Volume 12, Number 3 - Fall 2004


Letter from Barbara

Poem: To My Friends
Dianne Austin

From the Board President
Ann Barden

Aaron's Talk
Wednesday Night Monthly Open Group
March 17, 2004
linked to library transcripts section

Aaron's Talk
Spiritual Inquiry Class
May 26, 2004

linked to library transcripts section

On Violence and Creativity
linked to library transcripts section

On Right View
Barbara Brodsky
Emrich Retreat
June 26, 2004

Haiku as Spiritual Practice
Dorothy Ann Coyne

Poem: I Sit
Joan Head

Poem: To My Teachers
Dianne Austin

Letter from Barbara
July 2004

Dear friends,

It's early July and I sit on my cabin deck, surrounded by lush woods wearing a thousand shades of green, lake glistening blue through the trees, and taking delight in this warming weather. The past two months have been unusual for me, a time of enforced inactivity as I recuperate from injuries sustained in April. Please know that I am recovering. My son Davy has been telling people that I was wiped out in a surfing accident!

The "wiped out" part is accurate, and surf and I did collide, but "surfing accident," is a stretch; I was playing in the ocean with a little Styrofoam board when a very large wave caught me wrong and bowled me over. It would be easy to simply say, "the wave won," as I ended up pulled semiconscious from the water with broken ribs, back and face injuries, and torn cartilage and muscles. However, "winning" is a relative thing and the gifts of these months have been enormous. I'm still processing it all, and cannot fully write about it yet, so this is just a first draft, so to speak. I've learned appreciation for this body. It's been an interesting challenge to watch the body unable to perform the simplest of movements, and to watch mind's impatience with limits and pain. Our bodies are certainly impermanent, but the fact was hammered home! Death is just a breath away. This lifetime is a priceless gift as opportunity to learn, but also a gift of joy and love. The question that has come is, How can I live with more passion, more fullness, joy and presence?

I've learned ever deeper appreciation for dharma. The difference between pain and suffering was never so clear, nor the value of mindfulness. Joy is not somewhere separate from pain, but right here in this complete moment.

I've learned appreciation of friends, of sangha. For the first weeks I was quite helpless, needing constant care, which was offered so tenderly by people who helped me sit up and lie back down, brush my teeth and wash my face. Whenever I awoke, at whatever hour of day or night, someone was sitting beside me in a chair, ready to help. And from a distance, cards and loving wishes poured in. It takes your breath away to feel so deeply loved!

I wish you a wonderful season of dawn sunshine on glistening dew, the call of a loon, wildflowers everywhere, and friends to dance with as we travel this path together.

With love,

To My Friends
Dianne Austin

Dianne Austin, one of our senior DSC teachers, retired in June from many years of teaching art in the public schools. Friends, family, colleagues and past students gathered June 12th at a retirement ceremony for her. At that ceremony Dianne read poems she had written to express thanks to those groups of people who were especially important in her life (e.g. family, friends, colleagues, students, teachers, etc...). We share here one of those poems.


To My Friends in Deep Spring
by Dianne Austin


chanted tone and inward gaze
met and mirrored
by you

shared learning
learned sharing

round the circle of my heart sangha

sweetness of meditation
terror of


round the circle of my heart sangha

light and openhearted play
is the treasure freed
through shipwrecked depths of willingness
to become


round the circle of my heart sangha

a beacon of light in concentric circles
a love poem
to the universe
blessing all
blessing each


round the circle of my heart sangha

quiet contentment and love overflowing
this is my circle
my heart sangha


From the Board President
Ann Barden

Dear Ones,

In preparation for writing this report, I reread the State of the Sangha report in the last Newsletter. I was interested in how often I used the word "learn." Learning has certainly been the predominant quality of my experience with the Board of Deep Spring Center. What a wonderful opportunity it is to be learning and working together!

Since the last report, Corty Cammann has led the Board in looking carefully at the responsibilities of the Board of Directors. The result of that work has been a document that clearly defines those responsibilities. They are:

  • Ensuring that DSC has a clear direction
  • Ensuring that DSC operates legally and ethically
  • Ensuring that DSC has activities and programs to support its purposes
  • Ensuring the fiscal health of the organization 
  • Ensuring the involvement and commitment of the sangha

Barbara's presence on our Board of Directors reminds us and leads us in meeting these responsibilities with open hearts and in ways that reflect our understanding of the non-dual nature of reality. Generosity and frugality are right there together in the same space. Careful planning and flexibility are not mutually exclusive. Clear direction doesn't mean that change is impossible.

