Volume 5, Number 2, May 1997

Deep Spring Center Newsletter
Volume 5, Number 2, May 1997

My friend, you are human and yet you are also spirit. To be spirit is to rest in the core of being that is birthless and deathless. To be human is to contemplate the cessation of your conscious existence.

To be spirit is to live fully in the heart of love. To be human is to know fear.

To be spirit is to offer everything. To be human is to experience the fear expression of greed.

To be spirit is to know divine compassion. To be human is to know the fear expressions of judgment and anger.

To be spirit is to know your completion. To be human is to hunger for it.

Yet, to be human and to be spirit are not at all incompatible.

You are not incarnate to abolish fear and its expressions but to learn to draw them into the heart of love.

Walk by my side for a ways and I will teach you.

The first instruction is simply to remember that you are divine. Always and everywhere, in every regard, you are manifestation of divinity.

The second instruction is to remember that all else is also divine. Everything emanates from the pure heart-everything!

With this in mind, begin to see how you divide reality into sacred and profane. "Profane" is merely the mind's distortion of the divine, seen through the lens of fear.

Why do you seek elsewhere for yourself? You are not out there but right here, here in the heart.

But if you must seek elsewhere, know that you are everywhere.

Everything that you see, however grand or minute, however pleasing or distorted to the eye,

is a reflection of the self, of the Divine.


From Aaron's upcoming new book, Human.


Barbara's Letter

Aaron's Pages

January 15, 1997, Bodhichitta Part 2, Wednesday Night Group

January 22, 1997, Bodhichitta, Part 3, Wednesday Night Group

November 27, 1996, Wednesday Night Group. On gratitude.

Barbara's Letter

Dear Friends,

This is the final day of a two week personal meditation retreat at a friend's cabin in the Michigan woods. Although the ice on the lake just broke up 5 days ago, today it's almost 70 degrees. Sitting here on the lake shore, I revel in the warmth of the sun and gentleness of the breeze and lie back to watch gray geese and cottony clouds glide past, silhouetted against the intense blue of the sky.

It's been an interesting retreat and this warmth is the perfect metaphor for the closing of it. Just a week ago I awoke to an ice storm, the worst I can remember. Trees and electric lines were down, leaving the area powerless for 90 hours. No lights, no heat, no stove, no plumbing. Trees and branches blocked the road. There was a deep beauty to the scene, everything still and coated with icy silver. In front, the shards of a giant willow took on the shape of a strange sea monster on the lake shore, slender willow branches transformed to a million iced fingers on grotesque limbs.

I sat in meditation all that first day, huddled by a gas log fireplace that gave scant warmth, aware that I could not even venture out the door. Large branches bearing icy daggers continued to crash down and offered silver showers as they fell. I had no neighbors in this summer community, no phone, no cooking, no toilet, yet also knew that I was "safe." Uncomfortable, perhaps, but safe. In the shelter of this cabin I wasn't going to freeze, even with the temperature in the twenties. Old fear.

I meditated all day, watching the opinions arise, and the discomfort with feeling helpless, alone and vulnerable. I finally heated a pot of soup on the gas log, and snuggled under a down comforter as day darkened into evening. I did go into town when the road was opened, and returned with extra blankets and camping stove, aware of the gift my retreat had offered me. Through the following days I watched those opinions come and go, watched helplessness, discomfort and fear. It is not the mind states themselves but my aversion to them and the way mind races to avoid them which most closes and armors me. I found that, as with today's sunshine, great warmth is possible in the midst of winter. The heart can open. What holds it shut? What allows opening?

After two weeks of silence, words, even these written words on the page feel dense and unwieldy, totally incapable of expressing the experiences of which they are symbol. I have spent much time in these two weeks looking at all the ways I separate myself from experience. A distorted use of words and labels are one of the ways I do that. I pondered the irony that I teach people in meditation to do mental noting, labeling the physical sensation or thought which is the primary object of immediate experience. But it is so easy to allow that label to serve as barrier to experience. For example, when I note "cold" am I labeling the sensations of "coldness" in a way that invites me to enter deeply into the experience including its discomforts? I found I was using noting as a way to hold myself apart from cold. If I could name it, it gave me some sense of safety and control! Even more noticeable was the way I wanted to separate myself from "helpless" and from the reverberations of that fear in my body.

What helps? When I note the tension of fear and the resistance to experiencing fear, I note that all with a basic kindness. I don't have to separate myself from fear. It really doesn't matter at that moment if the fear is of something that truly could harm me in this situation or is an expression of old, conditioned mind. Whatever is the cause, here is fear; in this moment the experience of it is "real." Instead of denying my experience or trying to control or change it in some way, I can honor that there is real fear, pain or confusion and more deeply investigate it with bare attention. I'm not investigating the object of which I'm fearful but the experience of fear, pain or confusion itself.

We go right into the heart of such experience. This means I must ask myself to bring awareness to that which wants to escape. The Buddha states this process wonderfully in the Bhayabherava Sutra. He tells that before his enlightenment he wanted to meditate at night at a forest shrine which was believed to be haunted. What would he do about his fear? He says: "I asked myself to sit with that fear and dread and allow the experience of it until it dissolved itself." So I must allow my experience, must hold myself in my heart. But it has to be done with kindness, not with judgment.

