Volume 12, Number 1- Winter 2003/2004


Barbara's Talk on No Limits
October 15, 2003, Southern Dharma Retreat

Aaron's Christmas Stories
Wednesday Night Group
December 11, 2002

Spiritual Inquiry Class with Aaron
First Class
September 17, 2003

Aaron's Talk to Teacher Training Group
Sunnyside Teacher's Retreat
November 16, 2003

Barbara's Talk on No Limits
Southern Dharma Retreat
October 15, 2003

We've been talking about the various dharma gates. I want to talk tonight about one aspect of the Gate of Liberation and how that relates to releasing ourselves from our concepts of limits. Liberation involves not just knowing the Unconditioned but understanding the relationship between the Unconditioned and the conditioned, and not creating a duality out of them. We see how relative and ultimate interweave and are part of each other. These teachings of the non-duality of ultimate and relative are found in many traditions. They get to the heart of Dharma with the statement that we must not ignore either experience, but know relative and ultimate as a whole. We cannot turn our back on this relative world. We can't say it doesn't exist or we create terrible suffering. And yet we can't hold to it and say, this is all there is, or we also suffer.

What do I mean by, "they are part of each other"? Look at this board. There's a right and left end. Where does the right end stop and become the left end? Can we say there's a separate left or right end? It's just one board. The ends exist, but only as part of the board. Without the board, there are no ends.

We have to look at our concept of duality and the structures of the conditioned realm that we create. The problem is not that we create them; the problem is after we create them, we take them to be an ultimate truth. We get lost in them. I just received a beautiful book by Ajahn Amaro called Small Boat, Great Mountain, Theravada Reflections on the Natural Great Perfection.¹ I started reading it on the airplane coming here. I'm really enjoying it. I want to read you a couple of paragraphs:

I began to pay attention to Ajahn Chah's repeated emphasis on the relationship between convention and liberation, conventional reality and ultimate reality. The things of this world are really conventions of our own creation. Once we establish them, we proceed to get lost in or blinded by them. This gives rise to confusion, difficulty, and struggle. One of the great challenges of spiritual practices is to create the conventions, pick them up and use them without confusion. We can recite the Buddha's name, bow, chant, follow techniques and routines, pick up all these attributes of being a Buddhist, and then, without any hypocrisy, recognize everything is totally empty. There is no Buddhist! This is something Ajahn Chah focused on a great deal over the years. If you think you really are a Buddhist, you're totally lost. He would sometimes be sitting up on the dharma seat, giving a talk to a whole assembly of monastics and lay people, and say, 'There are no monks or nuns here, there are no lay people, no women or men these are all merely empty conventions we create.' The capacity we have to commit ourselves sincerely to something and simultaneously to see through it is something we find difficult to exercise in the West. We tend to be extremists. Either we grab on to something and identify with it or we think it's meaningless and reject it, since it's not real anyway. So the Middle Way is not necessarily a comfortable one for us. The Middle Way is the simultaneous holding of the conventional truth and the ultimate truth, and seeing that one does not contradict or belie the other.

So we need to find ways to break loose from these concepts, from our attachment to the labels we put on those. Zen does this in wonderful ways, especially through the koans. These koans are like riddles, and they're meant to shake the everyday mind loose from its concepts. A famous one: What is the sound of one hand clapping?" There's no way to answer it in our logical minds.

I never knew Ajahn Chah, but reading Ajahn Amaro's book I see he used to do this also in many ways. He asked questions like, "Where is your mind? Who are you? What are you?" These questions shake us loose.

We need to shake loose from the dualistic idea that there is a separate relative realm and an ultimate one. All the non-dual traditions, worldwide and from the present and the distant past, offer this same truth. I want to read you one more story from this book. This story happened at a Buddhist conference in Europe.

A Tibetan lama was there, and a member of the audience was an extremely serious German student. The Rinpoche had been teaching visualizations of Tara, and the puja to the 21 Taras. During the course of this teaching, this student, with great sincerity, put his hands together and asked the question, 'Rinpoche, Rinpoche, I have zis big doubt. You see, all day we do the puja to the 21 Tara and, you know, I am very committed to zis practice. I vant to do everything right. But I have zis doubt: Tara, does she exist or does she not? Really, Rinpoche, is she zhere or not? If she is zhere, I can have a full heart. But if she is not zhere, then I don't vant to do zhe puja. So please, Rinpoche, once and for all, tell us, does she exist, or does she not?' The lama closed his eyes for a while, then smiled and replied, 'She knows she is not real.'¹

So we have these conventions and we need to find a new, different way to think about them in order to resolve the English language's dualistic this and that, to move from either/or to both.

Tibetan Buddhism has a vocabulary that I find very helpful. It talks about three kayas. Kaya means body. The first is the dharmakaya, the truth body. Metaphorically, I see this as the clear, pure, underground spring, ever-perfect. Because it's sealed away from the world, nothing can touch it; it's absolutely pure. At the other end of the spectrum is nirmanakaya, form body. This is not just physical form; it's any kind of form, such as an energetic form, or a thought. Nirmanakaya is all of the energetic and physical expressions on the world. In our metaphor, this is the river miles down from where the spring has bubbled out of the ground and run down the hill. The water is muddied. Animals have come to drink and runoff from farm fertilizer has poured into it.

If you hike downstream, get thirsty, and want a drink of water, here's the stream. You might think, "I can't drink from that, it's dirty. I'll have to hike ten miles back to the spring." But the water here is no other than the spring water, only it has also has been affected by conditions. We might say, "Here is the sullied spring water; let me get out my water filter so I can taste the ever-perfect."

The third kaya is sambhogakaya. The translation often given is "wealth body." I like the translation, "transition body." The sambhogakaya is the place where the spring first perks up from the ground and comes into the world. Right there in that instant it has not had the opportunity to be polluted yet; in that moment it's still the pure emergent spring. The "wealth" of the dharmakaya is right there, evident and radiant. Then it runs down the hill, and becomes nirmanakaya. But the pure spring is always there, through all three kayas.

Here is the ever-pure, ever-perfect inside of us, the clearest, most loving essence. Here also are all the conditions for distortion so that nirmanakaya is not always what clarity and love intended. The Ever- Perfect is there and the outflow is sometimes distorted. Sambhogakaya is, in a sense, the board that ties the ends together.

Here is another example. I'm holding a perfect clean sheet of paper, unwrinkled, perfect. I'll crumple it. (Crumples it; smoothes it; holds it up.) Where is the perfect, unwrinkled sheet of paper? Can you see it? Where did it go? Where could it go? I'm not denying the wrinkles. Can you also see the perfect sheet of paper? (More crumpling.) Look at it. Find the unwrinkled sheet here. No place else. Right here. So are you the body and mind seated now in this room, are you the Buddha nature essence, or both and all?

When we create a self as a concept and we put labels on that self, we limit ourselves. The concepts are helpful in giving us a clear sense of what's what. But labels are also limiting. The problem is not in the labels; it's in how we use the labels.

People often ask me, "Are you a Buddhist?" I grew up in a Jewish home. In my late teens I became a Quaker. I'm a teacher of the Buddha's way. What am I? There's no answer to be given that's not limiting and not untrue. What are you? What is a Buddhist? If somebody has an experience of emptiness, is that a Buddhist experience? If somebody else has an experience of God, is that a Christian or Jewish experience? We can't put these things into categories.

It's helpful to be able to talk about Buddhist teaching because there's a body of sutras, a body of teaching; when we talk about Buddha Dharma, we're talking about these teachings. The form is different from Jewish or Christian teaching. But the end to which they lead isn't different; there are just different ways of phrasing it, and different practices, different forms giving expression to the same essence, the same emptiness. Here we find sunyata, emptiness, and tathita, suchness. Other religions have their own terminology. We need to remember that these articulations are just symbols of direct experience and not the experience itself.

So we use labels: Girl. Boy. Man. Woman. I'm a 60- year-old woman, but the girl that I was hasn't gone very far away. As a child I was often called a tomboy; I liked to climb trees. I still do; I'm just slower. Am I a boy? I like pretty flowers. Am I a girl? Last week I was doing some heavy physical work, and somebody who was with me said, "You're really strong. You work like a man." These are just labels. They're conventions. They're helpful. But we don't need to get stuck in identity with them. We might also note that these are all relative plane labels. Who am I at the place where they all come together, or they all fall away?

Here's another set. Good. Bad. Worthy. Unworthy. We get into so much trouble with this set. "I'm going to be this; I'm not going to be that." There's so much suffering with these dualities. Worthy and unworthy are terms I think most of you have gotten into this week. What does it mean to be worthy? What does it mean to be unworthy? How do we come to that notion? I had loving parents but a nanny who was very close to me as a child became sick and had to leave. I felt that as an abandonment, as if her illness was my fault, reflection of my imperfections, my anger or greed. So I grew up with this idea "I'm unworthy."

Many years ago, at a month-long retreat I was forced to look at this whole idea. We were asked not to make eye contact as you are here. I would walk down a hall and look at somebody; they'd look away, and shame would come up. I'd sit across the table from somebody, look up and smile. They'd look away. Shame came up. Because of the situation, it was so clear, "Nobody is abandoning me. I'm not unworthy. They're simply following instructions of the retreat, to look away. To observe silence."

