DSC Books: The Awakened Heart

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Part Nine

June 4, 1997, Wednesday Night Group

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. I want to provide a brief background for those friends who are new to our group tonight. Through much of the winter and spring I have offered a series of talks, ten so far, on what I call the teachings of the Awakened Heart.

My perspective of you is that you are angels, all of you, but you’re here in an earthsuit, experiencing the heavy density of the earth plane. So I call you angels in earthsuits. The earth plane catalysts that you experience (physical, mental and emotional), are your invitations for learning. They are a blessing of the incarnation, experienced through the physical, mental and emotional bodies.

The angel is always there. You can always rest in that center of your being, but most of you have forgotten how to do that. We might call this center the Awakened Heart.

In my ongoing work with you, I have attempted to express to you that you do not need to be at war with yourselves and the experiences of these three heavier density bodies. If you step on a tack, your foot is going to bleed. There will be pain. You don’t say it shouldn’t bleed or be painful; you accept it. This is the nature of the physical body. If the emotional body is irritated in some way, such as through another’s anger at you, and emotion of fear or anger arises in you, you’re so hard on yourselves, you say, “I shouldn’t experience this.” Then you cannot learn.

I’ve spent many years trying to help you come to a place of openness to all that you are, knowing that you don’t need to enact those emotions but that you may allow the experience of them. When you learn to allow the experience of these emotions, you must acknowledge that they do cause you much pain, and at times they cause others pain. Your fear, your confusion, your greed, your anger, all of it causes pain. You cannot say “I shouldn’t feel this” but it’s skillful to inquire into what brought up those emotions or confusion.

In this phenomenal world, everything arises because conditions are present for it to arise and ceases when those conditions cease. If certain conditions are present, anger will arise. You don’t hate yourself for that, nor do you hate the conditions that led to its arising. That’s step one, finding that spaciousness where you can offer kindness both to yourself and to that which catalyzed the anger. Step two is to begin to look more deeply into the conditions and observe the illusion of separation and its resultant fear and confusion which underlie the emotions. To understand the conditions is to grow in both wisdom and compassion. Finally we come to step three, which is to know that and come to know that you have a choice. You can begin to more fully attend to the conditions that led to the result, rather than just feeling anger or blaming self or other for the arisen result. You don’t have a choice about whether external conditions arise. You have a choice in your relationship with those conditions.

Let me give an example. Perhaps often in the past when you were out walking, a large snarly dog chased you. Sometimes it actually bit you. Later, when you saw a dog, fear would start to arise. Anger at that dog might arise. We’re not talking about the same dog. There have been many different dogs that you have seen since the one who snarled and bit. Now, when you see any dog, fear and anger arise. You do not say, “I should not feel angry or afraid.” You simply note, “Here is anger, here is fear. These have arisen in my experience. I do not need to act them out but I am experiencing them, and it’s very painful.” The dog is not the primary condition for my anger and fear; mind is the primary condition, mind and old distortions.

When you come to this point where you’re ready to make a decision to look at this anger and fear, you may say, “How has it arisen in me? It has arisen because of my past memory of pain (in this example). The fear and anger I am experiencing at this present dog has absolutely nothing to do with this dog. It has to do only with my old memories. Therefore I have a choice. I cannot make a choice not to be afraid or not to be angry. I can make a choice to observe carefully the difference that this dog has not offered me any threat. This dog is wagging its tail!”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog or if it’s a person. Perhaps during your life you were abused by others and now in relationships with others you contract and are afraid. You can’t trust people. You have a choice. You can choose to act in such a way as to be safe, to withdraw yourself from the situation, to attack the other. Or you can make a skillful decision, “While I wish to be safe, and I honor that wish, I also do not choose to live my life in fear and behind armor. I choose to open and connect. I can make that choice of trust even though I am afraid.” To make such a choice is to choose from the angel, to choose from the Awakened Heart.

Such a choice is difficult. Fear is deeply ingrained. Conditioning runs deep. One may examine such fear and conditioning psychologically and come to the point where one can choose skillfully even though fear is present, but fear is still present. The old conditioning remains! Thus, one must come to understand the nature of that conditioning, and investigate the ways that even the conditions will dissolve. To agree to engage in such investigation is itself a choice.

