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September 18, 2018 Tuesday Evening, The Dharma Path, Part III
What is the Difference Between Primordial Purity and All Ground? What is the Difference Between Consciousness and Awareness?
(question not entirely taped; paraphrasing)
Q: I’m wondering if Aaron could say a little bit more about the primordial purity and All Ground.
Aaron: She’s having difficulty understanding the difference between primordial purity and All Ground. Perhaps because there is no difference; they’re part of each other. Imagine an underground spring from a deep, clear source, totally untouched by anything above the surface. The water comes to the surface. Right here, below the surface, nothing from the external world has touched it. It’s been in a quartz crystal bed, deep underground. Deep earth waters coming up through the crystal. Feel the primordial purity of that spring water. Then it emerges through that spring opening. In that first moment, as it comes through the opening, it touches the Earth’s atmosphere. It doesn’t stay right there at the mouth of the spring; it pours over, so that one second later it’s touched the stream bed. Is the ever-perfect of the spring water still there? Yes, of course. And, has it picked up distortions? Yes.
Let’s say it tumbles out and into a muddy creek bed. It flows down a hundred yards where cattle are drinking and stirring up sediment from the bottom. Where is the pure spring water? Can you all see that the spring water exists? It cannot be lost. But, you can’t point to the muddy water where the cattle are stomping and drinking and say, “Oh, that’s the clear spring water. I’ll drink it, too.” You need to filter it. This is not about the relationship so much as knowing the interbeing of the primordial purity and the world around it.
Now let’s take the term ‘All Ground’. I don’t really know the geology of it, but I understand that somewhere way under the earth there is this pure water. Some pressure has brought it up to the surface.
The pure water could not exist without the impurities.
Let’s look at this in a different way. That spring flows down the hill, flows into a pond where the cattle are drinking. The sun shines on the pond and evaporates the water. The water rises as water vapor. Moist air gathers into the cloud that rains onto the mountain top. Then it flows down the mountain, and some of it seeps through the ground and mixes with the ground waters. Is the water that’s flowing down the waterfall from the highest glaciers, is that different from the underground spring?
We might say that this whole container is the All Ground. The ever-perfect primordially pure spring is part of the whole container. But can you see that it cannot be separated from anything else?
Q, please let me know, does this clarify it for you, or do you have further question?
Q: That helps me a lot. I think that image of the spring makes it easier for me. Thank you.
Aaron: Thank you, Q, thank you for your question. And for all of you, use whatever real-life images help. The primordial purity of your loving heart, and the anger. Barbara, sitting on the floor, saying metta phrases with Hal. Truly loving him. Expressing gratitude. And also, the rage that was coming up. She had to laugh at herself as she sat there, and the thought coming up, “How dare you have a stroke! That wasn’t in our plans! Why did you have to do that?” Of course, she didn’t express that with him, but she had to be honest with herself; there was anger.
Holding it all together. I think one of the easiest ways to see it is in spaciousness and contraction. When there’s something very beautiful, you can feel the heart opening, the body energy field opening— spaciousness, love. And then something interrupts it. The wasp starts flying around your head. There you are in this heavenly realm of loving kindness, and buzz! Buzz! Buzz! “How dare you fly around my head and disturb my meditation!” You can see the simultaneity. Right there, this human being is capable of immensely loving space, and also of very contracted negative thought. The All Ground and the primordial purity.
But the All Ground is more than just the negative thought. The All Ground is also the radiance and the love. No duality.
Q: How does the clear light practice relate to standing on the sambhogakaya bridge and reaching out to both sides?
Aaron: Thank you, Q. We’re going to come to the clear light practice more in a few weeks, and I would ask you all, not for the next class but the one after the next class, to read it. The practice of clear light is a way of maintaining one’s centeredness on the bridge. It’s another way of coming home. It’s a way of remembering the light and clarity that are your innate nature and being. Right there with distortion, contraction, fear, pain, discomfort. So, it’s tool, in that way, like gratitude is a centering tool.
This is, if I could call it this, a mundane level of clear light practice. We start there. So, for those of you who have read Path of Clear Light, and in the coming four weeks, as you read it and begin to practice with it, support the deepening of a mundane clear light practice, by which I mean remembering the clear light, This is different than knowing yourself as the clear light. Does that make sense to you?
