Volume 8, Number 2, June 2000

As you begin to understand your own spiritual nature, to connect with your Higher Selves, you question the purpose of your lives, and where your own personal growth is leading you. First you must learn the law of karma, and understand that each issue in your lives has a purpose, and has been wisely chosen by you for your own growth. You begin to realize the need for honesty within yourselves as you understand this unfolding process of your lives. You learn to look from a second perspective, that of your Higher Self, and realize that those difficulties your human self took as obstruction are instruction for your soul's growth. You learn not to blame, but to accept responsibility for your choices and learn from them …

When you have reached this plane where you can usually view your life from the perspective of your Higher Self, then you are asked again to expand your consciousness. Can you begin to look at this now from a third perspective, a place where your own Higher Self blends with All That Is? Here is the place where each individual's growth profoundly effects the evolution of the entire universe into Light.

From the book Aaron


Barbara's Letter

Sunday, April 2, 2000

Aaron's Pages

Dharma Talk at the Emrich Weekend Retreat, February 26, 2000

Two Talks on the Dharma Teaching of "Right View" by DSC Meditation Teachers

Barbara's Letter

"Flight of the Garuda," Song 1:

In both samsara and nirvana the renown of the enlightened state
Is widely heard like thunder throughout the sky.
As this always remains within the minds of beings of the six realms
How amazing that one is never separate from it even for an instant!

Not knowing that this state is within oneself,
How amazing that one searches for it elsewhere.
Although it is clearly manifest like the radiant disc of the sun,
How amazing that so few see it.

Having no father and mother, one's mind is the true Buddha,
How amazing that it knows neither birth nor death!
No matter how much happiness and sorrow is experienced,
How amazing that it is never impaired or improved even in the slightest!

How amazing that without being fabricated,
This mind, which is unborn and primordially pure,
Is spontaneously present from the very beginning!
This self awareness is naturally free from the very first,
How amazing that it is liberated by just resting-
At ease in whatever happens!

Dear Friends,

I'm sitting here at the window of the tree house, looking out on a blizzard, lake gray and frothed, trees wearing their white mantle lightly over the tiny touches of April green. Beside me a fire roars in the wood stove, sending forth welcome heat. I've been here for three weeks for a personal meditation retreat. It's a wonderful time of year to be in the woods. Violets are peeping through the snow. Two weeks ago, one rare 70 degree day in March, I had a quick swim in the lake which is today so abruptly returned to winter! At 4 AM I creep out from warm covers to build up the fire in the cooling cabin; bright stars and moonlight shine in, which are never visible behind the summer's full foliage. "Chop wood and carry water" has a new meaning, living here in winter. I'm not stacking wood for a coming season, but working with that which will warm me in an hour.

I rarely come to a retreat with an agenda, but find that if I simply show up, in every way, the retreat unfolds itself organically, from within. A friend accompanied me here the first day and before she left we had a meal together. There was one apple slice left. "It may be a strange request, but may I feed it to you?" she asked. My first thought was "of course," but then I watched the boundaries come up in me, no longer harsh as they were many years ago, just the ever so subtle whisper of contracted self. Questions arose, "What would it mean to allow myself fully to be fed, to be open to life's nurturing and blessings, which come in various disguises? Through what fear and habit do I hold myself apart?" I realized that this was the riddle of this retreat and my present life: how to acknowledge useful boundaries in the relative world, but without belief in them as ultimately real, truly to live the unlimitedness seen in my deepest meditation?

There's a beautiful Sufi song and dance: "May the blessings of God rest upon you; May His peace abide with you; May His presence illuminate your heart, now and forevermore." We all seek that full peace, presence and illumination. Full! We seek to know and be known fully by however we name this Ground of Being, but we barricade ourselves, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly from such intimacy. Part of receiving is giving. If we receive with that one level of separation, we give in the same way.

In my daily life, I see a subtle tension which is mostly habit, tension which may appear as intellect, or as caring action, but with a doer. Even in the "observer" of meditation there can be that film of separation. Believing I know where I'm going, I may try to control the path; I delude myself to believe such control is skillful and lack faith that my needs are always being met. Control is fear's voice, and faith is difficult, but truly I have no idea what I'm doing, or what I need; I can only trust my intentions and walk the path which unfolds before me as lovingly and skillfully as I can. When I do otherwise, moving to separation, control and fear, I meet only increasing dis-ease.

Holding myself separate, there is a subtle contraction. A portion of my daily practice is dzogchen, which teaches resting in the natural, uncontracted state. But what is contraction? It's not the muscles which contract when I cut wood. The body will contract naturally; swallowing is a contraction. When there is no mental contraction around the body contraction, it's just the life movement of the body. There are no thoughts or beliefs to create karma around it. During the retreat my one connection with another person other than my daily "I'm okay" e-mail out, was to offer out occasional dzogchen instruction requested by a distant friend. To write and send such letters was a useful place to watch for contraction, and relationship with it. I saw the guidance could be offered from the uncontracted state, even while mind contracted with effort to find the correct articulation and the body tightened around the "you have been disconnected" I often get with e-mail out here in the woods. So the contracted state is something else, not these primary contractions of mind or body, but the held, habitual contractions which arise around these primary ones. Outside the delusion of separate self, the contracted state cannot exist.

Expansion is not the opposite of contraction, but can also be a contracted place. It depends on effort. Without right effort, there can be grasping to expand. We all get caught there sometimes, in a tighter and tighter spot! The natural state is neither contracted nor expanded, both of which involve tension, but is tensionless. In the teacher training class, we've spent considerable time this winter exploring "Right Effort." In this effort, there is ease, receptivity, energy, presence, willing invitation, but no grasping. It grows out of an ease of being, and willingness to be present. I find these same qualities enhance the ability to rest in this natural state.

During these days I've watched this self-fixated contraction around the contraction, seeing the thought or sensation arise, and then fixation on it, getting lost in that smaller and smaller spot. Right Effort is just to notice the movement; loving intention offers spaciousness; there is no "letting go" but rather a return to this natural state, aware that there was nothing to let go of, that all that was grasped was illusion.

I've worked with the practice of gratitude, deeply aware of how my needs truly are met in each moment, grateful for my food, wood, water, for the small tasks I must do to maintain myself. I see how often I've disconnected from these in the past, viewing them as burden. To bring water up from the lake, build up the fire, heat it on the stove, and bathe; this is not a chore but an invitation to be fully present with the gifts nature offers through water and firewood, through interbeing. The "burden" aspect is just old belief. "I can't" is another old belief. "Unworthy," "alone," the list goes on and on. I've worked also with metta. The mind of lovingkindness is open to everything, without discrimination. The sutra reads in part: "Whatever living beings there may be, excluding none … May all beings be at ease." Metta doesn't exclude the short tempered man down the street or the rabbit who is eating your garden vegetables! I see how discriminating mind cuts me off, and creates separation.

I've spent many hours watching mind and body contractions arise and fall away. I see that sometimes I get caught believing the stories. Yet often they pass by as a wisp of cloud, with no substance. The simple practice of noting them helps to keep them soft and immaterial. Here is all the work with habitual tendencies which I've spoken of in past letters, what to do with the burr on the pants ("if you pull it off, it just sticks to your glove; let it be; it will fall away if you stop giving it energy"). Interestingly, I see the tendency to want the objects to be solid, so I have something to solve or fix, and then can feel safe and in control! To not be caught takes real presence and a willing reminder, "No, this is not needed." No aversion to the confusion, just the willingness to see the tension for what it is and drop it, as one drops the hot coal which burns one's hands. Here is where that one layer of separation dissolves. I can become intimate with my experience, knowing some is pleasant, some unpleasant, seeing arising of grasping thoughts and aversion, not caught in any of it nor needing to separate from it.

As days pass, the old habits of fear and limitation become transparent, as mist blowing off the lake. I find myself experiencing increasing connection with spirit, with the natural world, with myself. My daily life experience and the fruit of deepest meditation begin to merge, no boundaries, nothing to cling to or push away. This natural state of pure awareness is always here when I'm awake and present to notice it. The old stories of limitation are a myth.