There are many supports to choosing from the Awakened Heart. In this series of talks I have introduced you to a number of them. I’ve based this series of talks on an ancient poem by a long-ago Buddhist teacher, Shantideva. What I have offered is not a commentary on his teaching but my own understanding of his teaching. I’ve used his teaching simply as foundation to express my own understanding of how one can live from the Awakened Heart.

So tonight we come to the conclusion of this series, although certainly not to the conclusion of learning to live from the Awakened Heart. We come to the end of the final chapter of Shantideva’s poem, his last instructions. This chapter is about something familiar in Buddhist teaching. It is called “Dedication of Merit.” In this process, what one does is to make the statement from the heart, “Whatever good might come from this work, I offer it out for all beings, for the alleviation of suffering for all beings. I do not hold it for myself.”

What does it mean, not to hold it for yourself? When you help another, the teachings of every major religion say that you have found some merit for the self in doing that. For example, if you offer much generosity of spirit or possessions, in the Hebrew teachings that is a “mitzvah,” a blessed deed. Charity, not only of money but giving of oneself in every way, caring for others, is fundamental to Christianity: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Give of yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. And in Christian teachings those who do such good deeds are offered the blessing of being worthy of heaven. Buddhism has its own way of stating it. You accumulate merit. In some schools of Buddhism this is taken to be an actual point system, somebody up there with a calculator figuring how much merit you’ve accumulated.

Some of you may feel a sense of skepticism about all of these balancing systems which suggest that the soul becomes blessed in some way. I understand your skepticism, because from my perspective there is no external force keeping score. That part of it, from my perspective, is myth. But the basis upon which the myth is founded I find to be very real.

You are all evolving, all growing and learning. You are learning to live your lives with increasing love, wisdom and skill. Always those catalysts exist which will lead the human to the experience of fear, greed and anger.

The more you practice offering your energy in loving ways in the face of fear, the more you are able to overcome unskillful reactivity to fear. This is the creation of wholesome karma. In my first examples, your body was scarred from dog bites. Your being feels wounded by the various verbal and even physical abuses, abandonments, and so on, of others. Trust is so hard. Everything in your being wants either to hold yourself off or to strike out, to lash out and defend yourself. If in that moment you have the courage and love to say “no” to fear-based response, if in that moment you have the wisdom and faith to look deeply into the conditions that gave rise to the fear, to see the situation as it really is, and to know, “This dog is not offering a threat, that human is not offering a threat, I do not have to react from fear,” each time you do that you begin the establishment of a different habit. The same process works with greed and the fear: “Will there be enough for me? Will my needs be met?” How much do you each cling to abundance far beyond your simple needs out of fear?

One power of dedication of merit is the simple fact that you do not hold this merit, these “points” for yourself but offer them freely to those who have need. In this process of dedication of merit, then, we are invited to look directly at our fear that our needs will not be met. You note, “Here I have done something good. Am I going to hoard whatever merit may grow out of that for myself or can I give it, literally give it?” The practice of generosity is a very powerful antidote to selfishness and the myth of separate self. It must be done with mindfulness. It’s not a mechanical statement.

Dedication of merit does not mean refusing the gratitude of others. If people were hungry and you emptied your wallet and bought food for them and fed them and they thanked you, the Awakened Heart can say, “You are welcome.” It is the ego which wants to be affirmed, wants to be loved and exalted, which grabs at that thank you and then fear believes it must abolish the ego and says, “Oh, I shouldn’t accept thanks.” It’s afraid of the ego’s liking it so it shoves it away.

Then you say, “No, it was nothing.” Nothing? You fed fifty people. “It was nothing.” Why not just “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”? There’s the recognition, “I have done something in service of others. My ego wants to hold onto that, wants to feel affirmed, to feel good. But what I’m going to do here is to make the clear inner statement from the heart-it doesn’t have to be said aloud-”Whatever good may come of all this, my ability to be generous, others’ gratitude, the whole situation, whatever good may come of it, I offer it back out, just like I offered the money to buy that food, I offer this also back out for the good of all beings.”

