Also see: Wrong Interpretation of I AM as Background

(Article last updated: 25th June 2019 - added some excerpts by Gil Fronsdil and Thusness towards the end)

(Much of the following are a compilation of what Thusness/PasserBy wrote from a few sources with minimal editing.)

Like a river flowing into the ocean, the self dissolves into nothingness. When a practitioner becomes thoroughly clear about the illusionary nature of the individuality, subject-object division does not take place. A person experiencing “AMness” will find “AMness in everything”. What is it like?

Being freed from individuality -- coming and going, life and death, all phenomenon merely pop in and out from the background of the AMness. The AMness is not experienced as an ‘entity’ residing anywhere, neither within nor without; rather it is experienced as the ground reality for all phenomenon to take place. Even in the moment of subsiding (death), the yogi is thoroughly authenticated with that reality; experiencing the ‘Real’ as clear as it can be. We cannot lose that AMness; rather all things can only dissolve and re-emerges from it. The AMness has not moved, there is no coming and going. This "AMness" is God.

Practitioners should never mistake this as the true Buddha Mind!
"I AMness" is the pristine awareness. That is why it is so overwhelming. Just that there is no 'insight' into its emptiness nature. Nothing stays and nothing to hold on to. What is real, is pristine and flows, what stays is illusion. The sinking back to a background or Source is due to being blinded by strong karmic propensities of a 'Self'. It is a layer of ‘bond’ that prevents us from ‘seeing’ something…it is very subtle, very thin, very fine…it goes almost undetected. What this ‘bond’ does is it prevents us from ‘seeing’ what “WITNESS” really is and makes us constantly fall back to the Witness, to the Source, to the Center. Every moment we want to sink back to Witness, to the Center, to this Beingness, this is an illusion. It is habitual and almost hypnotic.

But what exactly is this “witness” we are talking about? It is the manifestation itself! It is the appearance itself! There is no Source to fall back, the Appearance is the Source! Including the moment to moment of thoughts. The problem is we choose, but all is really it. There is nothing to choose.

There is no mirror reflecting
All along manifestation alone is.
The one hand claps
Everything IS!

In between “I AMness” and no “Mirror Reflecting”, there is another distinct phase I would name it as “Mirror Bright Clarity”. The Eternal Witness is experienced as a formless crystal clear mirror reflecting all phenomenon existence. There is a clear knowledge that ‘self’ does not exist but the last trace of the karmic propensity of ‘self’ is still not completely eliminated. It resides in a very subtle level. In no mirror reflecting, the karmic propensity of ‘self’ is loosen to a great extent and the true nature of the Witness is seen. All along there is no Witness witnessing anything, the manifestation alone is. There is only One. The second hand does not exist…

There is no invisible witness hiding anywhere. Whenever we attempt to fall back to an invisible transparent image, it is again the mind game of thought. It is the ‘bond’ at work. (See Thusness's Six Stages of Experience)

Transcendental glimpses are misled by the cognitive faculty of our mind. That mode of cognition is dualistic. All is Mind but this mind is not to be taken as ‘Self’. “I Am”, Eternal Witness, are all products of our cognition and is the root cause that prevents true seeing. 

When consciousness experiences the pure sense of “I AM”, overwhelmed by the transcendental thoughtless moment of Beingness, consciousness clings to that experience as its purest identity. By doing so, it subtly creates a ‘watcher’ and fails to see that the ‘Pure Sense of Existence’ is nothing but an aspect of pure consciousness relating to the thought realm. This in turn serves as the karmic condition that prevents the experience of pure consciousness that arises from other sense-objects. Extending it to the other senses, there is hearing without a hearer and seeing without a seer -- the experience of Pure Sound-Consciousness is radically different from Pure Sight-Consciousness. Sincerely, if we are able to give up ‘I’ and replace it with “Emptiness Nature”, Consciousness is experienced as non-local. There isn't a state that is purer than the other. All is just One Taste, the manifold of Presence.

The ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’, the ‘I’, ‘here’ and ‘now’ must ultimately give way to the experience of total transparency. Do not fall back to a source, just the manifestation is sufficient. This will become so clear that total transparency is experienced. When total transparency is stabilized, transcendental body is experienced and dharmakaya is seen everywhere. This is the samadhi bliss of Bodhisattva. This is the fruition of practice.

Experience all appearance with total vitality, vividness and clarity. They are really our Pristine Awareness, every moment and everywhere in all its manifolds and diversities. When causes and conditions is, manifestation is, when manifestation is, Awareness is. All is the one reality.