I worked with this over and over, watching the feelings of unworthiness come up, noting to myself, asking the question, "Anybody really unworthy here or is this just the outplay of conditions?" It was very clear. Nobody unworthy here! Then I thought, "If I'm not unworthy, I must be worthy." But that's just another concept. How hard it is always to be the worthy one. What a burden. There is no worthy one. There's no unworthy one. They're all concepts. Somewhere in that month those concepts fell apart, with no more ground to support them.

We can look at these over and over again and see how we get stuck in the concepts, and are afraid to break through. The concept creates a limit. We hold on to these limits because it feels safer living in the limits. If I can't be the worthy one or the unworthy one, who am I? Will I disappear entirely? The good one, the caring one, the victim, the dumb one: so many roles we play. Enslavement means being caught in these identities. Freedom goes beyond, but without denial of the relative experience.

Non-duality bails us out because we can start to break loose from these concepts and see there is no good or bad person, no worthy or unworthy person, no greedy or generous person, there are just the arisings of greed anger or fear that come out of conditions, and arisings of generosity, and kindness which lead us to feel "worthy." The human being either trapped in this conditioning or broken free of it and able to act spontaneously in the world.

I find these non-dual teachings remind me not to get caught in a label. In vipassana practice we label what's coming up, such as "anger." The arising of anger doesn't mean I am an angry person. Only, "here is anger, a certain energetic movement involving the body and mind and that arose out of conditions." This is nirmanakaya. Awareness watches. We seek the dharmakaya. Right there with anger, that which is aware of anger is not angry. We've got to give it equal time. Here is anger, and here is awareness, able to watch the arising of anger come up, burst open, and fall away. In that awareness there's no anger. We can't deny the existence of the anger because we see an awareness that is not angry. We need to attend to the anger so it doesn't hurt others. But we also can't get lost in the identity, "I'm the angry one." That is just a box, a trap, into which we shut ourselves. We learn to shine awareness on the anger, then swing back and shine awareness on to awareness itself, a luminous awareness, aware of anger but totally calm. We rest there for a moment, still experiencing the energy tension of anger and the spaciousness of awareness, swinging back and forth, taking in the whole spectrum. Then there's no self-identity built on it and there's no denial.

I've become increasingly aware this year of the ways that we hold ourselves in labeled boxes to create limitation for ourselves, not because we consciously want to be limited but because we're conditioned to feel a sense of safety in being in this box. Picture yourself in a place where there's a lot of turbulence and also some large cardboard boxes. Choose one and jump in. Close your eyes for a moment. Feel the box around you. Lid closed. Dark. Outside sounds are muffled. It feels safe. Yet it's limiting. Inside the box we lose touch with the world. We cease to see our responsibilities to what happens outside the box. We fail to realize we are always outside the box, even when we climb in.

I've been looking at this recently with my deafness and poor balance, looking at the ways that these become a box. In what ways do I use the idea "deaf" as a limitation, as a box? The same question for balance. There is true equanimity with my deafness after all these years. I see the wonderful ways that it serves other people. I see all the growth-filled experiences that I've had from it. Lip-reading, I need to be fully focused. Attention can't wander. When somebody talks, if your mind wanders off for a moment, you bring it back. It's not a problem. But if my mind wanders off for a moment, I've lost the meaning and flow. I've got to stay focused.

This need has heightened exactly the kind of moment to moment concentration we teach in vipassana. It's been a wonderful teacher, learning to take each word, hear, and let go, ready for the next word. If I dwell on what was just heard, I lose the next sentence so I must touch deeply, connect, and release, no holding. I've learned not to grasp, but to trust that I'll "hear" what is needed.

When I look away, I no longer hear. There is loss of continuity, and there is also the ability to choose what to hear or not hear. I can look away! Control! I've had to ask myself the question, "What don't I want to hear?" One of the last things I remember hearing was my infant son crying, which is a difficult sound. In earlier memories, I remember in college hearing the crying of a friend whose mother had just died in an accident, the sound of her grief. I remember hearing the yelping, tortured cry of an animal hit by a car. I don't know what sounds accompanied the television broadcast of the collapsing World Trade Center, but for me it was just visual, which meant I could close my eyes. There's a certain escape there, even if I don't use it. I was sitting on the hillside today by the stream, not hearing the stream coming over the rocks, not hearing the leaves falling, not hearing the breeze, but I also wasn't hearing the heavy bulldozers working on the road. Maybe there were airplanes flying overhead. I didn't hear them. Maybe somebody was shouting, yelling at somebody else, I didn't hear it.

In what ways do I use deafness as a box? Asking myself, "What would it mean to hear again," means asking myself, "Could I fully embrace hearing everything, willing to take everything and not say, 'I'll hear this but I don't want to hear that'?" Through this deafness, I have the opportunity to investigate the question, "What don't I want to hear?" There's no implied self-criticism here. We all have things we don't want to hear. Deafness just makes it more clear because I must choose to hear and focus attention there. Hearing takes effort; it's not just an unconscious state.

Here's another place of exploration: on one level there is the pure spring, the dharmakaya; here are the perfect ears. The non-functioning ears with dead nerves are the nirmanakaya, the water that's become polluted downstream. The movement goes both ways; the Ever-Perfect expresses into the stream, and you follow the polluted stream back up to the Ever- Perfect. To say "I am not deaf," would be denial yet if I identify with the deafness as self, I negate the wholeness, that part of me that hears fully, just not through my ears. I deny the potential of innate perfection within me and within each of us. Where do I choose to focus my attention? On the distortion or on the innate perfection? I rest in both, not denying the actuality of deafness, but also not denying the Ever-Perfect.

This is a hard thing to get, and I still don't have it fully, but I'm beginning to know that both are there together, and that healing doesn't mean hearing again so much as healing the concept that there's any wrongness or shortcoming. Here I see the Ever-Perfect spring pouring into the polluted stream, and still filter the water because I don't want to get a bellyache. Can you feel that and? Truly knowing your innate perfection and attending to the distortions. But it's so easy to ignore the innate perfection and just get caught up in the distortion. It's so easy too, to deny the distortion.

Usually when I give dharma talks, I stay with things that are finished and well understood. Tonight I'm going out on a limb, talking about something unfinished.

About a year ago, I heard from a woman I don't know well, but knew she had been very sick, confined to bed and wheelchair. The doctors had said, "Get your affairs in order. There's nothing more we can do for you."

She sent me an email that said several people had told her about a healer in Brazil named John of God, or Joao de Dios. She was going down there. I looked up John of God on the Internet, found a picture of him and felt a strong resonance to it. Then I put the whole thing aside, although somehow I heard his name a dozen times in those months.

She was there for three months. When she returned she was out of her wheelchair. She said she was off her medication completely for the first time in 30 years. She had good energy and her mind was clear. She said she had seen him heal people who were deaf.

The first thing that came to my mind was, "Well, that would be great." And the second thing that came to my mind was, "I'm okay deaf. There really is equanimity." This is real, but it also felt a little defensive.

One of the things I've been looking at since last December is the difference between equanimity and resignation. What I was feeling is true equanimity and yet there with the equanimity was a bit of fatalism or resignation. There was confusion that said, "If there is true equanimity, there is no need to act to bring something to me." When I thought about it I realized I do want to hear my children's voices. I want to hear the leaves in the trees. I want to hear the water tumbling over the rocks. If I never hear those things, that's fine. That's the equanimity. But there needs to be reaching out that says, "I invite all possibilities."

How do we invite without grasping? I'm finding that when equanimity is real and clear, inviting is easy. It only becomes hard when there is some pretense at equanimity, and something being hidden by that forced spaciousness. The only thing that makes it possible to invite everything is a readiness to experience everything. Where is there subtle resistance? I'm back to, "what don't I want to hear?"

To shorten a long story, I have my plane ticket and I'm going to Brazil in January. I'll be there for three weeks. I have no idea where this journey will take me. It's already been so rich that if nothing else happens on the trip to Brazil, it will be fine. I have learned so much in this year about what within is not healed and what blocks healing. I'm coming to know both the ever-healed and the distortion, and to rest comfortably in both, not creating any identity around one or the other. Right there in the dharmakaya and fully present with nirmanakaya expression, not preferring one to the other, but truly open to both and seeing how they are really one, right there is freedom!

It feels to me like my work in these next few months is to continue to attend to any blockages to healing, so that when I reach Brazil whatever is possible will be manifest. I'll have done what I can do to invite that manifestation. The nerves are dead. I know he can't grow new limbs for people, so I suppose it's likely he also cannot restore nerves. But then there are many cases of people who have been paralyzed who go down there and are up and out of their wheelchairs and walking. Who knows!

John of God was the son of a tailor and grew up in a poor small village in the mountains. in central Brazil. At age 16 he had a vision of angelic presence who said he was to go to a certain church in town. He went into the church and apparently went into a trance there; entities working through him energetically operated on and saved the life of a dying woman. He came out of trance several hours later with everybody telling him what he had done.

So he vowed to himself to put this gift to the use of people and to God. Now, in trance, he has 30 entities that work through him to do the healing. He offers everything freely. He doesn't charge. He accepts donations only for the upkeep of the center, such as for laundry and food. Healing is all offered freely, and donations support the work of the center.

The whole environment feels to me like something I want to experience regardless of what happens. And I'm aware that while my hearing is the first thing that comes to mind, if he wants to remove the pain in my knee (group laughs) that's fine! So I'm going with a very open heart, an open mind and a lot of curiosity, but not much doubt or skepticism.

