Volume 7, Numbers 2 and 3, September 1999

It is not the arising of fear and its attendant emotions of anger or greed or need to control that close the chakras, but your moving in one direction or the other from that first sensation of fear-either into action upon those desires or anger, or into need to get rid of them. Both are distortions. The arising of emotion in the human is not a distortion. It is not the fear, nor the anger, nor greed that keeps you returning to third-density experience, but your relationship with those emotions.

This is the foundation for the work of all beings in third density. It is through the constant judgment of what you experience that self solidifies and enhances the illusion of separation. You are here to reconfirm that there is no separate self, that the self solidifies through dwelling in delusion. The more you fight with the presence of an emotion, the more self solidifies, the more sense there is, "I must get rid of this or that to purify myself." What you have to do then is to change your relationship to that which arises in you.

March 22, 1993


Barbara's Letter

Aaron's Pages

Wednesday Night Group, Ann Arbor, MI, April 8, 1998

Aaron on the Nature of God

January 20, 1995, private

January 24, 1995, private

A Collection of Talks about the Meaning of Cessation, by Deep Spring Center Teachers

By Dianne Austin

By Kris Kurnit

By David Coupland

By John Thomas Campbell

By Frank Levey

By Larissa Czuchnowsky

Barbara's Letter

When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
whispering words of wisdom,
"Let it be!"

The Beatles

(No, you didn't miss an issue. We did. After my spring travels and the retreat planning, it was already June. We decided to wait and send a larger fall newsletter. My own letter presented here was written in the spring.)

Dear Friends,

On this mid-April ten days I'm visiting at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in the English countryside near London. I've just spent the afternoon with some monks, nuns, and other lay people, working on the grounds and in the carpentry shop where I made frames for climbing vines. At home I don't give myself enough permission to "play" in yard and shop in this joyful way. I've forgotten how much I love to build things! Now I'm sitting at the table in Bodhi Guest House. Outside a white cherry tree is dense with blossoms whose scent fills the air and the ground is carpeted with dropped petals. Two sister pink trees are ready to burst into bloom. A weekend retreat has ended and the practitioners are slowly walking down the road to their cars. Soon several monks, including my friend and host for this visit will come and join me for evening tea. Amaravati is an inspiring contemplative community of about 50 people, including about 30 monks and nuns. The day starts with the 4 AM rising bell for morning practice and ends again in the Temple for evening practice. In between is time for work and reflection, silence and conversation. I feel very blessed to have been invited to travel here and to share in the life of the community.

The atmosphere of caring and generosity, and support for practice, is pervasive. It opens my heart. At Sunday dinner there were many lay people who came to join the community meal (in Buddhist monastic style, there's just one meal a day served at 11 AM, plus an early morning bowl of cereal) and brought wonderful gifts of food. I found much happiness watching their faces as they offered this food to the monastic community. Giving, free of fear, is true joy, as is work offered from the heart. I've never reflected before on what it would be like to live in a place where one knows one's needs will be met. In our usual daily life there's often fear, which breeds clinging and selfishness. Our usual theme is "Will I be okay? Will my needs be met?" I'm sure these monks and nuns feel that on occasion too, but the atmosphere of giving, of caring for each other, really does nurture the seeds of faith and trust.

Here, an ocean away from home, I also do deeply experience the depth of clarity, and the strength of community in Deep Spring Center, as I reflect here on those qualities. We are blessed with a strong, loving community who enact both wisdom and compassion. I see how far we've come together in ten years, and value it. Sometimes one has to go away and look back to fully appreciate what one has.

Recurrent in my meetings with people here has been the same question I've been asking in my own life and practice in recent months (no surprise!). It's something I've written about before and I'm coming to a deeper understanding. This is the question of the habitual tendencies which seem to follow us around like shadows. How do we relate to our greed, anger and confusion? How do we move beyond the arising of such fear-based states of mind, or limit their expression when they do arise?

There's a favorite scriptural quotation which brings in the word "abandoned." There's often confusion with this teaching. What does it mean "to abandon?" What is abandoned and who abandons? The confusion isn't just in Buddhism. Christian teachings ask us to turn away from sin; the Ten Commandments instruct us not to kill/steal/covet, and so forth. Yet inevitably we do kill, even just vegetables for food or the small insects we step on when we walk. We do take more than our share. There may be no intention to harm, but mind states such as coveting and aversion do arise, and serve as ground for carelessness. Then, habitually, we condemn ourselves, condemn our greed, fear and anger.

Abandon what is unskillful. One can abandon the unskillful.
If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.
If this abandoning of the unskillful would bring harm and suffering,
I would not ask you to abandon it. But as it brings benefit and happiness,
therefore I say, abandon what is unskillful.

Cultivate the good. One can cultivate the good.
If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.
If this cultivation were to bring harm and suffering, I would not ask you to do it.
But as this cultivation brings joy and happiness, I say cultivate the good.

The Buddha
Anguttara Nikaya, Book of the Twos, #10

"Abandon" involves a conscious choice not to get overinvolved. If something I enjoy falls from my pocket to the ground and I realize it's missing, I may search for it. If rain begins to fall and the day grows very cold, I may abandon my search. I want that which was lost, but the skillful response is "let it go." I don't turn away in anger. I just release the intention to find this object, let it be. Note that I let go of the object, and I let be the desire to find the object. They are different movements.

If I'm still very involved, if mind is tossing back and forth saying, "I should let go" or "I'll come back tomorrow" or "I shouldn't care so much," I may temporarily abandon the search for the object but not truly let go. The energy contractions around the object continue. I keep giving more energy to the entire process of losing, wanting and the relationship with wanting mind. This isn't what "abandon" means. I've neither let go nor let be.

For example, a thought such as "unworthy" arises. We think, "I'll abandon this thought." So we attempt to show ourselves the ways in which we're worthy. But this isn't the abandonment of "unworthy." We've not let go, but just turned it in a different direction.

Anger arises and one decides, instead of expressing that anger, to try to act with real kindness toward the object of the anger. On one level that may sound very skillful. It certainly is a major step beyond acting out the anger with negativity. But it's not enough; anger, not kindness may still be driving the resolve. One hasn't abandoned the anger at all but simply tried to disguise it with kindness. I'm reminded of a cat covering its feces in the litter box. The odor is still there! True kindness will arise naturally when one has changed one's relationship to the anger, and greeted it with compassion.

We become confused. Desire arises, desire for comfort or pleasure, for a material object or for love, or to be free of a thought or sensation, and we push it away and try to act as if it was not present. We may even let go of the object of desire. But the desire-energy hasn't gone. We can't dis-invite desire, only not get caught in an identity with it. Here we "let it be." So we let go of the object or thought, and if there is still energy movement around our relationship to that object or thought-for example, judgment of our greed or aversion, or discomfort with the reverberations of anger that remain in the body after we stop telling ourselves the story of how we've been wronged-then we let these be.

To further complicate the issue, there are arisings of mind and body which are clearly seen to be rooted in delusion, such as a sense of separation or self-cherishing, and there are arisings which seem to be rootless. Here I can see that nothing is causing this state to arise but habit itself. For example, if someone verbally attacks me and blames me, and anger arises in me, that anger may be rooted in the desire to be loved by others, which desire I may not clearly recognize. As I work with such a mind state, I may come to see the desire and the entire confusion which grasps at praise and fears to be blamed. Finally, I understand it, and then someone blames me (but I'm innocent!!!) and anger arises. It's just an habitual reply to blame. There's no delusion feeding it any more. Awareness of the entire process arises almost instantaneously with the anger, but the reverberations of the anger in the body still linger for awhile. If I try to get rid of them, I enhance them. Here is the place for "let it be."

One hasn't abandoned the anger at all but simply tried to disguise it with kindness. I'm reminded of a cat covering its feces in the litter box. The odor is still there!

An even more simple example. One brushes off insects because they may bite. Then, looking closely, one sees that the only insects present are ladybugs. They're not only harmless, but lovely. Nevertheless, at the touch, mindlessness brushes it off. Habit!

I've begun to see how many of my responses are merely habit. These are not only the brushing away of ladybugs but the arising of opinions and my relationship to them. I see something pleasant or unpleasant, and wham … there's an opinion about it! The opinion is no longer fed by the desire to be safe or in control. It's just habitual response.

So I began to watch the enormous range of rising thoughts and body sensations and, this spring, to watch the nature of such arising even more precisely in a long retreat. I focused especially on those that seemed rootless, such as the arising of opinion or the brushing off of ladybugs (the cabin was filled with these, a great opportunity to practice!). I began to see these mind and body states the way I experience a burr that's attached itself while walking through a meadow. I was there, the burr was there and they came in contact so the burr attached. "Why not just pull it off and release it?" I thought. "Wouldn't that be the most skillful choice?"

I shared this thought with a friend and he said, "If you pull it off, it will just stick to your glove; let it be!" Yes! I could see immediately, as he said that, the grasping to be free of it. Let it be.

Is this the real meaning of abandon? I'm learning that for me most of the time, it is! Think about the burr on your pants. If you let it be, refuse to give it any more energy, it will disintegrate slowly, until it's gone. But if you pull it off, it keeps sticking, to the glove, to the sleeve or other glove-everywhere!

This has been my practice the past month, looking at this motley collection of old habits and letting them be, by which I mean not enacting them, not taking them personally, but nodding to them and leaving them alone. I know when I completely stop giving them energy, they'll shrivel up and fall away, like the burr, one small sticky hook at a time. At times it's been very hard, for I see how I long to get involved with it, to fix or control it. It's like the scab that's almost falling off and which one keeps touching, or the loose tooth we wiggled as children. That wanting to fix is just a different burr. Let it be!

When I do this, I literally stop giving energy to the whole situation. I do have to acknowledge its presence and refuse to enact it. This isn't the practice for when we're still in denial about arising states of mind and body. But knowing it's there, I let it be. I can just allow it to stay until it's ready to go. I don't have to feed it and offer it a bed for the night!

I do see the possibility of very carefully picking it off, with no aversion, not grabbing in such a way that it will stick to the glove, but with great attentiveness just lifting it and letting it fall away. For instance, when a judgment arises and wants to stick there, I can notice it and, knowing it's only old habit, and with no aversion to it, very carefully release it. Noting "judging, judging," I can find that which is non-judgmental in the mind and invite it in. But I realize that any aversion will make the motions too harsh so it sticks, and I'm not yet free of aversion. For now, this feels like too much doing, too much giving of energy. It feels more useful to just let it be. Perhaps such attentive lifting-off will be the next step. I'll let you know what I find. Meanwhile, in just letting it be I find much space, and also wisdom.

I love the dzogchen teaching about this, from the teaching song, "Flight of the Garuda." "Without abandoning anger, it is mirror-like wisdom." The song goes on to speak of all the heavy mind states in this way. Thus, instead of getting rid of anything, instead of creating the duality of good/not good, we see things just as they are and allow the wisdom to develop about how things are. Then we abandon, not the mind or body state itself, but the whole dual notion about it and the giving energy to it in creation of further duality.

I began to see these mind and body states the way I experience a burr that's attached itself while walking through a meadow. I was there, the burr was there and they came in contact so the burr attached. "Why not just pull it off and release it?" I thought. "Wouldn't that be the most skillful choice?" I shared this thought with a friend and he said, "If you pull it off, it will just stick to your glove; let it be!" Yes! I could see immediately, as he said that, the grasping to be free of it. Let it be.

If you look for me this summer, I'll be the woman covered with burrs in various states of decay, wandering through the woods by the cabin, just watching any desire to pull them off. The meadow is filled with an abundance of sticky objects. Feel free to join me! I wish you an autumn of wildflowers and sunshine, and the occasional burr to encourage your practice. I look forward to seeing some of you at fall retreats.

with love,

Aaron's Pages

Wednesday Night Group, Ann Arbor, MI, April 8, 1998

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. I intend to talk tonight about an interesting question which has come in many different forms in the past month. There are certain kinds of energy and mind/body states that are so difficult as to be almost paralyzing, causing enormous suffering in your life. These are such states as doubt, a sense of unworthiness or dislike of the self, and fear. When such states arise, the mind gets stuck in them and takes them as self, finds it very difficult to let go of them. I am reminded of a terrier-type of dog I knew long ago, a breed of dog that used to chase creatures such as rats, and when he caught one he would shake it and refuse to let go of it. The mind acts in that way. It grabs on to a certain kind of state and it becomes obsessive until your whole identity feels invested in that state. It doesn't matter if it's desire, even the desire for enlightenment, or if it's self-deprecation, or doubt. The mind won't let go, and the suffering becomes intense.

