January 14, 1993

Aaron: Good morning and my love to you all. We have been looking carefully at karma, especially two aspects, habitual karma and ownership of karma. Last week, I said that I wanted to begin work with the teaching called Chain of Dependent Origination. I want you to understand each step in this cycle, the way you've come to understand these aspects of karma. As we explore them, you're going to find that they tie together, that to understand karma it's necessary to understand dependent origination and vice versa.

I find the expression of this law of dependent origination to be one of Buddhism's most valuable contributions to the planet. It is called 'The Chain of Becoming." Teachings speak of the way we have each become caught in this chain, moving blindly from one incarnation to another, never able to find freedom from suffering. This is real, on one plane. Yet on another level, there is no chain at all, nor has there ever been. You are free. You have always been free. In the coming months we will explore these truths and come to see that they are not contradictory.

The entire doctrine of dependent origination is highly complex. On the surface it seems simple. When the Buddha explained dependent origination to his disciples, there was a beloved disciple who came to the Buddha and said (I paraphrase) 'Lord, this process is wondrous but it seems simple to me." The Buddha said to him 'Do not say so! It looks and seems simple on the surface, but as you penetrate it, the complexities of it become increasingly wondrous and deep." So, as we talk about this, if your mind grasps it, and it seems clear, remember, you've just glimpsed the surface. Keep going!

One could give many lifetimes to fully understanding the nuances of this doctrine, and yet, each bit of effort made to understand it will repay itself many-fold in movement toward freedom and away from reactivity. It will help make clear the consequences of many of your choices, and show you that your freedom really is your choice. We've talked here, at length, about this process of sense consciousness, perception, sensation and mental formation. In brief review, first the sense touches sense object, offering a contact. Mind picks it up, knowing the contact, resulting in consciousness. Then there is perception or knowing what it is that the senses have met. Sensation or feeling involves the move from neutral to positive or negative or staying neutral. Mental formation grows out of that movement, to clinging or aversion, depending on whether what the senses have met is liked or disliked. This is one segment of the entire wheel of dependent origination although not quite in its traditional form.

I am going to ask Barbara to briefly present to you the whole wheel, so that you can see the segment that we've looked at related to the other segments. We do this through Barbara because I prefer not to channel through her that which she is quite capable of explaining; her non-channeling will also facilitate discussion, as she can not easily move in and out of the channeling state. Then we will begin talking about each segment. I do not mean this to be an intellectual exploration. We're going to take each segment slowly, giving you a chance to experience how A leads to B, how B leads to C, how A relates to C, one step at a time, as you watch those interrelationships in your lives. That is all.

Barbara: (Partial notes only. This is the essence of what Barbara said.) We are simply labeling the steps of this wheel. We can start anywhere; it's circular. Let's start with the part we've already explored a little.

Contact: is the sense touching the sense object. The senses are existent whether they are touching the sense object or not, but that moment of contact is when they touch. Contact requires a sense object as well. Then there is consciousness of the contact. Mind which knows the contact is also a sense. For the mind to know contact, there first must be sense and sense object which connect. This all falls into this segment called 'contact." Aaron's second step, perception, is not part of the traditional cycle. Aaron has broken it down in a different way. What I'm giving you here is the traditional cycle. Then I'll tell you the way that Aaron has changed it.

Feeling: as Aaron defines it, is the move from neutral, or further resting in neutral. This is where our 'active moment" lies.

Craving: understand that aversion is, in a sense, part of craving, because we're craving comfort and safety. When something threatens us, aversion arises to it, but the root form of it is craving.

Clinging, or attachment:

Becoming: at the stage of attachment, new karma has been created as a manifestation of the delusion of a self-the 'self" which is craving and clinging-and which leads into rebirth, thus, becoming. This differs from the segment 'rebirth consciousness." Aaron or I will explain the difference later.

Birth, aging and death:

Rebirth consciousness: and its connection with ignorance or delusion of self and with volitional formations. We'll discuss this in great depth.

Mentality-materiality: is the formation of mind and body, in which process are formed the sixfold sense base, which leads us back to contact.

These interconnect in a variety of ways.

