Aaron on Being Present


Barbara's Talk on Dependent Arising

Aaron on Love, see Wednesday Night Group, February 14, 2001

Aaron on Being Present

Aaron on Passion

Letter from the President

A Few Thoughts on Gratitude, Sangha, and Service

Excerpt from Aaron's Wednesday Night Group

Barbara's Letter

Dear Friends,

It’s late June now; I’m writing from the porch of the "tree house," my cabin perched on a steep hillside deep in the Michigan woods. It’s truly a heaven realm. Yesterday morning as I swam down at the lake at dawn, a doe and a fawn emerged from the brush and began to drink. Quietly I swam close; they didn’t see me. I treaded water for half an hour, privileged to watch them drink, bathe and play. From where I sit now, the foliage has reached summer fullness, engulfing me in a thousand shades of green. Small patches of sky and lake shine through as traces of brilliant blue and silver. It’s very tranquil here. I wish I could bring you out to sit with me. I find this place brings me back to balance after a very busy year. I give myself more time to meditate, to walk and swim, to just stop and be present.

I’ve just looked over the dharma talks from this year’s retreats and found one I’d especially like to share. As I make such a choice, I’m aware I speak to a divergent group. Some of you practice Vipassana meditation and some may mostly be interested in Aaron’s broader perspective. But I think this is something that will speak to most of you. We’re all on a spiritual path, many of us seeking an unnamed goal. But that which we seek is right here in this moment, in every moment. It was there as I watched the deer; it’s here in the dense woods, and it’s also there in my experience with the dying bird I found yesterday beside the lake. How do we best integrate spiritual practice and experience with daily life so there is no separation?

I wish you all a summer of thunderstorms and rainbows, knows as non-dual.

With love, Barbara

Barbara's Talk on Dependent Arising

Talk from Tri-State Dharma Retreat, St. Anne’s Convent, Kentucky
Fourth night of retreatMarch 4, 2001

Last night Aaron talked about the Buddha's life and the four noble truths. Another central teaching is that of dependent arising. Very simply that means whatever has the nature to arise is a conditioned object and also has the nature to cease. Each object arises out of conditions. When conditions are present for it to arise, it will arise. When conditions cease, it will cease. The Buddha explained that the entire conditioned realm is like this. He also pointed out that there is an Unconditioned. As one example, in Udana he addresses a group of monks, and says: "Oh monks. There is an Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated. If it were not so there would be no reason for our practice."

The Theravada path first seems to focus on the conditioned—on all the arising of the conditioned realm and how we relate to it. People get the idea that somewhere down the end of the path they’ll have the experience of the Unconditioned. And that is true. But people have the mistaken idea that it’s a linear path and that only after walking it for a long distance will one finally emerge into the Unconditioned. And, they may believe that once one emerges into the Unconditioned, everything is forever changed, and that's it. We drop our practice and all go and play on the beach. I’m sorry; that's not how it works.

There are two distortions there. One, this experience of the Unconditioned is not something that comes just at the end of a long path. It may be that way but also we open into it constantly in subtle ways. The other distortion is to think there is a duality between conditioned and Unconditioned. There is no duality. I think of it like the ocean. The ocean has a surface that we can consider as analogous to the conditioned. The ocean has great depth too. There is always a surface, but that surface is just one expression of the totality of the ocean. If you get stuck on the surface and forget there is a depth, it seems there is only this one plane of being. But the depth is always there. Conversely we can get lost in the depth and forget that there is a surface. Practice mingling both: working with relative reality as it presents itself and also getting into deeper touch with the direct experience of the Unconditioned and never losing one for the other. This relationship between conditioned and Unconditioned is one expression of non-duality.

One of the things I find beautiful about the non-duality teachings is that they occur in all traditions, not just in Buddhism. There is a favorite book called Open Secrets (Human Kindness Foundation, 4th printing, 1999) by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. He writes it as if it was letters from a rabbi in the old country to his student in this country. They are very beautiful non-duality teachings that he says are part of traditional Jewish teaching. I'm going to read a little bit of it.

Some would argue that God is a divine spark inside each being. Others would argue that God is above and outside creation. I teach neither position. God is not inside or outside. God is the very thing itself. And when there is no thing but only empty space, God is that as well. Picture a bowl in your mind. Define the bowl. Is it just the clay that forms the bowl or the empty space that fills with soup? Without the space, the bowl is useless. Without the walls the bowl is useless. So which is the bowl? The answer is both. To be a bowl it must have both being—the walls, and emptiness—the space. It is the same with God. For God to be God, for God to be all, God must manifest as being, Yesh, and emptiness, Ayin. Yesh is the manifestation of God that appears to us as separate entities—physical, spiritual and psychological. Ayin is the manifestation of God that reveals all separation to be illusory: everything is simply God in differing forms. God is all. There is nothing else. This teaching is called shlemut, the completeness of God. To be shlemut, God must contain all possibilities and paradox. To be shlemut, God must transcend the notion of opposites and reveal everything as complementary. God must be both Yesh and Ayin, being and emptiness, simultaneously. Yesh and Ayin both reside in and are expressions of God's wholeness, shlemut. These three terms are crucial to understanding God and almost everything else. It is vital to everything we will discuss that you understand these three words. They are the key to your spiritual awakening and tranquility. Learn them well.

So this is a Hebrew presentation of it. Most spiritual traditions have some teachings on non-duality.

Buddhism is a non-theistic religion so it may seem strange that I am reading about God here. What is the difference? I'm not talking about a concept of God with a white beard and a cane—a puppet-master running things. I'm talking about God as simply this core energy of the universe. We could call it Ground of Being.

Remember that the Buddha was teaching in Hindu India. There were many gods to whom people prayed to do this and to do that—to bring fortune, to bring romance, to bring health. People really felt that if they lit candles and prayed the right way and were good enough, a god would hear them and answer their requests. The Buddha said, "You are responsible." He emphasized that people create their own karma and future. Abundance or lack of abundance, loving relationships or lack of them in their lives—these are dependent upon human choices and karma each person creates. In saying there is no God, the Buddha did not say there's nothing. He didn't say there's just a void. He said there it is, this Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated.

Our practice leads us to come into the direct experience of this Unconditioned and know it, not as something out there but as the core of the universe and of all things. What is this experience? It can’t be known by the self. How do we best work with the fear that may arise when we experience a sense of dissolution of self, and of everything, as we move toward this opening to the Unconditioned? How is it opened to stably, so it can be integrated into our lives and not just become "that experience," an object of grasping and memory. Let’s look a bit at these questions.

There is a historically taught progression of insights and I find that most people do follow this progression to a real degree, although there’s obviously personal variation within it. There’s a Buddhist commentary on the Scriptures called Visuddhi Magga in which this progression of the insights is clearly delineated. It is a massive tome, over 1000 pages with very precise detail and dense language. It’s brilliant in many ways and does describe this progression of insights well. It has some distortions too, which we will not discuss now.

