March 27, 2011 Sunday, Berkeley Buddhist Monastery

Day of Meditation and Instruction with James Baraz

Exploring the Paths to Awakening

(Partial transcript of talk. Digital recorder dropped and sound went off mid page 4)

Aaron: My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron. You are here because you are suffering and because you see beings suffering around you. So very naturally, you're seeking liberation from that suffering, not just for your own self but out of the goodness of your heart, for all beings

There's a title of a book that I've never read but was fond of the title, That Which You Are Seeking is Causing You to Seek. You have a belief that this liberation is somewhere out there, so there's a contracted energy chasing after it, and that keeps the grasping going and the suffering going. But of course you can't just sit back and pig out in front of the TV, that doesn't lead to liberation.

How do we invite without grasping? If you had a cup of water in front of you and a gallon container on the table, and a huge reservoir out your door, if you were thirsty, you'd reach for the cup. You would not worry that the water would disappear. When the cup was empty, you'd pour more. When the jug was empty, you'd refill it. You would have to choose to act to invite into yourself that which was needed and wholesome, but that choosing comes from a very uncontracted place, openhearted. There is the experience of thirst, the thought, “Water would be helpful.” You bring it into you but you don't believe there's any lack of that water.

Why then do you believe that the realized mind is somewhere outside of yourselves and outside of your grasp? You are all already awake, but you have to realize it. There's a beautiful line in the poem, Flight of the Garuda: “Butter is of the essence of cream, but if the cream is not churned, the butter won't form.” The butter is already there but it has to be churned. Your mindfulness practice is the churning that helps you see how objects arise into experience, are sometimes pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. The responses that arise-- attachment when it's a pleasant object, boredom, perhaps, with a neutral object, aversion with an unpleasant object-- but it doesn't have to be that way.

Can you imagine being in a situation where the object is unpleasant without aversion? Being in a situation where the object is pleasant without grasping? There's a choice. When there is mindfulness and you see, first, this is the object, and then the unpleasant or pleasant quality of it, if you're very present in the body you'll experience the contraction of either grasping or aversion, and mind notes, “Ah, now this is arising in this mind and body, but there doesn't have to be self-identification with what has arisen.”

At first, there will be self-identification because you're so identified with the mind and body. But as you practice you begin to see, “I am not this mind and body; there's something beyond this.” I will call that something “awareness”. It is the original heart/mind. Awareness is a spaciousness that perceives the ground out of which objects arise and into which they dissolve. You practice in this way, present with the object, and as it dissolves, instead of immediately coming back to another object, perhaps the breath or another object, you instead rest in that spaciousness, whether it's just for a second or for minutes. Then you begin to get a sense of the ground out of which objects are arising and into which they dissolve, and find more spaciousness with the pleasant and unpleasant objects that arise, not taking them as self. Finally there is clarity, “Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to dissolve, and is not me or mine.”

It's very powerful when you understand this with a tough object, that you can hold presence with it without fear of it, without trying to control it, without holding on or pushing it away, but simply there with an open heart and an attitude of kindness.

My book on the table in back is entitled, Presence, Kindness, and Freedom. Three steps. You've got to be present, but to be present with tension,  fear and contraction is not going to lead to liberation. You don't have to get kindness any more than you have to get the water that is here in such plentitude. You touch into the infinite base of kindness, of joy, as James talks about, of openhearted compassion, which is your true being.

So many of you as spiritual practitioners deeply aspire to be loving in the world, yet when negative emotion arises you say, “Oh no, not that!” You believe you must destroy the negative thought.  If we had a clear glass window here but it was covered with dirt, encrusted with dirt so you couldn't see through it, would you say, “We must break the window out and install new glass.”? The nature of the glass is pure; it's perfect. It only needs to be washed. Your mindfulness that watches the arising of negative emotion, the self-identification with that emotion, with body sensations and self-identification with them, this is the way you wash the glass.

Think of wind blowing on a pond where the water has been absolutely still. It's dawn, there's not a ripple. And then a gust of wind, and the water ripples. What if you tried to put your hand on the pond to stop the ripples? Can you stop them? The ripples arise because the conditions are present for them to arise.

When anger, fear, or other negative emotion arises within you, it arises because the conditions out of which these arise have not yet been purified; then anger, fear, greed, whatever emotion , will arise. This is a result of conditions. You don't try to fix the result. You attend to the conditions.

I used the pond but let's use a bowl of water, filled just exactly to the top, sitting on a table. It's perfectly still. Something shakes the table and the water starts to slosh over the side. Of course you cannot put your hand on the top to stop the sloshing; that just perpetuates it. But if you just hold presence, hold space for it and let it settle, it will. Yet you must also mop up the table do the wood top is not damaged.

You have to attend to the result; you have to take care of the result such as anger or fear, but you don't try to fix the result, just attend to the result and the conditions. You look at the dog who's bumping the table and you move him aside so the water won't slosh. You see what the conditions are out of which this situation is arising.

When strong negative emotion arises in you, you understand, “This has arisen from conditions. I can take care of the result in a fearless, loving way, so that no harms comes out of what has arisen, but I don't have to be afraid of it or hate it. I also don't have to self-identify with it.” In this way you begin to purify the conditions, the old karmic tendencies out of which the object has arisen.