With kind attention we make a bigger container for our various experiences. Aaron offers a metaphor. If I was sitting in a small box and someone approached and put a tarantula in there with me, I'd leap out. I might force myself to stay but force certainly would not allow the fear to diminish but simply repress it. If the box were the size of a small room, I might stay put until the creature began to move. If the room was large and empty, so I could clearly see the tarantula, I could easily stay in the room with it, just watch it and really get to know it. I might even make friends with this particular "demon." I would at least stop seeing the old, fear-based concepts of tarantula and start to know the reality of it.

We expend much effort trying to grasp comfort and safety, to flee the experience of fear. There's much suffering in that effort. What, after all, is fear?

Kindness stretches the container. Contempt and judgment shrink it. I found myself doing a lot of metta (lovingkindness) meditation during the week, and exploring the frequency with which judgments arose and how it related to feeling in or out of control. I found that judging-self was the aspect I called up in habitual response to fear. With a gentle reminder to open my heart, the judgments fell away, leaving just the bare experience of fear-the obsessive thoughts, shorter breath, more rapid heartbeat and tightening of the belly which were expressions of "fear" in mind and body. Experienced in this way, there is nobody who is afraid, just fear, a conditioned phenomenon.

In the conditioned realm, everything arises when conditions are present for it to arise, and ceases when those conditions cease. We say that what arises is empty of an independent "self." Once the conditions are present, I cannot stop the arising, only can observe my relationship with what has arisen. If I step on a tack, a drop of blood will appear. The tack and placement of my bare foot are conditions for the puncture, the puncture and presence of blood in the body are conditions for the drop of blood to appear. In like manner, when certain conditions are present, fear will arise.

Once the conditions are present I can't stop the fear from arising. What will be my relationship with it? A much beloved Thai Meditation Master, Achaan Chah, used to ask of our relationship with experience, "Is it coming in to bother you or are you going out to bother it?" Is fear coming in to bother me? No; it's just here as expression of certain conditions! But in my judgment and aversion, I am most certainly chasing after it, perhaps feeling that if I chase it with enough determination it will leave. My feelings of helplessness, not deeply attended, call up the small self and diminish access to purer awareness. Then the box is smaller and the tarantula seems enormous! The greater the small self, the larger the tarantula, the more I get caught in this incessant argument with fear which takes the form of judgment, tensions and seeking to control.

The wonderful thing is that as soon as I note this, I'm free. The reverberations of fear may continue in the body but there is nothing that needs to be done about them except to allow them to be a reminder to keep the heart open and stay present. There is a wonderful story told of the Tibetan saint, Milarepa. He was meditating in the doorway of his cave when the demons of fear, hatred and greed appeared. Their shredded skin hung from their bones, they exuding a foul stench and rattled bloody swords. They were horrible to look at. He saw them and said, "Ah, I've been expecting you. Come in. Come sit by my fire and have tea."

"Aren't you afraid of us?" they asked.

"No, your hideous appearance only reminds me to keep my heart open, to have mercy. Come, sit by my fire. Have tea."

I find the heart is always open. I have a choice, to invite the experience of that open heart or to avoid it. So much of the way I respond is habit. To defend is habit. Is it what I want to do? Do I want to move further into the illusion of separation and condemn myself to the constant vigilance, discomfort, alienation and fear of "me" versus "that," or do I want to move past those boundaries and experience the world from the place of non-dual awareness?

To do so does not mean I don't take appropriate action to preserve myself when there is real danger. I did go into town and get my stove and blankets. I did what was necessary. But those actions were prompted by love, not by fear.

When I was able to rest in that space, not of "non-fear" but non-reactivity to fear, a space that saw fear just as it was without thinking of it in dualistic terms, then fear itself became the teacher. Fear is not the pathway to love. Fear IS love. At that point in the retreat I began to experience what seemed like a great cornucopia out of which the entire universe poured, all the supposed "opposites." It was as if there was a still center, call it Unconditioned, Eternal, or God, out of which everything expresses itself. Here is where fear is non-dual with love, and is not to be feared! Here is the peace we all seek, not "out there" and only after conditions are changed, but right here in the experience of this moment.

I wish you all a joyful summer and flowers, warm sunshine, gentle seas and loving companions. I look forward to spending time with some of you in my travels.

with love,

Aaron's Pages

In December Aaron began to work with a new series of talks he calls "Awakened Heart" or Bodhichitta. He explains that these teachings aren't original with him but express his perspective of certain ancient teachings about how we may better live from our deepest truth. Below are excerpts from sessions two and three of the Awakened Heart talks. He has given six talks to date and, at the conclusion, we plan to publish the whole series as a book. Meanwhile all the talks to date are on the web site. Also included below is Aaron's Thanksgiving talk on gratitude.

January 15, 1997, Bodhichitta Part 2, Wednesday Night Group

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. For many years we have worked together on a primary distortion which most of you carry. That is, the distorted idea that you should not have heavy emotions. So many of you have aspired so deeply to offer your energy with love to the world and have been moved to great judgment and attack of the self because negativity occasionally arises.

Our primary past work together, then, has been to help you deeply to understand that emotions, like physical sensations, will arise when the conditions are present for them to arise, and that as long as you are in human form, you're not likely to do away completely with those conditions. Our focus through the years here has been two-fold: the acquisition of wisdom which understands how emotion arises, and a greater equanimity with those emotions so that there's no fixation on them, so that you don't own them nor they own you. In this way you have come to understand that you need neither be reactive to them nor suppress them, but simply can view them as that dark cloud passing across the sky, noting the passing with kindness. All of you have worked with me on these understandings in depth, and you have all become proficient to some degree at not condemning yourself, not getting into a relationship with what arose.