Let me say something in conclusion. One of the things that I'm finding so powerful in my investigations the past three or four months since I bought my ticket and committed to going is it has moved me to a place of increased honesty with myself about my attachments and the places that I'm stuck, the places where mind and habit energy create blockage that puts me in boxes. Liberation is about having the choice to climb into the box if we need to because somebody is throwing rocks at us, but not to stay there when the rocks stop flying, just because they might start throwing rocks again. Liberation is about the freedom to be where we are this moment, to respond authentically to the moment, and not based on our conditioning. So it's creating inspiration for me, to finish what needs to be finished, to really attend to these little distortions that have been so easy to push aside. It feels very important to attend to them right now because without that attendance, and if I haven't done the work to bring forth the clearest expression of being that is possible in this moment, I can't honestly go there and ask Spirit's help.

So I'm finding myself more honest, more open and vulnerable. And I'm finding a lot of joy. I'm finding, as I look at all of these years of deafness, how much I appreciate the opportunities it has given me. And the little bits of deception such as, "if only I weren't deaf I could do this or that," are going. Instead, I'm increasingly able to rest in the ever perfect and attend to the distortions, from a place of lovingkindness, not from fear.

Please watch the web site in February for an update! Wishing you all a new year of joy, peace and growth.

With love,

1 Amaro Bhikkhu (2003, p. 9), Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery.

Aaron's Christmas Stories
Wednesday Night Group
December 11, 2002

Barbara: Take a deep breath. Breathing in (pause); breathing out (pause). Be aware of the soft touch of the breath at the nostrils (pause). Know when you are breathing in (pause); know when you're breathing out (pause). Know when the breath is fine or coarse (pause), long or short (pause).

(Pauses continue but will not be noted. There is a longer pause between paragraphs.)

Be aware of the body. Some of us have a tendency to be not so much in the body but in the mind. Let yourself come into your body. Feel the touch of the buttocks on the cushion or chair. Let awareness move through the body, touching the face, the jaw, throat, shoulders, chest, back, belly, arms and legs. If awareness notes tension anywhere, just pause and rest there, present, not trying to fix the tension, just noticing. Bringing kind, spacious awareness to these places of tension and inviting them to dissolve. If they don't go, just let them be. Smile into the tension.

Breathing in, know where this body and mind are at this moment. Breathing out, know the presence in this moment. Be aware of any sensations of the body. Be aware of hearing, hearing my voice. Note any tightness or discomfort in the body. Know the touch of warmth or coolness. The different body senses touch objects. Consciousness arises with that touch—hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. There may be pulling, tightness, openness.

Be aware of the texture of the mind, the mind that's tight with tension, or the mind that's open and spacious, the agitated mind, the listless mind. Racing mind. Focused mind. Peaceful mind. Each of these will arise and pass away. Awareness can watch these just as it watches the body, not caught up in identity with them, but aware of how they arise, are present, and pass away.

Some body experiences are pleasant, some are unpleasant, some are neutral. Some of the textures of mind are pleasant, some are unpleasant, some are neutral. Just sit and watch them arise. Sit with them present and as they dissolve, watch them pass away. If nothing new arises, rest in that spaciousness.

Let us sit in silence for about five minutes. (Sitting)

Aaron: My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron. I greet you with joy. I want to apologize for not inviting the bell but Barbara is in a trance state, ready to channel, so I just spoke up. I hope the suddenness of my voice did not disturb you.

We have developed a tradition for me to tell an annual story of the lifetime of that being you know as Jesus. These stories are told from the perspective of the shepherd that I was in that time, a shepherd who was graced to know this great master. I was not one of his known disciples; I was a simple shepherd, but I loved him. And in those few years when he was available to me, I followed him as much as I could.

You ask me sometimes, "Aaron, are you ever going to run out of stories?" I will run out of dramatic stories; in fact, I think I have done so already. But the simple stories are just as beautiful and convey the truth of him just as well.

I talk to you so often about the importance of mindfulness. This great teacher was a master of mindfulness; he was able to be deeply present with everything and everyone he encountered.

We were walking with him on a hilly pathway. He stopped and all of us stopped, watching him. What did he hear that our ears missed? He stepped confidently off the path. There, under the bushes just a few feet away, was a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. It did not appear to be injured so much as weak and hungry.

He picked it up with such gentleness I don't think his concern would have been deeper if it had been a human infant. To him it was a precious living thing. I will not ever forget the tenderness with which he held this small creature in his hands. He asked for some food, sat down patiently on a rock and began to feed it.

People were expecting us in a town several hours distant and hoped he would talk in that city. He didn't seem to think of that plan or to fret. He had one intention, to nurture this infant bird.

We sat for perhaps half an hour. Appropriate food was handed to him and he fed it. He could have handed it to somebody else and said, "Take care of it." But this tiny being had come into his care, and it was part of his flock no less than any other creature. He gave it his full attention.

After some time, this small creature seemed to relax. He tucked him into his sleeve, tied it in such a way that the bird was secure, held his arm up so the bird was by his chest, and thus satisfied to its welfare he began to walk. When he walked he did not stop constantly to see to the welfare of the bird. He knew if the creature were distressed, he would feel that distress in its energy and its movement, so he did not worry about it. He did not forget about the bird but he gave his full presence, next, to walking. He walked with an intimacy with his surroundings, pausing now and again to examine a stone or other object, eyes taking in the scenery, pausing to lay a hand on a withered branch of a shrub. With each moment, he was fully present.

He was the same with people. So many people followed him, came to hear him talk and spend time with him, but when he spoke to you, you felt that there was no one else existent in the world for him except you. He might have only a minute with you but for that minute you had his fullest attention.

He seemed to know what people needed, sometimes a long talk or some kind of care; sometimes just a smile. When he spoke in a group it had the same quality of personal attention. As he talked, he made eye contact with people in the audience. Many speakers do this, and maintain that contact for a second or two and then move on to another person, and another, and another, so that the listener feels that they're part of this vast audience yet have been recognized. His way went deeper.

When he spoke he made eye contact for perhaps ten seconds, but he held that gaze and it felt like hours. It felt like he made eye contact with you at that point in his speech when he was saying just what you most needed to hear and that sentence or two was offered personally to you. And yet it did not feel less personal when his gaze moved on to speak to another, only that for those moments the two of you had been intimately connected and you knew that he held you in his heart. When his gaze moved on, he had not left you behind but had tucked you into his sleeve as he had tucked in the bird, and forevermore carried you with him.

This was not a manipulative quality for him, not a technique that he learned in order to influence people to like him. He had no concern whatsoever whether people liked him or not. It was a quality that was completely natural and authentic in him. It was a quality born from his intense mindfulness and presence.

I remember one night sitting by a fire. He and others were telling stories. I was feeling sad. It was just after my beloved wife had died, a story I have told you before. I don't think my face betrayed my mood. I was quiet but that was my way amongst these wise men.

I was sitting to the back of the group, as are those of you here in the back of the room. I could see him clearly; no one sat right in front of me, but I was in the shadows. For a few minutes my eyes were cast down but then I felt a gaze on me. Another man was talking, not Jesus. But I felt a gaze on me, looked up and found him looking intently at me. His eyes were so soft with compassion and kindness, and he smiled at me so sweetly. As he did that, the firelight seemed to flare up so that suddenly instead of being in the shadow, the light of the fire was bright upon my face. I could feel its heat.

His smile drew me into himself and I felt fed and loved just as did that small bird. I knew then that I could never lose him and he would never misplace me. He did not speak to me that night. But the next day he took me aside. "I understand how sad you are," he said with a smile.

That night he spoke to me in the midst of the gathered group. He said, " When there is loss there may be sadness. I do not deprive you of your sadness. You have lost a person you loved. You'll not see that one again in this earthly plane. What I ask of you is this. Each time sadness arises, pull up another chair beside it. Bring forth a joyful memory. Sometimes let it be of the one who has passed on. Sometimes let it be of those who remain, such as your children who are alive and beautiful, of your good parents, of your life and the joy and peace you find in your work. Allow your heart to practice at least as much gladness as sorrow."

These words were said to me at a time when there were several dozen people gathered around. But for those moments there was nobody else. I knew that he understood my sadness, that he understood the nature of loss. His compassion invited me to be compassionate for myself and to learn compassion for others.

I could tell you many small stories of his full attention to the things of each moment, but the stories would become repetitive. I see him lifting a small frog out of the path, or a lizard, the respect with which he would pick up even an insect. Sometimes he would hold an injured insect, carrying it with him. Seeing that it was dying and unwilling to let it die unattended, he would just carry it in his hands. I knew he had the ability to bring such a creature back to life. I do not know by what inner rules he might allow some being to die and invite another to live. I know he had his reasons and it was not my place to search them out. But whether the creature would recover its life or pass away, his wholehearted attention and love were given to it, so that if that small creature did eventually die, it died having been held in the heart of love. It died, I am certain, without fear and without pain.

One evening, a small group of us came to a dwelling. We were not expected; we had walked further than we had thought to go that day. We had no food with us, for we rarely carried food, but fasting was not uncommon for us. The man and woman whose dwelling it was had us sit in the comfortable shade of trees while they prepared a meal for us. They would not let him help in any way, just asked him to sit and rest. Food was brought, simple but very nourishing and delicious.

I myself would have thought that this was a home where there was comfort and, if not abundance, at least enough for survival. I realized later that the only clue he had that it was otherwise was the family's children who were somewhat gaunt and their clothes quite shabby.

