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October 16, 2018 Tuesday Night, Dharma Path Class
Barbara and Aaron on Their Dharma Paths
Barbara: When I first met Aaron, the word “dharma” had very little meaning for me. Back in high school I had read The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac. Dharma was an obscure word to me. I practiced meditation, but I had no formal training in Buddhism; I knew almost nothing about Buddhism.
Early on, when I asked Aaron what he was teaching me, and asked, is it Buddhism, he said let’s just call it dharma. I asked him, what is the relationship of dharma and Buddhism? He said let’s not go into that right now. I asked, What does dharma mean? Aaron said dharma is simply the deepest truth of things as they are.
His invitation to me in the beginning was to be as present as possible, using my meditation practice, to be with things as they are. Just that. What’s real for you in this moment? If there’s joy, know the experience of joy. If there’s sadness, know the experience of sadness. If there’s confusion, know the experience of confusion. If there’s clarity, know the experience of clarity. And, if these are pleasant or unpleasant experiences, know that. Don’t try to change or fix things. In the beginning, he said, just bear witness to them.
After some time doing that, I asked him, well, Aaron, what’s the point of this? He said the point is simply to be present. It took me a few months to get it, that when I’m deeply present, the judging mind is not running rampant— this! this! this! There’s a stillness. I’m more of a witness. And in that witnessing consciousness I’m better able to just hold space for things as they are, not try to fix things. I learned love can attend to things rather than fear fixing things. So, I started to settle down into this just being present, and the deep truths we speak of became clear. Everything in the conditioned realm is impermanent. It arises from conditions. It passes away. Just be present with it.
I kept coming to Aaron with questions, and he kept saying, just wait. Let your practice provide the answers. I don’t want you to be in your head but in your heart.
As my practice deepened—my practice was really askew in the beginning. I was using the breath as a primary object. When something pulled me away from the breath, I would say, “No, go away. I want to be with the breath.” Gradually I relaxed into a choiceless awareness practice. Wisdom was starting to develop. Things ARE arising out of conditions; things are passing away. There were some deep experiences of impermanence, of body and ego dissolution. Fear came, at first, and then relaxing into those experiences; deepening into this whole path and practice.
Aaron always talked of balance. There’s a teaching that we know as coming from Ajahn Chah. “If you’re too far to the right, come back to the left. If you’re too far to the left, come back to the right.” I know I had never heard that before. Aaron probably heard it from Ajahn Chah, but Aaron started to tell me that. He would say, “You’re too far over here; come on back. You’re too far over there; come on back. Too much effort— relax. Too relaxed— a little more effort.”
He spent a lot of time with me in the beginning looking at what we call the hindrances— fear, grasping, anger, desire, doubt, all the hindrances. Continually he asked me, when this hindrance is strong, what’s missing? What would bring it back into balance? This is one of the first things I shared with John. So, at the time when I met John, this was the core of my practice, just watching when some strong emotion arises or when there’s some strong body sensation, what brings everything back into balance; establishing a practice that’s balanced.
So, for me, the dharma path, as Aaron was teaching it, was really a matter of learning to be present and to keep inviting myself back into balance. And also, the importance of sila— the strong commitment to, not MY liberation from suffering but the highest good for all beings. And because I didn’t start this as a Buddhist, I don’t think I really had heard of this idea that we can have liberation. Liberation— what does that mean? Just, how do I live my life with more love?
I came to this as a Quaker, and I already had a strong commitment to non-violence, to harmlessness, to understanding what harmlessness meant. So, Aaron helped me see the importance of the intentions of the heart to be of service to all beings, to be loving, to do no harm; and that if I held that as my intention it would help draw me back into balance.
Now, from a perspective almost 30 years later, I can see how much each of these parts come together, and that we can’t leave out anything. I look at some of the old books that I channeled with Aaron, leading a class for a semester or a year. No Chain At All, which is a very clear book on dependent origination; but also comes back to the truth that there really is no chain and never was a chain; it’s all our imagination. We got carried away, believed there was a chain and that we had to break the chain. —no. Come home.
Path of Natural Light Parts 1 and 2, Awakened Heart— all of these books presented this piece of the dharma path, or that piece of it. It took me years to start to understand how it went together, because different pieces were there, but it was like a jigsaw puzzle where somebody has taken all of the pieces that make up the top eighth of the picture, and all of the pieces that make up this tenth of the picture, and this sixth of the picture and that twelfth of the picture. And I have these pieces put together but I have not a clue how they fit.There’s no overall picture. But gradually it started to come together. I can’t explain how it happened. I think just the repetition— sitting, having very deep meditation experiences where momentarily the picture came together. And then Barbara-ego came back and the picture shattered again. But I knew that it could come together because it had in that meditation experience. I just couldn’t articulate it.
