Volume 6, Number 1, January 1998

The human has come to learn and agreed to do whatever it takes to learn. That decision may rest in the intellect but, when you are suffering, anger says, "Who agreed to this? Not me!" On the level where there is still confusion, something needs to be replayed and replayed again. The swimmer hasn't quite got the kick fluid, so the teacher says, "Jump again into that frigid water-another ten laps." The swimmer who jumps in with anger, cursing the teacher, cursing the body, will use willpower to swim those ten laps, but will probably reinforce the incorrect kick. Why? Ego is predominant, not us resolving this "kick" problem, but him against me or the kick against me .

What we're talking about here is one three letter word: Ego, ego, ego, ego, ego! It is born into your learning process. You became self-aware and acted to preserve self, like the climbing vine which learned to climb up trees to reach the sunshine. Centering on the self spelled survival. Now what has allowed you to be strong and survive has become what you erroneously consider to be the enemy. Ego is not the enemy. It is not ego that creates distortion but your relationship to it. Yes, the same message again and again.

When does kindness begin? You can rest in this ground of your being, observe all the tensions, observe the million tricks ego will play to perpetuate the myth that it is boss. Ultimately, there is nothing left to do but watch this ego frenzy wear itself out, to come back into the loving heart, to respect ego as survival tool but not be slave to it. You surrender to the Divine not ego but the war with ego. If you refuse to serve ego, it will eventually exhaust itself. Do not offer ego to the Divine, but offer your fear of ego, and then relax and watch the show.



Barbara's Letter

Aaron's Pages

"The Ruby in the Heart Cloth." Dharma talk on June 14, 1997 at the Emrich Retreat.

A "Metta" or Lovingkindness Meditation

Aaron's Christmas Story: How Jesus Taught the Practice of Generosity

Barbara's Letter

Dear Friends,

Dawn, Thanksgiving morning. I came down to my study early this morning to meditate before the busyness of this day, with cleaning and cooking to be done in preparation for those who will gather here this afternoon for dinner. After sitting for an hour in the candlelight, I opened my eyes and looked out the slit of cellar window at the just-graying sky, snow flurries dancing into sight. The sky lightened and the high limbs of my loved maple came into view, This tree, grown from a seed, is tall and sturdy now, branches waving wildly in the stormy morning wind. The candles' dance reflected the turbulence outside, yet despite the drafts that set the candle flames to flicker, despite the passing thoughts of much work to be done, I experienced peace and stillness as I sat blanket-wrapped on the softness of my cushion. I'm grateful my life allows me the space to begin my days with meditation.

Meditation has been at the core of my life for almost forty years. When I speak of meditation, I need to be precise. Through the practice of meditation, I come to the state of meditation, and in that being meditation, I finally rest in the still heart and can attend the turmoil of the world without getting lost there-in. I began to meditate as a child, with no conscious sense of doing meditation, only loved to walk to the pond across the road, and pole my raft out a short way to a tiny island where I was assured of solitude. There I would sit and allow myself to enter the great bliss of being meditation. As I grew up I misplaced that innate ability, and it took a long journey to refind it.

What is meditation? In his book, Meditations, Krishnamurti, answers with great clarity:

Meditation is not a means to an end; there is no end, no arrival; it is a movement in time and out of time. Every system, method, binds thought to time, but choiceless awareness of every thought and feeling, understanding of their motives, their mechanism, allowing them to blossom, is the beginning of meditation. When thought and feeling flourish and die, meditation is the movement beyond time. In this movement there is ecstasy; in complete emptiness there is love …

There is no "end" and yet there are fruits. I feel blessed by my life, and conscious of the gifts to which meditation opens me. We speak of freedom but I don't know any human who is totally enlightened. Life is more spacious, though. One lives with more gracefulness and joy, with the growing understanding that turbulence and stillness can co-exist. When all is in a stormy frenzy around me, there can still be happiness, tranquillity and peace.

We exist in two arenas, the ultimate and the relative. They are not dual; the relative is an expression of the ultimate. I always rest in the Still Heart, although sometimes I lose track of that space. Meditation bridges these realms. The meditative mind cuts through the illusion of separation, of solidity, and lets me experience my true being. It frees me of the need either to lose myself in the world's pains, becoming a "fixer" of the world, or to disassociate from those pains and choose some separate place where peace exists.

Through meditation I recognize that which is always at center and know that I DO rest there, always. even while the relative all around me seems to resonate with chaos and craziness. As I find a more stable rest in that pure awareness mind, then no denial of the chaos and instability of the relative world is necessary. Both exist, the absolutely firm foundation of being, and the impermanence of relative reality in which there is nothing to hold onto. With feet in earth's soil and head in the heavens, heaven and earth merge; here I am fully at home, human and yet also spirit, no less divine because I sweat and stink.

Finally I understand that there is no choice to be made between the relative and ultimate, between peace and chaos, between stillness and movement. They are not dual. Through these experiential understandings I come to a peace which is unshakable. Once more I quote, here from the 2000 year old teachings of Vimalakirti (1):

That which has no intrinsic substance and no other sort of substance does not burn, and what does not burn is not extinguished; such lack of extinction is the meaning of "peace."

This "substanceless" is the Sacred Heart, that pure awareness mind which does not burn. It is "empty" of a separate self, and yet alive, vital, and full of joy. The child I was knew intuitively how the relative world expressed out of the Ultimate. Now I return to this knowledge with gratitude!

It is this coming into balance where I can be present with the turmoil of daily life, attend it and still experience happiness and peace, which has seemed most important. How is balance found? One great gift of my life is to teach, and in teaching, to learn from students. We're all teachers, all learners. In this way we empower one another and ourselves. In teaching I have the opportunity more closely to observe the processes of meditation which lead us into the being of meditation.