Walking in the woods, I rarely take the same path to return. A few days ago I'd walked quite far. Unknown to me, my gloves fell from where they were hooked on my backpack. My path led me in a loop, passing across the path I'd walked earlier. For some reason I felt moved to sit at that crossing, looking down the path toward the lake. In the distance, I saw some unrecognized items on the ground. I paid little attention. Then a slim ray of sun burst forth from behind clouds and struck that spot, lighting up the blue of these gloves. Ah, my gloves; there was just a smile, feeling the universe tapping me on the shoulder and returning them, almost a bow and "you may want these." Unlike my usual way, I just sat there for another half hour, didn't rush to retrieve them. No stories appeared; no judgment; no fear.

Most important is coming to know this "natural state" free of doubt. I love the words above of the beautiful dzogchen poem, "Flight of the Garuda." We're always in this open and uncontracted state, this space of limitlessness, but we've brainwashed ourselves to think we're elsewhere! When I rest here, the old beliefs break down. Giving and receiving fully, connected and non-dual, is the movement of love.

I wish you a summer of being nourished in the deepest ways, through giving and receiving, and resting in this deepest Ground of Being. I'll look forward to seeing many of you at retreats. If you've never tried it, I recommend you find a friend and very mindfully feed one another an apple. Who knows where it will lead you.

with love,

Sunday, April 2, 2000

Barbara and Aaron, private conversation on consciousness and awareness during Barbara's personal retreat.

Barbara: I have a question. You said above, in rigpa (the pure awareness mind, often called the "natural state"), "There is no contraction." There are natural contractions such as reaching for an object, opening and closing the hand, or a hiccup. Thought arises; sensations arise. I know you're not saying that when these contractions arise we're out of rigpa even if they are simply noted as "not other than" and observed as they "self-liberate." When we rest in rigpa, there is no conditioning from the contraction; resting in pure awareness continues.

We're always resting in this pure awareness mind, but when there's fixation on contraction, in that moment we lose touch with rigpa. I think you are saying that when we lose touch with pure awareness we re-enter sem, everyday mind, which shift accords with my experience. Back to delusion, self. We can't see the clear blue sky because of the clouds, and forget the clear sky exists, get involved in trying to fix the clouds.

Then sem equates with consciousness, as different from pure awareness. It's not just a difference in degree, but totally different. Consciousness is a function of sem only, and not of rigpa. Is this correct? Yet there is sense consciousness in rigpa. What is the relationship of sem and rigpa? It seems to me that when resting in rigpa, sense consciousness is just another part of the conditioned realm which awareness may note without any fixation on it. Awareness notes the hearing, seeing or other consciousness and any conditioners of that consciousness, the cetasika. This is just happening on the surface. Like the mirror which is never distorted by what it reflects, awareness is not touched by any of this.

Can you explain this all again, very precisely? The main question is about consciousness versus awareness and the seeming shift, losing touch with rigpa, cloud blotting out the sky.

Aaron: Again we must distinguish between the first contraction and resultant contraction. Consider the movement of the hand opening to receive, or the contraction of a limb when it experiences strong catalyst such as a burn, and withdraws. When this movement is known as expression of the unconditioned and there is no fixation on the contraction, one is still resting in rigpa. The limb moves. The mind stays still.

This statement is incomplete, as when a thought arises it seems as if the mind moves. Yet a stillness may watch the mind move much as that stillness which noted the contracting limb. There is no fixation; mind is not discriminating.

What is the nature of this stillness? Let us review some basics, and then take this question further so we may be able to detect just what it is that remains still. Observe the relationship of sense organs, sense objects and consciousness. The ear and the object of sound are rupa, or "things." They are absolute realities, or paramattha dhammas. The sense organ mind, and object of the mind are rupa. They are things. We distinguish between the

sense organ of mind and the function of mind, which is the consciousness, knowing, just as we distinguish between the ear as organ of hearing and the function of the ear which is the consciousness, hearing.

Consciousness is nama, mental phenomenon. Nama is of two types, citta and cetasika, which are functions of consciousness. They are also paramattha dhammas. Citta, consciousness, is that which knows or experiences an object. For a citta, there must be an object. Hearing consciousness is nama and is a citta. Mind consciousness is nama and is a citta. The thought or any object of mind is rupa. Rupa is an object and does not experience. When the thought is a plan, that is an object and does not experience. When the thought is a concept, the same is true.

I have said nama experiences an object. Hearing consciousness experiences the sound, as of a bell. When the bell sounds and the ear is present, and all other necessary conditions are met, hearing consciousness occurs. When the bell sound ceases, a new outer sound may arise and replace it as object. When the thought arises and mind perceives it, there is knowing, or thinking consciousness. When one thought ceases, another may arise. When the mental object dissolves, mind, as organ of knowing, continues just as the ear as sense organ still exists after a sound is gone. Rupa, as ear organ or mind as organ of knowing, does not need an object. Thus, mind, ear and other sense organs are not dependent on a specific object for their existence, but they are still conditioned; they do depend on conditions for arising and will cease to exist when those conditions cease.

Cittas are classified in many ways. They may be wholesome or unwholesome. They may be the result of, or motivator for wholesome or unwholesome mind and body states, or both. They may also be inoperative, that is, neither resultant nor motivating. There are said to be 121 distinct types of citta. There is an entire classification scheme here which is not necessary to this discussion. It is sufficient to recognize that the citta may be rooted in aversion, or grasping, in kindness or generosity and so forth. It may be wholesome, derived from the wholesome, and give rise to the wholesome. It may be unwholesome, derived from the unwholesome, and give rise to the unwholesome. These are but a very few examples.

This tone of the citta relates to the cetasikas, another category of nama. These are mental factors which arise with consciousness and modify it. Feelings of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral modify the consciousness of hearing, for example. We will also not discuss this now. What is important is just to know the grasping mind, the spacious mind, and such. There is the consciousness of hearing with spaciousness; there is hearing with aversion; there is hearing with joy, with grasping, with confusion. For your practice, all you need to know is such as, "hearing compounded with aversion has arisen," or "mind is spacious and energetic." You must know these textures of mind. This is very technical, is drawn from Abhidhamma, and is not necessary to study here in detail. How does this information relate to the question of consciousness versus awareness? The above deals with the citta or consciousness-experiencer touching a rupa or object. These three-cittas, cetasikas, and rupas-are all conditioned or sankhara dhammas. What when the object is not a conditioned object but is the Unconditioned itself? Nibbana is also a paramattha dhamma or absolute reality. However it is not conditioned. It is said to be nama, but it does not experience an object; herein lies confusion. You ask why it is not rupa; it is not an object; it transcends subject/object.

Cittas are classified by level of experience, or bhumi. Sense impressions are one level of citta, knowing objects through the body sense as in every day hearing or thinking. Other cittas do not experience through the senses. At the highest end of the spectrum are the supramundane cittas or lokuttara cittas. This is the citta which may have nada, or ground luminosity as object. This is the citta which is capable to experience Nibbana.

Consciousness, nama, is dependent on an object. When the external object fades, when the external visual object dissolves, when the thought dissolves, the consciousness ceases. However, hearing awareness, seeing awareness, objectless awareness do not cease. We must distinguish between consciousness as related to discursive mind, sem, and awareness as related to the pure awareness mind, rigpa. That which hears nada or sees ground luminosity is not the sense organ ear or eye but is awareness itself.

I have said that Nibbana transcends subject/object. It can be experienced through the mind when the mind is ripe to experience it. What is this ripe mind? You understand that consciousness seems to continue even when there is no object of consciousness; hearing seems to continue when the sound dissolves. Then there is hearing of silence, and so on with each physical sense. When the sound dies and hearing consciousness seems to continue, hearing the silence, which is unconditioned, that which knows nada is pure awareness. There is a shift; consciousness fades and mind opens to pure awareness. Seeing: as the focus shifts from conditioned object to the innate radiance of that object, which is unconditioned, mind shifts into pure awareness. When there is awareness and no object, mind rests in that objectlessness. This resting is the uncontracted state. Thus, consciousness does indeed need an object, and when conditioned objects dissolve, if presence is firm, pure awareness opens. The object of pure awareness is of the unconditioned realm. We might say the cloud is consumed and burnt away. In all of these situations, with nada, with ground luminosity, with objectlessness, there is no possibility of contraction. This is how consciousness dissolves, opening to pure awareness. Pure awareness is that which may know Nibbana.

