Volume 8, Number 1, January 2000

I am Aaron. This is subtle and I want to say it carefully. There are karmic tendencies that each of you have; you perpetuate certain habitual movements. You do it, and you do it repeatedly, and you don't see into it. You don't see the suffering it's creating. This is not an absolute evil but it creates great pain. Nobody is pushing this pain on you. There's nobody to blame. Ignorance is to blame. Delusion is to blame. Your own attachments to self are to blame, but these things are also not bad in any ultimate sense. Beings will suffer until they see the nature of that suffering and resolve to pull themselves out of it. They will learn through trial and error that hate engenders hate and love engenders love. Nobody can teach you this simply by telling you; you've got to do it by your own actions. When you experience such thought and action in a state of asleepness, non-presence, you don't learn anything. You have to be present, to be awake!



Barbara's Letter

Aaron's Pages

A Talk on "Gratitude" at a Wednesday Night Gathering before Thanksgiving, November 17, 1999

Barbara's Letter

Dear Friends,

Snow is beginning to fall and year's end approaches. All around me I see the frantic hustle that often accompanies the holidays. But last night I had a wonderful experience of quiet. I was invited by Borders Bookstore to talk about meditation. Seats were arranged in the middle of the store. I talked for awhile about meditation in daily life, gave some instructions, and answered questions. Passers-by looked with a mix of interest and amusement. Then we closed our eyes and meditated, the noises of the night and shopper energy flowing around us. It was an absolutely wonderful ten minutes of quiet. I was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat as I watched shoppers slow their pace and even take a chair!

I suggested to people that since they couldn't possibly have external quiet here, they could appreciate the energy and sounds around us rather than fighting with them. They could just be present with these outer sounds, as they might be with their own inner "noise" at home. We can observe that arising of thoughts, feelings and sensations and their incessant demand that we attend to them. We can let them be without trying to fix or change, and rest in the spaciousness which sees it all arising and dissolving. Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease and is not me or mine. In this understanding is both joy and sorrow, and also true peace. As we sat, I saw people relax, tension go out of their faces. Ten minutes sitting together: a wonderful gift!

This is part of Deep Spring Center's work, bringing people some awareness that we have a choice and that we can live more sanely. Peace and joy are right here, in this moment, not only after we finish holiday preparations, not only after we finally get it all "fixed." We've grown to a large organization, touching the lives of many people-in classes, in retreats, even in bookstores! Through the web site and newsletter we connect with people all over the world.

The newsletter is my topic today. Did you notice how small it is? This month there was no money in the DSC account to pay for the printing and mailing of the winter newsletter. We went to the local Deep Spring community, and they gave enough money to send this out to the rest of you.

For seven years we've put out a newsletter three times a year. It was one of the first things which defined us as a community and brought us together. That first newsletter was eight pages and went to 100 people; the most recent was 24 pages and went to 600 addresses, world wide. Each issue has had highlights of Aaron's talks, a letter from me, and other articles of interest, as well as our upcoming calendar. We ask for newsletter donations but cost far exceeds income.

There have been so many letters of gratitude though, that we've felt strongly that the newsletter needed to continue and to be freely available to all. I wish you could read some of them. Phrases like "life-saver with my isolation in this nursing home" and "reading this article, I suddenly had an insight into the source of real peace" and "Aaron helps me understand how to live my life without hatred even in a prison" come to mind. People who live far away have especially enjoyed being able to "hear" Aaron through the newsletter. Somehow, money was available for it, mostly through general donations and excess income from retreats and classes.

As our expenses have increased and as we've tried to bring retreat fees into close alignment with our cost, there is little surplus left. The general donations we receive go to cover general expenses of equipment and space. Almost all our work is still done by volunteers but we now have a part time office worker who takes care of the administrative details. We have a telephone, a necessity as DSC outgrew the ability of my private phone to handle the calls. The web site reaches thousands of people a year, but generates no direct DSC income. We pay no rent for our office space but do have some utilities cost. The new meditation hall is serving as a wonderful community space, open almost daily for meditation, but we're still paying for the construction costs. We must repair and replace old machines like the rather ancient computer I'm writing on now. Your generous support makes all this work happen.

We need to put the newsletter on a self-supporting basis, and stop drawing its support from our general donations, but still feel we do not want to charge a fee. Many can't afford to pay; it goes to people in nursing homes and prisons who have no money for a subscription. Our hope is to raise enough in newsletter donations to cover expenses. If every reader gave just $10 a year, we could continue to publish.

