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September 18, 2018 Tuesday Class, the Dharma Path, Part 2
Finding the Balance Between Relative and Ultimate
Aaron: Good evening, and my love to you all. I am Aaron. Hello out there, all of you who dwell within the blue dot! (On Zoom- internet) I love this process, and to look into your faces on the screen behind me. Such a wonder that we can all be together in this way— in this, whatever it’s called, this electronic space.
As Barbara said, in the small groups we spoke a lot about what helps you to stay connected to both Dharmakaya and nirmanakaya, but with a balanced effort, not with a grasping effort. I asked Barbara to speak. It would have been better if she could have spoken about a third of the way through my talk. But once I incorporate in the body it’s challenging for her to come back, gather her thoughts and speak. So, we invite her to speak first.
One of the topics we touched upon in some of the small group meetings, were the terms “primordial purity” and “All Ground” and what they mean. Many of you have talked at length with me about these terms; for others, they’re new. Nobody is ahead of anybody else here— we’re talking about terms, semantics. You all have the experience, all of you, of that primordial purity, and you all have some conceptual understanding of what I mean by All Ground. But you see them as two separate things. How can there be anything separate?
Would you hand me the red canister that’s on the shelf?… This is a favorite teaching tool of mine. (smiling) Some of you are groaning and saying, “Oh no, Aaron, we’ve seen that too much!” Others have no idea of where I’m going.
Let’s call this canister ultimate reality. It has ULTIMATE written on the side. It’s fallen apart a bit. We’ll call this canister (the one inside the other) relative reality. Two realities, ultimate and relative. And yet relative reality has been inside ultimate reality. Where else would it be?
This doesn’t go far enough, and there is no way I could make this happen within your material realm. Relative reality is within ultimate reality, and ultimate reality is also within relative reality. This is the All Ground and primordial purity relationship.
So we have this little fellow (a little bear)… He lives in relative reality. It’s his favorite place. Now, he’s always been like this (inside the relative), but he has no idea he’s in ultimate reality; he only sees himself as being in relative reality. He peers over the side, but he can’t really get a perspective on ultimate reality. He just says, “I’m in relative reality.” Then he begins to meditate and has a profound experience of ultimate reality. There he is, in ultimate reality. After the meditation he comes out, looks around a bit, flops back into relative reality, and says, “Wow! What was THAT?” He’s back in relative reality, forgetting there’s an ultimate reality.
But, gradually, as he hops back and forth, he learns to straddle the two; to rest with one foot on each side; to find a balance in the relative and in the ultimate. So far, so good. But he has another vital lesson— this is where we’re going— to learn the non-duality of the two. He’s not just straddling, which is resting in the middle of the bridge, one foot in the nirmanakaya, one foot in the Dharmakaya. The importance is in knowing their non-duality and that they can never be separated; that any time he’s in relative reality, he’s always in ultimate reality. So, he looks over the side, and says, “Oh, it’s says ULTIMATE. I didn’t know that. I thought I was in relative. Ah, they come together!” Non-dual.
I find that becoming acquainted with the direct experience of the primordial purity— being able to say, “Ah, this is it,” even just for a second— and becoming acquainted with the experience of the All Ground that contains both the primordial purity and the distortions, is the most helpful way to truly release the duality of ultimate and relative, and learn to live both simultaneously.
It’s not going to come like that (snaps fingers) for you. It may take a lot of practice. Step 1 is to find an experience for yourselves that speaks of the ultimate, that speaks of home, Heavenly Abode, Unconditioned, Divine, God. It’s fine to remember the experience. I know you’re not having the experience when you remember it, but the memory is strong, it’s helpful. And if you remember it and then just breathe and allow yourself, you can, to some degree, re-enter the experience. It becomes a stable resting place.
I asked Barbara to show you the picture of the waterfall, because for a number of you who have been to the Casa, standing under that waterfall —cachoeira in Portuguese— standing under the brilliant spring water of the cachoeira, feeling it running around down your body and through into the crown chakra, opening the crown chakra, it’s very much an experience of that Heavenly Abode. For others, it may simply be the tenderness of a friend’s smile, a morning sunrise, a shooting star, a baby’s laughter. Coming home.