I teach two basic practices, vipassana or Insight Meditation (2) and deepening awareness of innate perfection. In vipassana we offer a choiceless awareness which is present with all the arisings of mind and body without getting lost in the content of them. This moment to moment investigation of the mind/body process through calm, focused awareness allows us to experience sensations, emotions, thoughts and consciousness with greater balance and clarity. We balance vipassana with a deepening awareness of our true nature, not as something which we strive to manifest but as that which is eternal and present NOW. These teachings are drawn from the Buddhist Theravadin and Dzogchen traditions but no special religious beliefs are necessary to their practice.

The first phase of practice is deepening the ability to just be present with all the myriad arisings of mind and body, so many of which we have pushed aside for so long. Each year I meet several hundred students, many of them new to meditation practice. Some people struggle a bit to learn that meditation is NOT mind control, and to work skillfully with the resistance we all encounter. The process of meditation is not to "fix" anything, but to open with full presence to what IS. For myriad reasons, including habit and fear, we have chosen not to be present. This learning of presence is hard, and people may wonder if they can really learn to meditate. Below is an e-mail I received recently from a new student and part of my reply.

"I still find an anxiety which seems unrelated to the 'monkey chatter' that runs through my mind. While I know that there generally exists an enormous gap between what registers on my conscious mind and what I am feeling, I am finding it frustrating that the same problem is occurring in meditation. My repression skills still seem to be finely tuned. So, I guess my question for you is, in addition to being patient, what else can I do to facilitate the closure between the different states of being? Am I the only one in class who's unable to meditate?"

Dear …

There is NO problem!! The difficult situation is simply the path. Let me explain.

You say, "The anxiety seems unrelated to the monkey chatter …" Imagine yourself with a job to look through a huge storage room, containing many boxes. You've heard an old tale of a murder and, deep in the back of your mind, there's an anxiety that in one of these boxes you may come across a skeleton. Can you see that there would be a certain apprehension as you open each box, even if you've opened hundreds, "what if the next one contains a skeleton?" On one level we can say, "so what if it is in the next box. No big deal!" It's not the actuality of the skeleton which is a problem but the entire baggage that accompanies that idea, all the old feelings about murder, corpses, etc. Once you find it, it really may be no big deal, but the expectations create tension. Of course, it could be a very gory skeleton and be hard to deal with, just in this moment of experience. Even if that's the case, the expectations still cause much more difficulty than the actual experience.

We ALL have skeletons in our closets, the old angers, fears, pains and judgments of this and many past lives. We've tucked them away in hidden places, hoping we won't have to stumble on them again. Meditation threatens this hiding away. In meditation we open to whatever is there, including the skeletons.

For a long time we may delude ourselves and think we can continue, and find happiness, without ever letting out the skeletons. Some people do seem to be able to do so, and that's fine, but most of us must discover our skeletons. We seem always be guarded in case we open the wrong box, so life gets narrower and narrower.

Meditation allows us to open these boxes and uncover all that we judged or hid from and had to bury. It gives us a very powerful tool, of open hearted, nonjudgmental presence, to do this. It's not like therapy where we look at what was buried and think about it with conceptual mind. Rather, we open to it from the deepest spaciousness, the deepest center of our being, see it with no extra baggage attached, just what is right here, right now, and realize it really has no more control over us. We no longer need to analyze, or to fix. We just leave everything as it is, the store room with boxes open, skeletons uncovered, and can be present in this moment of our lives without giving the past continued power over us.

There is always fear, always resistance to this opening. it creates anxiety, more or less depending on the forces of our resistance. We work gently and with kindness.

When there is anxiety, resistance in any of its forms, physical pain, wandering mind, sleepiness, agitation, that's just where we are and where we begin in practice. The meditator who is sitting still, deep in a peaceful place, is NOT necessarily learning more or having a "better" meditation. We do tend to learn a lot from the difficult sittings, although the peaceful ones are a very pleasant gift and inspire us too.

What I request you to do is, first to work at length with metta (lovingkindness meditation (3)), to "set the stage" one might say, to allow the heart more space and just to develop an attitude of more kindness and gentleness toward yourself.

Then I want you to just be present with whatever comes up. No judgment about "wandering" or restlessness, but if judgment is there, then that may be the primary object. Whatever it is - tension in the body, (held where?), restlessness, anger, judgment - what are the experiences of these. This is the meditation, for now! Just be with these mind and body experiences with as much space as is possible. I know it's hard, but my own personal experience and that from many, many people whom I've taught informs me of the power of this practice to allow us to open, to find our wholeness. So I ask you to trust me and the practice.

What happens when presence is learned, with a mind that no longer clings to old concepts. Below are some excerpts from another letter, this from Celeste Zygmont, a student of many years.

(Talking of consciousness) John spoke in depth of the aggregates of self: the body, the sense perceptions, the feelings that arise from those perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness … That's where the discoveries started. The theme of "being present" became apparent. To observe the use of consciousness I focused on what was happening in the outer environment. I found I had a way of cutting myself off from taking in stimuli. It was as if there was a small wall I had built up and could hide behind, so as not to have to face relative reality. To peer out over the wall meant being more present. I asked myself what it would mean not to have the wall there. The answer was that it would mean being in the moment, greeting each arising with a loving heart. So in meditation I began coming out from behind the wall. When any phenomenon arose, I observed how consciousness touched upon it.

… doing dzogchen (pure awareness meditation). During one of those sittings … I recalled the instructions you gave last year in class about seeing objects in front of you as if there was no special depth between them, as if they were connected two-dimensionally. I realized that to do this meant seeing them, but without consciousness inviting the meaning, the understanding or the interpretation of things. I remembered how in the book Cultivating the Empty Field, (4) Hongzhi guides one to let go of everything. "To gain steadiness you must completely withdraw from the invisible pounding and weaving of your ingrained ideas." I thought that this is what he must have meant.

I tried it out. I tried looking at the shape of things. It was difficult, but it came. I could just pick up knowing the phenomena in front of me as "shape" before old mind blasted in.

