Volume 16, Number 3 - Fall 2008


Letter from Barbara
Barbara Brodsky

Letter from the Board
Curt Fish, Board president

Retreat Committee News

Practicing for Peace

Vissudi Maggha: The Path of Purification - Part One
Susan Weir

Conflict and the Compassionate Heart

DSC Teachers Sharing: Mindfulness and Inspiration
David Coupland, Carol Blotter, Dan Muir, Dorothy Ann Coyne, David Lawson

Aaron Quote

Letter from Barbara
Barbara Brodsky

Dear friends,

I';ve just returned from the annual DSC June retreat and am sitting on my roofed, screened cabin deck, typing thoughts out into the dense woods that surround me on three sides. It';s a wet morning, heavy raindrops pelting the skylights above my head; beyond the wet glass I can see the treetops dancing in a stormy wind. By the time you read this I';ll be moving back to town, but for the next two months I';m here in the forest. Summer is a quieter time for me, my own time of retreat and solitude after a busy year. I love to paddle across the lake pre-dawn, sit in my kayak on the western shore, and watch the eastern sky form pink and orange ribbons of light that reflect my own mood. There I meditate for an hour in a peaceful cove, accompanied only by a heron. I often slip into the water then, and swim home, pull my lightweight craft behind me by a rope, and finally warm the chilled body on the dock beneath the early morning sun.

It sounds blissful doesn';t it? Yet the old patterns of mind cling. After a 6 AM trip to the outhouse in the rain (no plumbing here; water comes from an outdoor pump), mind piped up, “Maybe we should go back to town where one can ‘walk to the privy in the rain and never wet your feet';” (from “Oklahoma,” an old Broadway show). Mind and body balk at hauling water from the pump. We all seek comfort and convenience. The first days here are sometimes filled with complaining mind wanting things to be different.

It takes time to become still, as so many of you noted the first days of this past retreat. Then mind stops asking for diversions, body relaxes into things as they are, and we open to the wonder of our world and our deep interconnections with it all. It';s a time for joy and gratitude, a time to reconnect with the outer world and our selves. Slowly I settle in to deeper appreciation of the beauty and solitude. That outhouse, clean and odor-free, offers me the sight of the tiny chipmunk hauling a huge seed as he moves by the partially opened doorway. It was while sitting there that a sunbeam lit up and first called attention to the fragile, pink-white Indian Pipe pushing its way through the rich earth of the forest floor just a few feet from my sheltered perch. The experience of washing dishes changes as I carry water inside, heat it, and take the time to appreciate the wonder of hot, soapy water. I lie in bed, head by the screen, look up into the treetops silhouetted against the night sky, and the vision lulls me to sleep. To find a new flower in the woods, one I have never seen before, to watch the baby raccoon learn to climb down the tree from the high knothole where it was born, to sweep my deck and pause to watch a bright colored butterfly on the screen—these are the daily miracles we so often miss in our frantic move toward entertaining ourselves, and our attachments to living with comfort. To bring in the new, we must let go of the old. That means releasing attachments.

May each of you find this time of letting go and opening, each in your own way. I hope you have had time to find stillness and wonder in your own lives this summer. I look forward to seeing many of you at classes and retreats as we move into the fall season.

With love, Barbara

Letter from the Board
Curt Fish,
 Board president

July, 2008

Deep Spring Sangha,

At long last, summer is here.

And, of course, summer means the June retreat at Emrich. This year';s retreat was a huge success. We had roughly 50 attendees, with half staying for the entire week. It was wonderful to be in the meditation hall with so many others, hearing and practicing the dharma. This year';s retreat was truly a special experience.

Many people helped to make this retreat such a success. First, Peg Tappe, the retreat manager, did a wonderful job before, during and after the retreat to make sure everything was there and ready for the retreatants. She sacrificed much of her retreat to help others to have a more fulfilling experience. Mary Grannan, Hugh Danville and the rest of the retreat committee also did a great job. Much appreciation goes to the entire committee for their efforts.

Of course, there wouldn';t be a retreat without teachers. As usual, Barbara, John and Aaron offered inspiring dharma talks and instruction. Ann Barden also taught this year. Deep bows and much metta go to all the teachers for their guidance and tireless efforts.

In other news, we have signed a new lease with our landlord. The new lease runs through July, 2009. We decided to go with a shorter lease to allow for the possibility of relocating the center next year. Over the coming months, we will be forming a committee to investigate alternative sites. If you would like to serve on this committee, or would simply like to express your opinion on the matter, please send me an e-mail at seafish@comcast.net

On the administrative front, a budget is now in place. The board was able to come to consensus on the budget at the meeting on June 30. The tax return has also been filed for 2007, tying up all the loose administrative ends.

Tech talk: As mentioned last time, Deep Spring Center is now a Wi-Fi hotspot. Feel free to bring in a laptop and use the Internet whenever you come to the center. The information needed to connect to the wireless network is posted on the bulletin board.

You may be aware that we have been working on a web site to provide searchable access to Deep Spring material, particularly Aaron';s dharma talks. This web site, the Deep Spring Archives, is close to becoming a reality. Terry Gliedt has done a tremendous amount of work exploring the capabilities of various tools, and has found one that';s working quite well. We expect the site will be generally available, with a link from the main DSC page, in the next couple of months. People are already quite excited about the search capabilities, especially since the search runs across all content: talks, newsletters, board meeting minutes; in short, everything on the site.

Looking ahead, a sangha meeting will be held in August or September. The annual board intensive, when we welcome our new board members, will also take place in September. Finally, as mentioned above, the relocation committee will need to get going soon.