It is this shift with which pure awareness practice works. We move out of conventional mind. The pure awareness mind, mind resting in rigpa, is not necessarily experiencing Nibbana, but is open to that experience if directed skillfully and if all the other required factors are in place. This resting in rigpa is only a doorway, but a very powerful doorway to deeper experience, entering Nibbana. From there, all the stages of insight must still develop. This is why you do not experience in dzogchen, resting in rigpa, so deep an experience of the unconditioned as when moving through the vipassana jhanas where there is a practiced path to deeper, more direct experience. It is a doorway through pure awareness, not very different from the pure awareness state opened into in vipassana practice, but as you have noted, once practiced well, it becomes a "shortcut" of sorts.

Returning to your question, when one is resting in rigpa and there is a physical object such as a loud noise, hearing occurs, and the natural reaction of the body is to contract. When there is touch of a hot object, the body will likewise contract, as it will to a brilliant flash of light. When these contractions are seen also as not-other-than, they are merely further objects which present themselves and dissolve. The mind rests in rigpa, aware of it all, free and uncontracted. The more it notes arising without fixation, the more stably it rests in rigpa. It is clear, present, totally unperturbed. This is the mind which may move on to touch Nibbana.

We have not fully addressed the relationship between sem and rigpa, and will come back to that another day.

Barbara: Thank you, Aaron, I need time to digest all of this. So is it only the mental contraction or fixation which pulls us out of rigpa?

Aaron: It is ignorance, delusion, which pulls you out of rigpa.

Barbara: What's most useful to me here is the explanation of consciousness vs. awareness and of the shift to pure awareness.

Aaron: It is of no use as concept. Go and see it again now. Enough words; please return to your meditation. That is all.

Barbara: One more question please. You once told me that only wholesome lokuttara cittas dissolve habitual tendencies/defilements. These, what you've called "supramundane cittas" are related to pure awareness and thus, I would conjecture, always present when we can open to them. I see then that this is why, while resting in rigpa, there is no khamma or possibility of it, but it returns when we come back to sem. It this correct?

Aaron: Yes, this is correct in essence, but a full reply would be complex. We have spoken briefly of the 40 lokuttara cittas. Different cittas eradicate different defilements. Resting in rigpa, the defilements cannot arise but they are not yet eradicated. That is why I have labeled rigpa as a doorway to Nibbana, and not Nibbana itself. In rigpa, all the lokuttara cittas become available. I do not wish this discussion to become conceptual. First you must sit until I know you see what we have discussed above. That is all.

Aaron's Pages

Dharma Talk at the Emrich Weekend Retreat, February 26, 2000

Barbara: Aaron's asked me to start by reading a quote to you from this book, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. I'm reading from the first paragraph in chapter one. This is quoting the Dalai Lama:

I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So I think the very motion of our life is toward happiness.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good evening and my love to you. The purpose of life is happiness? This may seem like a radical statement to some of you. And yet of course it is. But so many of you are afraid of happiness. Why are you afraid? In part it is culturally conditioned, but there are deeper roots than even your own culture's conditioning. I think the issue is that each of you wants happiness so much, yet you're not sure what it is or how to get it. Because of this aspiration to happiness and because of your confusion, you tend to grasp at things which provide pleasure and not lasting happiness. And then, when you don't find happiness there, you become afraid. "I will not find what I seek. My needs will not be met." You start to grasp at and cling to the bits of pleasure that come your way. There is a lot of fear which further hinders real happiness.

For people like yourselves who are on a conscious spiritual path, there is deep aspiration to purify your energy. You look at this light of the divine, this perfect radiance, and against it you see what seems to be your own shadow, the shadow of your fear, your anger, your greed, your impatience, all of these different emotions which you have viewed as negative and which are an outflow of fear. So there is a confused move to happiness, grasping at pleasure, seeing the greed and fear in this grasping, and then judgment.

You see the grasping at happiness in yourselves and you judge it. Instead of seeing the grasping for what it is, a voice of fear, you react to this grasping with the thought, "I shouldn't want this. I must diminish this grasping at happiness." You misinterpret that into the idea, "That means I shouldn't seek happiness. It's selfish." But grasping for happiness and inviting happiness are not the same.

Most of you have not fully understood that the happier you are, the more you can give out to others. Happiness is not a limited quality in the universe. When beings are suffering, and deeply mired in that suffering, it's very hard for them to give out happiness to others. When beings understand the nature of happiness and how unlimited it is, how it multiplies upon itself, then it becomes possible to wish happiness for yourself. Until you can wish happiness for yourself and feel joy, real delight in your own happiness, how can you wish happiness on others and take delight in that happiness?

So you keep moving to a narrower and narrower place. You have so much confusion with the emotions which come up, so much judgment, need to get rid of or suppress the thoughts of demeaning others' accomplishments, judgment, comparison, avarice. Most of you think of such thoughts as "negative" qualities. It's so hard for you to understand that these are just the movements of mind which come from certain conditions, and they are not innately good or bad.

They do often lead to unskillful behavior. It's not the thought of avarice that leads you into grasping and clinging. Avarice doesn't do that. Avarice, just as with any other so-called negative emotion, can lead you into deeper compassion. When this state of mind arises, if you see it for what it is and know it, "Here is fear's voice. Here is a place where I am afraid my needs won't be met and greed has arisen." It can lead you into compassion instead of into an expression of that greed. It can even lead you into generosity, not because you think, "I feel avarice; therefore I should give to combat the avarice" but because you realize, "I feel avarice. There is fear. I will tend kindly to that fear." As you offer kindness to that fear, then the loving heart naturally opens up in generosity.

There is also the possibility of deepening wisdom here. When the thought of avarice or grasping arises, if you bring attention to the tightness of mind, the heat or prickliness, just knowing "here is the mind filled with avarice," or "here is mind filled with grasping," then you experience these textures or moods of mind and don't get so caught in the content. The noting mind is already more spacious, less likely to be caught in the stories the mind has produced. Awareness focuses on the bare experience of aversion or grasping, and is far less caught up in the object which catalyzed that aversion or grasping and far less caught in identity with fear. This focused awareness, which is calm, replaces the agitated state of aversion or grasping.

The primary difficulty I'm pointing to here is that most of you meet most of these so-called negative mind states with a strong guardedness and distrust. This catches you deeper into the content of these states, deeper into agitation, and into the idea that they must be "fixed." You've learned through so many lifetimes of habit to be on guard for these mind states because what follows habitually has been something harmful to yourself and others. I said to one of you today, you then get out a club in one hand and put on your running shoes with the other. And when such a mind state arises, you prepare either to club it to death or to run away from it.

There's nothing wrong with your having this reaction, you simply have not received proper training. Nobody upon whom you could model yourself has said, "Stop! Drop the Nikes! Drop the club! Let's just sit here together with greed, with jealousy, with comparison, with a demeaning attitude of mind. Let's just sit here and see what this is about, what this mood of mind is like." But in fact you've been trained the other way by your culture, by your parents, by your peers.

Now you have the wonderful opportunity to stop and look. Your vipassana practice gives you this. Here is the opportunity to explore the contracted, frightened mind and also the spacious mind. The wonderful states of metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity) radiate naturally from the spacious, focused, quiet mind.

In working with mudita (sympathetic joy), one does not start with an "I should" attitude. Otherwise, it's not sympathetic joy at all; there's no joy in it. It's just more outflow of judging mind, cracking a whip over you and saying, "Now feel joy!" How can you do that on command?

The only way you can feel authentic joy for another is if you can feel authentic joy for yourself. In the spaciousness of that joy, you begin to trust it and know it is unlimited. Then you begin to be able to extend that joy out into the world.

One thing we need to establish here is, what is the nature of happiness? Most of you are past believing that happiness lies in a new car, a cone of your favorite flavor of ice cream, a new job or a hug from your beloved. These are all very pleasurable experiences. They are not lasting happiness. You can't keep that car from getting scratched. You can't assure yourself that your beloved will want to hug you tomorrow. The ice cream cone will drip, leave sticky stains and a dreadful aftertaste. Happiness has a much deeper level of being. Happiness is that place of centeredness where whatever is going on around you, the mind is at peace. This does not mean there's never aversion or attachment, but aversion is seen just for what it is, and so is attachment.

We must understand these difficult mind textures and the habitual relationship to them. You see how the mind connects with an object and moves into liking or disliking the object, and then into attachment or aversion. It's a process; I'll describe it to you in a few minutes.