I questioned why this was happening. Out of what sense of fear, or habit, did this old mind come into play? These shapes did provide a sense of safety by their familiarity … I saw more clearly how I did not have to "believe" in them. The balance was in using them without identifying them as solid …

Let's call the next phase of practice "deepening." Here we become increasingly certain that the arisings of mind and body are conditioned, that is, sensations and thoughts arise when the conditions are present for them to arise and cease when the conditions cease. We stop identifying with these movements of body and mind as "self" and see their impermanence. If these are not who I am, then who am I? Who, or what, is having these experiences? Slowly we move into the direct experience of the Unconditioned, Pure Heart/ Mind, or Pure Awareness. Here we find the balance, living in the world with clear attention, but without losing touch with the ultimate! I recently asked members of the teacher training class to find "maps" pointing to this balancing. Two chose to write poems.

Non-Dual Ride, by David Coupland:

Wheels turn beneath,
Air rushes by,
The countryside flows past.
All things are just as they are.
Without desire for things to be otherwise,
Everything is seen as equal.
One thing is not preferred above another.
The heart is open.
Energy moves,
Connecting the heart with the world.
There is no hope,
There is no fear.
No past or future.
All things float in awareness.
There is an observer,
But no separation
With the observed.
It is the most wonderful thing.
It's perfectly ordinary.

And by Cassie Cammann:

The "soul" of the Enlightened one
moves to another realm,
a realm of wordlessness,
a place of ultimate, expanded beingness.
Why talk about it?

And finally, the 15th century poet, Kabir (5), says it beautifully:

The Guest is inside you, and also inside me;
you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside
The blue sky stretches out farther and farther,
the daily sense of failure goes away.
the damage I have done to myself fades,
million suns come forth with light,
when I sit firmly in that world.

I wish you a winter of lovely snowflakes, increasing space and balance, loving friends on the way, joy and peace.

with love,


(1) The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti, Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1976, p. 29.

(2) Readers who would like to know more about insight meditation may write or e-mail Deep Spring Center for a print-out of meditation instructions. There are also many good books. I would recommend Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, published by Shambala, 1987. We also offer classes and retreats to teach this practice.

(3) See the guided metta meditation in Aaron's Pages.

(4) Cultivating the Empty Field, by Zen Master Hongzhi, North Point Press, 1991, "Drop Off Your Skin; Accept Your Function," p. 21.

(5) The Kabir Book, translation by Robert Bly, Beacon press, Boston, 1971, p. 57.

Aaron's Pages

"The Ruby in the Heart Cloth." Dharma talk on June 14, 1997 at the Emrich retreat.

Barbara: Aaron will talk tonight. He has asked me to start by reading a poem. Kabir is a 15th century Sufi poet. This is from The Kabir Book.

"The small ruby everyone wants has fallen out on the road.
Some think it is east of us; others, west of us.
Some say, among primitive earth rocks; others, in the deep waters.
Kabir's deep instinct told him it was inside, and what it was worth.
And he wrapped it up carefully in his heartcloth."

Aaron: Good evening and my love to all of you. I am Aaron. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you tonight.

What is this ruby?

Do you know? Everybody wants the ruby but nobody really knows what it is. And yet, there is little reason not to know, because this ruby has been with you from the very beginning. In this world where all phenomenal objects are impermanent, where the body and all material objects, the feelings, the perceptions, thoughts, memories, even consciousness, are impermanent, the ruby is the one thing that remains. What is it? And if it is intrinsic to you, how do you uncover it?

The first step is to stop looking out there for it. The second step is to discover where it lies within and begin to allow yourself to experience it.

Just what is it that you are allowing yourself to experience? Here it gets difficult. It's easier to say what it is not than what it is. It is not joy, although joy is an aspect of it. It is not peace, although peace is an aspect of it. It is not clarity, although clarity is an aspect of it. It cannot be limited by saying, "Aha, it's this!" It is truly the Nameless. If it had a name, it would be a conditioned object. That which is unconditioned is inexpressible. This makes it hard. If it's inexpressible and undefinable, how do you know it when you find it? You may wonder how you can seek that which cannot be identified?

Ahhh, but I did not say it could not be identified. I said it is Nameless. If you had no word for rainbow, if you had never seen one and had no word in your vocabulary for it, you might say, "Ah, I see colored lights in the sky," but that doesn't define rainbow. You could say, "I see an arch in the sky," but that doesn't define rainbow. Without the vocabulary to express it, if you saw a rainbow, wouldn't you still know you were seeing a specific visual phenomenon? Call it anything. You don't need a name. There is the blue sky and suddenly there is an arch of brilliant lights. Let it remain nameless. It's still a rainbow. In just the same way, when you connect with this pure awareness within, you don't need to define it, you don't need to conceptualize it. You know it intuitively as the core of your being.

In this conditioned realm—when I use the term "conditioned realm" I mean this phenomenal world where all objects arise when conditions are present for them to arise, and cease when conditions are no longer present for them to exist—in this conditioned world you observe the arising of physical sensations, of thoughts, of emotions. You observe the presence of physical objects which come and go, like the moon up there (pointing out the window). In your vipassana practice you observe the arising and dissolution of such objects, and the nature of arising and dissolution itself. Your practice is translated as "insight meditation" precisely because there are insights which arise naturally in the course of practice. You will gain insight into the whole process of the conditioned realm and of conditioned arising. As you observe the arising and dissolution carefully, you see that everything changes, nothing remains the same. So you observe that everything in the conditioned realm is impermanent.

As you observe the arising and dissolution carefully, you see that everything changes, nothing remains the same. So you observe that everything in the conditioned realm is impermanent.