Aaron: From the wisdom of my final lifetime and the past five hundred of your years, I feel able to alter this traditional form, and share with you the way I now understand it, which I think will simplify your understanding of the process. My changes are not major. I want you to see it in the traditional form. I think it will be helpful to you to hear why I alter it as well. Know that if you share this with Buddhists with traditional background, they may tell you 'No, you've got this or that detail wrong." We'll talk about it as we go on. That is all. Barbara will present the terminology of the traditional wheel.

Barbara: (Diacritical marks for Pali words are given only in this first list.)

Ignorance-Avijjă composed of moha, ańńăna

Volitional formations-Sankhără

Rebirth consciousness-Vińńăna


Sixfold Base-Salăyatana







Aging and Death-Jarămarana

Discussion: (Most discussions through the semester are led by Barbara, not by Aaron, and they have not been recorded.)

Aaron: Please remember that each step in the wheel does not necessarily lead only to the next step, but to many of the other steps. This is where it gets complex. When one says 'Oh, I understand this," you can see the connection from A to B, perhaps, but do you understand the connection from A to many other letters? Let's take it a small bit at a time. First, I want to explain the basic terms here. Again, I will ask Barbara to share part of this in her words.

Barbara: Aaron has said that each relates to the other. There is a part of this teaching that says (reading from Sutra) 'Dependent on ignorance arise volitional formations, etc. Dependent on contact, arises feeling. Dependent on feeling arises craving. Dependent on craving arises clinging." And then the reverse: 'Through the cessation of contact, feeling ceases. Through the cessation of feeling, craving ceases. Through the cessation of craving, clinging ceases. Through the cessation of clinging, becoming ceases. Through the cessation of becoming, birth ceases. Through the cessation of birth, aging and death ceases. And sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. Thus, there is a cessation of this whole mass of suffering." When you read it that way, this sutra runs through the entire cessation of ignorance and volitional formations, and reads through to the cessation of birth, where aging and death also cease.

Aaron: A note here. It doesn't quite follow that through the cessation of aging and death, ignorance ceases. It's not that ignorance has ceased through the cessation of aging and death, but that ignorance has ceased because there is clear seeing, and with the cessation of ignorance, each of the others follow. We must ask, how do we allow for the cessation of ignorance? Here is displayed their interdependence. Ignorance ceases when there is no longer delusion of self. What contributes to delusion of a separate, continuous self? I won't answer that now. Look at it yourselves.

Please notice, however, that you can break in at many points in the circle. One doesn't start by clarifying ignorance, necessarily. If you become aware of how movement from neutral to positive or negative creates clinging and aversion, and work in skillful ways with that clinging and aversion as it arises, that awareness helps to clarify ignorance. This is what I want you to understand, that there is a spiral nature to it. It's not that you completely take care of one step, and then the next step entirely ceases, because you can't completely purify any one step in your human form. Rather, you gain a bit of understanding. As there's more wisdom about how clinging and aversion arise, you find yourself less pulled into those. Then there's less craving, thereby less karma created. The whole thing keeps spiraling around with deeper understanding, clearer insight, movement more free of delusion.

The rebirth process, that law by which you take rebirth when there is existent unwholesome karma, can not be bypassed. You do have free will, but if you wish to move back into the light, if you wish to graduate from this plane, eventually, you're going to have to take rebirth. There is a degree of choice as to what form that rebirth takes. There is some choice as to when it will be. With each bit of deepening wisdom, with each lesson from awareness of reactivity, and with each opening of the heart with love and forgiveness, you are diminishing unwholesome karma, and moving into the potential of a rebirth where there will be far less suffering.

Let me explain that last statement a bit. Obviously, even the most enlightened being has suffered. When that being moves past suffering, it will still feel pain. No matter how enlightened, if it falls and breaks its leg, it's going to hurt. If a loved one dies, it's going to grieve. Non-attachment does not mean that there's no pain or sadness. We've been through the difference between pain and suffering many times. Perhaps the freest beings feel pain all the more deeply, because they no longer need to insulate themselves from the pain, and because they know their connection with all that is.

So we're not talking here about getting rid of pain, or even lessening of pain. And we're not talking about 'getting rid" of suffering, as something you actively pursue just to get rid of suffering. Suffering will fall away naturally as you grow. We're talking about liberation from this samsaric cycle (the cycle of birth and death), graduation from this third density existence.