Look! The formation of the cloud, the rain, the color of the sky, the thunder, all these entirety that is taking place, what is it? It is Pristine Awareness. Not identified with anything, not bounded within the body, free from definition and experience what is it. It is the entire field of our pristine awareness taking place with its emptiness nature. 

If we fall back to 'Self', we are enclosed within. First we must go beyond symbols and see behind the essence that takes place. Master this art until the factor of enlightenment arises and stabilizes, the 'self' subsides and the ground reality without core is understood.

Very often it is understood that beingness is in the experience of "I AM", even without the words and label of "I AM", the 'pure sense of existence', the presence still IS. It is a state of resting in Beingness. But in Buddhism, it is also possible to experience everything, every moment the unmanifested.

The key also lies in 'You' but it is to "see" that there is no 'You' instead. It is to 'see' that there is never any do-er standing in the midst of phenomenal arising. There is just mere happening due to emptiness nature, never an 'I' doing anything. When the 'I' subsides, symbols, labels and the entire layer of conceptual realm goes with it. What is left without a 'doer' is a mere happening.

And seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling and not only that, everything appears as purely spontaneous manifestation. A whole Presence of the manifold.

Up to a certain stage after insight of non-duality, there is a hurdle. Somehow the practitioner cannot really "breakthrough" the spontaneity of non-duality. This is because of the latent deep 'view' cannot sync with non-dual experience. Hence, the realisation/insight into the Viewless View of Emptiness is necessary. (more on Emptiness later)

Over the years I have refined the term “naturalness” into “spontaneously arise due to conditions”. When condition is, Presence Is. Not bounded within a space-time continuum. It helps to dissolve the centricity.

Since appearance is all there is and appearance is really the source, what gives rise to the diversities of appearances? “Sweetness” of sugar isn’t the “blueness” color of the sky. Same applies to “AMness”… all are equally pure, no one state is purer than the other, only condition differs. Conditions are factors that give appearances their ‘forms’. In Buddhism, pristine awareness and conditions are inseparable.

Although there is non-duality in Advaita Vedanta, and no-self in Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta rest in an “Ultimate Background” (making it dualistic), whereas Buddhism eliminates the background completely and rest in the emptiness nature of phenomena; arising and ceasing is where pristine awareness is. In Buddhism, there is no eternality, only timeless continuity (timeless as in vividness in present moment but change and continue like a wave pattern). There is no changing thing, only change.

Thoughts, feelings and perceptions come and go; they are not ‘me’; they are transient in nature. Isn’t it clear that if I am aware of these passing thoughts, feelings and perceptions, then it proves some entity is immutable and unchanging? This is a logical conclusion rather than experiential truth. The formless reality seems real and unchanging because of propensities (conditioning) and the power to recall a previous experience. (See The Spell of Karmic Propensities)

There is also another experience, this experience does not discard or disown the transients -- forms, thoughts, feelings and perceptions. It is the experience that thought thinks and sound hears. Thought knows not because there is a separate knower but because it is that which is known. It knows because it's it. It gives rise to the insight that isness never exists in an undifferentiated state but as transient manifestation; each moment of manifestation is an entirely new reality, complete in its own.

The mind likes to categorize and is quick to identify. When we think that awareness is permanent, we fail to 'see' the impermanence aspect of it. When we see it as formless, we missed the vividness of the fabric and texture of awareness as forms. When we are attached to ocean, we seek a waveless ocean, not knowing that both ocean and wave are one and the same. Manifestations are not dust on the mirror, the dust is the mirror. All along there is no dust, it becomes dust when we identify with a particular speck and the rest becomes dust.

Unmanifested is the manifestation,
The no-thing of everything,
Completely still yet ever flowing,
This is the spontaneous arising nature of the source.
Simply Self-So.
Use self-so to overcome conceptualization.
Dwell completely into the incredible realness of the phenomenal world.


In the Chinese version of the above description of I AMness, John Tan wrote in 2007,




: 修行人不可错认这便是真正的佛心啊!由于执着于觉体与甚深的业力,修行人会难以入眠,严重时会得失眠症,而无法入眠多年。"


Once a practitioner deeply experiences the illusoriness of “self/self-image”, the illusory “self-image” dissolves like a river merges into the great ocean, dissolving without a trace. This moment is also the arising of the Great Self.  This Great Self is pure, mystically alive, clear and bright, just like an empty space-mirror reflecting the ten thousand things. The coming and going, birth and death, rise and fall, the ten thousand events and ten thousand phenomena simply arise and cease according to conditions as illusory manifestations appearing from within the ground-substratum of the Great Self. The ground-substratum never gets affected, is still and without movement, without coming and without going. This Great Self is the Atman-Brahman, God-Self.