It was the spring growing season but this small farm looked quite bare. Apparently the soil was not very nutritious. The winter was over, the food that had been stored for the winter was gone, and there was very little to eat. You have heard me say before that while he could work miracles, such was seldom his way because he wanted people to be empowered for themselves, not because he had wrought something for them. Yet at times one can use a bit of assistance.

After the meal I saw him walking through the farmer's fields. Often he bent to touch a spindly plant. He took handfuls of soil and ran it through his fingers. He walked for over an hour and I think he touched most of the gardens as he walked. He was fully absorbed in each plant and its soil.

When we awoke in the morning, I smelled that fresh smell you get in early spring when life is returning to the earth and things begin to grow. Perhaps it was my imagination but the plants he had touched looked greener, stronger. We left there, then, to go to a nearby city for a few days, and he told the man, "I will come back next week."

When we returned, these previously spindly plants stood strong and healthy. Many of the crops were already producing food and there was promise of much more to come. My point here is not only that he had compassion and had brought forth what he could. Of course one would expect that of him. My point is that in an area where many lacked for what they needed, food had been given freely and abundantly to us travelers with no mention from the farmer of his scarcity. Because Jesus was so deeply present, he saw beneath the surface. He saw what was needed and then in his own way he attended to what was needed. He didn't make a big fuss. He certainly didn't say, "Look what I'm doing!" He just quietly did what was needed. And I think he was attending as much to the plants themselves as to the farmer. He saw the farmer and his children's need, but also the plants needs, as living beings. His way of fulfilling the needs of all, human and vegetable, was to attend to the sickly plants and invite them to come forth with health.

The chickens that had been barren in the past were also laying when we came back. A small flock of gaunt sheep looked healthier and two had given birth. The colicky baby of the family was feeling better.

Did Jesus bring this forth alone or was it that he participated in a natural movement toward wholeness and vibrancy? Co-creation was his way. As he passed through the world, his attention invited each being, human or otherwise, to express itself with greater fullness and clarity. You might ask me, "Aaron, why are you telling me this story? We cannot manifest abundance like that no matter how much we pay attention." But that is where you are wrong, my friends. With attention you can manifest abundance. I'm not speaking here of the money to buy a new BMW. I'm speaking of bringing forth joy, health, vibrancy, which are all matters of energy.

You cannot pay attention without opening your energy field. When your energy field is open and you are fully present, you become more in tune with the various motivations that move through you. When you understand the wholesome and unwholesome motivations, you have more choice, not to condemn oneself that the unwholesome thoughts have arisen, but to see that you can let them be, don't have to get caught up in them but can focus more on the wholesome. This is what he was teaching me when he said, "Bring forth gladness as well as sorrow."

He never asked any being to be other than what it was in that moment, but he helped that being learn how to touch its deepest aspects of joy, kindness, generosity and fearlessness, to touch its wholeness. He did that because that which was whole, joyful, passionate, generous and fearless within him would resonate so deeply with those truths that even if you had tried to hide from them you no longer could deny them. That which was wholesome and beautiful was invited to come forth.

Let me tell you one more story about Jesus' presence. A stranger came into our midst, joined those who were walking and sat with us when we arrived at our destination. Like many in those days he was poor, dressed in simple clothes, gaunt. People noticed this stranger but had not paid too much attention to him. Some men tried to talk to him but he was taciturn. He seemed to prefer to be silent.

We lay down to sleep by a fire at night, each of us on the ground wrapped in our robes. Usually when we slept by night by a fire, Jesus was offered the place closest to the fire and his disciples were closest in around him, and others fell further back. He allowed himself to be given that place of honor by the fire not from greed but because he saw that others wished to give it in respect of him. He understood that he must accept their gift out of respect to them. So he did not take this place of warmth by the fire for self-centered reason but accepted it out of kindness to others.

There were wild animals who might come out at night. There were occasional robbers on the roads in those days. A large group of people was generally enough to keep away any creature with bad intent, but one never knew. Thus, his disciples also slept near him to protect him against any kind of harm from man or animal.

That night as we became ready to lie down and sleep, he motioned to this silent stranger to come up near him. Some grasses had been gathered and offered to the one who was Jesus to make a bed for himself, and he offered half of those to this stranger. "Lie down beside me, my brother."

The man came forth but could not meet Jesus' eye. We lay down. Before he did, Jesus offered the stranger water, asking him, "Have you need to drink?" Again the man shook his head but could not meet Jesus' eye.

We settled down to sleep. I don't know why I was somewhat wakeful; distrusting of this stranger. I was just a bit on edge. It seemed that everyone else had gone to sleep. Usually I would have been a further distance away from Jesus but that night I found myself close.

When it seemed that everyone was asleep, I saw the stranger sit up. I was lying down and did not show that I was awake but I was alert. I saw him draw a knife out of a pouch at his side. Without even rising to a standing position, he simply began to move over toward Jesus, and lifted his knife as if to strike.

It all happened so fast that I did not have time to come to my feet. I had not trusted him fully but had never dreamed that he might attack our teacher. And then I heard Jesus' voice, Jesus who had seemed to be sound asleep. He said in a very calm and non-accusing voice, "Why do you wish to kill me, friend?"

The man was startled and terrified. It's one thing to murder a sleeping man if you have intent to do so, and another to attack a man who is fully awake and surrounded by his companions. There was something else. The question was said in such a nonjudgmental way, just seeking comprehension. "Why do you wish to kill me?" Not, "Don't kill me," said with fear, but "Why do you wish to kill me?"

The man dropped his knife to his side. Jesus' words had awakened several others who came forth immediately, as I did, but Jesus waved us all back.

The man cried out. "You did not save my son. You're a fraud, a charlatan." Jesus had recognized this man immediately as from amidst a crowd of hundreds that had been in a town some weeks before. This man had brought forth his son who was dying. The son's condition was not only that he was ill and dying but that his illness had led to the loss of most brain function.

Again, I do not know why he saved some and did not save others. He did with his laying on of hands invite revitalization of many beings and bring them forth from severe illness, from the brink of death, from lost eyesight or hearing or use of limbs. He could do that. In the great scheme of things, the human is not able to discern the whole picture. I would imagine that the son's death, which happening brought his father to despair, was the gift that the father needed for his own healing. This is conjecture.

He said to Jesus, "You did not save my son." And Jesus nodded and said, "I know. And you are hurt and angry. And I cannot explain to you why I could not save him." Their eyes met and in that moment this man felt so embraced, so understood by Jesus. He experienced his grief, his rage, his confusion, his fear, all fully held with no judgment. Again I cannot explain it but it was clear to me that in that moment he found his healing, and he found his own divinity.

He dropped the knife. He was able to meet Jesus' eyes. He said, "I am sorry I accused you. Please forgive me." And Jesus simply nodded and spoke compassionately, "You have felt that I failed you and your son. Please forgive me." And the man nodded.

This deep touching of each being's divinity, drawing it forth, this is the nurturing that his presence allowed. Because he was so fully present he saw each situation deeply and such depth brought forth the wisdom to deal with it appropriately.

We may not be able to do it as perfectly as he did but each of you has the capacity to be fully present with another's joy and sorrow, with their anger as well as their love, with their fear as well as with their courage. Each of you has the capacity, by touching that deepest place of truth in yourself without fear, to offer that fearlessness to another. What does it mean to do that in your lives, to be authentic, to be fearlessly present, to offer the best of yourself—your loving-kindness, your compassion, your joy to others? This is the greatest gift you can give to him as you celebrate his birth, and to one another and your world, to bring forth this quality of loving-kindness of metta, in yourselves and shine it forth into the world.

Jesus came to teach many things but forgiveness is chief among them. And yet with compassion there is nothing left to forgive. Forgiveness is only needed when there is something held against another, some kind of blame. And when you see deeply into another, that judgment falls away and there is nothing left to forgive.

Your world today is so filled with people who hate one another, who blame one another, who are filled with fear. You cannot just decide to be compassionate and say, "From now on I'm going to be compassionate." Compassion is a result. For compassion to arise, the conditions for compassion must be present. The primary condition for compassion is presence or mindfulness, because when you are present, you are able to see deeply. When you see deeply into how things are, the deep seeing no longer allows judgment and blame to be sustained. It no longer allows hatred to be sustained. It no longer allows fear to be sustained. This is the power of wisdom and compassion.

So I invite you my dear ones to bring these forth in your lives by giving your effort to more presence. From that the rest will develop if there is the loving intention for it to develop. Consciously note the intention to deepen in wisdom and compassion, and then begin the process by giving forth the effort to deeper presence in each moment, and just see how it works out.

You have sat for a long time. Let us pause and stretch and you can decide if you would like me to tell you one more story or not. That is all.


Aaron: I am Aaron. This is a different kind of story. When we think of the historical figure who was known as Jesus, of his life and his death, we assume that physical being left the world. Although you know he is accessible to you in some ways, that particular human left his body, left the world.

In what ways does he still live? Where might we find him? Let me just relate a simple story to you and leave the interpretation to you.

Long ago a boy I was lived with his extended family. Large families lived together in a compound, a walled-in area with multiple sleeping places, and rooms where food was prepared and stored. Ten or twenty people of several generations might live together in such a compound. The people grew some crops, hunted, and raised animals.

