April 1, 1993

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good morning to you all. I'm going to ask you to look at that today which you must be in a quiet place to really see. May we start with a few more minutes of silence. (We meditate silently for an additional ten minutes.)

Last week we looked at two stages of the traditional chain: contact and feeling. I converted those into my own terminology: contact, consciousness, perception, sensation. That was as far as we went. I asked to you to focus especially on the difference between consciousness and perception, to come to sense experience as freshly as you could, as if you had never before seen, heard, or touched that object. Before we go any further I would like to hear your experiences with that work.

(Group sharing. Not transcribed.)

Aaron: We spoke last week of perception growing out of old mind. It is almost impossible to name a thing without old mind attitudes and biases about that object arising to touch present sense consciousness. There is far less distortion when we know old mind is involved. The present is just seeing, just tasting, just touching. Can we ever know anything just in this moment? There may be comfort or discomfort in this moment, but the biases of old mind are never essential to this moment. With fresh seeing free of old mind bias, or aware of and transcending old mind bias, you are more able to rest in neutral, even if the perception is of comfort or discomfort.

Old mind interprets what sense consciousness touches. Old mind wants to know all about the history of this object so it feels safe. Knowing gives a sense of control. 'I know this; it tastes good. I can eat it. I know that; it's soap. It will make me feel sick.' With memory of the taste of soap perhaps revulsion arises. I am not suggesting that this is bad. Without this mechanism you could not survive. But with perception's move to old mind comes the shift from neutral to like or dislike, based not on what is present in this moment but on past history.

One does not need to feel aversion to soap to skillfully choose not to eat it, only to know that this is not appropriate for mouth contact. It will taste unpleasant; it will make one sick. Aversion to the idea of being forced to eat soap is NOT aversion to soap but aversion to force and unpleasant results of that force. The soap has little to do with it.

And one does not need to prevent old mind from arising. That is just more aversion-'I must NOT let this or that into my experience.' Rather, when old mind arises to give bias to perception and leads one into aversion or clinging, then one needs to KNOW old mind is influencing perception. One needs to know, 'I am experiencing aversion, not to this object, but based on old experiences of similar objects.' Then one may quickly return to neutral. Perception may be almost clear of bias when one sees the bias arise immediately upon the heels of the perception, and knows that the bias reflects the associations with the particular sense consciousness and not the sense experience itself.

The more you observe these patterns, the less they pull you out of center. You become fast at recognition so there is no reactivity to the memory, just recognition that memory has occurred and that within that memory were the seeds of craving or aversion.

Please understand I am only bringing a magnifier to the process of experience. This magnifier will aid understanding exactly how craving and aversion arise so that you will be less trapped by those mind factors. I would like to hear more of your experiences. That is all.

(Group sharing not transcribed.)

Question: (Not transcribed.)

Aaron: It is not perception per se that leads you in the move from neutral to grasping or aversion, but the identification with old stories. It takes much practice for perception not to become linked to that move. If you notice yourself getting lost in the stories of that perception and can come back to the freshness of the experience, perception need not lead into like or dislike, then grasping or aversion. This subtlety is what I most especially want to explore with you today. The difference is not in whether we perceive or do not perceive, but whether we perceive mindfully. If you get lost in the story, know that you are getting lost in the story. 'Getting lost' is the next experience! That is all.

(Extended group sharing.)

(Discussion of 'skillful' perception/'unskillful' perception.)

Barbara: Whatever we see usually involves our relationship to what we see. We needn't free ourselves completely from that relationship, we need to know it exists, that this is not pure seeing. Remember that moving back into memory is not a problem in itself. Remembering can take place in this moment. Know you're remembering! The memory of old bare perception is enough to identify the fire as hot; that's very different from getting lost in the emotion laden memories of getting burned, or of resting with a loved one by a warm fire. But even if you get into those old mind memories, just know where you are! See how it filters the present experience.

Aaron: Homework. Please draw simple objects. First sit and look at the object for at least five minutes. just look at it. Then I would suggest two different processes. After looking for five minutes, put it aside and draw it as you remember. Second, after looking for five minutes continue to look as you draw it. Do it the first way and then come back to the object, so you look away and draw it, then bring it back into view and draw it.

