Volume 11, Number 3


Barbara's Letter

Ann's Letter
President, Board of Directors

Barbara's Talk "What's Happening Here?"
DSC Summer Retreat,  June 26, 2003

A November Evening with Aaron
November 13, 2002

A February Evening with Aaron
February 21, 2001

Barbara's Letter

Dear Friends,

It's been a busy and wonderful year, full of travels, play and work, new friends and old ones. The new Deep Spring center is very precious, inspiring much dharma activity. So many people are giving of themselves to help the teachings flow. The month of May took me to Japan for a very rich period of travel and teaching. See the photo on page 13 for a tiny glimpse of the friendliness we met on our trip. Other retreats brought me to all parts of the U.S.A. Now at last I'm at my cabin, enjoying the solitude and lake. Today, July 31, I have just finished the last of the editing of Aaron's new book — Presence, Kindness, and Freedom. It's been my primary daily work for over a year, and it feels like I've given birth to a baby after a 15 month gestation period. As with the Center, I'm filled with gratitude and deeply inspired by all the assistance in bringing this baby forth. We finally have a real anthology of Aaron's teachings, from the most basic to the most profound. It will go to the publisher now for layout, then to the printer, and will be available later this fall. You can order it directly from us (look for it on the DSC web site) and in your local bookstores. If they don't carry it, ask them to call us.

Anne's Letter
President, Board of Directors

Dear Deep Spring friends,

We are growing!! The new 'local' directory has over one hundred names. (Pick up your copy next time you are at the center.) It was also clear at the June Retreat that there are folks who live far away who really consider themselves part of the Deep Spring sangha, and so they are. Some of our local folks who have been pretty deeply involved with us, such as Kalindi Trietley and Bernie and Bonnie Clifford, are moving away but still feel connected to us. Our boundaries are expanding.

The new space at 3003 Washtenaw offers us new opportunities for local community-building. Move-in and maintenance work has been shared by many. Having most DSC activities happen in one place has enhanced communication. As problems arise, we have found that we can find creative solutions. Our confidence is growing.

Su Hansen, as Office Manager, was so helpful this past year as we went through the process of finding and moving into a new space. She was our first employee and learned with us what needs and responsibilities that brought. We were sorry to lose her skills when she recently left to take a job managing the AFSC office. We wish Su well and expect to see her around at sangha functions.

Our new Office Manager is Lalita Doke. She is in the office from 9 am – 1 pm Monday through Thursday. Do stop in and welcome her. I am confident that her skills and warmth of personality will build on the foundation Su helped establish.

The OMA (Office Manager Advisory group) has been wonderful in working with the Office Manager to help define the role of this position and create a clear job description. OMA also took the lead in hiring our new Manager. With more than 100 responses to our advertisement, it took some masterful organization to move us through the process. Much gratitude especially to Kris Kurnit and Pat Shalis for their efforts. Dave Coupland is now working with Lalita to update the computer and orient her to recording financial transactions directly into the system. We anticipate less complexity and more accuracy in this new procedure.

Dave is our newest Board member and has taken over the work of Treasurer. Having organized his own nonprofit business in recent years, he has some good insight and ideas about how to manage our finances as we grow. Our financial status can best be described as one of those good news/bad news situations. The good news is that we have reserve funds in operating expenses. Donations to Deep Spring have increased. Income from classes has increased. The Building Fund is intact with about $20,000. The bad news is that our budget is not yet balanced. We are still consistently spending more each month than we are taking in.

The Board has created a Finance Advisory Committee, which has met once and will meet again this summer. The committee consists of David Brown, Bernie Coyne, Dave C. and me. The purpose is to help clearly evaluate the financial status of DSC and help us think about what is needed in long-term planning in order to achieve our goals with financial security. David and Bernie both have long history with Deep Spring and also life-work experiences that give them knowledge to bring to this work. As they pointed out at our first meeting, our lease is up December 2005. We need to begin thinking now, even as we are still learning how to use this space, about what we might need and want to do then. We plan to involve all of you in this thinking as we become clearer about how to do that.

The Board of Directors of DSC has been working hard to be less involved with the details of operations, and I think we are succeeding. We are seeing more of that work happening in committees that report to the Board. Some are Standing Committees such as Retreat Committee, Building Usage, Newsletter, and Archiving (of Aaron materials). Other committees arise for specific purposes. Recently we have been working with Barbara in an attempt to clarify just what her role is as Guiding Teacher to Deep Spring. We have also been working with the Sangha Development Group to define a process for decision-making within the organization. We are looking ahead to working on long-range planning issues such as fund-raising, goal setting and evaluation processes.

Board meetings are open to the sangha. The first half-hour is set aside for "open sangha sharing," which means that if you wish to speak to the whole Board, this is a time and place to do so. We also post Minutes of the Board meetings on the Web site and are now sending the Agenda out via email to the sangha before each meeting. While Board meetings are held generally on the 4th Monday of the month from 7 – 9:30 pm, that can change due to schedule and holiday conflicts, so check the Web site for an update. Alice Britt is doing wonderful work designing, improving and updating our web site. Having this site is an important part of our organizational growth.

Several months ago when one of you was being recruited for some committee work, you responded by saying, "Oh, good. I want to learn to work in a dharma way." I have remembered this many times since then and have tried to let this thought lead me in my work with Deep Spring. That is what we are all trying to learn. What a gift it is to have this loving, supportive community in which to experience this learning.

I thank you.

Ann Barden
Deep Spring Center
President, Board of Directors

Barbara's Talk – "What's Happening Here?"
DSC Summer Retreat (seventh night)
June 26, 2003

What are we doing here? What's happening here?

We think of ourselves as being on a spiritual path. Aaron says everybody is on a spiritual path whether they're conscious of it or not, so we might say we're on a conscious spiritual path. We think of ourselves as going somewhere, from shadow to purity, from ignorance to clarity, and yet we're not really going anywhere. The teachings of the great masters tell us we're already home. There's no place to go. Yet we still seem to feel we have somewhere to go.

From Kabir, a great Sufi poet, come the lines:

The small ruby everyone wants
has fallen out on the road.

Some think it is east of us,
others west of us.

Some say, 'among 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.

If we just say, "Well, I'm already there, there's nothing to do," there's no impetus to do the hard work, to walk the path. And as you all already know, it does take energy and effort. There's got to be some kind of motivation. So we can't say, "Well I'm already home, why do anything?" And we can't grasp or we just create more suffering. We move ourselves in what feels like a skillful direction. It's almost trial and error. At this point, if we have a teacher, that can be helpful. Practice sometimes feels like the experience of walking through a fog that ends just above your head. Somebody sitting on your shoulders can look out and say, "Oh, go a bit right. There's a steep place ahead. Go a bit to your left now."