So we realize there is a process whereby we move into a certain mind state and we do not take that mind state so personally. Let me ask you a question. If you were walking barefoot here in the room, in the hall, and if there was a thumbtack point up on the floor, and you stepped on it, would your foot bleed? Would there be pain? Of course. You're human. Would you think, "I shouldn't be bleeding. I shouldn't be feeling pain. Something must be wrong with me." Quite the contrary, you'd be surprised if there was no blood, no pain. You acknowledge this human body is made a certain way. If it is punctured there will be pain and it will bleed. The pain may be unpleasant but you never think, "I am bad because I'm feeling this pain." You never think, "I am bad because I am bleeding." Instead, you hold the foot carefully, tenderly. You wash off the wound and put a bandage on it. You treat it with kindness. You've learned that offering such kindness to a small wound is very skillful. It alleviates the immediate pain and it helps it to heal faster.

Here we had the example of foot making contact with a sharp object. This creation that you call self, this is not quite a foot. But certainly we agree that it's a something. There is a Ken out there and a Kate out there and a Vicki out there; you all exist. The foot is a-what is the foot? It's a mixture of cells, water, nerves, bone. They are impermanent. New cells are coming into being all the time and old cells dying away. We call this combination of materials a foot and we give it an identity, "my foot." What's the difference between a foot and a hand? They're shaped differently. They grow on different extremities of the body. If we took a cell from the foot and a cell from the hand, could we identify them under a microscope and say, "This came from the foot and this came from the hand?" I don't think so.

In this way we might say that the foot is not self. It's made up of non-foot elements such as skin, bone, blood, water. It's made up of various elements that form the bone. Taking that to what you call yourself, you are also formed of non-self elements. Buddhist teaching calls these the skandhas or aggregates. Form. Feelings of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Thoughts. Impulse, and the whole flow of consciousness. You put these together much as the foot is put together and you think, "This is my foot, this is my self." But then, you're not consistent. When the foot is punctured by the tack, there's kindness. When this created self feels bruised by somebody else's anger, by someone else's blame, by someone's impatience or jealousy or abuse, and certain conditions of pain akin to the pain in your foot arise, conditions we call anger and other similar conditions, then you jump to the conclusion, "Oh, I'm bad. I shouldn't be feeling this." Well, you're either going to have to get your thinking straight and start to give the same kindness to the bruised self that you give to the foot, or you're going to have to be more logical and when you stub your toe or step on a tack, and there's pain and blood, to say, "Oh, there can't be pain because this is just a collection of aggregates," and I don't think you want to do that.

Can you begin to give this kindness to the self, not to attack it when negative thought patterns arise, but simply to realize, "These arose because certain conditions were present for them to arise." To attack the result is illogical. It's like saying, "I want an apple tree" and then planting a lemon tree in your back yard. It grows sturdy and beautiful, and one summer you are rewarded with thousands of lemons. Then you get angry and say, "But I wanted apples!" You grab all the lemons and throw them in the garbage. You yell at the tree, "I wanted apples!" How are you going to get apples from a lemon tree? If you want apples you've got to plant an apple tree.

If you want generosity and lovingkindness, patience, compassion, you have got to plant the seeds for it. You have got to stop nurturing the seeds for anger, jealousy, greed, and so forth. Don't get caught in the results; attend to the conditions from which those results spring. How to stop nurturing those difficult seeds is a part of your practice. How to plant the seeds for the positive qualities is another part of your practice. And you must investigate it carefully to understand how it works. I'm going to tell you a bit about this but I don't want you to take my word for it. This is an investigation that you must carry out for yourself, and then you'll be convinced.

There is an old teaching story. If you are going to travel to a place where there are rumored to be tigers, you might say to me, "Aaron, I don't feel safe going there. There are tigers." And I might say to you, "No, there are no tigers there." You might think to yourself, "Everyone tells me there are. Maybe he's just never seen them. Maybe he's been dozing." But if you go and you look for yourself and you don't find any tigers, then you know.

You have got to find out for yourself how these various mind states arise, what nurtures them and what reduces and helps to dissolve the difficult mind states.

Aversion and attachment do not just happen, there's a process. First you have physical senses and also the mind. Buddhism lists these as six different senses. There are the sense organs-the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the body which touches, and the mind. There are sense objects. The object of vision, the object of hearing, the objects of taste, smell and touch, and the objects of mind. There are sense consciousnesses, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking. It's very clear-cut. When the sense organ touches a sense object, the consciousness becomes active. Sometimes you may not be very present, so even if the eyes are registering or touching on an object, there may not be any perception of the object. At some level, seeing is happening but it's not registering.

For the most part, though, when the sense organ touches an object, there is a resultant consciousness and there is an awareness of that. Hearing, seeing, thinking. Depending on your past conditioning in part and on the nature of the object, it may be perceived as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Every object will have these qualities, and like everything else in the conditioned realm, they are not permanent. The heat in the room feels pleasant for awhile, then it's too hot. You turn it down. The cessation of heat feels pleasant, then you start to feel too cold. You have a visit from a friend and you're joyful to see them. You've forgotten how much they like to talk and after several hours, you're feeling a bit weary. This face and voice that were so pleasant in the first moment suddenly begin to be unpleasant as it nears midnight and you're tired.

So it's important that you see that the qualities of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, are not innate to the object but depend on your relationship to them.

Very occasionally that relationship is what we call "bare perception," being just with this object as it is in this moment without any prior conditioning to influence how you relate to it. As a simple example, if you had never seen fire, somehow you had lived your entire life and never seen even a candle flame, if you came into a small village after traveling through a cold winter night and somebody invited you into his home where fire burned in the hearth, giving off warmth, in that moment it would be very pleasant. Right there, nothing but the fire. Nothing but that moment. No past conditioning. Yet even here, there is past conditioning that equates warmth with comfort, so already there is some slant.

Think how different it would be if you were traveling on that cold dark night because your home had just burned down and all your family died. There might be a pleasant sensation of warmth from the fire, but your overall experience of fire would not be pleasant. Usually you bring this old conditioning into the moment and so it taints your experience in this moment. It's very hard to see clearly just what's here right now.

It's not easy to bypass that old conditioning. Often the best you can do is to know, "My response here is conditioned by old experience" and to allow a spaciousness which is not so attached to the view "This is good" or "That is bad." One notes, "In this moment this feels good to me. It feels pleasant and wholesome. But I acknowledge that consciousness in part is based on past conditioning."

How often have you arrived at a conclusion based on old experience? Judging this person to be bad and that to be good, this situation to be bad and that to be good. And of course, the discriminating mind does have a function. You do need to learn from past experience or you'd simply walk without looking across a highway and be run down by a truck. But the mind that gets you safely across the street and keeps you out of dark alleys at night does not have to be based on fear. It can be based on wisdom.

It doesn't have to jump to the next step after "unpleasant." It can know, "This is unsafe based on past associations. I won't go off with these people. I won't go into this alley. I won't sit down and talk to this person because his personality feels grating to me. It's unpleasant." Dislike does not have to follow. Try to catch the difference there. Think of something that's unpleasant but to which you really feel no strong aversion. Think of something that is pleasant and how it might be possible to experience that without clinging.

There are too many possibilities to run through each one. The point I want to make is that the experience "pleasant" in itself is only part of the condition that leads to craving. There's also got to be some fear based on old conditioning. "My needs won't be met." The experience of unpleasant in itself is only one of the conditions that leads to aversion, to strong dislike. There has to be some old associations, some old fear. Here is the place where you can begin to cut into this chain, getting to know how pleasant becomes grasping, how unpleasant becomes strong aversion and dislike, and then how dislike turns into hatred, how pleasant turns into grasping, turns into all of these states of comparing, avarice, greed, and so forth.

We got into this segment of this talk beginning with my statement, "If you want apples, don't plant lemon trees." You cannot attack the results, these thoughts of clinging, avarice, jealousy, hatred, with the idea "I'm going to conquer these. I'm going to get rid of these." You've got to see the conditions that gave rise to them. And the only way to attend these conditions is with kindness, noting that there has been a fear and that fear is based on your very natural human desire to be happy, to be safe, to be loved. Not wanting the pleasure which grows from things you may have collected and cling to, but that deep stable happiness that exists independently of conditions; this is the happiness everyone wants.