With metta,

Retreat Committee News

NEWS ITEM!! EMRICH CENTER CLOSES ITS DOORS. It was made known during the Deep Spring retreat week at Emrich that this lovely center is closing. The news came as a surprise to everyone. In spite of our training to be open to impermanence, this development brought much sadness and concern. Now we are once again on the lookout for a place to hold our annual June retreat. Ideally, it should be a rural place with access to nature and an atmosphere of quiet. We need rooms for about fifty people to sleep, an area for tenting, and a large room for meditation. (The weekend retreat this year at Emrich drew 52 participants.) Barbara gave the final instruction during this year';s retreat for us to visualize that this place is out there somewhere just waiting for us to find it. We all agreed that a comfortable area for our search would be within two hours of Ann Arbor. Contact Karen Mori (734-747-8179 or kst734@sbcglobal.net) with any suggestions.

The New Retreat Committee numbers ten members as we go to press: Mary and Terry Gliedt, Neil and Diana Cramer, Ingrid Weisz, Sandy Norton, Hugh Danville, Karen Mori, Dottie Coyne, and Mallory Walczesky. In addition, Pat Shalis, George SanFacon, Mary Grannan and Peg Tappe lend support with registration, no-frills retreats and consultation.

Practicing for Peace

Barbara: We';ve been reading the transcript 070926 about co-responsibility for peace or violence in the world. You have spoken about this before. In four months we have a presidential election. Of course all of us want world peace, but we differ on our views of how to attain peace, and thus, on which candidate can best lead us there. I certainly am not asking you to endorse a candidate, but can you give us some suggestions of how to best invite this elusive peace we wish to see.

Aaron: I am Aaron. My blessings and love to you. Do you remember years ago, on personal retreat, you stayed at a house with large woods just down the road? There was a troublesome dog who ran out to the road snarling and snapping every time you walked past his house. You wanted to walk in the woods but were afraid of and angry about the dog. So there was desire for the lovely refuge of the woods, and also ambivalence because the dog threatened. You did not know how best to approach the situation. Should you forget about walking in the woods and avoid the dog? Should you walk past and ignore the dog, hoping he would not attack? Should you confront the dog with angry voice or stick? In the end, you offered statements of metta (lovingkindness) to the dog and yourself as you walked past, knowing that would not guarantee he would not attack. It would only serve to open your heart so you did not have an attitude of self-identity with the fear and anger that arose. This open heart would change your energy so the dog might perceive you differently. And he did. He still snarled at you, but not nearly as fiercely. It also freed you from the unwholesome karma of your antagonism to the dog.

As you practiced metta with the dog, you became increasingly conscious of his fear, and of his conditioned reaction to protect his home. In his mind, that home extended far out into the road. You ceased to blame him, and rather, felt compassion for his predicament, for you were a dilemma to him every time you walked past, and he had only one mode with which to react to that dilemma. For you the decision was, first, if you would meet his challenge with belligerence or lovingkindness; for you, it had to be lovingkindness. The next question was how to resolve your own fear. You were aware that the dog reflected your own attitude back to you, at least in part.

Everywhere in your world, there are snarling dogs. These are humans or nations that have been so steeped in the conditioning of fear and reactivity to fear as a show of power and attack that they have not been able to see any other course of action. Your human history shows that hatred only engenders hatred. Disrespect of others invites fear and hatred. Greed stimulates fear and hatred. Thus, also, does the illusion of separation. If you want world peace, you must explore your reactions to these snarling dogs, each of you personally and as a nation.

It is not necessary or even useful to begin the investigation on a worldwide level, but is more easily done on a personal level. When there is a snarling dog in your vicinity, how do you relate to it? Certainly the snarl will bring up fear and the question, “Will I be hurt?” Mindfulness attends to the physiological and emotional arisings, seeing how they arose out of the conditions of fear and feelings of threat. That which is aware of fear is not afraid. You train yourself to respond from Awareness, to respond with compassion.

Please remember that compassion is strong, and not afraid to say, “No,” but it says it with love, not hatred. There is a vast difference in the energy. There is no intention to harm, only to prevent harm on both sides. It is not kind to allow someone to attack you. For the attacker, it creates unwholesome karma too. So the practice begins in a thousand moments of personal discomfort, watching contraction, watching alarm, and watching the arising impulse to attack or defend, which means to shut down. What is asked of you instead is to stay open, heart open to the opposition so you can truly hear him. When catalyst is met with compassion, there is a different energy and intention, which promotes unity and invites resolution rather than conflict.

Remember that this learning is what has brought you into the incarnation. You are not here to “win” or even to stop all conflict, but to learn to use that conflict as a teacher of compassion and unity. Until you understand this personally and as a nation, you will continue to invite conflict. You as a world are inviting it now, but then not doing the needed practice with it so you must invite it again and again. You are like the child in school doing endless multiplication table drills; they are unpleasant but you have not studied the tables, and will not, so the teacher repeats the drills. Your inattention calls forth the repetition. If you wish the drills to cease, learn the tables.

Each human is involved in this learning. Each has a part to play. One is the angry one, a state grown from karma and conditioning. Another is the one who wishes to avoid all conflict and hides the head in the sand. A third is the one who believes he can fix everything if given control and power. A fourth is the martyr who would martyr also all who accompany her. It goes on and on; there are many roles. Somewhere along the line, there come the ones who see the big picture and have the wisdom, skill and compassion to point it out to others, and to refuse to follow the previously open, but dead-ended paths.

Refusal to follow these dead-end paths and refusal to elect a leader who follows them is the start of healing. It is the opening to higher consciousness for which all of you humans are incarnate. Ask yourself, which of the candidates is more likely to be able to lead from a place of compassion and wisdom? Which is less caught in fear and reactivity to fear? Which has the greater capacity to say “No” to violence and fear with compassion rather than in a mode that will catalyze further fear and hatred?