The non-obsessive mind, the free and unattached mind, IS liberation. The attached mind, the obsessive mind, IS suffering. We can see these two "minds" of samsara and nirvana, of suffering and freedom from suffering, right here in each moment of our lives. Whenever a certain kind of craving arises, for certainty, for safety, for comfort, for whatever, and it becomes obsessive, here is suffering.

My general plan was to give a talk about this. I request to hear your questions and bring them into this talk. I pause.

(Group offers questions.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. Every sentient being wants to be happy, to be safe. This is the nature of sentience. Every being withdraws from pain. It has been noted that if you approach a flowering plant with great anger, there is a change in energy in its leaves. If you reach a needle point toward a simple structured microorganism under a microscope, the cells will retract. If you approach a dog with a stick, it will snarl or cringe.

An animal will develop a habit to protect itself. For instance, a dog who is abused will develop a habit of viciousness. It is not born vicious; it has the ability to create the habit in itself. But it does not have the ability to understand the habit. This is the gift of your humanness. Habits continue to develop in the human, and some of these habits are very painful, but you have the ability to understand them and learn and grow from your work with them.

The difficulty is that when you are ensnared in certain very difficult mind states, the ability to understand seems to de-part. Mind is simply on one track, obsessed, trying to find a solution to its fear. Certain mind states, especially those related to fear of abandonment, fear of unworthiness, and fear of harm to the physical vehicle can be extraordinarily painful. This instrument (Barbara) remembers a great pain in her childhood, watching her parents dress to go out for the evening. As is usual with young children, the outer world seemed to her to revolve around herself and her experience, so to her there was a blindness to the fact that the parents were simply going out to enjoy themselves with friends. Fear said they were going out to get away from her, and the child was afraid they were not coming back. Although a caring adult would be left in the house with the child, she could never go to sleep until the parents returned. There was an obsessiveness to it. The child was truly convinced the parents were not coming back.

Emotionally, the seed of this doubt was planted by the loss of a loving grandmother-type figure, a "nanny," who had lived in the house in the child's earliest years and had to leave suddenly because of severe illness. Her illness and departure were no one's fault, but the child, in her anger, grief and confusion, believed the departure was her own fault, that she had somehow forced the loved one away through some failing in herself. This is a common myth for young children who are frightened by the intensity of their own emotions.

One of the insights she needed to uncover about this obsession was the existence of the wish that the parents not come back, borne of a deep anger at them and at others who had seemed to fail her in her life. So there was for this child the deep need for the parents to be present, but no matter how present they could be-and they did attempt to stay home, to reassure her, for they truly loved her-it was never enough. And there was also the confused desire that this obsessive nightmare become true, that the parents truly leave.

She explored this nightmare in therapy as a young adult and began not to react in her life to these fears. But nevertheless, fear continued to arise. If somebody went away, there was extreme pain. There was no longer the need to cling to that person, but still pain. It wasn't until years later in meditation and with our work together that she began to understand what I will call the secondary roots of that pain. It was useful but not fully necessary to explore these secondary, or personal roots before she could investigate and unravel what I will call the primary, or universal roots.

What are these various roots? There was a process she moved through. First was to recognize that which wished not to lose anything, which wanted to be able to hold onto everything, to feel safe and secure. Second was to investigate the need to cut itself off from everything because the comings and goings of the world were much more painful if they held out a constant hope, "I can be connected. I need not to be alone and separate." If then that hope is cut off and the other leaves, returns and leaves again, returns and leaves, it feels too much to bear. She began to understand that her anger was not at these other beings but was at herself and at God. The whole issue was about her sense of separation from God. She needed to explore her anger at God for figuratively casting her out of the Garden. And then she needed to explore her anger at herself for perpetuating this vision of separation.

She became more aware of these mind states as conditioned thoughts, but they still appeared. This was still only a beginning, though. She was still dealing with the relative experience and an attempt to fix it, and not seeing through the relative to the deeper patterns of arising and cessation of suffering.

Another step-and I do not suggest that there's a specific sequence here, only that this is the sequence in which this instrument (Barbara) experienced these steps of learning-another step was to begin to recognize that when obsessive fear arose, really a fear of both abandonment and unworthiness, that even if she did nothing in terms of outer action or speech in the world, in time that mind state dissolved. She began to see that it was just mind state and had no independent reality. This was the first exploration of the primary root of the suffering, which suffering was based on the delusion of a separate existence, on the ideas of permanent mind states and of a self to experience these states.

Here I caution you in your own observations, in observing that it's just a mind state, you can separate yourself from the difficult feelings. If the observation is mostly intellectual, it can become a buffer against pain and create further separation from your heart. It may be just a mind state but the pain is real and you must acknowledge the pain. This observation of the nature of things must not be an escape. So there is a fine balance to be found-allowing oneself to experience the pain without owning or being owned by the pain. It is an investigation of what arises and the nature of arising and dissolution itself, with the heart fully open but with no identification with objects as "self."

She began more fully to recognize that the mind states she experienced were conditioned dhammas (1). That is, conditioned sankhara (2) which arose because the conditions were present, and then themselves served as conditions for future arising. One must attend to the arising with kindness and not get caught in a relationship with that which has arisen. That is the difficulty. For each of you there is a place where you do get caught.

For one it might be observing the self in its speech, its actions, its mannerisms, and feeling a sense of disgust with the self. With such dislike for the self, there's much self-judgment and the mind spins out that self-judgment, telling stories of it. For another it might be some vague sense of mundane emptiness which serves as trigger and an obsessive need to fill that emptiness, whether with food, with sex, with television, even with work. For a third it may be loneliness which is the trigger, and when there's a sense, "I don't have any plans. Nobody loves me. Nobody's thinking of me," the mind moves into a space of fear, grasping at the whole story of not being good enough, not being worthy of love, of how angry one is at others who don't give you love, and so forth. A fourth is the person who builds up the self with stories of self-enhancement, created to win affirmation from others, which approval can never satisfy, never be sufficient. Another is one who is obsessive about the physical body, imagining every small pain to be life threatening. The body will have pain, and enormous anxiety can develop. These are only a few examples of endless patterns.

The most difficult part of this learning has got to be done very gently. A friend speaks in a book (3) of not starting with the heavy weights or you'll develop a spiritual hernia. So you've got to start with small areas that feel more workable. You may intentionally create these areas. For example, in exploring that sense of emptiness which craves to be filled with something and leads to unskillful indulgence in food or sexuality or other types of entertainment, it's useful there to begin at a place where there is just a moment of subtle feeling of emptiness. For instance, when you're sitting in a room with a friend or with your partner, and that person says, "I'm going to the store. I'll be back in 15 minutes," here is the perfect opportunity. For the person who fears abandonment, that person's going to the store may trigger a certain sense of emptiness, loneliness, unworthiness or abandonment. There are certain physical sensations you're going to feel in the body. Here is the kind of place where you can work with it more easily because you know the truth: this is a person who loves you. They're not abandoning you, they're simply going to the store for 15 minutes. Even that 15 minutes can be hell. What is mind doing? What is this story, "They're going to the store. They're not coming back. Never!" One could become quite obsessed with that thought.

What is the root of the suffering? When I say, what is the root, I do not mean psychologically, nor intend tracking it down historically in this or past lifetimes, although there are times that historical tracking can prove useful. What I ask is that you simply be present with the pain. In the example of feeling abandoned or unworthy, watch the desire to find something to substitute, something to grab at and fill in that sense of loss. With anger, watch the fear and resultant desire to reflect that fear energy by striking out at something.

This is not merely a training yourself to tolerate this sense of loss, sadness and fear, but really investigating the nature of the experience of separation, the nature of the experience of anger, grief, or whatever else may arise in that 15 minutes when your friend or loved one is gone. This in itself is a difficult task. I advise you not to try it when a loved one is going away for a month, but to try it when they're going away for 15 minutes and to do it regularly. There are so many feelings to which you have numbed yourself.

For any of you who live alone, this is a more difficult task because you don't have somebody there with whom to practice. Here it's useful to observe your relationship simply with objects. For instance, taking an object which gives you some degree of pleasure, such as a book or a piece of music, give it to somebody. Come home and bring that object into your mind, the way it gave you pleasure and now it's gone. What we want to do is introduce just enough of that fear-tension so that it's workable without it being overwhelming, enough so that you can deeply investigate the tension while staying with enough clarity to know, "This is passing. If I need this book I can go out and replace it." Or, "My friend will be back in 10 minutes," and so forth.

At the start, tension will arise and can be noted in the body. Mind doesn't want to leave it alone. Mind is determined to find some resolution to the tension. Within "abandonment," it's not the departure that's the issue, it's the fear of abandonment, the tension about it and the habitual patterns with tension, believing one has to fix tension, which heightens obsession. The first step, then, is to know obsession as obsession.

During a recent retreat, this instrument took frequent walks into the woods and would sit and meditate there for awhile. Her dog would often lie beside her and at times would get up and explore a bit. Sometimes he'd find an animal burrow and begin to dig. She said, "No. Leave it alone." But it was fascinating to him. He kept being pulled back to it. After "Leave it alone" he'd stop digging and back up and circle around it. And after a few minutes when he thought he could get away with it, back into it he'd go, digging. "No. Leave it alone." Up again, circle. Then he would lie down beside the burrow and stare at it. He could not dig, but he couldn't truly leave it alone. Obsessive mind, caught. This instrument was able to chuckle at his fascination, not to judge him but just watch his dilemma with an open heart and with compassion.

As you begin to practice in this way, you are first going to see this obsessive mind which experiences the tension of desire and wants to resolve the tension. The primary difficulty lies in this strong desire to escape the tension. Whatever approached you was partial cause for tension because you didn't like it and wanted it to go, or whatever approached you was partial cause for tension because you did like it and wanted it to stay. Feeling that tension, instead of looking directly at the tension, your confused pattern is to look at the object which was ground on which the tension built. This is the wrong place to look. If it begins to rain on your picnic, you can't look at the rain as cause for tension. The rain is just rain. Your desire for sunshine, desire for picnic, your relationship with the rain is ground for tension. But mistakenly, you fixate on the rain itself. And you cling and cling to this idea, if only you could fix the rain, then everything would be fine.

If you had never seen a hot coal, and somebody carried one over to you, you'd say, "Oh, it's beautiful. Look how it glows and shines, and gives off so many different shades and colors, turns from dim to bright and dim to bright again." And you might reach out for it. "Oh! It's hot!" Drop it. No matter how much it fascinated you, you would not pick it up again. It burns. After that first encounter, when you see a hot coal, you know it as a hot coal. You may use it skillfully to kindle a fire, but you won't grasp it in bare hands. The difficulty with these obsessive states is that you don't know them for what they are. You keep picking up the mind state of craving, of obsession. You keep getting burned. You think the reason for pain is the person who is abandoning you or your unworthiness, and if you can only fix that, you'll be happy. So you keep picking it up. It's the wrong object. It's not the cause of your suffering. The next step then is to develop clarity about the precise nature of suffering and to let go of the incorrect object.

Here, we need some self-discipline, a discipline which is most easily developed at other times in your meditation practice. For example, when you sit and a thought of planning, a bit of fantasy, or a memory arises, you're asked to note that and come back to your breath because as soon as you have noted it, it's no longer primary. With awareness that thinking is present, the thought is shattered. You're no longer planning, fantasizing, or remembering. But mind doesn't want to let go. The mind which clings is not planning or fantasizing mind. Observe that they are different. When there is clinging, know it for what it is. This is the training, to not take one state for another through delusion. The next step is to remember that you do not have to cling every time the thought of clinging or desire arises any more than you must hit whenever anger arises, nor grab the hot coal when it appears. Work with this desire state in a spacious, kind but firm way.