For me it's been very helpful to have a teacher and to be able to trust that the teacher can see a bit further ahead than I can. It's still my decision whether his suggestions resonate as truth and whether to follow them. If we don't have access either to a human or spirit plane teacher, we still can continue on this path. We just have to work more by trial and error, which means we must pay very close attention to results. Sometimes we stumble a bit more, but the stumbling in itself can be a teacher.

What happens for all of us is there's some kind of yearning, something we're looking for, that draws us to practice. The motivation may come from a place of personal or universal suffering. It may be deeply rooted in the loving intention to serve all beings and to increase happiness and peace in the world, or it may come from a place of fear and pain, of determination to reduce our own suffering. Whatever prompts us to get started on the path, we start to practice, choose some kind of a definitive path such as vipassana, or maybe a practice grounded in service or prayer and begin to work with it.

We can become very goal-oriented and think that it's all linear, that we're just going to go from confusion to clarity, from suffering to freedom, With that thinking, we can drive ourselves too hard and judge any negativity or distortion that comes up in ourselves. But it's not linear at all.

It's also not like a spiral, because a spiral, although it goes around, is still linear. The path is more like a series of intertwined threads, like a maze or a labyrinth. Rather than there being a linear end, there's the heart of the labyrinth, and all the threads lead into the heart, or into other threads that lead to the heart. Some threads make many detours, and others go more directly. We seem intuitively to choose the direct or indirect path as is needed. Sometimes the direct path is too steep; we need to go a bit more slowly. We seem to need time to explore various parts of the labyrinth, then come back to where we detoured with a deeper understanding.

My experience is nothing is wasted. Sometimes we may feel that we've been wasting time, but we may have needed to look at something in different ways, to stabilize understanding, to integrate insights into our daily life. It may feel like we're doing nothing, but what we're doing is settling and getting ready for the next step. Remember that there is a necessary pause before every inhalation, before every exhalation.

I'm reminded of experiences while backpacking with my family. When my sons were young, aged 7 to 15, we would stop about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. They would all say, "But we've got hours of daylight left! Let's go on." But I knew that they needed to stop and rest. If they didn't rest and eat, they'd be wiped out the next day. They said, "We're wasting time," but we made a lot more progress than we would have if we had pressed on until 9 o'clock at night and everybody was exhausted.

It's really the same thing: the need to pace ourselves, which we do intuitively when we honor our highest intentions. Working with our fears, working with our confusion, but always pushing ahead just a little bit, ready to open as we're able.

Somehow we seem to invite in just the experiences we need. I remember probably 20 years ago, I was working with the pain and anger from my deafness. I wanted to understand it and move through it, yet there was still resistance, an inclination to hold on to the anger. I went into a bookstore in Ann Arbor and was sitting on the floor looking through some books that were not really relevant. A total stranger walked up to me, and handed me Stephen Levine's "Healing into Life and Death." He said, "This is what you need." I had no idea who he was. I opened the book, I started to read it, and I said, "This is what I need." It wasn't more than two minutes. I got up to find him but he was gone.

These things happen. We somehow send out a message to invite what we need and if we're open, it comes to us. If we're not open, it probably comes anyhow, but we don't see it. We say, "Ah, what does he know," and toss the book aside. Then it may take another three or four months before we finally realize, "That was what I needed."

And finally we catch on and we really start to listen to our inner wisdom, pick up those things that are passing by and know intuitively, "This one is helpful. Use it. That one is not helpful. Put it aside." There's trust of that intuition.

As we follow our path and open to something new, we explore it. Sometimes there's a lot of resistance to it, a lot of fear. At whatever level we're able, we begin to let it in. We probably struggle with it a bit, but we open, and then insight develops. Then we step back and that insight needs time to stabilize. We ask the question, "What does this mean in my life?" This willingness to grow gives rise to another guest, another new visitor. We keep moving in this way.

There has got to be some kind of motivation. There are many models of the spiritual path, some linear, some nonlinear. They all start with something that  we're moving toward. There are the Zen ox-herding pictures that start with seeing the ox's footprints. If we never see the footprints, we never set out to look for the ox. We have forgotten it exists. Seeing the footprints wakes us up. It is a first awakening, a reminder that there is something we came to do, something toward which we yearn.

What is the experience of first awakening in your lives? Each of us has had a different experience of seeing the footprints, something that set us moving on a spiritual path. For me, it was when I was a young child but old enough to comprehend what was going on and what was being said. WW II had ended several years earlier and information about the concentration camps and the atrocities was just becoming known. My parents talked about these things, so I heard this as dinner table conversation.

I would ask questions. "You mean all these people were killed?" It was more than I could comprehend. I credit my parents that they didn't try to hide the facts from me, that people can act  in very cruel ways out of their fear and ignorance, and these are the results. They tried to explain it in a loving and wise way, not to alarm me but to answer with honesty. But the effect this information had on me was that I felt like I didn't want to live in a world where people were that cruel. I felt like the purpose of my life, if there was any purpose, had to be to help to end that suffering.

This is similar to the Buddha's experience of seeing sickness, old age and death, and realizing there is suffering. I'm not saying I didn't have personal suffering. Certainly I did; we all did. But for me this was a call to awakening. The question arose: how do I work in an effective way with the suffering in the world? It took me a long time to learn that first I had to resolve it in myself.

Some people find the call to awakening from a very deep personal suffering and the need to ask, how do I deal with this abuse, this hatred, this loss? There are many kinds of loss: the loss of parents or loved ones, loss of home, loss of stability. For some people it's a personal physical loss, blindness, deafness, loss of bodily function. For some it's loss of safety or trust. Suffering arrives through many different gateways and serves as a call to awakening.

Some people find it through love and yearning, some sense of connection to God and the seeking of divinity without and within. One woman I know who had never been taught to pray tells how she used to kneel by her bedroom window as a five or six year old, when she heard the bells chime in a nearby church and saw the stained glass windows lit up, and prayed also to be allowed into that holy space.

We are all led to these footprints in different ways. If we went around this room, each of you would have a different and very moving story about your own personal calls to awakening. Then we seem to shift gears. There is a pull but we don't know what to do with it. We set off to follow the footprints but we don't know what we'll do with the ox if we see him. We may experience a struggle with ourselves because we start to see a light, which we seek, but the light only highlights the shadow in ourselves. Because our parents often didn't know how to deal skillfully with their own shadow, and their elders didn't, we're taught what our culture teaches — modes of control and force used to renounce, deny or conquer the shadow. This is a very distorted effort. We may need to fumble around quite a bit to come around to a more skillful means, and learn to work kindly with the shadow we experience.

