Volume 11, Number 2


Barbara's Letter

Dharma Talk Aaron

Halloween Story – Aaron

Sangha News

Our Move –  Lou Weir
Poem – Julie Steiff
Letter from Armenia –  Roman Vodacek

Barbara's Letter

Dear friends,

This has been a moving month for Deep Spring and for me. This morning I'm writing from my wonderful new office, the office that almost didn't happen. Here's a story about attachment! This 20 x 21 room was built as a garage but became my sculpture studio when we bought this house in 1971. We installed a furnace and insulation and it was a wonderful haven for 20 years, giving out bronze sculptures that found their way to homes and collections all over the country. By the early '90s I was busy teaching dharma and wasn't making any sculpture. We gave the space over to DSC in 1998 for a needed office and sitting room. My own office was a small cellar space behind the laundry room, with slits of windows, pipes and wires covering the ceiling and whitewashed cinder block walls. The plan made years ago was that when Deep Spring Center moved into a larger space I would move back into this once-upon-a-time studio. This light-filled room with big sliding glass doors that open into the spruces would become my office.

Meanwhile, during 14 years in the cellar, I had made a home there. I covered the walls in burlap, built cabinets and bookshelves, hung pictures, added files and a desk and had a place for everything. It radiated a very loving energy. My personal altar filled one wall, books were floor to ceiling on another, and favorite pictures lined a third. Every inch of the small space was used, but it wasn't cluttered. Yet it was small, and through the years I yearned for sunlight.

Now DSC had moved out, and this upper room was empty. Suddenly I felt a sense of loss and sorrow, of love for this dear, plain basement with its sheltering dimness, its lovely hangings and warm energy on candlelit mornings. It had been my personal space, while the upstairs meditation hall was sangha space, lovely but impersonal and the rest of our home was a place of perpetual motion with my husband, three growing sons and family pets. My cellar hideaway had been a true haven, a refuge, a site for countless hours of meditation. Furthermore, it was meticulously organized. Everything had a home and was easy to find.

How could I leave it?

I told my story to a dear friend and his first words were, "but you've been talking for years about wanting to get out of the darkness down there and up into the light." Yes, but I was clearly attached.

The day after we talked I left for a retreat. When I came home, I went to my basement room to check my e-mail and there was no computer, only a note, "I'm upstairs on your new desk." There on the built-in desk in the old meditation hall was all my computer equipment, carefully assembled in this empty, sunny room. What could I do? I sat down and checked my e-mail and phone messages. Then I looked around me at the sunlight streaming through the windows, the lovely wood ceiling that radiates the love of those who had nailed it in place, and the beautiful stained-glass light fixtures. I smiled and went downstairs to begin the process of moving.

First I brought up my personal altar, the large red and gold Seva banner, eyes of compassion, that hung on the wall above it, and the hand-sewn red and black rug my children brought me from Kazakhstan. Transformation. The downstairs energy was here! And that wall downstairs looked barren, stained old cinder block. The attachment was cut. I carried up and hung all my pictures. That night I asked the people in the final class meeting here to carry up books. Twelve people made two trips each and the empty shelves were full. Next came my files.

I smile back at my attachment and note that it hasn't completely left, just moved itself, like a repotted plant that still yearns for good soil and light. Yet it's not quite the same. I see that what I experience now isn't quite attachment but appreciation, enjoying the gift of this lovely space, its airiness, light and openness. There is a sense of ease. At the end of my morning sitting, the rosy dawn light pours in. I've gotten to know the huge groundhog who lives under the back deck, often tracks through the snow to peer in my window and sometimes curls up on the lap of the deck Buddha for a nap. The plant deserves good soil and light. Why should it settle for less? This difference between attachment and appreciation is so clear, that when there's trust in our situation we don't need to cling, but can just enjoy things as they are. There's more space here, yet fewer cabinets. In the corner is one huge pile of things I haven't yet figured out where to store. There is no urgency. It will all settle. It doesn't have to be perfect for there to be appreciation.

There is the obvious truth that we need to let go in order to open the way for the new. What holds us in our dark corners? What fear or habit prevents us from allowing in light? And I note with a chuckle that a nudge from a friend can be a powerful support for letting go.

Wishing you a wonderful summer. Now there's snow. When you read this it will be almost summer and I'll make my annual move to our cabin, letting go again, of the luxury of running water and easy electricity for the simplicity of the woods. No attachments, just trading one joy for another.

With love,

Dharma Talk - Aaron
Seattle Retreat 
Thursday evening, November 15, 2001

Aaron: My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron. I thank you for coming to share your evening with me. I would begin by saying that it doesn't matter if you believe that I'm real or if you're skeptical about it. If what I am saying is useful, if these words are useful, use them. If they're not useful, discard them. Don't worry too much about the source.

Last night I promised not to repeat the introductory material so I simply want to say to those who have newly come tonight that yesterday evening led us to a discussion of making choices, and how to choose from a place of love, not from a place of fear. We acknowledge that fear will arise at times. Fear isn't a problem.

If you have a mosquito bite on your leg and it itches, the itch isn't a problem; it's just an itch. It arose out of certain conditions. When the conditions cease, the itch will cease. Fear is also a natural object that arises out of conditions. We don't have to make a big fuss over it, it's just fear. One doesn't have to suppress it, feel shame that it arose nor act it out. It's just fear. When you begin to regard fear in this way, it is love itself that regards fear in this spaciousness. Then the fear is just fear and it doesn't control the circumstances.

Some of you have talked to me about situations in your lives where there was some doubt, where people were experiencing difficulty and you wanted to help them. You were not sure what help meant. When does intervention help and when does it add to the difficulty and create harm?