Another interesting experiment would be to glance at it for only a few seconds and then draw it. Then look at it for five minutes, put it aside and draw it. Then bring it back and look at it while you draw it. Then compare the three drawings.

Question: Why do we move to old mind? I think I do that sometimes out of fear of the present. How do we retain freshness when 'now' scares us?

Aaron: Is it now that scares you or your projections upon now, grown from old mind? Also, it is not the freshness that is the problem, but your relationship to the freshness. If there is fear of that freshness and a need to protect against being overwhelmed, one of the mechanisms by which you cope is to close off the freshness and go back into old mind patterns, to stop seeing. Again, you must simply be aware: I am closing off. Sometimes you may skillfully choose to do that in order to deal with an overload. Only know that you are doing it.

You are smelling the fresh baked bread. Please stop here and sit for several minutes, noticing this whole chain of arising which may lead to craving the bread, or may rest in liking/comfort. That is all.


Aaron: (Continuing on after break.) I am Aaron. We are going to spend a number of weeks on this very small area: consciousness, perception, sensation, mental formation. I ask you to be patient with any confusion. We are not looking for intellectual understanding so much as seeing each moment in your experience. The question might simply be raised: what makes me reactive? Aside from simple restraint when there is uncomfortable contact, how can I work with this? Specifically, how can there be non-adhering karma in response to the catalysts of the six senses? When there is old mind, there must be 'self.' Then the response must include adhering karma. When old mind is seen as dictating bias and is recognized with no aversion to the fact that old mind has arisen, then there is the possibility of return to bare perception, empty of self.

I want to look at this step which the books call feeling and I have called sensation. I chose 'sensation' because you in your American vocabulary equate 'my feelings' with 'my emotions.' The word sensation is a reminder this is just the shift from neutral to positive or negative, or the staying in neutral.

The next step beyond sensation is what I have labeled mental formation. The traditional labeling calls this next step craving. We have discussed how aversion relates to craving. Craving safety and comfort, one experiences aversion to that which seems to threaten that comfort. Again, I prefer mental formations because people become confused when we say craving and what one is experiencing is strong aversion. Any mental formation that arises may be understood as an aspect of craving comfort and safety.

Now let us go back now for a closer look at sensation. I said earlier that the distortion does not arise out of old mind perception and mind bias entering into perception but out of unawareness that this is happening. When you can see the old mind's biases, then you can simply pay attention to the sense data and not be moved out of neutral. I want Barbara to relate an experience here.

(Barbara relates … A lot of dog dirt accumulated in the yard; need to clean yard with rake and shovel; watching biases arise. Little actual smell, but revulsion at first, based fully on old mind. Revulsion soon passed.)

Aaron: I would like you to focus awareness on noticing when there is a bias that taints clear perception. Know if it's a bias grown out of old mind and not inherent in the present experience. Can you return to that smell or touch or thought and see it more clearly? What has moved you from neutral of 'smelling' to dislike or to like? It doesn't matter whether it's like or dislike so far as adhering karma is concerned. If there is dislike that leads to aversion or like that leads to craving, you are pulled out of pure awareness and into this small ego self.

If you will look back on earlier work with karma, we spoke of wholesome and unwholesome karma and of adhering and non-adhering karma. As we looked at non-adhering karma we saw that there was no drawing back into this small self, that you remained centered and connected, free of the influence of the small self.

When you breath in a scent and there is the memory of dislike, 'That's filthy,' or 'That could hurt me,' then the self moves in to defend. Or if it's the smell of bread-'I want some,' may arise because all the old memories of the deliciousness of fresh baked bread. Again, you feel yourself being pulled from empty perception of the higher self, of pure awareness, to the small ego self.