Commentary: Practitioners should not mistaken this as the True Buddha Mind! Due to the karmic force of grasping at a substance of awareness, a practitioner may have difficulty entering sleep, and in serious cases may experience insomnia, the inability to fall asleep for many years.”

-------------- Update: 15/9/2009

The Buddha on 'Source'

Thanissaro Bhikkhu said in a commentary on this sutta Mulapariyaya Sutta: The Root Sequence -
Although at present we rarely think in the same terms as the Samkhya philosophers, there has long been — and still is — a common tendency to create a "Buddhist" metaphysics in which the experience of emptiness, the Unconditioned, the Dharma-body, Buddha-nature, rigpa, etc., is said to function as the ground of being from which the "All" — the entirety of our sensory & mental experience — is said to spring and to which we return when we meditate. Some people think that these theories are the inventions of scholars without any direct meditative experience, but actually they have most often originated among meditators, who label (or in the words of the discourse, "perceive") a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, identify with it in a subtle way (as when we are told that "we are the knowing"), and then view that level of experience as the ground of being out of which all other experience comes.
Any teaching that follows these lines would be subject to the same criticism that the Buddha directed against the monks who first heard this discourse.

Rob Burbea said regarding that sutta in Realizing the Nature of Mind:
One time the Buddha to a group of monks and he basically told them not to see Awareness as The Source of all things. So this sense of there being a vast awareness and everything just appears out of that and disappears back into it, beautiful as that is, he told them that’s actually not a skillful way of viewing reality. And that is a very interesting sutta, because it’s one of the only suttas where at the end it doesn’t say the monks rejoiced in his words.
This group of monks didn’t want to hear that. They were quite happy with that level of insight, lovely as it was, and it said the monks did not rejoice in the Buddha’s words. (laughter) And similarly, one runs into this as a teacher, I have to say. This level is so attractive, it has so much of the flavor of something ultimate, that often times people are unbudgeable there.
-------------- Update: 21/7/2008

Is Awareness The Self or The Center?

The first stage of experiencing awareness face to face is like a point on a sphere which you called it the center. You marked it.

Then later you realised that when you marked other points on the surface of a sphere, they have the same characteristics. This is the initial experience of non-dual. (but due to our dualistic momentum, there is still no clarity even if there is the experience of non-duality)

Ken Wilber: While you are resting in that state (of the Witness), and “sensing” this Witness as a great expanse, if you then look at, say, a mountain, you might begin to notice that the sensation of the Witness and the sensation of the mountain are the same sensation. When you “feel” your pure Self and you “feel” the mountain, they are absolutely the same feeling.

When you are asked to find another point on the surface of the sphere, you won't be sure but you are still very careful.

Once the insight of No-Self is stabilized, you just freely point to any point on the surface of the sphere -- all points are a center, hence there is no 'the' center. 'The' center does not exist: all points are a center.

When you say 'the center', you are marking a point and claim that it is the only point that has the characteristic of a 'center'. The intensity of the pure beingness is itself a manifestation. It is needless to divide into inner and outer as there will also come a point where high intensity of clarity will be experienced for all sensations. So not to let the 'intensity' create the layering of inner and outer.

Now, when we do not know what is a sphere, we do not know that all the points are the same. So when a person first experiences non-duality with the propensities still in action, we cannot fully experience the mind/body dissolution and the experience isn't clear. Nevertheless we are still careful of our experience and we try to be non-dual.

But when the realisation is clear and sank deep into our inmost consciousness, it is really effortless. Not because it is a routine but because there is nothing needed to be done, just allowing expanse of consciousness naturally.

-------------- Update: 15/5/2008

An Elaboration on Emptiness

Like a red flower that is so vivid, clear and right in front of an observer, the “redness” only appears to “belong” to the flower, it is in actuality not so. Vision of red does not arise in all animal species (dogs cannot perceive colours) nor is the “redness” an attribute of the mind. If given a “quantum eyesight” to look into the atomic structure, there is similarly no attribute “redness” anywhere found, only almost complete space/void with no perceivable shapes and forms. Whatever appearances are dependently arisen, and hence is empty of any inherent existence or fixed attributes, shapes, form, or “redness” -- merely luminous yet empty, mere Appearances without inherent/objective existence. What gives rise to the differences of colours and experiences in each of us? Dependent arising... hence empty of inherent existence. This is the nature of all phenomena.