Gradually there was clarity about how it came together. And for me— and I said this just recently at the retreat— the importance of bringing together sila (moral awareness), deep concentration and mindfulness, and wisdom. And seeing how they interweave— not trying to make them interweave, but just sitting back and allowing them to interweave.
So, maybe 12 or 15 years ago, suddenly it was starting to hang together. I think the pure awareness practice supported that the most. With vipassana, I was looking very clearly at this or at that but I couldn’t see the big picture. With pure awareness practice I was opening back up, resting in the big picture, but temporarily unable to put the pieces together, just ahhh… But suddenly the pieces just started to fall into place. But it really was a mix of both, the balancing of both.
So I think the open heart, the deep commitment to service to all beings, the deepening wisdom of committed practice that inevitably comes, eventually, with committed practice, the spaciousness of awareness— suddenly it all clicked. Then about 3 years ago Aaron said to me, “It’s clicked for you, now. You really understand it well, this dharma path. Now let’s do a 2-year program so it we can help it click for others.” Fine! You’re in charge, Aaron. But I understood what he meant by this, and became very excited about it.
We need all the pieces put together again, here— for Tana to learn the technology, for the technology to be developed. It’s not your fault that it’s not working— (zoom program has failed) relax! Sometimes things just don’t work out! But everybody is getting to hear us. Everybody is there on the screen. It’s okay.
So, we needed time for it to come together, to have everything ready to do this together. And to have a group of people, all of you, ready to participate. I was astonished, expecting at the beginning that we would have 10, maybe at most 15 people. I thought we’d divide into 2 groups that I would meet with, groups with about 7-8 people each. After all, how many people are going to commit themselves to a 2-year class where they’re going to really be asked to work? And that first day registration opened, Tana called me around 11am and said it’s been open for 2 hours and we have 32 people— what should I do?! Let them in. John agreed to help. Everything was perfect. Everything will always be perfect. Relax.
I love this path. I have very strong past life memories of having been a Theravada monk. And my practice in those lifetimes, while not liberation, the increasing freedom that I had in those lifetimes. And how much easier it was to live with love, and to live my commitment to non-harm. One of the hardest things for me with this has been, in the beginning, all the many Buddhists, especially teachers and people I respected, said, “No channeling! You can’t mix this together.” And now I that I was relating to Buddhism, I had such strong attachment to it. It was very hard for me to say no, we have to remain an open center, teaching both vipassana and spiritual growth. It’s good to me now; that’s what we’re intended to be doing. This is not about Buddhism; this is about us as consciousness having a human experience, and what can support that human experience into awakening. We’ll utilize all the supports, not just traditional Buddhist supports. But I love the traditional dharma.
So that’s what the dharma path is to me. You all know how hard this past 7 months has been for me. I could not have done it without this path. I would be running around, screaming, tearing my hair out. I would have run away. I would be living somewhere in Fiji, or Australia, or somewhere. There’s no way I could have stuck with this. People remark to me, often, how supportive I’m being to Hal. This is the dharma. When we commit to live our lives with love, it’s not just when it’s easy, it’s all the time. When we commit to stay open and soft and tender with pain, it’s not just when it’s easy, it’s all the time. And believe me, it’s not been easy! But the dharma is such a beautiful support. So, for me this is also a big piece of the dharma path, that we truly can live our lives with love, with an open heart, and with wisdom, even when it’s hard.
I thank my teacher Aaron and all of my dharma friends.
(John speaks on the dharma path, not recorded)
Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. A beautiful chant that has long touched my heart. The pronunciation of b-u-d-d-h-a-m is not boo-dam but boo-dong.
(John leads a chant in Pali)
Aaron: I lived many lifetimes in various Buddhist communities and practices. Certainly I revere the historical Buddha, much love for him for following the truth of his path. But the more important Buddha to me is the awakened one within each of us. Dhamma, the deepest truth of how things are. It’s not just words from sutras. It’s the profound wisdom that develops when you hold a commitment to be present, to watch the judgmental mind, the fearful mind, the confused mind, and not get caught in the stories, but just to bear witness, to be present. Sangha; awakening cannot be done alone. How can you develop compassion living all alone in a cave? There has to be connection. Loss, sorrow, fear, love, all of this is needed.