Your memory is an aid to this. Granted, just memory. We talked in one of the groups of, I don’t want to get too complex, here, but of the various types of consciousness that may arise in very profound meditation states, and how at one level there is a consciousness that literally touches the Unconditioned. There’s no mental body at that point. You can’t think, “Oh, I’m experiencing the Unconditioned.” There’s no me to be experiencing it. But later, after the experience, there is what we call “reviewing consciousness,” where there’s the opportunity to look at what came up, and what was experienced. To review it from a place of great clarity and non-contraction. See it with a telescopic lens and really come to know who or what it was that touched what. And know that there was never a separation between the experiencer and the experience. And then you come back to the mundane world again.
So, we find something we can remember that takes us home. That, probably happens in your meditation or at another quiet time. Then, when life gets challenging, when somebody smashes into your car, or you’ve just broken your best crystal vase and cut your foot on the shards of glass, or when you hear that a loved one is sick or is dying — “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” (Picks up the canisters and the bear.) There you are in relative reality, lid closed, no way to look out— Agh! You’re stuck! —Take the lid off. What takes the lid off? You can’t come out unless you first take the lid off.
There are several tools that help. Mindfulness is primary, and your vipassana practice. As you practice, become increasingly aware of where you are and what you’re experiencing. When I say “you,” even if it goes beyond a self, what is being experienced by this mundane mind/body consciousness, body aggregates? I think you all know the word aggregates. If not, look it up on the Deep Spring site. I’m not going to take our time with it today. We’ve talked about it often.
The eye/ear/nose/tongue/body and mind are the sense organs that touch an object. With that contact, consciousness, citta, arises. Mind consciousness, taste consciousness, hearing consciousness. The sense organs and the mind organ. The consciousnesses arise from contact between those organs and the object that they touch. Here we’re talking about basic dependent origination.
Now, I’m going to turn to your pictures for a moment. For how many of you is this Chain something new? Raise your hand… (only 1 or 2) Okay. We’ll talk about this in groups, but I think all of you, since you’ve been in retreats and classes with me you’re all familiar with contact, the sense organ, touching an object, and consciousness arising. Then perception and/or feeling, one, then the other. Feelings of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. And perception— Oh, this is a rose; this is a skunk. Then, pleasant feelings arise. So, contact, consciousness, perception, feelings of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. And then, when something is pleasant, there may be liking. When something is unpleasant, dislike. Smell! Stinks! Skunk! Unpleasant! Aversion! There’s no way you can touch onto any place of light or spaciousness. Heavenly, beautiful— ahhhh! With that contraction, that slide into strong dislike, you lose the ability of discernment. You become lost in, “Get rid of it,” or “I want more of it!” The most magnificent sunset or music— “I want more of it!” Grasping.
Everything in the conditioned realm has the nature to arise when the conditions are present and cease when the conditions cease. All of this you already know. When something hard happens, and it pushes you into that relative reality container, and you can’t get out, your first aid is mindfulness. What’s really happening here in this moment? This has arisen into my experience, and it’s very hard, very unpleasant.
I spoke last class about Barbara’s initial reaction—I don’t know if I spoke to it in the talk, or before the talk to just some of you. When she came into the kitchen and found Hal on the floor, clearly, he wasn’t just lying on the floor doing his morning exercises. She didn’t know— stroke, heart attack— what had happened to him, but he could not speak; he could barely move. Her first reaction was, “AHHHHHHH!” So, she walks into the kitchen; there’s Hal— “AHHHHHH!” But then, because of her training, she needed to come out. Well, first, she said to him, “Shall I call 911?” (laughing) And of course he didn’t answer! She hurried in and called 911. She went back to him. Opened the door, waiting for the ambulance to come. All she could think of to do was to sit there on the floor and recite metta. It’s the only way that she could get herself out of that relative cylinder enough to be of any help to herself and to Hal, to hold the space.
Between the recitations of the metta— and they were not rote recitation, just statement of, “I love you. May you feel my love. May all beings feel love.” Whatever her heart prompted. Speaking to him in that way. She was able to feel gratitude for the 50+ years they had had together. To recognize, “Hal could die in this next hour. I don’t know what will happen.” Not, “Hang on!”, but “Thank you for these wonderful years.” And she took his hand and said, “Whatever happens today, know that I love you. Thank you for our life together. This life has been such a wonderful gift. Thank you. I love you.” Gratitude helped her to stay present, to get out of the little cylinder and at least to straddle the two.