You can't save somebody from themselves. What if you're sitting at the edge of a pier projected out onto a lake? Somebody comes out on the dock, walks past you and just keeps walking and falls in the water. He starts splashing his arms, says, "Help me! I can't swim!" You throw him a life preserver; you pull him up; you help him back up onto the dock. He says, "Thank you" politely, turns around and jumps in again. "Help me! I can't swim!" You pull him up the second time. "What's going on?" you say. "If you can't swim, why do you keep jumping in?" "So you'll rescue me." At that he turns and jumps in again.

How long are you going to sit there at the edge of the dock and keep rescuing him? People have said to me, "But Aaron, I can't leave; he'll drown." You can't leave while he's in the water but as you pull him out, get him back out on the dock, before you let go of his hands, you can say, "As soon as I let go I am going to turn my back. I am going to walk off the dock. If you jump in again, you're on your own." And then you must do it.

Then you say to me, "But Aaron, what if he jumps in? What if he drowns? Then I'm responsible." You are not responsible. Are you going to save the whole world from itself? Beings must act out their karma and resolve their karma. Each being is responsible for his or her choice. You are responsible for saying no. "If you are intent on jumping into the water, you'll have to find somebody else to save you. I have done it three times and that's enough. Now I'm leaving the dock." When you give the person that information, you're very clear: "I will not do this again. You are responsible for your own choices." I think that so much of the suffering in your world today occurs because people do not understand that they are responsible for their own choices, and because so many of you are willing to take responsibility for another's choice. This is not wholesome. It does not lead to healing. It does not lead to happiness. It's very difficult to turn your back and walk off the dock, and yet it's the greatest gift you can give the other person. What makes you stay on the dock? Here we get into this whole issue we call unwholesome co-dependence. He likes to be saved and you like to be needed, so you sit on the dock. It gets to be past midnight; you're shivering. "Woe is me! What a martyr I am!" But you never got up and said no and left. And it's easy to feel resentment. "It's his fault. He keeps jumping off the dock." His jumping off the dock is his jumping off the dock. Your staying there to rescue him is your staying. That's your choice.

With your loved ones, your parents, your lovers, your children, your close friends, it's very hard. And yet this unwillingness to participate in their unwholesome choices is a gift, a very compassionate gift.

Last night we were talking about compassion and the power of compassion. Compassion is not to sit there on the dock until this person finally exhausts himself; it's to say no. Now, of course, there are different situations. If you come to the dock and the person is intent on suicide, that's a different situation. You've got to make it clear you're not going to let him kill himself. That if necessary you're just going to tie him to the dock and go and get help. Maybe you're going to have to sit there until he exhausts himself if you don't have any rope or means to keep him from jumping. That's a different situation.

What we're talking about now are the everyday unwholesome patterns you create. We approached this subject last night talking about the world situation. When there are international terrorists, murderers on your streets, abusive people in your workplaces or your neighborhoods or your families, what does it mean to say no? And what says no? It can be hatred, and that just breeds further anger and distortion. And it can be compassion that says no. This is speaking from a place of love rather than a place of fear. And my dear ones, you are incarnate to learn love. You've been practicing fear for thousands and thousands of years. Aren't you tired of it?

It's not that you have to totally transform yourself and end fear to allow yourself to live from a place of love. The loving heart is already there but it's been buried so deeply by the workings of fear that you're not always sure how to access it. This is what I want to go into more deeply tonight. How do we reach that loving heart when fear is predominant?

There are many difficult mind and body states. Pain, feeling too hot or too cold, sickness of the body, mental confusion, agitation, humiliation or shame, all the voices of fear such as grasping and aversion. These are all very difficult states. Most of you in your culture have learned to avoid these states, and if you can't avoid them, to control them as quickly as possible. If there's pain, go take aspirin. If there's emotional pain, take a drink, go call a friend, flick on the TV. Do something to get away from the pain. This is what your culture has taught you. You've moved into a delusion that you're weak and that these states are strong so you must avoid them or control them, that you must control discomfort at all costs. Then you don't have the opportunity to understand the nature of both pleasant and unpleasant mind and body states or your own nature, and so to find your infiniteness, your unlimited compassion and wisdom. Gradually you lost touch with and trust of that part of yourself. The more you disconnect from your essence or ground of being, from this infinite wisdom or compassion, the more you think you have to control difficult experience. The more afraid of it you are.

Then difficult experience comes your way and you see it as a burden, an injustice. Why me? Why am I sick? Why did I lose this job? Why is that person angry with me? Why me? Why should I have pain? My friends, pain is part of the human experience. If you wanted to stay comfortable, why did you move into incarnation? It's very uncomfortable to be an incarnate being, human or animal or vegetable, very difficult. You entered the incarnation because comfort was not your highest priority. On that plane prior to the incarnation, awareness understood the deep aspiration to grow, to learn, to learn how to live this human potential of the infinite, compassionate and wise heart, how to bring that out into the world. It's easy on the astral plane: there's no difficult catalyst. When you move into a body you forget who you are, you forget this essence of being and you start to identify with the body, thoughts, opinions and emotions. Awareness loses itself in those and forgets its true nature and its mission, which is the practice of love.

You are not incarnate only to wake up. Waking up is just half of it, waking up to the truth of your being. You are also incarnate to find the courage and love to bring that truth out into the world, to embrace all of the difficult mind and body states and draw them into this loving heart. You are incarnate to stop the cycle of fear and hatred through your daily practice, changing the habitual pattern that acts with aggression toward negative thought and body state, developing equanimity and kindness.

