May 6, 2012 Sunday, Deep Spring Sangha Meeting

Barbara: Hello to you all. I know most of you. In fact, I probably know all of you. I had anticipated there being some people here newer to Deep Spring, so I planned to share a little bit of history. But I think it's still useful

People who don't know much about us ask me, “What is Deep Spring Center?” How did it start? What do you do here? As we consider our identity as a center, who we are, what we're doing, and especially today at a sangha meeting, the fact that we are a community, not just a place where people come to class. To determine what “sangha” means, it's helpful to look back at our origins.

I lost my hearing back in 1972 and I was suffering. I was angry. I was afraid. I felt isolated. I coped, but I was stuck. Most of you know this story. I prayed for help. No idea what kind of help I was praying for, but “I'm stuck, help me.”

The next day, there was Aaron in my living room. I could see him. I could feel his energy. I got up and walked out into my kitchen and I thought, “Either I'm hallucinating or it's real, and I'm not sure which possibility scares me more.” I came back into the living room, and I asked him, “Who are you? Why are you here?” All of this is spelled out in detail in my book Cosmic Healing. He said, “You're suffering. Let's start there. Let's look at the nature of the suffering, and the way out of the suffering.”

He began to help me see clearly that the deafness was not the problem, but the way I was relating to the deafness. He said, “What if there's just deafness? Just not hearing, without all the stories of “poor me” and “not fair” and so forth. Can there just be the direct experience of deafness?” And I found that there could be. Being deaf is just being deaf.

I was already meditating but I knew nothing about Buddhism. I had never heard the term vipassana, but the practice that I had been doing for years was basically a vipassana practice, choiceless awareness practice. But it was distorted in the sense that when something painful came up, I kind of pushed it aside. He helped me to see that I needed to be right there with whatever I was experiencing. Gradually he began to talk about dharma in a much deeper way—the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and really to explain how these parts of dharma came together.

In those first months, somebody asked me, “Can I ask Aaron a question?” “I don't know. Can you ask him a question? You can ask him. I don't know how he'll answer you.” But Aaron said, just listen to what you hear the way you listen to me for yourself, and say it out loud. So I did. And somebody said, “You're channeling.” I replied, “What's channeling?” I really had no idea about any of these things, back 25 years ago.

Other people wanted to talk to him. They were asking the same questions. How do I live my life with love? What do I do about negative emotions? How do I find deeper compassion? So we began to meet once a week with Aaron, first six people, then a dozen people, then we were filling and overflowing the living room. Simultaneously Aaron said, those people who are coming to meet with me to talk about these things, you need to deepen your meditation practice so you have a tool to work with what you're experiencing. So we started teaching meditation on another night, Aaron teaching it, really, for the people who came to my living room back then. A few of you were there, the original living room crew. Aaron was the lead teacher for meditation then.

We started to have retreats at Sunnyside. I had met John. I was teaching with John. People came to me and said, let us take the routine work off your shoulders so you can focus on teaching and channeling. So, a non-profit organization, Deep Spring Center for Meditation and Spiritual Inquiry was formed.

Most people came to both. We weren't really dividing it, but those people who really wanted to focus on deepening their meditation practice came to the meditation part. Those who wanted more to talk to Aaron and not to go so deep into the meditation practice came on Wednesday nights to talk with Aaron. But Aaron kept directing them back into meditation, and most people did both.

We grew that way for many years; at that point maybe there were about 40  to 60 active people, most of them coming to both areas of class, with two levels of meditation class, and most of them coming to retreats. The sangha all knew each other because everybody was in classes together with Aaron and I as teachers.

For several years I had needed to turn people down as I could not handle more classes. I started a teacher-training program in the ‘90s and eventually we had several teachers, with people in different classes, and suddenly people didn't know each other. Spiritual Inquiry expanded too, no long just led by Aaron but inquiry groups on specific topics and  and kalayana mitta groups. Most still came together for retreats though.

Beside teaching, I was the “everything” of Deep Spring. I was the office manager. I put out the newsletter. I didn't know any of these programs but somehow I pieced together a newsletter using Word formatting. The little 8-fold symbol that we still use is a Zapf Dingbat letter “A”! That was one of the few things I could come up with on my computer. It gave us a handsome symbol and we still use it.

I can remember, and some of you will remember this also, during the break in meditation class or at the end of the class, the newsletter was spread out on our opened 10' dining table, pages spread around the table, and people walking around collating it, stapling it, putting the sealing label on it, stamping it. This is how we got our newsletters out. For years I maintained the whole mailing list. As we had new teachers and more classes, it really became hard to keep up. People volunteered and would come over to my house. I'd train them for 20 minutes and then they'd spend an hour or two trying to update the mailing list. It wasn't always consistent, but at least we had something, using the same FileMaker Pro program, and we kind of kept it together.

Then the board said, we really need office help to support Barbara so Barbara is not so overwhelmed with this. D, you were one of the ones on that board who stepped up and said, “Barbara needs support. We need an office manager so that Barbara doesn't have to do all the newsletters, all the bookkeeping, all the recordkeeping.” We ended up with an office manager who came to my house 3 or 4 days a week. We didn't have an office. We had my little meditation room, which was my office. So she had a key and she would let herself in and work at my desk a couple of days a week. Then we moved into the bigger meditation room in my garage and she worked from there. We added a second file cabinet to my personal one, for DSC use.

Then we moved here. Along with the sangha, the office and office manager had a real home. And of course, we have many teachers now, a lot of classes. When I look around today, I know all of your names, but there have been meetings here where I did not know everybody's name. There are so many classes, so many new students, and it's wonderful. This is our sangha.