You observe the mind-body experience, how the physical body touches on objects and the mind is conscious of those objects and develops concepts about them which may have little to do with the object itself. You observe the way the thought even precedes the manifestation, literally how the mind brings objects into its experience. And you observe that the human this happens to is simply another object, a collection of aggregates, of body, perception and so forth, through which all of this conditioned experience passes. Finally you start to understand at least in an intellectual way what emptiness of self really means. The intellect precedes the direct comprehension. First, you begin to think about it and comprehend how it could be, and then eventually you move into a direct experience of naked awareness, recognizing the arising and dissolution of a whole chain of objects through the eyes of that awareness. Then you know that there is simply this collection of aggregates that experiences consciousness of the arising and passing of these objects, and no self who owns them!

… you move into a direct experience of naked awareness, recognizing the arising and dissolution of a whole chain of objects through the eyes of that awareness. Then you know that there is simply this collection of aggregates that experiences consciousness of the arising and passing of these objects, and no self who owns them!

At that point in the process, there may be some or a considerable amount of fear. You may feel like you are about to annihilate yourself. If there's no self, who am I? What am I? But that is precisely the point. As long as you think you're this body, or these thoughts or perceptions, or even this chain of consciousness, you're looking for the ruby out there. You cannot discover who you truly are until you at least begin to cut through the old beliefs of who you thought you were. We are not out to destroy ego but to subdue ego. There's a vast difference.

Ego is a useful tool. Tell me, could you live this incarnation without your body? Could you live it without your brain? That which we call ego is just another tool. The difficulty is, you don't enter into a master-slave relationship with your body in which you believe the essence to be servant of the body. But somehow you slip into the distortion that you serve the ego, that the ego's demands must be met. Because ego is by its very nature shaped by fear, you then find yourself serving fear and caught in fear. Then instead of simply saying no, with kind firmness to an abusive ego that wishes to be master, you think you've got to slay the master. But you do not need to destroy ego. You need to learn that ego isn't the boss.

There are two ways of learning this. Happily, they support each other. The first way is to watch all of the ways in which you concede to this delusion that the ego is master. But you must do this observing with kindness. Fear is not the observer; love is the observer. When fear observes and it sees consciousness caught into the dictates of ego, then fear simply slips into an attack on ego which only stimulates further ego. When kindness observes and sees fear move into the boss's seat, kindness is able to observe the whole process with a spaciousness that doesn't hate the ego but finds compassion for the human that is caught in that fear.

I want to offer a real-life example. A being of some authority approaches you. You see a negative expression on his face and he begins to criticize some work that you have just finished. It really feels like he's attacking. Let us say, for example's sake, that this being who is criticizing is ultimately responsible for your work, such as your boss who must report to a superior. If it is incorrect, somebody is going to blame him. I'm not condoning his criticism of you, especially if it's an abusive criticism, I'm simply pointing out that it grows in him from a place of his own fear.

So he is afraid and attacks you. Then your ego comes up and wants to defend the self. You don't like being attacked. You feel fear. You close down, you contract. Either you feel abused and ego speaks up, kicks and screams, attacks the one who is criticizing, or a little voice inside says, "Oh no, that's ego which is defending … got to get rid of that." Then you may turn on yourself and condemn yourself.

You can't hear his fear because you can't hear your own fear. What happens if you watch the whole process with a bit more space and kindness? Your boss has approached your desk, a sour look on his face, points to a report you just finished, says, "This is not adequate." "But it's what you asked for." "No, I changed my mind last week. I asked for something different." "But, but … I never got the information. I thought this is what you wanted."

[Picture] Our teacher John Orr and a retreat participant share words of farewell after the closing of the Emrich weekend retreat, November 1997.

"You should have gotten the information." And so it goes back and forth with you getting more contracted, more and more defended. At that moment you can stop and simply realize, "He is afraid somebody's going to criticize him."

He's afraid. He doesn't want to be responsible. He wants somebody to blame for his own mistake. I'm not justifying any of that. But can you see what it is in you that needs to prove you're right, needs to defend yourself. Admittedly, in a work situation it might feel necessary to defend yourself to protect your job. If he is accusing you wrongly that could have a very negative impact in your job, especially if he is allowed to get away with doing that repeatedly and making you a scapegoat.

It won't always resolve the difficulty, but what if you see his fear and instead of arguing with him over who is wrong or right, what if you speak directly to his fear? Instead of addressing blame, what if you address the problem?

The problem is he does not have the report he needed. He's feeling guilty and confused and he's blaming. You may not be able to say to your boss, "I see that you're afraid that your supervisor is going to blame you for forgetting." But you CAN say to him, "I hear you telling me that you need a different report than I prepared. Laying blame is not the solution. The solution is, how do I get you what you need. Can you let me know just what it is that you need, and perhaps we can work together to create a report?" Here, out of kindness for both of you you're offering a real solution.

But the ego is saying, "No, no! He can't blame me. I'll fix him." What do you say to that ego? You're not going to be able to find the real solution until you face the reality that the ego-self is present, that it's scared, that it's kicking and screaming and you've got to attend to it. The ego is like a two year old that has frequent temper tantrums. At times it can be very peaceful, coherent and easy to get along with. And then something nudges it and it starts kicking and screaming again.

You don't want to dump that two year old in the trash. Those of you who have children, what did you do with your two year olds when they started their tantrums? Certainly you didn't humiliate them. You heard them. You reassured them. It doesn't matter what the situation is, one such as I described with a boss or any situation where another being is trying to abuse, dominate, humiliate or in some way misuse you. The whole structure of those situations calls up the ego self that wants to defend and the emotional body feels shaken. Anger may arise, or fear, or desire, dependent on the situation.

When you work with the arisings within your meditation practice, when there's nobody standing at your desk shouting at you, you have a lot more time and space to process the catalyst and ego's reaction to the catalyst. Here is where you begin to observe the whole nature of ego's reaction. You observe how self solidifies and then softens into a mist again. And solidifies again and softens again into a mist. Comes and goes, comes and goes. Still, the focus is not yet on what is there when ego dissolves, but simply on the whole process of the solidification and dissolution of ego. At this point you're not quite ready to focus on what's there when the ego goes. First you need to make space, to truly experientially understand conditioned arising, and make space so that which arises does not seem quite so solid. This fictitious being we call the observer is watching.