As I talk then, I want you to understand that while what Barbara has just read is true-when this ceases, that ceases, when that ceases, the next ceases; and the reverse: when there is this, then there is that, when there is that, then there is the next-within one lifetime it would be rare that anything entirely ceases. I would prefer that it read: when this diminishes, that diminishes, when that diminishes, the next diminishes. With diminish rather than cease, you can see the spiral nature of growth rather than the circle that starts and ends. There is no instant purification but a process of transformation.

Let us discuss the terms. We will not get completely through this today.

Ignorance is simply the manifestation of the dualistic fixation. Three words pertain to ignorance: avijja is the Pali word translated as ignorance. Avijja is comprised of moha, which is delusion of a separate self, and annana or non-knowledge. So those two combined words, delusion and non-knowledge, are ignorance. They interrelate so it's never just one or the other. Delusion sees the world as duality; self and other. It grows out of fear which solidifies self. Non-knowledge begins as the non-knowledge of all phenomena as manifestations of Pure Mind. Thus, it is also fixated in duality, the dualities of light and darkness, good and evil, Pure Mind and not pure mind, and so on. Annana may be read as simply something you haven't met yet, and yet you may already know it in the wisdom of the heart, but fear creates unwillingness to acknowledge that knowing. Both come together for the word avijja. Please understand that this is an oversimplification.

In the beginning you were light, and let us call it Pure Awareness. There is a Tibetan word, Rigpa, which is handy here because it denotes specifically that primordially Pure Mind. I hesitate to use more foreign terms and complicate these teachings but sometimes these terms are highly specific and once understood, simplify the discussion. It is not useful to speak of what comes first, moha or annana. Perhaps some arising within that pure awareness was seen with distortion, as being other than a manifestation of Rigpa, or Pure Mind. This distortion was the arising of annana, and was the first move into dualistic thinking. To think of oneself as separate is an extension of that dualism. Yet the first dualistic thought may have been of 'self/other," (moha) and led from there into further dualistic fixation. It is a subject that may be pursued at length; we will not do so here.

There is connection between avijja and fear. Without clear seeing of the Pure nature of all arising, there is fear that you will be hurt, fear of that which seems to be 'NOT Pure Mind," as 'evil." Then there is the contraction of defendedness, someONE to defend, someTHING to defend against! This distortion feeds delusion, the delusive attachment to an image of a solid, permanent self. Such attachment leads to unclear seeing that is based on fear. Without self, with understanding of your true nature, and the true nature of all that is, there is no fear. When fear clouds your seeing, then attachment and aversion arise to protect yourself, and to protect yourself you have a sense 'I've got to hold on to this, or get rid of that." Here, the small ego self speaks loudly, and distorts what otherwise would have been clearly seen.

The second part of the circle, volitional formations, sankhara means all things that come into being as the effect of causes and conditions, and, in themselves are the causes and conditions for the arising of other phenomena. As used in the doctrine of Dependent Origination, sometimes this word, sankhara, is taken to mean only actions, words and thoughts that lead to reactions, in other words, that which creates adhering karma which keeps one captive to the wheel of becoming. I feel this definition is incomplete, and prefer the first, that is, everything that comes into being as the effect of causes and conditions, and in themselves are causes and conditions for new arising.

I prefer the first for this reason. Sankhara is that which leads to the formation of karma, whether adhering or non-adhering karma. When your loving actions free of self create wholesome and non-adhering karma, this does not further chain you, but karma is still created. Only the Arahat, a fully enlightened being who does not need to take rebirth, has the wisdom and complete freedom from attachment and aversion to act, speak or think totally without creating karma.

Discussion: (Taped but not transcribed.)

(The following pages, 16 through 19, move into a technical discussion of karma, related to Aaron's chosen definition of sankhara. We have chosen to leave this in for those who may find it of help, but many readers may choose to skip these pages for now, begin again with Barbara on page 19, and come back to them later. For those readers, I'd suggest reading the basic material on karma in Appendix C. There is also more clarification of karma in the Jan. 21, 1993 transcript.)

J: Is it only unwholesome karma that leads to rebirth?