I'm not suggesting that you cease to attend to difficult mind and body states, but one attends with presence and kindness. That's very different than attending with hatred. In fact, one really cannot "attend" with hatred. Attendance is spacious. Hatred leads you to contract around whatever arose and this very act of contraction is what creates an ongoing karma with the situation, leading you back to explore it again and again and again. Then lifetime after lifetime you either are the one sitting on the end of the dock wondering how many more times you're going to have to save the other, or you are the one jumping off the dock, wondering if somebody will continue to save you. Lifetime after lifetime you are the one trying to be kind and distorting that kindness into a suppression of your own feelings or you are the aggressor, provoking the one who is kind.

The question I would ask you is, how long do you want to go on doing this? There's a wonderful Buddhist teaching story about a man who was a renowned cruel killer, who was said to be heartless. When he killed people he cut off their index finger and he threaded it in a necklace; that's how closed his heart was. People were terrified because he killed with no seeming reason.

The story goes that the Buddha came into a town and all the people were behind locked doors. Somebody saw him coming, opened his door and said, "Come! Come! Come inside to safety. This murderer is abroad." The Buddha thanked him politely and walked on down the street. Before too long he heard footsteps behind him and then a voice shouted, "You! You there! Stop!" The Buddha kept walking. A louder voice, "Stop! I said stop!" He kept walking. Finally the footsteps got right behind him and then somebody passed him, turned around and confronted him, blocked his path. "I told you to stop! Don't you know who I am? I told you to stop!" The Buddha looked in his eyes and said, "I have stopped. When are you going to stop?"

The Buddha's words and composure awakened this murderer. He saw just exactly what the Buddha meant, that he had been living perhaps many, many lives acting out his fear and he had not yet learned how to stop. He was so shaken by the Buddha's words and presence that he begged his forgiveness and asked to ordain as a monk. He became enlightened. He was a very great monk and of course he also bore the results of all the murders. That is, dressed in his monastic robes, when he went into a town and was recognized, he was stoned. Garbage was thrown at him. He was feared and hated.

Because of his enormous change of heart, he took each of these incidents simply as an invitation to practice forgiveness and to ask for forgiveness, an invitation to practice with anger, which must still have arisen at first. I think it would arise for most people if they were stoned or had garbage thrown in their faces. He learned that he did not have to enact his anger in the world. And then he was free.

This is the same lesson all of you are here to learn, to stop enacting the negative side of your experience and begin to offer kindness to whatever arises. There will be this shadow side of your being with a million negative stories. It's part of the human experience. Someone gave Barbara a wonderful T-shirt last summer. It says, "Don't believe everything you think." Reflect on that for a moment. "Don't believe everything you think." There's a habitual pattern: somebody says something of insult to you. The habitual response is that anger comes up. You move into a fight or flight reflex. You look for somebody to blame for your anger, using it to strike at others, or you blame yourself, "I should be a more experienced spiritual practitioner by now. I shouldn't become angry." Maybe you even make the statement, "I won't be angry." And you smile very sweetly, swallowing the anger so that your belly roils with it.

If the conditions are present for anger to arise, it will arise. If you were walking here on the floor barefoot and there was a thumbtack you stepped on, there would be pain and a drop of blood. You wouldn't say, "I should not bleed." You understand this is how the body is. You might say, "I don't like this bleeding. I don't like this pain." But you wouldn't say, "I shouldn't feel pain." There's kindness to your self. You take the foot and pull out the tack, pat the foot a bit. Offer it kindness. But when somebody says something offensive to you and anger arises, you say, "I shouldn't be angry."

The anger is a result. Usually at the root of anger there is some kind of fear, perhaps a fear that you will be hurt or your needs won't be met. When you can acknowledge not only that anger has arisen but also there is fear, fear that you'll be hurt, fear that you'll hurt another, fear that you won't be in control, or won't be safe ... ahhh-just that acknowledgment is kindness. You attend to fear, just as with the tack you attended to pain. "Breathing in, I am aware of fear. Breathing out, I smile to this fear. I will not be a slave to my fear. Fear is just an object arisen out of conditions. I'll make a bigger container for it. I hold the fear with kindness and eventually it will pass." The anger will pass and all this time you are practicing kindness instead of negativity.

How many times have you practiced the negativity? 10,000? 100,000? A million? You're not going to turn this around overnight. But each time you practice kindness, you create a different set of conditions where anger becomes a catalyst for compassion. When angry feelings arise, instead of compounding the angry feelings with tension, with a contracted mind and body that wants to do away with the anger, that wages a war with anger, you open your heart and simply note, "Here is anger." Right there is kindness. Right there is courage. Right there is love. And each time you do this you train yourself further in creating this spacious container for anger, for greed, for jealousy, for pride, for impatience, for any difficult emotion. They cease to be the enemy.

To be present with the direct experience of fear, anger, greed or any difficult state does not mean to entertain the stories that may arise out of that mindstate. One befriends the experience, that is, one opens to the experience and allows it to be there without hatred, just observing the characteristics of impermanence and selflessness in that experience. One observes how getting caught up in identification with the experience leads to suffering. Just do that much. Be present with the direct experience with kind, spacious awareness.

It is only once you make friends with yourself in this way that you can begin to make friends with others. We come back to that hypothetical situation, sitting on the dock. You come back to the dock, hoping to be alone this evening, to watch the moon over the water. Here comes the one who would jump again. Right then, seeing him, you can tell him, "If you're going to jump tonight, I'm leaving right now." But it's said from a place of kindness. There's no judgment. "To jump is your choice. If that's what you want to do, that's fine. To not spend tonight hauling you out is my choice. With the deepest love and respect, I'm leaving the dock."