For example, if somebody pushes you, you may habitually push back, both literally and figuratively. That perpetuates the pattern. It can be completely different. D, would you come here for just a minute. I'd like you maybe to get on your knees while I sit here in my chair. We're going to do a tai chi exercise,  “pushing arms.” D pushes me. The old habit energy is to want to push back. I note it, “Being pushed. Fear, anger: impulse to push back!” That's the habit. Now, what if she pushes me and I just let it go past me?. I return the energy to her, not by pushing her, but just sweeping it back. She pushes again; again I let it go.

There's no fear about it, there's deep presence with being pushed. If it feels unpleasant, I note it's unpleasant. I breathe and make space around it and then I give back the energy. She pushes again, maybe aggressively. Let it go. We could do this all day. She can keep pushing until she exhausts herself. It's not exhausting to me, I just let it go past. (throughout, Aaron is totally relaxed, speaking as he demonstrates)

Thank you...

We rest in awareness. I'd like you to try a simple exercise with me. Hold your fingers up in front of your face. Stare at the fingers, and let's call them the 5 skandhas, the aggregates: form, feeling, thought, perception, consciousness. Self-identify with them; I am this; I am that.  Keep them wiggling. You can't really see anything but these. Now let your gaze slip through the still-wiggling fingers. Look up here right at me and at James. The fingers are still there but there's vast spaciousness beyond them. Come back, look at the fingers again. See how when you're focused only on the fingers there's no sense of the spaciousness, but when you look through the fingers you see the spaciousness that's always been there.

When a very difficult object arises and the habit of mindfulness is deep, there will be presence with the object with an open heart. Do you know the terms vitakka and vicara? Holding and penetrating? May I have the bowl for a moment, James? This is the Buddha's teaching. We need to hold the object that has arisen and penetrate into it. I can hold it forever with no insight into its true nature if I don't penetrate into it. If I'm not holding it and I try to penetrate, it just keeps going away. I've got to hold it and go deeply into it.

That takes a lot of courage. You have to look at the resistance, which is just another object. “This has come up in my experience-- oh no, I don't want to be near that!” What is the expression of that resistance? Maybe the mind wanders, not wanting to be present. When you catch it wandering off, bring it back and know, “Here is resistance. Here is fear. Right here with the experience of fear is the loving, open heart.” I can actually take this seemingly unapproachable, unholdable object and say thank-you to it. “Thank you for coming as my teacher.”

So I open my heart to this object. I see how much I want to push it away, and I note resistance as the predominant experience of the moment. Where is the resistance in the body? How does it feel? Experiencing resistance. Right there with resistance is also spaciousness. I don't deny the real experience of resistance, of fear, of anger, of confusion, of doubt, I stay present with them and see that they've arisen, they're impermanent, they're not self in nature, and that right there with them is that spaciousness.

A friend, a teaching colleague, told us this story. He was doing a lot of work with people who were dying. There was a man he was visiting on a daily basis who was constantly moaning about his situation, “I have cancer. I'm dying. It's so unpleasant.” Day after day. And finally our friend said to the man, “You know, your real problem is, you're dying 24 hours a day. Could you just die 12 or even 6 hours a day? Can you look out the window and see the blue sky? Can you look at the beautiful flowers and smell them?” He started to rub the man's feet. “Can you feel the pleasantness of my rubbing your feet? Stop dying 24 hours a day and be present with life!”

You all have this option. You are already awake. Don't seek after awakening as if it's something out there but start to know that which is awake and present in this moment, and is often expressing itself as joy, as light, as ease. There's a state of non-contraction in the body, but even if there is contraction, there's no contraction around the contraction. It just contracts.

(flexes foot) I don't say, “Oh, why is my foot doing that?” It's just a contraction. Fear comes. It's not a problem. Anger comes. That which is aware of anger is not angry. Let there be no denial of the anger. You don't want to use the anger to hurt people. There also need sot be compassion for this human in whom anger has arisen. So take care of the anger but also, simultaneously, that which is aware of anger is not angry. Rest in that spaciousness.

Barbara made this nesting box and has been using it at some of the workshops she's been offering. Most of you live here in relative reality, with the lid on, and that's about all you see. The body experiences the fear, the emotions, negativity, and once in awhile in a deep meditation...

(recorder falls on floor and fails;  taping ends; below is taken from another workshop)

There are 2 canisters. One fits inside the other. The small one has a teddy bear in it. The teddy bear lives in the everyday reality. The teddy bear sometimes leaps out of everyday reality and leaps into the larger canister of ultimate reality. He's very happy there, but he doesn't know how to stay there, and he doesn't know how to attend to the world from that canister of ultimate reality. He believes, erroneously, that he must be in mundane reality in order to attend to the world, and then to have these high meditation experiences that bring him into ultimate reality. Eventually he learns he can have a foot in each reality.

So we have the 2 canisters and the bear with a foot in each. He's balancing, one foot in everyday reality, one foot in ultimate reality. How do you stabilize that level of awareness so that you never abandon the everyday reality to hide out in ultimate reality, and you never lose the ultimate reality, that reality of the divine essence of yourself and all beings, you never lose that and become lost in the everyday reality?