This instrument has found that her command to her dog, "Leave it alone," worked better for her than for him. Seeing mind reach out for an object, wanting to play with it, grab hold of it, or shake it, she offers herself a gentle reminder, "No, leave it alone." It's not so much a command as an invitation. "Let it be. Come back to the breath." When she feels resistance, she envisions the dog, locked to the object and suffering because he may not go after it. Here there is not denial of the desire to be with the object, but awareness that the object is not what's primary. Usually the desire to escape the experience of the present moment is what's primary. The object is just a convenient side-track to this desire. Right here in the breath is the present. In this planning, remembering and other kinds of thinking, there is an avoidance of the present.

Whatever arises, you can be present with it in noting that it has arisen, watching the desire to grab hold of it and knowing that in that moment desire is the primary object. Wanting to fantasize, wanting to plan, wanting to hold onto the memory. Or wanting to avoid these may be primary, and aversion may be strong. It is the same situation. Only here do you begin to observe deeply the nature of that desire state in itself.

To release the object is to return to the experiences of desire, vulnerability, sadness, hope, loneliness, ecstasy, body pain, fear, frustration, even clarity. These are difficult states and the habitual tendency is to avoid them. Can you see the way you avoid the experience of fear and vulnerability by reaching out with planning mind to change the object so it is disempowered? You may even avoid joy and clarity because of the frustration that you can not hold onto them. It is like avoiding tension by creating a new tension.

Here is the place for our practice of the jhanic factors of vitaka and vicara, holding and penetrating. You have worked with me before with the idea of polishing the urn. You can hold it forever and it still bears tarnish. You must hold and rub. You can try to rub it forever but if you don't hold it with the other hand, it will just move away. Mind must hold the object and then penetrate the object for true wisdom to arise, that is, to remove the tarnish of delusion. In order to hold in this way, and bring the object into the heart, you must recognize that fear and the old habits of fear do not want to allow this closeness. What is in charge here, fear or love? There will be discomfort as you come close to that which feels threatening. Another way of asking the question is, do you want to be comfortable or do you want to be free?

What of the breath itself? What is the experience of it? Perhaps at times it's boring. After all, you think, how long can you watch your breath? You may begin to think it's just going in and out, in and out. You want excitement. Note that desire and as it changes or dissolves, return to the breath, just "wanting, wanting …" Perhaps it's too profound. Really seeing the whole nature of existence in the breath. Dying with each out breath literally, since the body can't live without an in breath. So perhaps it seems too intense. Note that intensity and if it is uncomfortable, know it is uncomfortable. Know any desire to escape.

These are basic skills you must master. First, the self-discipline to listen when wisdom says, "Let it be. Leave it alone." and to recognize that tension of not wanting to leave it alone, a tension that feels unsafe or sad or uncomfortable in some way and must be attended. At the same time you practice with specific areas of mundane tension which concern you, be it abandonment or self-deprecation or strong craving. Practice with manageable pieces of these states.

Of course these issues still appear in your life at this time. I'm not saying that you ignore those mind states. If strong fear, sadness and anger have come, only acknowledge, "I'm getting to a readiness to work with these, but for right now, perhaps all I can do is practice lovingkindness with myself." Work with it there. If this is true, know, "Right now I'm not yet ready to explore these bigger pieces of heaviness." When do you become ready? When you understand the nature of that which has arisen, for example, tension because somebody has departed for awhile, tension about what you have given away and feel you're missing, tension at others' blame of you, whatever is the base of that tension, you are ready to go deeper when you begin to see the conditioned nature of it from your own deep investigation, its impermanence and absence of self.

Finally wisdom begins to deepen and we see more clearly the entire process of suffering and cessation of suffering. For such wisdom to develop there must be ongoing mindfulness, which entails right effort and right energy. This is not sporadic intense effort followed by periods of lethargy, but must be continuous. One well-known meditation master uses as an example of correct mindfulness the lighting a fire by twirling two sticks together. You've got to generate enough friction to maintain heat. If you twirl those sticks together hard for two minutes and then stop for a minute, you can do that all year and you're not going to get a fire. You must keep it going! You've got to keep up this level of mindfulness. You've got to keep rubbing the sticks together, no breaks.

What this means in your life is that you've got to commit yourself. Every time I grab the coal, I burn myself. I commit myself to be mindful, to watch that impulse to grab the coal and to stop myself before I grab it. Every time mind moves into an obsessive state, let it go. You will have to be firm with yourself. Mind is not going to want to obey. But when you finally move into the deep level of mindfulness where you see the arising of an object, such as a thought and then the impulse to grab it and shake it, to obsess over it, and have reached a deep level of understanding that this which has arisen will cease, and is not self, and then allow yourself to be present with whatever pain you are feeling, you increase your capacity to be present with that pain, and the pain ceases to be your pain and becomes the pain of all beings.

The intention with which you do this practice is not as an insulation against pain. It is only possible with a dawning certainty that you will not be swept away by the pain, and that in the long run it is the only way to find freedom, to cease to run, to be present with whatever has arisen.

Yes, eventually there is less pain, but it's part of the process and you cannot do this kind of a practice with the intention, "I'm going to fix the pain. I'm going to make it end." Rather, you do the practice with the intention to grow and learn, even if that involves allowing yourself to be touched even more deeply by pain. You find a strength which can allow that pain to move through you without being owned by it or owning it. The ways in which we nurture that strength are the subject of a separate talk.

When you have reached the level in your life and practice where you see deeply established in you this pattern of mindfulness arising on the smaller, more subtle level, you feel a certain strength in you, a certain readiness to move on to these greater feelings of fear, loss, and abandonment. Interestingly, at that point, wisdom will have developed to the degree that what previously seemed too big to touch now is seen in a very different light. Thus, even great trauma can be approached without too much difficulty from the foundation of this true wisdom. You must understand that it's a process and you cannot leave out any part of the process.

Whatever you name these feelings-unworthiness, abandonment, anger at the self-they all involve a sense of separation from the self, separation from the divine, and belief in unworthiness to be connected to that divine. Here each of you has additional psychological mechanisms at work, different kinds of patterns and programming, so there is no one thing I can say that will apply to all of you. On the whole, though, when there are strong feelings of fear of abandonment by others, of unworthiness to be present with others, there is usually some unacknowledged level of anger. Anxiety is, at root, a voice of anger. If this doesn't fit, put it aside. But usually there is some unacknowledged level of anger, anger that it feels wicked in some way to have found inside you.

Here is the old judgment that said pleasant feelings toward others are acceptable, unpleasant feelings are not acceptable. It's the way each of you at some level has cut yourself off from yourself and from the negative or shadow side of the self. Seeing that shadow, the habitual tendency was to say, "This has arisen. It's bad. Get rid of it," rather than, "This has arisen. What is it?"

So, some level of unresolved anger toward others and toward the self is likely to be there. There is also a misunderstanding about that anger. Let me phrase it in this way. What if you knew you had a deadly and contagious disease? When you walked into a place where others were gathered, they would start to approach you. You kept your distance; the disease is only contagious if you get within 6 or 8 inches. They approach. Your inner reply would be, "Oh no, I'm poisonous." Because of your fear of your poisonous nature, your dark side, and the desire not to harm, you might put on a scowl, a sour face. Your fear is that if people come close to you they will be poisoned and so you need to make yourself appear unattractive. This action would seem skillful if there were truly a contagious disease, but there is none! The shadow is not other-than the light. Yet many of you frequently wear this "poison face."

Others react to the poison face by pulling back. Then you take that movement as confirmation of your badness. This leads you into deeper anger and confusion.

What is it that's seen as poisonous? Often it's the angry thoughts, the desiring thoughts, the judgments. How harshly you judge yourself. Then your anger at others has a subtly different nature. You're angry at them because of your own perception that they're not poisonous and you are. Angry at them for rejecting you, which rejection you requested! But this is just more anger and it's not safe to feel more anger, that's a part of the poison, so the anger again is re-aimed toward the self. These questions of unworthiness and abandonment are so intricately inter-wound.

Some psychological background is useful, such as some insight into why such feelings have arisen in you in the first place. But beyond a certain point that psychological background really needs to be put aside. The details cease to matter. However one does it, and for whatever reasons, one has just moved back into delusion. Then let go of the details. Stop taking them personally! Know that there is just this thought, this energy which has arisen. If it has the nature to arise, it has the nature to cease. It is not self. When I grab hold of it with this dog-mind, I get caught into a relationship with it. To hold on to it is akin to having a hot coal stuck in my hand, burning its way through. I can't lift it out. It's excruciating.

Honoring myself, respecting myself, I let it go. I will not pick it up, but I will acknowledge that it's there before me. I will acknowledge the pain or confusion that is present because it is there. What do you do? Just connect to your breath, come back to sitting, driving your car, walking down the street, washing the dishes, talking with a person … Again and again, let it go. See the nature of it as suffering and let it go.

Allow wisdom to develop. Come to see the nature of all that arises as impermanent and not self. If it has the nature to arise, it has the nature to cease. Let it be. Here you begin to move from space around the immediate catalyst to true freedom.

There is much more I could say here. I've talked a long time and would prefer to stop and hear your specific questions.

Barbara: Aaron asks if there are questions and he notes that what he said here is just a small capsule of the whole, but he hopes it is a starting place for people. He says the most important two things he could say about it are, don't try to tackle the big stuff before you have learned how to do that by practice with the small stuff. And, the whole idea, let it be. Just repeat it and repeat it until you learn not to grab the hot coal.

J: I find myself experiencing confusion about letting go. When is it genuinely loving vs. fixing to let go, especially of old habit to which there's big aversion?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I think your confusion, J, stems from having been taught in your vipassana practice to note that which arises and stay with it until it changes or dissolves. This instruction does not mean to get caught in the story of it. We use as example the circus train coming down the track. This car has a giraffe with its head up out of the car, looking around. You see it coming and you note, ah, there's a giraffe. Interesting. And you watch it until it's out of sight. You are aware also of the presence of "interest." Then you come back to your breath. Then another car comes through which catches your attention. Here you stay with what has arisen until it changes or dissolves. The next car has some clowns in it. They keep popping up out of doors and the roof. To watch that car of clowns go by, noting that it has arisen, moves through, and ceases, and is not self, is very different than to hop into the train and ask the clowns, "Who are you? Where did you come from? What is your life story? How can I get to be a clown?" In the first case, the primary object is the clown, experienced through the senses. In the second, it is grasping, wanting to know, to attach to. Here we're talking about obsessive mind. The clown reminds you of something you want to get and you keep after it until you believe you can get what you seek.

Another example would have been a car with a tiger or lion in it. You watch it but mind is also spinning, asking, "Is it safe? What if the train slows down? That animal is not in a cage, but is loose, pacing up and down in his car. Who's going to control it? What will happen when the train slows?" and so forth. So mind begins to obsess about what it has seen and becomes involved in the story of what it has seen. If a memory arises and you note it, mind may want to move into the story and sort it out. Because it's an unpleasant memory, mind wants to figure out what it could have done differently so as to avoid unpleasant scenes. Mind plans new dialogue, what could have been said. Mind tries to figure out why A or B said what they said. Here is obsessive mind wanting to be safe. Just know obsessive mind as obsessive mind. Let it be. Don't obsess over obsessive mind!

To let it go means make the decision to put down the hot coal, because you know it will burn. To hold it is to hold the hot coal. Therein lies suffering. But do not let go of the awareness that tension exists. That would be denial. Instead, let the tension be.

The primary tension here is desire to be safe, or perhaps more accurately stated, feeling unsafe. Feeling injured, abused, insulted, shamed. This we do not let go of, nor do we really believe we are unsafe. If the feeling is that of being shamed and stories arise, "Next time I see that person I know what I'll say," then just note, "Here's planning." Come back to feeling ashamed. Thirty seconds later mind may spin off again, "I should have said this. Well, next time I'm going to tell him." Stories, spinning; suffering, spinning; samsara, spinning.

Take a deep breath, come back to your breath and allow again the tension of feeling humiliated. Then you can begin to investigate what feeling ashamed really is. You can start to see that feeling ashamed also is just a thought which has arisen, along with its component body states. It arose out of conditions and will dissolve when the conditions cease. If your intent is to stay with the "feeling ashamed" in order to try to figure out how to avoid that feeling in the future, then you don't understand the practice. You're not trying to make any feeling stop. That would be like taking a giant board and clamping it down on the surface on the ocean to try and stop the waves. But the waves appear because there's wind and current. You can't stop the waves by holding them down. As you get to know the nature of any mind state such as shame or pride or jealousy or lust or anger, self-judgment, it changes. You come back into the whole self, the experience of the awareness which is not shamed or blamed or bad. These mind states are going to continue to arise. You cease to get caught up in an obsessive relationship with them. This doesn't mean you don't attend to them.