Remember that you are not incarnate to create a perfect world. You are not here for comfort and convenience. You are not even here to live out a long and easy life. You are all here to learn and life';s challenges are the catalyst for learning. The catalyst is not to be feared, any more than the prepared schoolchild fears the examinations. It is to be met with love and even with gratitude for the growth that it stimulates. Peace, comfort and happiness will follow as all beings better learn what they came to learn.

You fear there is no potential leader who is not invested in power. Look not to that leader, but watch for the places where you falter, where you believe, “Here we must use great aggression,” or “I am not willing to live with less so others may live, so I will hold on to what I have at all costs.” Watch these beliefs and invite the openings in yourself in which the beliefs dissolve. When enough of you are ready to hold the real vision of a world at peace, where beings do not manipulate, steal, kill or otherwise harm each other, the capacity to hold that vision will emerge in world leaders. You will call them forth. They do not lead you so much as you invite them! The effective leader can only walk where some are ready to follow.

Which present candidate do you feel has the best potential to follow if enough beings are holders of the vision? Vote for that candidate, and do your own work to support the consciousness from which you ask this leader to lead. In this way, you co-create peace.

<" color="#FFFFFF">Vissudi Maggha: The Path of Purification
Part One

Susan Weir

The teacher training class has been working this year on understanding the Vissudi Maggha (VM), or Path of Purification. It';s a well articulated description of the process of insight practice that is very helpful to anyone';s understanding of practice. Having a basic map of the territory we cover in the course of meditation helps us fit what we might be experiencing in practice into a larger framework, and to know when to use certain helpful supports and to make course corrections. This is the first of three brief articles giving a very general outline of the Path. For readers interested in more particulars, Matt Flickstein';s book “The Meditator';s Atlas” is a helpful guide.

A Brief History

The VM was written in Sri Lanka. The major Sri Lankan monastery, the Maha Vihara, was founded in the 3rd century B.C.E., and sponsored and supported by the state. The Path of Purification was written in the 4th or 5th century C.E., and is credited to Buddhaghosa, who headed the Maha Vihara at that time. So understand that we are looking at a project within an entrenched, state sponsored monastery system, which had been in place for hundreds of years. When you think of how quickly organizations tend to become bureaucratized (think of the Catholic church, most government agencies, even our own DSC), with all the layers of management and procedure/policy that comes along with this, it helps to understand why the text is so cumbersome and reads like the back of your credit card statement. My own sense is that it has the earmarks of “written by committee” all over it.

The VM sees the path as seven stages of progressive purifications—not necessarily linear, but each one must be engaged in to some extent before the next one arises. A helpful analogy is of an old children';s toy consisting of a board with various knobs on it that we used to put a series of plastic gears on. Each gear touched the next gear, so that as you added the brightly colored gears, turning the first one turned all the subsequent ones. However, if an earlier-added gear ran into an obstacle and stopped, the entire turning process halted. Until the obstacle in the jammed gear was attended to, no further turning happened. In the same way, each stage has to be active and ‘turning'; to allow the next level to be added. Eventually, all are turning together. This does not mean we ‘finish'; one stage in order to ‘get to'; the next one, but that all work concomitantly together.

First Stage: Purification of Virtue
(integration of living with integrity and non-harm)

This wording is admittedly difficult. The Pali word “sila” is less loaded, but basically means a life of moral integrity with the intention of non-harm. This is always the start of any spiritual path: seeing that life and practice go hand in hand. Our life must be in alignment with our spiritual practice, and life and practice cannot be separated from each other. Our basic tools here are the precepts—intentions of non-harm, and the eightfold path—right livelihood, right speech, right action. Perhaps right consumption or use of resources might be added here.

There are two reasons we begin with purification of virtue. The first is that, ultimately, this purification is about producing joy and peace in our everyday lives. As the opening lines of the Dhammapada states:

Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you, as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakeable.

Secondarily, from our own life experience, we know how the mind will not settle into practice and mindfulness when we feel guilt and regret, or are troubled by our words and actions. This purification happens on the mundane level. It doesn';t free us in itself, but it aligns our mind, emotions, hearts, and living with what will naturally arise when the identification with a self drops away and we are centered in pure awareness.

There are a couple of background themes to keep in mind when looking at the VM. The first is this: effective teachings work on two levels. It is said that the wheel of dharma turns twice. The first is the everyday level of the personality, in which we cultivate moral awareness and open heart qualities. The other level transcends the personality and the mind, finding the seat of being that is larger than our individuality and will realize liberation.

Another theme in the VM is about the deepening engagement with practice and the dharma that are central to the progression of “Insight knowledges” that come up in many of the stages. There are three levels of experiencing insight knowledge. The first one, the most casual or shallow, is intellectual—as an idea or concept in the mind. We hear about the Four Noble Truths, for example, and understand them as concepts. They are interesting and make sense, but don';t transform us at this level of experience. The second level is reflective. We notice things coming up in our practices. We have these “aha” moments of making connections between what is happening in our lives and the teachings we are hearing. The third, deepest level happens directly, in the present moment and is a life changing experience with lasting effect. The “Insight knowledges,” as they are called in the VM, are when various parts of insight practice reach this level of direct experience. Direct experience is not an intellectual experience that takes place in the mind or can be forgotten. It becomes a part of our being. Not unlike learning to ride a bike, once we have it, we have it.