As you've seen, there is no The Flowerness seen by a dog, an insect or us, or beings from other realms (which really may have a completely different mode of perception). ‘'The Flowerness' is an illusion that does not stay even for a moment, merely an aggregate of causes and conditions. Analogous to the example of ‘flowerness’, there is no ‘selfness’ serving as a background witnessing either -- pristine awareness is not the witnessing background. Rather, the entire whole of the moment of manifestation is our pristine awareness; lucidly clear, yet empty of inherent existence. This is the way of ‘seeing’ the one as many, the observer and the observed are one and the same. This is also the meaning of formlessness and attributelessness of our nature.

Because the karmic propensity of perceiving subject/object duality is so strong, pristine awareness is quickly attributed to 'I', Atman, the ultimate Subject, Witness, background, eternal, formless, odorless, colorless, thoughtless and void of any attributes, and we unknowingly objectified these attributes into an ‘entity’ and make it an eternal background or an emptiness void. It ‘dualifies’ form from formlessness and attempts to separate from itself. This is not ‘I’, ‘I’ am the changeless and perfect stillness behind the transients appearances. When this is done, it prevents us from experiencing the color, texture, fabric and manifesting nature of awareness. Suddenly thoughts are being grouped into another category and disowned. Therefore ‘impersonality’ appears cold and lifeless. But this is not the case for a non-dual practitioner in Buddhism. For him/her, the ‘formlessness and attribute-less’ is vividly alive, full of colors and sounds. ‘Formlessness’ is not understood apart from ‘Forms’ – the ‘form of formlessness’, the texture and fabric of awareness. They are one and the same. In actual case, thoughts think and sound hears. The observer has always been the observed. No watcher needed, the process itself knows and rolls as Venerable Buddhaghosa writes in the Visuddhi Magga.

In naked awareness, there is no splitting of attributes and objectification of these attributes into different groups of the same experience. So thoughts and sense perceptions are not disowned and the nature of impermanence is taken in wholeheartedly in the experience of no-self. ‘Impermanence’ is never what it seems to be, never what that is understood in conceptual thoughts. ‘Impermanence’ is not what the mind has conceptualized it to be. In non-dual experience, the true face of impermanence nature is experienced as happening without movement, change without going anywhere. This is the “what is” of impermanence. It is just so.

Zen Master Dogen and Zen Master Hui-Neng said: "Impermanence is Buddha-Nature."

For further readings on Emptiness, see
The Link Between Non-Duality and Emptiness and The non-solidity of existence


Noumenon and Phenomenon

Zen Master Sheng Yen:

When you are in the second stage, although you feel that the "I" does not exist, the basic substance of the universe, or the Supreme Truth, still exists. Although you recognize that all the different phenomena are the extension of this basic substance or Supreme Truth, yet there still exists the opposition of basic substance versus external phenomena.
One who has entered Chan (Zen) does not see basic substance and phenomena as two things standing in opposition to each other. They cannot even be illustrated as being the back and palm of a hand. This is because phenomena themselves are basic substance, and apart from phenomena there is no basic substance to be found. The reality of basic substance exists right in the unreality of phenomena, which change ceaselessly and have no constant form. This is the Truth.

------------------ Update: 2/9/2008

Excerpt from sgForums by Thusness/Passerby:

AEN posted a great site about what I am trying to convey. Do go through the videos. I will divide what that are being discussed in the videos into the method, the view and the experience for ease of illustration as follows:

1. The method is what that is commonly known as self enquiry.
2. The view currently we have is dualistic. We see things in terms of subject/object division.
3. The experience can be further divided into the followings:

3.1 A strong individual sense of identity

3.2 An oceanic experience free from conceptualization.
This is due to the practitioner freeing himself from conceptuality, from labels and symbols. The mind continuous disassociates itself from all labeling and symbols.

3.3 An oceanic experience dissolving into everything.
The period of non-conceptuality is prolonged. Long enough to dissolve the mind/body ‘symbolic’ bond and therefore inner and outer division is temporarily suspended.

The experience for 3.2 and 3.3 are transcendental and are precious. However these experiences are commonly misinterpreted and distorted by objectifying these experiences into an entity that is “ultimate, changeless and independent”. The objectified experience is known as Atman, God or Buddha Nature by the speaker in the videos. It is known as the experience of “I AM” with differing degree of intensity of non-conceptuality. Usually practitioners that have experienced 3.2 and 3.3 find it difficult to accept the doctrine of Anatta and Emptiness. The experiences are too clear, real and blissful to discard. They are overwhelmed.