First we see the relationship of mind and body, and experience how things arise and dissolve. We begin to open to the wondrousness of arising, to see how everything is always arising out of prior objects and conditions. There can be a tremendous amount of joy in that. Then for many people, there is a shift and dissolution becomes predominant. There may be a sense of fear. Everything’s dissolving: there's nothing to hold on to—terror.

I'm just glossing through the progressions of insights, touching on high points and not trying to note to each one here.

Some of you have talked to me this week about this experience. It's like coming to an edge of a cliff and feeling there's nothing there. We see the whole self-dissolve—the ego structure goes, the breath dissolves, the body dissolves and there is a sense of terror. It's all going to go. The fear is not just that I will dissolve and there will be nothing there; the whole universe will dissolve.

If one works skillfully with that experience of terror, one sees that the terror itself is just part of the conditioned mind, an empty object. One eventually breaks through terror into a sense of equanimity with arising and dissolution, a sense of spaciousness and clarity. From this spaciousness, one may open to a direct experience of the Unconditioned, and what is sometimes called a cessation experience. The whole body and the ego structure have dissolved, there is no thought anymore, there’s no self. But there’s still awareness and awareness becomes aware that it rests in an utterly peaceful space completely free of arising and dissolution. Sometimes, arising and dissolution are seen to go on beyond that still center; sometimes they seem to cease entirely. I like the image of a bouncing ball. There is one moment when it is neither coming down nor going back up. What if one were to rest deeply in that moment?

Some people drop into that experience early on in their practice. They have done other kinds of spiritual practice or have done spiritual practice in their past lives. Maybe they’re using drugs or have had a near-death experience. There are many different things that lead people to experience the Unconditioned. There is no awareness of being there that first time. Just the memory of it when one comes back and says, "Where was I? What was that? And how do I possibly integrate that with everyday reality?" Then people can get into a lot of trouble. There can be a lot of grasping and trying to reproduce the experience. There can be a lot of self-judgment, as one is aware of the luminosity and clarity of that space and may feel, "I can't live that. There is still all this anger in me. There is still all this greed." So people can get into different results based on this first opening into the Unconditioned.

Part of this situation is due to the way it is taught. Part of the distortion grows out of Visuddhi Magga itself and the whole idea that there’s a linear path that we should progress on. Certain traditions such as the Burmese Theravada tradition teach us this linearity in a very precise way. I was on a very long retreat a number of years ago with a well-known Burmese teacher. In the first interview I had with him he asked me to describe my practice. Because I am deaf, it was written in my notebook so I know precisely what he said, as the translator wrote it. He said, "This is good. You understand noting. Continue to note and the kilesas will stop. All the defilements will fall away and you'll arrive at the Unconditioned." Now I understand his good intention. But his focus was "do this, do this, do this and you'll have the result." He was not focused on whether I was ready to stably work with that result.

This is where people get unbalanced. We need to see that these profound peak experiences are not something to be strived after but a very natural fruit of practice. Such experience will open in a wholesome way when our intention is to come to it only when we are stably ready to use it for the good of all beings, to integrate it into our lives. Then we don't grasp after it. Then we bring our practice more into balance.

Work with whatever is there. It’s all part of practice. It may be body pain or experiences of greed or anger. It may be sadness, attachment or great joy. We work with the various delusions, confusions, comforts and discomforts. When practice becomes stable then spaciousness and clarity come. Then, when objects arise and dissolve, there is no strong attachment or aversion; there is clear seeing of their nature as impermanent and not self. We settle down. We are more ready then to open to these deeper experiences and to use them wisely—not to get lost in them, not to use them to escape our responsibilities.

Let’s look specifically at the terror at a sense of self-annihilation when experiencing dissolution. People feel, "I can't go there." This is where the non-duality teachings are so helpful. If there is a separate conditioned and Unconditioned, we would need to abandon one to reach the other. But what if they are non-dual?

Looking for a metaphor for the experience of the Unconditioned, I think of a giant cone. At the very bottom center would be the Heart of it, the space in which one experiences cessation. But everything in the conditioned realm is also within that space. The Unconditioned doesn’t give rise to the conditioned or it would also be part of the whole chain of conditions. Rather, it is all non-dual. The Unconditioned is the Ground out of which the conditioned expresses. The Unconditioned is right there in the conditioned and vice versa. But they are no more different than the ocean and the wave that’s one expression of the ocean. The Unconditioned is always there at the heart. To extend the ocean metaphor, the surface is there and the depth is there. When we swim, our heads are above the surface and when we duck down, we can see into the depth. We come up again and we see the surface and the sky and everything out of the water. They are both there together.

And the integration? If one has been given no prior way to recognize it, the first dropping into that experience leaves one really desperately trying to figure out, "What do I do with this?" But when you practice non-duality in the ways we have discussed in this retreat—for example, seeing both anger and non-anger are present, or reminding ourselves "that which is aware of anger is not angry" and seeing the presence of kindness, seeing that even in a moment of heavy emotion there is peace, kindness and openness—then we see a full picture, not just a fragment. When we start to focus also on the pure awareness mind itself, this already existing Pure Awareness, then the move into the direct experience of the Unconditioned is not so startling. It is a much more gradual transition. We are more able to stably work with it and bring it into our lives.

Some of you may be saying, "What does this have to do with me? I am not there yet." You are all there. This experience of the Unconditioned is not something that is going to come only after long years of practice. It is right here in every moment.

Some of you are familiar with Dzogchen, from the Tibetan tradition. This is the practice of non-dual pure awareness. It's a very beautiful practice. I have very little training in the larger Tibetan tradition but I have some training in Dzogchen. For a while I taught it as a separate practice. Increasingly over the past few years I am finding more ways to integrate it into Vipassana and everyday mindfulness, rather than separate these practices. A lot of what I have been saying in this retreat—that which is aware of whatever mind or body state is present is not the state itself; get to know this pure awareness and rest there—this is Dzogchen.

I'm going to read you something from the book The Flight of the Garuda,a very beautiful Dzogchen teaching poem. It’s divided into a series of songs. I'm reading from song 1.


I, the untroubled and carefree renunciant,
Will now sing this song about the view,
Entitled The Flight of the Garuda.

It enables one to swiftly traverse all the levels and paths.
Listen carefully, fortunate children of my heart!

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!

What I love is that these teachings run through all the different traditions. Kabir was a Sufi poet. This is from The Kabir Book, No. 33.

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

This already enlightened pure awareness is there. That doesn't mean we are all enlightened. It simply means that the essence, the enlightened mind, is there. There are many ways that we can begin to recognize this mind, our true nature. Vipassana practice takes us around one path: watching the whole nature of conditioned experience; developing wisdom about the characteristics of conditioned experience; each time checking out, is this it? Is this the Unconditioned, and we keep discarding objects because we don't recognize the Unconditioned in them. Along the way we may have a genuine experience of the Unconditioned, a direct experience, and even so we come back to everyday mind, everyday objects and ask, "Where did the Unconditioned go?" Finally we start to know it for what it is. The surface of the ocean and the depth. Non-dual!