Can you see that to do that first you must understand that many motivations gave rise to offering your money and buying food. You find both the deeply loving motivation, empty of self, and also that which wants to be the good one, or that which is discomforted by others’ pain and wants to fix them. Both the clear motivations and the ego-based motivations are there. To observe in this way and continue to offer yourself means you must find space for the ego-based motivations. They are there. They are no longer a driving force one way or the other. You recognize there is a purity of intention which is a primary motivator, simply an intention to serve suffering in the world from a place of love, empty of ego. And then the thank you comes, and ego thinks, “Well, at least I can have that to hold onto and inflate myself a bit.” No, you can’t have that either. But there’s no disdain for ego, just awareness of it’s arising. Take in the thanks and give it back out again: “This is for all beings and the alleviation of suffering.”

By working persistently in this way, you constantly invite yourself to investigate the ego aspect of the self, to smile to it, to embrace it, and to come back to the Awakened Heart. Increasingly, that Awakened Heart becomes the primary motivator.

It doesn’t matter what this dedication of merit refers to. It can be the situation I just described, giving material charity in some way, or supporting others and offering the whole situation and the gratitude of the situation back out. It could be your own spiritual work. You are sitting in meditation, working persistently, deeply, as many of you will be on our retreat in two weeks. Certain insights arise because of your own courage and faith and presence. Ego again wants to say, “Ah, look how good I am. This was so difficult and I moved through it. I now have all this clarity.” Ego wants to run with this. Instead, do congratulate yourself for your hard work and then note, “I offer all of this clarity back out for the alleviation of suffering for all sentient beings. I don’t have to hold it for myself.” To do that you must look at the place of fear that believes it has to hold it, has to be better, has to be up on a pedestal. So to offer it out is to constantly step down from the pedestal. You accept the thanks but you don’t have to sit on the pedestal. And you don’t have to attack the ego self that thinks it would like to sit on a pedestal.

In Buddhist teaching, many perfections are listed. Generosity, which was one chapter of our Awakened Heart series, generosity is the first one. Generosity is no less highly regarded in the teachings of any major religion. This dedication of merit really is the practice of generosity. It can be practiced in a very simple and direct way which is this: any time that something joyful, pleasant, or supportive happens to you, simply remind yourself to share it. Whether it is physical or nonmaterial, share it. If people smile at you, share that smile, send it back out into the world. Don’t keep it for yourself. If you happen to have the good fortune to win the lottery, share some of that money, send it back out into the world to places where there’s a need. It’s the practice of letting go. Dedication of merit is generosity and letting go, but it has one more aspect to it. It is a very conscious practice. It reminds you of the suffering of so many beings. It reminds you of your own resolve to serve beings who are suffering, your own resolve not to be part of the confusion but part of the healing.

The more frequently you make that resolve to yourself and others, the easier it becomes to live it. It becomes a natural gesture. You pick up an apple and cut it in half and offer half to your friend. You don’t think about, “Will I have enough to eat?” With practice those fears do stop arising. So it is a wonderfully freeing practice. And finally, it really does attend to the world’s suffering because so much of the suffering on your human plane is caused by greed, fear and aversion. When each of you truly learns of your interconnection with all beings and is able increasingly to enact that interconnection, much suffering will be alleviated. So this is not just conceptual, it’s not simply the dedication of some kind of hypothetical point system, it’s an actual extension of your own being and energy, taking whatever comes to you and sending it back out, over and over again, learning truly to express that love which is your true self. This conscious giving establishes the habit of giving, of opening the heart, and in the open heart, fear is resolved.

In conclusion of this talk, I would like to do tonglen and to teach it to those for whom it is new. It’s a practice that’s very much connected to this dedication of merit. It’s not quite the same thing. But it’s a way of receiving and sending out. Its roots are in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s a very simple practice. What I teach you here is not what a Tibetan lama might teach you, but it’s my own interpretation. Close enough, certainly, to be called tonglen.

I would ask you first to sit up so that your spines are more erect. I pause.