The opportunity to sit around this table is one I hope many of you will take a turn to do at some time. I find it a deep part of my practice which feels supported by all of you.

In gratitude,
Ann Barden
Board President

On Right View
Barbara Brodsky
Emrich Retreat
June 26, 2004

Barbara: Good evening. 

Last night John mentioned the Four Noble Truths. This starts with dukkha. The word dukkha is often translated as suffering. I think that's a poor translation. Dukkha relates to the unpredictability of the phenomenal world. We want to feel safe and in control. Everything is always changing; everything is impermanent. Nothing happens the way we expect it to happen, and we want it to meet our expectations. The fact of its impermanence or changeability is not suffering in itself. Change comes and the Second Noble Truth points out the cause of dukkha: grasping for things to be other than they are. 

In the word dukkha, kha means the hub of a wheel; du means off-center. If you can picture a cart with an axle and both wheels off-center on the hubs, as the cart rolls, it lurches. Sound familiar? This is how our life is, it lurches. There's nothing inherent in that lurching that's uncomfortable. Aaron has pointed out people pay a lot of money to go to amusement parks to ride on rides that lurch. We'd be very disappointed if they just ran smooth: "I want my money back! What kind of ride is this?" But in our lives we don't want it to lurch, and so there's grasping, trying to hold things still, straight. No change, no impermanence. And out of the grasping, we suffer. 

The Third Noble Truth is the simple statement, "Freedom is possible." When the Buddha offered these Four Noble Truths, they were given the way medical diagnostics were done in his day. The doctor would name the disease and the cause of the disease, give the prognosis, and then give a recommended course of treatment for it. So the Buddha spoke of this the same way. The disease is this inherent tendency of the cart to lurch because the wheels are off-center, because everything is impermanent and subject to change. The cause of our pain is because we want it to be otherwise, grasp at it to be as we want it. The prognosis, there's an end to this suffering. Then he outlines the Noble Eightfold Path, a path out of suffering.

The path as described has three basic segments (these are all stated in Pali words): sila is about moral awareness. The pieces of the path that fall under sila are Right Action—living our lives in ways that do no harm; Right Speech—not using speech in a way that's focused on building up the self at the harm of others; Right Livelihood —work in the world that does no harm to beings. This is part of the precepts that John read. All of the precepts fall under the practice of sila, and it's a very beautiful practice. It leads us to a place beyond the ego, seeing how we interconnect with the world and seeing our responsibility in the world. 

Another segment of the Eightfold Path is samadhi: basically, mindfulness and concentration. And the third aspect is panna, wisdom. We can't take these as separate, they all inter-relate. I see it as a tripod. If you have a camera tripod and you lengthen one leg and don't lengthen the other two legs, the whole thing topples over. If you want to raise the tripod, and you've got a big heavy camera on the top, you can't just lift it up and lengthen all the legs: you lengthen one a little bit. Then you lengthen another one, then you lengthen a third; then you come around to the first again. You keep building it up. 

As sila and samadhi deepen, in other words, as we have deeper moral awareness and deeper mindfulness, wisdom develops. As wisdom develops, the mind gets quieter, and we have more samadhi. And then our understanding of our relationship with the world deepens, and sila deepens. It keeps building. 

Tonight I want to focus on one aspect of this Eightfold Path, Right View. When we give dharma talks, they come from many places. John and I don't plan ahead an agenda of what talks we'll give at any retreat; we try to speak spontaneously from what is happening on the retreat. This has been part of our training. The most important thing Aaron taught me was to speak from my heart, to try to hear what's happening in the retreat and also to come from a place of what's been happening in me, to be as authentic as I can. So as I thought about what to talk about tonight, what came through most powerfully has been these past two months and wanting to share some of what I've learned with you. 

Tomorrow it's eight weeks since the accident. It's been a very powerful time of growth, sometimes a very difficult time. It started with what was literally a near-death experience, passing into unconsciousness, literally seeing that so-called light at the end of the tunnel. Feeling the real possibility of moving into that transition and a very strong part of me saying, "No! I do not choose to do that." Not from a place of fear, at all. It's interesting, looking back, there was no fear. But there was a very strong pull, a commitment to life, a sense that I've not finished my work, for myself and for others. So that somehow I came to enough consciousness to get to the surface and to call for help. And to stay conscious until somebody grabbed me, at which point I passed out. 