Dzogchen takes a different route. It focuses on the already present pure awareness mind in the many different ways that we can see it. One common path of pure awareness practice brought into Vipassana is the practice of nada. Nada is the sound of silence.

Try this with me. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in and out. What we're going to do is accentuate the pause at the top of the in breath so we breathe in, pause, and breathe out. You can accentuate the pause at the bottom after the out breath also. Be very present with that pause. Breath in, pause—just listen—breathe out. It's not a sound you hear with your outer ear. It's an inner sound. It's not the rushing of blood through your veins—not that kind of the inner sound. It's a sound that many people hear in that spaciousness between the breaths. Perhaps some of you hear it, perhaps not. If you don't hear it, there is nothing wrong with you. This practice is easier for some people than others. This is simply one guidepost to use. It sounds a little like cicadas in the background, a faint chirping kind of sound. Sometimes when I point this out to people they say, I have heard that for years. This is Nada, the sound of silence. I hear it when I’m very present, not just in the breath but also as an ongoing background.

The Unconditioned is constantly expressing itself out into the world in various ways. Most expressions of the Unconditioned are conditioned expressions. The objects, the physical sensations, the thoughts—these are all what I call expressions of the Unconditioned. But there are also unconditioned expressions. We might call them characteristics of the Unconditioned. Nada is a characteristic of the Unconditioned. I had heard this sound for years; I thought it was related to my deafness! I never paid much attention to it until a friend, who is a senior Buddhist monk, and I were talking about practice. He said, "Do you ever work with nada?" And I asked what it was. His teacher, Ajahn Sumedo, whom some of you may have heard of, teaches this as his main practice. Nada, the sound of silence. So for me it was a surprise. "That's what that noise is." I have learned to stay with it. If I don't hear it, it is an indication to me that I am not present. It's there all the time. When mind is caught up in something—contracted tight, then I don't hear nada anymore. Then I ask after it: "Where is it? Come back to spaciousness." It's like looking above the water and losing track of what's going on below and then just looking down. Look into the depths. It's all there together.

Another characteristic of the Unconditioned, one that’s taught in Dzogchen, is called ground luminosity. Again many of you may have seen this and not really thought much about it or been puzzled and just let it go. This is a radiance. It is not light in the conventional sense. It's a radiance that emanates from everything. It is not an aura; it is not energy in that way. It is just radiance. Doing formal Dzogchen practice, one's eyes are open. After some time with the practice there may be this sense of radiance everywhere, the luminosity of the Ground of Being radiating out from all the expressions of that ground. People who are more visual seem to see the ground luminosity more. People who are more aural seem to hear nada.

Both of these are simply gentle signposts pointing out "the experience of the Unconditioned is right this way. Don't get lost. Don't think it's somewhere off there in a dual realm. It is right here in this moment." As people expand their practice to bring in nada or ground luminosity, they begin to open to the pure awareness mind, this always-present Awareness. Instead of focusing on the experience itself, they may begin to note that which is aware of the experience. I repeat, perhaps too often for your liking, "that which is aware of thinking is not thinking; that which is aware of anger is not angry." And so on. Be aware! Be with both; know what is arising, and also see the spacious awareness and rest in it, knowing arising without being pulled away by it, into attachment and aversion. But if attachment or aversion arise, that which is aware of them is not attached, not adverse. Just rest there.

When people practice in this way, then when they eventually come through this progression of insights and everything is dissolving—instead of only fear, there is also a sense of recognition. Mind notes dissolution; if there is terror, we note terror. "That which is aware of the terror is not terrified. That which is aware of dissolution cannot dissolve but is the Uncreated itself. Here is the Ground. Rest there and watch. Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. It’s impermanent and not me or mine. It will go." So there is more trust, and much more ability to be with difficult or frightening experience and see the characteristics in it rather than getting caught in the stories.

This is the doorway where the stories dissolve, where awareness is present and awake, and those cittas are open which can directly perceive the Unconditioned. The first time that one moves into it, there is rarely knowing of being there but only the memory afterward. Later times that one comes into this experience, there’s more presence, a broader mindfulness. The level of presence seems to be directly related to the level of comfort and stability based on one's prior experience with these characteristics of the Unconditioned. It's familiar territory. We do not feel as lost. So we are able to be more mindful.

The direct experience of the Unconditioned could also be called the direct experience of the divine, the direct experience of this Ground of Being, or whatever you want to name it. We experience the fullness of it. We experience the beauty of it, the peace of it. It really is life changing. For some people there's this big plunge in and for others it's like wading—a little bit deeper and a little bit deeper, getting to know it a little bit more, integrating it into your everyday life, wading a little bit deeper and integrating a bit more. The integration is so important. There is no rush. For me the greatest fruit of these experiences is that this Ground of Being becomes a stable part of everything. Then we can’t lose it any more.

An image that comes to mind: Some years ago on the last day of a retreat in North Carolina, the whole retreat went swimming in a river that had class four or five rapids. Beside the river were very large rocks, up to 15 feet high. You could climb up on the rocks and jump down into the water. It was scary. The rapids were formidable. But it was a deep, safe place to jump. By the end of a distance the size of this room, suddenly the water was only waist deep and you could just put your feet down. The bottom was sandy; there were no rocks. We invited people to enter the water anyway they chose, just to watch the fear, the emotions that were coming up. Remember this was the last day of a weeklong retreat. People were pretty settled and people did what they thought was appropriate for them. I remember jumping off the big rock the first time with a lot of terror, feeling myself swirling head over heels in the water. This little voice in my head saying, "Its safe. Just put your feet down and stand up." When I did that, the water was rushing fast but not so fast that I couldn't touch bottom. In another moment it was only hip deep. Then I went back and jumped again. I allowed myself to experience being tumbled head over heels, watched the fear, watched the wisdom that said "Okay, whenever you are ready, put your feet down and stand up." After I had done that a dozen times, there was just the immediate awareness that it was okay to let the current tumble me because whenever I wished, I could put my feet down and stand up. The stable bottom is always there.

This for me is like working with the direct experience of nada and ground luminosity, and nurturing the experience of pure awareness, getting to know this pure awareness mind. It is this firm stable ground that is always there. No matter how much I am tumbled in relative reality, there is always the awareness that all I need to do is "put my feet down and stand up," figuratively speaking. I can't lose this Ground of Being. It becomes so stable.

It makes it easier to go deeper into these cessation experiences. But that is not the point of it. One who will develop the ability to do that is the one who is ready to do it. Much more important, one doesn't get lost in the conditioned anymore. Some of you express this as equanimity with what is arising, not a lot of aversion or attachment to what is arising. That is good. When I say that is good, I mean it is pleasant, it is helpful, a lovely experience. But it goes even deeper. When the duality is cut through, there is just this constant experience of that which is—whatever we name it—this Unconditioned that is always there. It has always been the Ground of Being, but it now becomes the ground of our personal being. Then we're much more able to relate skillfully in the world. When very strong turmoil comes up, spinning you head over heels, you never lose this awareness—just put your feet down. This Ground of Being is there.

I want to read you song 2 from The Flight of the Garuda.