For example, when this instrument hurt her knee she was very willing to bring kind attention to that knee. The first sitting after she discovered the pain in her knee, mind was spinning saying, "Well, why did this happen? Why did it happen now? It's not fair. I don't want an injured knee." Let go of the stories. Let be the frustration. Just know, "Here is frustration, annoyance, dislike." Nothing to fix; nothing to push away. And then she could bring her knee into her heart, and the feeling of pain, of helplessness, of lack of control over what happens to the body. Then she is able to attend to it skillfully without any attachment, without trying to make something happen. Just watch it.

You have a sailboat in the middle of the lake. It's sailing back and forth. The wind is low and suddenly the wind ceases. The lake is still, there's not a puff. There's nobody in charge to come and get you. You don't have an oar. What are you going to do?

You can't make the wind start to blow again. You can sit there and obsess about needing to be rescued, or the unfairness of the weather, or you can just sit and enjoy the quiet. If the day grows late and it's clear you're not going to be rescued, then maybe you have to dive and swim to shore. But it's effortless, it's free. Does this answer your question? I pause.

J: Yes and no. I would like Aaron to say a few words around the context of my original question I had of getting into eating and TV and so on.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Some kind of pain arises which feels too large to get close to. It's common for people to have areas which arise in experience which they try to compartmentalize so as to feel in control. Loneliness, fear, physical pain or symptoms of illness, anger … One puts this feeling or that feeling in a box where one can attend to it cautiously like a tiger in a cage. But one makes sure that the bars are solid and it can't really touch one. Then we can imagine our fear, our pain, our loneliness, our grief, as something that we can walk up and attend to through the bars. Suddenly there's a shift in experience and there doesn't seem to be a bar. You're face to face with this monster. If you look closely, there will be some moment of shift in experience where you have allowed yourself to get closer than you were before to something that feels very threatening. If there wasn't mindfulness in the process, suddenly there is perceived threat. With perceived threat may be habitual withdrawal, running from the threat, or more precisely, from the experience we call "feeling threatened."

If you get to know "feeling threatened" as "feeling threatened," you can watch the whole process without needing to back away from it. The tiger is not primary; the tiger is just a tiger, pacing in its cage. Feeling threatened, and all the accompanying body sensations, is primary. But without mindfulness that the tiger was held behind bars and suddenly seems on the loose, with the accompanying feeling of threat, there is need to run, to escape. Oh! No cage! I need to get away! One of the ways that you run, J, is by these various escapes that you have mentioned. Other people escape in different ways.

For each of you the lion is going to be different and the means of escape from the lion is going to be different. You need to identify the primary wild creatures that assault your daily life, and the various escapes that you plan. Sometimes you need to let yourself escape but do it knowingly, mindfully, not with self-judgment, not saying, "Look how bad I am, I'm escaping," but just acknowledging, "Here I am, flicking on the TV. Here I am overeating." There's some lion pacing its cage back there and I don't want to let it get too close to me, so I'm choosing to escape. If you need to, sit there with your food or your television for awhile. When you feel ready, remind yourself, "It's still alive. I might as well go back and see what it is."

This is where you can begin to use "let it be." Seeing the mind that wants to be safe, wants to be in control, knowing that to go back and face this monster is to face uncertainty. What's primary? A feeling of uncertainty, un-safety, doubt, fear, sadness? Don't try to change or fix it. Let it be. Just be with it. I pause.


(1) dhammas: Pali language. Sanskrit "dharma." The word Dhamma has many meanings from Dhamma with a capital "D" used as synonymous with Truth with a capital "T," to the word dhamma with a small "d," which can be taken to mean things as they are.

(2) sankharas: Pali language. Mental, emotional and physical objects which arise and in themselves serve as the conditions for future arising. Storm clouds are sankhara and serve as condition for the arising of rain. Anger is sankhara and serves as a condition for the arising of certain acts or words, which in themselves serve as further condition.

(3) Stephen Levine, A Gradual Awakening.

Aaron on the Nature of God

Dear Friends,

This month I've been looking through some old transcripts. For several years Aaron, Karen Weber (a long-time student of Aaron's and frequent transcriber of his tapes) and I worked privately with our questions to Aaron. I feel that not only Aaron's profundity but the real joy of this work together comes through in the transcript. I hope we can put this material into a book.


January 20, 1995, private

(Barbara and Karen began with some discussion of giving/receiving as non-dual, expressing concern and question over some seemingly distorted teaching from a book of Kabbalah.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. We cannot cover the entire history of religious ideology in 45 minutes. What I wish to do is lay a foundation upon which we will build, perhaps exploring the different religious beliefs which have exploded from this foundation.

Every telling of this story is biased. I state here my bias as highly positively-polarized discarnate energy.

In the beginning, there was no beginning! We speak here of the Birthless!

Of course, I was not here. I do not speak from personal experience. My understanding of it, from my present experience and my teachers, is that the infinite truly is infinite. It did not begin with a "big bang." There has always been energy. One can conjecture that that energy was neutral in its polarity and through its increasing experience, moved toward positive polarity until it became the model of positive polarity.

There was no duality within this infinite energy. Precisely because it had begun as neutral, it contained within it both positivity and negativity. One could debate philosophically whether or not negativity is contained in positivity. But certainly both are contained in neutral. You have heard me talk of both light and relative absence of light; here all concept of duality is voided. When this energy has moved into perfect positive polarity, the expression of negative polarity merely manifests as a decrease in light.

This is an important point. Had this energy originally manifest as absolute light, one could then conceive of its essential nature as dualistic with darkness. Another important factor: because its first expression was as neutral, expansion, change and flexibility are part of its essence. The principles of giving and receiving not only are not contradictory; in a non-dual energy they must both exist.

We have here-in the core of the dilemma. If this energy contains all light and darkness, "good" and "evil," positivity and negativity, giving and receiving, the human struggling to reflect only the positive becomes entrapped by its own humanness with arisings of greed, anger and various arisings of ego-based fear.

As Karen suggested, it comes to a question of responsibility. If my urges toward greed and hatred are "evil" and antithetical to God, then my work would be to smother those urges, perhaps through practices of austerity, or through strong focusing of the mind which instantly cuts off and denies fear-based arising. Doing so does not make me a more loving person nor a wiser person, only more in control. Thus, control and power are viewed as the attributes of the Divine most highly regarded by persons of this bias. Judgment is predominant.

On the other hand, we have the view of Divine as non-dual. Here one does not need to subdue the arisings of fear-based ego, but to draw those arisings more strongly into the heart of love. Just as this infinite Energy was drawn increasingly to express Itself as positive polarity until It became the perfect model of positive polarity, so is the human who embraces non-duality drawn along this path.

Within every religious tradition which I have ever encountered in any incarnation, this schism exists. There are those who will distort the teachings of any tradition into a statement of the dual nature of the universe, and will state that "evil" must be destroyed. There are those who will focus on the non-dual nature and simply understand that darkness must be invited into the light.

[Picture] After a retreat of teaching heart-opening meditation practices, John Orr offers the gift of a chant: "All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you. Isk Allah, ma bood leh la."June 1999. Photo by Celeste Zygmont.

It seems to me that this schism reflects an individual bias, a psychological bias perhaps. It reflects a lack of maturity. Every religion attracts both old and younger beings. Younger beings are simply more fearful and less ready to be responsible.

Some distorted teachings that Barbara read about the Kabbalah are not true Kabbalah any more than a certain, what you label fundamentalist Christian slant is the essence of Christ's teaching. Nevertheless, because these teachings are ancient, where fear has been present, fear's slant and the concept of dualistic God and dualistic relationship between unconditioned and conditioned has profoundly influenced your Earth.

We move backwards historically to Ariel's (1) story of the origins of negativity on Earth. Those guardian angels of Earth were highly positively-polarized and mature beings. Already we see that they carried within themselves the seeds of this schism. The one whom you call Lucifer or "fallen angel" had entered into the bias that negative energy was to be destroyed. While others, who did not "fall," noted the arisings of their anxiety around the extraterrestrial probings of Earth, they made space for that anxiety, not seeing it as dual, not needing to be rid of it. The archangel whom you call Lucifer judged itself for those arisings, needed to be rid of those negative arisings in itself and thereby thought it needed to be rid of negativity in the universe.

If negativity is non-dual with positivity, you cannot be rid of one without being rid of the other. Lucifer became so entrapped that it needed to investigate the nature of negativity at ever greater depths. To some degree what it does is merely to continue this investigation to see if it can find a place where negativity finally is separate from positivity and may then be extended far enough out that it over-balances and becomes more powerful than positivity. Of course this cannot be so, but the exploration does lead to great suffering.

This is the foundation upon which every earth religious system has drawn. I would especially like to explore in depth with you what this has meant to the Judeo-Christian traditions and the Buddhist tradition. In exploring it in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we will come to more fully understand the timing and reason for Christ's life. In exploring it in the Buddhist tradition, we will be led into exploration of what this instrument considers Buddhist fundamentalism, of which it in prior lives has contributed a part. We will also need deeply to penetrate the dependent origination teachings to understand how the understandings therein finally transcend this schism, and the immensity of this contribution, that there is at last a path in which the schism does not exist.

January 24, 1995, private

(We began with questions drawn from the last session.)

Question: Can the "uncreated" manifest itself?

Aaron: I am Aaron. It did not manifest itself but manifested unlimited expressions of itself.

Once upon a non-time there was energy. It did not begin, it simply was, is and will be because it is infinite and unlimited. It contains the attributes of infinite intelligence, infinite light, infinite love. It contains no self-directed will, it simply is.

Awareness and non-awareness are nondual. One may conjecture that non-awareness was part of the experience of this energy. It opened into the experience of awareness. Its non-awareness rests within its awareness, rests within its non-awareness. Nondual. When the paper is wrinkled, the perfect, unwrinkled sheet still exists within the wrinkled sheet. When non-awareness is predominant, awareness rests within non-awareness. Awareness is! Awareness became aware of awareness and offered this awareness the tool with which to manifest multitudinous expressions of itself.

Because it is nondual, everything, change and non-change for example, reside within it. It manifested infinite expressions of itself. One distorted but useful expression which it manifested is relative reality. Because it extended to that relative reality all attributes of itself, it extended free will to that relative reality to create itself. Here is where we move into dependent origination.

What we will, for simplicity's sake, call God manifested an expression of itself, by which I mean it offered its energy to that particular bias of experience which we label relative reality. That bias depends for its sense of direction on the distortions of that which chooses to manifest within the bias. Humans have chosen to manifest within this bias because it provides them a useful catalyst for expansion. Specifically, it provides them the pathway by which each mind-body-spirit expression may expand into pure-awareness understanding of its true nature and thereby begin to manifest its energy in the same way as did that which we have called God.

Question: I gather you're not using the word "manifested" as "created" so much as "naturally expanded into," in other words, it simply followed its own nature.

Aaron: That is partially correct. There is no Creator and Created. That would be dualistic. The Created IS the Creator, just as the river is the spring. The spring does not create the river. The spring merely is a spring, and because of that nature as spring, the river is born. However, the spring has no intention to invite the expression of the river. It is just a spring. That which I call "Creator" has intention to express itself in infinite ways, although it does not specify the nature of those expressions.

If you press your hand down on clay, it will take a shape which is dependent in part on the pressure of the hand, and dependent in part on the characteristics of the clay. The same hand pressure on another substance would yield a different expression. This illustrates the process of dependent arising. The particular "shape" you take will depend on your own karma, on the nature of your clay!

Please note that there is not a creator creating the shape of the dough so much as that which we call "creator" and that which we call "created" participate together in the formation of the shape. This is co-creation, and is a necessary result of interbeing.

Question: (About whether non-awareness rests in awareness or the other way around.)

Aaron: We must define precisely what we mean by awareness and non-awareness. There was always awareness, but no awareness of awareness. This is a semantic issue. Your language lacks precision. That-Which-Is rested in an undifferentiated awareness, not yet aware-I won't say "of itself" because there is no self to it-neither aware nor un-aware of its true nature as pure awareness. Pure awareness is it. It is the source from which all else manifests.