At first, seeing this person coming, there may have been anger. "Oh no! Here he comes again!" Feeling anger. Feeling fear. Perhaps fear that I won't be able to handle the situation skillfully. Fear that I'll do harm. Fear that I will feel the need to spend my whole night hauling him out of the water. Unpleasant. Difficult. Opening my heart to myself, I smile at my fear. I smile with kindness at this human who doesn't want to be pushed around by others, and also doesn't want to harm others. Smile at the human dilemma. He's still walking out to the dock. Smile at him. He is so caught. He doesn't yet see what he's doing. He is driven by his fear and his habitual pattern. It is so difficult for him, so painful. "My friend, I salute you. May you be free of this pain and confusion. I love you, truly I do; that's why I have to leave the dock now. May you be happy." And then you go. It's prompted by compassion.

People have asked me often in the past two weeks, how do we say no to bin Laden with compassion? How do we say no to any terrorists? I cannot dictate the means you must use, only that you must begin to see that all terrorists are frightened, angry human beings. Each one had a mother and father. Some of them were loved and treated with much tenderness, and some were abandoned. They each suffered their own pain in childhood. They each grew up with certain understandings and misunderstandings. They are not even your brothers and sisters; they are you, simply other faces of yourself. Seeing this fact, it's not so easy to hate them. Each being will act and each nation will act in the ways that its own conscience and habits dictate. Some will be more skillful than others. What matters equally to what is done is the attitude with which it's done.

Of course, it's very hard to kill another with kindness, so perhaps killing is not the best alternative. What other ways does your world have to say no to terrorism? What promotes terrorism? What leads people to be so willing to give up their lives to suicide in order to say no to somebody else? Because that's what they're doing, saying no, but without compassion, with hatred instead, with fear, with blindness. An eye for an eye simply leaves both people blind.

Be creative. What are your options? You are limitless. Do not limit yourself to the thoughts of your traditional cultures. What are the options? These are no longer people living on the other side of the world, nor even people living in your back yard: they are people living in your own house. For your world today is just one house, one room, even. How are you going to get along with each other?

If you lived in one room with several other people, if you had food and they were hungry, could you live peacefully together? What if you gave them some of your food? What if you became hungry and saw that they were lazy and didn't work, left it up to you to get all the food? When is it compassionate to stop feeding them?

We come right back to asking them to be responsible for their choices. It's the same situation as walking off the dock. You might need to leave your room or you might decide, "I need to fast for as long as it takes, to stop providing food. I can't stop providing food for them and still give it to myself without arousing hatred, so I will just fast. It will be uncomfortable for a while. If they are happy to fast, we'll all fast together. At the point where they decide they don't wish to fast, they will find a source of food. They will learn to work."

The changes that are coming in your world are not all going to be easy or comfortable but I do think they may bear wonderful fruit. I think your world has reached a time of readiness for this lesson, that over so many millennia the doctrine "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" has been promoted, and it hasn't worked. You are ready to learn that the only force that will see you through is love. This isn't just some sentimental statement. Love and compassion are all-powerful. It begins with learning to love your self. It begins with learning not to despise yourself when a negative thought or body state arises. Not to despise the state, not to despise the self. Then we offer that same compassion out into the world.

When people ask me how I feel about this tragedy of September 11th, of course it's a tragedy. There was enormous suffering, much loss of life. And yet it can be an all-powerful teacher if we want it to.

There's a song that one of your writers created in the '60s, "Blowin' in the Wind." There's a line, "How many deaths will it take till we learn that too many people have died?" I think that's the question for today. Are you finally ready to put aside the old habits of fear and hatred and begin the new habit of lovingkindness and compassion, of understanding? This is your choice and you will reap the results, whether wholesome or unwholesome, happy or painful. I have great confidence in your ability to do this work. It's why you came. Thank you for permitting me to share my thoughts with you. I would be

happy to answer questions after your tea period.

That is all.

Halloween Story - Aaron
Wednesday, October 30, 2002

 Love teaches love by its nature.

 Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. I'm happy to welcome you, new friends and old. I won't go into any lengthy introductions for new friends; simply to remind you: take what is useful to you here and leave the rest. If you find yourself wondering am I real, don't give in to that intellectual question. Please know it doesn't really matter. Words are being spoken. They convey an idea. Whether there actually is a discarnate being sharing this idea or whether this is pure fantasy, is irrelevant. If the idea itself is useful to you, use it. If not, put it aside.

Aaron: I rarely speak at length about my own past lives. You've heard me speak of that lifetime when the man I was, was a shepherd during Jesus's lifetime and how that great Master taught me so much, but beyond that lifetime I have spoken little of my extended past.

Love teaches love by its nature. Love models love. Love is in everything, although perhaps not always immediately apparent, and one can learn about love and compassion in many different kinds of settings.

I'm going to begin with this Halloween story, which touches on a very different past life. The being that I was lived in a small village. We hunted. We raised small crops and gathered wild food. Animal skins were our clothing. There was a very deep reverence for the natural world around us. We did not feel that we plundered from that world but, rather, that the universe co-created the forests, the lakes, the animals and ourselves, and we were all part of this great dance of existence.

My village and the neighboring villages lived in peace. We lived as if we were all brothers, even with those in a village a day's walk from us. We supported each other. when a man or woman had a certain skill, it was shared freely for the good of all.

Thus it was very strange when one night I was awakened from a sound sleep by a bloodcurdling scream. The whole village turned out, racing toward the hut at the furthest edge of our village from which that cry had come. There we found the dear friend who lived there, with his throat cut.