Barbara: Wholesome and unwholesome karma lead to rebirth. Every act, every word, every thought creates karma if that word, act or thought comes from a space of 'self." The word karma simply means action. When somebody is insulting me, and I respond lovingly and kindly, I'm creating wholesome karma, I'm not planting seeds of hostility. But there's still karma if there is any sense of a self responding to the insult. If there's no sense of a self acting lovingly, there's no karma. But in the human plane, one never acts with 100% pure intention, except the Arahat with no obscurations, who has that depth of understanding into motivation.

We can use the terms wholesome and unwholesome karma. Aaron has preferred not to use those, because we think of wholesome as good, and unwholesome as bad. He's trying to use words that don't have any positive or negative connotations. Last year he used the terms adhering and non-adhering, relating them to those which lead to suffering and those which don't. They are not equivalent to wholesome/unwholesome though. Let Aaron speak.

Aaron: Karma is very complex and we're not going to get it straight in one sitting. Tuesday night, Hal came home from work very late. He was tired. Barbara sat with him even though she was tired. Part of her wanted to say 'Here's your dinner, I'm going to bed." She was not moved to sit with him by guilt, but by love, because she knows that he's working late out of necessity to support his family and to be responsible to his job, not out of enjoyment. Her choice grew out of connection and caring. She loves him; he came home and he was tired, so she put her own tiredness aside. It was a decision motivated by love and made very purely, not from a sense of a self being loving, just love being present.

That night before they retired, they switched their cars because Barbara drives in a carpool early in the morning. It was snowing and sleeting, so they scraped the ice off of their cars and put Barbara's car behind. Barbara arose the next morning, discovered the schools were closed, and after her meditation, went back to bed. Because Hal was feeling loved, perhaps, he went out and scraped the ice off of Barbara's windshield, and backed her car out into the street, moved his car out and put hers back. It would have been far easier to get her up and say 'Move your car, please."

This is non-adhering karma, or as close as the non-arahat with multiple motivation and various obscurations can come to it. It does create results. If you plant a seed of kindness, you get kindness. Not always immediately, of course, but eventually. You don't do it to reap kindness; it's not done out of blackmail, but out of a loving and open heart. But very simply, when you treat another with love and respect and caring, from a place empty of small ego self, that is returned to you. 'Wholesome" and 'non-adhering" is the closest I can come. Please note that for karma to be non-adhering, it must come from a loving heart and also be empty of self in all its motivation and manifestation. If one of you can think of clearer terms to use, I would welcome that.

While the above is wholesome karma, the term 'unwholesome" carries a connotation of negativity. if Barbara had said to Hal 'I'm tired, I'm going to bed. Here's your dinner," and the next morning he had wakened her and said 'Please move your car," each would be acting out of their own self need. Yet, if he were home two hours later, and if Barbara had been very, very tired, and had gone to bed, is there anything negative about saying 'I need to go to sleep, now"? One must assess carefully: is there self there? Anger? Is there a desire to escape one's responsibility to others? Is there fear in it? We must not oversimplify. So the closest I can come to it is karma that does not lead one into rebirth, or that karma which leads into rebirth or re-experiencing.

Remember that there are multiple motivations. If A offers B some food because A sees B is starving, and offers that with real concern and emptiness of a self feeding another, that portion is wholesome, non-adhering karma. But the little voice that says, 'Aren't I good!" that's adhering karma. There's moha within it.

The traditional interpretation of sankhara applies only to that which necessitates rebirth, our adhering karma.

A: How does wholesome karma relate to the wheel?

Aaron: It's very subtle. If Barbara said 'I like it when Hal treats me this way; I'm going to go out of my way to be nice to him, so he'll be nice back to me," if she became manipulative, grasping at kind response, then the kind act will plant seeds of both that kindness and the manipulativeness born out of fear. Let's use another example: if one of you won much approval for some work that you'd done, perhaps were teaching or helping another in some way and the other complimented you, those compliments might speak to a part of you that felt a bit unworthy. Anybody likes approval! Your sharing of yourself with another, you might think, is a creation of wholesome karma. And yet, if there's that twist to it, so that the approval becomes important, then you move into craving.

Now, it certainly is more skillful to serve others because you crave attention than to become a mass murderer because you crave attention. But there's still adhering karma in that craving of attention. The act grows from an ego-centered self. Awareness offers the opportunity to see that craving of attention and slowly to begin to purify the acts, to become more aware of the motivation. It's never going to become 100% pure.