Joseph Campbell's model of awakening starts with the call to awakening, and then what he calls great renunciation and great struggle. I find these terms, "great renunciation" and "great struggle" to be a little misleading, as if it's linear and it just happens once. The call, the renunciation, the struggle, the great awakening and then ah, I'm done!

I want to read you something from Jack Kornfield's book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. He says:

A senior Buddhist teacher who was known as one of the strongest western practitioners told me, 'After years of retreat practice, I went to Burma. The teacher called forth our fullest effort and I experienced many stages of insight leading to an amazing realization of the dharma. What seemed like stream entry, which the sayadaw1 appeared to confirm. It was an awe-inspiring period and the effects of that level of awareness lasted a long time. So I thought it would be straightforward to go to the next stage of enlightenment.

'I threw myself into the practice the following year but only seemed to repeat what I had touched already, with nothing new happening. I became frustrated. And as I pushed further, I sensed how deep the next level of attachment really is.

'I tried to get direct answers from several masters about what I needed to do to attain the second stage, but all the answers were surprisingly vague and unclear.  Eventually my sayadaw did say his own next stage of practice was a purification that took many years. What I know at this point is to keep following the direction of the dharma, but I'm not clear we can know how far we've come or how far we've yet to go.'

We do follow a path of sorts, and come to purification with its renunciation and struggle. Sometimes there are big steps, a deep realization; sometimes there are small insights. The small insights are not trivial. They are not less important. All the small insights are what prepare the ground for the deeper insight; if we move into the deeper realizations without that readiness, there's no stability there. We can't integrate it into everyday life. But when we work from an intuitive place and with deep mindfulness, we see the places that we're stuck, and work with that big or small discomfort. We take that attachment or aversion as our practice, the anger and judgment, the feelings of unworthiness, the confusion, the grasping energy, the relationship difficulty. Each of these is our practice and each of these, if we allow it, will lead us on to the insights that further the purification process.

When I talk about purification, what do I mean? For 15 years my office was a little cellar room with tiny slit windows opening to outside window wells. When it rained through the winter, lots of soil and dirt would accumulate, so the windows were covered with grime. Every spring I would go out and wash off the windows, begin to let some light back into my office. Then I would go back downstairs and look out. From the outside it looked like they were clean but when I went downstairs I could see all the streaks that remained. Then I'd go back out and take a clean cloth and start over again. Go back down. Still a lot of streaks. A third time, a fifth time, a sixth time. Each time the windows got a little bit clearer. And it was interesting: I could never really see where the grime was from outside looking toward the darkness. I could only see the grime from the inside looking toward the light. At a certain point I'd have to say it was good enough for now. I'd live with it for a while. Then I'd go back out and wash the windows, get them a little bit cleaner.

This is what we keep doing. We find these impurities of our aversion and greed and of our delusion of separation, and bring our attention to them, learn the balance of right effort. This means bringing attention to them from a place of kindness, not from a place of force and self-hatred. As that kindness develops, the changes that we seek begin to come forth naturally because the heart is more open. We start to see the ways we've held onto identity with various painful states because their familiarity lent a sense of safety.

We finally catch on to ourselves and we see how we've been protecting the ego by clinging to some projection of self, such as unworthy. Suddenly there's an insight about how we're holding on to that projection, and yet there may not be the readiness to even contemplate letting go of it. Or perhaps we can contemplate it but we don't know how to do it, or we're not sure we're brave enough to do it.

Here we see Campbell's stages of renunciation and struggle. To renounce doesn't mean to throw something away but to let go of it, to release it or walk away from it. We may see that the whole notion, "I am unworthy," has been unwholesome and caused suffering. But there's such a struggle because we keep wanting to turn around and grab the story again. It's been a lifeline. The self-identity as unworthy protected us from something.

Anger's stories are another projection and another lifeline. There is the experience of the self as the angry one. We can say, "I won't be angry," yet anger arises if conditions are present for it. Then may come condemnation because it arose. But the anger is a result of conditions. The further condemnation is just more conditioning and more anger. We can't walk away from anger; it is a direct experience and to turn our back on it is denial. We can avow to walk away from the stories of anger. We are not then renouncing anger so much as renouncing involvement in the stories.

Then we walk away from them, we take a few steps and we say, "Yes, but … what am I going to do if I'm not identified with my anger? I won't be safe." And then the struggle comes.

This is a crucial point in our practice. There's not one great renunciation and one great struggle. It comes a million times, the moments of deep seeing and of choosing to walk away. First there is the call to awakening, the deep aspiration to go toward the light and resolve that which is distorted and unwholesome, that which we see as shadow. Our primary motivation may be to resolve our own suffering, or to honor a commitment to nonharm. Seeing the shadow of this moment, we come to the decision, "I'm not going to continue to get caught in these stories." That's the renunciation. And then the struggle; how do I not get caught in them? At this crucial point we learn about our attachment to the stories, and what the involvement with them has protected us from.

As a small example, the involvement with the stories of anger, such as how to fix or who is to blame, protects us from directly touching anger and knowing the fear that lies beneath it. Here is the fear that we won't be safe or that the other person won't be safe, fear of our power or of the other's power. But we never stop to look at the fear because if we look at the fear, at some level we know we're going to have to recognize what it's about. Because we're committed to the spiritual path, we're drawn to look deeply and be honest with ourselves, and at a certain level we don't let ourselves get away with anything. We do, to a point, and then we know, "I have to stop. I can't lie to myself."

This is what's so scary. The struggle is so much about maintaining the ego. Letting go means letting go of the identification with the small self. And we just keep going through this drama over and over. The insights develop. There's a certain level of awakening and we say, "Now I see how it is. And I'll never have go through that again." But of course we're going go through it again and again. Each time we have a bit more clarity and are a little more able to live our insights.

Nothing is ever lost. We keep getting clearer. We keep growing. What I'm depicting still seems like a linear path. But of course sometimes we drop right in the center, to the open heart, rest there for a while, then find ourselves back on the edge again saying, "Wow! What was that?" The experience is gone but there is insight that remains. It's part of what leads us, what keeps us going, because it gives us a faith, this path is real. And it can be walked. The growth that we seek is possible and liberation is possible. We begin to trust even the seeming obstacles as path.

Here's a poem from Kabir:2

My friend, please tell me what I can do
about this world I hold to.

It keeps spinning out.

I gave up some clothes and wore a robe.

But I noticed one day the cloth
was well-woven.

So I bought some burlap. But I still
throw it elegantly over my
left shoulder.

I pulled back my sexual longings and
now I discover I'm angry a lot.

I gave up rage and now I notice that
I'm greedy all day.

I worked hard at dissolving greed
and now I'm proud of myself.