Before we go further, why do you think these experiences are distorted?

(hint: The view currently we have is dualistic. We see things in terms of subject/object division.)


The following writings are from another forummer who posted in another forum:

As I walked away from the computer, into the kitchen, and then the bathroom, I noticed that I can't make a distinction between the air out here, and me or the air and the sink. Where does one end and the other begin? I'm not being silly here. No, I'm saying, do you see the interplay. How could one be without the other?

I'm taking air into my lungs right now, and noticing the interplay. This keyboard is just at the end of my fingertips, like an extension of me. My mind says "No, that is a keyboard, and these are your fingers. Very different things, " but the awareness doesn't make that distinction so cut and dry. Sure, there is a seeing that my fingers look this way, and the keyboard looks different. But again, the interplay.

Why does the mind make such a distinction between silence and sound. Are we sure these are separate? I just said "yes" into the air. I noticed that there was silence, then the word came into the air, then silence again. These two "things" are married aren't they. How can one be without the other? And so are they separate? Sure, the mind says "yes" they are separate. It might even say something the teachers have said which is "you are awareness." But am I? What about these words, what about this desk. Is that awareness? Where is the distinction.

We make this stuff up as we go don't we? Whatever we want to believe. "it's all one." "I am awareness." "Jesus Christ is my savior." "Peanut butter and jelly is gross." I'm being silly now. But how would I know if these things are separate, form and formlessness if I don't look here now, at this relationship, at how they interact. Again, this feels like an open question. I could say "it's all One" or whatever as I said above and miss the chance to look again at this interplay, and see how my fingers, the keyboard, the air, the space in front of the screen, and the screen play together.


There are two forms of knowing that come into play in mindfulness. One form of knowing has to do with sensing. Sensing  our experience. Then the question is, where does sensing occur? So if you sense your hand right now. Where does the  sensing occur in your hand. Does it occur in the foot, where does it happen? Does the sensing happen in the mind?
...In your hand. Of course. Something happens in your hand, that gives you the sensations right, and I call that sensing. Sensing the hand in the hand. The hand is having its own experience of the hand. Your foot is not experiencing your hands. But that hand is having its own experience of the hand. The mind can know what that experience is, but the
hand is sensing itself. Vibrations, tension, warmth, coolness. The sensations happen right there in the hand. The hand is sensing itself. There is a kind of awareness that exists in the location of where we are experiencing it. Does that make some sense? Any of you are confused at this point?

...Part of what mindfulness practice involves is relaxing into the sensing of the experience. And just allowing ourselves to become the sensations of experience. Bringing a sense of presence or involvement... allow ourselves to really kick in that sensory experience... whatever happens in life, whatever experience we are having, has an element of also being sensory. "Awakening beckons us within everything" is a suggestion - Go in, and dive in to the immediacy of how it is being sensed. That's a nondual world. There is no duality between the experience and the sensation, the sensation and the sensing of it. There is a sensation and sensing of it right there, right? There is no sensation

without a sensing, even though you might not be paying attention to it, there is a kind of sensing that goes on there.  So part of Buddhist practice is to delve into this non-dualistic world... this undivided world of how the sensing is happening in and of itself. Most of us hold ourselves distinct from it, apart from it. We judge it, measure it, define
it against ourselves, but if we relax and delve into the immediacy of life... then there is something in there that the Buddha-seed can begin to blossom and grow.

~ Gil Fronsdal on Buddha Nature, 2004

(another part)... And as that gets kind of being settled and dealt with in practice, in order to get deeper and more  fully into our experience, we also have to somehow deal with [inaudible] very very subtle, which the traditions call a  sense of I Amness. That I Am. And it can seem very innocent, very obvious, that I'm not a doctor, I'm not this and I'm  not that, I'm not going to hold onto that as my identity. But you know, I am. I think, therefore I am. I sense, there I  am. I am conscious, therefore I am. There is some kind of Agent, some kind of Being, some kind of Amness here. Just a  sense of presence, and that presence that kinds of vibrates, that presence kinds of knows itself... just a kind of sense of Amness. And people say, well yeah, that Amness just IS, it's non-dual. There's no outside or inside, just a sense of  amness. The Buddhist traditions says if you want to enter this immediacy of life, enter into the experience of life  fully, you also have to come to terms with the very subtle sense of Amness, and let that dissolve and fall away, and then that opens up into the world of awakening, of freedom.