Nearby there would be another such compound. Usually many of the people in neighboring compounds were also relatives, married children, brothers and sisters. There were known family relationships but it was a culture in which all beings were considered brothers and sisters. At the time of my childhood there was good health and abundance. Of course people became ill and died, usually in an accident or of old age. Sometimes in the winter there were colds and other illness but nothing severe. The land was good. People were well fed. The water was good. The sun was warm and the rain was plentiful. It was a paradise of sorts. The nearby sea gave abundantly of its fish. Trees grew fruit. There was abundance.

But one spring the rains did not come in the usual way. Instead of the gentle spring rains to which we were accustomed, there were such heavy rains that the earth could not absorb them, followed by periods of dryness. The hot weather came early; the fields, lacking water, could not produce and crops grew sickly.

People came from a distant village where there was sickness and stopped with us for several days. We had never learned to be afraid of sickness but several weeks later it came to us. People had fever and terrible pain and then they died. None of our healers could do anything to bring even small relief, much less healing or cure.

In their fear, people first pulled back into their compounds refusing to open their gates and doors to others. When it was learned people in a neighboring compound were sick, even one's own sister, brother, father or mother, instead of going there to help, the people stayed within their own compound refusing to unlock the gate for the one who asked for help. Others came saying, "We're all sick. We need food. We need medical care. Help us." The gate remained locked with the intention, "Do not let that sickness in here." But of course it came.

Not everybody died of it. Eventually the worst of the sickness passed leaving a decimated population lacking food and the necessities for life. It was then that the stranger came, a man with a deep compassionate look about his eyes, a look of deep knowing, deep vision.

He knocked at the gate. I was a teenage boy. I remember going with my mother to the gate. My father and many of my siblings were ill. Cousins in the compound had died. A grandparent had died. The stranger said, "I heard there is illness here." My mother simply said, "Yes." He said, "Let me come in, I can help you." She said, "No."

He said, "I have ways to help you heal but I cannot heal you from outside the gate."
We asked him, "Are you sick?"
"No," he answered.
"How do I know you don't carry illness with you?"
"You can't know that," he said. "You will have to trust. I carry what I carry."

People were quite desperate. Food was short. It was necessary to go out and gather food and yet to do that meant to go out of the compound and expose oneself to others, a terrible risk that had brought more illness as result.

They let him in. He went first to each sick person in the compound.

"Aren't you afraid you'll catch this disease?" I asked him. "No, I'm not afraid." He asked me to help him by bringing water and cloths.

He washed their faces, offered them water, looked at the sores on their bodies and washed them. When he had gone to each, he turned to the elders and said, " I need fish to make a broth."

"But to get the fish we need to go to the compound by the sea where they have the boats. It is a day's walk."

"Yes, you will have to go there. You will have to go out and fish with them, because they too have been sick. But if you fish you will bring ashore enough fish for both compounds and more. I also need grain to make bread."

"But we do not have enough grain left here. To get grain we will need to go to the prairie, three days' walk to the west, and they also have been sick."

"Yes, but if you go and help them harvest their first crop of grain there will be enough for both of you."

And in this way he asked us to go out, to touch others. He asked us literally to touch others and be touched again, to release the fear from our hearts.

I understand that to control a deadly illness, isolation can be helpful, but it was far too late for that. We had all been exposed to this plague. Fear was not  necessary. The illness had run its course and people had begun to heal, but the shutting out of our hearts of child, of parent, of sister or brother, this was a far deeper illness.

The elders said to him, "I thought you had a cure." He said, "I am curing your illness but I need these things and you will need to go and get them." And he sent them forth. Somehow he inspired our confidence and we obeyed him.

Having done that he said, "I am now going to the next compound. It will take you a week to gather what you need. I'll be back." He went to every compound and spoke in the same way, touched each sick person, washed their wounds, gave them water. And asked all those who were well enough to go forth to bring what they could by hunting and gathering, finding fresh supplies of water and so forth.

He came back just over a week later. The environment was very different just in that short time. The son who had refused his parents' needs in the next compound was reunited with them. The brother was reunited with his sister. Together they mourned their dead. Together they were caring for the ill. Everything changed after that. It was as if we had been living, as I said, in paradise and needed to lose that paradise in order to come back to it, value it and to know that while it was available, we needed to participate in that creation. We needed to know that fear could never co-create nor maintain paradise. The stranger awoke in us our own natural goodness and compassion that had become buried by fear, and reminded us of our capacity to enact goodness and compassion, and generosity of heart. That was all.

He came to each compound twice, I believe. That first time and then again, seeing that we were now able to come together without fear, able to co-create the healing that we wished to invite. Of course, some beings still died but many who were sick and expected to die did live. The stranger simply said, "I have fulfilled my work here. I must go," and went on down the road.

We heard ongoing tales of him, of the stranger who came to beings in trouble in other places and helped them to find their own healing. Who was he? I'm not making the statement here that this was the great here that this was the great master returned into human incarnation. All I am saying is that the expression of divinity takes many forms. Each of us has the ability to bring forth divinity in the world, to step beyond our fear, not hating our fear, but ceasing to choose fear and instead enacting love. Help is always available when we choose love's course.

What would it mean if today's nations who have withdrawn into their own compounds were to step forth and seek to serve one another through serving themselves, to co-create a world of abundance and kindness, a world of trust? You believe it is not possible but you too are lost in darkness. You are no further thus lost than we were before the stranger came. Do not wait for a stranger to lead you but take the responsibility unto yourselves to be that leader. Greet each other as he greeted us, offering to show us how to co-create the life that we wanted, to remind us that it was possible.

That is all.

Spiritual Inquiry Class with Aaron
First Class
September 17, 2003

Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. I want to give a few meditation instructions and we will sit for a few more minutes in silence.

          Bring your attention to your breath.

          Feeling the soft flow of the breath at the nostrils.

          Breathing in and breathing out.

          If something calls your attention from the breath, as right now this voice, don't try to stay with the breath and push away the object. Be with whatever arises and is predominant in your experience.

          Know it as "hearing, hearing."

          Or if it's an itch or pain in your back, know that. Perhaps, "burning," or "tension."

          If a thought such as "what next?" comes, know "thinking," or "wondering."

          As the object changes or dissolves, come back to the breath.

This is basic vipassana meditation. Most of you have had a fair amount of instruction with this practice. It will be a part of our work together this year and I want to be sure that everybody has the basics of practice, so if you do not, please let Barbara know after the class.

Let us practice this for a few minutes. Present with the breath and present with kindness and with interest, with whatever presents itself in the body or the mind. Do not become lost in that object. To watch the mind thinking is not the same as to get caught in the stories of the thoughts. To watch the body tense and contracted is not the same as to shift into the mind obsessing with dislike of that contracted state. Several minutes of quiet and we'll continue.


My intention for this class is that I will talk for 45 minutes to an hour. On many nights we will then break into small groups so that you can share within a safe, small, familiar group the homework exercises you have done, or any exercises related to my talk. And then we'll come back together in a large circle so that I can answer your questions.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to present an ongoing coherent teaching. The focus will be the living of non-duality. What do I mean by that?

Ten days ago Barbara was in Florida leading a vipassana retreat. They were on the edge of a hurricane, so while the weather was not dangerous, it was quite stormy. A river flowed by the grounds of the retreat center. The storm seemed to open the heavens in such a way that it felt like the river was washing down from the sky. The grounds between the Center building and the river were  flooded almost knee deep. While grass still showed, if you walked across it you sunk in a foot into deep wet puddles.

On the one hand there was nothing there but water. Whatever water there was on the lawn would sink into the ground within a few days and work its way into the river. We could use that as a metaphor for the ultimate level. Letting go of the labels river, rain, and puddle, there is just water. Since the building was high and safe, there was no need for concern. Just water.

On the relative level, after lunch Barbara walked the perhaps half a mile of sidewalk, a large loop that led through the grounds and swung back around to the river, like a large letter C. She walked this after lunch one day, and during a break in the rain. She sat by the river for two or three minutes, when rain started again, so she thought, "I guess I need to walk back." But then (clap!) suddenly an immense downpour, raining so hard she literally could not see through it more than a few feet. No danger; she knew which way the river was; she knew where the Center was.

On the ultimate level, just water. On the relative level, a human being getting soaked by rain. It is skillful to seek shelter. One does not seek shelter motivated by fear but by wisdom. Standing out by a river in a thunderstorm is not such a good idea. One seeks shelter. She didn't realize how deep the water was on the lawn because she could see grass growing; she thought it was just several inches of water, until she started to take the shortcut back to the center, and found herself in a foot of water.

In that moment, first her mind created a duality again. Ugh! Mud! Puddles! She was wearing sandals. How damaged could they get? The dual mind creates a self and an other, an object and subject. The non-dual mind simply notes, water. Water above me, water below me, water beside me, water.

The lightning was far away; she could see that. Her fear resolved itself quickly and she just stood there enjoying the rain, getting wet. There was a bench. She sat down on the bench in the downpour. I remind you, this is Florida. It was quite warm, not chilly at all. So she sat down on the bench there by the river, watching the driving rain, watching the water flow past, flow down, and she closed her eyes and began to feel the same water, the fluids of her own body, for the body is largely fluid. She became the rain; the rain became her. She spent a very wonderful ten minutes just sitting on a bench in the downpour, fully connected to that water within and without.

The lightning was getting closer. The storm was becoming even fiercer. From the relative perspective, the wisdom voice said, "It's time to go inside." Not based on fear. No separation in it. Based on kindness. "Time to go inside." So she waded across the lawn and went in, showered, and put on dry clothes.