So the next step is up to you. Do you find this newsletter valuable? Can you support it? Your donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. If support is given, we'll be able to publish a normal length newsletter in the spring and again in the fall. If sufficient donations don't come in, we'll take that as a sign that it isn't so important to people, and will stop publication.

What you give is truly a form of dana, or generosity which supports the offering of these teachings to all. Giving is, in itself, a wonderful spiritual practice which shakes us loose a bit from our fears and attachments. It opens our hearts! Please be as generous as you can in support of the newsletter. We hope each of you will send something, whatever you can afford, so that the newsletter comes to each person as a gift from the entire Deep Spring Community. Please don't just throw this aside with intention to take care of it later, or this is the last newsletter we'll be able to send out.

Please remember that your general donations are also vital to our continuing work.

Thank you. My love to you all and wishes for a blessed holiday season,


Aaron's Pages

A Talk on "Gratitude" at a Wednesday Night Gathering before Thanksgiving, November 17, 1999

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good evening and my love to you all. Last week I taught you a very specific practice focused on the Mother energy. I asked you to bring your own mother, or if necessary, a mother substitute, to mind, to offer real appreciation for this human's life which she has given you by the very fact that she gave birth to you, or if it's not the literal mother, for the ways she nurtured you. Then deepen your resolve to help her find freedom from suffering and to look at the ways you must do your own work in order to help this person and all beings find freedom from suffering. While of course this being is your mother in this life, countless beings have been your mother. Perhaps even in this room there is somebody who once was your mother. So we see all beings as the mother and offer them gratitude, are deeply aware of their suffering. Even if they have relatively happy lives, they have known of pain and fear and loss. From the goodness of your heart you resolve to help alleviate that suffering, to bring them clarity, the path to true happiness, and whatever else you can give.

This is part of the practice of gratitude, which is what I wish to speak about on this week before you celebrate your holiday of Thanksgiving. This national holiday for most of you has become a feast and football day or weekend. You eat, you enjoy your friends and family. You relax and have an extra day's vacation. But very few of you think deeply about what it means to offer gratitude. You have such rich lives, relatively speaking and based on the planet as a whole. Few in your culture are truly starving. Most have at least minimal medical care. Those of you with the good fortune to have money have excellent medical care. You have a roof over your head, you have heat. Your material lives are so filled with abundance. And you take it for granted.

I have often thought that on Thanksgiving Day, rather than preparing a feast, it might be well if you fasted. Because when you go without, you become more aware of the blessings of what you have. When you fast, you understand that happiness is not based on a full stomach. When your table is laden with food, you often do not think much about the gift of plenty that you've been given, nor about the gift of lack.

"Plenty" is an interesting word. Relative to what? This instrument's grandparents (Barbara's) had a humorous story. They had come from Russia. At a time when they were married and well settled in a lovely home, relatives came, immigrants. They offered them a place to sleep and dinner for the night before they went further on their way. The grandmother served food at the table and said, "Eat! Eat! We have plenty." Then a meat and vegetable course was served, and a salad. "Eat! We have plenty! Eat! Eat! We have plenty!"

Now these people did not speak English very well but English was spoken at the table. The visitors ate very little. "Eat! We have plenty!" So the plates were all cleared, the guests having eaten little, and one visitor looked at the grandmother and said, "Well, where is the 'plenty'? I have been resisting eating too much because I have been saving space for the 'plenty'!"

I tell this story for a reason besides that I find it an enchanting story. Instead of appreciating what you have, so often you wait for what you think will come. And when it comes you don't recognize it. You're still waiting for that plenty to arrive. "If only I had a new car. If only I had a new computer or a new chair, a new suit. A new boy or girlfriend." But would you recognize it when it comes?

Plenty is here and now in this moment, and it doesn't matter whether you live in luxury or a hovel. What matters is that you recognize your wealth. No matter how ill you are, there are days when you feel better. No matter how little you have to eat, there are moments when you are eating and enjoying delicious food. No matter how lonely, you are still divine, and loved. It's very important to see how you contract, spoiling even that potentially joyful moment. You bite down into the delicious fruit when you are hungry, and instead of totally enjoying that moment, you ask, "Why didn't I have it yesterday? Will I have it tomorrow?" So fear contracts you and separates you from your appreciation of life.

