longer stuck there. We've learned something through looking through the eyes, through the being of the Unconditioned. We stop seeing only with conditioned consciousness, even if briefly.

And then it re-expresses. We come back to access concentration. We see arising and dissolution again. There's equanimity with formations. Everything seems to dissolve. There's equanimity with that. We extend our intention without grasping, to entering deeply again into the Unconditioned and knowing, receiving the fruits of that experience of the Unconditioned. And then we move through it. And again, we may only touch on it lightly, or we may have a very deep experience of it. It doesn't matter. However it is, it will be. It doesn't matter whether it was just (sound effect) or whether we really went deep into it. Whatever we get from that experience, whatever deep change occurs, will occur.

We begin to review the fruits of the experience, and we see, for example, it's impossible to have a deep experiential knowing of your interconnection with all beings and come out of it with hatred. You really can't hate anybody anymore. You can be angry at people and not like their choices, but you can't hate them anymore. You can't harm people anymore because there's a deep knowing we're not separate. And that changes the sila for the next time around, because instead of just being morality-based, it's based on this deep knowing of non-separation from all sentient beings. And we go around again.

That's a brief statement of it. I don't want to go deeper than that. I'd be glad to email you more information.

(someone asks how to spell Visuddhi Magga; spelling given)

Barbara: It's a profound text filled with a great many details, and it has some distortions. It has a great deal of wisdom. It generally delineates a linear path from here to there, “We are not enlightened and someday we will attain enlightenment,” rather than the converse, that we're already awakened and simply working on a pathway to realize that awakening.

So Visuddhi Magga and all its various areas of text delineate a linear path rather than a simultaneous path. And for me, that's a distortion. But that simply represents the thinking of that time in Sri Lanka where it was written about 1,600 years ago (fifth century).

Q: Was it written by a group?

Barbara: There was a main author, Buddhaghosa. Others seem to have assisted or participated. He wrote many commentarial texts. Let me say this carefully. It feels to me that instead of going into his deepest experience and stating what he saw within that experience, he tried to keep all the commentaries correctly aligned to each other so there were no contradictions. So he built up a very clear statement, and yet the distortions amplify themselves throughout the different texts, such as the distortion of linearity. But that was the distortion held by his time and tradition. I am not blaming him. There are numerous subtle distortions.

Buddhaghosa is claimed to be the main author, yet it seems like there were many people helping him. So there are subtly different voices in it. It's hard for me to say because I'm reading an English translation and the translator has obviously released/erased some of the places where it seems like different voices.

But what I get when I look inward is that there were a number of people working on this together under the guidance of this one main monk. My personal karmic memory is that he had a teacher who was also guiding him, who was not writing the book but for whom he was writing the book. But that is within my meditation, not known fact.  But it is a very profound commentary, and it has enormous value. I'm not trying to negate it, only to say, take it for what it is because it does delineate a linear path.

Q: Is it Theravada Buddhism, or is it more than that?

Barbara: It's one view of Theravada Buddhism.  And it's a very predominant view. I'm sure there are schools of Theravada Buddhism that are not really harmonious with Visuddhi Magga, but I have not yet met many. There are some that are closer to it than others. In other words, for example, right now there's a lot of, not just lay teachers but monks working with pure awareness in Theravada Buddhism. I'm thinking of Ajahn Amaro's book, Small Boat, Great Mountain, for example, and something Ajahn Sumedho has written. There are  practices that include awareness. There's no mention of anything with awareness in Visuddhi Magga. It's simply a non-thing in Visuddhi Magga. So to me this is the biggest lack in it.

I had a fascinating conversation in the 90s with an elder Buddhist Monk from Sri Lanka, at a Buddhist Teacher conference. The group discussion was on Path Knowledges. I spoke of the lack of concern for Pure awareness in the texts. After the group discussion he sought me out to ask what I meant. We talked for 2 hours. I tried to give a way to offer the direct experience by teaching him some pure awareness practice, letting go and resting in spaciousness. Suddenly his eyes lit up. “I see!”  We didn't have a chance to talk further but I felt this was a very helpful experience for us both, just seeing in two very different ways.

Q: So it's not Zen Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, or...they do not refer to this as Visuddhi Magga.

Barbara: No, they are in the Mahayana tradition. There's much more of a simultaneous path there. This goes into the whole history of Buddhism. If it's not something that was covered in the Deep Spring teacher training, it's something we ought to cover for the newer teachers. You all ought to know the history of Buddhism. So we'll spend some time with that back in Ann Arbor. You're not among the newest group of teachers, so if you haven't had it, then there are lot of people who haven't had it.

Q: (in background) We did have it...

Barbara: Okay. I will be glad to email you the unit I have taught for Deep Spring teachers on the history of Buddhism. But basically, the Mahayana tradition arose in response to the linear quality of the Theravada tradition and the whole idea of getting somewhere, of attainment. The Heart Sutra states: there is no attainment for there is nothing to attain, which is such a beautiful and profound statement and the very precise and deep answer to the whole Visuddhi Magga.

But Visuddhi Magga does delineate a very clear path that I've just skimmed through, and it's very helpful to understand.

Okay. We're past time, let us stop here.

(session ends)


Path outline