Question: Regarding Aaron's statement from last week, "… because its first expression was as neutral, expansion, change and flexibility are part of its essence." What about "the Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated?" Are these two different uses of the word "change"?

(Aaron began by asking Barbara to read from p. 29 of Vimalakirti (2), regarding impermanence. "… one day after the Lord had given some brief instructions to the monks, I was defining the expressions of that discourse by teaching the meanings of impermanence … Vimalakirti came there and said to me … do not teach an ultimate reality endowed with activity, production and destruction. Reverend Mahakayayana, nothing was ever destroyed, is destroyed or will be destroyed. Such is the meaning of 'impermanence'.")

Aaron: I am Aaron. This cannot really be set in words. A map of the Grand Canyon does not express the experience of the Grand Canyon. I can only offer you the map. Your meditation must provide the experience.

Every construct of the phenomenal world is composed of non-self elements. Therefore, everything is in constant change as those elements become magnified or diminished within the structure of the seeming whole. The mountain is composed totally of non-mountain elements. It is in constant change because soil will wash away, trees will grow, fire will burn it, water and wind will affect the rock base. The mountain is impermanent on the relative plane. It seems to have arisen from conditions and will cease when those conditions cease.

We turn toward this "Unborn … Unchanging." Looking at the mountain, every element in the mountain has as its core one true nature or essence. They are not different divine essences; there is only one. Please regard the starfish. The arms seem to be independent and separate; each may experience a different aspect of relative reality. One may break, for example, but all are not broken. Yet these arms have but one core, one reality. If there are one thousand starfish, each with differentiated consciousness, they all have this same divine essence or pure awareness as their core.

On the relative plane, the mountain is composed of non-mountain elements. One with a relative plane bias would consider those elements as separate but interrelated, yet every element within that mountain has one core, one Buddha-nature. On the surface, the mountain seems to change. When a million years have passed and it is eroded away into a desert, in relative reality it has changed. We say it is impermanent. Has anything changed beyond the way it manifests itself? Is the true nature of the desert any different than the true nature of the mountain?

I offered "change" as an attribute of this pure awareness/pure energy/pure light. "Change" herein is the fluidity to manifest its energy on the physical plane and, once entered into that plane, to reconcile its expression with the laws of relative reality.

We might think of this pure energy as a river. It reflects the sky as blue or gray. Its temperature changes as it moves from icy mountain peak to sunny plain. It will pick up impurities-distortions from soil or waste that it encounters. Maybe it will evaporate completely. Is its true nature any different? God is unchanging and its expressions are infinite. It is always permanent and impermanent, changing and unchanging.

Why should the Unconditioned exhibit the characteristics of the conditioned, such as change? Can you see that it must be both, changing and unchanging, or it denies relative reality? "Fluid," "open," even "infinite" cannot exist without change. What if this "All That Is" was unchanging, unfluid in its expression? How could it expand? We have talked of this question, Can an infinite God expand? If it already is everywhere, where would it go? If our answer is "No, it cannot expand," then we put a finiteness on infinity. We limit the unlimited.

This is not a paradox. If it is already infinite and already everywhere, and yet is still fluid, changing, expanding, then "Unchanging" is its ultimate reality and fluidity, change, expansion are the ways in which it manifests. Because there is no duality, unchanging and changing are nondual. Again, no paradox. Here is where your meditation must carry you when words fail. Rest in that place where you are the Unchanging and then you will know.

[Picture] Sufi dancing at the close of the February 1999 retreat: Anna Marie and outgoing Board President David Brown who guided DSC for over five years.


(1) Ariel: This spirit plane entity is Aaron's teacher. Barbara has very occasionally trance-channeled this energy. Aaron speaks here of one such talk.

(2) The Holy Teachings of Vimalakirti.

A Collection of Talks about the Meaning of Cessation, by Deep Spring Center Teachers

I asked each teacher to prepare a talk for a day-long Teacher Training session. A core Buddhist teaching with which we've worked in depth is the Four Noble Truths, which state that unsatisfactoriness exists, the causes of that suffering or unsatisfactoriness, the cessation of it, and a delineation of the path out of suffering (the "Noble Eightfold Path"), as taught by the Buddha.

In this conditioned realm, everything arises from conditions and ceases when the conditions cease. We can directly experience this arising and ceasing in every moment. A small body sensation or a thought arises and then it ceases. This is one meaning of cessation. In intensive practice we see all conditioned phenomena arise and finally, cease, have insight into the whole process called dependent arising. We see how things SEEM to arise, but that nothing really arises or ceases, just changes form. The body seems to fall away, as do thoughts (mental body) and emotions. Sensations and feelings cease. Finally, the entire conditioned world seems to cease. We rest in another space, of the Unconditioned, the eternal, free of arising and ceasing. This is another meaning of cessation.

This space is NOT dual with the conditioned realm, but the conditioned realm rests in the unconditioned. Aaron likes to use the metaphor of a box resting in an unlimited space. Within the box we experience limits, conditions. When we put our head out of the box, we see that the box with its limits exists in this infinite space. We are in both, in the infinite, and in the conditioned realm. We must acknowledge both. We must live both. So often we forget our true being and become lost in relative reality. We can also forget (or deny) the relative and cling only to the Ultimate. Neither extreme works. There must be a balance, awareness of the conditioned expressions of mundane existence and of the Unconditioned truth (Buddha Nature or Christ Consciousness) which is our true nature.

The assignment was to make a clear statement of their own experience of cessation, how it relates to the mundane, everyday life, and what it means from an ultimate perspective, their sense of liberation. The purpose of the assignment was twofold, to present an articulate talk, and also to stimulate discussion. The resultant talks were so powerful, clear and varied that we decided to share them with you, our wider sangha.

We'd like to use these talks to introduce you to our ten teachers. Between them they have well over a century of practice experience, and anywhere between one and four years in formal dharma teacher training. They are clergy, therapists, carpenter, teachers, office managers, body workers, and more. Their diverse lives and experience inform their understanding of dharma and offer a rich palette. More talks will be in the winter issue of the newsletter. We hope you'll enjoy reading these talks as much as we did hearing them.

with love,

A Talk on the Meaning of Cessation, by Dianne Austin

Well, the good news is, the Third Noble Truth is, suffering ceases. Isn't that wonderful? But there are a few hurdles before we experience perfect peace and equanimity. We've been studying the Four Noble Truths, and as I thought about this talk on the Third Truth, I was struck that, for me, the biggest hurdle to understanding cessation of suffering has been my understanding of the First, which is that I suffer.

Now, when I first thought about suffering it seemed obvious, well of course I suffer. Things happen, I don't like them, I want to push them away, or I've got something good and I want it to stay just that way forever and it doesn't. That's the Second Noble Truth, which is, we want something very badly that we don't have or we're pushing something away that hurts. So I was kind of puzzled when I uncovered my inability to see my own suffering. But I don't want to suffer. I don't even want to acknowledge my suffering. I don't want to know about my own suffering and I don't want to know about other people's suffering.

I think all of us have figured out ways to distance ourselves, to put up barriers between our everyday awareness and our suffering. For me it often plays out in busyness, or feeling burdened. If I have a busy day, have lots to do, maybe I'm feeling a little stressed, I don't have enough time or there are too many demands, I can pull up my socks and say, "Well, I can get this done. I'm a capable human being. No problem here." The jaw tightens a little bit, the back tenses a little bit. I go off like a little trouper and get things done. And at the end of the day I've gotten enough done on my list, checked the number off I wanted to. But if I haven't attended to that suffering, that sense of suffering, the jaw is still tense and my back still hurts. If this goes on and on, becomes habitual pattern, my understanding of life is, "It's too hard. There's too much to do and too little time." But I have such resistance to feeling the pain, I push it all underground and it becomes an unquestioned belief. I don't examine this belief, but I live from it. It becomes one of the lenses through which I see the world. I have many such lenses, kept in place by habitual pattern. Until I can admit I have this pattern of trying to get away from pain, I repeat it endlessly. I will be trapped in suffering.

One of the great gifts I have found in meditation is to gently let myself know where I hurt, both physically and emotionally. Watching the breath gives me space just to pause, nothing going on, and then a feeling might arise, an itch or a little bit of tension. I could mindfully pay attention to that, give it some space, and then an emotion might arise. In my daily life if I'm busy, I don't have time for that. I need to get things done, to take care of business. But in meditation if it keeps arising, I can ask, "What is this? What is this tension? What is this suffering?" And then I can start to explore the Second Noble Truth, which is, what is my relationship to this suffering.

One of my greatest teachers lately has been my parents, and the habitual patterns I have practiced all my life in relationship to my parents. I've just come back from the third trip to visit them in Florida. I was noticing in meditation that I had a lot of aversion to going. I asked myself, "What is this aversion this time?" I sat and I thought about my mother's anger. I had just displayed that same behavior. I had just gotten all upset and slammed a cabinet and thought, "Well, I think I'll go meditate and ask what this is." So when the thought of my mother's anger came up, the answer back was, "I am my mother." I display similar behavior. I am coming to understand that anger. It's still uncomfortable, but the work I have done helps me to be less reactive. But what came up next was, "It's my father."

I have held distance and a barrier between myself and my father. He's dying of terminal cancer and he's getting thinner every day and more and more frail. He can't get up out of a chair by himself. He can't walk without a walker and assistance. He looks like a skeleton and at times his mind is not clear. He's been this way, he's been diminishing for five years. Sometimes I have space and peace around his dying and sometimes I put barriers up. It's too hard. It's too much. I realized that my barriers were up and I didn't want to see him.

When that surfaced in meditation, I understood. I could let that barrier down and know I was suffering and know that my father is suffering. And that I am suffering because I don't want him to die and I don't want to see him diminished. And I had compassion for myself and for him. Compassion opens my heart and accepts the pain. I let myself feel the grief or the sadness, but I am no longer separate. I am not separate from my parents, or myself, or my pain. I am not separated by my barriers. I think this separation is the suffering. Nothing can change if I hold myself separate. Compassion seems to me the way out of this suffering, this feeling of separation.

So I meditated on my father's death and my death and everybody's death. It didn't get real deep, the skies didn't open and lightning didn't hit me or anything. I just gently opened to that truth and accepted it on what felt like a clearly mundane level. Yes, I accept the fact that my father's going to die and I may be afraid of my own death. But then something remarkable happened.

I was driving the next day and my heart just broke open. Every person I saw was me. That sounds really kind of trite, but that's what it felt like. I saw this teenager, it happened to be a black kid, and he had the clothes and he had the attitude and he was tough and he had the walk, and I understood that he just wanted to be loved. My eyes filled up with tears. Everybody I saw was a dear one, that's what kept coming back, they're such dear ones. And I understood that I was able to let go of the barrier that I had between my father and I, and that cleared barriers between myself and all beings. At least for that drive, that little 10 minutes. It was very deep though, very profound.

A very powerful place where I have found to work with this cessation of suffering is in the present moment. That's the only place where I can change the habitual response to the catalyst presented to me. The deepest changes have come from staying present with the fears that I have lived with all my life, the fears that I grew up with. So being in that very small condo in Florida with my two parents and myself has been an incredible crucible, a teacher.

… and I understood that he just wanted to be loved.
My eyes filled up with tears.
Everybody I saw was a dear one, that's what kept coming back, they're such dear ones.

The first time I went down, I went down as the good one. Mom was in the hospital for surgery. David, my husband, came with us to help, and he got pneumonia, had to stay in a hotel. Dad was frail and needed a lot of help. So I went through this hell of being the good one. I drove in my car from the hospital and post-surgery Mom, to David's pneumonia-ridden hotel room, back to the condo where my dad is failing. And I couldn't do it. No matter how good I was, I couldn't fix it. I couldn't cure anybody. I couldn't make anybody better. All I could do was not be enough. I was not good enough. Then I flew home, my sister stayed to help. And I reflected on how painful it had been. I saw how many stories I had about what the good one should do and how the good one has failed. I also felt at a very deep level how unacceptable to me it is to live that way anymore.

The next time I went down, I knew I had bottomed out on being the good one. I didn't know who I was going to be. I had no clue what this would be like, I just knew it would be different. I was really kind of excited about it. So this time when the catalyst of my mother's anger came up, instead of reacting in my habitual pattern of suffering, which was, "This anger is too big. It's too scary. I need to get away, I need to hide, become invisible," I heard this little voice. It was right back here. It said, "Just stay present. Just be mindful." So I opened my eyes and I looked at her while she yelled at my dad for not eating enough and not appreciating all her work. I just stayed present. I was able to engage in the conversation. The dynamics changed somewhat because I talked logically and smoothed things a little bit, and it wasn't quite so raw.