~ Gil Fronsdal on Buddha Nature, 2004

"Gil Fronsdal (1954) is a Buddhist who has practiced Zen and Vipassana since the 1970s, and is currently a Buddhist teacher who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Center (IMC) of Redwood City, California. He is one of the best-known American Buddhists. He has a PhD in Buddhist Studies from Stanford University. His
many dharma talks available online contain basic information on meditation and Buddhism, as well as subtle concepts of Buddhism explained at the level of the lay person."  he also received dharma transmission from a zen abbot."

Update 2021 with more quotes:

Thusness, 2009:
"...moment of immediate and intuitive illumination that you understood something undeniable and unshakable -- a conviction so powerful that no one, not even Buddha can sway you from this realization because the practitioner so clearly sees the truth of it. It is the direct and unshakable insight of ‘You’. This is the realization that a practitioner must have in order to realize the Zen satori. You will understand clearly why it is so difficult for those practitioners to forgo this ‘I AMness’ and accept the doctrine of anatta. Actually there is no forgoing of this ‘Witness’, it is rather a deepening of insight to include the non-dual, groundlessness and interconnectedness of our luminous nature. Like what Rob said, "keep the experience but refine the views"." - Realization and Experience and Non-Dual Experience from Different Perspectives


“[5:24 PM, 4/24/2020] John Tan: What is the most important experience in I AM? What must happen in I AM? There is not even an AM, just I... complete stillness, just I correct?
[5:26 PM, 4/24/2020] Soh Wei Yu: Realization, certainty of being.. yes just stillness and doubtless sense of I/Existence
[5:26 PM, 4/24/2020] John Tan: And what is the complete stillness just I?
[5:26 PM, 4/24/2020] Soh Wei Yu: Just I, just presence itself
[5:28 PM, 4/24/2020] John Tan: This stillness absorbs excludes and includes everything into just I. What is that experience called? That experience is non-dual. And in that experience actually, there is no external nor internal, there is also no observer or observed. Just complete stillness as I.
[5:31 PM, 4/24/2020] Soh Wei Yu: Ic.. yeah even I AM is nondual
[5:31 PM, 4/24/2020] John Tan: That is your first phase of a non dual experience.  We say this is the pure thought experience in stillness. Thought realm. But at that moment we don't know that...we treated that as ultimate reality.
[5:33 PM, 4/24/2020] Soh Wei Yu: Yeah… I find it weird at that time when you said it is non conceptual thought.  Lol
[5:34 PM, 4/24/2020] John Tan: Yeah
[5:34 PM, 4/24/2020] John Tan: Lol” – Excerpt from Differentiating I AM, One Mind, No Mind and Anatta
"The sense of 'Self' must dissolve in all entry and exit points. In the first stage of dissolving, the dissolving of 'Self' relates only to the thought realm. The entry is at the mind level. The experience is the 'AMness'. Having such experience, a practitioner might be overwhelmed by the transcendental experience, attached to it and mistaken it as the purest stage of consciousness, not realizing that it is only a state of 'no-self' relating to the thought realm." - John Tan, decade+ ago


Update 17/7/2021 with more quotes:

The Absolute as separated from the transience is what I have indicated as the 'Background' in my 2 posts to theprisonergreco.

    84. RE: Is there an absolute reality? [Skarda 4 of 4]
    Mar 27 2009, 9:15 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 27 2009, 9:15 AM EDT
    Hi theprisonergreco,

    First is what exactly is the ‘background’? Actually it doesn’t exist. It is only an image of a ‘non-dual’ experience that is already gone. The dualistic mind fabricates a ‘background’ due to the poverty of its dualistic and inherent thinking mechanism. It ‘cannot’ understand or function without something to hold on to. That experience of the ‘I’ is a complete, non-dual foreground experience.

    When the background subject is understood as an illusion, all transience phenomena reveal themselves as Presence. It is like naturally 'vipassanic' throughout. From the hissing sound of PC, to the vibration of the moving MRT train, to the sensation when the feet touches the ground, all these experiences are crystal clear, no less “I AM” than “I AM”. The Presence is still fully present, nothing is denied. -:) So the “I AM” is just like any other experiences when the subject-object split is gone. No different from an arising sound. It only becomes a static background as an after thought when our dualistic and inherent tendencies are in action.

    The first 'I-ness' stage of experiencing awareness face to face is like a point on a sphere which you called it the center. You marked it.

    Then later you realized that when you marked other points on the surface of a sphere, they have the same characteristics. This is the initial experience of non-dual. Once the insight of No-Self is stabilized, you just freely point to any point on the surface of the sphere -- all points are a center, hence there is no 'the' center. 'The' center does not exist: all points are a center.