First you need to make space, to truly experientially understand conditioned arising, and make space so that which arises does not seem quite so solid. This fictitious being we call the observer is watching.

After some time—days, weeks, months, years, however long it takes—you start to be able to rest in this observer which still bears the illusion of self. But it's a more spacious self. You begin to stabilize the ability to come back to the observer and observe the whole conditioned flow passing by, to see what we call "old mind" at work. By old mind I mean simply that often ego's response is totally out of proportion to the current situation. It may be instead that ego's response is based on very ancient conditioning.

Earlier today this instrument spoke about an incident of arising anger in herself. When she saw the heaviness of that anger, she knew immediately that it had nothing to do with the current situation because when she quickly scanned the situation, she knew that she really trusted the way the whole situation had flowed. And yet, there was an experience of anger. She did not say, "I shouldn't be angry." Simply put, she was angry. What good does "I shouldn't" do? If you step on a tack in this human body, your foot is going to bleed. That's the nature of the physical body. If there's catalyst that strikes the emotional body, and certain conditions are present, emotions are going to arise.

So she described how she looked into the anger. First she needed just to walk and let the anger settle and open. And then she sat and looked into it. She saw that she felt angry because she felt helpless, felt that others might misuse her, might blame her, for something that she thought was beyond her control. She also understood that her fear had nothing to do with that current situation. Again she went into the fear, which move was possible because of her ongoing practice and because of the kindness she was giving herself, not blaming herself that any of these emotions were moving through, simply, curious about them.

She described how when she looked deeply she saw a very old pain that she's never really observed before. It was a pain of feeling humiliated, feeling abandoned by others because some other being had done something that she knew nothing about and then blamed her for it. It was really the pain of helplessness, the pain of feeling out of control. So she described how she was able to go deeply into that pain and offer love to myriad beings, herself and all beings, who experience such helplessness, such fear of being cast out. She was really able to touch the deepest aspect of her pain with love. She described how the whole process took just 10 or 15 minutes, from start of arising anger to finish.

By the end of the process the anger had gone. She was still working within vipassana practice, the observer observing the various emotions and thoughts that moved through her, noting the unpleasantness, the deep pain, letting down all the barriers to being present with whatever was moving through her. You must do this, working with this observer which observes with a choiceless awareness. You must do this a thousand, a hundred thousand times, in big ways and tiny ways.

This is one way in which the ego is tamed. You start to give the ego the message, or I might phrase it you start to give anger or fear or greed the message, "You are not the boss! I don't hate you but I am also not afraid of you."

Here's where the shift comes, when you stop looking out there to find the nature of the observer, and you look, as Kabir said, in your heart cloth. You discard everything that has conditioned nature and begin finally to experience directly the unconditioned self.

When you have done this enough times, eventually you start to find yourself resting within this observer with much more stability, and then you begin to ask about the nature of the observer itself. This which observes is not my body or my brain. It's not even consciousness. What observes? Here's where the shift comes, when you stop looking out there to find the nature of the observer, and you look, as Kabir said, in your heart cloth. You discard everything that has conditioned nature and begin finally to experience directly the unconditioned self.

At this point your practice will begin to shift. For some of you that shift will come very quickly. Some of you may find it necessary to work with vipassana practice for many years before this shift is experienced. The shift happens naturally and as it happens you may begin to work increasingly with what we call a pure awareness practice. You do not cease your vipassana practice, but instead of being primary, the vipassana practice becomes the support, not just the tool for living more skillfully in the world but the support for resting in this pure awareness, in the ruby. You start to uncover the nature of the ruby, the wonders of it. First you get small glimpses of it, then eventually you become stable and can rest there. You no longer think of "center" as the observer, which is something that can come and go, conditioned object. Instead you begin to find the true nature of the ruby, which is the divine essence of your being. As you recognize and acknowledge the truth of this divine essence, you start to understand that you have a choice: to live from this divine essence, which is constantly in a place of love, or to live from the fear-based ego self.

As you recognize and acknowledge the truth of this divine essence, you start to understand that you have a choice: to live from this divine essence, which is constantly in a place of love, or to live from the fear-based ego self.

It is insufficient to know the ruby. How is it to be expressed out into the world? We come to another crossroads. It's another difficult place in your evolution. It's the place of dawning responsibility. All of you hunger for wholeness. Yet all of you are afraid of enacting that wholeness. If you believe your brokenness, you can say, "I'm not responsible. I couldn't help it. I did the best I could." But if you come to know that you are whole, that you are divine, there's no one to blame for your choices. You can live that wholeness, you can live from this unconditioned essence, or not. So here you come to a very difficult place because finally you must confront all of the various fears that you have carried for so long. You must then deeply open your heart in compassion for the human who cannot be perfect. You must forgive the human its human errors. And then and only then can you begin to express the ruby out into the world, to live your divinity.

So here you come to a very difficult place because finally you must confront all of the various fears that you have carried for so long. You must then deeply open your heart in compassion for the human who cannot be perfect. You must forgive the human its human errors. And then and only then can you begin to express the ruby out into the world, to live your divinity.

A "Metta" or Lovingkindness Meditation

I am Aaron. Traditionally this meditation begins with the self. I find that in your culture it is very difficult for many people to offer loving wishes to themselves so we begin with one to whom it is easier to offer such thoughts and then come around to the self.

This is not forgiveness, which is a further step, but only opening your heart to the pain, the pain of all beings, and wishing them well.

There is no wrong or right way to do this practice. If resistance arises, simply note it and re-enter the meditation in whatever way you are able. You are not requested to dive all the way in but only to enter as deeply as is comfortable. This is, in part, a concentration practice. Please try to stay present as you offer these wishes.