In December we began a new phase of the work, with just one class, the transcript of which has been distributed tonight. This is a direction that I will be teaching for many weeks through this spring semester. While you understand that heavy emotions will arise if the conditions are present for their arising, you also understand that you do have some say about those conditions. You understand that there are practices you can do which help to minimize the conditions under which heavy emotion will arise. Our present goal is not the cessation of heavy emotion but simply to move deeper into heart-centered practices, purification practices and antidotes to weaken the conditions which give rise to the heavy emotions.

We are not attacking the heavy emotions. If they arise, they arise. There need be no relationship with them. But some of the energy of them does leak out regardless of how much you try to confine it, or of how centered you may be with the arising. So it is more skillful and comfortable not to have them arise.

The practice that I introduced before Christmas is one phase of a larger practice. I introduced you to four steps that have been named the Four Empowerments or Four Powers. Within that practice, first you open your heart to that which supports your resolution to offer your energy to the world in great love, to do no harm, to do only good. You may turn to the Christ energy, or the Buddha, or to any beloved teacher, or merely to the force of Love itself, and from that being find support for your resolve.

The second stage is one of reflection about the negativity that has arisen in you, such as anger, jealousy or greed, and a reflection on just how that arose. The reflection takes you into the wisdom mind which understands dependent arising, understands how thought arose out of conditions, and does not send out blame for it, but simply sees that it arose because of delusion, ignorance and fear. Within this reflection there is regret for, or more accurately, sorrow for, that which has arisen, and an acceptance of responsibility for the delusion, fear and sense of self which did serve as condition for that negative mind state to arise.

The third part is the resolution not to continue that habit. The resolution comes from a deep place of love which sees that the habit, jealousy for example, has created suffering for yourself and for others, and that it is merely a habit, that it does not need to be perpetuated. It sees that in the most centered place of loving wisdom, there is no delusion able to give rise to jealousy. The fourth step is a willingness to engage the various specific antidotes to anger or jealousy or greed or whatever that habitual negative pattern may be.

I have asked those who were here to practice with these four steps with some current catalyst and arising. Now I want to take these four steps and put them into a larger practice. I would like to state first that while what I am offering here may seem long and intricate, you do reach a point where you can go through these steps very quickly. By way of example, let us use impatience. You may feel impatience arising. Just note it and feel the tension in it. You may note that there is no contraction around the impatience, no need to try and push it away, no need to enact it, but that it does still carry a tension that's uncomfortable. Very quickly, in just a moment, your mind may turn toward whatever Being may be your choice, a Being who you feel in your heart has thoroughly transcended impatience. This may be a being such as Buddha or the Christ, or a recent being such as Mother Theresa, or Gandhi.

Within just a few seconds you can bring the sense of that impatience into your heart and allow yourself to feel real regret for it. The reflection need not be lengthy, you already understand how it arose. So it's not a lengthy process of understanding, just an acknowledgment of the understanding which already exists: this impatience arose because certain elements were present. Perhaps you may note, "fear and a sense of solid self are present and are causing pain for me." The resolution is not to get rid of the impatience, the resolution is to work more firmly with that which gave rise to the impatience. This is not getting rid of, we're going back to the source, which is not even ignorance itself, but inattendance to fear so that there is clinging to ignorance.

At this moment you don't know what the antidote is. That is part of the larger practice we are going to learn. But with the resolve not to perpetuate the habit of impatience comes the willingness to apply the antidote. It's not the application of it yet, but the willingness to apply it, which is primary. This is important. If you are willing to apply it then you will find the proper antidote and will learn to apply it. The heart must be there and be willing. There must be willingness not to continue to take refuge in your fear.

When I spoke of these practices in December, I said that they were all a part of a teaching that I find defined very specifically in Buddhism but it is also found in many religions. I'm going to teach it to you using the Buddhist model not because that model is better but only because it is the one with whose vocabulary I am most familiar. But I'm not teaching you a Buddhist practice, I am teaching you a spiritual practice. I ask you to take it back into your lives and make it your own.

What I teach here comes from an 8th century Buddhist teacher named Shantideva. It is not unique with him. He wrote it out in a very beautiful poem, but he did not originate it. It is the practice of bodhichitta, or awakened heart. This awakened heart is not something you must seek to create, it is something that has always been there but is obscured by the clouds of delusion, ignorance and fear. So all I am teaching you is a way to more deeply open to the bodhichitta already present within.

We begin in a very specific way a practice that is variously called "the seven-fold prayer" or "the seven-branch prayer." There is a very similar practice in ancient Judaism, whose Hebrew name I will not attempt to offer. I would ask you at this point to sit erect for meditation and I'm going to take you through this process step by step.

The function of this process is to help to open the heart, to help to nurture bodhichitta, or this fully awakened and loving heart. When you have access to this heart, it is a tremendous support in your resolve to move away from the old habits of fear and negativity. Seven steps. The one we have just reviewed, that which I taught in December, is the third step and the most intricate. The others are far simpler.

First. I would ask you to bring to your heart and mind the image of one whom you regard as teacher, or if there is no specific being that fills this function for you, simply bring in either the thought of all beings who have preceded you, who have done this hard work that you now do, have clarified their energy in that way-. All of these are your teachers! Or bring in the image of Light itself, the Ever-Perfect, the Divine, in whatever form you experience it.

From your heart, open to your willingness to honor this energy, be it a specific entity or a collection of energies, or be it this core which we call Ever-Perfect. I'm going to be quiet for a moment and ask you to offer this love, this devotion, to the principal which this entity stands for and, if applicable, to the entity itself, from your heart.