This is where I have some disagreement with the traditional interpretations of this cycle, that it seems to indicate that you've got to be perfect in order to find liberation. If you see the multiplicity of motivation, and work to bring in love and compassion to that part of yourself that needs attention or approval so that the craving begins to dissolve, then the motivation becomes purer. Self recedes, even if it doesn't fully disappear. It doesn't have to be 100% pure. One does not have to be perfect to graduate from this plane. There will be considerable learning about this, a continuation of it, on the next planes. Remember that the primary lessons of fifth density are wisdom, and it's not until the end of fifth density that there's complete purity about all this. Human incarnation is just part of the process of your maturation. That is all.

Aaron: (Tape is turned. We have lost the beginning of side two, further introducing Sankhara or volitional formation.) … Please note that the term volition means will and implies conscious choice. Actions, thoughts and words arise out of that choice. I think you can see how each action, word and thought has a result. Every action, word or thought arises out of past conditions.

D: Aaron, why are volitional formations put after ignorance?

Barbara: He's asking me to reread his prior teaching about sankhara. 'As used in the doctrine of Dependent Origination, sometimes this word, sankhara, is taken to mean only actions, words and thoughts that lead to reactions, in other words, that which creates adhering karma, which keeps one captive to the wheel of becoming. I feel this definition is incomplete and prefer the first: … sankhara is that which leads to the formation of karma, whether adhering or non-adhering karma. When your loving actions free of self create wholesome and non-adhering karma, this does not further chain you, but karma is still created …"

Aaron: Any action, word or thought (volitional formation), growing out of ignorance, is almost certain to create adhering karma. There are those two aspects to ignorance, moha and annana. The 'don't know" aspect includes fear, choosing delusion because it's protective. If Barbara chose not to know that Hal was tired and hungry and, even more, that he simply needed love and attention, and had felt resentment, then her actions and words would have displayed that resentment. Delusion or ignorance could have taken the form of self-righteousness. 'If he comes home late, why should he impose on me to take care of him?" This much is easy.

Actions, words and thoughts that do not grow out of ignorance, always create non-adhering karma. The problem is, as I've said, we're never 100% pure. Could any of you make a statement that any action, word or thought of yours has come 100% from clear seeing, that there's not even the smallest bit of delusion mixed in?

We'll play 'what if" here for a moment. If Barbara had sat with Hal, talked to him, offered him tea, and 80% of her motive was clearly love and connection and wanting to offer him kindness, from a place of no-self, and yet, deep inside she recognized that some small percentage was 'What am I gonna get out of this?" then what is the result? Confusion arises when we assume that any act is 100% one way, or 100% the other way; that's not how you are. Divide it up. The giving, empty of self, creates non-adhering karma; there is nothing sticky there to call you back. The grasping creates adhering karma. Both are karmic results of one act. You offer service to another. Is there a small voice inside that's wanting some approval? So it still takes you back into the ego, but in a different and less powerful way. The giving is clear. The part that wants approval, that is where consciousness is stuck in self and delusion.

In summary, then: action, word and thought, volitional formations that lead to adhering karma, do grow out of ignorance. Actions, words and thoughts that do not lead to adhering karma, grow out of clear seeing. But because there can't be 100% clear seeing, except for the Arahat, even those kind and loving acts may also contain self centered motivation in which lies adhering karma.

Thus, maybe we can speak of karma that's-what is the Ivory soap ad, 97% pure?-97% non-adhering, and 3% adhering. There is nothing that you can do that's 100% non-adhering at this stage in your cycles of growth. You don't have to reach a point where there's zero adhering karma left not to need rebirth. You only need to be able to recognize that you have lapsed into delusion and move back out. Does that answer your question?

Barbara: This came my way from someone on Wednesday night. It's channeled, she doesn't know what the source is, but Aaron thought it was very beautiful. Just let me read it out loud, some of it, not the whole thing. It simply says: March 20,1990, Tao Crystal Deva:

When you physical ones first recognize yourselves as beings of light, there can be great trepidation at having a physical body, and the associated responsibilities and activities. You wish only to become light beings, to reenter the rooms of light, and to exist there in bliss …

The cycles that comprise your being are infinite. In this round, you have chosen to form yourselves at the physical level. In the physical realm, there exists that particular breed of frequency density, that particular breadth of amplitude separateness, and that particular degree of clarity that weave together to become what you call body. You have chosen this physical plane for its gifts and its unique lessons. You have come to physical to receive those gifts, which can be bestowed and received only on the plane of matter, where you now exist. We suggest that you enter into those lessons. We recommend that you release the longing to leave. Instead you may choose to eagerly gather the lessons and receive the gifts.