    After then practice move from 'concentrative' to 'effortlessness'. That said, after this initial non-dual insight, 'background' will still surface occasionally for another few years due to latent tendencies...

    86. RE: Is there an absolute reality? [Skarda 4 of 4]
    Mar 27 2009, 11:59 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 27 2009, 11:59 AM EDT
    To be more exact, the so called 'background' consciousness is that pristine happening. There is no a 'background' and a 'pristine happening'. During the initial phase of non-dual, there is still habitual attempt to 'fix' this imaginary split that does not exist. It matures when we realized that anatta is a seal, not a stage; in hearing, always only sounds; in seeing always only colors, shapes and forms; in thinking, always only thoughts. Always and already so. -:)

Many non-dualists after the intuitive insight of the Absolute hold tightly to the Absolute. This is like attaching to a point on the surface of a sphere and calling it 'the one and only center'. Even for those Advaitins that have clear experiential insight of no-self (no object-subject split), an experience similar to that of anatta (First emptying of subject) are not spared from these tendencies. They continue to sink back to a Source.

It is natural to reference back to the Source when we have not sufficiently dissolved the latent disposition but it must be correctly understood for what it is. Is this necessary and how could we rest in the Source when we cannot even locate its whereabout? Where is that resting place? Why sink back? Isn't that another illusion of the mind? The 'Background' is just a thought moment to recall or an attempt to reconfirm the Source. How is this necessary? Can we even be a thought moment apart? The tendency to grasp, to solidify experience into a 'center' is a habitual tendency of the mind at work. It is just a karmic tendency. Realize It! This is what I meant to Adam the difference between One-Mind and No-Mind.

- John Tan, 2009

- Emptiness as Viewless View and Embracing the Transience[0]=AZWpMDEV218K3H-JyXffWytBU6hfqLg5-jh8jKv_HBTbxGFdfN-mrIlO4UgEm08Q1Z4kENhh1SCwePPimVxSZDHm-eJ0sCm3bCcs24Oz8g6UprasphjhEOSw8RQeTzm5QbFKPS1MGRr8iofZqfwnbNF0Z6UPtC9LAoK6C1QNMzqfkfJg4mHzD8Zg2SSy4Q-YQWI&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