There is a story told of a man in the time of the Buddha's life. He had heard of this great teacher and he wanted nothing more in life than to meet him. He believed the Buddha, and only the Buddha, could guide him to enlightenment. He traveled and came to a village where there was an inn. Meanwhile another traveler had wandered through the village, a monk, and because the weather was very cold he had sought shelter in a shed of sorts. In that shed there was a warm place to spread out one's robes, and so he had settled there and was meditating, very contented to have been offered this lovely, warm space.

Our traveler came into the inn and asked if there was a room available. "We're all filled up, sir, but we have a shed and there's just one traveler there. You may sleep there." So he went out to the shed, saw the man sitting and meditating, who in fact was the Buddha. He settled himself and then the Buddha opened his eyes and began to talk to him. Who are you, where are you going? But our traveler thought, "I do not want to talk to this shabby monk. I am on my way to find the Buddha." And so he didn't talk to him. In fact, the Buddha was radiant, but our traveler's eyes were blinded by his delusion. The Buddha tried several times to initiate a conversation. Perceiving how much this man was suffering, he began to teach him, but the man's mind was closed. He was looking for the Buddha. "The Buddha will resolve all my suffering." So there he was in the same shed and he never knew the Buddha was there, even though he was right in front of him and talking to him.

How often do you miss the gifts life offers you because you are so fixed on some object, because your mind and heart are closed? Plenty is available; life always brings you what you seek. But you will never see it if you are blinded by fear and delusion.

What do people fear? That they will be hurt; that needs will not be met. And so you fixate on the need rather than seeing the abundance. One does not need many goods to be happy. It is fear that drives most grasping, not need. Without fear, one recognizes the plenty.

My happiest days in many lifetimes were in periods of those lives where I had very little in the way of possessions. I have an extremely joyful memory of living high up on a mountain. People considered me a wise man. I won't say whether I was truly wise or not, but I suppose I was able to offer useful guidance to people. So they climbed up the mountain to see me. And they would ask me, "Aaron, what do you need? Do you need wood for your fire? Do you need some rice or grain? Maybe some sugar? Would you like some fresh flowers from the garden?" People took wonderful care of me. There was enough. I had two beloved children who I raised on that mountain top, a boy and a girl. Their mother had died when they were babies and so I was both mother and father to them. They did not go to school, there was no such thing as school in your terms, in those days. But I taught them how to milk a goat, how to build a house, how to sing, how to plant and nurture flowers and the small scrubby trees that grew at such a high elevation.

We did not have books so they didn't learn to read but we had many poems that I knew by heart, which I could share with them, and stories, endless stories. So I lived with no money at all, living really by the generosity of our neighbors who felt that what I gave them far exceeded what they gave me. Our lives were extraordinarily peaceful and happy. There was very deep love between us all. Of course, eventually the children grew up and moved off the mountain top to marry and raise their own children, and the old man that I was needed to come down from his mountain top and dwell in the village because I could no longer easily make the climb back and forth. And that was a blessing to me because then, in that twilight of my life, I lived surrounded by people who loved me, who continued to take care of me as I took care of them.

In the spring our field high in the mountain would be filled with the most wonderful display of wildflowers in a true rainbow of colors, all sizes and shapes. There was no authority that said children should be in school. Spring was a time to run in the meadow, to climb up to the highest meadows from which we could see the high peaks, to revel in the sunshine and these lush fields with the snow so recently melted that it still nestled in the shadows. At the end of day we would come back to our very small hut, not a fancy cabin but a one-room hut, with our arms filled with wildflowers. These did not grow down in the village so we gathered them together and placed them in water and early the next morning we would travel down the mountain to the village, bringing with us hundreds of flowers to give our friends. And they would give us back the fruits of their gardens and delicious cheeses, fabric for clothes and whatever else we might need.

Besides the beauty of living in the present in that lifetime, there were the great gifts of gratitude and generosity. I cannot remember ever feeling afraid in that lifetime that my needs would not be met. Even when my wife died leaving me with two babies, I was surrounded by loving friends who said, "Do not worry, Aaron. We will help you with the children." And I knew that they would.

In the coldest winters, when the winds howled around our hut and the snow was deep, friends would make their way up the path with firewood. There was no fear that my needs would not be met. There was no hoarding of what I had, nor did my neighbors hoard. And so we lived this very peaceful life of generosity and gratitude.