To remember yourself as the clear light is mental. To know yourself as the clear light is the direct experience of being that light. But we have to start somewhere, so we start with remembering the self as the clear light. Developing the habit of looking back at the clear light and remembering. Using that to help re-center you on the bridge. Then, begin to ask, what prevents me from fully resting here in this clear light, even as the world is spinning chaotically around me? What pulls me out? We’ll approach this gradually. And we’re also going to look at the sacred darkness practices, but further on. Let’s take it one step at a time.
For now, the most important thing is deepening in vipassana and mindfulness so that when there is contraction, mind recognizes, “contracting, contracting,” and doesn’t get caught in the stories, but is able to rest openheartedly with contraction without trying to get rid of or fix the contraction. If there’s aversion to the contraction, that’s not a problem. There may be aversion. Just let it be. Here we’re with the human practices; presence with aversion with an open heart. Watching how stories arise, become predominant, and pass away.
Q: So I put this into practice. And then there’s this little voice that says, “Oh, that’s really not that good. Oh, you could have done it better.”
Aaron: Which is a story, yes. Noting mind notes, “Ah, story.” Breathing in, I am aware of the story. Breathing in, I hold space for the story.
Q: But I know it’s true.
Aaron: What is true? That your mind has the capacity to build stories? That you’re not yet a fully enlightened being? Okay, both are true! Can you give yourself the kindness not to try to force yourself to be perfect? For you, Q, I would simply note, “perfectionism”. Here is an old perfectionist story. Ah, I bow to it and say, no thank you.
Is there anybody here or online that has it perfect right now? None of you? I don’t. I am an awakened being and yet I still sometimes make errors of judgment. The best I can do then is to apologize and make sure I don’t do it again. But not to berate myself.
Q: I’m a little confused because you are an awakened being. My assumption, as a human, is that you would not make any errors.
Aaron: If I could remain, Q, on the non-material plane at all times, I could not make errors. But here, with material things happening fast, I can only base my reflections on my experience. To give a very simple example, a few days ago, it was drizzling lightly in the morning, and Barbara thought to herself, shall I take Banner (her service collie) out? She takes him for a walk with her scooter. She said, “Aaron, do you think it’s going to rain harder?” We were outside, and I said, “It feels like it’s going to stop.” But 10 minutes into the walk, there was a downpour! Now, I never said I was perfect at forecasting the weather! It was an error of judgment. Based on my experience, it seemed like it would stop. I could only apologize to her when she came home drenched.
However, there are times when, let’s give a different example. This happened several years ago. Barbara was at her cabin and setting out for town in her car. I said to her, “Drive very slowly. Watch very carefully.” She said, “Why?” I didn’t want to alarm her; I just could feel that there was a tree about to come down. I couldn’t tell exactly when it was going to come down. I said, “Just don’t go more than 3 or 4 miles an hour down this stretch of the cabin road.” She started to drive. It’s a curvy dirt road. As she came around a bend, going just 2mph, a big tree came down on the road in front of her. If she had been going fast, she wouldn’t have been able to stop. I could feel that there was this distortion in the energy field, that something might happen, something would happen, but I could not tell when it would happen because the tree has free will. Only, you do not need to be damaged by it, so drive carefully. Now, an error of judgment then would have been not to speak up, to just let her go down the road. She doesn’t go fast, but 10mph, going down the road.
I am not all-knowing. Just because I’m awake doesn’t mean I can predict when trees are going to fall, or anything else. When the rain will fall. Does that answer it for you? But I have to take responsibility. When she got drenched, she co-decided with me. I did not say, “You go out and walk your dog,” I said, “I think that it’s okay. But, it’s up to you, Barbara.” So, she got wet. But with the tree on the road, it was very important what I shared what I felt might happen, without alarming her by saying, “A tree is about to fall on the cabin road.” I didn’t want to scare her. It could have been a week from then. Just, I could feel that distortion of energy.
Q: You mentioned that you’re an awakened being. Is there any distinction between being awake and enlightened?
Aaron: Synonymous words.
Q: Can you speak a little bit about the distinction between consciousness and awareness? I have trouble separating the two in my mind.
Aaron: Let’s be precise here. Consciousness, the Pali word is citta. The sense organs— eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind. When the sense organ touches and object, consciousness arises. In this case, mundane consciousness, kuttara citta. For kuttara citta to arise, there has to be a sense organ and an object, and contact between the organ and the object. With contact, consciousness arises. If there is no sense, organ consciousness cannot arise. If there is no object, consciousness cannot arise. I use consciousness in a very specific way.