A very powerful place where I have found to work with this cessation of suffering is in the present moment.
That's the only place where I can change the habitual response to the catalyst presented to me.

The second time the catalyst came up she was yelling at him about food again, and that little voice came up and said, "Is it OK that she's angry?" It was amazing. And of course, once that little voice asked the question, the answer was apparent, "Of course it's alright." All this compassion came up. Compassion for her and for her living with this dying partner and having to care for him. I had such compassion for her suffering, and I didn't need to DO anything. I didn't need to stay in the conversation and smooth it or be the good one and fix it. It just was all alright.

Then the third time she was yelling at him, she had shoved some stuff off the table. This time I got up and I said, "No. You need to take some space. I'll finish the breakfast. You just go get away for awhile." She did. I heard her crying in the bathroom. I didn't try to fix it. I thought, "Well good, she's having some emotions, fine."

Then I came home and reflected on these changes. I was very grateful that I had not hidden from that fear and pain. I was willing to stay present with the catalyst of my mother's anger. I didn't follow the habitual pattern of disappearing. I realize now, that habitual response of disappearing, hiding from the anger, also hid me from myself. I became numb, walled off from myself and everything around me. That separation is suffering. That abandoning of my connection to myself and all that is causes me great suffering.

I was going back to be with my parents again, but I didn't know what to expect. I knew I was committed to not following my habitual responses, but I didn't have any idea what would be there instead. They went through the food thing again and Mom got mad. It was about tomato soup. This time I found it a little bit amusing and I said something like "Gee, Mom, you and Dad have such a dance around food." This changed the dynamics. Instead of her yelling at him, with myself as the observer at a safe distance, she was mad at me! It was coming right AT me.

So there I was at the dining room table, the three of us, and she's glowering and she's pissed and she's doing all the things I know as a kid. These are my buttons. She grew these buttons she's pushing them with all the energy she can muster. Then I heard that inner voice again, "Just stay present." I noted the quality of that anger and the weight of it and the sparks inside it. And I kept thinking, "Well, I know this is going to change. There is a cessation to this." And I had compassion for myself and I let myself know how uncomfortable it was. I sat through it and I thought, "Well I can get up and leave. But I don't need to. I'll just stay present." And I stuck it out. It was a long dinner. We got up and I washed the dishes and it was still angry. We were in the living room later and it was still angry. And finally I noticed that the anger had cleared, that that part was over. And I thought, "Well OK, what is it now?" And I experienced the cessation of that catalyst of anger and the cessation of my tightness around that catalyst.

Then I experienced the cessation of that habitual pattern. I experienced it as a cessation of that little girl who had to hide from anger to keep herself safe. It was incredibly deep for me that she didn't have to live in fear anymore. That was over. It was so freeing that I'm not her anymore. When anger is present, I don't have to react out of that terrified four year old solid self. That has ceased, that habitual pattern and that pain of separating from self has ceased. Now in that catalyst of my mother's anger, there's this clarity, there's this space that I've never had before. The anger isn't about me; it's just anger. The old patterns don't have to come up and get me to try aversion or put up barriers. I'm not separate from the anger and the anger just is. I can experience the anger and my feelings and responses to it. I don't have to hide, to separate. I can acknowledge pain and I see when it ceases.

Now in that catalyst of my mother's anger,
there's this clarity, there's this space that I've never had before.
The anger isn't about me; it's just anger.

I am so grateful to this meditation practice. I'm glad that I have practiced and practiced and practiced just sitting and being present. When I am watching my breath and go off on thoughts, I hear that little voice say, "Thinking." Very sweetly it says, "Just be present with the breath." Or the same thought keeps arising and I hear, "Be present. What is this thought telling me?" Or, "Give attention in the body. There is tension, there is pain." I ask, "Just be present, just investigate. Just touch it lightly." And answers come.

More often I recognize things for what they are,
not what I always do because of them.

This practice has allowed me to do that in the face of my biggest fears. Now some of those fears aren't there, and I must admit, it feels like there's something missing. It was solid. I could count on that reaction to that fear and now it's gone. And there's this bigger open space. And I am different. I am not the solid self I thought I was a little while ago. Every time I understand in that concrete way that I can react differently, I can let go of what I thought was part of a solid self, I understand that I can be no-self. I understand there is no area of my life to which I have to react with clinging or aversion. I can open to it all, no matter what, and not separate. I can stay present and allow the suffering to present itself instead of following habitual pattern to deny the pain. In that acknowledgement of suffering I am no longer separate. More often I recognize things for what they are, not what I always do because of them. And then I also can recognize when the pain ceases. Because as the Third Noble Truth tells us, "Cessation to suffering is possible." Thanks to this meditation practice and being mindful on these trips to Florida, I believe it.

Dianne Austin: I've been meditating for ten years or so, and practicing Vipassana for five or six years. I have been teaching art in the Ann Arbor Public Schools for 26 years. I am the mother of one wonderful 18 year old daughter who teaches me even more than my parents do, and I am married to a great guy who supports me in all my spiritual endeavors. I am looking forward to teaching a meditation class this fall with another sangha member. This last semester I have been on leave from my job to help take care of my dad and have had more time for meditation practice. I have found this additional time to be invaluable for furthering my understanding of the Dharma in daily life.

A Talk on the Meaning of Cessation, by Kris Kurnit

We've been talking about the Four Noble Truths. Remember that the first Noble Truth says that suffering exists. The second Noble Truth says basically that our suffering is caused by craving and has its roots in the belief in a separate self or a separate identity. The third Noble Truth, which is what I'm going to talk with you about today, says that cessation of that suffering is possible. That nirvana does exist. Nirvana is defined as liberation from suffering, incomprehensible peacefulness and bliss. It's described as an awakening or enlightenment. And we all want it, I know I do.

But where is it and how do I get there. That is the question. We know that need gratification does not get us to cessation or nirvana. We know that because as soon as a need is met, another need arises. We don't maintain that state of satisfaction for very long at all before our attention shifts to something else we think we must have. It is like when I graduated from college. The entire time I was in school, my goal was to graduate. I knew that I would finally be happy with myself when I had my schooling behind me. And I was, for several minutes at least, until I realized that I needed to find a job. I am not saying that I was less happy about having graduated from college. I am saying that my attention quickly shifted to yet another need. So need gratification is not going to get us to cessation or nirvana.

[Picture] Cassie, Kris, Dianne and Jane Grace unstuff zafus for seasonal laundering.

Well, what will get us there? Basically suffering is not inherent in this conditional world. It is not the conditions that cause our suffering. It is our response to what arises or our interpretation of what arises that causes our suffering. So in order to know how to stop the suffering, we need to know how we are suffering, what it is about, and we need to know what we are doing to cause it. How are we interpreting the events that arise that lead to suffering. We go around this world, or at least I do, in this state of semiconscious awareness, focused somewhere outside of myself, on my job, on my kids, on my husband, in cyberspace somewhere with only a dim awareness of the present moment.

And that's where our meditation comes in. It teaches us to become focused within. We focus on the breath, and then we become aware of what pulls our attention away from the breath. We begin to see what arises and the way we respond to it. We get an up close and personal look at what we do and who we are in the moment, something that we normally just don't do. We're normally swept away by the conditions in this world, being sort of buffeted about by the things that are arising and ceasing around us.

So we go into this meditation practice with the goal of becoming more deeply aware of who we are in the moment. And when we do it long enough, the practice begins to translate out into our daily life, our non-meditation time. We begin to notice, "Oh, this is what I'm feeling right now, this is what I'm doing right now, this is my response to this thing that arose." And this awareness allows one to make a different choice, respond differently. Without this awareness, making a new choice is not possible.

I have a personal example of the way I happened upon greater self-awareness. It involves my kids and grandkids. We went to Florida as we do every year, to Disney World, and we had a wonderful time. Disney World is always wonderful. But three or four days into the trip, I became aware of my desire that my children and grandchildren have a really good time. Not just a really good time but a REALLY REALLY good time, ALL of the time. And I became aware of this when we were standing in a lunch line for an hour, hungry, in 95 degree screaming sun. As I watched my children begin to wilt; I went into my comedy mode, telling the funniest jokes that I could think of to tell, and I'm pretty funny. I had a lot of material and I was really going with the jokes and everybody was laughing and having a good time. We were just inching up the line and I was running out of material. I started to feel the tension of, "Boy, I better think up something good now because we're still 45 minutes from the front of this line."

And then it dawned on me what I was doing. And in that moment of awareness, several things happened. And it's very vivid to me. I came out of comedy mode and went into this observer mode. And the minute I did that, the second I did that, the feelings I have when I'm in the fixer mode, were nullified. They were sort of non-existent. They quieted down. I became aware of the whole scenario and it became humorous to me. I was able to ask myself, "Is it really necessary that I do this? Is it skillful, even, that I do this?" And the answer was really clear that, no, entertaining these children wasn't really necessary. They are having a fine time, they could choose whether they were going to be wilty or not wilty and if they were wilty it was probably appropriate that they were wilty and I didn't need to do anything about it. They certainly hadn't asked me to entertain them. I felt this liberation, this peace, come over me, that I can only assume is nirvana! Now, maybe it's nirvana with a small "n," but it was nirvana. I was peaceful and I vowed that for the rest of the vacation I wouldn't try to fix anyone. And I didn't. I actually paid attention to how I liked Disney World and let the kids decide how they liked it. You know they tell us that nirvana is trying to seep through the cracks of our reality, and I was aware that it had gotten through. In fact, as I thought about it, I realized that this event was an example of enlightenment. I was enlightened. Now again, maybe with a small "e," but it was an enlightenment none the less.

Then a couple of weeks later, I realized that I was doing the same fixer thing. It wasn't just vacation behavior. It was chronic behavior and I became aware that it was a big issue for me. I was sitting in my living room with my children who, as you know, moved in and lived with us for seven months while their house was being built. I watched myself being in at-the-ready-mode. I was putting off the things I needed to do. In fact, I wasn't even focused on my thing. I was sitting in the living room in case somebody needed me. Just in case somebody had something that needed to be fixed, I was going to be there. I realized I had done this for the entire seven months that they lived with us. I put my life on hold, not just a little on hold but a lot on hold. And again, the minute I became aware of what I was doing, I moved out of the fixer mode and into this more peaceful place, a neutral place, where I was able to see the whole picture from a broader perspective. I was able to ask myself, well, do I really need to do this? Is this even reasonable? And what is this teaching them anyway? What kind of value do I have in my eyes as well as theirs? I realized that it simply was not necessary to do what I was doing. And again, I felt that liberation. This time was a bigger experience of nirvana.

This is kind of the thing that happens when one becomes fully present. In meditation and out of meditation, one begins to get a deeper sense of oneself on a bigger scale. A sense of one's true self. Some people call it the spiritual self or the divine self. One of my favorite examples that the Buddha gave was that of the wave in the sea. He said that the wave is unconcerned about its birth and death because it knows it's true nature. It knows that it is part of the sea, and whether or not it's in wave form is not an issue. It has a deep awareness of its true nature. And those little tiny insights that I have had, that weren't really so little or tiny, command great attention in my life, and gave me that sense of who I am at a much deeper level. Whatever arises and ceases, just arises and ceases. It's OK, it's all OK. Because the greater truth is that everything is OK. Just as the wave is not worried about, "Oh, I should have been higher, longer, stronger, and that darn porpoise got in my way," you know, darn it, blaming, and … it doesn't do that, I don't imagine. It arises and it ceases and it's all OK because it knows it's true nature.

So my ability to see what I was doing and then simply set it aside was a direct result of my practice to be fully present in the moment. Now, there are a couple of other suggestions to help us move towards cessation. I think the Buddha gives three other ways to get us on the road to cessation. One is to simplify our lives and our expectations. You remember that the Buddha and his followers had three robes and one begging bowl. And that's the way it was. It would be the same way forever. It wasn't that if they prayed well enough they got a badge or they got another robe with sequins on it. No, they had three robes and one begging bowl. The whole issue of competition and greed and trying to get ahead was just non-existent in a material sense. They had three robes and they had a begging bowl period.