Some small tools were missing, some food seemed to have been pulled from its storage place. That is, meat that was drying was pulled down from the ceiling. But we had no gold or silver; we had no jewels and would have had no use for such. There was really nothing to steal.

In the morning we attempted to follow the tracks that led from that house into the forest. They ended at the river. Perhaps our marauder had come by boat. Several of us took our boats and went a day or two up and down the river. In another village quite a ways down the river, we heard a similar story: a sudden death in the night. Food stolen; nothing else. Who would kill for food, food that would be given freely if requested?

We had never set a night guard in our village but we began to do so, a changing shift of men walking the perimeter of the village, alert for any movement. A fortnight later, we heard a tale of another identical death from a village ten miles south of us. Again, food was the only thing that had been taken.

In each case, there seemed to have been signs of struggle, as if the murderer snuck in to steal and killed only when the family awoke. Several months passed with no more such tragedies. Then one terrible night I awakened to see a faint shadow through my own home! My wife was in bed beside me; I knew it was not her. Our only child was a baby.

Remember, we had no electric lights or battery torches. The last coals of the fire cast a very soft light. Beyond that light I could hear movement. In retrospect, perhaps it would have been wisdom to just remain silent as that figure approached the place where we lay. I'm not sure what prompted me to speak. I said, "Friend, take what you need to eat. We mean you no harm."

At that, the figure turned around and I could see the knife he carried. As he turned toward us, my wife screamed.

She was closer to him than I was and he grabbed at her, dragged her from the bed. So I leaped up to try to protect her. But his knife was faster than I was. He dropped her; she fell in a heap on the floor. And he ran out.

Miraculously she was not dead. Her sudden movement had pushed his knife aside enough that while she was wounded, she still lived.

Neighbors came; torches were lit. The village healer attended to her wound. We did not know for a while if she would live or die. It was a very long night but toward morning her breathing began to be stronger, and it seemed that she would live. I was filled with rage and hatred.

At dawn several men joined me to track this stranger with the intention to capture and kill him, to put an end to his rein of terror. We tracked him for three days, going ever further into the wilderness. One by one my comrades turned aside. They were uneasy to go so far from their home and their families. As I said, we were a peaceful people, never seeking trouble, although willing to address it if it came to us. But this was my wife, and the first one attacked and murdered in the village had been my dear friend, and I was outraged.

My wife and child were safe in the home of a friend. Others would see to my crops, to any need in my home, so I determined to keep going. The days turned into a week and then a second week, far away from any known territory into very rugged mountainous country covered with dark forest.

I was an able hunter. I had no trouble feeding myself. I could tell as I tracked that I was getting closer and closer. I wasn't sure what I would do if I finally caught this, what I saw as a villain. Like all in our village, I was skilled in the use of a knife and spear. I had never used these to protect myself, though, only reverently to bring down game to feed us. The idea to kill a man in cold blood was repugnant to me, and yet my hatred fed my searching him out. Now I was pushed by a very different emotion, one I had never known before: a seeking of revenge.

Then the rain started. For two days it poured, thunder and lightning filled the sky, and still I tracked the stranger and could see that I came closer. I was now almost a three weeks' walk from my home in a very unknown country.

One morning I was moved to rise before dawn. The sky was heavy with rain; there was scant light. But something drew me on. Then I smelled the fire. My sense of smell was very keen. I approached cautiously, knife drawn. And then in a clearing in the distance, just in front of a steep hill, I saw the man and his fire. I was perhaps 50 yards distant when he looked up suddenly. He must have heard me approaching. I knew my step was soft and to his ears I could have been an animal, but he was alert. I'm sure he knew he was being followed.

He looked around. He quenched the fire, stomped it out. In that very dim pre-dawn light, he suddenly disappeared – just like that, he was gone. I approached cautiously to where he had been and saw that behind a large rock there was a small cave opening. Perhaps he waited just inside, ready to kill me. At first I thought to simply sit there, but I knew that I would fall asleep at some point. I could not sit day and night. And he could sleep at leisure and then wait, hidden in the dark, until he saw me asleep, and kill me. So it seemed that I needed to go after him.

I made a small torch; that is, I took some small bits of animal skin and wrapped them around a stick, covered it with some grease that I carried, and lit it with the remaining coal from his fire. It was a smoky light and dim, but enough to offer both some vision and also some protection.

Thrusting the torch in front of me, I entered the cave. The door was low so I had to squat to come through. The small doorway made me think of a small space, so I was astonished as I came inside and held up my small torch to find that I could not see the walls of the large cavern in which I stood, only space and small sounds. There was no idea which direction to go in. Instead of walking straight ahead, I chose to stay close to one wall following it to see where it would lead me.

And then I heard a sound in front of me. Perhaps an animal; perhaps a human. I had no other lead so I followed it. I'm hearing what seemed like a dragging step: step, draaaag, step, draaaag.

I followed it. Always the step, draaag, leading me on. Whatever was there remained out of my visual field. I walked that way for perhaps half an hour. It was black except for the small light my torch gave so I knew the one in front of me was going in darkness. Perhaps he knew this cave. Even so, to walk in a black cave is a treacherous undertaking. I paused frequently and made scratches on the rock floor so that I should be able to find my way back, for there was no way to know how many side passages there might be.

Ahead of me was the step, draaag, step, draaag. I dared not quicken my pace, and knew I must continue to mark the floor of the cave well or I would die in there. As I squatted, scratching another mark on the floor, suddenly the sound changed. There was the sound of sliding and a scream, and silence.