Second Stage: Purification of Mind
(development of concentration)

This is the development of holding the mind steady in the moment. This is usually addressed as ‘concentration,'; but is really much richer and deeper. The mind, which is constantly moving into the past and future, with unending commentary and inner restlessness, is ‘purified'; by being cultivated to stay in the present. We experience this in sitting as being able to sit stably with the meditation process, and in life as mindfulness, being fully attentive to whatever the task at hand is.

How much concentration do we need in practice? In the traditional schools, some feel the mind has to be trained to the jhannic level before turning to insight practice; other schools feel that the development of access concentration is enough. Access concentration is simply the level of concentration where the attention is steady and is not pulled into the various objects that arise. For insight, we use ‘momentary concentration,'; which is just concentration that can follow a flow of objects arising and ceasing, and is inclusive to all experience, rather than single-pointed concentration, which is exclusive to all but the object of concentration.

Classically, we need two things to purify mind: a stability of practice and the ability to deal with the hindrances when they arise. We are training our ability to focus the attention, to move beyond the hindrances, so the mind does not become a stumbling block. We are cultivating the mind to be able to rest in the present moment and stay with our experience. Consistent effort with our practice becomes necessary here. If we are not meditating regularly, it';s very hard to cultivate this stability of attention.

How do you see this in your own practice and what to do? For each purification, there are specific practices to develop a particular purification. It';s helpful to know them so you can use them when you see the need to. Typically, when you find your mind is all over the place, and you keep wandering away from remembering you are doing meditation, working with this purification is up. The specific practice is to turn back to plain old straight concentration, which is the practice for this stage.

Many of us spend a few moments following the breath or body scanning at the beginning of each meditation to ‘steady the mind'; before turning to insight practice. This is analogous to having the gear of ‘purification of mind'; in place before we add the gear of ‘insight practice.'; When your mind returns to a stable base and you feel your ‘seat'; is steady (i.e., mind is ‘purified';), then turn to your insight practice.

You can see this is an ongoing practice: we come back to this purification over and over. You can also see, as in the interconnected gear analogy from last stage, that if this purification is not in place, nothing further happens. We sit on our cushion, mind wandering all over, and when the bells rings, rightly think we might have just as well spent the time cleaning the bathroom.

What does purification of mind, or being fully present, mean in life? How do we purify the mind ‘off the cushion';? This is basically the venue of mindfulness practice. We take on the exercise of showing up as fully as possible in some daily activity, taking a shower in the morning, or brushing one';s teeth. The purpose of this is also to ‘purify'; the mind. There is a healing-ness and spacious-ness when the mind is able to be stable in the present moment. When we are able to hold an experience in the moment, a richness opens in life. This is what ‘practice'; is practicing for!

This stage sets everything in place for insight practice to begin in Stages 3 and 4, which will be the focus of the next article.

Conflict and the Compassionate Heart
Excerpt from Wednesday Evening with Aaron
September 26, 2007

Aaron: My blessings and love to you.

All of you at times have been persecuted in some way, abused or oppressed, and all of you have done that to others. This oppression of others creates so much pain in the world. And yet, it is also so much part of the catalyst for your learning. I';m not suggesting that you need to perpetuate oppression so that you have a tool for learning, but when there is violence from one being to another, in order for it to be a step toward insight and healing, you must understand first what has brought forth that violence, and second, understand how you can relate to it skillfully. Only when all of you truly understand the nature of violence will you have a world that is peaceful.

Violence from one being to another comes from a place of fear and separation. If you have one small glass of water and five terribly thirsty people, it';s possible that one is going to push the others out of the way to grab at the glass. What';s happening? Neediness, fear that the needs will not be met, and I would say, an irresponsibility, or perhaps a better word would be lack of understanding of the fact that all the beings gathered around that glass are thirsty and that you are all inner-connected.

Throughout the history of the world, beings have been violent to other beings. And throughout the history of the world, beings have longed for peace. If you truly want peace, why is it not happening?

A primary cause is that you are not seeing deeply enough into the causes of violence and attending to those causes, but mostly tend to address the results. You are becoming skilled at creating welfare programs but not at addressing the causes of poverty. Your doctors can heal terrible wounds, but you do not yet know how to stop the exchange of bullets and bombs. You build wondrous communication devices but have no idea how deeply you are connected energetically and mentally and how to use that innate connection to render the most sophisticated devices unnecessary. As result of this ignorance, the vital communication that could prevent violence is lost.

Let us put this question on an intimate and personal level, rather than universal. Perhaps there is a person with whom you have hard feelings, with much tension between you. Rarely do you sit down with that person or by yourself and look deeply at the causes of the tension. I don';t mean just to say, “Well it';s because he';s rude to me”—that';s not the cause of the tension. His rudeness is just his rudeness. The way you react and personalize his rudeness, the way in which you feel that you need to defend yourself, causes the tension. If this being continues to be rude, certainly you can make the decision not to spend time in his company. But if you must be with him, perhaps as somebody who works at the next desk, how can you relate in such a way as to bring about harmony and resolve conflict?

It';s very difficult when all the mind can think of is, “Here he is sitting down at his desk. What abuse will he dump on me now?” Mind is already preparing for the rudeness. There';s already tension about it, though it has not yet happened. In the anticipation, you draw it forth. There';s blame. “It';s all his fault. If he would just shut up, we could exist peacefully.” But of course, that';s not how it is.

