Venture Fourth

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The vision for Aaron and Barbara's new two-year program

A letter from Aaron, as dictated to Barbara on Feb. 11, 2009

My blessings and love to you; I am Aaron. I want to describe my vision for the two-year program I intend to lead with Barbara, and with other assistance as well, from the summer of 2009 through the summer of 2011. The overall vision has evolved through my 20 years of teaching Barbara. Consider the Buddha's "handful of leaves." I have not taught you of the forest, but only the handful. Now it is time to expand and share of the forest, as I have with Barbara. The handful is all you need for liberation, but at this time in your universe there is call for the intention to expand, beyond seeking personal liberation, and further into active service.

The question is sometimes raised: must one first have full realization before one can serve with skill? If a child is about to fall off the edge of a precipice, the liberated human will save the child and not create any unwholesome karma through self-centered stories during such action. The not-yet-fully-liberated human can still hold the child back from the precipice, and must then also attend to any unwholesome karma that develops. With wisdom, she will use this situation to release and balance some of that karma. Thus, as one serves with love and wisdom, one moves closer to true liberation through service. Your world is on the edge of the precipice and courageous, wise and loving action is needed. I would help to prepare you for that work, to be true bodhisattvas in this world and the universe.

Through the years my work with Barbara has centered in four places. First, her development of an ever-deepening vipassana practice that serves as a base for all else. Within this practice, the entire conditioned realm is clearly seen as arising out of conditions and passing away, impermanent and not self. Equally important are the direct experiences of the Unconditioned, for to know only the conditioned with no insight into the Unconditioned is like knowing only cold without warmth, or only darkness without light. It leads one into the illusion of a duality where there is that which is present, and that to be attained, and leads to grasping. Instead, there needs to be realization of the non-dual, as stated in the beautiful words of the Heart Sutra:

"No suffering, no cause of suffering, no path to lead out of suffering; no knowledge, no attainment, no realization, for there is nothing to attain."

Second is the development of Bodhichitta, and of the deepest intention to service to all beings. Without the involvement of the loving heart and intention for the highest good of all beings, the meditation practice can become self-centered and contracted, as can the path of service itself. But it is not sufficient that the heart be open as in the practice of metta. The practitioner must have deepened in compassion to the degree that self and other are virtually interchangeable. There must be strong intention to alleviate the suffering of all beings, an intention grounded in love.

These will be the first foundation of our work together, insight and the open heart. Many of you have worked for years with us, with these practices. Here we will take the practice to deeper places. As part of these first and second functions, we will explore together the light and shadow in the self, with a focus on the non-duality of light and shadow. Wherever there is shadow, the light can be found. Wherever there is light, shadow may appear and ask our attention to assist in its dissolution, or at least watchfulness so it does no harm. There is no need to be afraid or self-condemning that negative thoughts arise; how do we attend to them? With this in mind, we will work with what I call "character traits," those of generosity, patience, loving kindness, clear speech, courage, honesty, forbearance, peacefulness, tranquility, clarity, and more. We will explore how we can encourage the strengthening of such traits and release the seeming opposites. We do this without creating a "fix-it" attitude, but rather, by simply opening the heart to our true selves and with the determination to express that true self. This will be the core of our private work together through the first 6 months of the program.

To do this work, we must find supports for it. We have the traditional supports such as taking refuge and work with practices such as the "Four Empowerments" and "Seven Branch Prayer," (as explained in my book, Awakened Heart). We must go still further. As the third element of our work, we support growing awareness that one has the power and tools to fulfill loving intention. This awareness seeks the various supports offered toward knowing one's true power -- though connection with the Higher Self and guides and through knowing one's power animals and other supports--discovered through guided meditations, prayer, shamanic journeying, lucid dreaming and breath- work, along with meditation. We will learn skills that support these tools.

We will work with practices to learn how to hold the chakras open and rest in connection to all that is. You will learn the use of harmonics as a tool toward healing and knowing wholeness. You will begin to uncover your true power, with the knowledge that you do now have the maturity to wield that power with love.

Part of this journey is the release of dualistic thought. We will work with the more advanced Light and Energy practices connected with the dzogchen tradition, which foster deeper resting in Awareness and the fullest possible resting in the Natural Light that is your birthright. Gradually you learn to live from the Light.

One must also investigate whatever may block full access to power, such as old beliefs in limitation, or old karma and fears. Within this work, we invite the release and the balancing of unwholesome karma. Most of you will experience healing through this work, but the intention is less toward healing than toward knowing the ever-perfect; and not to personal gain but toward the consecration of this vessel of body-mind-spirit in the highest service. Here we also investigate the fullest extent of power and the marriage of that power to the highest positive polarity. The intention is to live in as full a consciousness as possible, using all the tools and wisdom available to us.

Imagine a sailor with little knowledge beside that of looking to a direction and holding the sail and rudder. The boat may eventually reach the goal, but think of the difference when the sailor knows the winds, tides, effects of friction on the hull, and how to trim the sail or release excess winds. You will wish to sail the boat of conscious living with as much skill as possible.

Finally, there must be the willingness to step out into the world and actually do this work. We see this idea in the view/ meditation/ action progression expressed in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition. Work in the world is the heart of Neem Karoli Baba's guidance to, "Love, Serve, Remember," as spiritual path. We will borrow his words for inspiration, and words of many great masters, as we deepen in the path of service. In this final stage, we will look at the ways we may express our intentions in the world and how we support the transition to non-dual consciousness. We will work with group and individual projects in that direction. Barbara will also assist in the teaching for this last aspect of our work, with her deep training in /satyagraha, ahimsa,/ and non-violent response to catalyst.