As you work with this practice, please modify it and make it your own.


(To be read to/by a friend or done by oneself. Space indicates a pause. The word "pause" indicates a longer pause.)

Find a comfortable position, body relaxed, back erect, eyes closed softly.

Bring to the heart and mind the image of one who for whom there is loving respect. This may be a dear friend, parent, teacher or any being with whom the primary relationship is one in which you have been nurtured.

Look deeply at that being, deeper than you ever have before, and see that he or she has suffered. He has felt pain of the body or the heart. She has known grief, loss and fear. He has felt loneliness and disconnection. She has lost and confused. See the ways this dear one has suffered.

Speaking silently from the heart, note this ones pain, offering first the name:

You have suffered. I see how you have felt alone, afraid, in pain. You have felt grief. You have felt alienated, felt your heart closed. Your life has not always brought you what you might have wished for.

What loving thoughts can you offer this dear one? Let the thoughts come with the breath, arising and moving out.

May you be free of suffering.

May you be happy.

May you love and be loved.

May you find the healing that you seek.

May you find peace.

Please continue silently, repeating these phrases for several minutes. Go slowly. Allow your heart to connect with this dear one, to open to his/her pain and offer these wishes, prompted by the loving heart. I will be quiet. (Pause)

Now let this loved one move aside and in his / her place invite in your own self. It is sometimes so hard to open our hearts to ourselves. What blocks that love? Just for experiment sake, please follow the practice and see how it feels, even if it is difficult.

Look deeply at the self and observe that, just as with the loved one, you have suffered. You have felt pain of the body or the heart. You have known grief, loss and fear. You have felt loneliness and disconnection, felt lost and confused. See the ways you have suffered. Without engaging in maudlin self-pity, simply observe the wounds you have borne.

Speaking silently from the heart, this time to your own self. Offer your name:

I have suffered. I see how I have felt alone, afraid, in pain. I have felt grief. I have felt alienated, felt my heart closed. My life has not always brought I what I might have wished for.

What do you wish for yourself?

May I be free of suffering.

May I be happy.

May I love and be loved.

May I find the healing that I seek.

May I find peace.

Please continue silently, repeating these phrases for several minutes. Go slowly. Allow your heart to connect with your deepest self, to open to your pain and longing and offer these wishes, prompted by the loving heart. I will be quiet. (Pause)

Now let the self move aside and in its place invite in one with whom there has been hard feeling. Best not to choose the heaviest relationship at first but allow practice with less difficult pain and move slowly to the heavier emotions.

It is so painful to maintain that separation. A wise teacher has said, "Never put anyone out of your heart." What blocks opening?

Letting go …

Just for experiment sake, please follow the practice and see how it feels, even if it is difficult. Please express your own pain too, as you speak to this one. Can you feel the space where your pain is one?

Give this one's name. Speak from your heart.

You have hurt me, through your words, your acts, even your thoughts.

Through what came from you I have experienced pain.

Yet when I look deeply, I see that you have also known pain. You have suffered. I see how you have felt alone, afraid, in pain. You have felt grief. You have felt alienated, felt your heart closed. Your life has not always brought you what you might have wished for.

May you be free of suffering.

May you be happy.

May you love and be loved.

May you find the healing that you seek.

May you find peace.

Please continue silently, repeating these phrases for several minutes. Go slowly. Allow your heart to connect with this one, to open to his/her pain and offer these wishes, prompted by the loving heart. I will be quiet. (Pause)

Throughout the world, beings suffer. Not only humans but plants, insects, animals, even the earth herself.

May all beings everywhere be free of suffering.

May all beings be happy.


May all love and be loved.

May all find the healing that they seek.


May all beings everywhere find perfect peace.


Aaron's Christmas Story: How Jesus Taught the Practice of Generosity

December 18, 1996, Wednesday Night Group, Ann Arbor, MI

(Other Christmas stories may be found in Aaron's book, Christmas Stories, available from DSC.)

Aaron: Good evening, and my love to you all. I am Aaron. It brings me much joy to gather together with all of you and share my memories [from an incarnation-ed.] of this beloved teacher.

Each year I have tried to focus on a different aspect of what my knowing of him meant to me, the ways I experienced him. I have tried to share certain large and small moments, to try as best I can to offer you not the concept of him but my own, the poor shepherd's, experience of him.

One of the most profound lessons that grew out of my knowing of him was that of the meaning of generosity and the practice of it. There are different levels of generosity. There is that generosity that gives of itself from a giver. I do not mean specifically that there is pride or ego in the giver, but there is still a sense of one who gives and one who receives. He did not give that way. He gave in such a way that there was little awareness of a giver. He was the instrument through which the love and abundance of the universe flowed, and he gave in such joyful and skillful ways that often you were not aware of what you had received until after. He did not give just in material ways. Perhaps the greatest gift he gave me was faith.

I would ask you here to move into your imaginations. Imagine yourself standing, warmly clothed and well-fed, at the back of a large truck. All around you are people gathered, people who are wearing rags, people who clearly are very, very hungry. They are not a rowdy mob but a very humble and respectful group. I want you to imagine how it would feel to have a very hungry child approach and have the joy of handing that child an orange. You do not reach into the back of the truck and select. Something is placed in your hands and you pass it on. This is your job, just to pass it on. You did not create the gift, you do not choose it; you take it into your hands, let it flow through you, and hand it out.

Here is an old man in rags, shivering. A blanket comes to you and you hand it to him. Your eyes meet. There is no shame on his face in taking it because you are not the giver, but merely the instrument through which it flows. Here is a mother with her small children and you receive a fully cooked turkey to hand on to her. An adolescent in rags takes a sweater from you. Another mother appears, to whom you deliver a large bolt of warm fabric, that she may make some clothes for her children.

I ask here that you do this as a meditation and really feel the joy in being part of the flow of the abundance of the universe, of seeing the suffering at least temporarily alleviated.