Fortunate noble children, listen without distraction!

All the victorious ones of the three times teach the 84,000 sections of Dharma.
Although the number of these teachings
Is limitless, like the boundless expanse of sky,
They are given only for the purpose of realizing the nature of mind.
Beyond this, the victorious ones don’t teach anything.

For example, if a tree is cut down at the root, its thousands of leaves and branches will all simultaneously wither.
Similarly, cutting the root of one’s mind dries up all the appendages of samsara, such as grasping and fixation.

Like a lamp which in one instant can illuminate a house which has lain dark and uninhabited for a thousand years,
A moment’s realization of the luminosity of one’s mind purifies the accumulated evil deeds and obscurations of countless aeons.

The nature of the sun’s disc is radiance that a thousand aeons of darkness cannot obscure.
Similarly, luminosity is the nature of one’s mind that aeons of confusion cannot darken.

Just as the nature of the sky transcends the limits of color and shape
And is never stained by storm or light clouds,
The nature of mind also transcends the limits of color and shape
And is never veiled by the heavy or light phenomena of virtue and evil deeds.

Butter is made of the essence of milk,
But if the milk isn’t churned, the butter won’t form.
Sentient beings are made of the essence of perfection
But if they don’t practice, they won’t be enlightened.
Anyone who practices this teaching will be liberated.
It doesn’t matter if one’s intellect is sharp or dull—
With practice even a herdsman will gain liberation.

When you directly perceive the luminosity of your mind,
There is no need to listen to theories about it.
When you have molasses right on your tongue,
You don’t need to be told how it tastes.

Even a scholar remains deluded if he hasn’t realized this teaching.
No matter how skilled he may be in discussion of high mind states,
That’s like describing a faraway place he’s never seen.
Enlightenment is further away than the sky from the earth.

Though you may practice discipline for aeons And practice patience for a long time,
You won’t rise above the realms of samsara
Unless you perfectly realize your mind’s luminosity.
Because of this, work hard at cutting the root of mind.

So we have these two ways to realize mind's luminosity. The traditional Theravada path for which I have the utmost respect has been around for a long time. It is sufficient unto itself. But in this culture we have been given the opportunity to practice dharma in different ways than were possible for one practitioner one hundred years ago. We have been given access to all of these teachings and the ability to take what is useful in different traditions and integrate them into our practice. So I find that this attendance on the pure awareness mind in its various aspects can be in an enormous support to practice. It can give us a real sense of where we are going before we get there, a real taste of it. Vipassana is still the heart of it. I'm not suggesting we put that aside in any way. Only be aware of this already present Buddha nature. Don't lose track of it.

Let us sit for a minute. With each inviting of the bell I'm going to let the sound die out completely. Listen to it—hearing, hearing—stay with it all the way through until it’s gone. In that moment before a new sound replaces it or before you move to your breath, just be present with what is there. Perhaps you'll hear nada, perhaps not. Don't try to hear nada. Just let it be there if it is there. Tensionless effort—relaxed.

Rest in that moment of spaciousness before the next object arises, just resting there with whatever is there.

Aaron on Being Present

April 25, 2001 – Wednesday Night Group

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron.

What does it mean to be present? I'd like you to visualize something with me. You are sitting on a surfboard just off shore in the ocean. Around you children are playing. You're the lifeguard. Waves come in, lift you up and set you down. After a while a large wave comes in, and lifts the board. Mind says, "Oh, I need to ride that." Mind grabs hold. You start paddling your surfboard; the wave catches you and takes you all the way into shore. What will happen to the children?

Unless you are present, you cannot attend to the affairs of this moment. That may sound obvious, but most of you catch every second or third wave, and you completely miss what is happening in this moment, in this place.

To be present with experience is just that. It's not to fix experience; it's not to change things. Change may come and your loving attention to a situation may help bring it back into balance. But you are not trying to balance it. Right effort is to be present.

Let me explain how this works. I will use two somewhat extreme examples, juxtaposed against each other. You are sitting in meditation. There is a growing pain in your back. It wasn't there when you began to sit. You bring attention to the pain. Sharp jabs of pain, spasms, tingling, heat. There's no one place in your back where it is but it moves around a bit, staying in the back. But if you had to put your finger on it, you could not do so.

You watch it. It's very unpleasant. Your breathing becomes a bit heavier. You feel, "I cannot sit still with this pain." Then the thought comes up, "I shouldn't try to fix it." So you begin to do a formal practice of metta: "May I be free of suffering. May all beings be free of suffering." To some degree this is skillful. It's a more helpful option than to sit and judge yourself or simply to hate the pain. But the next thing you know you're off on that surfboard. Your whole energy is wrapped around being somebody attending to something solid. The metta becomes a way of escaping the experience of pain and indirectly may be used as a way to fix the pain. There may be the thought that if you do it well, the pain will either go away or not be noticed. This doesn't mean we do not practice metta, but there are many forms of metta and different times when one or another is most appropriate.

If you're very present in that moment with the intention to metta, you may notice the desire to fix the pain. Some of you might say, "Well, Aaron, I've got to. I can't stand it." If you really can't endure it, that "can't stand it" tension has become the primary object. Watch that tension in yourself. What is "can't stand it"? Where do you feel it in the body? How does it appear to you? For Barbara it would be a tightening of the jaw. For some of you it might be a tightening in the chest or the belly, the way your muscles tighten when you hold your arms up as if to push something away, that tightening across the shoulders and back. That might be the experience of "can't stand it".

At this point, metta might not be offered in a formal recitation but rather could be expressed by the willingness to be present with the pain, to observe it breaking into little pieces and to observe the resistance to it. There is nothing you can point to and say, "That's the pain, right there!" or "That's the aversion." As the pain does fall into small pieces, presence focuses on this tension of aversion. The experiences of pain and aversion are still there. Moving through pain, the tension around wanting to fix, wanting to be free of the pain, becomes predominant. So there is the physical experience, pain, and then the relationship to pain. But you can only see this shift in the primary object if you are present. Otherwise, as with the surfboard, it's as if the current had swept you far away. You are then a "somebody" trying to control pain.

The currents will always carry you. It takes effort to stay present. If you are not present, you will go on staying with the pain even when strong aversion is present. You will think that the pain is the proper object. You may know that to hate the pain is not a proper attitude, that kindness is a proper attitude. But then become somebody solid trying to be kind to something solid. This is just creating more delusion. I'm not saying the pain is a delusion. But the idea that the pain is something solid that one must fix is delusion.

When you are present as the pain begins to break up into small pieces, you may bring your attention to the strong aversion to pain if it's there, or to any grasping attitude. If neither is present, come back to the breath. Even if the pain doesn't break up, grasping or aversion may become predominant. First there is awareness of the unpleasant quality of the physical sensation, then awareness of the contracted energy, wanting that sensation to cease. Grasping!