Simplifying my life, I get caught up in, do I need these five Tupperware bowls? Which one can I get rid of to simplify my life? It becomes a problem. But in the greater sense you understand what simplification of life entails and how you can do it in your own lives. The other thing that he talked about was developing a moral code and standing by that moral code. What he talked about was no killing or stealing or lying, things like that. He also said don't sit on a very fancy bed and don't wear jewelry. But whatever code you choose, standing by it allows freedom from remorse and guilt.

And the fourth thing the Buddha talked about was developing loving kindness and patience, which is not really an automatic thing that people do, in my experience. It takes a deliberate effort to develop greater loving kindness and patience. Doing these things, he suggests, will put us on the road to cessation of suffering.

A brief biography: I am a clinical psychologist in practice for 20 years. I have been meditating for most of those, meditating formally with Barb for the past four years. I am a wife and mother and grandmother (as you know). And I'm funny. Love to you, Kris

A Talk on the Meaning of Cessation, by David Coupland

We've been talking about the Four Noble Truths as the central teaching in Buddhism, the content of the Buddha's first dharma talk after his enlightenment. And we've been talking specifically about the truth of suffering and the cause of suffering as grasping, clinging, aversion, desire.

Today I'd like to talk about the third Noble Truth, the truth of cessation. Now, the Buddha chose to state these as three points, 1, 2, 3. But the more I reflect upon this the more I see that he was describing a process. It's a process that goes on in our lives every moment, every second. Something that occurs on many different time scales: issues that may last for seconds or days or years or lifetimes. That's what I'd like to talk about today, this notion of desire, suffering and cessation as a process that exists on many different time scales.

It's interesting that as we work more with spiritual practice, the whole process of desire and suffering and cessation, we begin to see this as the central process in our lives as human beings, the central thing that's going on with us. How did we ever miss this before? It's very curious. How was it that Buddha in 600 B.C. had this sudden revelation and create this teaching tradition that's come down through all these centuries since then? How is it that we're not just immediately aware of this as the central fact of our existence? It has to do with illusion, another big part of our existence as human beings. And also the fact that it's a teaching we don't want to hear. It asks us to do something we don't think we want to do, something we don't necessarily want to face. And the things that we're afraid of or don't want to face we're very adept at as human beings in not seeing.

So what is this process that we're discussing here. As we've been sitting here this morning and listening to these talks, I've been watching various thoughts come up in my own mind and watching this operation. A thought may come up, such as, "Is my talk going to be as good as somebody else's talk?" or "Did I prepare sufficiently?" There's a thought that arises, and then there's some sense of grasping about that thought, some sense of fear or aversion, or sense of attraction if it's a positive thing, "I want that, I want to make that happen." And you can directly sense a feeling of contraction in the energy field. "Ah, I'm reacting to that." And that contraction, positive or negative, is the grasping, the aversion, the attraction, the desire, whatever you want to call it, of which the Buddha spoke.

And then immediately following upon that contraction is a feeling of discomfort. The level of discomfort can vary depending on the nature of what the issue is. If it's not a big deal, well, maybe it's just a little discomfort. If it's something very central to our self-image, very central to our feeling of security in the future, or central to what we perceive to be our needs, then we can have a lot of anxiety about it. So that's suffering, dukkha.

It's interesting that many of us don't appreciate the element of dukkha in our lives. Probably all of us sitting here do, that's why we're in this class, in part. But many people I talk to, even in our beginners' class, have the reaction, "Well, I'm not suffering. My life is wonderful. I've got plenty of money, I've got a good job, I've got a good family," whatever. They have a little story they tell themselves about how wonderful life is, and "After all it's my life and I'm wonderful, so my life must be wonderful, I can't be suffering. Yes, there are people elsewhere that are suffering but not me." So the first recognition is that we are suffering.

So we have suffering, we have desire causing suffering, and what is this third point the Buddha is making, this point about cessation? Well it's very simple: grasping causes suffering, and when you take away grasping the suffering ceases. It's a simple statement, but that flip side of the process also operates on many different levels and in many different degrees. Using our mindfulness practice, as we recognize what's happening we see this process I've just described: something coming into our mind, the sense of grasping about it, the sense of dukkha or suffering in response to that grasping. If we can recognize that, then the natural response is to release the attachment and then the suffering passes away. The whole process occurs in miniature over a five second time span.

As we work with mindfulness continuously through the day, and become more and more mindful, mindfulness being the antidote to delusion, we begin to see that this process, this five second or ten second process occupies a large percentage of our attention at some level of consciousness. What's happening in our minds is things arising, we're reacting to them, but then, hopefully we're conscious of it, "Ah, I don't need to worry about that," relaxation, cessation. That's going on again and again and again.

So that's the micro level of dukkha, or the micro level of samsara because we use the word "samsara" to refer to this process, this circle that we're on, this treadmill.

But we talked about different time scales. There are issues or concerns or worries that are more central, more deeply rooted, that are not so easily disposed of. I'll give you some personal examples. I've been very consumed with career issues over the last year and a half, especially last year, 1998, that was my year of the mid-life crisis. I found myself thinking about this constantly. Thoughts would come up, "What do I want to be doing with my life? I mean, I'm in my early 40s; if I'm going to make a change, now is the time. What should I be doing? My work's not meaningful." These thoughts would come up, concerns about work, concerns about my direction, and then there would be this contraction, "Oh! I've got to do something about this! I've got to make some change. I've got to figure this out." And then the suffering, "Ah, I'm so upset about this whole thing." And then, "OK, I'm just going to let this go for now." All right, let it go. But then it would come right up again. Ten seconds later, one minute later, one hour later, one day later.

So we have these more deeply rooted issues that are back there. I used to have aquariums when I was a kid. One of the things you put into an aquarium is called an air stone. It's an air tube that goes down to the bottom and there's a stone on the end and bubbles come up to keep the water stirred up. I think of these deeply rooted issues as one of these air stones. The bubbles are like the thoughts that are coming off of it. They're always just coming up. And we may not be aware of that air stone, our attention is up here near the surface, but we just keep seeing these bubbles coming up. By inference we say, "There's something down there that's creating all this. Where's all this coming from?"

I think of these deeply rooted issues
as one of these air stones. The bubbles are like the thoughts
that are coming off of it … we may not be aware of that air stone,
our attention is up here near the surface, but
we just keep seeing these bubbles coming up.

So as I worked with this in more and more depth over the year, I began to see all the self-issues, as John was discussing, that were creating this. Feelings like, "I should be doing something of value. I should be contributing in some better way. I should be helping people more. I should be doing something that people recognize as valuable." So again, the self-delusion or fear about the separate self was the root cause of all this, thoughts that resulted in attachment, suffering. What actually happened in the end that brought it to a conclusion was that the whole process became so intense, so intensely painful, that I realized I just had to drop it, I just couldn't hold it anymore. It was like a cinder that was too hot to hold. The temperature just got hotter and hotter to the point where I just couldn't hold it. I went through a week long process where every time a thought would come up on this I noted, "There it is again," "There it is again," until somehow my brain got retrained and there was this breakthrough, "Ah, you know what? There never was a problem here. What was I responding to? Am I in financial difficulty? No. Do I hate my job? No, not really. Am I hurting people? No. What was that all about?" And now it's really hard to remember what that was all about. So for me, this is a mid-scale example of this process of attachment, suffering but then cessation. These things do come to a conclusion at some point.

The biggest scale of this, in my understanding, is the whole spiritual path that we're on, which is a path of many lifetimes. I know I get frustrated, I know many of us do. We look back over the last 10 years or 20 years and say, "Well, how much have I really accomplished spiritually. Yes, there's some but heck, there's a long ways to go here." But we have to have a very long-term perspective, I think, because the mind is so habituated. We're so much in these deeply ingrained habits that it takes a long time to retrain and illuminate the dark spaces. So the work of many lifetimes Buddha laid out in the last part of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path. Here's a path that is not going to produce an instantaneous change, but through the gradual application of these principles, these guidelines for behavior and these tools, we begin to change these habitual fears, we gradually begin to illuminate these dark spaces. And eventually, I'm hoping, in my personal case and for the sake of everyone, that this all gets kind of cleared out. And these habitual recurring fears and grasping are just revealed for what they are: nothing, just nothing. There never was anything there. It's just something we can let go of for good.

So that's the ultimate cessation. Ultimately seeing that this whole process, this whole fear process that we've been involved in, has no basis. And we can finally let go of it, just like finally waking up from a dream. That's my perspective on cessation. Thank you.

David Coupland received his first meditation instruction in 1979 and was an active member of the Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor from 1987 - 1992. He joined Deep Spring Center in 1992 and entered the Deep Spring teacher training program in 1995. David teaches beginning and continuing meditation classes in Ann Arbor, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

A Talk on the Meaning of Cessation, by John Thomas Campbell

(John Campbell's talk was lost due to tape difficulty, and John has reconstructed it as best he could, an abbreviated version.)

A man got on a train for Delhi and sat across from a swami. The swami was uttering all sorts of incantations, motioning, and taking dust from a bag, and throwing it in the air. The man became more and more curious and asked the swami what he was doing. "Why, I am protecting the rail car from tigers. This is my special tiger dust." The man protested, "There are not any tigers for a thousand miles from us." The swami said, "It is working, isn't it?"

This story from Steven Harrison, a spiritual teacher, tells us something about the nature of the religious mind and our efforts to quell suffering. We recognize our suffering. There is old age, sickness, death and the round of daily desires and aversions. We know our efforts to preserve and maintain a separate self. So, we suffer. How then do we find cessation?

As the swami, we even use religion and spirituality to ward off suffering. That may be our beginning motivation toward spirituality. Does it work? In my view: No, if it becomes just another effort to prolong the separate self! We go to the Church, Temple, Synagogue to find redemption in rituals and structures. We have been told we have fallen out of compliance with God. Even scriptures can seem more like prescriptions rather than pointers toward freedom. In reading and actions and inner contemplation we seek to restore what we believe is our lost relationship to God. But we feel no better or closer. Is not the striving self seeking restoration? In other words, we throw up dust, as the Swami, when we don't have to; and there is no cessation.

As a Presbyterian minister, of course, I have tried the religious way and as a psychotherapist and spiritual teacher, I know about other ways. Seeing a psychologist, I am told that my suffering is caused by the traumas of childhood. My deep memory reveals that I am angry because my mother was not empathic or my father abandoned me. The supposed results: I am more adjusted and able to contribute to society. Or I meditate and even become a spiritual teacher. I wonder if my karma over so many life times is the cause of my discomfort. So, I sit on my cushion hoping to create another possibility. Yet, I wonder if I am breathing correctly, sitting long enough, becoming more progressive, enlightened, better, and loving.

Will it ever end? Will this endless desire to preserve the self or end the self ever cease? Perhaps there was a bit of cessation last week! One of my articles was published in a professional journal. When I saw the article in print I was elated. The hard work had paid off. I wanted people to congratulate me, recognize my sound thesis, honor my efforts. People get the journal at my workplace. My boss said, somewhat grudgingly, he had seen my article. There were no comments from others. I wanted some praise. But then I experienced another place from within. An open space occurred. If I had not pointed to my attainments but gave the article to people who are considering similar issues and, if someone read the article and benefited, would that not be better than praise?

This experience reaffirms, however faintly, the nature of cessation. The desire to uphold the separate self (the part of me that wanted praise, for example) and the desire to get rid of my self (try to obliterate or fix my self's need for praise or attainment) leads only to contraction and more suffering. STOP FOR THE MOMENT! Vipassana meditation, which Barbara and others here experience, can bring about cessation. No empty ritual, like throwing dust to ward off tigers that do not even exist, or an icon or a once a week observance but, rather, observing without choice the relative-that is, the self-and the absolute, the here and now breath. As Steven Harrison says: "The relative and the absolute collapse into each other within and explode into totality." This is the unattained enlightenment. How can we attain what is there from the beginning? This does not mean we have to give up prayer, scripture study, weekly observances. I still attend Church, pray, read scripture. But, when not trying to hold onto the separate self, these external forms (the relative) become symbols of a deeper place of unity (the Absolute).