It's very easy not to be someone giving but simply a channel through which it flows because you are warm, fed, and comfortable, and the crowd is not at all unruly, but come up one at a time to receive the gifts. Thus, there is little to call up "selfhood."

Now let us change the image. This truck has arrived but you are not on it, but rather you are on the ground. The crowd is pressing in a bit more, not unruly but anxious. You are part of that crowd, also in rags, also hungry. As the truck stops and the back is open, someone from the truck points to you, "Come up here!" Your heart lights up thinking, Ah, I'm going to receive some food, or something warm to put on. He hands you a package, a blanket, and for the moment, you think it's for you, but he indicates that you're to give it to another. Here is the orange, no it's not for you, give it to the child.

Hour after hour you're asked to do this. You are still cold; you are still hungry. The crowd's anxiety has abated and again they are grateful and not rowdy. But your anxiety has not abated. You see that the blankets are all gone. What's left in there? You look over your shoulder. "Are my needs going to be met?"

Can you see how it is to feel such fear? I'm going to be quiet a minute and ask you to work with this image …

That one who I asked you to imagine yourself to be, chosen from the crowd to hand out all this merchandise, some would say he is being generous. And certainly there is a generosity. He or she could have just grabbed the item that he or she desired and rushed off. He or she has been willing to serve all the others. But there's fear.

Because of that fear there is a giver and a recipient. Because the fear shines in your eyes as you hand that last blanket out, the one who receives it does so with shame. He looks in your eyes and reads your fear. He received what you wanted.

Now imagine in this moment of your fear as you hand the last blanket to an old man, one who literally radiates love, peace, light, comes from within that truck who you had not seen. Suppose he stops you for a moment, rests his hands on your shoulder, smiles and acknowledges your fear with kindness and not with condemnation. He says, I know you are afraid that you'll give it all away and your own needs won't be met. Do not be afraid, for I promise you that your needs will be met and I thank you for your willingness to serve others. Something in his demeanor, his words, his innate radiance, inspires your trust and your fear falls away.

Can you see the difference in your own experience? Can you feel what happens when your heart opens with such trust? Can you feel how joy enters the scene? How there ceases to be a giver? How glad you are to hand that blanket to that shivering old man and watch his joy, and participate in his joy?

Of course, I did not deliver blankets and oranges with this one from the back of the truck. But there were so many occasions when my own fear arose in that way: will my needs be met? When he was there, literally looking over my shoulder, when he was able to acknowledge the fear that I could not yet verbalize, and to acknowledge it with kindness and remind me, "your needs will be met," in this way he taught me faith.

Of course, there are many things that may call up a strong self or giver, such as pride, but these are all vestiges of fear. We become a self to give the illusion of separation, that we may be safe from the suffering of the other. We become a self to enhance or self, because we feel frail or helpless. Here i wish to simply address the ways he taught us to give without fear, taught through his own loving example.

Let me relate some of these scenes to you. Each is a bit different. They are a random handful out of the great many from which I could choose. In each, the important thing for me was that he was able to acknowledge my fear, often my unspoken fear, and not in any way to criticize me for that fear, but to embrace me, fear and all. And within that embrace, to remind me that I had nothing to fear.

We were on a road, a small group of us. I had felt fortunate to catch up to him as he was walking from one place to another. At each end there would be a large group of people but just for this afternoon and evening, I had him with only a small group of others, a very special delight, to have the opportunity to speak directly to him for some hours. It was almost dusk. We came through a grove of trees and around a bend and heard some kind of skirmish ahead of us. As we rounded the bend, we saw seven or eight people with sticks beating a man. He stopped one at the edge of this crowd and asked, "Why do you beat him?" "He had asked to travel with us," came the reply, "and then behind our backs he stole from us." This man invited us to join him in administering this beating.

I wondered what he would do. Would he try to intervene. I think if it had looked like they were out to kill the man, he would have intervened. As it was, he simply said, "No, I do not beat another." What he did was to simply sit down close to this man's head and invited us to sit in the same way, so that to some degree the five of us who were there served as a barrier of sorts, not fully surrounding the one who was being beaten, but making it more awkward to get to him.

At first there were angry cries, "But he stole from us!"

"Yes, I understand."

"He deserves much worse than a beating!"

The reply, "He should not have stolen, I agree. I wonder what prompted him to steal. Did you ask him?"

An angry retort. "I do not talk to thieves."

"Perhaps he had some reason."

"Yes, he had a reason. His reason is simply that he's warped, that he is bad, that he is a thief."

"Perhaps he IS warped in some way. Perhaps he has not been raised and trained to have proper respect and reverence for other people. Will beating him teach him that?"

And so on went the dialogue, until those who were doing the beating simply walked off.

Yes, I was afraid. I was afraid they were going to beat me too, and I was afraid they were going to beat Him. But his demeanor was so calm and loving, there was nobody doing anything, he was just present, judging neither the one being beaten nor the ones who were doing the beating, just present.

When they had left he began to tend this one who had been beaten, who had some bleeding wounds. We stopped there and built a fire, had a meal and slept there for the night. When we awoke in the morning, the thief was gone, and also our bag that contained our food. This one whom you know as Jesus made no comment, he just said, "Let us walk on."

The one who had been beaten was badly injured and I think Jesus knew that he could not maintain a rapid pace. We began to walk briskly, a bit to my surprise, and soon we saw this thief in the distance. We saw that he tried to hurry but his body would not sustain him. He finally fell to the road trembling, crying, anticipating another beating.

"Why do you steal?" Jesus asked.

The man's face contorted with grief and rage. "Because all my life people have stolen from me. I have learned that I must take what I need. It will never be given to me."

"Perhaps you have not encountered the right people," he answered. "Perhaps your own fear has led you to interact with others who carry an equal amount of fear. Here are our packs. Please take what you need and leave the rest for us, that we may have our breakfast."