This is an important distinction, that the higher or pure awareness does not have biases or preferences. Pure awareness is very comfortable with whatever arises. The small self has those biases which have originated very naturally out of need to survive. You have to know when you see sea water boiling and red lava, 'That's hot.' (This example was offered earlier today by one of the class who had recently seen volcanic lava, still red hot, flow steaming into the sea.) There has to be a recognition of danger or you may not survive. But it does not have to move to dislike. We see then that the small ego self has a role, but it steps beyond that role. We will discuss this overstepping further in future weeks, especially as it relates to the roles of the various bodies. As awareness grows of what prompts ego to step beyond boundaries, we can train the small ego self to respond with appropriate memories that warn us of danger or tell of us of wholesome experience, without drawing in the emotional body likes and dislikes. Remember that the ego is servant, not master.

Here I come back to the importance of being aware of when you become lost in the stories of old mind perception. This is the move from mental body awareness to emotional body reaction to awareness. This point is crucial.

The physical body originates contact, 'seeing.' The mental body with its memory sees steam arising and says, 'That's going to be hot.' This is the perception of the mental body, with the emotional body uninvolved-Perception. 'Seeing steam,' with the recognition, 'This happens when there is something hot.'-Then the memories run on back, 'I was burned when I was 4 years old. How it hurt!' It is at that moment of memory that you get pulled into aversion to the steam, not just caution about the steam. You need the caution. The caution does not create adhering karma. You do not need the aversion.

You are not being taught to cut off memories. We're not here to suppress the memory, but to learn not to be reactive to it, to begin to see with pure discernment, not old mind consciousness. What is happening here? Can we break it down further? 'Seeing.' Perception, 'Seeing steam.' Almost simultaneously the memories arise. They arise without mindfulness so you become caught in them, and you move to fear of the situation, fear of being burned, and the sensation of dislike. When there is no mindfulness of the conditions which gave rise to the fear, you think it is this present steam you fear. With 'fear' we see the mental formation arise, in this case fear, aversion to the heat or even aversion to feeling aversion. That's another way it can go.

At that moment when old mind memories enter, there was a new sense contact-remembering, thinking-the mind making contact. This new contact moves in just the same way, contact, consciousness, perception, sensation, mental formation. The perception of that mind contact was the memory of the 3 year old being scalded. You are still in neutral as you have that memory. Then you move from neutral to dislike, feeling the discomfort of that scalding. It is here that you almost simultaneously move into aversion of the present and to the memory of aversion in that past state. In fact, it is not the present steam to which you feel aversion, but the past steam.

This is a very complex response. I can not begin to describe it accurately in words. I can only give you clues and suggest that it is your mindful attention which will clarify it. Look at the process in meditation, perhaps with an itch. Look at it while doing some mindful chore. Stop and look. What is really here? Where does perception move out of pure awareness, the awareness of the mental body, and into the small ego self's consciousness? What pulled you back to need to protect? Can you see the feeling of threat? What happens to that feeling of threat and the reactions it engenders when you relax into it and just observe it, observe the not liking and the fear? This response has nothing to do with stepping skillfully away from the steam!

We will be spending a number of weeks on these steps. This is the focal point of our work on dependent origination. Don't expect it to be understood instantly, just watch and be patient. What moves you to anger? How does the self come into it? What moves you to any emotion?

We have spoken of the active moment, the moment of a shift from neutral to positive or negative, liking or disliking, or of the resting in neutral. In the past, I've simplified active moment to just that shift. Now we're going to take that much deeper, not just seeing the active moment, but seeing all the contributory factors in that moment, watching any need to protect and how fear solidifies self, watching judgment too, if that is a factor. I'm not going to enumerate the factors. This is not something that can be laid out, step 1, step 2 … There are far too many interweaving strands. My only instruction as you work with this process is that you let go of attempt to intellectualize and pin it down because the next experience is going to not fit what you've just pinned down! Instead, be with each experience as freshly as you can. Watch your own individual patterns. What solidifies self? What pulls awareness out of neutral and into liking or disliking? Who is liking or disliking?

I would like you to take it just that far. We're not yet talking about mental formation. That's another step. I want you to be more focused and not spread your observation that far this week, so stop at that point. If there is reactivity, notice that, but let it go. Notice reactivity and come back to the beginning part of the process. Hold your attention there. Are there questions?

(Discussion and questions not transcribed.)

Aaron: Discernment is necessary for survival. You distort discernment into judgment because of your fears.