The difficulty is that these few people know each other (indicating with arm) , and those few people know each other, but so many people are unknown and we lose the strength of sangha. So a vital question to me is, how can we bring this back together as it was in those small living-room days? What does sangha mean to us? It's not just what happens to be a group of people who come to classes here; it's a living and vital entity, our sangha. How do we strengthen ourselves as a sangha so that we can each reflect the dhamma, each to each, can see this awakened nature mirrored in the others and reflected back? How can we inspire and support each other? This is sangha.

It's beautiful to me to see how Deep Spring is growing and what we've evolved to. We are boundless. We are going to keep evolving in whatever ways are most vital for people, each finding what they can best use here and leaving the rest. Now that we have a wide range of classes, there will always be classes that interest you and classes that don't interest you. There's nothing special you should be doing except your practice. That's all.

When I talk to people and ask, “What do you value most about what you've gained here?” It's always the same answer: to live with more kindness, to live with more presence. It's the title of Aaron's first book, Presence, Kindness, and Freedom. “I have freedom not to yell at people now because I've learned to live with more presence and more kindness. I have freedom not to create unwholesome karma for myself and others. I have freedom to live from my heart.” That's what we're teaching here, and it's beautiful. The dhamma so deeply inspires me, and your dedication to living it!.

That's it. I'm going to turn this over to Aaron for a few minutes. He would like to have a word with you also. Is there anybody here who's never heard Aaron?  (two). 

(Aaron incorporates)

Aaron: I am Aaron. My blessings and love to you, and thank you for including me here in your sangha meeting. What is sangha? To answer, let us regard the Triple Gem.

Buddha, the awakened nature is the essence of each of you. Dhamma, this beautiful truth of how things are. Not how you believe them to be, not your views, but what you know from your own experience. The historical Buddha talked about impermanence, emptiness of self, and suffering. Everything in the conditioned realm is arising out of conditions, impermanent and not self. And if you believe it to be otherwise, you will suffer. It's as simple as that. If you cling to its being otherwise, you will suffer. But when you see deeply into these truths of impermanence and emptiness, then suffering, if not completely ceasing, at least lightens up.

This is not a doctrine that we preach. We invite people to go into their meditation practice and ask, is there anything you can find in the conditioned realm that has a solid permanence to it, that's not changing? Is there any conditioned aspect of self that you can find that's permanent? If what you are is not to be found in the conditioned realm, then break through into the unconditioned and experience the truth of what you are, which is the Buddha, Buddha nature, awakened nature.

The sangha is the beautiful container for this inquiry. If you are angry at somebody and you go to the bar, and the person on the next stool listens to your woes and says, “Go out and punch him!”, that may be what you feel like you'd like to do, but it's really not going to help you evolve as a human being.

If you call somebody in your sangha and say, “I'm really troubled by this. Could I talk to you?”, and you pour out your story, that person listens and says, “Can you have more compassion for yourself and for the other person?” They help to bring you back to your true nature, to remind you of what you are aspiring to, to live from the loving heart, the wisdom heart. This is the container of sangha, and it's truly sacred.

There is a real sangha at Deep Spring. People talk about you as being “the compassionate sangha.” Many people, who come to retreats for the first time, share the experience of finding so much kindness, so much compassion. But I also see that a lot of you are confused about what you are as a sangha and what holds you together, which is, of course, your dedication to living your lives with love. It's as simple as that. If you search for places where you have the same beliefs, interests, identical paths, you won't find them. If you direct attention to your highest purposes, you will find what brings you together, this path of loving kindness.  

What can you do, each of you, to support the integrity of the sangha, to help hold it together and make it a living vessel that can best support each of you in your spiritual practice and to give out that loving kindness to the world? And what do you need from the sangha to help you do your spiritual work and live with kindness?

I believe the intention at this point is to break into groups.

L: We are going to ask people if they would like to leave right now, as it is 1:30pm, or have a discussion in the big group about this.

Aaron: Those who leave, please consider my two questions. How can you best support the integrity and vitality of the sangha? What can you give? And what do you need from the sangha? What is lacking or not as strong as you would like it, and that would support you?

So, if you leave, send some emails to Lisa, to the board.

L: Either to me or to the board.

Aaron: And those who stay, I hope you will have a deep discussion of this. The Buddha and Dharma are alive and well at Deep Spring, and I think the Sangha is alive and well too, but it sometimes feels a little bit unstable to you. It really is alive and awake and flourishing. I think there's a fear that it's unstable based on the fact that so many of you don't know each other. So ask, what is the sangha? Is it the people in my class? Is it only the person who sits next to me in class because I've never talked to the other people in my class? Is it the Sunday sitting group? The Board, the teachers? What is it?

How do we bring it all together more fully? How do we vitalize it? I think your social committee and social plans are an important part of it. Playing together. Just a picnic or any form of activity that offers time spent together getting to know each other. The activity at the beginning of the session here was beautiful. People were talking to each other, who did not know each other. That's a wonderful start.

My blessings and love to you all. When I first came to Barbara, I said to her, I am your guide but I am happy to teach anybody. I am happy to share the dhamma with anybody with a sincere interest to live their lives more fully grounded in the loving heart. So many of you have come forth and have grown so much through these 10, even 20 years. It deeply inspires me to see the inner work you are doing to live your lives with so much love and presence.

Thank you. I will release the body to Barbara.

(recording ends)