Visualize yourself sitting in a cylinder of light. Simply imagine it if you can’t feel it. But you are all sitting in such cylinders of light. I see them surrounding you. Feel that light coming into the crown chakra. Breathing in, draw that light into the heart center and then simply breathe it out, release it. Again, drawing in light through the crown chakra, let it move through the body to the heart center. Now we’re going to add the second step. Exhale and let it rest in the heart center. Inhale, visualizing a being who is suffering. It might be someone you know who is currently in pain. It might be a face that you saw on a scene on the television news, somebody suffering from some disaster or war. Breathe out this light and love, this energy that you brought in through the heart. Let it flow out through the breath, directing it toward that being. You’re not forcing it out. You’re offering it to them. You don’t have to visualize them accepting or not accepting. Your part of this is simply to draw in light through the crown chakra and down to the heart with the inhale. Then to visualize the being who is suffering and send this light out to them.

You can do it at half-normal speed, a full breath in and out for each step, or full speed breathing in light with the inhale down to the heart, and with the exhale, seeing the one who is suffering and sending it out. Inhale light down to the heart, exhale, visualizing the one who is suffering and sending it out. Some of you find this practice more useful at this pace because mind does not tend to wander. It’s a very quick pace. In, out, in, out. Some of you like to do it in a more conscious way, taking more time.

Breathe in light and as you exhale, feel it filling the heart center. Breathing in again, visualize the one who is suffering, and as you exhale, send it out. I’m going to ask you now to practice this for about one minute at whichever pace feels most comfortable to you. I will be quiet.


Now we will add the second step. I would state here that the second step is part of the traditional tonglen practice but it is also a useful practice simply to do this much, to be aware of suffering and send out energy as light to that suffering. For the second part, I ask you to see that suffering as a heavy black tar-like mass. You have just exhaled sending out your light to this one who is suffering. Now, as you inhale, see the suffering as a heavy black mass, inhale and draw it in. You might see a connection, that being’s heart to your heart, and this heavy black mass traveling along a beam of light right into your heart.

This is difficult. It takes a great deal of courage to let it in. Allow in that suffering with the inhale. Exhale. Feel it in your heart. Observe any desire to separate yourself from it or defend yourself and just let it be there for this moment. Inhale. Intention to release it. You don’t have to keep it, it’s just moving through in the same way the light came through. You did not keep the light, did not hoard it for yourselves, but sent it out. Inhale the suffering. Exhale, feeling it in the heart. Inhale intention to release and with the exhale, let it move up and out the crown chakra, just send it out. Again, the second step may be done at half or double speed. The fast way, simply see that black heavy tar-like mass of suffering: inhale, breathe it in, exhale, release. Inhale, breathe it in, exhale, release. Inhale, light. Send it out. Inhale the suffering, the blackness. Exhale, release it.

And the slower way. Inhale light. Exhale, feel it in the heart center. Inhale, seeing the one who is suffering, intention to release. Exhale, send it out. As you send it out, there is awareness of this heavy black tar-like mass of suffering. Inhale, bring it in. Exhale, feel the weight of it and darkness of it in the heart. Inhale, intention to release, aware of the vast light and love of the universe. Exhale, send it out.

For those of you who feel a close connection with a great master such as Jesus or the Buddha, you can visualize yourself sending it out to one of these and that one receiving it. Or it can be any great master. For those who do not find the presence of such a being in your spiritual experience, simply send it out to the universe.

Let us do this practice at whatever pace best fits your needs. Inhale light, feeling it come to the heart center. Visualizing the one who is suffering, send it out. Inhale that suffering, letting it come into the heart center. Visualizing that loving energy of the universe, send it out up through the crown chakra. Breathe light into the heart center. Visualizing suffering, send out that light. Feel darkness and suffering and inhale. Feel it heavy in the heart center and visualize the spaciousness which receives it, breathe it out and release.

I will be quiet now for some time while you practice this on your own.

(Long pause.)

As you conclude, take a moment to clear yourself, letting go of any of that heaviness and darkness which you may not fully have released. Check your own internal reserve to be certain that as you drew light through you and sent it out, you did not in any way deplete the energy of the self. If you feel in need of more energy for the self, draw it in. And this time as it comes to the heart center, simply let it spread through your body. If there is surplus, let it go.