I close with this important passage from the Gospel of Thomas: Jesus said, "If your teachers tell you, 'Look, the Kingdom is in heaven,' then the birds will get there before you. But the kingdom is within you, and it is outside you. If you know yourselves, then you will be known; and you will know that you are sons of the living Father." The kingdom has always been within and without. Can we cease striving and allow!

John Thomas Campbell: I am the Director of Training of the Samaritan Counseling Center of Southeastern Michigan. In this position I recruit and supervise students who desire to become specialized pastoral counselors. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, former Cancer Care Center Chaplain, and was also Executive Director of a counseling center in northwestern Indiana. I have two sons and am recently married to Annette.

[Picture] Ken Starz on duty as bell ringer. June retreat, 1999

A Talk on the Meaning of Cessation, by Frank Levey

I know it's late so I'll begin by reading the first forty-five verses of the Dhammapada. Joking! Joking!

I've been writing a monthly column for a Canadian magazine, the American perspective. I suppose they figured they'd pick a typical American. I've been shocked, truly by what I've written. Originally, I thought it was going to be a little more dharmic. Not heavy Buddhist theology or anything, but a little more about compassion and love. And I've got to tell you, I just finished my fifth column and once again it was dripping with a snide, sarcastic, angry voice, tearing the US government and Bill Clinton. This month it was about the war in Iraq and the war in Yugoslavia. There I was spending close to an hour trying to come up with a final sentence to tear into Clinton and his war machine, and finally what came into my pissed off mind was what the Buddha had said, "Hatred can never heal hatred, never. Only love can heal hatred." So this is how I ended the column.

It touched me, and I think it was really something that was being said to me because if you read the rest of the article it was all pretty nasty. So I began looking at the macrocosm and the microcosm. You know, what is this war that's going on and how does it relate to me and my own war and struggles.

But with our practice of moment to moment awareness,
of being present with that which arises,
not holding onto or pushing away,
it is here that we learn to accept things just as they are.
Knowing that as things arise, so they will also cease.

So, in the context of the Four Noble Truths, we see that suffering exists. This is very easy to see in a war scenario. People die, buildings animals, plants are destroyed. It's very destructive. It's the nature of war. In myself, I observed the extreme anger and tension and disgust that I felt towards this. It was not, as Aaron was talking about earlier, with an open and gracious heart. Causes of suffering. In war, in this particular conflict or in most conflicts you see, people are afraid. People have their own interests, their own nationalities or individual personalities that they identify with, creating separation, us and them, and these identities are perceived as being threatened and fear ensues.

In the Balkans, all sides have been hurt, even brutalized. The Serbs, the Bosnians, the Albanians, the Croatians have all been through hell at one point in their history or another. We can always look back at that and say, "Well, look what they did. My great grandfather was butchered to death by you savages and I will not let that anger die."

Of course, this can propagate keeping the ball rolling forever as long as we keep looking back and saying "Look what happened to my father. Look what happened to my child." We can always use the past to justify our rage, hurt, anger. Then, of course, in ourselves we see our own fears and hurt. The other day, when I was meeting up with Larissa and she was, heaven forbid, ten minutes late, I took it very personally and said "You, know, if you were working you wouldn't be late, if this was a movie you wouldn't be late." Very personal, very ego involved. My sense of self, my sense of worth all were affected by Larissa arriving ten minutes late.

So, you can really see in our everyday lives, the nature of the arising of suffering, how the ego self, the individual is bruised or hurt or diseased in one way or another.

Cessation of suffering. This is the third noble truth. Here we can see the beauty that comes from our meditation practice. The Third Noble Truth tells us that from this suffering can come the cessation of suffering. So, do we look at this and say, "Ahh, that means when someone cuts me off or if my partner does something that offends me or someone hurt my grandfather and may try to hurt me and my family, that I will not be reactive, that I will not have pain from this"? To me, the cessation of suffering doesn't mean that we will instantly or even over time stop reacting or even stop being passionate about some things.

But with our practice of moment to moment awareness, of being present with that which arises, not holding onto or pushing away, it is here that we learn to accept things just as they are. Knowing that as things arise, so they will also cease. We observe the reaction, being aware of that which arises. In this moment, if we are accepting and open-hearted to that which is, that which arises within us, and we can be compassionate and loving in ourselves, to ourselves, then we can begin to develop some degree of equanimity and balance towards ourselves, towards this arising rage or anger or sorrow or fear. Then, in that moment we are desiring nothing. If we are OK with this moment, what are we desiring? We are accepting of things as they are. This acceptance can help us see the arising pain and suffering in others and allows our hearts to open to them.

Another beautiful aspect of our practice is that when this stuff comes up, we nurture along our open heart. We say "May I feel safe, may I feel loved, may I feel cared for." And then we extend it to others, "May all beings-all these others, be happy." Milosevic, as an example, both of his parents committed suicide, chances are he's not a happy man. That doesn't excuse his actions or the horrible things that he's done. But we can allow a little more compassion in actions taken against him and not view him as evil but from a more caring place and say, "Listen, we feel for you, we know that you have had pain and loss but for your sake and our sake we must stop this, we must bring an end to this violence." From that place, it is more loving and caring.

We are not identifying with these things.
This is not me and my rage. This is rage that has arisen
for a reason that we may or may not be aware of.

To me, that's the beauty of this practice. I think the idea of abandonment, the cessation of suffering comes about when we allow all of this stuff to come up and we don't hold on to it. We are not identifying with these things. This is not me and my rage. This is rage that has arisen for a reason that we may or may not be aware of. But this is what has come up and we say, "Thank you. Thank you for showing yourself. May you feel blessed. May you feel safe. May you be loved and cared for." It is such a wonderful path because it is one where we nurture that which is beautiful, not condemning that which we might want to quell and quash. Trying to get rid of something-first of all, it doesn't work, and second of all, it seems to rekindle the smoldering fires.

So may you all be well, may you all be happy and bless us and this wonderful path.

Frank Levey, a carpenter by trade, first began meditating his freshman year in college, when a young hippie set him down on a zafu and brought his attention to his navel. That was twenty-five years ago. As they say, the rest is history.

A Talk on the Meaning of Cessation, by Larissa Czuchnowsky

All beings want to be happy. We see this in the natural world, animals going from a cold spot to a hot spot, and in the human world, like us today in the yard, moving back and forth as the sun and shade change. Trying to be happy is something that consciously or unconsciously, all beings are constantly doing. We hold onto a mistaken belief that happiness lies outside of us, that if only our partner was better or if we owned a certain material object or if we were warmer or colder or had more food or something to drink, that these things would make us permanently happy. But they don't, the novelty wears off and the happiness ends.

As a result of this belief and it's consequences, we become caught in a tension between two poles: having, not having; happiness, unhappiness. It's almost like-we've all heard this analogy-a boat without a sail on a choppy ocean. We're just thrown around by our desires and in the pursuit of attaining what we want or averting what we don't.

In my own life this is most clearly illustrated to me while I'm working. I work in a restaurant. When I come into the kitchen I'm often greeted by the smell of vegetable quesadillas or some other tantalizing dish and I think, "Oh, that is something that I want" and so I will ask the chef to make a little for me. And then one of the customers orders a brownie so I go to make the brownie. It looks delicious so I make a little piece for myself. Then I become thirsty so I get something to drink. I'll spend the whole evening sometimes nibbling and eating, and in the end, nothing has been satiated. It's a constant "one thing after another," and I see that getting what I desire or not getting what I desire can both be disappointing. Because if I didn't get it, there's a tension, wanting it, and when I do get it, there's an aversion because it's too much.

So us humans, we kind of create this whole menu of things we do like and don't like and we move from one to another. Like the other day, Frank and I were downtown and we had a falafel. OK, I was hungry, mmmm, the falafel tasted great. And then, that was a really good falafel but needed something sweet. So we went to the health food store to get chocolate. OK, the chocolate, mmmm, that was good, and then my teeth weren't feeling great, so I needed to brush them, and then I started thinking about seeing a movie and wanted to check out the options. So it's one thing after another, to find this happiness or satisfaction.

Anyway, it's like being on a wheel. We use that metaphor in Buddhism, the wheel of samsara, the cycle of frustration and discontent generated as a result of one's actions. It's a constant thing that will just go on and on, and it does, and it goes. Finally, through meditation practice, we learn to slow down the running, to kind of break things down and examine things as they're happening. Because the truth is that happiness lies within and not outside of ourselves. It is our relationship to things that make us happy or unhappy. In meditation, we take our focus from something external and we look at the internal. We attempt to observe the initial point of contact of wanting something or not wanting something; the feeling that's created from contact with the object; the move from neutral to positive or negative; and then the contraction, the clinging or the aversion. We watch this process very clearly, and the running slows down, and the cycle slows down, and sometimes it even stops completely. It ceases. This is what's called cessation. We can just breathe and look, we're not reacting. We're not so plugged in. We have more space. We can see more clearly what all of this is about. There's freedom. There's liberation in this, a glimpse of nirvana.

[Picture] DSC teachers Larissa and Frank who were married this past August. Photo by Ken Starz.

Again, liberation or freedom isn't contingent on a thing or in a place. This reminds me of a story of a Tibetan servant. He was the servant to a lama, a very highly-realized, wise lama. One day the servant decided that he was going to wear flowing monk's robes instead of his regular, uncomfortable clothing. He was sent on an errand to another lama's house. And the lama, seeing him, out of curiosity said, "So, how's your practice going?" And the servant said, "I've been freed from samsara." And the lama, overjoyed, said, "My goodness! How did this come about?" And the servant said, "Well, it was simple. I just took off my pants."

As you can see, everybody's got their idea of their samsara, their suffering. Now, is he really free from suffering? No, it was a momentary thing. You take your pants off, you put on robes, there's some freedom, right? But then it changes, as the robes get caught between your legs or they become hot and bulky; it's not constant. Freedom from suffering or dissatisfaction doesn't rest in an object outside of ourselves, or a place.

Finally, through meditation practice,
we learn to slow down the running,
to kind of break things down and
examine things as they're happening.

The potential for liberation is here, right now. Everything that happens to us, all the material in our life, is fodder for growth when we observe it, when we observe our relationship to it. What did you say earlier today, John? "The kingdom lies within us." Right. So this is true.

Ultimately, cessation is seeing clearly what's happening to us. When we are seeing clearly, we need something else to buffer or soften the magnitude of what we're seeing, to help us connect to our heart, because when we see clearly, we're often pushed to the limits of discomfort. And it can be very hard to be pushed to our edge, to be really at the place where, as Dianne was saying earlier, we're so contracted and we're so reactive and it's just so fearful and it's so solid and it's so in our face.

The potential for liberation is here, right now.
Everything that happens to us, all the material in our life,
is fodder for growth when we observe it,
when we observe our relationship to it.

So this buffer is called abandonment. This is learning to let go of having a spin out, space out or escape what we're seeing. Learning to be with whatever is, is abandonment. Being here right now, not having to fix ourselves, not having to progress anywhere, just being where we are and opening to that.

For example, earlier today when we just arrived here and I was sitting on the deck, I noticed a whole interplay of tension within me. My insecurities were coming up, "My goodness, I have to do this talk today. I don't feel prepared enough. Is it going to be meaningful, is it going to make sense?" And this whole idea of "me" this solid self-Larissa, "my" talk, "my" making sense, how it's going to affect "me," I saw the contraction that I was creating, the limiting box that I put myself in as I separated from others by reverting into a more solid identity and worrying about "me" and "mine." So by just observing it, watching it, not having to get rid of it, no subtle aggression of having to change it or anything, just seeing it go by and having a little sense of humor helped me just hold it in an open-hearted way. This gave me some freedom from reacting to all of that tension, to let it go. Because you should have seen me today-with my notes full of highlighter markings, and my obvious insecurity and nervousness about forgetting what I have to say, all I could do was chuckle and say: "This is fear and insecurity. This is where I'm at and I can't force it to change, all I can do is attend to it kindly."

So the cessation that comes through seeing clearly, and the abandonment which is learning to let go of turning off, of not being present, we do this gently with compassion. It helps to slow things down, to give us more space, to be more loving to ourselves and to other people. This is the Buddha's Third Noble Truth about cessation. Thank you.

Larissa Czuchnowsky, a native of Canada, is studying in the field of elementary education and is grateful to have come into contact with the dharma. Time spent in India has deepened her practice.

Copyright ©; 2000 by Barbara Brodsky