I did not learn each of these in any one lifetime, but, as I guided Barbara in this lifetime, to do some of this and then move on to what was needed to balance it. Of course, these were just how I lived each lifetime. I was blessed with wonderful teachers in some lifetimes. The beings that I was, were Barbara’s teachers in many lifetimes. So when I came to Barbara in this lifetime, I knew what her strengths were and what her weaknesses were. I knew what she still needed to develop. I knew where to help her focus her efforts and intention, and what were likely to be traps for her, places where she could get lost.
I have found through the years that most— not all, but most of you who have come to work with me and Barbara and John, most of you have practiced with me in one or many past lifetimes. So, I also know you much beyond just this lifetime. And I know your strengths and weaknesses, and how to help you rest in your strengths and open to them, and to release the weaknesses. It has been a great joy to me to see this sangha come together, to work with so many of you through so many years.
My path started with Buddha, the Awakened One, with a teacher who had utmost compassion for beings, and taught me to revere every being and see every being as divine. This many, many thousands of years ago. But of course, it took a number of lifetimes of such practice for the teaching to really hold. And then the lifetime that I spent as a friend of Jeshua, and knowing Jeshua as an Awakened One, a Buddha. That’s what the word “buddha” means, one who is awake. And the ways that Jeshua helped me to see every being as awakened. Never to demean anybody, never to disrespect anybody, nor to close my heart to anybody; but to truly know what it means to include everybody in my heart.
A profound learning in that lifetime with Jeshua was that if I see that awakened quality in everybody and develop deep compassion, there is nothing left to forgive. He taught, “Forgive everybody.” But there’s nothing left to forgive when compassion goes deep.
I could not have absorbed his teaching without many lifetimes of Buddha Dharma, of Deep practice, mostly in the Theravada tradition, but also some in Zen, Tibetan and related traditions. There needed to be a strong development of mindfulness. There needed to be a strong commitment to non-harm and service to all beings. It came together gradually through many lifetimes.
Some of you may then ask, “Aaron, what hope is there, then, for me? I’m just here in this lifetime.” Do you really believe you have not practiced this in many lifetimes before? How could you be here if you had not been practicing this? We don’t have to have called it buddha dharma. There are different native traditions, so many different traditions that are based in love. The Hebrew tradition, and the profound combination of love and of wisdom that’s at the root of Judaism; Shamanic traditions, Native traditions of great variety, Hinduism, followers of Mohammed, and much more. All of these traditions coming together in each of you, depending on your own individual karma, ready to bear fruit and blossom in this lifetime. Actually, that should be “to blossom and bear fruit” in this lifetime— let’s keep the horse in front of the cart.
For me a very important point, not in the lifetime of my final awakening, but part way through. A lifetime I probably have not spoken much about. The being I was, was a slave, living in a very cruel environment. I had been born free and taken captive during a war. Brought back in— they were not really chains but vines, but nevertheless unbreakable for me, to work for a cruel master building temples, cutting huge rocks and building temples not devoted to God but to the master, to this tyrant. To refuse to work was death. To work was also death.
I longed for my wife, my children, my parents. I did not know if they survived this cruel people’s attack on our village, only that I had been grabbed, blindfolded, bound, and dragged away stumbling, my hands bound behind my back. For a number of years, I survived on the power of hate, with a deep intention, “Someday I’m going to get loose and I’m going to kill as many of them as I can before they kill me.” My energy was tight, bound up in this hatred.
One day perhaps 5 years into this time of slavery, I had an astounding experience. Mostly it was men working. We barely saw the women, but there were women. They did the cooking for us. Of course, the owners, the slaveholders did not cook for us, they just dumped raw food. The women were those who had been taken on similar raids. We were working especially long and hard hours, so the women were told to carry baskets of prepared food to us. It was forbidden to talk to the women. They came bearing big baskets of food. My eyes were closed. I was exhausted, sitting, sweat and tears and dirt on my face, when I heard a familiar voice call my name and looked up. And there was my beloved wife. And almost in that same moment, somebody fell from a rocky wall. People rushed over to him, and the guards rushed over. So, I had a few precious moments with my wife.
“I am well,” she said. “I have not been raped or beaten. I have not been starved.” “And what of our children?” “They all escaped.” She emphasized, “I have not been raped. I have not been beaten. I have been treated with respect and kindness.” So I realized there were the guards who guarded us men, some of whom were very deeply immersed in their own pain and hatred, and could only act out that pain against us. And there were other guards, actually, she said the guards for her were all women, the guards in the kitchens, and they were kind and gentle. She simply said to me, “Forgive them. Do not hate them. They are only acting out what they know and where they are.”