I know it is the intention of this group that these talks will be bound together in a book and made available. I consider this a very valuable service. Of course, there is much more that could be said, there always is. But the steps of the Awakened Heart practice which I have delineated through this year will be a great support to you as you strive to live increasingly from this very beautiful and divine aspect of the self, from this Awakened Heart.

That is all.

Barbara: Aaron is suggesting we take a short break. He says usually we go into questions here but he thinks people need a bit of time to make the transition from meditation into the questions …

(Break and continue.)

Ca: (Long question about a client in a mutually painful and potentially violent situation. Details omitted.) My question for Aaron is, I feel I was working with the tonglen meditation sending love to both of these people. What is my responsibility here?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question, Ca. There are various levels of responsibility. In your role as a counselor, I do believe that you are legally required to make known to some authority if a person whom you are counseling is felt truly to be a danger to another. That legal requirement supersedes any confidentiality. And yet, she is only a danger to another if another first harms her. Certainly you do not want to act on your fear to put her into the difficult situation of being taken into some kind of custody because she might be a threat to somebody who is threatening her.

There are many strands here and I think it needs to be sorted out carefully. The ancient question, which is the voice of love, which is the voice of fear? This woman came to you for help because of her tendency to violence. If she can hear you, this is a perfect place for her to practice. My sense is that she is not yet ready to hear you fully but can at least hear you in part. You can’t talk about forgiveness to her, she’s not ready for that. But you can talk to her about how this other person’s anger mirrors her own. How violence begins and may be stopped. How we bear the fruit of what we sow. If we sow pain and violence, its repercussions come back to us. But she doesn’t need to be part of those repercussions in a direct and physical way. So it’s an opportunity for her to learn something of immense value, perhaps through the very difficult and painful situation of the other’s enactment of the threat.

I think that you can impart some of this to her: a fundamental understanding of karma; an explanation of how she has been given a situation in which she really has a choice, to move with her old tendencies or to withhold those tendencies and instead to seek to find compassion for herself and for this other person. As I said, not yet forgiveness but simply kindness and compassion, awareness of her pain, awareness of the other’s pain. Most emphatically, this is such a valuable opportunity for learning.

From your perspective, Ca, you cannot control what she chooses. It is not your responsibility to control it. It may be that this other person will do harm to the pet. It may be that your client will kill the other person. Then both will suffer immensely. You can hold a door open for them, you cannot push them through. You cannot take away their suffering. You can show them through the open door that on that far side the grass is cool and green and on this side there are jagged rocks that are afire. You cannot force them to choose the cool green grass. How many times must they walk on the jagged rocks before they learn? Perhaps to walk on those rocks is precisely what they need, to have their feet torn to shreds.

I am not suggesting that painful catalyst is needed for learning. But sometimes in our confusion, it seems to be what we need. If this is her choice, you cannot take it away from her.

I presume that you have taught this woman metta (lovingkindness meditation). And I would hope that she might be practicing such lovingkindness meditation for her beloved pet, for herself and then for the difficult person. Through the development of this kind of lovingkindness, we can develop the capacity to make space for immense suffering without needing to enact the inclination to attack that which has been catalyst for suffering. It is this ability to rest in this place of strength which is your greatest tool. You can impart this to her and actually practice aloud with her, talking about hypothetical situations and how she might feel. Encourage her increasing ability to see deeply into another’s pain, which seeing is the greatest tool for alleviating her own outrage. It doesn’t mean that she is to sit back and allow this person to destroy what she loves, but it’s useful to point out to her there are legal channels. She does not have to be the instrument of retaliation.

Q: As suffering is brought through the heart chakra, whether it is someone else’s or my own, is the suffering not transformed as it is released through the head chakra?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question. Suffering is fear. Suffering grows out of the desire to have things different than they are, not to want to be with what really is. This is not to be confused with a move to attend to that which is distorted. If somebody’s thirsty, you offer them water. If your puppy has a thorn in its foot, you pull it out. But the movement comes from a place very empty of self. The basic movement of offering the water or pulling out the thorn is bringing love to pain, to fear, to distortion. From my perspective I see this literally as related to the density or lightness of the energy field. The being resting in a very clear space has an energy field which is very open, filled with light of a very high vibrational frequency. The being who is deep in distortion, and who, due to that distortion, invariably suffers, has a low vibrational frequency. The density of its energy field prohibits light.