My talk on "Trainings, in the 2004 Fall Newsletter also contains material that is directly relevant to this two-year program. I ask that anyone interested in the program also read that talk.

It is my intention in the two-year program to help support a group of true bodhisattvas, people dedicated to service to all beings and committed to living in the highest consciousness that they can maintain. Those who participate will share a commitment to serve as midwives to the earth and all who dwell upon and within her, supporting the transition to 4th density and toward a stability of non- dual consciousness. If this is your intention, and if you have the base of an existent daily and committed vipassana practice or its parallel in a related tradition, we invite you to apply to join us.

Because many will come from out of state, we have envisioned a logistical plan where we will meet 3 times a year, probably for 5 days (4 nights) each meeting. Between the intensives where we will work as a group, we will meet with each student by phone, email or Instant Messaging (AIM or iChat) on a weekly basis, to offer support for the very precise weekly assignments. Some meetings will be up to an hour, others just a brief check-in, as is needed.

It will require commitment, to come to each of 6 intensives over two years and to do the weekly exercises and arrange time for the private meetings. We will not be able to accept all who apply into the program. Please trust that if this is truly your path, there will be space for you. If there is not, then the Universe has a different path in mind for you, and that will also be perfect. Offered with love; Aaron.

Practical logistics and information about application,
cost and commitments from Barbara

There will be six intensives; the first is well planned (see below). Two and three are taking shape. Four through six are loosely planned in Aaron's mind, but he wants to see where the first year takes us before he finalizes the plans for year-two. Aaron says it is likely that intensive five will take us all to a mutually agreed upon service project (or several projects) where we may share several days working in service to others, as well as talking and meditating together. This is our action phase!

The intensives will be a time where we can all work together, learning and practicing new skills. The weekly work will be private, each at his/ her own pace, but also following a set curriculum where we'll all be working with specific practices in a linear way, as guided by Aaron, and with a curriculum guide written by Aaron. We'll also be working with each of you where you are, working with each at the outermost edge of practice to support growth, in whatever direction is needed. Thus, the curriculum will be formatted to move as a group, but also with individualized focus as appropriate.

We want to make every effort to keep this program affordable to people and realistically possible. At the same time, we want to insure that it is a beneficial experience for those who choose to participate, and that will require continuity. Please be sure of your readiness to commit the needed time and energy.

What about costs? 'Sunnyside', a lovely conference facility in Michigan's Irish Hills about 40 minutes from Ann Arbor, and owned by Dorothy Ann and Bernie Coyne, has been generously offered on a dana basis as the site for our intensives. There is a suggested donation of $25/ night, or $100 for your 4 night stay. No one will be prevented from participating for financial reasons. Each participant will be asked to bring a portion of the meals, or for those flying in, to offer money toward the food and do some on-site preparation work. We will all participate in meal clean up.

My teaching is offered on a dana basis. I deeply value your support; it is also my intention that the anticipation of such offering not deter anyone from participating in the program. About three of the intensives will bring in an outside teacher. Some teachers will be local and some from out of town. The group will be asked to share in the transportation costs for out of town teachers; with 12 people, this should not be a burden for anyone. These teachers will also offer their time on a dana basis. Some books will be required and others suggested. I hope we can buy these as a group and share them. Thus, there is a financial commitment but every effort will be made to keep it as low as possible.

The time commitment will be a follows: 3 intensives / year for the two years, with dates established as far in advance as possible (at least 6 months, often a year) The first intensive will be held August 26-30, 2009. Each intensive will run from Wednesday early dinner through mid-afternoon Sunday, to allow out of town students time to catch flights later on Sunday. In addition to the intensives, students will be expected to have a regular meditation practice and put about 3 to 6 hours a week into the exercises, readings and the meetings with me and Aaron. We recognize there will be times, such as intensive periods with family or work, when you cannot maintain that commitment, but overall, this will be the goal.

Private meetings will be held in whatever way works for each, through my deaf telephone, through i-chat or other on line instant messaging, or in person for those who live nearby. Our meeting times will vary between 20 minutes and 1 hour, depending on the need and what we are covering. The class is limited to 12 people, to allow Aaron and me the time to work in depth with each of you.

If you are interested in the program and wish to apply, please send an email to with your name and contact info and a letter that tells:

  1. your meditation experience (even if I already know it)
  2. someone who can serve as a reference if I don't know your meditation practice
  3. and 3) why you wish to join the program; what calls out to you about it?

I will contact you when I hear from you.

Some additional possible readings

In addition to these listed above:

  • Way of the Bodhisattva
  • Putting on the mind of Christ
  • Everyday Holiness

We may use

  • How Can I Help by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman, Knopf, 1985
  • Compassion in Action by Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush, Bell Tower, 1992
  • Ahimsa by Daniel Altman Quest, 1980
  • World as Lover; World as Self by Joanna Macy, Parallax Press, 1991
  • Worlds in Harmony; Dialogues on Compassionate Action by The Dalai Lama, Parallax Press, 1992
  • Flight of the Garuda DSC edition
  • Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Snow Lion, 2002
  • The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner, Harper 1980 or a related book. I have not read this; we'll see what is recommended.

Other suggestions will be welcomed. We keep in mind that this is an experiential program, not an intellectual one, so reading will be secondary rather than a primary to our work.