There was enormous pain. There was a sense of not knowing what would happen to me. After CAT scans and so forth in the hospital, it was clear my back wasn't broken, my neck wasn't broken, so it seemed like whatever injuries there were, they would heal. But I know from long life experience that injuries don't always heal fully. So there was the mind wanting to know what to expect, what will happen? Will I be safe? How long will the pain last? Who will take care of me? What will become of my livelihood in whatever time I can't work? How will I travel home? All these insistent questions. My whole body was discolored with bruises, face really beaten up. Fear—what will happen to this body? Big cuts on my face. Will I have scars on my face? Broken nose and ribs. Back injury. What will happen to this body? 

It's so easy to become attached to the body, but I don't want to focus overly on the body in this talk. I know someone whose house caught on fire this spring. They went through a similar questioning, not about their body but about their house—what will happen to me? Will I have a home? How will I replace the things that burned? What about my children? Will I be safe? 

This is normal. Home is a home; body is a home. Of course, we attach to well-being. This is how the human is. But we also have to understand the inherent suffering in the attachment, and we do have a choice. Just because we have the habit energy to attach to objects doesn't mean we have to believe the questions that come up. How long will it last? Will it be safe? What will happen? Questions, questions. 

The Buddha said, yes, there is an end to suffering. How do we come to that place where we can see through the grasping and stories of our minds without putting down the human, without diminishing the human concerns. How can we be respectful of the human concerns, respectful of the human experience, without buying into those old stories. 

When I travel to retreats, I take this three-ring notebook with me. It's filled with different sections, poetry, basic dharma study, dzogchen, and many things that I like to read or refer to as I teach, and I change the pages from time to time. I used to carry a big pile of books with me. That got very unwieldy. So I made up this little book. 

So there I lay, not the first day—the first day I was really out of it, unable to do much of anything. But by 24 hours I was just lying in bed in a lot of pain and I remembered a talk from Ajahn Chah, the monk who was John's teacher in Thailand, that I've read perhaps a half dozen times in the past decade. It's called "Our Real Home."* Each time I read it in the past, I felt a pull to it, but I felt like at some level I wasn't quite ready for it. It's subtitled, "A talk addressed to an ageing lay disciple approaching death." I had read it before with a sense of separation: me, I'm not dying. I felt pulled to open it and read it that second night, 24 hours after this accident. And of course I was not dying. Yet there was a deeper realization that we are always dying to the present, and that we must die to the present, whatever the conditions of the present, in order to open to the next moment. The present becomes the past immediately, and we must always die to that which has just gone past to stay present. 

It's like looking out a clean window. I was in Japan last May and the scenery was fascinating. I would find myself looking out the train window, catching something new and different, and trying to hold on to it until somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Did you see this?" I had missed "this" because I was so busy watching "that." 

So I realized as I rode on these trains that I kept missing the present because I was trying to stay with what went past. I had to just look through the window at this frame and this frame and this frame, and not think too much about it, not grasp.

So now this talk spoke deeply to me. It's been speaking to me through all these eight weeks. I've been reading and re-reading it probably two or three times a week. I'm going to read you parts of what's quite a long talk. This is something I've never done during a dharma talk before, but I would like you to hear it. As I read, I'll interrupt sometimes and share my thoughts about it. 

(reading…) Now determine in your mind to listen with respect to the Dhamma. During the time that I am speaking, be as attentive to my words as if it was the Lord Buddha himself sitting in front of you. Close your eyes and make yourself comfortable, compose your mind and make it one-pointed. Humbly allow the Triple Gem of wisdom, truth and purity to abide in your heart as a way of showing respect to the Fully Enlightened One. 

Today I have brought nothing material of any substance to offer you, only Dhamma, the teachings of the Lord Buddha. Listen well. You should understand that even the Buddha himself, with his great store of accumulated virtue, could not avoid physical death. When he reached old age he relinquished his body and let go of its heavy burden. Now you too must learn to be satisfied with the many years you've already depended on your body. You should feel that it's enough. 

You can compare it to household utensils you've had for a long time—your cups, saucers, plates and so on. When you first had them they were clean and shining, but now after using them for so long, they're starting to wear out. Some are already broken, some have disappeared and those that are left are deteriorating; they have no stable form, and it's their nature to be like that. Your body is the same way—it's been continually changing right from the day you were born, through childhood and youth, until now it's reached old age. 

Barbara: For those of you who are in youth or middle age, please remember your body is still not the body you were born with. The infant body is gone, and the baby body, and the adolescent body, change. 

(reading…) You must accept that. The Buddha said that conditions (sankharas), whether they are internal conditions, bodily conditions, or external conditions, are not-self, their nature is to change. Contemplate this truth until you see it clearly. 