In that kind of situation, what would it be like to invite that person to join you for a cup of tea and to say to the person—after your tea, not immediately—a little time for pleasantries and a nibble of the doughnut—and then to say to him or her, “I often feel tension between us. I wonder if you feel it.” If the person denies it, then you need to decide how to proceed, probably just saying, “I hear that you don';t feel it but I do, and I';m wondering how I can ease the tension that I feel.” But more likely, the person is going to say, “Yes, I feel the tension.” He may say it defensively. It';s so important not to put the other person on the defensive, not to say, “Because of what you are doing, I feel tension.” Just, “When we';re together I often feel tension. Is there something that I am doing that brings up discomfort in you, that I could learn about and try not to do?”

Who knows what it is? He may say, “You chew your gum loud and it really bothers me.” Or he might say, “You remind me of my beloved sister who was murdered. So when I';m with you, I immediately feel tension.” Who knows what the cause is. You might not be able to find any specific cause, but at this point you are addressing the tension in an openhearted way with a premise that both of you want a peaceful relationship and will work to help co-create that peaceful relationship.

It';s possible when you ask this kind of question that the other will be abusive. He or she may start blaming you for things that you feel are unrealistic and convey a sense of bitterness. You still can go away from the meeting having learned something important, which is that this person is in deep pain. His pain makes him hostile. And you do not need to take his hostility personally.

Then we see where that goes. Sometimes when you understand such pain about a person, and they do act in a hostile manner, you can offer them loving wishes in your heart, just noting to yourself, “You are suffering. May you be free of suffering. I see your suffering coming out in your tension and hostility.” This is not a superior attitude. You';re not trying to say, “I';m better than you because I see deeply into your issues.” Just, “I hold you in my loving heart. I see your pain. Your pain and my pain are one.” But in so doing, you cease to take his hostility personally. No matter who is sitting at this desk next to him, he';s probably going to be hostile. It';s not about you.

Sometimes when you are able to relax your own negative energy and invite more openheartedness, the other person may begin to respond to that openheartedness. L, may I share a bit of your story? (L: yes)

L had a very difficult neighbor. The neighbor was intruding on his property in hostile ways, and L was tearing his hair out trying to figure out what to do, how to react kindly. The houses were on the waterfront. The difficult neighbor had a big waterfront area but put his dock right next to the edge of L';s property, not straight out into the lake, but angled in such a way that it cut off L';s smaller piece of waterfront. He tried speaking up and it just made the neighbor more hostile. He tried bringing a gift as a precursor to talking, a plant, which was not well received.

He tried playing with the man';s sons. The sons enjoyed it but the man did not change his attitude. L was at the point of thinking he might have to move from his house, feeling fear and anger. He saw he needed a new approach. Finally he decided to not take it personally. He could not change the man';s behavior, but instead of it getting a rise out of L, it ceased to be a problem.

L moved his dock, but went beyond that. L and the neighbor on the other side began to share a dock, a situation of benefit and joy to both. L simply moved his dock, joined his dock with the other-side neighbor. The situation stopped creating tension. L started to feel real compassion for this man. It was so clear how much he was suffering.

So L was not able to change his neighbor';s placement of his dock or his attitude, but for L it was no longer a war. There was peace. It was not a problem. Sometimes this is all we can do. We cannot change another person. We do have to try to say no to abuse. But what says no must be love and not fear.

We see the same thing in the world as in our personal relationships. When one people tries to oppress another people, the oppressor is almost always filled with fear, anger, hatred, and misunderstanding, just as L';s neighbor was. One cannot always metaphorically move one';s dock. One cannot accept theft of food and resign oneself and one';s people to starvation. One cannot resign oneself to torture, rape and murder. How does one stand up for what is right, yet do it with non-violence?

What we see in the great non-violent movements of the world can give us much ground for learning that we can take to personal relationships. The people of Burma, or Myanmar, have been oppressed and seeking freedom. I understand that there was to be a new oil tax or raise of oil rate … (someone offers an explanation).

It put oil out of the reach of many people financially, creating real hardship. If the people were to protest, they would simply be shot down. The Buddhist monks are avowed to non-violence and also to liberating people from suffering, and they saw that there was real physical suffering being created by (I want to keep this as non-accusatory as I can, not taking a political stance), it seems to me, the greed of the government. How can one say no with compassion for those who have fear that generates greed, yet hold to that reply and refuse to allow another';s trespass?

The difficulty in a non-violent movement is that everybody who is taking a non-violent stand must remain non-violent or they will become a catalyst inviting the violence of the opposition. As long as they see it as “us” and “opposition” there';s already some violence. Just thinking in terms of separation is violence.

The monks are a very powerful force here, because they see so clearly into the nature of non-duality and because they';re so deeply grounded in compassion. These have been their practice and their learning for so long. So the monks began to chant, march and protest, chanting the metta sutra, the sutra on loving-kindness.

If it could have been held to this kind of non-violent protest, it could make a very strong statement. The military began to use tear gas and to shoot over the heads of the monks. Here I';m looking in the Akashic records at what I have seen as having happened today, in these past 24 hours. I don';t have precise details; we';ve not watched a newscast. But what I see is that the lay people, who had been asked not to march because it was more difficult for them to remain non-violent, sat in a circle around the monks when the military accosted the monks. They sat to show their respect and agreement. They did not disperse when the guns were fired, but sat, surrounding the monks, giving their energy to the situation. When the military police continued to arrest the monks, some of these lay people picked up rocks and began to throw them at the soldiers. The soldiers did not distinguish who was throwing the rocks. They simply lowered their guns and began to shoot at and also to beat some of the monks.

Karmically, the military, the monks and the lay people are in this together. We can';t create an artificial separation. Throughout many lives they have probably played these roles together many times, sometimes as aggressor and sometimes as the one who was trespassed against. Together they are exploring violence, greed and fear and their causes and resolution. To some degree we could say that the military and the monks are participating as co-teachers to the larger group of lay people. Each is playing its agreed-upon and karmically created part.