She noticed as she stepped into the shower how the shower was just the rain in another form. And then she had a cup of tea, mor e rain in another form: the elements, which are a part of everything.

Much of our work together this semester is going to be looking at the non-duality of ultimate and relative experience. The relative experience is real. There are real human beings sitting here. Cassie is not Martha; Kevin is not Colleen. But on another level there is simply one awareness gathered in this circle.

The difficulty so many of you have is not in seeing the relative or even an experiencing the ultimate, but in seeing them together. When you lose track of the ultimate, it's much easier for fear to begin to command the relative experience. You might also hide out in the ultimate and deny the relative experience. But when you stay grounded in the ultimate and connected to the relative, it is much easier to approach the relative experience with clarity, kindness, and spaciousness.

There are certain clues that you have, and here is where the vipassana practice becomes so important. When you lose touch with that pure awareness, and move off into the separate self, one of the experiences that helps you note that shift into the separate self is a physical body contraction. I think you're all familiar with that kind of contraction. Often we do not note it. We just slip into that fear-based separate state without noting that that shift is happening. If you don't see the shift happening, then you forget that the ultimate state is also there and available.

Barbara likes to tell a story about jumping into a rapids in a river in Georgia. There were high rocks and large rapids. There was a deep, clear pool under a high foot waterfall. No rocks. Many people were jumping into that pool. It was safe. But the rock was perhaps 15 feet high, a big jump, and the water was tumultuous as it came over this large waterfall. When you jumped from the rock into that pool, the current caught you immediately and tumbled you head over heels, shot you downriver 20 or 30 yards, to where the river began to widen and became shallow. Finally, in another 30 yards, one came to a place where the water was only thigh deep, and the current not so strong that one could not stand up.

Barbara is a very strong swimmer. She worked up her courage and jumped. She felt the current grab her and turn her upside down. Because of her ears, she doesn't have a good sense of up and down, no balance mechanism in the ear, but she could see which way was up by the light. The water caught her, spun her around, shot her down the river, and then there was a moment when she separated, moved into a space of contraction and fear, for she needed a breath and didn't feel able to pull her head above the water and fight the current. That's just it—she was separate and fighting with something else, with water, with current.

So I said to her in that moment of tension, "just put your feet down." She was horizontal in the water. As she turned herself more vertical and put her feet down, the water was only to her hips. "Put your feet down and stand up."

When you are connected with the ultimate, you always have the ability to put your feet down and stand. When you forget that place of non-separation and move into the contracted space of the separate self, you forget, "I am connected with all that is. All I need to do is put my feet down and stand up."

Some of you will feel that move into separation as contraction in the physical body. Some of you will feel it primarily energetically, experiencing a different energy when you move into that separate state. Some of you will feel it by what seems to be a tension in the mind.

I had asked you as part of the preliminary exercise for the class to look at something that was an ongoing push for you, and to watch the way you move into separation with that push, and react to it from the small self, losing touch with your innate compassion, losing touch with your innate wisdom and intention to non-harm.

As we begin this class, you're going to work specifically with your catalyst, whatever each of you has chosen. You're not trying to fix something in yourself. You're simply trying to watch the process. What moves you into a space of separation?

When you move into that space of separation, that which is aware of moving into separation does not experience separation. Right there is non-separation. Right there is my voice saying, "Stop! Breathe! Put your feet down!"

The beginning focus for this class, then: you'll be learning to rest in that spacious observer that can watch the tension in the body, watch the tension in the mind, watch the energetic shift. I'd like you to use the simple note, "separating." It's not a judging or condemning kind of note, just an observation: in this moment, separating. I want you to become adept at knowing that experience of separation. That's step 1.

Step 2: when you move into that experience of separation, what is your habitual response to it? Some of you will note separating with some self-judgment and tighten further, thus further separating yourself. Others of you may note that experience of separating with more kindness, may be able to watch the move into separating. As I put it, "That which is aware of separating is not separate." Watch "separating" from this observer's stance. You are not disassociating with the experience of separating. If you deny fear, that is a way of further separating from fear. Our practice here is to become intimate with our fear, with our discomfort, or whatever has arisen, to become intimate with it but not to identify with it and continue the move into separation.

It is so important that there be no judgment, but if judgment does arise, that just becomes another push. Here is the experience of separation, and then, here is the experience of judging the self. If that is your habitual reaction, just watch it. Again, that which is aware of judgment is not judging. We can watch the judging mind without getting caught in its stories, without shifting into a belief, "I am a judging kind of person." The judgment is a result. In fact, the experience of separation is a result. They are the results of conditions. We watch the conditions. If we want to affect the result, we attend to the conditions. A primary condition for separating is fear. When we judge the fear, harden ourselves, we further separate.

So we have two parts to our work so far. First, to watch the experience of separation. If you get lost in it momentarily, that's okay. Whenever you see "separation," simply note the predominant experience, such as hardening in the throat or the belly, tension, or armoring yourself energetically. Then, second, what is your habitual reaction with this experience of separating?

Through both of these stages, the question lies behind, can you just put your feet down? You're still in the middle of the river. The water is rushing past. It may even knock you off your feet once or twice as you wade toward the shore, but it's not a problem.

In Part 1 we saw separating as a result. It grew out of conditions. In Part 2 we saw there is a certain habit energy, how you usually react to separating. This is also a result. How do you respond to the habit energy?

We come to Part 3. When you feel yourself being turned head over heels, can you put your feet down and at the same time have compassion for yourself and all the humans that are caught in this rushing river we call incarnation? In short, can you remember that you are divine spirit as well as human? Part 3 acknowledges the tension of separating, the tension of negative reaction to the experience of separation, and knows there is a choice. That choice can only be brought forth when there is wisdom to know the choice and compassion for the human feeling tossed by the wild waters of life.

You came here to learn. You came here for the human experience. It doesn't do any good to deny the human experience, but if you get lost in the human experience and forget who you are, then your life simply becomes one of armoring, pushing and holding without any clarity or love, without any insight into the process with which you flow.

In the coming weeks, we're going to look very specifically at certain areas of body distortion. I'm going to have you each choose one area — the belly, the throat, the back —  a place where there is recurrent pain or distortion. The distortion is not caused by a habitual reaction in you. It has many causes. Some of it is genetic, environmental, or based simply on the way you move, your weight, your body proportions, or the kinds of food you eat. But we will also begin to see how we hold that distortion in place habitually.

I want to use the physical body as a way of deeply investigating karma and the whole flow of habitual tendency. It's sometimes easier to see in the physical body than the mental and emotional bodies.

In preparation for that, and as part of our current work, I would ask each of you to observe when you feel yourself falling into that turbulent river, what part of the body habitually tightens? When you're in a traffic jam, where do you hold tension? When someone is expressing anger at you, where do you hold tension? When you feel body pain, where do you hold tension? I simply ask you to be increasingly aware of this in the coming weeks.

And, what is your habitual response to that tension? To get caught in the story? To separate from it? To ignore it? To try to control it? To offer it kindness? If offering it kindness, are you doing it in order to fix it, or, let me put it this way, is there a self offering kindness as a kind of blackmail, or are you allowing the innate kindness of the loving heart to emerge, touching the whole scene with kindness?

This investigation is not so different from the prior listed Parts 1 and 2, but here we are looking especially at the body and the habitual place where tension is held.

We are going to get into these teachings gradually. Some of you have met these teachings before and others have not. For those for whom it is new, I ask you to read the transcripts carefully when you get them back, to digest any new words and definitions. There is a lot that I wish to cover here. I'm not going to repeat myself but ask you to be responsible for what has already been taught. It is our hope that the transcripts will be available within a week of the class, giving you another week to read and digest them before the next class.

For tonight, I want to offer three terms that are going to be basic to our work here. These could be said in English, but the foreign words are very precise in their meaning, and I think it simplifies to share these words with you and ask you to add them to your vocabulary, so that one simple word may cover a paragraph of conversation. Then when I use a word we all understand exactly what is said.

First, the word kaya simply means "body." Dharma means truth, thus dharmakaya could be translated as truth body. Other articulations of this are God and Goddess, That Which Is, the Unconditioned, the Ever-Perfect.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the word nirmana means "form." Nirmanakaya is the form body. Please do not think of nirmanakaya only as the physical body. Anger is an expression of a form body. Desire is an expression of it. Planning is a kind of form. These are the physical, mental, and the emotional forms which make up relative reality.

We can use the image of a pure underground spring as metaphor for dharmakaya. The water is absolutely pure. There's nothing that touches that water. In its source, it cannot become tainted there under the ground. But unless you go under the ground to it, you can't access it. It's as if there is a film covering it; you can't get into it.

The water spurts up through a crack in the rock and begins to run off down the hillside. It forms a stream. This is the outer expression of the spring, the nirmanakaya expression. Of course, it can pick up distortions from the air and soil. Insects can fall into it. Animals can wade in and muddy it.

And yet, there is nothing in that stream but the pure water and that of the relative plane that has touched the pure water. The pure water is still there. It hasn't gone anywhere. In the same way, the ultimate, the Unconditioned, God, is always there. And the stream with its relative plane distortions is always there.