This very lump of flesh that lies here in decline is saccadhamma, the truth. The truth of this body is saccadhamma, and it is the unchanging teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha taught us to look at the body, to contemplate it and come to terms with its nature. We must be able to be at peace with the body, whatever state it is in. 

Barbara: I can't tell you how many times I read that line with the question, how do I be at peace with this severely hurting body, this body that's so deeply feeling its limitations. I had a black eye and couldn't see clearly. My nose was broken. My jaw hurt. Ribs were broken and it hurt to breathe. I couldn't stand up without two people literally on either side helping me to stand and walk. How will I be at peace with this body? 

What I kept coming back to is simply this—Right View—understanding that everything changes, and not taking it personally. I discovered at that point a deeper difference between equanimity and resignation. This is something I'd been looking at for a while, it wasn't new insight. But it came forth very much in those first few days. Seeing how resignation poses as equanimity. It's what we call the near enemy of equanimity because it so much poses as it that we can mistakenly take it as equanimity. But resignation is contracted, it's based on fear. And it wants to hold things away. It still wants to control; Equanimity is deeply peaceful and spacious. 

There was not equanimity that first week, there definitely was not. But at least I could see the resignation coming up, and the aversion within the resignation. And I could ask, "This is not equanimity; where is equanimity?" My deep experience is that equanimity is not something that I have to create. Equanimity is like that clear sky we talk about. The clouds come in, the clear sky is still there. If I'm not touching on the experience of equanimity, it's because something is capturing my attention, blocking it. The block was the whole illusion of self. 

When I talk about the illusion of self, this is a hard one. I'm not Susan, Len or Bob. We certainly seem to be separate beings. And yet at a certain level, we're all the same. What expresses differently is the form, the thoughts, and the emotions, which are all the expression of conditions. But at another level, this body is just cell, water, tissue, bone, organs, as is this body (pointing) and this body (pointing). Mind is just the accumulation of conditions flowing on. 

We need to understand that there is a relative and an ultimate reality, and that they are not separate from each other. We respect the relative reality, we work skillfully with the relative reality, and simultaneously we honor and we live the ultimate reality. It's not a case of either/or, it's both. Equanimity only opens when we can draw them both together. For me, that meant respecting this human in pain, respecting the fear. Not getting caught in its stories, but respecting, this is the human response in this moment. Right here there is pain. Right here there is the experience of fear. Right here there is doubt. Direct experience, not thoughts about direct experience, but direct experience of pain, doubt and fear. 

The training takes us deep. My often quoted phrase, "That which is aware of fear is not afraid," is the key. Right there with the fear, "Will I be safe?" Can I find that which is not afraid, that pure awareness? We do this not to push the fear away, not to control the fear, not to deny the fear, but to see how fear and fearlessness arise together. Perhaps "arise together" isn't the right phrasing because fearlessness doesn't arise: fearlessness is just there. Fear arises and passes away. When fear is big, we don't see the fearlessness, just as we can't see the clear sky through a huge black cloud. As we penetrate through the fear, we see the fearlessness. When the fear gets dense again, we lose track of the fearlessness. When I take a deep breath and note the fear, the fearlessness comes back. They're there together. At times, fear disappears completely and there's only fearlessness. At times, fear seems so big that although the fearlessness is there, we can't see it. But, if we remember to ask, right here with fear where is fearlessness? 

Right here with this everyday mind with its planning and doubt and opinions and so forth, there is this pure awareness mind. We must ask, "Where is rigpa?" Right here with doubt is clarity. Right here with anger, there is love. Right here with a sense of the limited human, there is this infinite radiance that I've come to know is a very real expression of what I am. 

Some of you may be feeling that's fine for me to say this because in my practice I've had that experience of fearlessness and of the infinite radiance of being. There is not one of you that has not had some glimpses of this. Sure, I'm a dhamma teacher. This is what I do with my life; maybe I've had some deeper experiences. But you don't need the deepest experiences to come back to that unlimitedness, that radiance, that sense of pure being. You just need to remember, "I have a choice here. I can get lost in the fear, or I can choose to at least acknowledge the possibility of that which is not afraid, here with the fear. I can get lost in the anger or grasping, or I can at least acknowledge the possibility of that which is open and loving." We can invite ourselves to remember this, which is our true being, our "real home." 

When we acknowledge that possibility, everything can open up. It's not a possibility based on blind faith, it's based on your own genuine experiences of transcending fear, of transcending pain, transcending doubt, and you have all had these experiences. So I read this line, "We must be able to be at peace with the body, whatever state it is in," and I asked myself, where is that peace? And, no surprise here, I found that it was there. I could not have found it if I tried to find it by pushing away the agitation. I could only find it right there with the agitation. By opening my heart completely to the agitation and being fully present with it, I was able to see beyond the agitation into the inherent peacefulness. 