What is this place that is independent of conditions? Where do you find it? This is the other fruit of your practice. When we looked at the foot, we saw it was made of non-foot elements. When we look at the self we see it's made of non-self elements. If you are not any of these aggregates of self, what are you?

Different religions will speak of this differently. I stay away from the Judeo-Christian term "soul" because it's often misinterpreted. The mental body is often added. What we're speaking about is the pure spirit body. This is like the drop of water placed into the sea. Once you drop that water into the sea, you can't see where it began or ended. It's still a drop of water; it has not ceased to exist. But you begin to understand that it is part of the sea. Anywhere you look over tens of thousands of square miles, your drop of water is there. If you can't point to it and say, "This is it" then it's in everything.

Try something with me. Take a deep breath; now exhale. Follow your breath. Where did it go? Quick, grab it-your own breath and only your own breath. Bring it back into you.

You can't do it. Why? Where did it go? Has your neighbor got it? Is it floating up near the ceiling? Where did it go? Don't tell me it's disappeared. Certainly it has not ceased to exist. But you can't point to it and say, "There, that little patch of air; that one's mine." It's all over the room and it's floating out the windows. It's gone and it's everywhere.

This pure spirit body bears great similarity in this way to the metaphors of the drop of water and the breath. This is akin to the Zen koan "What is your original face before you were born?" Who and what are you? When you cease to identify as your body, as your feelings and thoughts, as your whole stream of consciousness, what's left? You cannot answer this question from the brain. The brain is simply a tool for the discursive mind. This "what's left" can only come to know itself-pure awareness aware of itself.

Pure awareness is not consciousness. Pure awareness is that which knows awareness. It doesn't have any thoughts, judgments or opinions, it's simply present. Because of the nature of your being, it is an innately kind and radiant presence. We speak of the radiance of pure awareness. It partakes in what we call ground luminosity, an innate radiance of being. All I can say about it is it exhibits certain characteristics, such as this radiance and presence, and innate kindness. But none of these are it, they're just conditioned-realm characteristics of it. Buddhism says "the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon itself.' This radiance is a finger. The only way to get to the heart of this is in non-discursive meditation. You stay with objects as long as they arise and watch them arise and cease, arise and cease, until you know the nature of arising and dissolution. You can only watch arising for so long before you begin to turn your attention to what this has arisen from.

It would be like watching a stream in your back yard. Let's say that you lived out in the country high up on a hill, and right there in your backyard was a fast running stream. There's no snow on the mountains above you; this isn't snow melt. You watch the stream, always flowing, whatever the season. You get your drinking water from it. You splash in it on a warm day. You keep focusing on the characteristics of the stream until eventually you are led to ask, what is it? What is its source? And then you follow it up the hill until you come to the deep underground source from which it springs.

Let us call this underground source the Unconditioned itself, dharmakaya. We use the word dharmakaya, dharma meaning truth and kaya meaning body. This is the deepest and purest expression of that which is, the deepest and purest essence of God, constantly exploding out into the world. In one of our discussions today the comment was made by one of you about how reassuring and helpful it is to remember that everything is expression of the Unconditioned. It's like the spring constantly giving off water, a great cornucopia of abundance, the Unconditioned constantly giving off everything in the conditioned world, infinite expressions of itself.

Your practice can lead you to this kind of happiness. When you rest in that space, seeing how the entire conditioned world explodes out of the Unconditioned, seeing or directly experiencing the innate divinity of everything, then not much that comes along in the conditioned realm can rock you off that stable place. Whatever turmoil is going on in your life, you know it for what it is. There may be grief. There may be discomfort. There may be anger. But there's also a place which knows, "This is okay. This is safe." My dear ones, even death is safe. Dare I say that to you? You've all done it many times. When you move into incarnation, death is inevitable. Eventually you're going to die. How could it not be safe? Is birth safe? If birth is safe then death is safe. It may not be pleasant. It may not be pleasant to be born. When you're born, there are unpleasantnesses, and you are born into all the joy of seeing butterflies, running barefoot in a meadow and hugging your friends. When you die, there are other joys, and there is the loss of this conditioned realm for awhile.

From this place of deep knowingness, of direct experience of the Unconditioned, you start to trust, "I am safe." This is really the foundation for personal happiness. Even just a bare glimpse of this space is enough to shatter infinite lifetimes of old fear and allow you to relate to the world in a very different way, to relate to your life in a very different way.

In the radiance of that truth of who you are, of your own divinity and divinity of all around you, it's very hard to be petty, jealous, comparing, demeaning, and if those behaviors do arise, it's much easier to note them simply as the outflow of fear, to come back to rest in this place of deeper knowing of truth, and very kindly to ask yourself not to engage so strongly in these fear-based behaviors. Then we can do a practice like mudita. There's no "I should" behind it here. Rather, it's the movement of kindness. It's the moment when you see the lemon tree and bite into the lemon and say, "No, I want apples," go out and dig a hole and plant an apple seed, and make the commitment to nurture that seed.

But nobody's going to plant the apple tree for you. Nobody is going to do these practices of gratitude, of generosity, of kindness to beings, for you. You have got to get the spade out and dig the hole. There's got to be some effort. But it is no longer a fear-based effort, it's a loving effort for the good of all beings. It's effort which springs forth from the deep commitment, "May all beings be free of suffering. May I be free of suffering. May all beings be happy. May I be happy. May all beings be free. May I be free. Literally, free of this cycle of birth and death."

This is not something you have to dream about for some lifetime thousands of years hence; it's something available today. If at some level you didn't believe in that, I don't think you'd be here at this retreat.

Honor your vision. Honor the truth that resides in your heart and continue to work in skillful ways toward awakening, toward kindness, toward freedom. I thank you very much for your presence and for hearing me tonight. I would be happy to hear your questions. That is all.

If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.

The Buddha


Question: Aaron mentioned the mind as one of the skandhas or aggregates. He said conscious mind. What about unconscious mind? Is that also conditioned?

Barbara: The discursive mind, conscious or unconscious, is conditioned. The pure awareness mind-the difficulty is in English, we only have the term "mind." This is confusing. In Tibetan, for example, there are the words sem and rigpa. Sem is the conditioned, discursive mind; rigpa is this pure awareness mind. We toss it all together in English, as "mind."

Whatever has the nature to be conditioned, has the nature to arise and to cease, is a conditioned expression of the Unconditioned, and falls into the category of one of the skandhas. (The reader may refer to the dialogue between Barbara and Aaron in the "Sunday, April 2, 2000" section of this newsletter for additional information on this topic.)

Question: Aaron spoke of experiencing this Un-conditioned. Could you or he go into that in a little more detail?

Barbara: What is it specifically you would like to know? Are you asking what is the experience like of the Unconditioned when we find it?

Question: What conditions lead to it arising?

Barbara: No conditions lead to it arising, it's always here. But certain conditions lead to our discerning or realizing it.

Question: That's what I mean …

Barbara: Intention is primary, the intention to offer our energy and work for the good of all beings, really for the liberation of beings. Then we basically do the work that we need to do to begin to see the whole process of mind-body experience, and the ways we've been blinded by old concepts. This clarity grows out of our practice.

Once we're no longer limited by those old concepts, we can break through into a direct experience of the Unconditioned, which has always been there. It's like trying to look at the sun through painted windows. If you scrape off the paint then you'll be able to see the sky outside. But we're attached to the paint!

The obscurations are all of our old limiting concepts and habitual tendencies, experienced as karma. Primary is the delusion of self. When I say the delusion of self, the delusion that there exists a separate self independent of anything else. All the various delusions that we live under relate to that. So we just work toward clarity. We also cultivate compassion. This balance of wisdom and compassion is the key. The eightfold path of Buddhism really lays it all out.

I want to read something to you here, from "Flight of the Garuda," a dzogchen poem. It relates to your question. This is from Song One. (The section of the poem from Song One which was read aloud is reprinted at the beginning of "Barbara's Letter," in this newsletter. Please refer to it there.)

Question: If God exists, why does he let so much suffering go on in the world, especially when people kill each other in His name? And if He doesn't exist, then why do we give so much power to Him?

Barbara: I'm going to let Aaron speak to that one.