When a mind wants to break its link
with this world, it still holds on
to one thing."

Kabir says, "Listen, my friend. There
are very few that find that path."

It's vital to hold on to the truth that we are fully capable of awakening, but also not to demand that full liberation of ourselves tonight, but to be grateful for the clarity that arises tonight and to understand that our present experiences are laying the ground for full liberation. It will come. We have to realize when the Buddha sat down under that tree and said, "I will not get up until I'm enlightened," the Buddha had acquired the karma for that from many lifetimes. We don't quite have that karma yet. I don't know about you but, for example, I know I'm not capable of feeding myself to a hungry tiger's cubs.

Do you know that story of the Buddha? In a life before he was the Buddha, a tigress came to him. Her cubs were starving and she was starving. She was lame and could not catch food for them. He decided what he needed to do was just offer himself to the tiger. Not just an arm but his whole self.

Fortunately it's not required for most of us to come to that point of generosity and letting go of self. But it's a model that demonstrates what it means to be able to give of ourselves. The world is filled with hungry tiger cubs. We can keep asking ourselves, to what degree am I holding back? What is it appropriate to hold for myself? When do self and other disappear?

These are not easily answered questions. Feeding somebody who is truly incapable of feeding themselves is kindness. Feeding somebody in such a way that it incapacitates them and takes away their drive to learn how to feed themselves is not kindness. I'm not sure I can differentiate skillfully all the time. I've learned just to follow my heart and to trust the intention to do no harm. I watch the motivations and ask, "What is prompting this moment of giving?"

The Buddha giving himself to the tiger cubs was pure generosity. There was no trying to get anything out of it. In the same way, he was ready to say, "I will not get up from this spot until I'm liberated." For me, I've got to resolve a lot of karma first, and do a lot of purification, a lot of passing through awakening, renunciation and struggle. Wisdom grows. Compassion grows. The deepest moments of clarity come, but they must still be integrated into our lives.

I have a vivid past life memory that has been a powerful force for me. It's a memory of a being I was a long time ago, who was a poor young man living near the coast in an Asian country. He wanted to be important; he wanted to be somebody.

Pirates came to his town. Most people ran away but he went out to meet them. He said, "I can show you where riches are. If I do that, will you take me with you?"

They said, "Yes, bring us something valuable." He went to the temple where the priest was, a man who had been his priest since childhood. I don't know what religion it was. There was the priest sitting in the temple, and the altar with some valuable things. This young man that I was, he didn't come in and say, "I need to take these things. May I have them?" He just pulled out his knife and he stabbed the priest. He was self-centered. There as nothing for him but his own needs, his own drive.

The priest fell over. The young man had enough kindness to catch the priest, whom he had known all his life. The priest looked up at him. He was dying. He looked up at him and he said, "I forgive you. May you learn to forgive yourself." And he died.

This was the call to awakening. It was the first notion within the karmic stream of this mind and body that I'm not the center, that I need to attend to the needs of other people. So he held the priest in his arms and he realized what he had done. He lowered him down feeling a lot of shame, a lot of regret. He left all the items on the altar. He did not go back to the pirates but the pirates saw him and caught him. They thought he was holding out on them, that he had taken these things for himself. They tortured him to try to get information from him. He was able to forgive the pirates. This led him into the karma of his next life, of being in a position to follow a conscious spiritual path.

This has been a very powerful memory for me. I dedicate so much of my teaching, of all I do, of what I learn, to this priest. I think of him as my spiritual father, and thank him for what he gave me: "I forgive you. May you learn to forgive yourself." Very powerful.

Learning to forgive oneself is hard. For me, here is where the renunciation and struggle has come in. It's been very much a part of this life, looking at anger, looking at greed, learning to forgive myself for this humanness. The greatest struggle for me has been with the judgmental voice that says, "No, you shouldn't be like that." I've had to learn to note that voice with kindness and not believe its stories. The renunciation has been of shame and unworthiness. Letting go of shame, we come to know our true divinity.

I've learned very much to trust whatever my life brings me. I no longer ask, "How does this relate to liberation?" All I see is this bit of circumstance, this difficult emotion, this unpleasant situation. How can I relax, stay open, allow myself to directly experience this pain, this sadness, this confusion, to keep my heart open, and trust that wherever it takes me is where I need to be. I have no remaining idea of a linear path, only that this moment is what I need right now to help get a little more of the smudge off the window. Eventually there's just going to be that full light.

From Rumi:

O lovers, lovers, it is time to set out
from the world. I hear a drum
in my soul's ear coming from
the depth of the stars.

We allow that drum roll, trumpet call, or whisper, however it comes, to touch our hearts and lead us. We start to know the truth of our being as spirit, really as divine spirit, angels as Aaron calls us. We open to that innate truth of ourselves and trust our life experiences, and we stop trying to figure out what the spiritual path is about. We know vipassana practice is suitable for us; we just do the practice. We stop trying to figure out each step. The ego is the one who wants to figure it out; that still place inside, it doesn't need to figure out anything. It just moves as it will move. The smudges get washed away. The light shines out brighter and brighter.

Tomorrow perhaps we can volunteer to wash the windows!

1. Sayadaw: the title for a dharma teacher in Burma.

2. From The Kabir Book translation by Robert Bly.

A November Evening with Aaron
Wednesday Night Group
November 13, 2002

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

Spiritual practitioners, those drawn to a conscious spiritual path, often have a strong aspiration to clarify their energy, to purify it. People always say to me, "Aaron, I am imperfect. I get angry. I am greedy. I am impatient. What do I do about these things?"

Of course you are imperfect in this outer aspect; you are human. When certain conditions are present, difficult mind states will arise just as they will arise in the body when conditions are present. If you are out in damp cold weather without adequate clothing protection, the body will become cold. You don't ask why is it cold, or think it shouldn't be cold; this is the nature of the body.

Similarly, if the conditions are present for anger, ill will, irritation, impatience, grasping, fear, and more to arise, they will arise. When such an emotion arises and you can note, "This has arisen. I will watch it and be careful with it."

Often an object comes and takes you by surprise; it grabs and shakes you so that you react by striking out at others. To purify the negative emotions does not mean to control so much as to bring kind awareness to them so there is less reactivity when they arise. This is the purification, to cease to respond to negativity with more negativity.

Wisdom develops about the nature of arising of any object. Arising is the result of conditions. If your toilet is overflowing, will you run around gathering all the towels in the house to mop up the mess until none are left, but with the toilet still flowing? Or will you get out a plunger and fix the condition so that the flood ceases? Anger is no different than that overflowing toilet. Something is stopped up. When you attend to it, it will open. And then the anger will diminish and cease. Then you may wish to clean up the mess by offering apology and looking deeply to understand the conditions so they will be less likely to repeat themselves.