We’re talking here about what helps you when you’re stuck in a hard aspect of relative reality. Mindfulness, vipassana, the deep dharma wisdom: whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. Knowing that, and, not to take it personally. It’s not me or mine; it arises out of conditions. The ability to recognize objects arising into your experience and passing away, and not to get stuck in any object. To know it’s all passing. And then, to focus on finding the place of light within you. Gratitude is a wonderful tool to help you re-center.
You don’t want to do this (demonstrating— bear in ULTIMATE cylinder only, with lid on). Nor to become lost in the relative. We’re not looking for a hiding place. We’re looking to stay centered, either balanced between the two, or, in relative reality, fully knowing relative reality and that ultimate reality is right here and relative is right there, and they’re part of each other. Resting in them together.
All of the Brahma Vihara practices are helpful— metta, karuna (compassion), mudita (joy for others). Even in that moment, being able to think not just of yourself and the gratitude that you may have for having shared this life with your beloved, but gratitude—sympathetic joy, let’s call it, for all the others who still have healthy partners, even though in this moment you don’t. Who still have a healthy body themselves, even though perhaps in this moment you don’t. Who still have a safe home, although perhaps in this moment you don’t.
A slight aside, here; talking especially to two of you, who I know were strongly affected by Hurricane Florence (in North Carolina). I pray that you are safe. More than two of you, but some of you a bit further from the center. One sent me a picture of the creek overflowing her driveway and said, well, she can get out, but she’d have to get a kayak and cross the river! One even closer to the eye of the storm. I pray that all are safe. Sympathetic joy for all who are safe.
So metta, karuna, mudita— upekkha, equanimity. These are the four immeasurables of the loving heart. This helps. This helps to ground you. It’s very hard to get caught in the stories of despair and calamity when the heart is thusly open.
We have to look the opposite way, too, that we may turn our back on the harshness of the situation and pretend it doesn’t exist, and that’s just another story. So, there’s a strong need to be present with it as it actually is, unembellished with stories. And mindfulness is what will help you discern the arising of story and the moving into it, whether it’s a nightmare story or a story that denies the challenges. This watching is your work for the next two weeks.
Let’s go back to primordial purity and All Ground, because understanding these is a very, I won’t say vital, but highly useful tool to staying balanced with an open heart, even when you’re totally enraged by what is happening, or in terrible pain or grief.
The All Ground. Can we say which came first? It’s a chicken-and-the-egg question. Did the chicken come first, or the egg? Once, when I asked that question, somebody said, “Aaron, I’ll have an answer for you soon. I’m went on Amazon and ordered a chicken and an egg, and I’ll let you know which comes first!” (laughter)
Putting that aside, we might think that the primordial purity came first, and out of that primordial purity came the various expressions, both contracted and spacious, dark and light, low vibrational and high vibrational, based in fear and based in love. Well, it would not be wrong to assume that. That primordial purity is. It is of the Unconditioned. But it is the nature of the primordial purity that it contains everything. Therefore, if the primordial purity exists, the All Ground exists. The primordial purity cannot exist without the container out of which everything is arising. So, we have the container and the contents of the container.
Here’s one I’m not going to answer: is the primordial purity the container, or the content?
I’ll let you reflect on that. Is this container empty, or does it contain everything? If it contains everything, it must contain the primordial purity. Then how can we say that only this is the primordial purity? The primordial purity is both the container and the content of the container.
Take this into your practice. Especially watch the places where contraction arises, where something challenges you. Unpleasant. Contracted. Confused. Aversion arising. Right there, in that moment, where is love? That’s the simplest way I can phrase it— where is love in that moment? Can you touch it? I’m not asking you to float away in it, just touch. Where is love? Where is the open heart? In that moment of contracting experience, can you find spaciousness that is there simultaneous with the contraction? In that moment of sadness, can you find joy right there with the sadness? With fear, can you find openhearted love and spaciousness? There needs to be no denial of contraction, of pain, of fear, of grief. As long as there’s any denial, there’s contraction and armoring. What we’re speaking of here is letting go of armor.