Aaron: I am Aaron. It seems to me that the issue is not whether God exists but what is the nature of this which we call God. As soon as you give God the attributes of control over an external world, you make Him or Her some kind of a puppet master pulling strings. Then you have a reason to ask, why does he/she permit suffering? This is not my experience of what I call God. God, remember, is a label. Different religions offer different labels for this All-that-Is. In certain religions, there is a concept of this All-that-Is as having dominion. My own experience is that all beings have free will. God does not create suffering, the choices that beings make create suffering. And God cannot end suffering because that would be to deprive beings of their free-will choice.

But when beings realize their true nature and that they do have the ability and the responsibility to express this clarity and innate radiance out into the world, then suffering will stop. Do you wish me to speak further on this? I pause.

Question: It's just that many wars have been on the basis that some people feel their God is better than others. And if it's the same God that we look up to, why is it that we don't understand that it's a manifestation of that being that we're differentiating; but it's essentially the same thing? So why don't we understand this?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Because you do not yet realize the nature of your own divinity and of this that we are giving simple articulation as "God." If you experientially understand non-duality, then you understand that no God can be better than any other God because there is only one All-that-Is, and it's right here in your own pure spirit body, and in Keith's and in John's and in this instrument's. It's not your God or her God or his God. There is one pure energy and light; there's really no way to articulate it, the experience of it. God is simply a handy label for it. Why do beings create wars in the name of God? This is human confusion. This is all of the tendencies beings have to enact their fear in the world.

From my own perspective, I find that beings are here incarnate to learn one simple thing, and that is unconditional love. Not to do love so much as that you are love; this is your nature. You need some kind of catalyst to learn about love. We're entering into a different question here. Why is there suffering in the world? Not why did God create the suffering, but why of our own free will do we keep re-manifesting the suffering? Of course, karma is part of it but that's not a full explanation, because one can ask the same question, why do I repeat these same karmic patterns and keep myself going on this wheel of becoming? But it's not as cruel as you think. If there was a terrible disease and an injection would inoculate you against this disease but the injection was a bit painful, not nearly as painful as the disease, but you're arm would be sore for a day or two, and at the moment of the injection there would be a sharp burning sensation, would you say, "No, I will not be inoculated because I do not want the pain."? Or would you open to the pain with a gratitude knowing "this is part of the experience that allows me to enter deeper into safety"?

In order to mature into a true unconditional love, you have got to look at what's sometimes called the shadow side of your nature. How many times do you have to repeat hitting your head against a brick wall before you finally know, "This hurts. I'm not going to do this any more." How many wars do you have to enact on each other in the name of God, government, finances, or anything else, before you finally understand, "We cannot do this any more"? Slowly you are all learning love. I know it doesn't seem that way when you look at the terrible state of affairs in the world. But you're looking at a very short picture of your own lifetime, or at most a few thousand years. From my perspective I see the great strides in maturation, the great number more beings who are willing today to put aside their own personal safety in order to be caring to all beings, who are willing not to hoard, not to kill, but to share and open their hearts. So I really feel very positive about the state of your world despite how much suffering there is in it. Yet there are still young beings who enact much harm. They're all learning.

That might bring up another question. If two children are on the playground and they begin to fight and one says, "My dad can beat up your dad," and the other says, "Naw, my dad can beat up your dad," and they're slugging at each other; the two fathers come along. The two fathers have a choice. They can get pulled into the immaturity of the children, each one pointing at the other and saying, "Your son hit my son first. I'm going to beat you up." Which simply perpetuates this negativity. Or they can walk up to each other and shake hands and say, "Our boys are certainly having a hard time, aren't they?" They can set an example of how kindness, and responsibility and maturity can work.

This is the point. You always have free will and you always have a choice no matter what conditions face you. You always have a choice about how you will respond to any situation. As soon as you respond in a way that breaks with the old habitual conditioning, you begin to create a new and more wholesome karma. On the alter is a quotation from the Buddha, "If it were not possible I would not ask you to do it." It's from a sutra, Anguttara Nikaya, which reads:

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.

This is human choice. Those two fathers can make a world of difference for their own children, for themselves, and for all the other children on the playground by refusing to perpetuate the fight. You are offered this choice, all of you, hundreds of times each day. Your own spiritual practice becomes the driving force to live this aspiration to do no harm in the world, to live this aspiration to offer your energy purely and with love, or to slip back into an old habitual pattern of defendedness and fear. I pause.

Question: I feel confused about free will. This is my question. Aaron has described the self as not independent; rather an aggregate of conditions. At the same time, he says that in spite of conditions, every being has free will. So I don't understand who has free will, if there's not an independent self?

Barbara: Let's use a tree for an example. It's got two branches. It wants to send life force energy, to both branches, so that the leaves on both branches will open. It doesn't choose one above the other. On the level of pure awareness, at that place where we all come together, there really is no ground for preference for me above you. If I have an apple, I cut it in half. I can't give you the larger half or me the larger half. Pure awareness mind just cuts it right in half. There's no fear "I need more." There's no shame and guilt that says, "Give her more."

There is this "self," for lack of any other word. This is all the old habitual tendencies and all the accumulated karma, and so on. It's the thoughts and mind. And it's the body, which is a lot of organized cells. There is a conscious mind which has free will. It can make choices based on fear. What we tend to do when we're younger, not just in age, although that's true too, is to be the child saying, "Give me my truck! My truck!" This is the ego self speaking. It's fear speaking, and old habits of grasping and clinging.

We can make choices based on fear, or increasingly we can make choices based on love and a deeper understanding, which is not yet the understanding of pure awareness but approaches it. Choices based on love. There's not another word for it, but love is a little bit fuzzy as a word. Based on clarity of who we are. Based on our experiential understanding that to give to others is the best way to find happiness for all beings. Based on understanding that to continue to enact our fear and our anger and other heavy emotions simply creates more suffering in the world. Right there we have a free will choice.

Imagine that somebody comes running up to me as I'm about to eat an apple, and says, "I want that." Do I slug them? Do I give them the whole apple even though I'm starving? I have a lot of choices here. How I'm going to relate to this gets clearer and clearer as I understand the old conditioning that limited my choices. For the three year old, if somebody runs up and says "I want your apple," they probably will snatch it away and say "No!" As we mature, we start to understand all the choices that we have.

What I find is that the most authentic, loving and clear response comes as I get closer to integrating the conscious mind and this pure awareness space. The pure awareness mind is informing the actions of the conscious self. But it's not the pure awareness that has free will. The pure awareness of course always has free will, and it's never limited. But pure awareness mind exists in the Ultimate realm and cannot, of itself, make choices in the relative realm. It's the conscious self, which gets closer and closer to being fully integrated with the pure awareness self, which is able to act skillfully, lovingly, compassionately in the world. The free will is an expression of the conscious self, either integrated with the pure awareness mind or not integrated. The more integration, the more loving and skillful are the choices.

Question: It sounds like the conscious mind is like an independent self.

Comment: I think this is really a great question. My sense is that the conscious mind creates a sense of self out of its experience and sense of self-acceptance as it is differentiating from the mother and coming into material being as a separate entity. And that we are kind of on a journey with the conscious self trying to get back to rigpa, pure awareness. And that this formation of self which we have created to protect ourselves as separate beings holds us back from touching pure awareness.

Barbara: I agree with everything you said, George, exactly, but I'd like to take it one step further. This conscious mind that's learning, it's also learning by testing how things are. It's like a child, it wants to poke into everything and turn everything over and explore. It has to stack blocks up and knock them over dozens of times before it learns how things pile up. For those of us who are on a conscious spiritual path, and who aspire to live our lives in kindness and non-harm despite the experiences of fear, the conscious mind is exploring the question "How can I relate lovingly?" And sometimes its experiments aren't very skillful. If we experiment in a non-skillful way and are not present, then we create new habitual tendencies and karma piles up on karma. If we investigate and are present and acknowledge "This wasn't skillful," then there's a learning that goes on that gradually lets go of these expressions of fear and leans more toward expressions of clarity and love. This process resolves the old unwholesome karma.

Two Talks on the Dharma Teaching of "Right View" by DSC Meditation Teachers

Dave Lawson Speaks on "Right View"

"… I could not think of any way to do it without talking about love."