(reading…) The Buddha taught that we should ensure that it's only the body that is locked up in jail and not let the mind be imprisoned along with it. Now as your body begins to run down and deteriorate with age, don't resist that, but don't let your mind deteriorate with it. Keep the mind separate. Give energy to the mind by realizing the truth of the way things are. The Lord Buddha taught that this is the nature of the body, it can't be any other way: having been born it gets old and sick and then it dies. This is a great truth you are presently encountering. Look at the body with wisdom and realize it. 

Even if your house is flooded or burnt to the ground, whatever the danger that threatens it, let it concern only the house. If there's a flood, don't let it flood your mind. If there's a fire, don't let it burn your heart. Let it be merely the house, that which is external to you, that is flooded and burnt. Allow the mind to let go of its attachments. The time is ripe. 

You've been alive a long time. Your eyes have seen any number of forms and colors, your ears have heard so many sounds, you've had any number of experiences. And that's all they were—just experiences. You've eaten delicious foods, and all the good tastes were just good tastes, nothing more. The unpleasant tastes were just unpleasant tastes, that's all. If the eye sees a beautiful form, that's all it is, just a beautiful form. An ugly form is just an ugly form. The ear hears an entrancing, melodious sound and it's nothing more than that. A grating, disharmonious sound is simply so. 

The Buddha said that rich or poor, young or old, human or animal, no being in this world can maintain itself in any one state for long: everything experiences change and estrangement. This is a fact of life that we can do nothing to remedy. But the Buddha said that what we can do is to contemplate the body and mind so as to see their impersonality, see that neither of them is "me" or "mine." They have a merely provisional reality. It's like this house: it's only nominally yours; you couldn't take it with you anywhere. It's the same with your wealth, your possessions and your family: they're all yours only in name, they don't really belong to you, they belong to nature. Now this truth doesn't apply to you alone; everyone is in the same position, even the Lord Buddha and his enlightened disciples. They differed from us in only one respect, and that was in their acceptance of the way things are: they saw that it could be no other way. 

So the Buddha taught us to scan and examine this body, from the soles of the feet up to the crown of the head and then back down to the feet again. Just take a look at the body. What sort of things do you see? Is there anything intrinsically clean there? Can you find any abiding essence? This whole body is steadily degenerating, and the Buddha taught us to see that it doesn't belong to us. It's natural for the body to be this way, because all conditioned phenomena are subject to change. How else would you have it be? Actually, there's nothing wrong with the way the body is. It's not the body that causes you suffering; it's your wrong thinking. When you see the right wrongly, there's bound to be confusion. 

It's like the water of a river. It naturally flows down the gradient; it never flows against it: that's its nature. If a person were to go and stand on a river bank and, seeing the water flowing swiftly down its course, foolishly want it to flow back up the gradient, he would suffer. Whatever he was doing, his wrong thinking would allow him no peace of mind. He would be unhappy because of his wrong view, thinking against the stream. If he had right view he would see that the water must inevitably flow down the gradient, and until he realized and accepted that fact, the person would be agitated and upset. 

The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body. Having been young, your body has become old and now it's meandering towards its death. Don't go wishing it was otherwise; it's not something you have the power to remedy. The Buddha told us to see the way things are and then let go of our clinging to them. Take this feeling of letting go as your refuge. 

Barbara: I'm skipping some here. 

(reading…) Finally, you'll look at the breath as if it were a relative come to visit you … Eventually the breath disappears altogether … This is called Meeting the Buddha … The True Buddha. We have that clear wakefulness that is called "Buddho," the one who knows, the one who is awake, the radiant one. It is meeting and dwelling with the Buddha, with knowledge and clarity. For it was only the historical fleshand- blood Buddha that entered parinibbana; the true Buddha, the Buddha that is clear radiant knowing, we can still experience and attain today, and when we do, so the heart is one. 

So let go, put everything down, everything except the knowing. Don't be fooled if visions or sounds arise in your mind during meditation. Put them all down. Don't take hold of anything at all. Just stay with this nondual awareness. Don't worry about the past or the future; just be still and you will reach the place where there's no advancing, no retreating and no stopping, where there's nothing to grasp at or cling to. Why? Because there's no self, no "me" or "mine. " It's all gone. The Buddha taught us to be emptied of everything in this way, not to carry anything with us. To know, and having known, let go. 