The second stage is one of offering. You offer all of yourself to this energy. This that is all-good, all-beautiful-what do you offer it? You can offer it the white snow and clear mountain streams, moonlight and sunlight, flowers and the laughter of children. No, these do not belong to you but you are a part of these and they are a part of you, because you are inter-connected to everything, and so you can offer sunlight and laughter. Offer also that which is immediate expression of the self: your body, your mind, your energy. There needs to be a fervent wish here: whatever I have that can be used by the forces of light for the alleviation of suffering, I freely offer it. Use me. Let me be a channel for love and for light. Again I will be quiet.


Then we move on to the third phase. The term that is sometimes used here is confession, but I think that word may have negative emotional connotations of a demeaning of the self, rather than simply as "surrender," for some of you. This step is simply an opening of your heart that acknowledges, "I have used my energy in ways that have harmed others. I have acted, spoken, or had thoughts that were unskillful, and if fixated upon and perpetuated, would lead to harm." This is the four part practice of which we just spoke, support, then reflection and regret, and so forth. You have already done the first part, which is support. Then this reflection and regret, then resolve not to perpetuate those habits and a willingness to seek out and apply the antidotes, and to purify the self. I will be quiet while you do this.


The fourth step is to move out of yourself. When you look around you see that there are other beings who have done harm but there are also vast numbers of beings who have done good. The fourth phase is a nurturing of sympathetic joy or mudita. Some of you met this word last year when you worked in meditation class with the heavenly-abode or brahma-vihara practices.

This is simply looking around at those who are able to greet heavy catalyst with an open heart, without greed or jealousy or fear, and instead of feeling threatened by what they do, you allow yourself to experience a deep joy that beings are able to open their hearts in this way for the good of all beings including yourself. Of course if there is jealousy in seeing that they can do this and you can't, then you simply work with the jealousy, not attacking it, just recognizing it and seeing it as another cloud, seeing it as a habitual cloud. Offer the self deep kindness that it arose but also offer the intention to move past this particular pattern and a willingness to apply the antidotes.

We're touching here on that old question, what if I wasn't feeling fear, anger, greed, separation or whatever? What might I be feeling? As you have worked with that question through the years, you've learned to be very honest with yourselves. Fear is a habit. It grows out of the illusion of separation. You need not continue to practice this habit. This practice of sympathetic joy is an essential part of the seven-fold teaching, and is also quite valuable to practice independently.

In practice of it now, what I would ask you to do is to bring to mind something that happened in the past day or two, somebody who acted in a loving way, somebody who could have been greedy but was generous, somebody who could have acted as if they were threatened but instead was kind and receptive to criticism, and so forth. Choose just one situation. Observe how that person opened in a way that may have been difficult for you in the same situation, and as much as you can let your heart open to what they gave and offer thanks for it. I pause.


The fifth step. This is to offer thanks that there are those such as the one you just reflected on who are teachers of love, and to ask them to remain available to you. Let us do this.


If it is useful to you to address these thoughts to a very high being such as the Buddha or the Christ, of course you may do that. Please recognize though, that you are addressing teachers at every level, and asking that they continue to be available to you. And the following step, which may be merged with step 5, is from deep within your heart to ask to be taught. You have acknowledged that there are places where you're stuck. You have acknowledged with joy that there are teachers. Now you ask to be taught. Within that asking there's a sense of surrender; you are not going to cling to old patterns, but offer a willingness to learn. I pause while you do it.


The seventh step is what is traditionally called "dedication of merit." You simply ask from the heart that any value that grows out of the work we are doing not be kept selfishly for the self but be offered in love to all beings.


This then is what we call the Seven-Fold Prayer. If it feels appropriate to you, I suggest you use it at the beginning of your meditation on a daily basis. It doesn't need to take long, but also you're not taking time away from your meditation. This simply becomes the beginning of the meditation and gives you great support for the practice that follows. Please feel free to amend it to fit your own situation, your own particular religious path.

This practice and what I taught in December comprise the first three chapters of Shantideva's- poem, "The Bodhicaryavatara," which I am using as a model for this teaching. His entire poem is ten chapters. The first three are about opening bodhichitta, about experiencing the Self, finding that open and loving heart. Further chapters are about very specific instruction about how we stay connected with Bodhichitta, stabilize it and enact it in the world. Through the coming months we will cover those other chapters one at a time. Let it be a balance for you to the wisdom practices that we have done, to insight and clarity.

January 22, 1997, Bodhichitta, Part 3, Wednesday Night Group

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. In the past weeks I've been talking about a very specific teaching directed toward learning to rest in the innate open and loving heart and, additionally, cultivating that within the self which aspires to offer its energy with love to all beings. All of you here aspire to offer your energy lovingly, but what "lovingly " means has shifted through your incarnations.

Once, many incarnations ago when you were young, you did not aspire to offer your energy lovingly to others, but primarily to the self. This service also is "love," but is a narrow perspective of love, biased by fear. You used your fear as an armor, and with that armor sought to cherish and protect the self no matter what cost to those perceived as others. As you matured, you began to understand that you could not find happiness and still separate yourself from others in that way, that your own happiness and the happiness of those around you was inextricably connected and so could not be selfishly derived.

All of you, as human, experience occasional fear and delusion. Out of that fear and delusion arise emotions of anger, jealousy, greed, pride, and so forth. You began to believe that it was the arising emotions, themselves, which were cause for your suffering. Without those emotions, you believed it would be easy to offer the self in service to others, which openhearted offering of service was seen increasingly as the desired goal. So there was the thought that these heavy emotions were the cause of your confusion, and the work was to destroy the heavy emotions.