As you work with a meditation like tonglen, drawing light in and releasing it, drawing darkness and suffering in and releasing it, the true transformation comes. As your own energy field takes that denser energy field in which there was suffering and literally lightens it, it’s like adding cream to coffee or blowing bubbles in water. It’s less dense. It’s lighter. I do not have the words to describe the process technically to you. I would say yes to your question. The fact that it is moving through your energy field is what transforms it. And yet that is not all of the process because you as human do not have the ability yet to fully transform it. This is why you don’t hold it within you and continue to work with it and lighten it. You let it go and take more and let it run through you and release it again. Then there are spiritual resources beyond you who also run it through themselves and lighten it further.

So you are just one step in this chain. Does this adequately answer your question? I would add here that I find this a fascinating question and would enjoy the opportunity to speak further to it. Precisely how does it work that you can draw light in and send it out to others? What’s happening there? What’s happening as you draw that suffering in and release it? This touches on the whole question of your own infinite power. The clearer you are, the more in connection with your infinite power and your divinity, the more fully you can transform suffering. The more muddied you are, off-center and unclear, stuck in the various fears of your own ego which likes to be a savior, which likes to fix, which wants the attention and affirmation offered to it when it helps others, the less clarity you can offer.

If you are at war with those aspects of yourself then you solidify them. Then the negative aspects become much more involved in the process than the clear, divine aspect of the self. You can not clarify that shadow energy when you are unwilling to acknowledge your infinite power because your infinite power still frightens you, because there will still be ego self with which you are at war. I do not mean by this that the ego self must go but war must go. Then the ego self can just be there. It’s just a cloud passing through, it has nothing to do with the pure self which is infinite and able to do very great transformation. Does this sufficiently answer your question? I pause.

Ce: Aaron had suggested during the meditation that those of us who felt drained of power and energy at the end should replenish it. What is happening then?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question, Ce. What is happening is that you’re human. The ego self does get involved. If it was only the pure spirit body that was doing tonglen, you would be an empty vessel through which this energy flowed. You would not put any of your personal energy in because you would be absolutely certain of the sufficiency of that which flowed through you, that there was absolute abundance, and no need to fear that there might not be enough. There would be no personal self to contract and think, “I should do more,” no personal self to feel guilt. But you are human, you are not the pure spirit body. And so the human, at whatever level of clarity it has, does this work as instrument for the light and also does pull in some of the human confusion. The thought of the being who is suffering and then perhaps the very brief thought, “Am I doing enough? Am I doing this well enough?” may arise together. These kinds of questions do tend to lead you to drain your own energy without opening yourself to replace that energy.

I would use here the analogy of a being who sees other people who are dying of thirst. You are a bit thirsty yourself and you have a half-dozen canteens of water. You give out the first four of them, sip by sip, and by now a day is passed. In the intensity of your work, you have not permitted yourself to drink. You look at the people around you and say, “They’re dying of thirst, how can I drink this?” But if that sense of guilt and fear is directing you, then you will give it all away and not attend to your own thirst. I’m not suggesting you need to gulp down a jug of water all by yourself. That also would be a statement of fear-”What if I won’t have enough? So I’m going to fill myself with it. I’ll even pour it over my head so my skin absorbs it.” On the other hand, what if you sip it? Then you’re more available to others because you’re taking care of yourself.

Because you are human, most of you get caught in giving it all away, reacting to the ego place that is slightly uncertain of itself as it gives. And then you deplete yourself. So we simply end the meditation by checking whether you feel depleted. It’s like a sponge, it can only absorb so much. If you put the sponge in water and it’s full, it won’t absorb any more. You let yourself take what you need and then pass on the rest. You must ask yourself, “Is it fear that wants to take three sponges full instead of one?” You are to take what you need and pass on the rest. It really is very straightforward. I pause.