Your fear keeps you from generosity and from gratitude. When you are afraid to give, when you cling to what you have and hoard, and somebody gives you a gift you cannot truly be grateful for it. You don't see it for what it is. Instead, you see it as something else to which to cling. As soon as you're given it there's the fear, "I may lose it;" clinging begins and suffering escalates. Or it becomes another object to bolster your self-identity and again you don't see it for what it is, don't simply taste that delicious fruit, for example, but wonder, "Ah, there are only six pears. Does he not love me enough to give the full dozen?" Fear.

So you cannot appreciate the generosity of your friends and of your universe which always supplies you with what you need. And you cannot allow yourself the experience of gratitude. How sad.

Another very joyful lifetime, one of many lifetimes spent as a monk-I really cannot single out one over another, except that as I matured, as this mind-body karmic stream matured, and fear fell away, I learned to be very present in the moment and satisfied with what I had.

In one particular lifetime, the being I was was raised in a middle class Asian home. There was enough to eat but we were not rich. The father was a merchant. So life was a series of bartering, giving and getting, with an acute awareness on trying to outdo the other, to get more than you gave. That was how I was raised. Then I became a Buddhist monk. My head was shaved, all my possessions given away. And I had nothing but my robes, my alms bowl and a razor. I will never forget the moment of awareness of the freedom that I had then. I was acutely aware in that moment that finally I did not have to worry about bartering, getting the better of others to protect myself, that I was free finally to cherish others, to give everything of myself and know that my needs would be met. So I could toss out this whole system in which I was raised and rest in this freedom of possessionlessness. Everything I needed was available. Once a year the townsfolk gave material for robes. In the morning I would take my alms bowl and it would be filled with food, good food. And in the rainy season there was a shelter. I had sunshine and rain, clear nights with brilliant moon, soft dawns, walking barefoot down quiet lanes with my alms bowl and a deep sense of peace.

In that lifetime I finally learned what gratitude really meant. This was before the mountain lifetime I recounted to you first. Here I learned what gratitude meant, that it was not gratitude for things. Rather, true gratitude is objectless. True gratitude is simply the spaciousness of the open heart, aware of the joy and sorrow of human existence. When I say it is objectless, of course there may be gratitude expressed for a smile or a gift of food or a flower. And these are what they seem: the smile, the food, the flower are objects, but they are more. Grateful for the smile, we can also be grateful for sadness.

In that lifetime I learned that there was no less gratitude for the scowl, for the empty alms bowl, and the dead flower ground into the mud. They touched my heart just as much. I learned not to choose one over the other. This is what I mean by objectless gratitude. I did not need the smile but learned to be open and present with whatever came my way and find beauty in it, find wonder in it, find the gift in it. The deepest gift was freedom from grasping, open hearted presence with things just as they were, and for that gift of freedom I was most grateful.

Here is what I would ask you to do this Thanksgiving. Certainly there is all the beauty in your life for which you are grateful: your beloved friends, the fine material possessions you have that give you comfort, a sturdy roof and a heater that works, warm, soft clothes, delicious things to eat, enjoyable books and other entertainment. It's easy to find gratitude for this. Do so; of course do so. But also, I challenge you here, think of the person who has been most difficult for you in your life and see if you can find some gratitude for that person. Perhaps it is a parent who abandoned you when you were young, or a friend who betrayed you. It's a difficult teaching. What did that person give you? This doesn't justify his having abandoned or betrayed you. But he also gave you a gift. Have you ever thought to thank him for it?

Can you be thankful not only for your good health for which you are rightly grateful but for your illnesses. Can you thank your illness? What about cherished possessions that were lost, can you feel gratitude for that loss? This is a hard teaching. It's about letting go of fear that says, "I need this and this and this and then I will feel good" and beginning to see the true abundance in your lives, which is not an abundance of material things or loving persons, it's simply an abundance. Joys and sorrows. Pleasure and pain. Gain and loss. All of it to be grateful for.

As I think back over this talk, I'm aware that I may have given the impression in this mountaintop lifetime that I was most grateful for the abundance and the love around me. And of course I was grateful for that. But I was also grateful for the lack, for the very simplicity in which we lived. Because in that simplicity there was time to love, and this is the greatest gift, to allow yourself time to love and to live in such ways that the heart is open and accessible to love. Be grateful for your ability to love and for the love you receive, and for all the teachings in your life that have opened your heart to that love. Be grateful for butterflies and children's laughter, and for tears as well. Let your heart open to it all. I wish you a joyful Thanksgiving. That is all.

Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brodsky