This distorted perception both supported and was fed by distortions in all of your major religions. Your traditional religions name the heavy emotions in ways that have very negative connotations. Christianity calls them sins. Buddhism calls them defilements. Certainly greed, pride, anger, jealousy, and so forth, do create real pain. In the book on which I have been offering commentary, in the fourth chapter, Shantideva talks about these negative emotions as the enemy. He says you can't make friends with these. says he has been slave to them for how many lifetimes. He says that although his mortal enemies die, his heavy emotions continue to enslave him and trap him in misery. "I do not care if my guts ooze out … never shall I bow down to the enemy, the defilements" (chapter 4, phrase 44).

Certainly we can all understand what he means by this. And yet, such thinking does lead us in a direction of hatred of these emotions. Is he asking us to get rid of them, or to cease to be enslaved by them? What really ends such enslavement?

Here it gets very tricky. Certainly it would seem skillful to be rid of them. There's no argument with that. The argument is in how we get rid of them. Again, your different religions offer different slants on it, different techniques. But within most techniques there is that twist of negative bias which says "I must conquer this" and speaks of it as an act of will, that you must literally cut out something from yourself.

My dear ones if you are already whole, how can you be asked to do surgery on yourself and cut away that which you have deemed "bad"? I ask you to visualize a garden. You plant flowers in healthy soil. Seeds of weeds also blow in and entrench themselves in the soil. Do you really need to get rid of the weeds in order to have healthy plants? If you fertilize these plants, give them plenty of water and sunlight and loving care, and gently bend away the weeds which are closest to the plants, the plant is going to thrive. If you tear out the weeds, might you not also disturb the roots of the plants?

The metaphor loses its precision here because of course the weed will also thrive. But if the plant gets big enough, eventually the plant will choke out the weed. You do not have to go in with a trowel and dig out the negativity in the self, but simply to note it with awareness, to note that it is not skillful, to deepen the resolve not to be enslaved by that negativity, and to come back to the loving heart, to the deepest strength, beauty and purity of the self which is and always has been there.

Please notice that I am not suggesting that you can just let the plant and weeds all grow together without any care of the plant. Yes, if the plant is not nurtured, the weeds will take over. If the loving aspiration to offer your energy with as much purity and clarity as possible is not nurtured, then these fear-based emotions will take over. So I'm not suggesting mere complacence, not suggesting that you simply shrug and say, "Oh, it doesn't matter." It does matter. Of course it matters. But how are we going to treat this fear?

Some years ago at a very traditional Theravadan Buddhist meditation retreat led by a well-known Asian meditation master, Barbara came into his presence for a private meeting. He asked her what was happening in her practice and she described the mental noting that she was doing. Then he said to her, "It is good that you know how to note. Stay very present and aware and continue noting. If you are totally present, then there is no space for the defilements to arise. Be vigilant and you will conquer the defilements." She received this teaching very precisely, as the translator wrote it word by word in her notebook.

Barbara felt very disturbed after this meeting because she deeply wished to do just that, to conquer the defilements which brought her such pain and brought pain to others. And yet intuitively she understood that to wage war on them was simply to empower them.

A friend has told us of a similar meeting with a Catholic priest during a retreat. The priest suggested to her, each time a mind-state of anger or desire arises, abolish it, forbid it to be present, turn your attention instead to God and forbid the presence of that evil mind-state. It's the same teaching, the same distortion.

As long as you are human, physical sensations will continue to arise because you have a physical body, and emotions will continue to arise because you have an emotional body. Do not give them power over you. Yet, given that your deepest aspiration is to express the purity and beauty of your true nature free of these heavy mind-states, what are you to do?

Those of you who have worked with me for many years have worked in depth with my fundamental teaching, "Whatever arises, note its presence and make space around it; do not move into a relationship with it which will empower it." You all understand that teaching. Those who have worked with me for some time understand how to do this quite skillfully. You've learned the basic technique for disempowering them, which is mindfulness of their arising, mindfulness of how they arise, mindfulness of how you do get snared into combat with them, and finally, a willingness to make more space around them so that you do not have to suppress or enact them.

The teachings we are currently working with go one step further. I emphasized last week the importance of a willingness not to get into relationship with them. We talked about this process of reflection and regret that these had arisen, of deep resolution to move into a clarity within which they at least may begin to cease to arise so strongly, and a willingness to work with the antidotes to them.

You have got to know deep inside, "I'm willing to do this hard work." It would be as if you had a deep splinter in your foot and it was painful every time you took a step. You might build a fence around the pain, try to pretend it wasn't there, but it is there and it does agonize At some point you're going to have to go into the wound, open it up, and pull out that splinter. This is the antidote to the splinter, and the application of it can be painful. So the natural tendency is to try everything else first.

Note that the application of these antidotes can be painful. Have you tried everything else? Are you willing to continue to live with the powerful arising of these emotions? If not, what helps support the resolve to offer the antidote? Let us use the example of fear-based greed. I'm not talking here about somebody who is very stingy who will never give of themselves but deeply enacts their fear, I'm talking about the kind of people in this room who offer their energy, material resources and their hearts very generously to others, but are aware of the occasional arising of fear. You have learned how to attend that fear and not need to be reactive to it.

Now, what if I say to you, especially to those of you for whom this is a primary issue, one of the antidotes to this greed is the conscious practice of generosity? What if that which I ask you to do is, whenever something comes to you which is of special delight, to give it away. Can you feel yourself recoil from that idea? "But Aaron, it's too much." Give it away!