I'd like to talk with you about the paragraph in Sucitto Bhikkhu's book, The Dawn of the Dhamma, on page 54, which reads: Right View is the view, the perspective, that arises from fully understanding the Four Noble Truths. That may be the first factor, but it is also the last. To understand the Four Noble Truths requires the practice of the other seven factors. So the path is really two turns of the wheel. First is the mundane-the seven other factors without Right View; and the second is the supramundane-the path factors with Right View. Mundane understanding is that which preserves the dualistic model of reality-"me" and "the world." Supramundane sees things holistically as "the way it is."

In thinking about this paragraph and wanting to talk with you about it, I could not think of any way to do it without talking about love. So I just wanted you to be able to brace yourselves, because I don't talk about that topic real easily. But I'll take Michael's advice in the movie "Michael" where the archangel comes down to visit this world on a mission. At one point he has sort of adopted a little dog and the two of them are sitting by the side of a road, and he turns to his little friend and says, "Now remember, Sparky, no matter what anybody tells you, you can never have too much sugar." So I'll try this.

The Eightfold Path is generally broken down into three parts: sila, panna, and samadhi. Sila is moral awareness or, I think of it as respect or manifestation of love. Panna is understanding or wisdom, a big part of which is Right View. The way I think of Right View is, the view of nonduality, of no separation between "me" and the rest of the world. It is also the understanding of the conditioned nature of the relative world that we live in, that when conditions are present for an experience to arise, that experience arises, and when those conditions cease, the experience ceases. The third part of the Eightfold Path, samadhi, is concentration or meditation, or just plain paying attention.

In thinking about how moral awareness informs Right View, I came across a story. It is called The Rabbi's Gift. It's a story that takes place a couple of centuries ago at a time in which there was one remaining monastery in an order of dying monks. The monastery had about five monks living in it, all over seventy years old. People used to come to the monastery but stopped. The monks started to feel devastated, knowing that the order itself was in jeopardy of dying out. What to do?

The abbot of the order decided one day to seek out the advice of a rabbi who was visiting his local hermitage for a personal retreat. He knocked on the rabbi's door and was welcomed with open arms. The abbot asked the rabbi for advice about his dying order, and what to do about it. How to help bring back the vitality of the order. How to be of service to the people again. The rabbi listened and finally responded, "Well, really I have no idea. The same thing is happening in my group, and it is very sad. I'm sorry, but I can't help. Let's just sit and talk about the Torah awhile. They talked and wept and had a very nice visit. As he was saying his good-bye to the rabbi, the abbot asked once more, "Are you sure you don't have any advice for me? I hate going back and telling the other monks that I didn't get any real advice from you on this." And the rabbi said, "No, I'm sorry. If I knew what to do, I'd be doing it in my group. All I know is the Messiah is one of you." The abbot didn't know what to make of this and walked out the door saying, "Thank you very much."

When he returned, the monks asked him, "Well, what did the rabbi tell you?" And the abbot said. "Well, nothing really helpful. He had no thoughts. We just talked about the Torah. And we wept and had a good visit. I guess we're all in the same boat together. Oh, and then he did say something about, some cryptic remark, about the Messiah being one of us. I have no idea what that meant. I don't know if he meant one of us monks living here or if he meant one of us in the world outside his hut. I just have no idea what he was talking about."

Now, the other monks over the next couple of weeks and months found themselves wondering about this remark. A monk would be sitting in his room by himself and he would think, "Well, if the Messiah is one of us, surely he must be Abbot Thomas. Everybody know Brother Thomas is a man of integrity and light. If he is one of us, it must be Thomas."

"Or maybe it could be Brother John. He's sort of a real pain in the butt most of the time, crotchety, but he's often, when it comes down to it, quite right. Although he's hard to work with, he has real wisdom. Perhaps Brother John is the Messiah."

"Or maybe it could be Brother Elred. Elred is just a real nobody, a real passive guy with no opinions of his own. But sometimes when you really need someone to talk with, he's there to listen. I guess maybe he could be the Messiah."

"Of course, it could never really be me. There's no way that could happen. I certainly could not be the Messiah, could I?

And over the following weeks and month, people who were casually visiting the monastery grounds, which were quite beautiful, noticed the respect with which the monks treated each other. It was something that could be felt in the air. It was very strong. Over a period of time, the young people started to develop more of an interest in talking with these monks, who obviously now loved one another. And people started joining the monastery, and it eventually grew to such an extent that it was saved and the order was rejuvenated. All this from mutual respect.

When I think about this story, I think of the first turning of the wheel that Sucitto Bhikkhu talks about. The first turning is the monks acting as if they respected one another. Maybe they didn't really respect each other yet, but they acted as if they did on the off-chance that one of them was the Messiah. And you'd better respect the other monks, and maybe you'd even better respect yourself and love yourself. Then the second turning being when that respect and love is enacted, that it actually produces and grows respect. It becomes the respect.

I find that lately I try to do things like walking down the streets in Ann Arbor and randomly smiling at people. It's very interesting to do that because many people don't smile back, they turn away, but many do smile back. And you do this, too. You may be in a coffee house, coffee shop, and the cashier behind the counter may be having a bad day and you sense it. Maybe feeling sad or frustrated. And you offer your kindness to that person. You can see that person change. It's a wonderful thing because you can see that your words of kindness come from your heart and mind and are an expression of your thought processes and heart processes, and they literally become absorbed or added to the thought and heart processes of the other person. Literally. That's wonderful to see.

It's like sometimes, I can see that not only can I actually love a stranger, a person I see in a coffee shop, but I can love the world-the entire world. It brings me to the feeling that if I can do that, then there's a lot of love there somewhere. Maybe I don't see it sometimes, but it's there just the same. As it is with everybody. And this love is something divine, something "unitive," something that connects me with the rest of the world. Also, it is something that shatters that perception of duality: "me" vs. "the world."

Before I sit down to meditate, I try to express my gratitude to the world. I bow to the Buddha and I bow to-I have an altar in my meditation room. It has pictures of my family. I bow to them as my teachers. I see that I am a continuation of my parents and their parents. Then there's an open window out the front and I bow to the world. And then finally I bow to-I have to my right a shelf of tapes with books and practice material for practices that I did before coming to vipassana. And I bow to that, as well.

That's how I see moral awareness or respect or love informing this Right View, this holistic view. Also, the other factor: samadhi or concentration informs Right View because when you look at something, when you're really there with something, love grows naturally. Love grows from attention, and often if I can really allow myself to be attentive to somebody, I find that I cannot help but love that person. You may have had the experience when you've been riding in a car with your beloved for a long time and suddenly you come to a stop light and you get to look at the person sitting next to you, really look at that person. And suddenly you become aware of how much love you have for that person. That's that unitive force. And that's the factor of attention, or samadhi, just being attentive to what's going on.

Of course, there's also the importance of attention in formal meditation, where you get to see the flow of experience and how impersonal the flow feels much of the time, how seamless it is. How it flows together without boundaries.

I often think of one of my favorite Louis Armstrong songs and there are two lines in it that go, "I see friends shaking hands saying 'how do you do,' they're really saying 'I love you.'" That just reminds me to stay present with what's really going on. This world doesn't have to be such a scary place to live in.

Finally, I'd like to share just one more experience that I had about a year ago. Just so that I could not possibly miss the fact that I am in the world and the world is in me, the universe gave me this shock treatment. I was at a retreat led by Barbara and John. I had brought the flowers to that retreat. There was a group of flowers near John, and I was doing an open-eyed practice-Dzogchen-looking at one of the petals of one of this group of flowers. Not concentrating on it, but my view was in that direction. Suddenly, my face appeared in that flower petal. It almost took me out of the meditation, it was so startling! And it was very stable. It was like looking in a mirror, it was my exact face-as if somebody had taken a picture of me and pasted it onto the flower. I looked away, looked back … and it was still there. As if, you know, this is the way it is! I brought the flowers to the retreat. I put myself into those flowers. Then after the mediation was done and the bell rang, I looked at the petal immediately, and my face was gone.

So sila and samadhi strongly inform Right View. I've just come to appreciate a little bit more how the value and importance of Right View is not so much in the knowing of it, but in the happiness it brings. I'm finding a little bit more and more in my life that enacting respect and love in the world does bring happiness.

Thank you.

Dave lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Linda and their two cats, Darnue and Samantha. His immediate family also includes his mother Ruby, his father James, his brother Dan, and his son Aaron. And his extended family includes his teacher Barbara, and all the other members of the sangha, all of whom have offered much love, support, and connection. He feels privileged to have the opportunity to share this Vipassana practice with members of his community.

