March 18, 1993

(Aaron's opening talk did not concern anything related to the study of dependent origination, and has not been included here.

A long personal discussion about his talk and about the homework was not transcribed.)

Aaron: (Homework.) Next week we are going to talk about the next stages. You are familiar with my teaching of the process of consciousness, perception, sensation, mental formation. We have talked about sensation where you remain in neutral or move to positive or negative. There is a step in sensation where there is not necessary causality. In preparation for next week's class, I want you all to watch the following in yourselves as carefully as you can. What is the relationship between comfort/discomfort, like/dislike, and clinging/aversion? See the move from neutral to positive or negative and watch the arising of mental formation out of that positive or negative. Watch it with as much awareness as is possible. That is all.

From Barbara, for those who are reading the book and are new to these teachings: Aaron will be explaining it all through the coming weeks. In very brief summary, we don't simply move into an emotion or thought but arrive at it through a process. When one of our six senses touches an object, first there is contact. This is just bare sense contact, sense to sense object. We have not yet determined what it is, nor even that the contact has taken place. Seeing may be taking place, for example, but we don't yet know what we're seeing. Next is the knowing of contact, which is consciousness.

In order to label the object we must move back in memory to similar objects. This takes us from the bare experience of this present object and lumps this moment with all the past, related objects of our experience. We call this stage perception. If we stay with those memories, we have a perception based in old mind. If we simply move into memory to label and don't get caught in the old emotions that may accompany the memory, then bare perception is possible. As much as we can, it is helpful to our lives to stay in the now, in this moment, relating to this object or thought freshly, and not weighed down by old mind.

When we first know that object or experience, there is a moment when we're fully neutral about it. This phase is sensation, Aaron's term for 'feeling." Sensation may stay in neutral or we may be pulled to positive or negative sensation. If we move away from neutral, there are stages of experience. We may move into comfort/discomfort, and still be in neutral. Like/dislike pulls us out of neutral. Now there is a sense of self. Clinging/aversion may follow, or we may notice the self in like/dislike, and come back to no-self.

These stages are hard to define because, for example, there is not necessarily clinging to comfort. The clinging is to safety, something different than the sense that experienced comfort. Comfort may simply be the next consciousness, about which we rest in neutral. The shift to clinging and aversion accompanies the move to old mind, and to ownership of and/or avoidance of our experiences.

The stage of mental formation is the mind state we move into in relationship to the thought, object or experience. We may experience equanimity or we may experience any of the wide range of emotions from fear or rage to bliss and wonder. This whole range of emotion is possible without the arising of clinging and aversion. The key is ownership or non-ownership of what arises. When we are someone having this experience, we tend to cling or push away, thus creating new adhering karma.

The best way to understand this whole process is not through the intellect but through experience. Put the words aside and watch the process in yourself.