That was it. The guards started to return and we dared not speak any further, just “I love you” to each other. But I began to look, after that, at what my hatred was doing to me, and how it was destroying me. I did not have a choice about whether I would remain a prisoner. It was basically impossible to escape, because even if I did, where would I go? There was no place to flee. I had a choice about how I would live.
I would not stoop to a kind of false respect for my guards, the shuffling of feet, eyes caste down, “Yes, sir; yes, sir.” Of fear and abasing myself. I decided I would only look my guards in the eye, man to man. But when I did that, I would try to be as respectful as possible, and to truly see God in that person.
It worked. A few years went by. As I respected the guards, I found it in my heart to forgive them, and to realize that they also were in their own prison. Their life was not one of wealth or comfort— they were working for this cruel tyrant too, and the higher guards above them. Hatred begets hatred. A number of us men at night would talk about this, and I guess I began to teach the dharma then, teaching people hatred begets hatred. Only love begets love. That portion of it is up to us.
Fast forward about 7 years. Of course, we didn’t know what was happening in the rest of the world, even much that was a rest of the world. But we heard myths of uprisings here and there against this cruel tyrant. One day, there was a sudden cry that there were soldiers coming. We didn’t know what to expect. Would they kill us? What would happen? Who were the soldiers? In our mind as slaves, soldiers were probably people who would hurt us. The soldiers came in and they were people from another nation, a distant place, who came— it’s hard to explain this, because hatred des beget hatred. They came not so much with hatred of people but with a strong aversion to cruelty. If they were truly averse to cruelty, they could not have killed. So they weren’t all the way there yet. But there was a deep commitment to destroy this tyrant and try to invite a world of peace, because this tyrant was a tyrant against other nations, not just his own people.
The interesting thing is that when these soldiers came, we thought our guards would kill us. The guards in fact turned and began to strike out against the very few high level, truly hated and hateful guards. I am in no way condoning killing, only, there was a very brief time of fighting and death, just less than an hour, and then a cry came up, not just for the slaves but for our guards— “We are free! We are free!” Could it have been done without killing the tyrant and his top people? Maybe. I don’t know. But guards and slaves sat down together. And I truly believe that the atmosphere of those previous years, where we were more forgiving of and kind and respectful, not hating our guards, began to breed the climate where they could respect themselves.
It changed everything. Those who were natives of that area, many of them stayed. Some chose not to stay. Of those who had been taken from other places as slaves, a few stayed. Many chose to return to their homes. My wife was still alive and well. We were given one horse for the two of us, a horse strong enough to carry us both. We rode together. In steep country we took turns walking and riding. We returned home to find our sons and daughters well, grown; greeting us with open arms.
This is a dharma path: a path of wisdom, of compassion, of forgiveness and of the loving heart, of mindfulness. Able to see, when this happens, it will have results. When that happens, it will have results. I am in charge of what happens to me. I may not be able to control what another does to me, but I can control how I relate to it. And in thus controlling, I control how I relate back to them and how they receive. Eventually kindness begets kindness, however long it takes.
In that lifetime I have just described, that freedom of the military victory was not the first freedom. The first and more important freedom was freedom from hatred in my heart. There was no longer a need to hate anyone. I was thus free, even while still bound as a slave. My body was enslaved. My heart was free.
Fortunately, you don’t have to become slaves and live such a life of hardship to find freedom, although most of you have experienced lifetimes like that. In this lifetime you have the good karma to meet the dharma as free, beautiful people, with enough to eat, with loving friends around you, without strong physical hardship. You no longer have to learn how not to hate by experiencing your selves as recipients of strong hatred.
But be careful, because when you move into hatred—and I’ve heard some of you saying how much you hate some of your present political leaders— be careful: that is hate, and it is closing your heart and drawing you back into a place of ignorance, hatred, and unwholesome karma, and dragging the whole world with you. As you each awake, as we each awake, the whole world can awake. And this awakening is the highest fruit of the dharma path. Yes, freedom from suffering, not just for you and you and you but for all beings. How can I wish for myself what I do not wish for everybody, including those I think of as my worst enemies?
The dharma path is a Buddhist path in the traditional teaching of it, but it is more importantly a human path, the path of the awakened heart come forth in love, seeking and holding wisdom, and inviting the highest healing for all beings.
Thank you for being part of this program. I love you all.