We'll start with these two words, dharmakaya and nirmanakaya. There is a third body, a third kaya: sambhogakaya. This is what we call transition body. I'll explain this to you next week. For now, I want you to observe how in every moment in the relative world, the dharmakaya is there pushing through. Where do you put your focus? If you focus on the soil and the water, the oil slick on top, the trash, you can say the pure water is gone. You contract your energy asking, "How do we clean up this stream?" You forget that the perfect water is still there.

If you ignore the oil slick on top, and the trash, and drink the water, you're going to get a bellyache. You can't pretend that the relative is not there. To drink from the stream, you need to filter it. The perfect water is there and the distortions are there. It is the same way in your life. If you contract and give your energy constantly to fixing the distortions, you forget the Ever-Perfect that is always with you. If you refuse to acknowledge the relative, you can't learn. There may be a profound experience of the Unconditioned, but you cannot bring that into everyday life. How do we learn this balance?

These are questions we'll work with in practice. For now, all I ask of you is to be aware: when you contract, forgetting the dharmakaya, forgetting the Ever-Perfect, to remind yourself, "Come back! Put my feet down. Reconnect." For those of you who tend to hide in the Ever- Perfect and want to push away the relative plane.

Ask yourself, "How can I be more present in the difficulty of this moment? How can I open my heart and stay connected to both dharmakaya and nirmanakaya?"

I want to tell a short story here to conclude my talk. Last week Barbara was working in her garden. She has not weeded it all summer as she's been out at the lake. As she started pulling out weeds, suddenly she connected with a yellow jacket nest. They flew out angry, surrounding her. She had on only a bathing suit. They stung her on the thigh, on the shoulder, on the throat, on the face. And of course she started swatting at them. She turned to run, to try to run inside. As she got to the doorway, she realized that her dog was chained in the yard, and that if they stopped following her they would probably turn on the dog, as he was only a few feet away. So she knew she had to go back and get the dog.

There was pain, there was fear. There was the clear intention, "I cannot leave my dog to these yellow jackets. And the only way to walk back and get him is to stop swatting." So she stopped and stood still. She took a deep breath. And then she walked back slowly to the dog, unclipped him, acting precisely, not lazily, but not with panicked motions. She took the dog, led him inside. Yes, there was still fear. And, simultaneously, she invited herself to be aware that these yellow jackets were afraid, that she had disturbed their nest. They were just being wasps, protecting their territory. She asked herself to do metta with them.

She still got one more sting, but only one, although they were still swarming around. She walked inside. Yesterday she went back to that area of the garden to pick up the tools she had left there, and all the clippings. She did not know where the nest was but she made a point not to go directly into that area of the garden where she thought the nest was. She picked up a few things, and suddenly there was a swarm of yellow jackets again. Again, the impulse to bat at them. This time, she had left the dog inside, realizing that she might meet them again, and this time she wore a long shirt, long pants and a hat.

She stood still. She had a towel and covered her face. She got ten stings on her hand. She just walked slowly towards the house. The yellow jackets are going to be yellow jackets. They are defending their territory.

It did not make the sting any less unpleasant. It did not reduce the pain of the sting. But probably she got fewer stings because she didn't react with fear. She invited herself to stay connected to the Unconditioned while simultaneously acting skillfully to seek cover. Notice she did not just sit and meditate there in the middle of the yellow jackets! She did not try to pretend they didn't exist.

This is the balance I ask you to seek. We're going to break into small groups now. I think all or at least most of you received the talk that I gave and was transcribed several  weeks ago, inviting you to look at this in your lives. In the small groups I want you to share your experience with the group. You'll find things that the group has in common. You'll find places where your response is very individual.

You all have a lot of wisdom and I invite you to share it. For the most part in the group, I would like you simply to talk. Don't try to teach each other; just hear each other. But if you feel deeply moved to share something from your own experience that resonates with what another is saying, please do that. We will spend half an hour now in small group. Then we will come together in this larger circle to hear any questions about tonight's talk. … That is all.

(Return to the large circle after the group meetings.)

Barbara: Some of you have never seen this exercise. One group was doing it. Aaron says, let's share it so everybody has seen it. Here is a perfect unwrinkled sheet of paper. Yes? (Barbara holds up a clean sheet of paper; crumples it, unfolds it.) Where is the perfect unwrinkled sheet of paper? Can you see it right there in the wrinkled sheet? No denial of the wrinkles; the wrinkles are there. Where would the perfect sheet of paper go? Can you see that it's there?

Aaron: I am Aaron. This is your further exercise for these two weeks. When you sit in meditation, I would like you to try to connect with that perfect unwrinkled sheet of paper within, even if only for a moment. It is that moment of resting in non-dual awareness. It's not necessarily a moment when there are no thoughts or physical sensations, but there's no contracted energy chasing after those thoughts or sensations, trying to hold them or push them away. Thus, it is a moment of noncontraction, resting in the uncontracted state.

What I'm asking you to do is to recognize the existence of that uncontracted state. Some of you have done dzogchen meditation with us. We call this "seeing the view." Seeing the uncontracted right there in the midst of contractions. It's not a big deal, just that moment of noting, "Ah, that's it." Or that was it, it's gone. But that was it.

I also want you to notice the wrinkles. At times in formal meditation practice, and at times in the busyness of your daily life, with mindfulness, when there is such a wrinkle, a contracted energy, tension, I want you to ask, "Where is the uncontracted?" Earlier tonight I asked you to just note the experience of contracting, perhaps of separating, and the habit energy that accompanies that contraction. Adding to that assignment, our Part 3, without abandoning contraction, without denying contraction, can you touch even for a moment on the Uncontracted? Sometimes it may feel like just theory, mental gymnastics. But if you're persistent, there will be times when you find yourself resting in awareness and aware of the push, aware of the tension, aware of the bee sting, aware of somebody's anger or the traffic jam. Not either/or but both/and. This is all I want you to do, to find the Ever-Perfect sheet of paper. And when you get caught up in identification with the wrinkles and lose the perfect sheet, to remind yourself to come back to it.

Other questions? I pause.

Barbara: He asks, is this clear to everybody? Any questions? He says we will be building on this all year. This is a basic foundation for all the places we'll be going with it this year. Many of you are already familiar with this, and that's fine. But he wants everybody to have this basic building block.

That is all.

Aaron's Talk to Teacher Training Group
Sunnyside Teacher's Retreat
November 16, 2003

My blessings and love to you all on this lovely, soft and misty day. I wish you a good morning. There is only one dharma but there are many ways of expressing it. Since the dharma is vast, no one way can encompass it all. There are many slightly different views on where the focus lies. For each being, that focus will be based on their vision of dharma and on their own uniqueness. Yesterday D asked Barbara what her long-term vision was for Deep Spring Center and if she would write that down. I certainly hope she will write her own vision, but what I present here is really the vision that we share and that Barbara and I have discussed many times.

In some Buddhist traditions, the teachers have what they call dharma heirs, that is those who will carry on the dharma when the teacher is gone. You gathered here and those of this group who are absent today are all my dharma heirs. It is unto you that we entrust this vision. Each of you is unique and each of you will have your own way of bringing forth the teachings as is resonant with your own life and your own experiences. This is the beauty of diversity. Because there are so many different kinds of people in the world, they need different ways of hearing the dharma. Through each source it comes flavored a little differently.

The essence of my vision is summed up in the title of my book, Presence, Kindness, and Freedom. What do these words mean? You are all divine energies, here temporarily in this, heavy density human form. You have all been moving through this cycle of birth and death for countless lifetimes. On one level, you are a heavy density being with heavy body and emotions. And on another level you are fearless, infinite and radiant.

Liberation is sometimes explained as freedom from this samsaric cycle, so that one is no longer karmically pulled into new incarnation. I understand freedom in a subtly different way. It is true that with liberation you are no longer karmically impelled into incarnation, although incarnation may still be chosen, in service to beings. That is one meaning of freedom. But an equal if not greater freedom is the freedom to express your innate and infinite radiance, goodness, fearlessness and beauty. These qualities are released from captivity, from the darkness of  delusion, so to speak. This freedom only comes when there is no longer reactivity from old conditioning. So there must be understanding of how conditioning arises, how you identify with its stories, and that you do have a choice. This whole movement must be based on kindness, and on the uncontracted state we have been discussing this weekend. It is very simple. If you are very present, with kindness, wisdom grows. If you keep returning to the innate kindness that is there, then all of your actions begin to come more from the place of kindness than fear. When fear dissolves, contraction dissolves. In your innate spaciousness, there is room for everything!

Fifteen years ago, in my first address to a group of you, when people asked what I taught I said, "The power of love to dissolve fear." This is still the essence of what I teach. But we become increasingly sophisticated in understanding the mechanics of it. You cannot choose love from a place of anger and grasping. You cannot say, "I will kill fear." Love must be brought into everything. This is the practice of kindness... Love can only be brought in when there is presence. Presence and kindness are the tools with which we find freedom.

Through my many lifetimes, I have found many tools for presence. The tool I have found to be most flexible and direct is vipassana practice. Buddhism also gives clear articulation, to the situation of dukkha and liberation from dukkha, and to knowing our true nature, and that is why I focus my verbal expression in this direction, but you understand I am not teaching people to be Buddhist, but to be free.

Later today you are going to have a discussion over lunch about your Teachers' charter. An important question was raised by one of you in a discussion with Barbara, about the title and contents for an upcoming class that included the term, "meditation" but not "vipassana," or insight meditation. Are we a vipassana center? That seems too narrow to some of you. What is it that we teach? What is our focus?