This is what I asked Barbara to do, there on Dale’s table— to observe the armor that had built up, not just since Hal’s stroke, but really throughout these 14 years. As open and awake as she has become, there still were layers of armoring. And because she was increasingly awake, it was easy to live in that ultimate cylinder and avoid the painful realities. Her life was pleasant: a very loving marriage, wonderful work in the world, a pleasant home, good friends. Occasionally an aching body— of course. But mostly relatively good health. It was easy to rest in that spaciousness and light and not go into the places where there was pain or contraction; increasingly to armor against them.
I want you to understand the difference between shielding and armoring. When it’s raining hard, and you have to walk outdoors, it’s very kind to yourself to put up the umbrella. The umbrella is a shield. When the rain stops, you close the umbrella, shake it out, and put it down. What if you kept that umbrella up? What if you said to yourself, “But it might rain again!” And you spent your whole life living under that umbrella, but instead of a 2-foot umbrella, it was 3-foot, 5-foot, 10-foot? Now you’re carrying around a 20-foot umbrella. It almost comes down to the ground. How can you live your life that way? So, you’ve gone from the umbrella as a skillful and loving shield to the umbrella as armor, separating.
Begin to look at whatever armor you carry. In Barbara’s experience on the table, I asked her to look at that very subtle armor she’s been carrying, not just since Hal’s stroke but for all these 14 years since the wave accident. She said, “I choose to live.”— that was a wholehearted commitment. But there was also a backing away from living fully because it was so overwhelming. If I live fully, I could get caught in another wave, literal or figurative. So maybe I won’t be fully in the body. Maybe I won’t fully breathe into the body. Maybe I won’t fully invite the opening of the chakras. Maybe I’ll be 90% but not 100% present, because it feels too dangerous to be 100% present.
What if you’re 100% present? What can you lose? The illusion that you are in control. None of you have ever been in control. And yet, you are absolutely in control, because you co-create with the universe through your intentions. If you hold the intention for love, for well-being, for wholeness, you co-create that. If you hold the intention, “I’m going to hold onto safety. I’m going to hold onto my home, my partner, my…” whatever it is you value, there’s a feeling that, “I could lose it! I could lose it! I have to hold on tighter!” And then you’re just giving energy to the “I could lose that.” You’re giving energy to scarcity, and to whatever negative may come. When I say negative, whatever distorted and painful thing may come. That’s not your intention, but you are so deeply in that habit. And so, you are literally running from the nirmanakaya side of the bridge back across to the Dharmakaya side of the bridge— “Ahhh!”— back to the nirmanakaya side of the bridge, and back again. You only think you’re in the middle, but you don’t stay in the middle.
To stay in the middle means to trust that you came into the incarnation to learn and to grow. To learn to love. To learn compassion. To deepen in wisdom. You’re never going to survive this life experience; you’re all going to die, sooner or later. These homes that you live in, they’re going to fall down eventually, whether it’s while you’re still in them or at some later time. Your cars are going to rust away. Your bodies are going to deteriorate. Ahhhhhhhhh……
Say it with me, breathe it, deep in-breath: Ahhhhh…… And again, Ahhhh… Letting go, opening. Opening to things as they are in this moment, and with gratitude for the gifts of this moment even when they are painful.
I do not expect that anyone is going to report back to me next week, “Okay, Aaron, I learned this! I’m perfect at it now.” That’s not the task. The task is simply to inch your way on a little bit. To find a place where you can stay balanced, holding your heart open in an increasingly challenging relative world, connected with home, with your own divinity and the ultimate Divinity, without clinging to it. Just holding it lightly, with love.
Reflect on these terms, primordial purity and All Ground, and look for the place where they come together. Try not to be too mental about it. Let your heart feel that place. See what helps you to touch both nirmanakaya and Dharmakaya. To rest— not racing back and forth on the bridge, but resting there, meditating there in the middle of the bridge, fully touching both sides. Gratitude, loving kindness, joy, equanimity, wisdom. Much more; a mixture of all of these. The formula will be different for each of you. And, when I use the term “formula”, I mean the formula for today. It will change from day to day. Stop racing back and forth between heaven and hell, and rest in spaciousness and love.
If we can do it, I’d like to open this to questions for 15 or 20 minutes…