The most common condition that serves as ground for anger is fear, and as ground for fear, the predominant condition is the whole delusion of a permanent separate self. When I say "delusion of a separate self," I am in no way denying any of your existence. You are real indeed, very real, and to be cherished. My emphasis is on separate. Your fingers are "real." Are they separate in any way from the hand? You identify yourself with the physical, emotional and mental bodies and think that's what you are. Of course you're afraid then because you recognize the nature of this body is to cease. If this is what you are, it would mean you would cease to exist. But you are not your mind or body.

What happens to the mind or to consciousness itself, as time passes? What continues? Two predominant religious traditions speak of this as Christ Consciousness or Buddha Nature. These are part of what continues, the Ground of Being. Both of these religions also emphasize transcendence of the small ego self and that one cannot come to this Ground until one has let go of the identity of self as only this small self, as everyday consciousness, body, thoughts, and so forth.

When I say "no independent separate self" it is a very positive statement, a statement of guidance, I hope, that when you move beyond identity with the form, the feelings, the thoughts, and even with consciousness, you will come to this Christ Consciousness or Buddha Nature. But this is not self. Rather, when you rest there, you are totally interconnected with all that is, much as a drop of water, a raindrop, falling into the sea, becomes part of the sea. Of course, there's still a molecule of water, but it is no longer just that molecule, it is a part of the sea. You are part of all that is, expressions of the Divine.

When you hold tight to the ego belief that you are the small self, this conditions fear, and fear conditions anger. When you begin to regard the possibility that you are not only the small aspects of your being, you begin to attend to the conditions that create anger. I'm using anger in my example but greed and grasping carry the same kind of energy born of fear and the delusion of separation.

The path to purification, then, is not to take a stick and try to beat away any negative thought, but to open your heart to it with awareness, see its roots in delusion, and resolve that delusion. Here is fear, here is anger, here is grasping, here is jealousy or impatience, here is pride; see them and know from your direct experience, "This has arisen out of conditions. The more I fight with it, the more I add hostility and negative energy to feed those conditions. The more I relax and attend to it appropriately, the more I bring in a shift to the conditions, bring in conscious kindness.

Of course, you must be responsible for what arises in you. Deeper practice can only be done when you are willing to take such responsibility, not to enact your anger or greed in the world, not to enact your confusion. Here the practice of mindfulness is so important because through mindfulness we see the habitual pattern. It may be experienced as simply as knowing the tickle on the arm and the following slap to the mosquito, the car cutting in front of you, and the thumb on the horn. The movement is just reactivity to unpleasant sensation. With mindfulness you can begin the practice of seeing impatience or irritation as a direct experience, followed by the impulse to honk the horn or slap the bug. You will see that an impulse is not an imperative command; it's just an habitual thought.

No matter how deeply rooted you are in negative thought, your deep aspiration to growth, your work toward deepened mindfulness, and your frequent self-reminders to pay attention will bring forth the purification you seek. As part of this purification we must also pay attention to the already existent purity, the perfection and beauty that exists and is so often overlooked. It is so easy to focus on the negative in the self and in others. So often we do not pay attention to the positive. Often on your holiday of Thanksgiving I talk about gratitude. We are two weeks from that holiday but I know I shall not have the opportunity to speak with you closer to that day. I want to tell you a story about a being that I was thousands of years ago.

He tried to be good, to be kind, in the world. He was a bit self-righteous and judgmental of others. He was very careful to obey the letter of the law but often he did not act from his heart. One day something was stolen from the house of a wealthy man. This one that I was, was a monk. He was seen nearby and so a cry came up, "He must have stolen it!" They could not find it among my possessions, which were very few, nor on my person, but that did not deter them from deciding that I was the culprit. When I say "I," I don't mean Aaron but this man that I was.

The prison of that time and place was quite interesting. Basically it was a hole dug in the ground. It was perhaps 10 feet deep and 10 feet square. The imprisoned person was lowered into that hole by rope. Some branches were placed over one upper corner of the hole to provide a bit of shelter from the sun, from rain. Most of the year the climate was dry. Food was lowered into the hole and water and there was a small container offered for toileting oneself. That was it.

People spent years in such a hole. Sometimes the guard, who was also the one who cared for their food needs, would speak with them, sometimes not. Many people lost their sanity in that kind of living condition, living in such isolation.

I pleaded my innocence to no avail. A rope was put around my chest and I was lowered into the hole. I was told to untie the rope. It was my choice. If I untied the rope they would pull it up and use it to lower my food and water. If I did not untie it, I would not receive food and water. So I untied it.

I had been permitted to take some clothing. All I had, really, was my monk's robe. It was not a heavy robe, just a thin piece of fabric. So I had no real protection from the damp ground. But my jailor cut some limbs from an evergreen type of tree, tossed them down to me so that I might make some kind of softer, dryer bed.

Weeks and then months passed. I was filled with rage. I was innocent. Why had this befallen me? I was angry at the gods in whom I believed. I was angry at those in the town who had accused me. I was angry at the system of justice. I was simply angry.

This jailor, it was just his job to serve thus, and he wasn't a bad sort. I told you how he offered me tree boughs for a bed. And yet every time he came with my food and water I screamed at him. No wonder, then, that he ceased to visit me except to deliver food. His abandonment only made me angrier.

The months turned into a year, a year of living in the bottom of this hole. The rainy season came. I was given more limbs to elevate myself off the damp earth. The shelter above my head was made a little thicker, but still I got soaked. Then the hot season came. The boughs above my head gave some shelter, yet I still baked in this in-ground oven.

Once a month a rope was lowered which I might wrap around myself, and I was hoisted out, dowsed with water, given the opportunity to bathe myself, to wash out my clothes, and then I was lowered again. This few hours was the only change in the pattern of these endless days. The prisoners were taken out one at a time on different days so there was no interaction between us.

I can't really tell you how the change began, only that I woke up one morning pre-dawn, which was my habit, felt my habitual bitterness and anger, and the thought came to me, "I could spend the rest of my life here, however long that will be. If I cannot get out of the hole, I can determine how I spend my time in this hole. Do I wish to spend it filled with rage and bitterness? Is that helping me? Is it helping anybody?"

I sat there that night. I remember that the stars were especially bright and clear and there was a small sliver of moon visible. I made the decision to abandon bitterness. I didn't really know what that meant, only that I was killing myself with my bitterness. My religion taught karma and I understood that I was deepening that negative karma by holding on to my bitterness.