At some level, the monks had to know that they might be fired on, no matter how non-violent they were. The soldiers had said, “If you';re violent, we will shoot,” and the monks were not violent. But somebody was violent. The monks are involved.

When we look at the karmic question here, we see that each had responsibility relating to the violence. The soldiers had responsibility because they held the intention to do harm, or at least to follow their orders and shoot or hit with their clubs or guns or whatever weapon they used. The monks had the responsibility to understand what might happen, knowing that they could not separate themselves from their lay supporters or from the soldiers.

Even before there was violence, it was necessary to forgive whatever violence might occur, knowing that what they were doing could very well be a provocation for violence. This is the teaching of Satyagraha, or soul force. The lay supporters had the responsibility to try very hard to practice non-violence, but also to understand that violence might happen, that they could be killed and that they could do harm to others. For those monks who have deeper understanding and are avowed to non-harm, in order not to create unwholesome karma they must ask forgiveness ahead of time for what they do, and must forgive any who transgress against them.

Within this entire field, monks and lay people and soldiers, there is such a profound opportunity for compassion and interconnection. This compassion and learning cannot happen as long as the being that is hurt blames somebody else and says, “I was marching non-violently and suddenly they shot at me. It';s not my fault!” It also cannot happen for the one who says, “I had to shoot him because he was breaking the law; it is his fault.” Each being is involved. Each being participates. It';s so easy to say, “It is his fault.” Then one fails to deeply open one';s heart to another';s situation and understand that what you are doing may provoke another, even though it seems harmless to you. You cannot live in peace unless you accept that you created the provocation and thus offered a condition that gave rise to the violence, and forgive that violence even while you do not condone it.

The one who acted with violence is always the one responsible for his choice. He could have chosen not to be pushed to violence by your catalyst. He is responsible. But you are responsible for providing the catalyst and must understand that you may provoke him beyond the limits of his ability to release reaction.

Put this truth on one side, and on the other, the truth that you must still say no to violence, to abuse, to hatred. Right here is the deep place of learning, when each being asks him or her self, “In what way am I creating separation from another, rather than deeply opening my heart?”

Nelson Mandela speaks so eloquently of how he was tortured and that they could not take away his love. The Dalai Lama talks of the same thing. He lost his home, his country. So many monks were murdered. And yet he speaks compassionately of the Chinese. He says they misunderstand, but there';s no hatred. Numerous people who lived through concentration camp and terrible imprisonment have stated that they survived because they refused to hate.

There';s so much to be learned from people like this. Most of you think, “It';s okay for the Dalai Lama, but I';m not capable of that.” But you are! This is where you underestimate yourselves. You are divine; you are radiant. You are born in love and have the capacity to live that love in your lives. It';s only your fear and doubt that keep you recreating conflict. If you doubt that you can live with love, then you';re going to keep recreating conflict to practice with conflict until you find a way to live lovingly with the opposition.

Once you know that you can live lovingly, there';s no longer an opposition, there';s just that upset neighbor who keeps sticking his dock in the odd place, even arriving as the ice breaks on the lake to get his out there first. What suffering! How can one not have compassion for a man who is suffering such fear?

So the opponent disappears. There is just a person who is offered our compassion. And yet we still must say no to him. L did not need to continue to say no about the dock since the situation led him to a very wholesome alternative. But let';s use Burma for example. Somebody is depriving people of the opportunity to live, literally, to have enough food and to live their lives. How do we say no to that kind of oppression?

Non-violence is enormously powerful when it comes from the heart. Each of you has lived so many times. I know this life is precious to you. I have no argument with that. And yet, sometimes it might be necessary to say, “I';m willing to let myself be killed rather than to involve myself in violence.”

Probably none of you in this room are going to face that kind of situation. But you might be in a situation where, coming back to the neighbor, or in the office, there is a very angry figure. Sometimes, compassion simply knows how much this being is suffering and holds a loving space, and sometimes compassion must speak up and say, “No, you may not do this.” We come back to how you say no, what says no. When fear says no, it co-creates more conflict. When compassion says no, it serves as a starting point of communication.

In a lifetime long ago, I was taken prisoner for a crime I did not enact. I was imprisoned literally in a hole in the ground. When jailers brought me what might pass for food and water, they lowered it with a rope. I had a little piece of wood and material that served as a very small shelter from sun and rain. It was a temperate climate.

I was so angry; I was very hostile to those around me. When they gave me water, I didn';t say thank-you. When they took up the bucket that contained my waste material, I didn';t say thank-you. When they allowed me out once a week and doused me with water to cleanse myself, I didn';t say thank-you. I was hostile and angry.

Eventually, it dawned on me, “I';m going to live in this hole for now. It';s up to me how I live here. I can live here with hatred, feeling angry because I was innocent, or I can accept this is how it is. But I set the tone for the way I live here; no one else does. If this is going to be my home, let it be a peaceful home.”

So my attitude gradually changed. I began to say thank-you. I began to talk a bit to a jailer who came once a day. I found that this jailer was a poor man who was able to feed his family by feeding those who were jailed here. He didn';t like his job but he needed some way to feed his family. He had nothing personal against me. So we began to talk.

As I became more peaceful and friendly, when they brought me up to bathe myself, they would often let me go and sit under a tree for awhile, even spend most of the day there before climbing back down into my hole. They began to bring better food, to sit and talk to me, to bring me some clothing and a blanket, to make me more comfortable.

Physically I was in a prison. I did not have to be in a prison mentally, that was my choice. So I was able to forgive those who had accused me, those who had judged me and put me in this jail, and those who kept me there.