These are the mundane citta—seeing consciousness, hearing consciousness, mental consciousness, etc—and mundane objects. There is also supramundane citta, supramundane consciousness. The Pali word is lokuttara citta. They are not mundane and supramundane, like that (arms stretched apart) , but, as with primordial purity and All Ground, part of each other. As with our canisters, relative and ultimate.
Supramundane consciousness takes a supramundane object. Those of you who, in meditation, use nada or luminosity, these are supramundane objects, which means simply that they do not need any special conditions to exist. This cosmic OM or nada, the luminosity. As long as the Unconditioned exists, the expressions of the Unconditioned exist.
I apologize to those online— I’m looking at Q, who asked the question, and I realize that it’s probably more skillful to look at the camera, and back and forth. That’s an example of, I would not call it an error of judgment to much as a place where I have to learn how to be more skillful. I may be awake, but I still have to learn practical things.
So, we have these expressions of the supramundane, such as luminosity, the cosmic OM/nada, high vibration, joy— many more. You can’t see that luminosity with your eye. You can’t hear nada with the ear organ. There’s no contact, ear touching nada. Something different perceives nada. Let’s call that awareness.
Everybody doesn’t use the terms as I do, but I use these terms in very specific ways. Consciousness as mundane consciousness, and awareness as supramundane awareness.
However, and this is where it gets a bit tricky!— you can be sitting and watching a beautiful sunset, eye organ making contact with the colors of radiance, seeing consciousness, and simultaneously you may be seeing luminosity. Can you imagine how you could see the sunset and experience the awareness of luminosity at the same time? Consciousness perceiving the sunset, awareness present with luminosity. Consciousness hearing a beautiful symphony, and awareness hearing nada at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive. But consciousness cannot experience the luminosity or nada, and awareness cannot experience the concert or sunset without mundane consciousness. Meditate with it.
Do others have questions that are about consciousness and awareness? It may be helpful for you to look back—I think I mentioned this two weeks ago— to look at the transcripts online for the whole year class, Consciousness and Its Objects. These transcripts go into a lot of detail about this topic. I’ll be happy to talk more about it, but I’d prefer you spend some time with these transcripts first, then we can talk more.
John: I have something to ask, relevant to this. Some people ask, what is the difference between mindfulness and awareness? Is it possible to correlate mindfulness with mundane consciousness and awareness with supramundane consciousness? Because people ask the difference between mindfulness and awareness.
Aaron: I would say mindfulness always correlates with mundane consciousness; awareness always correlates with supramundane awareness. I’m not sure what the question is, John.
John: It’s not a question. I was just trying to have clarify between the difference between mundane and supramundane relative to awareness, which is what I think Q was asking. So, that’s how I see the difference between the two. Mindfulness relates to mundane consciousness; awareness relates to supramundane consciousness.
Aaron: Exactly; thank you, John. Mindfulness related to the mundane realm and mundane consciousness. Awareness related to the supramundane realm, to supramundane objects. As a figure of speak, people often say, “I was aware of the rain.” “I was aware of the wind.” “I was aware of somebody speaking.” Probably the more correct phrasing would be, “I was conscious of the rain,” conscious of somebody speaking. Let’s not get caught up in semantics. But when we are being precise— and the Pali language gives us so much better way to be precise than does English— being precise, yes, exactly as John phrased it. But don’t worry if you end up saying, “I was aware of the rain.” “I was conscious of the extraordinary light.” Don’t get caught up in the words. What is the experience of awareness? What is the experience of consciousness?
With awareness, if you are resting in pure awareness, there cannot be attachment or aversion. Something may be pleasant or unpleasant. There can be awareness of an unpleasantness. But there are no stories.
This takes us to access concentration, and I don’t want to bring that in today. Let me ask, for a show of hands— is there anybody here who is not familiar with the term “access concentration”? … A very few. All right, we’ll talk about access concentration in a later class. It’s a useful thing to talk about, but not here and now.
So I see that it’s 10 to 9pm. I think we’ve covered enough. I don’t want to bring in too much broader material and confuse you. Let’s just close with a chant, here. And I’m not sure how we can do this. Maybe if you all un-mute we can all just chant together. Can we try it? A metta chant. The four words: metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha. So let us begin. My voice can’t carry, only my heart can carry.
(chanting metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha)
May the benefits of our practice be for the highest good of all sentient beings.
May we and all sentient beings be free of suffering.
May all beings live with love and an open heart.
May all beings be happy and find perfect peace.
Please remain online for a bit. Barbara has an announcement. Let me release the body to Barbara. My blessings and love to you.