The day I made that decision, it chanced to be my bath day. The jailor whom I had abused tossed me the rope. Several men hauled me out. As I came to rest on the ground, my habit was to fight with them. Instead, I fell to my knees. I said, "Thank you, friends." It was very hard to say it. There was still anger. And yet, something in me saw that these men did not wish me harm, they were just doing their job. They had not condemned and imprisoned me. Despite my constant abuse, they had continued to care for me. So I knelt and bowed and said, "Thank you friends. I am happy to have this bath today."

That little bit of softness from me changed something. There was a bit more water. One of them noticed how ragged my clothing had become and offered me fresh new clothing. They gave me something cool to drink and lowered me back into my hole. I spent that day in meditation, the meditation that had been my practice for many years before my imprisonment, but which I had cast aside completely for this year of dwelling in the hole.

In the heat of the day, one of the jailors came to the edge of the hole with some fresh cold drink. Then as the sun passed, the evening grew cool and the stars came out again. I sat and I walked. I reflected to myself how in my prior life all I had wanted was to be left alone to pursue my spiritual practice. My wish had been to have the nourishment my body needed to survive and a place to live. I realized then that I had been given this for a whole year. Because my ego was so defiant, angry, really, at being blamed, I had not appreciated in any way what I received.

The change was subtle. I can't tell you I transformed overnight. Certainly bitterness still came. Strong desire came again to walk in the woods and on the beach, to see growing things, to have human companionship. Each time that strong yearning arose, I learned to touch it with kindness, to touch my entire suffering with kindness, and also to remind myself, "I am safe. I am well cared for. And I have the opportunity for solitude and practice. It is okay that grasping comes. I don't have to be afraid of the grasping. But right there with the grasping I can see appreciation for what I have."

I think you can foresee what's coming. As I softened and became kinder, my various jailors whose life must have been quite boring, who worked in shifts, became kinder also. One or another would come and sit on the edge of the hole, talk to me for a while. They referred to me as the monk. They would sit down and say, "Do you want to talk?" They were respectful. "Are you meditating?" "Pray for me," they would say.

My food improved until one day I asked them, "Are you giving me the best and giving others less?" And they said yes. And I said, "No, you cannot do that. You cannot deprive another to serve me." And they did something quite interesting. My unused alms bowl was in the hole with me. They asked for it. They put it out each day, alms for the monk in the hole. Word had gotten around that I was really a loving fellow. People came and offered me food and no one else was deprived. I asked them to give any extra to other prisoners.

My periods out of the hole became longer. They began to pull me up more often for a bath, and even permit me to sit some hours in the shade of a tree until dusk arrived, and then would lower me back into my hole.

I lived in that hole for ten years. Even with more frequent visits to the surface most of my time was spent in isolation. My heart opened, my gratitude grew. I was being given exactly what I had asked for.

I was fed and sheltered; my simple medical needs were met. There was such a beauty to each day. I was not able to see that beauty until I understood the habit of grasping at what I lacked and instead turned my attention to what I had. There was no denial of what I lacked. I could not go where I wished, into the woods, down to the sea. I could not spend the evening in conversation by a fire. There was sadness. But fear dissolved. In its place came gratitude that even this very sterile, isolated existence had deep joy and meaning.

As the years passed, people began to come and sit at the top of my hole, ask for guidance, ask me to teach them. I taught them what I knew, which is that one has a choice. One may not have a choice with what one is given in life, but one has a choice with what one does with it. One has a choice between bitterness and joy, between hatred and kindness. One can cultivate these loving emotions, I would not say, even in the most difficult circumstances, but often aided by difficult circumstances.

At the end of about ten years, they caught a man who was wearing a very specific necklace. Somebody recognized it and asked the rich man who still lived in the village, "Is this yours?"


"Where did you get it?" they asked the one who wore it, and he confessed that he had stolen it.

Just like that they pulled me out of the hole and said, "We're sorry. You're free to go." By then I was known somewhat as a holy man. The rich man whose necklace it was, was afraid I would in some way bring the gods' wrath upon him for having held me in prison for so long. He offered me riches.

"I don't want any of it," I said. But he had a large plot of land, much of it wooded. I said, "Just give me a place to live, a small area where I may make a rough shelter for myself."

My friends, my jailors, continued to bring me food every day, no longer the prison food, but they came and filled my alms bowl. And so I went on with my life. In the ground or on the ground, are not so different, because I had learned to love. I had learned gratitude and joy. I had learned that attachment to bitterness only creates more bitterness and pain. I understood that seeing attachment and self-centeredness, right there one can find that which is open-hearted and can make a choice to dwell in that open heart and not in the heart of hatred and fear.

None of you live in holes in the ground. Each of you does live in your own special sort of prison. Every being does. My wish for you is that you allow whatever your prison is to become your monastery. That you allow whatever difficulties your life brings, through body illness, through relationships, through loss, to teach you kindness and love. You are free to make the choice not to allow the mind to obsess and become lost in bitterness, hatred and fear. You can do it. Then whatever life brings you is richness and you are wealthy beyond measure.

I thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts. I will be happy to hear your questions after your break. That is all.

A February Evening with Aaron
Night Group
February 21, 2001

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. Over 12 years ago a small group of you first gathered in Barbara and Hal's living room to ask me questions. Out of that simple beginning, Deep Spring Center has evolved. Last night at the board meeting the question was raised, "What is Deep Spring Center?" The president of your country may give a state of the union message, so I would claim the opportunity to offer a "state of the spiritual path" message.

Those in that early group including Barbara had no experience with Buddhism. I did not define myself as a Buddhist and I still don't. I am a teacher. What I come to teach is very simple: human kindness. Compassion. Deepening wisdom. Liberation in every sense, and the non-dual experience of all that is.

The Buddha also was not a Buddhist. The word "Buddha" simply means "one who is awake," and he was awake. Part of what I'm teaching is simply to be awake. Awake to what? To your true self, which has no religious referent.

Many of those at the board meeting last night said it seemed we had become a Buddhist organization. What does that mean? Is it a group of people who are awake? Are you awake? Waking up, perhaps; opening your eyes, looking around. Not yet fully awake. In the act of awakening, you are Buddhas-to-be. Every being, whatever their religious affiliation — Christian, Jewish, Moslem — they are all Buddhas-to-be, or we might state it, awakened-ones- to-be. Actually I would say that they have always been awake but they haven't yet noticed. That state of bright awakening is just out of reach behind the sleepiness in the eyes. And when you are awake, then the kindness, the wisdom, the skill to live one's life in ways of non-harm and that support non-duality are all expressions of that awake nature.

I teach this as drawn from Buddhism because in all my many lifetimes with innumerable spiritual practices, this is the path that most clearly articulated the practices necessary to come to this full realization of true being. It is the path in which I found freedom, and so I deeply honor and value it. I also honor the Buddha, the one who uncovered The Path. But it is not a religious path in the traditional sense since it is not based on a set of beliefs and strictures. It is simply the path to awakening, the path to knowing your true nature and the true nature of all that is.