Some years later, this had simply become my way of life. I spent my days in meditation. It really was an ideal situation. I was given food, water, shelter, and even medicines when needed. Nobody disturbed me. I had time to meditate. What more could I ask? I had been planning to become a monk. Well, here I was!

After years had passed, somebody confessed to the crime and they pulled me out of the hole. They apologized, more or less, perhaps less rather than more. Just, you';re free. Go.

It was harder to go than it had been to be placed in the hole. Where would I go? How would I feed myself? How would I live? But this fear didn';t last long because the lesson I had learned was so profound. Wherever I am, whatever circumstance I find myself in, where there is love there is freedom and joy and I am able to co-exist peacefully with the world. Where there is fear and blame, there will be conflict.

We cannot just turn off fear. Fear arises out of conditions. I began this talk with the statement: you must not address the results but the causes. In order to be able to address the world around you with kindness, you must have insight into and address the causes of fear and separation for yourself and in the world. In your meditation, you begin to see how everything arises out of a variety of conditions and then passes away. When there are certain atmospheric conditions, it rains, and no amount of going out there and saying, “But I';m going on a picnic!” and stomping your feet is going to stop the rain. But when the atmospheric conditions change, the rain will stop.

When anger arises, no amount of stomping your feet and saying, “No, I won';t be angry,” is going to stop the anger. The inner weather is stormy at the moment. In the rainstorm, it';s a kindness to your self to acknowledge the rain and carry an umbrella. When the inner weather is stormy, it';s a kindness to the self to acknowledge, “Right here is a rainstorm. Right here it';s dark and heavy. I offer kindness to this human that';s experiencing anger from many different causes.” Just that little pause, noting, “Breathing in, I am aware of anger. Breathing out, I smile to the anger. I hold a space for the anger.” Just that, is kindness.

This is what we teach in all our meditation classes. If you have ever wondered to yourself, “What do I do with anger?” there is a clear path. We don';t dismiss anger, we don';t bury anger, and we don';t act out anger, we hold space for it and know it';s impermanent; it will pass.

Slowly you begin to trust your ability to hold that compassionate space and not have to act out your anger. Once you have developed this level of compassion for the self, then you are able to see deeply into others'; being, and to find compassion for them. You cannot force compassion. And yet interestingly, it';s already there and it has always been there. It';s the gold at the end of the rainbow, but a real pot of gold, not an illusory one. It';s there. You open to it. It';s like the stars on a rainy night; have the stars disappeared? Of course not, they';re there; you just can';t see them because of the clouds. The compassionate heart is there and your human work is to uncover this compassionate heart and learn to live from it.

Q: The question is karma. My concern, my worry, my fear is that if everything is viewed as having a karmic origin, it seems like it gives humans an excuse to not take action to remedy injustice.

Aaron: To not act also creates an unwholesome karma! Karma is very specific. Let';s use a simple situation. You may see a parent who has slapped the toddler in the supermarket cart. The toddler is screaming, “I want the candy!” If you act from a place that says, “That';s wrong, I won';t let her do that,” then the mother or father who has slapped the toddler is likely to take strong offense. “That';s my child! I';ll do what I want!” You hit the father and the next thing you know, he punches you. And then you can go home and say, “Look what happened. It';s all his fault. I shouldn';t have done anything.” Here is one area of karma.

On the other hand, you can back up and say, “Well, the father';s slapping the child but I';m not going to get involved.” Then there';s specific karma of inaction. The question here is not about whether you act or don';t act but whether action or inaction is chosen from a place of love, or from a place of negativity. The karma is very specific. If you act from a place of fear and bring back results that create more pain and hostility, then you';re perpetuating that specific karmic stream. When you deny, that is another karmic stream. When you respond from a place that has compassion for the father, you may say, “I remember the days when my kids did that. Why don';t you let me push the cart with your baby just a few feet ahead and let me play with him a few minutes while you pay for your groceries?” Then you';re intervening but you';re doing it from a place of compassion, not self-righteousness. If you do not act, you create the ongoing karma of being one who doesn';t get involved, which is coming from a place of fear.

If someone falls out of a boat, you can';t say, “It is his karma to drown.” Perhaps it is your karma to save him!

I';m going to lead you in a bit of a guided meditation. Let us do a bit of this compassion meditation together. (pauses are not noted)

Bring into your heart and mind a loved person, and speak to this person.
You have suffered.
You have known loneliness, fear, and confusion.
You have known pain in your body and in your mind.
You have not been able to hold on to what you loved, and to keep yourself safe from that which seems to threaten you.
You have suffered.
May you be free from suffering.
May your heart open and flower.
May you find the healing that you seek.
May you love and be loved.
May you be happy and find peace.

Picture this cherished one receiving your wishes, blossoming in your love.

Then we turn the attention to the self. Holding yourself tenderly in your own heart:
I have suffered.
I have known loneliness, fear, and confusion.
I have known pain in the body and in the mind.

I have not been able to hold on to what I love, or to keep myself free from that which seems to threaten me.
I have suffered.
May I be free from suffering.
May my heart open and flower.
May I find the healing that I seek.
May I love and be loved.
May I be happy and find peace.

(Allow yourself to feel how much you yearn for these things: love, peace, happiness, and safety).

Turning your attention to all of those throughout your world who are oppressed, who live in fear, in poverty, in pain, you acknowledge:
You are suffering.
I see all the ways that you are suffering.
May you be free from suffering.
May your heart open and flower.
May you find the healing that you seek.
May you love and be loved.
May you find safety in body and in soul.
May you be happy and find peace.

We turn our attention to those who perpetrate violence in the world, those who oppress others through their own fear and confusion.