Let us regard the word vipassana. Passana means seeing. Vipassana means a deeper, clearer seeing. There are many ways of practicing such deep, clear seeing. The practice we teach offers such seeing, but free of contraction, tension, fear and control. I don't want to suggest that vipassana is the core of our work; vipassana is the tool by which we may come to that core. The core of our work is learning to be the free, radiant, truly glorious and unlimited beings that you are. To be carriers of love into the darkness, to hold that space for love with increasing stability, not perfect on the human plane but with increasing stability.

There is a fine line. We are not teaching people to be Buddhists; we are teaching the tools for liberation in a way consistent with my definition of freedom. And we are teaching people to bring that innate goodness and radiance into the world.

I think it's very important that you all understand vipassana as path to presence, kindness, and freedom and recognize what is consistent with this tool as support practice? For example, the brahma vihara practices, tonglen, forgiveness, dzogchen and other pure awareness practices, all support presence, kindness, and freedom. Prayer, chanting, yoga, which in part is mindfulness of the body, support it. Discussion of non-duality in many traditions such as the teachers' group is now undertaking, supports it. There are some practices that are inconsistent with what we teach. For example, a fixed focus practice like TM or jhana practice would be contradictory to what we teach; it could confuse students. Let me explain.

My deepest vision of DSC, and my reason for speaking through Barbara to all of you is to guide you to be what is sometimes called a Light Center, a place where light may shine out into the darkness. DSC is a Light Center, and you are all, individually, such shining beacons of light. Any teaching that carries a strong tradition of control and force is not appropriate. There is much beauty in jhana practice. It can be taught and practiced in a very openhearted way, but for many practitioners there is some distortion of control through forcing the mind into a certain pattern. Such contraction limits the light! This is the primary reason I do not teach it.

Jhana practice can also lead people into much grasping for those blissful states, it can be very confusing to people to move into jhana and then let go of the jhana to practice choiceless awareness. It is not necessary for freedom. But the foremost reason why I don't teach it is it teaches the mind force and control. It is very difficult for the inexperienced practitioner to bring forth that one-focusedness from a place of expansiveness and the primary teaching here is expansiveness not narrowness. Jhana can come later, after expansiveness has been learned, but not at the beginning. For the same reason I would find TM quite contradictory to what we teach.

We are a Light Center. I don't mean that in the way where people may say prayers wishing for light in the world but don't attend to the darkness in themselves. To be a true Light Center, it's not enough to send out light, you also have to send in light and understand what blocks the light so it can be completely received within, so you come to know your true nature. This is what many so-called new age groups do not do. I think what makes DSC so special is that all of you aspire to express this light into the world and to find it in yourselves and are willing to do the hard work, to investigate and release the shadow and to break through the shadow, to transcend it and find that core of innate perfection. And you are willing to teach this to others, both in your vocal teaching and demonstrably in your lives.

Understanding the uncontracted and the nature of contraction is essential to my definition of freedom. I would like you to join me here for a brief guided meditation. Begin with a few deep breaths. (pause) Raise your attention to the third eye. If it is possible for you, breathe in and out the third eye. That is, feel the breath entering there and coming down into the body, and release it from the third eye. (pause)

Allow yourself to see the light, filling the third eye, as radiance. Let it be any color in the spectrum that presents itself. It may be clear white light or it may have a specific color to it. If no sense of light comes to you, try to imagine it. Don't try too hard, as trying will impede the experience. The light is always there but sometimes the filter of self prevents the experience of it. What you can do, literally, if you wish, is look toward one of the lamps in the room.

Breathe in and out through the third eye, focusing on the light, breathing in the light and releasing it. Filling the body with light. (pause) Breathe it all the way down to the base chakra. Breathing in light, feel it filling the base chakra. (pause) Breathe it in to the 2nd chakra, and feel that chakra spinning. (pause) Relax. Let the body be at ease as much as possible. Breathe light into the solar plexus, release. (pause) Heart. (pause) Throat. (pause) Crown. (pause) All coming and going through the third eye. And finally into the third eye chakra itself. A whole rainbow resides inside.

About six inches residing above your head is a spinning ball of brilliant white light. (pause) Let yourself be this light. Relax into it, allowing the boundaries of the body to fall away. (pause) Be the light that you are, spinning out, each of you in its  own glorious pattern. (pause) Visualize or imagine the pattern of your light, noting what colors are predominant, how far it goes beyond the edges of the body. Is it moving rapidly or slowly? Swirl, zigzag, what kinds of patterns? Be the light. Step out of the personality self and the body and be this radiant and intelligent light. (pause)

Bring into mind one other person in the room. Think of their light moving in their pattern, just as yours moves in your pattern. I would like you to invite that person to dance. Not a body-based dance, just light swirling together. Some of you may find that you have invited each other back and forth. For others, A has invited B, B has invited C, C has invited D and D has invited A. It does not matter. I want you to experience how it feels to deeply connect your energies in this kind of dance, each retaining its own energetic field but fully open because there is nothing to fear from the other. (pause)

If you start to get lost, such as if a thought comes or a body sensation pulls you away, just return to the experience of light in the third eye, center in that light, consciously release the identification with the body and come back to the dance. (pause)

Explore how freely you can move, no heavy body. You are light, its full radiance and color, expressing joy and gratitude, peace, playfulness. And also expressing sorrow if there is any. But there is no fear here, no sense of limitations. There is no sense of vulnerability because there is nothing that can be harmed. (pause)

Release each other from this dance now. Come back into awareness of your own light and energy field. You might notice if it has changed at all from the dance; is it more energized or calmer? Has the color changed at all? (pause)

You may feel you are not "getting it." Be with your breath, let the boundaries release. Don't try to get somewhere. Just focus on the third eye. Breathing in light, breathing out light. Some of you are experiencing a type of an overlay, the body not fully released but superimposed over this swirling light. That's fine. The body is there. I am just asking you to temporarily to release the focus on it.

Radiant light, expanding. Flashing, brilliant, dancing. Some of it circling the area of the physical body, some of it moving far out, unlimited. Feeling totally at ease. (pause) Now I ask you to imagine the approach of something with which you are uncomfortable; a snake, spider or grizzly bear, or an angry  person, someone who is difficult in your life. As you see this being approaching you, see how a sense of contraction pulls in the light, pulls you back into the sense of a body, a person, into a sense of fear and limitation. (pause) With awareness of this contraction and holding the intention for the good of all beings, for the liberation of all beings, without dismissing the fear or trying to fix it, with out trying to fix the contraction, begin to breathe in light through the third eye. Invite yourself to return to where you just were, dancing with a friend. (pause) Instead of seeing the form of that creature that is uncomfortable to you, begin to see its energetic patterns, its light. (pause)

On the physical plane, the grizzly bear can tear you to pieces. On the energetic level, its just light. See how possible it is to dance with this difficult person in your life, this literal or figurative tarantula, rattlesnake, rat or what have you. Touch on the sense of fearlessness and spaciousness. (pause) Even if that being is caught in its own fear and small self and out of that fear it means to strike out at you with harm, see how you don't have to run from it. (pause) What does this spacious, radiant, light form of your being do with that relative plane danger? Can you see that it never was a danger? (pause) When you contract, the small self moves into a relationship with the other small self, but from spaciousness you simply move around it. Contracted, there is not space to let it slide through you; you are too dense. Spacious, it just passes through. (pause)

Once during a long ago lifetime, I needed to crawl into a long, narrow cavern, just big enough to creep in on my belly, and into a larger space in the far back where I would sit for a few days on a vision quest. There were poisonous snakes in that area and I knew they might inhabit that entry passage and cave. When I sensed them approaching, I stopped. I understood that if I did not send fear energy out to it, it would not see me as an enemy. I still had to sit there long enough for it to slither out past me. Sometimes I could feel it moving along my body and out past my feet.

Although that cave was filled with snakes, I was not harmed. This is the meaning of fearlessness, to rest in that spaciousness even when fear does arrive, to choose not to believe in the stories of fear but, deeply moved by the intention for the good of all beings, to hold that space and fearlessness.

The theatrical "Man of La Mancha" has a beautiful song. I will not ask Barbara to sing it, but offer some of the words:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable sta.

This is my quest
To follow that star;
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far....

To be willing to give
When there's no more to give,
To be willing to die
So that honor and justice may live

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm,
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scares
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

This is your quest, my dear ones, and nothing less than this. To reach the unreachable star, to find within you your true being, your radiance, your unlimitedness, your fearlessness and to bring it out into the world so others may see it.

Breathing in light, expanding outward, being the light. Feel how it feels to meet that foe, that dreaded thing, with spaciousness, with peace, with kindness, with fearlessness. Can you feel how that fearlessness and love make you invulnerable? (pause) I am not denying the snake can still bite you, only that this radiance of yours cannot be destroyed. Bodies come and go; your true nature is indestructible. This is what you are here to learn, that the Light always exists but may be hidden by clouds; hatred and fear will never help to bring forth light. Spaciousness allows the light to radiate within and outward. Contraction blocks it.

When you are completely uncontracted, you are almost always physically safe, not always but almost always. But if that being does strike out at you, it's okay to say no. This is the outer movement of compassion. It is not compassionate to allow another to harm you, but kindness, not fear, says no. It must come from a place of fearlessness and from your knowledge of that place of your own radiance in yourself. You must come to trust this light that you are because you must live it, not just experience it in meditation. The work is to live it in the world. That is what I intend to teach here.

That is all.