Now what is that grasping? Again, in the beginning it feels like a proper object—grasping. But if you're present with it, it also begins to break apart. It grew out of conditions, is impermanent, will cease. What is grasping, separate from any stories that arise with it? There's nobody grasping. There's just energy that moves and shifts, goes through phases of feeling solid and then breaks up again. Proper attitude is presence with grasping, knowing it as a movement of the mind and body but impermanent and not self. That which is aware of grasping is not grasping. Just rest in awareness and watch "grasping" without buying into its stories.

So these are two ways of practice we could compare to one another. Being with the proper object, which changes of course, with a proper attitude, a kind, spacious presence. Being with an improper object, that is, hanging on to an object because there is such strong desire to control and be safe. The latter path enhances self. There's no freedom there.

The difficulty for you is that naturally you want to be safe. Wanting safety, you seek to control. Everybody wants to be in control. I can understand that. But when you bring this contraction of fear-based control to any experience, it creates more solidity and fear. What sets you free is seeing things as they are.

Let's play with this a little. What if I set down a tame little mouse in the middle of your seating area. Which way is he going to run? I'm not talking about a big rat. I'm not talking about anything vicious: a little mouse. You've seen me holding and patting him. Those who feel, "Oh, wonderful! Maybe he'll climb on my lap," I'm not talking to you! We'll find a snake or something else for your practice!

Watch yourself. Imagine me about to set it down. Can you see that impulse that I would call desire to control? You must get to know that impulse in yourself and to begin intimately to know, first the habitual tendency, wanting to be safe, and then the outflow, impulse to control.

In the relative world you can control some things. If it's raining you can come indoors. If it's cold you can turn up your heat. If you're hungry, you can find a meal. But there are going to be times when you are stuck out in the rain or cold. There are going to be times when no food is available or after you eat you become hungry again. You're never going to be able to stay comfortable. Give up that illusion. I do not say "stay out in the rain" or "starve yourself." Attend to your needs in a loving way. But watch this grasping contraction that even starts to imagine that it might rain, upon hearing the weather report in the morning, and frets all day because you didn't bring your umbrella. That's suffering.

Watch yourself while the sky is clear, thinking, "What if it storms?" Certainly you can plan. There is a difference between planning and dwelling on planning and the situation. Dwelling, the mind becomes obsessive. It can't let go. "I left my umbrella home." "What will I eat for dinner?" Mind is spinning, trying to stay safe. The idea of rain or staying dry is no longer primary, but fear and wanting to be safe is primary. Of course I am using a very simplistic example here. Few of you would obsess to this degree over the weather and lack of umbrella.

"What if it rains? I should have brought the umbrella." You're not present. You're off on a wave now. Come back. What is this obsessive mind? Can you watch it and not get caught in the stories? "What if it rains? I should have brought my umbrella." Know the obsessive mind as obsessive mind, grasping and agitated.

This no longer has anything to do with the weather and availability of the umbrella. This is habit. Fear and worry are primary here. They may not be based on any immediate deep concern. If you ask yourself, "Does it matter?" you'd say no. But there's still that pull to go and look out the window, still the mind obsessed with the thoughts about the umbrella.

Here, I would simply note, "tension, tension." Feel the contraction that accompanies the tension. Where is it held in the body? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? Probably it's quite unpleasant. Watch mind spinning, trying to control.

Probably the primary object at this time is the strong desire to be safe and comfortable. There may be a deep sense of sadness, feeling "I can't control this." If you're present you'll see the sadness. There may be a feeling of helplessness. You'll see that if you're present. Kindness here is just the willingness to be present with sadness or helplessness, and with fear or memories, if they come up. Perhaps there is a memory of being four years old and caught in a rainstorm, and how terrified and uncomfortable you were, dragging behind a parent, who instead of picking you up to comfort you said, "Come on! Come on! It's raining!" Who knows where the negative conditioning came from. It doesn't really matter. You don't have to analyze it. Simply, here is sadness, helplessness, fear, anger, whatever presents itself.

What about proper attitude? I said this is an attitude of presence, kindness, spaciousness, yet even these change. Kindness can be misused, as a way to separate you from experience. I've talked to you before about what I call the "smokescreen effect". That is where we raise the question, "If I were not experiencing this (sadness/fear/anger/etc.), what might I be experiencing?" Some of these emotions may be very unpleasant and very difficult. Acting out the impulse or obsessing on the situation releases you from the need to go deeper. If you are willing to be present with contraction, not to fix the contraction but just to watch it, then you begin to understand that it is impermanent; you stop taking the story line so personally. Conversely, the thought and action, "I should offer metta to this contraction," is just a subtle way to try and fix it. You may think if you practice right it's going to go away. That's not true. If you practice right, you're going to see it as it is. Since it's impermanent, eventually it will go away. But you're not making it go away, you're just with it.

So here is what poses as a proper attitude but really is not. Metta becomes an improper attitude as soon as it has a, let's call it, a blackmail effect. "If I just do this right, then that will happen." You get hooked into doing the metta, breathing, even trying to focus and stay with some experience.

So you sit there at your desk and decide, "I will not go to the window or out the door to check the weather. I'm just going to sit with this discomfort." Perhaps, as I suggested, sadness comes in. Just sit with the sadness without trying to fix it. Present. Each time mind tries to move away, gently come back.

When you are with the sadness, it starts to break into pieces. Like everything else, there's nothing solid there. There was an experience of sadness and now it's gone. Maybe then rage comes up. With the rage may come the childhood memory or it may not. It doesn't matter. If the memory comes, then you can note, "remembering," and perhaps allow the experience of anger that the child had been denied. If you don't remember, then you just note the anger.

You are not trying to fix anything. What happens is when you are with your direct, bare experience—joy or sadness, rage or gratitude, confusion or clarity, whatever the experience is—it reveals its impermanence, and leads you into the deep wisdom of what we mean by no-self. The karma that keeps bringing that particular object into your experience begins to resolve itself because you are with it in a different way.

This is subtle and important. The karma that I'm talking about is not specifically the karma about that child's anger at being dragged through the rain. It's much bigger than that. It's the karma that has you repetitively being somebody creating something, and then creating something more and more, never present, always behind the smokescreen, never fully in your body, never fully in your experience. This never-present kind of karma is what keeps you moving through this cycle of birth and death. If you want freedom you've got to stay present.

The proper object is constantly changing, but the practice I am suggesting is not a jumping from one experience to another. Mind is steady, deeply focused, and able to take whatever is predominant. Here is the circus parade of life presenting itself one float at a time. Be with it and then let go. No attachment, no aversion.

What if I handed you an ice cube? Certainly as you took it in your hands, it would be the proper object, very much commanding your attention. Within a minute or two it melts. Where did it go? The ice cube is no longer the proper object; it's gone. The sensation in the hands may be the proper object. They're wet and cold. Then I hand you a towel. The towel itself is the object for a moment and the act of drying. Then I take the towel. The ice cube, the wetness, the towel, the act of drying, are all gone. If mind runs back to them, is it with the memory, with residual feelings and thoughts, with residual physical sensation? Know each for what it is.