As we journey on that path we speak of many things, and yet set aside many more. Some of you have heard a story about the Buddha and "A Handful of Leaves." He was on the edge of a forest with a group of his students. They said to him, "Do you teach us all that you know?" He reached down, picked up a handful of leaves from the forest floor and said, "This is what I teach you and," pointing to all the forest, "this is what I know. But this handful of leaves, this is all you needed to know."

People can become sidetracked and lose their way so easily on the path. In his great compassion, he did not want to support that wandering off the path into detours but to help people stay focused. It's very simple: you are suffering. Look at the causes of your suffering. See that there is an end to it. And here are some practical steps to lead you to that end. Don't get sidetracked.

He spoke to a very specific culture, which is the India of 2500 years ago. People there were mostly Hindu and had certain religious beliefs. They believed in the existence of many gods to whom they prayed; those beliefs provided an escape from taking responsibility for themselves. They believed in a caste system and that some people were inherently better or worse than other people, dependent on their karma. They understood karma as punishment with the idea, if you suffer this is the result of past harmful action. There was much ritual, not so much honest purification.

The Buddha did not say, "There is no God" nor did he say "There is a God." He said, "There are no gods of the sorts you imagine, when you pray to all these deities. You have responsibility for what you create. Your habit energy expresses itself as karma, and you have the choice, always, to perpetuate those difficult karmic patterns or to make a shift and find freedom. At first, this is freedom from suffering on a relative plane, and then freedom on an absolute plane."

He did not say to his followers, "Worship me." In fact, he said quite the contrary, simply, "I am a man, a friend on this path. What I have realized, you can realize. None of us are gods." Walk this path with me, he urged. "If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it."

Five hundred years later and in a different part of the world, the one known as Jesus was born. Unlike the Buddha, who came into that final incarnation with the almost-fully-developed potential for full realization but not yet having realized that potential, the one known as Jesus had realized his true nature before in a prior lifetime. He came into a different world than the Buddha, the Old Testament world where the Jewish rabbis were concerned with justice, concerned with kindness, but also where there was the teaching, "an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth." People had not begun to recognize the divine potential and their responsibility to express it. There was a believed duality: humans and God. Jesus attempted to break down the dual construct by teaching love and that the divine heart of love is within each being. In these teachings he had the background of study in the Essene community, and also of study with spiritual masters throughout the world.

Both of these great teachers taught lovingkindness, compassion, forgiveness. Jesus taught it by what he did and what he said. He was the essence of kindness, peace, forgiveness. He modeled it in every way, as did the Buddha. The people in Jesus' part of the world at that time, most of them, were not ready for a specific path. First they had to embrace the teachings teachings of loving-kindness and non-harm and release the "eye for an eye" teachings.

Here we must recognize that there is a steady progression of evolution in which each soul participates. This, what I call, spark of God, in one moment recognizes with self-awareness, "I am," and in that moment it experiences itself as moving out of the "garden" so to speak, separate from God, with the thought, "If I am, then I am here and God is there." This is essential, just as an infant must learn that he or she is not the mother. Such a being could never mature if there is no sense of separation from the mother. And yet, in another way, the mother and the child are never separate.

This self-awareness and experience of leaving the Garden, then, are essential to your growth. But where would you go? How could there ever be an inside and an outside to the Garden in an ultimate sense? How could you ever be separate from God? That would be like taking the waters that pour themselves on the ocean in a storm and saying, "Well, they're separate from the ocean." They're just the ocean in another form. The water that evaporates and then rains down on the ocean as clouds, it's just the ocean raining on itself. You, my dear ones, are God expressing itself.

But there is this experience of separation. You are each unique. For some, there is anger about it, even to challenging God. For some, there is grief. For some, helplessness. For some, dismay or an attitude of "I don't care."

Then you move through a period of self-centeredness. All beings do this. No matter what form you express yourself in — mineral, plant, animal, human — there will be this time of self-centeredness. Somewhere along the way there  is an awakening, a first awakening, a first glimpse, "When I harm others, I harm myself."

Buddhism in Buddhist countries is quite different in the way it evolved than the way it is here. In many countries there are not so much practitioners doing a deep meditation practice but people who go to a temple once a week, light some candles or incense, say some prayers, bow a few times, and feel they have done their religious duty, earned some kind of merit. We can't look down on these people. They're no different than the millions here who go to church or synagogue once or twice a year, or even weekly, but don't have any clear sense of what it means to be a spiritual being walking a spiritual path.

But eventually there is an awakening, an experience that one cannot harm another. Barbara  looks back with enormous gratitude to the being who was most instrumental in that awakening for her well over 2000 years ago. The karmic ancestor was a young man living in poverty on a coast in Asia. Pirates came. They boosted his ego. He looked up to them. They were older and more powerful. They said, "Show us where the gold is. Bring us some and you may come with us."

He went to the temple where a priest was sitting in meditation. It doesn't matter what religion it was. He had known this priest since childhood. He knew there were valuable objects in the temple. So great was his need and his greed, not for money for him-self but need and greed to be loved, to be powerful, to be safe, he did not ask the priest, "I need to take these objects," he just reached out a hand and stabbed him, to move him out of the way of his desire.

The priest rolled over in his arms. He had enough goodness in him to catch this man, hold him, dying, bleeding in his arms. The priest looked up at the one that Barbara was and said, "I forgive you. May you learn to forgive yourself." In that moment the world cracked open for this young man. He who had never thought he had anything to forgive himself for, that the world owed him everything, saw that in killing this priest he had killed himself. Had killed his mother, his father, his teachers, his future children.

He was able to lay the priest down and leave without taking anything, filled with regret. He went back to the pirates and said, "No, I did not get anything there and I cannot join you." Now, they thought he was holding out on them. They tortured him. "Where did you hide it?" He only would say, "I did not take anything." And finally as he died, "I forgive you." So he learned literally to forgive them, but of course not yet himself.

This self-forgiveness seems to be the heart of every spiritual path. You don't need to remember past lives. All of you have done things in this lifetime for which you feel regret. All of you have experienced greed and anger, jealousy, and impatience, even if you didn't act on it, and felt regret.

In many lifetimes after that first lifetime of awakening, most of you probably acted on those impulses of fear and negativity. The divine, however you named it, might have been seen or experienced as a brilliant light and yourself as shadow. There may have been despair, "I am not worthy to stand in that light, much less to consider myself a part of that light. I am covered with soil." There was something new moving through you, a deep aspiration to live your life with kindness and with love, an aspiration to come home but you didn't know how.