I approached cautiously, the torch and knife held in front of me, watchful for any movement to the sides, any deviousness on the part of the one I followed. I walked perhaps 50 more steps and came to a narrow passageway. It appeared almost a dead end but I could see by the light of my torch that the passageway curved to the left. As I stepped into that curved area, I heard a low moan, not coming from ahead but below me. Perhaps that sound is what saved me; had I taken another step I would have followed him down a steep slide, a hole into a cavern below. There by the light of the torch I could just barely see his body. Certainly he was injured. How injured I could not tell from where I stood.

I held my torch down into the hole, lay on my belly, and then I could see by the way he lay that his leg was broken. A very strong voice within me said, "That's it. He will die there, you can leave." I began to withdraw my torch, to withdraw myself, to follow my scratches, walk back out of the cave and go home, knowing we were safe from this killer. Just as I began to pull back, pulling the torch, lifting myself from my belly, he rolled over and I saw his eyes, his desperate plea, and I knew in that moment I could not leave him to die such a terrible death, that I either had to climb down there and kill him or I had to save him.

The vision of my friend's slit throat, the vision of my terror-stricken wife, came to me strongly and filled me again with rage and hatred, and as balance to that there was the look in his eyes, his terror, his pain and silent plea.

I carried a pack on my back – not your modern kind of pack but one very well made of skins, in which I had some dry food, a rolled skin that served as a blanket, some kinds of tools for the wilderness, and a rope. This is not your modern rope but the kind of rope we made in those days from vines and fibers. I anchored the rope around a large rock, tied the other end around my waist, and lowered myself down the chute to where he lay. As I approached I could see by the look in his eyes that he expected no mercy.

He was in agony. Part of his shinbone protruded the skin. As with all my people, I had some knowledge of healing. One could not call an ambulance in those days. One's survival in the wilderness depended on one's own and one's comrades' knowledge. First, I looked at him to make sure he had no weapon. I saw his knife – a sharpened stone, razor sharp. It had fallen quite a ways away from him as he fell, and he had no other weapon on him. I put the torch between two rocks that would hold it and indicated to him what I intended to do. He nodded but did not seem to comprehend.

There is a technique here I won't describe in detail. Using rope, I literally tied his body to a rock and then grabbed hold of the lower leg and pulled, pulling the bones straight. Of course, he screamed and fainted. That allowed me to finish my work, to use some water I carried to wash the wound, to loosely bind it.

Leaving him there unconscious, I went back up with my rope. I knew he could not move from that spot. I followed my path out. I found herbs to make a poultice for the wound. I found sticks to splint the leg.

I knew he thought I had abandoned him and that he was to die alone in this dark cavern. When he saw me coming down the rope, I could see the disbelief in his face. Again I grounded the torch, looked at the leg. I applied poultice to it, splinted it and wrapped it firmly. I had also carried some wood with me in my pack. Cautiously I built a small fire – cautious to make sure our small chamber would not fill with smoke, but the smoke easily rose up through the opening. And so we sat there silent through the day. He fell asleep. I was watching and wondering at myself – what had driven me to make this decision? And now it was made, what would I do? For certainly it would be many weeks before he could walk on this leg.

And once he could walk, what would I do with him? Bring him back with me to my village where they would kill him?

He awoke in a fever, delirious. I made some broth and fed it to him. I offered him water. I washed his face, which was broken out in sweat. I did not feel safe to sleep down there with him. I climbed up my rope and pulled it after me and slept above. He was awake when I came down in the morning. Again weeping, this time silently, in pain and in fear.

Again I went out, gathered food and fresh water and then returned. Mostly he slept. When I tried to talk to him, he looked at me, confused. He had a very wild look about him. His clothes were entirely of animal skins. Mine were too, but his were very crude where mine were more carefully sewed and even beaded with some small ornament. While I was used to eating with a container to hold my food, when I handed him food on a small flat rock that might serve as a plate, the concept seemed alien to him. He just grabbed the food and put it in his mouth. He looked with some awe at the beadwork on my shirt and my jacket. He did not seem to be able to speak except in grunting noises.

Slowly the days passed. They were not easy days. I would go out and hunt, and come back. He began to trust that I would return. We tried to talk. I tried to talk. He could only answer in strange grunts, and yet it was clear to me that he could hear, in fact his hearing was keener than mine. He was the first to hear the snake slithering across the floor and warn me. When I took the torch and went to look, there was a poisonous snake that dwelt in our parts.

Another day, the air was suddenly filled with a very strange noise and I became afraid, but his face expressed no fear. He raised his hand as if to say, "It's OK." Then for a brief moment the air was filled with the passage of bats moving through that small room where we sat. So he could hear but he couldn't speak. I realized that it was not that he spoke another language but that he had no language other than his grunts.

One day I drew a picture on the floor – myself, my wife, just a simple picture drawn on the dirt floor of a man, a woman and a baby. He looked at it. He drew crudely with his finger, a hut like our huts and I nodded yes. He pointed to me, pointed to the baby. I thought he was asking me if this was my baby, and I said yes. Then he drew some pictures, a baby held by its mother. A toddler. A pre-adolescent, and so forth, indicating the phases of growth, and he connected those to the parents and he pointed to me. And I realized he was asking me, is this what my life had been? Had I grown up in that way? And I said yes. And tears came to his eyes. He wept until he fell asleep.

We had been here for perhaps ten days now and something strange was happening. These last two or three days, as there had been more communication between us, I found that it was hard to maintain my hatred of him. Constantly, in the quiet times as he slept I had asked myself, what will I do with him? Can I heal him and then kill him? And then the thought of my wife and my friend came back. There were many times while he slept when I stood over him with my knife thinking I should just slit his throat and go. But I couldn't bring myself to do it.