While you are physical, why not fill the larders of your being to fullness and completeness with the gifts that only matter can bestow, then, when you have thoroughly completed this round, and only then, look to the lighter, higher frequencies. As you gather the lessons, each gift received in your physicality will be useful, necessary, and vital as well, in the next rounds that you choose. As you integrate the lessons that you learn, you embody the qualities developed by those lessons. They are the very characteristics required to open you to the other realms, and the very tools to work effectively in those realms. When you yearn toward other frequencies that are presently elusive, know that they are elusive because you do not yet embody the characteristics to open you to them. Fill yourselves with the riches of where you are now, while you are there. Gather the lessons, receive the gifts, integrate the characteristics.

'When you have been fully prepared by the lessons of your present existence, you will not find yourself yearning for other frequencies, and bidding them to come. You will encounter them, and shift your focus to enter them as easily as a shift of glance. Then you will smile back at your impatient self. Stay fully committed to the very tasks and attachments that seem to hamper and limit you. They are the focusing chambers through which your physical self readies and ennobles itself. You are light, even as you feel that you must leave this physical plane of light to get to other, lighter realms that are already a part of you, and the whole of you. Know that you are light: a light being. Strive ceaselessly to integrate this true reality into your knowing. You have already experienced yourself as light. You can be sure of this by noticing and acknowledging the intensity and specificity of your longing to re-experience this loss. Open your eyes to these millions of points of light that twinkle everywhere around you. At this moment, in truth, you are penetrating and being penetrated by the light. The rate, breadth, and degree of interpenetration expands with each year of your physical existence in time.

Barbara: Thanks to whatever spirit and whatever channel this came from. Back very briefly to let Aaron talk.

Aaron: As homework: (Teasing groans from the class; Aaron:(teasing tone) You knew I was going to get to this eventually. (Laughter)) I'd like you each to watch ignorance as delusion and non-knowledge. How do they relate to one another? Is there non-knowledge because there's clinging to delusion for protection? At some level, you already know everything. So, non-knowledge may be more correctly translated: conscious non-knowledge, what you have not yet allowed into your consciousness, usually out of fear. It is all put into the category: ignorance. Watch that ignorance. What is the desire not to know? How does it arise?

What is delusion? How does it grow out of a desire to protect? And then, watch the arising of action, word and thought, of volitional formation, and see how it relates to ignorance, especially moha. Be gentle with yourselves. When you notice action, word or thought arising that seems very pure and light, and then you notice a little bit of tarnish on that, keep it in perspective. You don't have to hate yourself, put yourself out of your heart or condemn yourself because there is that bit of fear. Just attend as lovingly as you can to pain, and then the motivation will purify itself. Not to perfect purity, but to increasing purity.

For those just meeting all of this in this book, I would ask you to look at what this is that you call 'self." What is self? Is it the body, the emotions, the thoughts? Is it consciousness? Can you show me 'self"? If not, what makes you grasp at that illusion?

So, just those first two steps. Next week we'll add another step. Are there questions?

(Question not transcribed.)

Aaron: As you watch action, word and thought, look back at where it comes from. What is the motivation for this action, word or thought? See what part of the motivation is pure, and what part is motivated by fear. Where is there ignorance? What is the motivation for the ignorance? Do you understand?

Be aware, but be gentle with yourselves. When you see that there is a motivation for ignorance, treat yourself with mercy for that fear which has motivated ignorance.

You can see that the fear with which you worked last semester was laying the foundation for this work. I want you to continue working with fear, especially in dreams, but all through your waking and dream states. As we move into this cycle of dependent origination, you're going to consistently find fear behind adhering karma. Your ability to work skillfully with fear, then, is one key to freedom. Now, we're simply understanding the process through which fear takes us. But work with fear is basic. Are there questions? (No questions.) That is all.