Realizing the Dhamma, the path to freedom from the round of birth and death, is a job that we all have to do alone. So keep trying to let go, and to understand the teachings. Really put effort into your contemplation. Don't worry about your family. At the moment, they are as they are; in the future, they will be like you. There's no one in the world who can escape this fate. The Buddha told us to put down everything that lacks a real abiding substance. If you put everything down, you will see the truth; if you don't, you won't. That's the way it is and it's the same for all, so don't worry and don't grasp at anything. 

Barbara: Mind does grasp, though. I have a schedule. John and I just finished scheduling our March through June 2006 calendar. That may sound crazy to you, but these retreat centers schedule events two years in advance, so our calendars are penned in for the whole spring of 2006. I could see how much I'm geared up to this schedule, but I'm lying there in bed—I've got a retreat to lead in June, I've got a workshop to lead in July, I'm going to Brazil in August—what will happen? How will I fix it?! "My schedule—oh, no!!" Grasping! Wanting to control. 

So many different kinds of fears come up. There were broken ribs all the way around, so there was no way to lie back and find any ease. No matter which way I positioned myself, I was lying on broken bones. Looking around the room here, I see some of you who sat up with me night after night, sometimes literally holding my head while I floated for a half hour in the hot tub, which was one of the few places I could sleep without lying on a broken bone. Floating on the water. Ahh, so exhausted, some kind person watching over me at 3 AM! 

I'd get back in bed after a half-hour nap like that. I had taken pain medicine and so forth; no terrible pain just then, but the fear, "Soon after I fall asleep there's going to be pain." What do we do with that? Letting go of anticipating how it will be, letting it happen. What will happen in an hour from now? What will happen in June when this retreat comes up, and as an aside, we see I am here! What will happen in September? What will my body be like, will my face be scarred? Seeing all of these fears come up and, as Ajahn Chah says, "letting go of worrying about your children." These are all my children. My plans are my children, my face is my child; the night's sleep is my child. Can I let go of it all and just be in this moment and let things be as they are? The more I was able to do that, the more things as they are were, were okay. 

I see several of you with whom, even in a lot of pain, I spent some wonderful midnight hours chatting in the hot tub. We had some delightful times together. Very pleasant. Right there with all the pain. Very heart-opening. 

So much that looks terrible when we engage in all the fears—how it should be, how it's not the way we should be—but when we're right in this moment, it's fine. Unpleasant though it is, it's fine. I came to that experience very quickly, coming back to consciousness on the beach as they pulled me up on the sand. I had thought maybe my back was broken, and the first thing I did lying there was to wiggle my fingers and they moved! Then I wiggled my toes and they moved! I knew, whatever is damaged, I still have this nerve and muscle function. Even if my back is broken, there's not any essential nerve damage right now, it will heal. I'm not going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life: my toes wiggle, my fingers wiggle. 

And there was no thought of the days or months or years recovery might take, but a profound realization that right now, in this moment, lying here on this beach having just come close to drowning, blood streaming down my face, in a lot of pain, everything is perfect! 

Aaron asked me later, if the toes wouldn't wiggle, would you still feel everything is perfect? It would have taken a lot longer. I think I would have come to the same realization as I have right now about my deafness being perfect, but in all honesty I would have had to say it would have taken a lot longer. But at a certain level, everything is always perfect. Can we begin to trust that in our lives? Whatever we experience, it's just how things are. It is and will be perfect. The perfect deafness. Yes, I would trade it tomorrow for the perfect hearing! But it's also fine the way it is.

(reading…) Whatever arises in your mind, be it fear of pain, fear of death, anxiety about others or whatever, say to it: "Don't disturb me. You're not my business any more." Just keep saying this to yourself when you see those dhammas arise. 

What does the word "dhamma" refer to? Everything is a dhamma. There is nothing that is not a dhamma. And what about "world"? The world is the very mental state that is agitating you at this moment. "What will this person do? What will that person do? When I'm dead, who will look after them? How will they manage?" This is all just "the world." Even the mere arising of a thought of fearing death or pain is the world. 

Throw the world away! The world is the way it is. If you allow it to arise in the mind and dominate consciousness then the mind becomes obscured and can't see itself. So, whatever appears in the mind, just say: "This isn't my business. It's impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self." 

Barbara: I'm making a comment here. This is wise advice but not always so easy to do. And I find for myself that the most skillful means of doing this is just this noting: when fear arises, knowing, "here is fear." When tension arises in the body, knowing it as tension. In the fear, just the fear. The mind agitated. In the body tension, just the body tension. Not compounding things with stories, but staying with each moment, the object itself just as it is, with the heart as open as possible. The open heart has space for the human discomfort with pain, with limitation. We really can open our hearts to these things. 