Proper object, then, keeps changing. If it changes and nothing else presents itself, we return to the breath. If it changes and there is confusion about what is predominant, you return to the breath, then know "confusion" as object, or perhaps grasping at knowing. The proper attitude is kindness and presence. At times, kindness may mean the recitation of a formal metta. At other times, it may mean going in and warming your hands if they're frozen from the ice cube. At times kindness simply means presence, I know of no other way to say it. Presence. Not drifting away. And if there's a current that pulls you, be willing to note that current and paddle your way back to where you need to be.

Watch for this in your daily lives, especially this, what I have called smokescreen effect. You know I like the question, "If I were not experiencing this right now, what might I be experiencing?" Any time you ask that question, there's a good indication that you're not with the proper object.

What I've been talking about here will make the most sense to those of you who practice Vipassana meditation, but you do not have to be a Vipassana practitioner to work with these instructions. You don't even have to meditate. Simply know what's what: what's happening in your body, what's happening in your mind. If it feels so overwhelming that you feel you can't get close to it then simply note, "overwhelmed." If there's excruciating physical pain, having fallen and injured yourself, or getting a bad stomachache, know there's pain. Watch that which wants to control. See how that wanting becomes predominant. Watch it in the work place when somebody speaks rudely to you, or piles a big batch of work on your desk just when you thought you were finished. Aversion. Feeling out of control. Watch mind wanting to fix, wanting to control. Just be aware that you can get hooked on these waves and be swept into shore. You lose touch with what's happening and therefore you lose touch with the ability to respond appropriately. If you're on shore, you can't attend appropriately to what's happening 100 yards at sea.

For so many of you this impulse to control is based more on habit than on fear. Get to know this in yourself. Ask yourself each time, "Do I need to do that? Do I need to run to the window and check the weather? Do I need to talk back in self-defense? Can I just sit? Can I just be present and allow spontaneous wisdom to arise, which allows skillful and loving response; not me responding, response responding. Presence responding." Watch this even with pleasant experience, how the direct physical experience shifts into grasping or some other relationship with the object. It all flows through. To stay present, there must be a balance of attention, kindness, courage, and effort. With these in place, wisdom will come.

I thank you for your attention.

Aaron on Passion

May 2, 2001 – Wednesday Night Group

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. It is such a joy to sit here in this lovely room, share the energy of all of you and the beautiful evening. Such a gift. I might say it brings me great joy.

People have asked me this week about passion and dispassion. We were talking in class Monday night about coolness, the coolness of deep understanding, where the energy no longer becomes so agitated but there's a great spaciousness and peacefulness. Can that peacefulness co-exist with passion? People say to me, "Aaron, I don't want to give up being passionate. I fear I'd turn into a dead lump, devoid of feeling." But this is not the path of your maturity, to become mere shells. Your path takes you into fullness and exuberance. I think the difficulty is that you mistake the term passion for grasping and attachment.

When you're passionate about something, often you get quite worked up over it. You debate with others about it with some attachment. But passion does not have to include that kind of grasping or aversion. It does not have to include any contraction of energy. I see passion as a very spacious experience, deeply joyful.

Passion is a quality which is natural to you. All of you are inherently passionate, alive. Let me ask you something. Could you walk along a very beautiful beach at sunset, soft waves lapping in the shore and gorgeous colors spread out over the sky and water, without a strong, joyous presence with it? And yet, once the sun set, would there be any grasping? "I want my sun back. I want the colors back." You let the evening go, naturally. There's no grasping, and yet there is what I consider passion.

When people talk about dispassion, I think they are often talking about smothering that grasping which poses as passion. This imitator can come from a very strong place of self where there is much fear and grasping, much need to control. To me, passion denotes sheer joy, totally devoid of fear; it is present, awake, and totally connected to that which it is passionate about. The sunset isn't outside me. All those colors simply reflect my own inner light.

So often in the dharma teachings we hear instructions to watch what arises to see how it is impermanent and not self, how it arises and then fades. Or watch the object arise and then watch any grasping energy. The unspoken distortion that comes in here is, "Kill the grasping," but that's not true dharma. There's no need to kill anything. Whatever you kill, you're killing yourself. You're killing the world and all its beings.

If there is strong emotion, either attachment or aversion around something that has arisen, and one observes the object itself and then the attachment or aversion, each in its turn becomes the primary object. To watch aversion is not to be caught in the stories of aversion. All those thoughts of "I should, he should, this is good, this is bad, I want it this way, I don't want it that way"—they're stories.

Then the less skillful meditator starts to believe, "I have to control these thoughts." For example, there may then be a thought, "What should I do about all this grasping and aversion?" But the question, and thought that one needs to do anything but note the arising, is just another thought. We call it proliferating thought, papancha, in Pali. The whole continuum is a story.

When the first thought arises, then you see the grasping or aversion and the subsequent thought, "What should I do about it?" What if you just note, "Question, question"? Note that there's tension in the question. Note the state of contraction.

So we see the question arise, we see the tension, wanting an answer. You stay with whatever is predominant. It may be a feeling of unknowing. Grasping, "What should I be doing? I need an answer." There may be a feeling of frustration, helplessness, "I can't figure this out." But these are not the stories; this is the direct experience of helplessness or confusion or grasping.

When you are spaciously present with any of these movements of mind and body, patient, willing to watch them arise and stay present with that which is predominant, then you see it as it is. There is tension. That which is aware of the tension is not tense. Right there with tension is spaciousness. Just rest there! The story dissolves itself. The question, "What should I do about this grasping?" resolves into, "Ah, here is that aspect of the self that wants certainty. Wanting to be right, wanting an answer. Isn't that interesting? Here it is again, and again. Ahhh." It is noted with kindness.

And then you come back to the situation, whatever it was. People who were angry at you, your aversion to their anger and your grasping to fix it, or something very lovely that you want to have for your own. You just come back to it. Here is grasping; here is aversion. It is their nature to arise when conditions are present for them to arise. It is their nature to cease when those conditions cease. Through kind presence I resolve the conditions, allowing the grasping to cease. You do not grasp further, grasping at the end of grasping. Instead there is presence, spaciousness and kindness.

Passion can begin to express itself then into that spaciousness. There is a feeling that you do not need to solve or fix or hold onto or change anything. Somebody is angry at you. They disagree with you about something. You don't have to figure out who is right or who is wrong. You can simply hear their pain, hear their clarity or their confusion, your own clarity and confusion. A certain kind of passion may arise to allow truth to emerge, to allow reconnection to emerge if it will.

So the heart opens and there is a passion not to prove you were right, which is an attachment, but simply a passion for the beauty of this moment in which two souls need to discuss their differing views, to hear and be heard. That's something you can be passionate about because there's no attachment to it, there is simply allowing this opening to happen.

You may be passionate about music or art, about gardening or dancing, about books or a loving relationship. Your heart may sing with the joy of these experiences and the aspiration to share them with others, to offer this beauty to others.