I'm not talking about giving away the air you must breathe, I'm talking about giving away the pretty pair of socks you got for Christmas, or the record. Listen to it, enjoy it, and then give it away. You must do it mindfully. There must be deep awareness of the fear that's present, a willingness to be present with that fear and to offer deep lovingkindness to the human who is afraid.

Just for trial's sake, give away that record and promise yourself, "If I can't live without it, I may go out next week and buy myself another copy. But just for now I'm going to see how it feels to be without it, and, with the practice of sympathetic joy, to relish somebody else's enjoyment of it." Don't be harsh with yourself; don't push yourself far beyond your limits, but do push yourself right up to those limits and then just a little bit beyond. Keep challenging yourself.

For those of you for whom anger is a primary issue, I would ask of you to sit in meditation and from the heart to look deeply into the situation or at the being toward whom there is anger, to reflect upon the thoughts and emotions that gave rise to that anger, to allow your heart to touch that which really feels sorrow about the anger, and to allow the heart to touch on a deep resolve to transcend anger in your life. Of course we do this with implicit forgiveness toward the human self who is not going to be able to perfectly transcend anger. If anger arises, anger arises. There's nothing there to become excited about. But each time it does arise, I challenge you to move through this process of reflection, regret, resolve, and a willingness to apply the antidote.

One antidote to anger is service toward the one toward whom you are angry. You must really connect yourself with that person or situation. If it's your boss, and this boss is overbearing, judgmental, never gives you credit for your work but always complains, I would ask you as part of this challenge to put first into your mind the question, "How can I offer this very unhappy human some release from its pain?" Of course, you can't make anybody else happy; he must find his own happiness. But in what way can you serve him so as to bring a bit more joy into his life and still not compromise your own truth? I'm not asking you to become a doormat to his abuse. You must say no, lovingly, to abuse. But perhaps he'd like that record album. Perhaps there's some other small kindness you can do for him.

You try to look deeply and to see a suffering human there. This opening into the heart of compassion, and nurturance of sympathetic joy, is one of the antidotes to anger. But you must be willing to apply the antidote, which means you must be willing not to hold onto your anger for your own empowerment. This is the hard part. In order to do it well you must be very honest with yourself. You must look deeply at that which wishes to hold onto greed, to anger, to pride. You must look deeply at the way those emotions have made you feel safe, or whole, and you must be willing to find your safety elsewhere. This is very difficult and demanding work, but it can be done. And, as aside, it needs to be done without pride or enhancement of the ego! Aha!

The defilements, sins, or however we name them-I prefer the very neutral term, "heavy emotions"-these will arise. No matter how hard you work, at some times they still will arise, but they will arise less and less and less until you find yourself very largely free of them. This will not happen by willpower nor by attack of them. It will not happen with a "fix it" mentality which fragments the self. It will only happen by coming to know your wholeness, and by taking increasing responsibility for being the whole human being that you are, not hiding behind your heavy emotions, not hiding behind blame.

The greatest support for this work is what we have been discussing for the past two weeks, opening this deeply loving heart, what the Buddhist tradition calls inspiring bodhichitta; what the Christian tradition might call dwelling in the Christ Self. Know, my dear ones, that you ARE divine and it is your choice whether to enact that divinity or to hide it in helplessness which does not truly believe in the divinity.

There are many other supports for this work. The practice I described last week, called in the Buddhist tradition, "The Seven-fold Prayer," is a very powerful support. I remarked last week that this prayer finds its parallels in every other religious system. And I offered the Buddhist model only because it's the one with which I have the deepest understanding. But it doesn't matter in which tradition you find it, the process is the same.

In coming months, we will expand on the practice of bodhichitta, using these seven steps as a base. We'll take a closer look at various pathways toward more fully living from your divinity, and how to nurture the willingness to do so. It must always come from a place of deep kindness and love. And if you fall short on occasion, there must always be compassion and forgiveness. In this way you cannot help but succeed in the end.

The fourth chapter in Shantideva's book is about carefulness or vigilance. There must be carefulness, as the poem suggests, but towards what? Not carefulness toward eradicating the heavy emotions, but carefulness toward nurturing this ever-present, deeply loving heart and its aspiration to express itself with great purity and love. Carefulness to be mindful and note each arising of the heavy emotions with a wisdom and spaciousness which does not invest those emotions as "self," nor deny them, but looks deeply and compassionately with an intention to understand so as to deprive them of power, all of this for the good of all beings. This is the carefulness one requires, constant mindfulness that doesn't cease for a moment the nurturing of this aspiration.

I thank each of you for your attention to my words and thoughts. My deepest love to each of you and my greatest respect to you for the hard work that you are willing to do to learn how to express your own divinity and offer it to the world. I pause.

November 27, 1996, Wednesday Night Group. On gratitude.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good evening, and my love to you all. Since it is the eve of the day you commemorate as a national day of thankfulness, it seems appropriate to talk about gratitude. What does it really mean to give thanks?

You in your culture have a habit ingrained in you from early childhood. When someone hands you something you say, "Thank you." How often is the heart a part of that "Thank you"? Very rarely, I would surmise. Sometimes you even say thank you when somebody has treated you rudely, so habituated are you to this response.

Come on a little journey with me. Come and join me in the Thai monastery where I lived in my final human lifetime, where we arise before dawn and come together in a common place for chanting and meditation. The night air is cool. I'm wrapped in a rather ragged robe. While I am permitted three robes, at the moment I only have two because I gave one to a brother, and I've not yet gotten a new third robe.