(reading…) Thinking you'd like to go on living for a long time will make you suffer. But thinking you'd like to die right away or die very quickly isn't right either; it's suffering, isn't it? Conditions don't belong to us; they follow their own natural laws. You can't do anything about the way the body is. You can prettify it a little, make it look attractive and clean for a while, like the young girls who paint their lips and let their nails grow long, but when old age arrives, everyone's in the same boat. That's the way the body is, you can't make it any other way. But what you can improve and beautify is the mind. 

Anyone can build a house of wood and bricks, but the Buddha taught that that sort of home is not our real home, it's only nominally ours. It's a home in the world and it follows the ways of the world. Our real home is inner peace. An external material home may well be pretty, but it is not very peaceful. There's this worry and then that, this anxiety and then that. So we say it's not our real home, it's external to us; sooner or later we'll have to give it up. It's not a place we can live in permanently because it doesn't truly belong to us; it's part of the world. Our body is the same; we take it to be self, to be "me" and "mine," but in fact it's not really so at all: it's another worldly home. Your body has followed its natural course from birth until now; it's old and sick and you can't forbid it from doing that: that's the way it is. Wanting it to be different would be as foolish as wanting a duck to be like a chicken. When you see that that's impossible, that a duck has to be a duck, that a chicken has to be a chicken, and that bodies have to get old and die, you will find strength and energy. However much you want the body to go on and last for a long time, it won't do that. 

The Buddha said: Conditions are impermanent, subject to rise and fall. Having arisen they cease—their stilling is bliss. 

Barbara: This is a very powerful statement. We come to these deep meditation experiences of dissolution of the ego, dissolution of the body. A place we call cessation experience, where everything seems to cease arising and dissolving. At first we're in this awareness, seeing objects arising and dissolving, and then we go beyond even that, a place of absolute stillness. And within that stillness, a profound peace. It's called the peace beyond understanding. And this is our true home. And once we come to that peace and really start to know it, it's unshakable, no matter what fireworks are going off in the relative plane. Because we rest so deeply in that ground, we really know it as refuge. And we know it as, if I can use the term, real, relative reality. 

(reading…) The word sankhara refers to this body and mind. 

Barbara: Sankhara is a word that means that which arises out of conditions, and itself becomes the condition for future arising. Anger may arise out of conditions, and then the anger becomes the condition for hatred or argument. Each object arises out of conditions and becomes the ground for future conditions. This is the whole spinning cycle of samsara. So sankhara is that conditioned object that serves as the ground for future arising. 

(reading…) Sankharas are impermanent and unstable, having come into being they disappear, having arisen they pass away, and yet everyone wants them to be permanent. This is foolishness. Look at the breath. Having come in, it goes out; that's its nature, that's how it has to be. The inhalation and exhalation have to alternate, there must be change. Sankharas exist through change, you can't prevent it. Just think: could you exhale without inhaling? Would it feel good? Or could you just inhale? We want things to be permanent, but they can't be, it's impossible. Once the breath has come in, it must go out; when it's gone out, it comes in again, and that's natural, isn't it? Having been born, we get old and sick and then we die, and that's totally natural and normal. It's because sankharas have done their job, because the in-breaths and out-breaths have alternated in this way, that the human race is still here today.

As soon as we're born, we're dead. Our birth and death are just one thing. It's like a tree: when there's a root there must be twigs. When there are twigs there must be a root. You can't have one without the other. It's a little funny to see how at a death people are so grief-stricken and distracted, tearful and sad, and at a birth how happy and delighted. It's delusion, nobody has ever looked at this clearly. I think if you really want to cry, then it would be better to do so when someone's born. For actually birth is death, death is birth, the root is the twig, the twig is the root. If you've got to cry, cry at the root, cry at the birth. Look closely: if there was no birth there would be no death. Can you understand this? 

Don't think a lot. Just think: "This is the way things are." It's your work, your duty. Right now nobody can help you, there's nothing that your family and your possessions can do for you. All that can help you now is the correct awareness. 

So don't waver. Let go. Throw it all away. 

Barbara: There are several more pages but I'm going to stop there. The rest of it is beautiful, but he mostly makes the same points again. Being with things as they are in this moment, this follows the Third Noble Truth. There is freedom, there is an end to suffering. And that end is in this moment, being with things just as they are. Sometimes the way they are is very unpleasant, there's a lot of fear and a lot of aversion, and that's part of how things are. Our practice is not to try to change the aversion, not to try to change the unpleasantness, just to try to know it and witness it. Right there with aversion is the mind that's not filled with aversion. Right there with fear is fearlessness. Right there with agitation is peace. 