Now, if you're a gardener and you love your flowers, you can begin to preach to others, "You should plant a garden." You become attached to being right, to saving others. You've lost passion. We don't have a word for it in English. I think agitation is the closest we can come. It's no longer passion. Can you feel the difference? That if you are a gardener and you speak lovingly about the joys of your gardening, and people ask you, "I'd like to plant some of those flowers; can you tell me what to do?" then you can share it passionately, openheartedly. And if they plant their flowers and two weeks later their flowers die because they don't care for them, that's okay. You don't have to make anybody be something special, a gardener or a musician or an appreciator of fine literature. There's no attachment. There's just love.

I think it's so important to understand this, that true dharma practice does not lead you to become a shell of a human, devoid of feeling. Only suffocation of your inner light can lead you to become that empty shell. True dharma practice leads you to burst out with that light into the world, offering it freely, but never forcing it on anyone or anything. There is such a joy to it.

We talk a lot about emptiness and I think misunderstanding of this word is one of the areas of confusion. People think that if they are "empty" there should be nothing there, but this is misunderstanding. It means there's no longer a strong self-concept that rules everything, so that all your speech and actions flow from this I. With self there is still a somebody. Somebody says the words; somebody offers the flowers. When you come into that centered space, it's no longer self that smiles or sweeps the floor or offers the flowers, it's simply beingness, which is alive and filled with passion.

This term no-self really means there is no ultimate, independent self. We can see this so easily in the tree. The tree has leaves. The leaves drop off in autumn. Are the leaves the tree? No. The tree is still a tree with or without its leaves, and yet if the leaves ceased to exist entirely there could be no tree. So the leaves are an expression of the tree and the tree needs the leaves. They are not separate. Is the trunk the tree? Are the roots the tree? Well, without the roots there could not be a trunk. Without the leaves there could not be a trunk. Maybe we could say that the little seed is the tree. But what was that seed before it became seed? It was simply potential inherent in another tree, ready to burst into being. There is no tree, just a summation of parts, which of course includes the sun and the rain, the nutritious earth, and the bird who ate the fruit and dropped the seed. Tree includes earthworms that fertilize the soil, and your own compost. All of these are the tree. It is all interdependent. The tree has no ultimate, independent self.

But no one can say that the tree doesn't exist. Look at it out the window. The tree is a concept, a compilation of non-tree elements that, for lack of any other word, we call tree. We can look at it and say, "Oh, look at that green and brown compilation of non-tree elements," but it's simpler to say, "Look at the tree." It's just a label. It's a concept.

So what is this self? It's a compilation of non-self elements. Here are the traditional skandas of form, feelings, perception, mental formations, consciousness. Broken down further, it's all of the cellular structure of the body, the neurons, the breath; it's all the kindness and all the meanness, all the love and all the fear. The self is a collection of non-self elements, all of which have arisen out of conditions.

Once you recognize that you are not any of this, then you may ask, "What am I?" You are simply light, intelligence, energy, awareness. You are the pure spring, deep underground and about to push its way to the surface of the earth and become a mighty river. You are the plant about to wake up from a long winter, grow through the soil and become a radiant flower. You are the sunshine, not yet come over the horizon, which will light a clear day.

You are all of these and so much more. Why limit yourself to being this body, these thoughts? It is such a waste to limit yourself like that.

So no-self is not nothing; it's very much a something. But you have to understand what it is. No-self is just a way of talking about one's true nature in the same way one uses the term tree to talk about all of these non-tree elements come together. Not-self includes the body, includes the thoughts. They are expressions of this no-self. But what I want you most to understand, my dear ones, is that when you rest in this place of no-self, rest there deeply, you are the tree that has put out its roots to the core of the earth, and entwined those roots with every other tree in the forest. Without the ground or sun or rain, and all the animals and insects, you could not exist. This is the heart we all share and it is not dead and dispassionate. It does not suffer, nor is it agitated, attached, grasping, nor filled with aversion and ill will. It is the already present Awakened Heart.

You must come to know this space in your experience. It's so much easier for you to focus on painful experience. You have a moment of deep connection and then it passes and you don't pay much attention to it. And of course you don't want to pay the wrong kind of attention. By "wrong kind of attention" I mean attention that inflates the self, "I had this experience." Awareness had this experience. Not my awareness. Presence, wakeness, felt somehow the innate connection with everything, and in that moment of connection, fear dissolved. The radiant heart opened, and passion was born.

I think when you use the teachings as a way to exclude the experience of passion, it is really a sign of your fear, that you are afraid to be that big, that unlimited and that radiant, but are afraid of your power. Passionless is powerless, it's dead. Why do you want to cling to that death? What frightens you so about your true radiance?

I think the primary fear is that as humans you still do possess negative traits. I think you are afraid of your power because you do not feel fully in control of those negative traits. If you are limited, your negativity is limited. You erroneously think that if you acknowledge your unlimitedness, your negativity also will be unlimited, so you have to think small.

Anybody who wants to express unlimited negativity can certainly find the means to do so, but all of you on a conscious spiritual path who see into the roots of negative thought have at least begun to learn the power of kindness to create a container for that negativity so it does not reflect out into the world. There is no duality here.

If negativity arises in you, can this immense radiance of being stretch just a bit further to hold that negativity with kindness? You don't have to fix it; it will go away on its own when the conditions cease to support it. Your work is simply to remember, "I don't have to enact this. But if I do enact it out into the world a bit, I can watch the suffering that is caused, can apologize and learn to be more careful the next time."

So I find that passion is an expression of your non-dual awareness and only when you rest deeply in that non-dual awareness can you express the fullness of your passion. I challenge you. May is a good month for this because everything is bursting into bloom and the earth itself is passionate. What would allow you to be more passionate in your lives? Please reflect on that this month, and if you have some insights, please share them with me.

I thank you for your attention. I love you passionately! That is all.

Letter from the President

Hello Friends,

I would like to update you on what has been happening in and around Deep Spring Center since our last newsletter.

At our fundraising/membership invitational held in March, the Board asked our local community how it felt about becoming a membership organization. We also asked if the community was ready to support buying or renting a home of our own with a commitment of time and/or a monetary gift. Approximately fifty people attended the event and most have responded to the questions that were posed. Most said that they felt deeply committed to the teachings and wanted to become members. Several said that they would be happy to serve on committees, the Board or on time-limited projects. We welcome all our volunteers with open arms. Many were able to give a financial gift. Either to the ongoing expense fund or to the building fund. The total given to the ongoing expense fund is $6,600.00 for the next year. Support for the building fund over the next year is $17,040.00, and over the next three years is $43,080.00.

The fundraising committee is in the process of contacting the greater sangha, those who live more than two hours away and were unable to attend our March fundraising event. The committee will ask the same questions about membership and support. When all of the information is in, the committee will make it available to the whole sangha.

The Deep Spring Center classes that are held through the Ann Arbor Department of Recreation and Education are very well attended. During the fall and winter semesters we hold three classes, and during the summer semester we hold one. This year our summer class has a registration of 37 beginning and continuing students.