Please understand that I had grown up in this culture which believed in the words, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." I was both amazed and filled with joy at what he did, and yet also very skeptical. I thought to myself, ones such as this can never learn. Perhaps he needs to be beaten enough to arouse enough fear in him that he will cease his thievery. But of course the choice was not mine.

This thief rose, handed the package of stolen food to Jesus and said, "I don't need anything."

Jesus said, "Of course you do. Have you had breakfast?"

"No." He shook his head.

"Well, take what you need. Or better yet, sit here and eat with us."

I think he wanted to do that. He could not. He finally took some bread and some fruit and, head hanging in shame, he walked away.

The story doesn't end there. After our meal we walked down the road. Some distance away we came upon a very poor man in rags, sitting under a tree eating bread and fruit.

"Have you need of more?" we asked. "No," he said. "A man," and he went on to describe the thief, "a man just gave me this. I have all I need."

I cannot tell you what became of him, only in that whole process of his giving I learned a very important lesson. It was my fear in me that said, "Perhaps he needs to be beaten." It was that voice in me which said, "Will my needs be met?" If the man had asked, Jesus would have given him the entire package, all of our food, because he knew our needs could be met. That doesn't mean we might not have been uncomfortable, hungry, for the morning, or the entire day, but we were not about to die of starvation.

There was another time when I was with him when he did give away our entire dinner. I have told you in past years of times when he invited others to share their food and somehow there was enough for everyone.

Again, we were traveling; here, a bit larger a group. We passed on the road a group of people who were also travelers, several families traveling together. They told us that bandits had taken all their food and clothing. The one who was Jesus literally took the shirt from his back, his cloak, and wrapped it around the mother holding her baby. He did not ask us if we would give our food, we simply gave it. He did not ask us to give our own clothing, but many of us did.

These people protested, said, "No, then you will be cold, you will be hungry." Jesus said, "No, we will be fine. We will be taken care of. You take this, we do not need it." Now, of course, I was afraid! It was going to get cold that night and the next town was a distance away. I was already hungry. But he said, I did not need it, and so, trusting him, I gave it. I was a simple man and perhaps that condition made trust easier for me.

I think I expected that when these families had gone on their way, he was going somehow to create a miracle, but he didn't do that. We walked a short distance and he pointed to a spot and said, "This looks like a good place to spend the night." We looked at one another. None of us had cloaks. None of us had anything warm. None of us had any food.

It is clear to me that he was teaching us. "Your needs will always be met. It is safe to experience some discomfort. You do not have to be afraid." Had he not been present, I know I could not have done what I did that night, which was to simply settle down, hungry and thirsty, by the fire and go to sleep, half-naked on the hard ground. And yes, I shivered. But we took turns arising to fuel up the fire. The morning sun warmed us, and several hours' walk brought us to a village where people knew him and very joyfully offered us food and clothing.

Trust the abundance of the universe. Do not be afraid. Do not measure what you're given. When you see need, give to that need, and let the giving be without a giver and without the measure built of fear.

His giving was so simple and so joyful, so spontaneous. Never did I see him give in a premeditated way. The giving of his talks was also not premeditated. When people gathered around him and were confused, these messages of love and truth would pour out of him. And to each he gave just what that one needed.

There is one more story I must tell of how he taught me to give. One that still deeply moves me and brings tears to my eyes. I had another son, older than Mark. This one was unwell from early childhood . His joints were crippled. I suppose today one might label it juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. I loved this young boy. It brought such pain to my heart to see how difficult it was for him, how painful every movement was.

When I brought Mark to see Jesus I did not bring my older son because he could not walk that distance. Then came a time when this older son fell very ill. His body was inflamed with fever. He wept for the pain that he experienced. For days he wept. He was always in pain, but this present pain was excruciating.

Now we were at home and I had no idea where the one who was Jesus was, had not seen him in almost a year. Through that night of my son's pain and fever, I prayed, "Please come and save this lad. I know you can do that. Restore him to health. Save him."

And then I began to feel His energy moving. I did not see Him in material form, simply, in my prayer and meditation I felt his energy and his thoughts. And the thought I received was simply, "You must give him permission to come home. You must allow him to leave this life of suffering and not hold onto him."

I saw then that my son was trying to live because he thought that I needed him to live, which indeed I thought I needed also. Again, my fear was intense for I loved this firstborn son so deeply. How could I give this gift, how could I let him go?

Through the night he shivered with his fever and then burst into sweat. He screamed and cried, literally out of his mind with his fever and pain. Toward dawn the fever broke and he looked at me with clear eyes. I knew I had a choice, then. I knew if I said to him, "You are strong, you will recover," that he would continue to fight for me, and that he would face similar terrible moments—how many of them? Or I could tell him, "You are free to choose to stay here if you wish or to leave. I love you and will support your choice. If you need to leave, it's OK. I love you."

As that realization of choice came to me, I felt Jesus' loving energy embrace me. It was very much like the experience I offered to you in meditation at the beginning of tonight's talk, of feeling your fear, as you stood there at the end of the truck, giving away what you needed, and then feeling his loving energy surround you and say, "It is safe." And suddenly I knew, "it is safe; safe for my son, safe for me. His essence will survive even his death, and I will survive his death. "

I know I have told you in the past about the loss of my wife, this lad's mother, and so his dying was all the more painful to me because I had loved his mother and he so reminded me of her. I found myself looking into his clear eyes and was able to tell him, "Do whatever you need to do. I love you. The choice is yours."

He looked at me with such gratitude in his eyes, I was aware of how much I had held him to this earth. He simply smiled at me, looked deeply into my eyes, and died. He needed to go home. I needed to give him permission to go home. I needed to transcend my fear and give permission from that place of love. With my deepest gratitude, even now 2000 years later, I thank the Master who taught me how to give with such love.

[Picture] Sunday closing remarks at the Emrich weekend retreat November 1997.

Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brodsky