When he next awoke, he pointed again to these pictures, the boy-child growing into a man in the village, simple pictures in the dirt. And then he pointed to himself. Baby, and he drew a picture that looked like a wolf. Through his pictures it seemed that he was telling me that the wolf pack had attacked and killed his mother, and some wolf had carried him, an infant, off in her teeth.

He had grown up with the wolves, been part of the pack. This has been heard of in your day but to me it was unheard of. And yet everything in his demeanor seemed to say that this was true. He had no human speech. His body was filthy, his hair matted. He ate the meat I cooked but seemed very happy to eat raw meat, even to prefer it.

The days passed. While his eyes tracked me, followed me, he did not seem to depend on his vision so much as his hearing. The weeks passed. The wound healed. The swelling diminished. At last came the day when he was ready to put weight on this leg. I tied the rope around his waist. I had brought in some long sticks and fashioned some crutches for him. I climbed up the steep slope and then halfdragged him up behind me. We made very slow progress through the passage that was familiar to me by now, and out into the daylight.

As we came out into the morning, he let out a sound that was much more like a wolf's howl than a human voice, held his hands up to the heavens and howled! He smiled at me, and I could see the joy in his face. What was I to do with him?

I had not been able to find the means to ask him why he had killed my friend, and those in other villages, and attacked my wife. Now I felt I must do so. And so we sat with our sticks and dirt, and I attempted to communicate with him. I drew a hut. I drew a man sleeping. I pointed at him and indicated how he had come in and slit the man's throat. To my astonishment he merely nodded. I pointed to his mouth, eat? Eat?

I realized then that he had never known another human being, that he had never had a friend, that he did not know the nature of human relationship. Out of curiosity I drew a wolf family sleeping in a safe place, adult wolves and cubs. Then I pointed to him and used the sign and word we had established between us for hunger. If you were hungry, drew him there, with a knife, a picture of him, and asked him, would you kill the cubs? He was horrified! No! My family! And so I saw he truly did not understand what he had done.

I pointed to the picture of the hut and the wife and baby, and said, my family. He was intelligent and suddenly he understood and began to weep. He suddenly understood these were not animals he had killed: these were beings like himself. He looked at me; he looked at himself. I offered him the word human: me, you, human. Again he wept.

Then he reached toward me, quickly, suddenly. I was surprised and did not react quickly and he snatched my knife. I had a moment of fear and then I saw him hold the knife, not toward me but toward himself, ready to slit his own throat, so deep was his shame and horror when he understood what he had done. No! No! You must not do that! Stop!

I looked at him. Stop! And I held out my hand for the knife. He handed it to me and pointed to himself: you kill me! You! And I realized I had come to love this man, truly to love him. As I had tended to him for all those weeks, he had ceased to be a monster and become a brother.

I put the knife down and held out my arms to him, he who had never known a human embrace. I invited him into my arms and we wept together. This murderer, then, taught me compassion and forgiveness, which are so difficult to learn. He taught me that there can be rage, fear, and even hatred, and that the power of human kindness can soften these emotions. Love and forgiveness can come if one allows the heart to open.

Then I made a decision to invite him home with me. Our way was very slow, he using a crutch and leaning on me. With each day his leg got a bit stronger. I had tracked him to the cave for over two weeks but by a roundabout path, so our path home was less than a week with strong legs, perhaps ten days for us. What would happen when I brought him into my village?

People saw me coming and that I did not have a tied captive with me but, rather, walked supporting another man. At first they didn't know. They thought perhaps he was someone else who was a victim of this murderer. I had to tell them, this was the one. He did not know what he did. Although this was before Jesus's time, I can only remember that master's words here, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

I was proud of my fellow villagers, then, that although there was some muttering and dissension, most people embraced this man and were truly ready to forgive him. As for the man he had killed, that man had had a wife and children. This man dedicated himself to their welfare, hunted and brought them back food, made sure they were well cared for. Of course he kept his distance from them, respectfully, realizing he was the one who had brought them such pain.

It was very beautiful to see his delight in human companionship. As he learned our language, the stories he shared of his childhood were fascinating. And thus he became a brother. I was older than he. As I aged, he took care of me as a brother would. He taught my sons to hunt, for he was even more skilled at that than I was. I think how easily I could have lost these riches if I had given in to that first expression of hatred and left him lying to die alone in agony in the dark cave. This heart of compassion will open if you will only give it a chance. No matter how terrible the circumstances, this heart of compassion will open.

This has been a long story. I thank you for your attention. No ghosts or ghouls or monsters, just the monster of human hatred and the power of compassion. That is all.

Sangha News

Our Move

Our new space is a reality! Many people have toiled over the last couple of years to bring this to a reality. Over two years ago, we had a special sangha dinner, which, among other things, polled the sangha about what it wanted for the future. There was overwhelming support for finding and renting and/or buying a new space. Many of you know that we had been operating out of Barbara's garage, which had been nicely remodeled by the sangha. However, we wanted more room.

At least two committees were formed to look for property. Many hours were spent looking at different properties. We considered one to buy and quite a few others to rent. One of the problems we found as we went through the process was that our financial knowledge was scanty and we did not really know how much we could afford. Dave Coupland chaired a committee he called "the Middle Way," which quantified our income and proposed how much we could spend on rent and other expenses. Interestingly, within two months of doing this process, our new space came to our attention. It was within our budget and it met the majority of our criteria for the space.