The Deep Spring Center teacher training is one of the only such training classes in the country. The teachers in training attend class every other week throughout the year. They also have two intensive sessions a year where they come together for a concentrated period of time to meditate, give dharma talks on specific Buddhist teachings, and explore topics related to everyday practice. This summer the intensive will be held at Dottie and Bernie Coyne’s Sunnyside property and will span four days. Currently, there are fourteen student in the teacher training class: Dianne Austin, Ann Barden, Carol Blotter, Cassie Cammann, David Coupland, Dottie Coyne, Larissa Czuchnowsky, John Gutoskey, Susan Klimst, Kris Kurnit, David Lawson, Kate Leshock, Frank Levey and Susan Weir.

The site search committee is keeping their eyes open for rental property as well as for property to buy. They will keep us posted if an appropriate property becomes available.

We now have two new Board members. Dottie Coyne and Aiji Pipho, both of whom have been associated with Deep Spring since the beginning, made the three-year commitment to serve on the Board. Dottie took over the role of taking minutes at our Board meetings and Aiji became our information technology liaison. Welcome, Dottie and Aiji.

As you can see, there has been quite a high level of activity (as usual) since our last newsletter. Again, we than you all for your input and presence.

In lovingkindness,

Kris Kurnit

A Few Thoughts on Gratitude, Sangha, and Service

By Kalindi Trietley

Deep Spring Center is a young and blossoming sangha. What’s more, it’s my sangha. I’m thankful about that. First of all I’m thankful to feel part of a sangha at all. I don’t think they’re all that easy to come by, at least not ones that give rise to a deep feeling of kinship in my heart. Deep Spring does that for me. There is a purity, earnestness, and lack of pretense that moves me deeply. I think that tone was set from the beginning by Barbara, and as a result, I find this community like an oasis. That’s not to say that it’s perfect (whatever that word really means). Just like an oasis, we sometimes tramp around a bit too much in our ignorance and muddy the water some, but, miracle of miracles, that pure spring water is still right there along with the mud. When we settle down and let the water clear, it’s still sparkling. It still sustains us. I find that such a relief.

Second, I’m thankful that I’ve found a sense of spiritual home with a somewhat young community; I like the idea of participating near the ground floor. It’s not really the ground floor, of course, because that floor was built some years ago by the founders of Deep Spring—people I feel especially grateful to. They were the ones who, along with Barbara, met in a living room and brought the first bits of order out of chaos. They spent many hours creating that ground floor. All I can say is, Namaste.

And third, I’m thankful that this lovely sangha is blossoming the way it is. I see our members sincerely taking on the challenges of living. They’re looking honestly into themselves, and they're struggling to be tender in that honesty so that wisdom and compassion can continue to develop. They’re doing more than that too. They’re offering themselves—their time, their talents, their resources, and their hearts—in the service of something larger than just themselves. That’s what makes Deep Spring a sangha. When people align themselves with the Dharma more diligently than with their own egos, when they aspire to clarity and kindness more fervently than they aspire to getting their way or being comfortable, and when they’re willing to do whatever it takes to support the work of awakening, then sangha is born. And it flourishes as the generosity of spirit is strengthened through commitment.

There are many, many people who have been moved by generosity and who have offered service to Deep Spring Center. I’ve been reflecting on that recently, seeing how the sangha I’m coming to love so much is made up of all our giving. Of course we all serve just by doing our meditation practice, but it’s important to remember that there are people who transcribe and archive tapes, plan retreats, manage retreats, cook meals, organize the office, run the bookstore, build beautiful structures, search for property, raise funds, listen attentively to problems, plan events, administer the website, sort out computer problems of all types, manage finances, create the newsletter, coordinate volunteer activities, teach classes, meet regularly on committees, write articles, pick up folks from the airport, transport supplies, buy flowers, keep track of the library, make tea, stack chairs, create flyers, answer the phone, donate money, and give Dharma talks. The list is longer, but I think you see what I mean. These folks spend a lot of hours in service, and these folks are us.

I was reflecting on service (in Sanskrit the word is seva), and I was trying to get a handle on just what it means. Who is serving whom? It occurred to me that whatever is offered by anyone is received by everyone, including the one who offered it. When I offer my time to Deep Spring Center, I offer it to all the members of the sangha, and that includes me. Sangha sustains me, and it exists because I sustain it. In other words, we are all sustained by the generosity of everyone. And generosity does not apply to just money or tangible resources; it’s every expression of helpfulness, kindness, patience, sweat, or creativity that we offer for the greater good. I think maybe giving, giving freely, is just the pure expression of Life itself, undistorted by ego. No clever play on words intended, but I think it’s like a spring: a spring’s nature is to bubble up and share itself unless something gets in the way.

So I’m enormously grateful to all those who give so that my practice and life are supported … so that everyone is supported. And I’m grateful that I give too. I don’t always feel generous; I wonder if anyone does. Stuff just seems to get in the way sometimes. But I do whatever I can, just as most of us do. We give of ourselves when we’re feeling beneficent and when we’re just practicing right action—doing something simply because it needs doing. That’s what it takes to have a sangha, I think.

As far as I can see, there is no "us’ and "them" in this sangha. We all give and we all receive. We all deserve thanks, and we all have reason to be thankful to others. Certainly none of us is always skillful, but we keep at it. As we grow in numbers, there will be more of us giving and receiving, and more of us learning to be skillful. At least that’s how I hope it will work. And when I take the time to notice, I imagine I’ll once again find myself immersed in the joy of gratitude. That’s been an important awareness for me: gratitude is joyful. It’s not something I do out of duty, not something just for someone else; it’s a joyful experience to recognize the dana all around me.

I guess I could offer my thanks to everyone as the Service Coordinator or as a Board member; there are certainly lots of folks who deserve it. But I think maybe I’d rather offer a reminder: We give such gifts with our generosity and service, not only to our particular sangha but to all beings. How easy it is some days to forget. It’s easy to forget the joy of serving, and it’s easy to forget the joy of gratitude. Perhaps we can all take a moment to remember.

Excerpt from Aaron's Wednesday Night Group

Why do you give negative thought so much energy, trying to get rid of it, fearing it, even hating it? Do you think your goodness ever leaves you? How can you be in touch with that goodness when all of your attention is focused on the negative? The first step is to know negative thought as negative thought, to understand that it arose out of conditions, that it is impermanent and it will cease ... When you know anger as anger then you also can know that which is not angry, that which recognizes anger as anger and allows some spaciousness. Right there is kindness. You've got to recognize it right there with the anger, not separate from it. Where there is confusion, that which sees that arising of the confusion is clarity. The clarity isn't somewhere else, it's right there with the confusion. When there is fear it is love which knows fear and is able not to become entagled in it, not to express it into the world. Right there in fear is love, not someplace else, right there. The beginning of your practice, then is just to know what's what. Here is anger, here is fear, here is confusion. "This arose because certain conditions were present and I will sit with it patiently and watch it until is dissolves." Right there in that intention to be with it spaciously, kindly, non-judgmentally, patiently, you nurture the conditions which will allow the negative energy to dissolve. But when you tense and say, "I must fix this", then you nurture negativity. You nurture judgement. You nurture contraction. And upon these, fear feeds and will not dissolve.  --Aaron

Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Brodsky