We're in a clearing in the jungle. When I awaken I find myself in a small hut built on stilts, built of bits of wood from cut trees, not boards as you know it, simply the saplings themselves attached together with a thatched roof. It is sufficient to keep me off the ground and safe from snakes, tigers, scorpions and such creatures. The open sides allow the air to pass through when the weather is warm.

When I sleep I spread my spare robe beneath me, over the ridged saplings that create my floor, and I lay my other robe over me as a blanket. Arising now, it is cool, cold enough that I take my spare robe and also wrap it around me. My feet are bare. As I walk from my small pallet other monks also are walking along the paths. We'll come together in a clearing where we will sit, not on comfortable cushions as you have here, but simply on the bare ground. A framework of similar saplings, perhaps, the thickness of a man's ankle, are lashed together and support a roof which creates shade, and that simple shelter is our meditation hall and also the place where we prepare our food. At one end of this shelter there is a heating fire. There is also nearby a well which provides our drinking water. The word "cistern" perhaps would be more appropriate, as the water is not from an underground source but is collected rainwater stored in this cistern and raised up with buckets.

So we gather together, chant and meditate. Today there are about forty of us. Our number changes from season to season as monks go on walking tours, traveling. The rainy season just passed; our number was higher last week.

Our needs our simple, and few: a safe place to sleep (although many do not sleep in such raised cabins but simply sleep on the ground), the several robes, a begging bowl, a razor, a small bag in which I may carry all of this.

With the first light of dawn we rise from our meditation and head out in different directions, some going to the nearest town to seek food, some traveling the opposite direction to a village which is a bit further away. Some walk quite a bit further, to a third village. We do this that our presence not be a burden on the townspeople.

Our needs are simple, and it is easy to watch when any kind of greed arises in us, to observe the fear from which that greed arose and greet it with presence and kindness. We acknowledge the fear and allow it to dissolve itself so that we have a certainty that we will not enact our greed in harm to others.

Knowing that I live my life with such simplicity and non-harm gives me great peace of mind, for I am on good terms with all creatures. When I go out on walking tour-I do not know if this instrument can pronounce the Thai word, "tu-dong"-I leave my cabin, which is not MY cabin but is simply the place where I temporarily have slept. Then I eat and sleep under the shade of trees. Outside of the rainy season the weather is clear, so I've no need for a roof. Food is wherever the nearest village is. If I keep my needs simple, I am certain that my needs will always be met.

So I feel a profound peace and much gratitude for that peace. It is not gratitude to somebody who has given me the peace, nor even to myself whose meditation and inner work has allowed me the peace. Gratitude does not need to have an object. Simply put, my heart is open and I am joyful. There is gratitude to be alive, to serve the dharma, to hear the birds with this ear of "no-hearer."

On this morning just after the rainy season has ended but before many monks have left to wander the more distant countryside, we're still a large group. Furthermore, the people's food has been somewhat depleted through the rainy season and people are a bit hungry. We set out, six of us together, barefoot down a jungle path, the path just visible in the early light of dawn. Within a few minutes' walk the trees fall away and open into fields, farmland, especially rice paddies. Here there is a shallow river and we must ford it at its very shallowest place to reach the village which lies on the far side. I hold my robe up high, that it will not become wet. Since we're all barefoot there are no shoes to be concerned about.

By the time we have crossed, the sky is getting light. A small boy from the village approaches us leading his water buffalo. He bows, "Good morning, venerable sirs," and we bow back. His bow is not a habitual bow, hammered in by his elders as "Be polite." Rather, it comes from a true place of kindness and friendship in him. This young lad hopes to be a monk one day. When he is able, he comes often to the monastery to hear our teachings of the dharma. He is but a boy and he has little to bring, but he brings what he can. One thing he can always offer is his kindness.

Kindness is perhaps the primary ingredient of my life. I treat all the world with respect and the world treats me with respect. I treat all beings with kindness and as equals and they treat me with kindness. There is little fear out of which pride and ego grow, and for that I am also very grateful.

As we come to the main street in the village, people have begun to come to the side of the road and they kneel there with bowls of food. They have so little, these people, and yet they see that we are fed before they feed themselves. This is not because I am better than they are or more worthy, it is because they so profoundly uphold the dharma. I am not the being whose name I bore in that lifetime, I am simply one in the robes, a spokesman of the dharma. By my promise to enact that as best I can in that life and share it with others, I make a commitment to the world, and my world makes a commitment back to me to sustain me so I may continue to give. My dharma teaching is not better than their food; their food is not better than my dharma teaching. Both are essential and all of us recognize that that is how it is. Each has its own place in this scheme. And no one is inferior or superior. All are important.

I hold out my bowl. My tradition asks that I not note the faces, and certainly not note who gives what, and I do NOT note that, but after many years, of course, these faces are familiar because these are the same people that come to me and ask for teaching. These are the ones who come when one is sick or has died, or when they are confused or afraid, and so I know them very well. Although I do not meet their eyes, my heart sings in greeting to them: "My brother, my sister, how do you fare on this beautiful morning?" My voice asks in silence. I hold out my bowl and they give so generously of their meager supply. I do not feel shame in taking from them because what we exchange is equal.

In this way I move through the village. Each one offers just a spoonful because each knows that they alone may not fill up my bowl, that that would be a disservice to the others who also want the gift of giving. If one were to give me everything, he would deprive his comrades of the joy of generosity.