Dottie Coyne, John Gutosky and Lou Weir volunteered to form the 'move-in' committee. After learning of the $2000 allocated to the move-in expenses, the committee brought their needs to the sangha. The sangha responded with generosity. Over $5000 additional funds were donated specifically for moving in. With this we were able to accomplish much of what we wanted. Each room was painted, tile was put in and many of the furnishings were obtained including 25 new zafus and zabutons. We can now accommodate many people sitting without them having to bring their own cushions. We also have a separate room for small class activity, a bathroom, a utility room and an office. Our new space should support our practice and probably some growth as well. In addition to the classes, which have now been moved to the center, we have a Sunday morning sitting group which has grown because of the new space.

Over 100 volunteer hours were put in to making over the new space. Dianne Austin, Susan Klimist, Kate Leshock, and Jane Grace Bowman have agreed to be on a furnishing committee, which is operating now to put in the final touches. You may have noticed the very nice coat rack by the entry. They have found a bookshelf to serve as a shoe rack, and they have many other ideas which will be implemented in the next couple of months. We now have a functioning new space, but there will be a "growing-intoit" period over the next few months, which should be interesting, fun and instructive to ourselves and to others as to how we will be as a sangha. Hurray for us!

– Lou Weir


As I sit in meditation
My heart rises,
Swelling, expanding,
Pushing against the soft flesh of my throat
Until it hangs there
Quivering beneath a thin membrane
Like the impossibly large throat of a tree frog
Calling for a mate.
As hauntingly present as a phantom limb,
The invisible organ pushes outward.

Why do we speak of hearts
Being worn on sleeves,
Like dainty charms dangling from bracelets?
Mine, it seems, wants to hang,
Obscenely oversized,
From my collar.

Images from a Catholic girlhood resurface:
The Sacred Heart of Jesus,
The Sacred Heart of Mary.
Indecently exposed organs
Hovering outside their robes-
Red, thorn-pierced, gory.

How foolish to move through the world
With a heart so undefended!
Heart, you do not understand.
I have long hunched protectively around you,
Trying to shield you from the tales of
unspeakable suffering
That flow through the kitchen radio and
Land, in neat rolls of newsprint,
On the porch each morning.

If you emerge, you will confront pain that cannot be borne:
A Palestinian man weeping for his dead infant;
An African mother offering a shriveled breast
To her skeletal baby;
Terrified passengers on hijacked airliners;
Hospital wards labeled "Pediatric Oncology."
Listen! You will bleed.
You will break.

Still the heart does not retreat
Into the bony prison of my chest.
It stays; it waits.
Perhaps I can no more halt its movement
Than I could keep my babies safe inside my womb
When their times had come.
Oh, I have been laboring with this engorged heart
For so long, fighting the contractions.
Perhaps it is time to surrender
And allow compassion to take birth.

Julie Steiff
June 2002

Letter from Armenia*

Calling myself a part-time Buddhist is a bit of tongue-in-cheek on my part but it also reflects my halting efforts at bringing spiritual principles into practice. I met Barbara and Aaron many years ago in Louisville where I lived. Through the years I came to several DSC workshops and retreats. However, I have not met most of the sangha. That's not about to change soon because I joined the Peace Corps last summer. My two-year "hitch" is for teaching English in Armenia. Right now some of you are thinking, "where the heck IS Armenia?" It's a small, mountainous country in the southern Caucasus Mountains. It used to be part of the Soviet Union; it lies east of Turkey and north of Iran.

A month ago, the last DSC newsletter arrived and my eye was caught by a verse quoted in Barbara's letter: Hmmm, I had thought that I joined the Peace Corps with few preferences. Dharma would soon show me otherwise! Soon after arrival I noticed a habitual tendency to refuse invitations for dinner. Armenians are very hospitable people and they always ask me to come and visit. However, those visits are never brief. Introductions are followed by pleasantries followed by food then more food and coffee and the inevitable vodka (which I would not drink). My fear of giving up a quiet, comfortable evening in the apartment would appear in no time flat. Reading Aaron's comments about the direct experience of fear versus the habitual stories arising out of it gave me a tool to use. (I must say, though, that my mind seems to have an inexhaustible supply of these stories.)

And so the dharma continues … and another reading comes to mind, this time from an old Light/Lines newsletter (www.llresearch.org):

"When one changes the circumstances one does not change the experience." Ziiing! Armenia brought this concept into focus for me. That's because I came here with many ideals but forgot that I was also bringing myself along. All my catalysts from Louisville came here with me, alive and kicking. Perhaps that's why my best work to date has not been teaching Armenians how to speak English but learning more about who I am. I never thought I would be working for the U.S. government on building a bigger box for myself!

Meditations keep my feet on the ground. Walks in nature bring the awareness of the unity of all that there is. The journey continues. All is well.

I send you all peace (being a Peace Corps volunteer) :-)

Love & Light

Roman Vodecek
February 13, 2003

* Armenia is a country in southwestern Asia. It is a rugged, mountainous land that lies in the Caucasus Mountain region. Yerevan is the country's capital and largest city. Present-day Armenia and what is now eastern Turkey make up historic Armenia, the original homeland of the Armenian people. This land was conquered many times in its long history. By 1915, the Turks had driven most Armenians out of western Armenia, which became eastern Turkey. In 1920, Russian Communists took control of eastern Armenia. This area became part of the Transcaucasian Republic of the Soviet Union in 1922. In 1936, it became a separate Soviet republic called the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. It remained under Soviet control until 1991, when the people voted to become an independent nation. Several million Armenians live outside Armenia. The strong national identity of Armenians worldwide helped keep the Armenian culture alive.