Reflect on Jesus' teachings, here. So many of those whom he addressed had not yet awakened. There was an intention to follow literal commandments but there was always an excuse. The commandment says, "Do not kill." But if he kills your sister or your brother, then you may kill him. In their somnolent state, this seemed acceptable.

Jesus was attempting to wake people up. Barbara feels such deep gratitude toward the priest who was killed, truly considers him her spiritual father, and offers the merit of any good practice or work to him because he was the one who, in giving his life, literally woke her up. Jesus woke up so many beings because of the power of his being. When you are taught to hit back when you are hit, and then somebody not only says, "Turn the other cheek" but does it, not only says, "Love others as yourself" but does it, it's very inspiring. If done without pride, it can make you feel, "I can do that also."

His purpose was not to lay a specific path of instruction but to wake people up, to wake them out of the enactment of their fear and negativity. And he did that superbly. Then he said to them further, "I am the way." This was the path he described. By "I am the way" he did not mean the personal man was the way, but the I Am. The divine within and without. This divine essence of all being, this is the way. When you come to know "I Am," he said, then you will come to know who you are. And then you cannot possibly do harm any more because this divinity is all-pervading.

So he didn't just wake people up, he gave them a path. It spoke to the people of his time and place. It helped them see the possibility of making different choices. It helped them see the possibilities of love.

I don't want to single these two teachers out as if they have been the only ones. So many great teachers have taught loving-kindness. What I  find remarkable about the Buddha's path is that it directly addresses most of you in your culture and who are spiritual seekers of this level, where you are awake, in part, but don't know what to do with your negativity. So many of you, millions of you, are stuck in this place where you so deeply want to come home.

If your hands have done harm, you'll feel you have to cut them off before you can come home. But you are meant to come home whole and not in pieces. There's nothing to cut off. The power of these teachings, then, is that it invites you to look at the inclination to whack yourselves into little pieces and sort those pieces into good and bad, to let go of all of that and recognize that that is just more negativity, more practicing of fear, hatred and control.

When the heart opens to the human dilemma, the human who has believed it must divide itself and conquer itself, and has finally understood that such duality won't work, is home. There is just the last mile left to walk. That last mile is steep. I'm not saying it's easy. But it can be done.

The first thing you need to learn is deeper kindness. It is from kindness and not force that we track the habitual tendencies to judgment, control, and even hatred, and commit to the decision, "This has not worked. It's time to try something new."

Then the practices taught by the Buddha offer specific ways of attending and finding balance. We watch the arising of pleasant and unpleasant mind and body states, seeing the habitual way we greet those states, with attachment to the pleasant and with aversion to the unpleasant. Then we watch the body contractions around attachment and aversion. Try it yourself. Reach out and pull something into you. Feel your body contract. Grab it. Now turn your hands and push away, and feel the body contract. It's very strong. But we give the experiences very simple labels: aversion, attachment. There are no stories there, only the contracted state, known just as it is.

Wisdom begins to develop about how it arises and how it ceases. Wisdom begins to develop that this anger is simply the fruit of conditions. It is made up of what we call non-self elements. Anger is made up of fear, memories of past pain, old stories, the desire to be safe, and habit energy. Those are the conditions, and when they come together the result will be anger. We begin to see that instead of attacking the result and saying, "I am unworthy of God. I am unworthy to come home as long as this anger is present in me," we can instead say, "Here is anger." And just that simple noting of characteristics; impermanent; not self; hard and contracted, holds a little bit of space and patience and a willingness to watch anger rather than judge it and hate it. Kindness is in charge rather than fear.

As wisdom and compassion develop and deepen, and also the ability to stay present in your lives, some of you find the Buddha's path very helpful and some of you are more drawn back into your own religions to explore, bringing in kindness instead of hatred. "In what ways can I find realization in this religious path with which I resonate?" It doesn't matter; the paths are all leading to the same place.

There's one more part to this puzzle. Many of you come with questions about all those leaves in the forest. Past lives, beings on other planes, energy experiences, the nature of channeling. Now, I'm not the Buddha, I'm not living in India 2500 years ago. I also do not claim to be right; simply, I've learned to trust my own experience. Many of you have heard me say about some questions, "This one I will not answer. You don't need to know." But I do answer some of these questions because you are older now than you were then. You have insight now that you did not have then. A certain amount of spiritual inquiry seems to be helpful to many of you and not sidetrack you into irrelevancies. My choice has been to make such material available. For those who wish to be a part of our meditation program and not be involved with this kind of spiritual inquiry, that's fine. For those who wish to be a part of it, it's here.

The discursive mind cannot get at who any of you are, at your true nature. If you think you're somebody, who were you before you were that somebody? What were you? Right here in this paper tissue (holding up a tissue) we see the tree, the sun, the rain, the soil. Without those, this tissue couldn't exist. Is there anything you can point to and say, "This is me, separate from anything else"? This kind of reflection will not bring you to freedom but it will support your meditation practice. So we ask some useful questions. If the questions swing around to beings on the Pleiades, for example, well yes, of course, there are beings everywhere. They all have the same issue: how do I find freedom? How do I express my energy with more kindness, more wisdom, and with non-harm? So it doesn't matter; you're here. Don't worry about them out there. Do what you have to do right here.

What I see as the primary work of Deep Spring Center is that we especially draw to us those beings who are struggling with alienation with the shadow of the self, those who have a very keen sense of the divine, a very deep longing to go home, and feel lost. My wish is simply to give you the tools that have most helped me because I know that you can find your way. It gives me such joy to see deep love, spaciousness, and peacefulness dawning in so many of you, and to see your hearts opening to yourself and others.

It's not that anger and other negative thought stops, although eventually it will, but rather, anger is seen for what it is, just a collection of conditions, like a drop of rain falling on the ground and then soaking into the earth. Anger is just energy. You don't have to be afraid of greed, fear, or any of these heavy emotions; as you learn that you can trust yourself not to enact them, and that you don't have to deny them or hate them, you stop giving them energy. This means you stop supporting the conditions out of which these resultant emotions arise. Eventually they'll go.

So what are we doing here? In my mind we're not a religious organization. Through discussions like tonight's and through meditation instruction and practice, we are bringing to people paths of opening to your true nature. It is my experience that once you directly contact that true nature and begin to trust it, you will not be so absorbed in your negativity, nor so frightened by it. Then you will stop giving it energy and it will die away, leaving your true radiant and beautiful selves. The self which is no-self! Not separate. Able to dwell skillfully in the world without attachment or aversion. Able to love passionately and let go fully. Able to be who you are, for indeed you are all divine.

I thank you. I will be happy to speak to your questions. That is all.