When I have reached the end of the village, I turn onto a trail which leads me back over the fields and, in a roundabout way, into the woods. The six of us are still together. We pause here by the small shelter of a brother monk who has chosen to live alone, apart from all others, for some period of time. Because he is crippled he cannot walk into the village to ask for food. Each morning we pass by and make sure that his needs have been met. It is really a totally unnecessary stop because always villagers have tended to his needs before we came. But I would not leave it to chance, and prefer to see for myself that he is well. He does not wish to see us on most mornings, and we do not disturb his solitude. We simply note that his food bowl is filled and his water is available.

We come back to our compound and all the food that we all have gathered is pooled together and redistributed so that each one's needs are met. And then we each wash our own bowls, spend a bit of time sweeping and cleaning up our compound, raking leaves out of the way for example. We may also wash a robe or mend it, or repair a tear in the roof. And that is our work for the day.

Please note that when we sit to eat, we have not eaten for twenty-four hours. We're hungry but we do not dive into our food. We chant and offer prayers for a considerable length of time. We remind ourselves that this food is a gift and to let our hearts open in appreciation of the deep beauty of our lives and the generosity and the love that surrounds us. Today I am especially aware of that generosity because later in the morning after our meal, several villagers come bearing cloth for they have observed that some of our robes are threadbare and cease to protect us.

I will live my life like this, deeply aware of others' needs and always offering my own energy in service to any who has a need, while those around me are equally attentive to me. I am constantly nurtured. I do not experience a fear, "What if my needs are not met?" It was easy to give away my third robe, my brother needed it. But also I had no fear. If I needed another robe, one would come to me.

The predominant note of my life is peace and gratitude, a constant openheartedness that lives in connection with the world, that constantly offers myself out into the world and constantly experiences the world offering itself back to me. There is such joy in this deep connection with all things. It makes living the truth of interbeing quite simple!

Your lives here are very, very different. You have gained much. You can travel distances in a day, that the being I was in my final lifetime would never have dreamed of traveling in his entire life. You can travel in an hour what would have been a week's arduous journey. You can pick up the phone and instantly be connected anywhere in the world.

In this way it would seem that you live a life of intense interconnection. But you live it from such a place of such separation and aloneness. I do not fully understand this, that you live in a universe that is so close, all beings literally interdependent in every way on one another, and yet all of you experience intense alienation, fear, and separation.

I have pondered much about this. Despite all the gifts your Earth gives you today, you have lost the one precious gift, which no material thing can replace, and that is the gift of living in the heart. I do not think that living separated from your heart is a necessary condition of your highly materialistic and fast-paced culture. But it is much more difficult to do so, because so much greed, desire, fear of the unknown, fear of lack, aversion, comes up so frantically in your lives.

And yet this is where you are. We can't take you off to Thailand of 500 years ago to give you peace. The question is, how is peace to be found here and now.

I think that the practice of gratitude is one answer. I mean it specifically in the way that I have phrased it, the practice of gratitude. And so I would like to challenge all of you to try something in these coming weeks. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and then you enter into a period of celebration of the birth of the one known as Jesus, something else for which it is suggested you may be thankful. Especially at this time of year you exchange presents and find joy in surprising one another and giving to one another. If it feels appropriate to you, I would request that each day between now and the end of the year, you pause at night for a few minutes with a very specific meditation.

Whatever turmoil, whatever pain may have come through your day, there's got to be something for which you are thankful. I don't ask you just to say, "Oh yeah, that, thank you," I ask you to deeply feel it in your heart. Maybe it was a small thought, such as the bagger at the supermarket smiling at you very warmly as she loaded your bags. Maybe a friend stopped by to bring you a few cookies from the latest batch he had made. Or waiting in line at a bank, perhaps the person behind you in line tapped you on the shoulder, handed you $10 and said, "I think you dropped this," instead of keeping it for himself.

When someone gives to you, returning your lost money, offering you a cookie or a smile, in that moment your heart has the opportunity to connect. When the bagger smiled, did you smile back? Was it a habitual smile or heart centered? When a friend called to see how you were feeling just as you were rushing out the door and a sense of annoyance arose-"Oh I'm going to be late"-did you ever stop to appreciate that this friend was thinking of you, and holding you in her heart?

It is easier to feel gratitude, perhaps, for the big things. You may sit down tomorrow for your turkey dinner with family or friends, and feel a sense of "Thank you. I have had enough food to eat all year." What I want you to do is attend to this in every moment, not once a year and for the big items but for the smiles, for the falling leaf that offered you gracefulness as it fluttered to the ground, for the raindrop which kissed your forehead! In order to come into the moment, I ask, once a day, maybe before you go to bed, that you sit for a few minutes and allow to come into your heart whatever you're truly grateful for.

Some time ago when I asked this instrument to work regularly with this practice, I remember one night when her toilet was malfunctioning several times during the day, and she had worked it with a plunger. Finally it was flowing and when she sat in the evening and looked at what she was grateful for, she was simply grateful that her toilet was flushing again! So it can be something very mundane-although as one who has never been incarnate on your earth with flowing water, a flush toilet is quite a miracle!

You have got to feel it from your heart. Sit for a few minutes with these several happenings during the day for which you are most grateful. Really let yourself feel it, and offer the words "thank you" from the heart to the persons or incidents responsible. Realize as you do so that there is no one being to thank, that what has arisen is compounded of many elements.

In this way you also can come back to living from the heart as I did 500 years ago. You can start more fully to appreciate your connection with all that is. And I think that even in the frantic nature of your daily life, this open heart will sustain you, ground and nurture you. Let it bring you much joy.

Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brodsky