You are suffering.
I see the ways that you are suffering.
It angers me that you inflict your fear on others, but I see that it comes from your own fear and suffering.
May you be free from suffering.

(Watch for any reluctance to offer the wish. Try to let the heart soften around that resistance, to come back to the truth that this being is suffering or has suffered).

May your heart open and flower.
May you find the healing that you seek.
May you, even you, love and be loved.
May you be happy and find peace.

No more oppressed or oppressor.
May all beings come to know their deepest connection with each other and all that is.
May all beings find the loving heart that is their birthright and learn to live from that space.
May we all learn to regard fear not as an enemy but simply as an object arisen from conditions, impermanent, an object to which we can relate with compassion. Then we will truly have peace.

DSC Teachers' Sharing: Mindfulness and Inspirations

DSC teachers comment on ... Sati (mindfulness) and Inspiration for Practice

David Coupland

The Buddha';s instructions on mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) begin, “‘Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath.';” To me this captures the essential meaning of mindfulness: reflective awareness. Not only are we aware of what is arising in the present moment (what else could we be aware of?), we also know we are aware. The practice of mindfulness is the cultivation of this reflective awareness.

Carol Blotter

In the Satipatthana Sutra (The Four Foundations of Mindfulness), the Buddha defines key traits for mindfulness meditation: contemplating (or meditating) on each foundation without objectifying it as a concept or thing; ardent (with the energy of awareness of whatever arises); clearly comprehending (fully aware of the three characteristics) and mindful (awareness of both external and internal without labeling, evaluating or stories). The Buddha ends the sutra with the promise “‘whosoever practices these four foundations of mindfulness in this manner for seven years, then one of these two fruits may be expected by him: highest knowledge here and now, or if some remainder of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning';”. He continues by saying, “‘let alone seven years … for one year, these two fruits…';”. And then he says, “‘let alone a year, … for seven months … one month … half a month … seven days, these two fruits…';” So, if you practice mindfulness of the body, feelings, consciousness, dharma in this manner, you can realize your own true nature, Freedom in as little as seven days. What more is there to say?

Dan Muir

I am not sure what sati is, but maybe describing how I am learning about it through practice will be helpful to you. First, as I wake in the morning, I reflect on how precious the opportunity is that I have today. I am human, and I can practice the dharma. I am grateful. Second, I note that this opportunity is impermanent. Everything changes—everything that is born will eventually die. Sooner or later, I will not have this body and this set of experiences that is teaching me so much. Third, I reflect on how much trouble life can be sometimes. This is the first noble truth. The world I live in and my reaction to it can be quite insane and painful. Not all the time of course, but the potential for problems is always there.

I use these recollections to generate a strong motivation to practice sati throughout the day. Sati is translated as mindfulness, but it also has the meaning of remembering. We need to remember who we really are. Practice helps us to do that. No matter if you are on the cushion or off, the practice is the same. Practice in this moment. Begin where you are. What are you thinking? What are you experiencing? Who is it that experiences these things?

This opportunity and these insights are valuable, so make the most of them and remember to be mindful in this moment.

Dorothy Ann Coyne
(Inspiration response)

I began to meditate in 1971 or thereabouts, learning Transcendental Meditation, a concentration practice focused on mantra. Bernie and I both began this practice together. At the time Bernie';s university students were beginning to smoke pot and “‘get high';” and he was concerned for them and was searching for another way for them to alter their state of consciousness and yet not hurt themselves. As for myself, our intimate relationship was marred by fatigue, which manifested in bouts of anger between us. Our four children were in elementary school in those years and we were stressed and strung out.

The twenty minutes in the morning and the twenty minutes in the evening that TM prescribed really put us back together. I have often said that “‘meditation saved our marriage';” and I truly believe that the minutes of rest and recovery that the practice offered gave us just what we needed as we led our too busy lives over 35 years ago. This reality inspired me then to get to the cushion every day and also inspired me to want to share it with others.

In the recent 20 years, my practice has shifted to Vipassana as I moved from Ohio to Michigan and began my studies with Barbara. The children are now grown and gone to their own lives and Bernie and I continue to sit together with renewed motivation. Now I am inspired by the increasing skillfulness we continually seem to develop in our personal relationship and in all aspects of our lives. My studies of Buddhist psychology led me to greater and greater understanding of how I was making myself unhappy and has given me ways to let go of unskillful identifications and behaviors.

Perhaps the greatest inspiration for me in the present moment is the sangha of Deep Spring itself. As I share life and learning with my friends at Deep Sprin, I am increasingly renewed by an appreciation of the beauty of this practice of mindful awareness and its power to transform my life.

David Lawson
(Inspiration response)

When I first read a brief summary of the story of Ramana Maharshi';s life, I was completely drawn to him for some reason that I did not understand. Then, upon later merely seeing a picture of him, I realized that I had to learn as much as I possibly could about his life and teachings. Ramana Maharshi was a Hindu Advaita (non-duality) master who, at the age of 17, left home to find his way to the holy mountain of Arunachala in southern India. Having been abruptly and mysteriously drawn to the mountain, he lived there for the remainder of his life. Eventually, people started coming to him, often to simply sit in his silent presence. Here is something he said that I would like to share with you:

“‘There is neither creation nor destruction, neither destiny nor free will, neither path nor achievement. This is the final truth.';”

Aaron Quote

It is not wrong to seek expression of perfection,
but you seek in the wrong place.

Do not seek outside the Self,
not in ritual or prayer,
not in austerity practice nor determination to betterment,
as if these could produce perfection.

For I tell you that
perfection is already present.

It cannot be produced.

You have not to attain it,
but only to learn to enact it.