We only find it by complete presence, no denial of the direct experience of the body, of the mind, pain agitation, or whatever is happening. Also not getting lost in the stories those difficult mind and body states want to offer. When we're not lost in the stories, just fully present with agitation, right there is peace. With pain is also non-pain because pain goes, and then there's no pain. And then there's pain again, and then there's no pain. The in breath, the out breath, everything changing. 

These two months have been immensely powerful for me. In my practice in the past, I've had some very deep cessation experiences, blissful states, deep peace. To some degree I had been able to integrate those into my daily life. But I've been finding the fruits of that past practice these two months, fruits arising right there with the pain and fear. It's led me to such a deep respect for and trust of the practice, and its ability to lead us to freedom. I'm definitely not making a statement here, "Look at me, I'm free." Certainly I'm not. But I'm freer than I was a while ago! I'm learning. There's more peace than there was. There's more joy. And interestingly, I'm not the least bit agitated about the future. I came to this retreat assuming I'll do what I can. The same for the future.

Each day is just that day. So I've got my calendar laid out for two years, that's the relative practice. I've got to do that because this is what the retreat centers ask. And I have the complete ease to say, "Who knows?" It will be as it will be. No fear. We'll see tomorrow what tomorrow brings. 

I hope that your practice this week leads you into a more direct experience of this kind of peace. Remember it's not something you have to create, it's not an attainment. It's right here as close as the breath. Don't be afraid. To those of you who have come to me in the past couple of days saying, "body pain, agitation, mind won't stay still, doubt, restlessness," remember that these are your teachers. Don't be afraid of them. Don't push them away or think it should be different. Don't try to hold on to any states either. If the body is feeling relaxed, mind is clear and sharp, be there with it, and know it will probably change. In the next sitting, there may be restlessness and pain and agitation and the mind won't be clear. It doesn't matter. The calm mind is the calm mind. The agitated mind is the agitated mind. They come and go. Rest in the space beyond all that. Watch clarity come. Watch the mind still. Watch restlessness. Watch pain come and go. Watch the worries of the everyday world come and go. Don't get caught. 

I want to end with a beautiful quote from Ajahn Chah, not from what I just read.

Do everything with a mind that lets go. When you let go a little, you will have a little peace. When you let g o a lot, you'll have a lot of peace. When you let go completely, you will have complete peace and freedom, an d your troubles with the world will come to an end.

* The entire text of "Our Real Home" can be downloaded at http: //www.accesstoins ight .org / lib/bps leaves/b111.h tml.

Haiku as Spiritual Practice
Dorothy Ann Coyne


Through the Gap
into the Heartland,
my spirit travels
to its true source.


Too full.
Too busy.
Too lively.
Too much.
Ann Arbor tests us sweetly.

Awake before the dawn chorus.
I sit to discover me.
Birds cheer.


Clouds and confusion darken the morning
I trust the Light is here too.


Thunder says listen.
Lightning says wake up!
The mat and cushion call me.


Spirit speaks
Worrisome thoughts.


Eyes won't shut.
Jaw drops open.
Resting in rigpa now.


I get to the cushion.
My mind never settles down.
Is this enough?


I get to the cushion.
My mind never settles down.
This is enough.


I Sit
Joan Head
June Retreat, 2004


I sit

Knowing the web of life

untangles, unwinds itself.

Revealing a light that is always,

Only darkened, wound tightly

by misperceptions.


I sit

Knowing peace and an open

heart is waiting for me.

My center pulsates,

ready for the small me to

open up into the larger self.


The one who knows.


To My Teachers
Dianne Austin


To My Teachers, Barbara and Aaron
by Dianne Austin

A finger pointing to the moon

On a hand open to receive
and poised to give
gifts of great wisdom

From arms open wide
to accept life's lessons
and circle around me
in the kindest embrace

Taking me into this heart
of the divine

no this and no that
no self and no other
all glowing as rigpa
all rejoicing as one

With room for the dance
of earthly concerns
as I lurch once again
and trip on my shadow

Aaron reminds me
to smile at my feet
be mindful, and breathe

This time I meet myself
coming and going
and Healed
and Utterly Perfect

All in the same space
at this non linear time

Gratitude wells through this heart unstopping
for the patience, the wisdom, the lessons and love

I am so blessed by the nearness of you

We are all blessed by the circle divine