Dianne Austin Speaks on "Right View"

"There is no wound, no threat, on this earth that can harm spirit."

As I was thinking about this talk on right view and right understanding, I became overwhelmed because I wanted to give the perfect talk. I wanted to include all of the Noble Eight Fold Path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. I wanted to bring all the numbered precepts in, too, and of course, it was all too much. Then I remembered the assignment: right view in my life, a personal experience of right view.

Upon reflection, I realized that my personal understanding of right view has changed a lot during my life. As a child I was connected to the Ultimate, the Unborn, the Undying. I understood that God and I were not separate. However, in my household there was no one to mirror that for me, which was very confusing and painful. I went to the church my dad went to because I loved my dad and wanted to please him. It was a southern fundamentalist church that taught that "right view" was to fear God. Their belief was that human nature is sinful and God's threat of eternal punishment helps us do what is right. They taught that God was a wrathful and vengeful God. He watched us all the time and, if we did anything wrong, we would be thrown into hell forever. They were pretty graphic about what that meant, especially for a little kid.

So my first religious model of right view was a fear-based model. While my mother didn't go to the fundamentalist church, she mirrored their model in some ways. I adapted to coping mechanisms to deal with her anger and punishment style much as I adapted to avoiding a wrathful God's judgment. I tried to be the good one, and I tried to be invisible. These became habitual pattern, solid self.

As I got older, my idea of right understanding was to try not to hurt others as I stampeded toward sense pleasure and getting away from pain. But it was very difficult because I was so invested in self-view. I led a fairly unskillful life as a young adult because there was a lot of old pain that I wanted to get away from. I used alcohol and drugs to self-medicate and became addicted to their use. Although I still wanted to be seen as a good person, image was more important than reality. I was not in touch with any reality that went beyond my own grasping and addiction. I hurt others many times without being conscience of the pain I caused. At other times I would justify my unskillful action as necessary to stay away from my pain, to keep self safe. I didn't have right mindfulness or right concentration. There was a little intention to not cause harm to others, but the best I could do with right view was still to get away from the pain. My highest purpose was to survive, and stay away from the pain.

Over twelve years ago I stopped drinking and using drugs. That was a huge shift in my life. At that point, right intention and right effort came together into right action. I invested time and energy finding out how people lived without running from their pain, without self-medicating. View changed. I understood that I didn't have to keep running from this pain. That was the first big break through this habitual pattern. On an experiential level I came to understand that pain is transitory.

I remember what it felt like the first time I didn't run away from this huge storehouse of emotion, this dread, guilt and anguish that I had been avoiding for so long. I thought I would die. Solid self told me I would die if all this heavy emotion ever caught up. Solid self had kept me one step ahead of all this old pain by running toward sense pleasure and addiction. Here I was finally sitting down and meeting the pain. I lived through it! I was amazed that I lived through it.

I didn't know it then, but this was Buddha's first and third Noble Truth's, suffering exists and there is an end to suffering. I sat with my pain and heavy emotions again and again until, on an experiential level, I realized that solid self had lied to me. This pain would not kill me. Pain comes, moves through me, and then it goes. No feeling, thought, or emotion will stay around forever. I began to understand that whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. This shift in right understanding fueled my effort to meet uncomfortable feelings head on. It helped my concentration and I started a formal meditation practice.

Right understanding is clarified by the discovery of other invisible lenses I wear. My intention is to see judgments I have accepted as "the way it is" and to understand much of my "reality" is just habitual pattern. These patterns create a solid self that I have practiced over and over and over, but I have a choice. Once I see them, I have a choice.

The latest habitual pattern that has come to light was pointed out by Aaron. He was able to show me that I still have murderous rage. This wasn't a surprise. Even though I don't like to admit it, it wasn't a surprise. Aaron invited me to look at this, so I did. I was willing to take right action.

I went home and I literally laid down on my bed and stared at my murderous rage, and I was scared. Not because I was admitting for the first time that I had murderous rage. The question was, could I live without it? Could I even contemplate letting it go? I realized that this rage energy is one of solid self's strongholds. No matter what the threat is to me or mine, I can call upon this energy to kill the other. I can keep my solid self safe at this most basic level.

When I was drinking and using drugs, I would give energy to that habitual pattern. I would put myself in dangerous situations. I knew if an attack came I could unleash murderous rage and do great harm to the other and no one would blame me. Giving energy to this rage gave me feelings of power, strength and a heightened sense of being somebody. Now that I am living this Eight Fold Path to the best of my ability, the question was not, "can I get rid of this rage?" Rather, "can I acknowledge it and look at it in my life?" I know if I stay mindful and present, it will become clear how rage manifests in my life. What to do with this information will also become clear.

An opportunity soon presented itself. I was in the grocery store. I was in a hurry and wanted to make a quick trip. In front of me, in every aisle it seemed, was this couple that spoke German. I have past life issues there, so it was a great setup. They blocked the aisle. I couldn't get by them. So I had to back up and go to another aisle. It seemed that no matter where I tried to go, there they were. I felt this irritation. I wanted them to not be there. Who were they anyway, these foreigners in my grocery store? Didn't they know grocery store etiquette? What was their problem? About the fourth aisle I felt this wall of energy go out as if to annihilate them.

Because I had right intention to be mindful whenever this energy of murderous rage presented itself, I saw the habitual pattern. I realized the source of this energy was the wish to do harm to another. I realized that this energy is something for which I am responsible. Right speech was ok: I didn't yell at them. Right action on a physical level was ok: I didn't bludgeon them with frozen bread sticks.

Deep Spring Center is a "501(c)3" non-profit organization, guided by a Board of Directors. The Center's mission and goals are: a) to offer non-denominational spiritual teachings on non-duality; b) to teach and support the deepening of awareness of non-duality and related topics through the practice of meditation; c) to sponsor discussion groups, classes, retreats and workshops designed to provide support for spiritual growth and to further the teachings; d) to publish and distribute materials concerning these teachings; e) to foster a community of individuals interested in and practicing these teachings; and, f) to expand and re-define our specific teachings, always with spiritual focus, into directions the teachings themselves lead. But I threw this rage, this murderous rage energy, at them. I noticed it at a very experiential, deep level. I also realized that it was that same energy that kept all the other people in the grocery store as other-than, that they were nothing to me.

Then I remembered what I felt many other times, which is, they are me. There's no difference between myself and this German couple or anybody in the grocery store. We're all one. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of oneness, and of tenderness and compassion. Just how dear we all are. How tender it all is.

I didn't see the German couple again. When I went home I meditated on murderous rage in this and other lifetimes. I realized that solid self tells me that I must keep this body going for another two minutes or ten years at the cost of hurting anything and anyone else. That willingness to separate myself from others is the suffering. I sentence myself to years of isolation in this body by listening to solid self tell me it is me against "them."

There is no wound, no threat, on this earth that can harm spirit. To jeopardize my connection with the Ultimate to gain another year or minute or decade in one particular body is no longer a trade I automatically want to make. I saw how lifetime after lifetime I've perpetuated this pattern. Right view tells me that leaving this body doesn't have to be scary or terrible. With the freedom of right view giving up this body can be joyous. It's emancipation; it's going on to the next adventure.

I know I have more to learn about solid self finding safety in this body and the pattern of keeping this body safe with murderous rage. I know it will be revealed to me because I have a clear intention to let go of old habitual patterns. In my experience, these unexamined patterns are what keeps self solid. Each time I see through one of these patterns, I understand the essence of no-self a little better.

Dianne lives in Ann Arbor with her husband, two cats, a host of friendly outside animals and a beautiful garden. Her daughter attends a nearby college. She has been teaching art in the public schools for 28 years and has been meditating for ten years. Dianne is one of the Deep Spring meditation teachers and has been gratified to see the large interest in the beginning meditation classes that she co-teaches.

"The results of karma cannot be known by thought, and so should not be speculated about. Thus thinking, one would come to distraction and distress.
Therefore, Ananda, do not be the judge of people; do not make assumptions about others. A person is destroyed by holding judgments about others."

From the Anguttura Nikaya


"The whole world we travel with our thoughts,
Finding nowhere anyone as precious as one's own self.
Since each and every person is so precious to themselves
Let the self-respecting harm no other being."

From the Samyutta Nikaya

Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brodsky