    Kevin Schanilec
    Thank you for posting your conversation with John Tan. I'm new here - thank you for approving my joining 🙂
    It seems that the focus on “I Am” is one of the main distinguishing factors between Buddhism and Advaita/Non-dual approaches. Some very well-known teachers in the latter approach say that the Buddha taught the discovery and affirmation of the “I Am” (experienced as being-ness, consciousness, awareness, presence, etc.) as what awakening is all about, whereas the Buddha taught that it is in fact one of our more deeply-held illusions. I’d describe it as a very subtle duality that didn’t appear to be one, and yet once it goes it’s obvious that there was a duality in place.
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        Soh Wei Yu
        Kevin Schanilec
        Yes, welcome Kevin Schanilec. I have enjoyed reading some of your articles.
        Regarding I AM: The view and paradigm is still based on 'subject/object duality' and 'inherent existence' despite the moment of nondual experience or authentication. But AtR considers it also an important realization, and like many teachers in Zen, Dzogchen and Mahamudra, even Thai Forest Theravada, it is taught as an important preliminary insight or realization.
        The AtR guide has some excerpts on this:
        "As John Tan also said in 2011:
        “John: what is "I AM"
        is it a pce? (Soh: PCE = pure consciousness experience, see glossary at the bottom of this document)
        is there emotion
        is there feeling
        is there thought
        is there division or complete stillness?
        in hearing there is just sound, just this complete, direct clarity of sound!
        so what is "I AM"?
        Soh Wei Yu: it is the same
        just that pure non conceptual thought
        John: is there 'being'?
        Soh Wei Yu: no, an ultimate identity is created as an afterthought
        John: indeed
        it is the mis-interpretation after that experience that is causing the confusion
        that experience itself is pure conscious experience
        there is nothing that is impure
        that is why it is a sense of pure existence
        it is only mistaken due to the 'wrong view'
        so it is a pure conscious experience in thought.
        not sound, taste, touch...etc
        PCE (Pure Consciousness Experience) is about direct and pure experience of whatever we encounter in sight, sound, taste...
        the quality and depth of experience in sound
        in contacts
        in taste
        in scenery
        has he truly experience the immense luminous clarity in the senses?
        if so, what about 'thought'?
        when all senses are shut
        the pure sense of existence as it is when the senses are shut.
        then with senses open
        have a clear understanding
        do not compare irrationally without clear understanding”
        In 2007:
        (9:12 PM) Thusness: you don't think that "I AMness" is low stage of enlightenment leh
        (9:12 PM) Thusness: the experience is the same. it is just the clarity. In terms of insight. Not experience.
        (9:13 PM) AEN: icic..
        (9:13 PM) Thusness: so a person that has experience "I AMness" and non dual is the same. except the insight is different.
        (9:13 PM) AEN: oic
        (9:13 PM) Thusness: non dual is every moment there is the experience of presence. or the insight into the every moment experience of presence. because what that prevent that experience is the illusion of self and "I AM" is that distorted view. the experience is the same leh.
        (9:15 PM) Thusness: didn’t you see i always say there is nothing wrong with that experience to longchen, jonls... i only say it is skewed towards the thought realm. so don't differentiate but know what is the problem. I always say it is misinterpretation of the experience of presence. not the experience itself. but "I AMness" prevents us from seeing.
        In 2009:
        “(10:49 PM) Thusness: by the way you know about hokai description and "I AM" is the same experience?
        (10:50 PM) AEN: the watcher right
        (10:52 PM) Thusness: nope. i mean the shingon practice of the body, mind, speech into one.
        (10:53 PM) AEN: oh thats i am experience?
        (10:53 PM) Thusness: yes, except that the object of practice is not based on consciousness. what is meant by foreground? it is the disappearance of the background and whats left is it. similarly the "I AM" is the experience of no background and experiencing consciousness directly. that is why it is just simply "I-I" or "I AM"
        (10:57 PM) AEN: i've heard of the way people describe consciousness as the background consciousness becoming the foreground... so there's only consciousness aware of itself and thats still like I AM experience
        (10:57 PM) Thusness: that is why it is described that way, awareness aware of itself and as itself.
        (10:57 PM) AEN: but you also said I AM people sink to a background?
        (10:57 PM) Thusness: yes
        (10:57 PM) AEN: sinking to background = background becoming foreground?
        (10:58 PM) Thusness: that is why i said it is misunderstood. and we treat that as ultimate.
        (10:58 PM) AEN: icic but what hokai described is also nondual experience rite
        (10:58 PM) Thusness: I have told you many times that the experience is right but the understanding is wrong. that is why it is an insight and opening of the wisdom eyes. there is nothing wrong with the experience of I AM". did i say that there is anything wrong with it?
        (10:59 PM) AEN: nope
        (10:59 PM) Thusness: even in stage 4 what did I say?
        (11:00 PM) AEN: its the same experience except in sound, sight, etc
        (11:00 PM) Thusness: sound as the exact same experience as "I AM"... as presence.
        (11:00 PM) AEN: icic
        (11:00 PM) Thusness: yes”
        “"I AM" is a luminous thought in samadhi as I-I. Anatta is a realization of that in extending the insight to the 6 entries and exits.” – John Tan, 2018
        Excerpt from No Awareness Does Not Mean Non-Existence of Awareness :
        (11:15 PM) Thusness: but understanding it wrongly is another matter
        can you deny Witnessing?
        (11:16 PM) Thusness: can you deny that certainty of being?
        (11:16 PM) AEN: no
        (11:16 PM) Thusness: then there is nothing wrong with it
        how could you deny your very own existence?
        (11:17 PM) Thusness: how could you deny existence at all
        (11:17 PM) Thusness: there is nothing wrong experiencing directly without intermediary the pure sense of existence
        (11:18 PM) Thusness: after this direct experience, you should refine your understanding, your view, your insights
        (11:19 PM) Thusness: not after the experience, deviate from the right view, re-enforce your wrong view
        (11:19 PM) Thusness: you do not deny the witness, you refine your insight of it
        what is meant by non-dual
        (11:19 PM) Thusness: what is meant by non-conceptual
        what is being spontaneous
        what is the 'impersonality' aspect
        (11:20 PM) Thusness: what is luminosity.
        (11:20 PM) Thusness: you never experience anything unchanging
        PM) Thusness: in later phase, when you experience non-dual, there is
        still this tendency to focus on a background... and that will prevent ur
        progress into the direct insight into the TATA as described in the tata
        article. ( )
        (11:22 PM) Thusness: and there are still different degree of intensity even you realized to that level.
        (11:23 PM) AEN: non dual?
        (11:23 PM) Thusness: tada (an article) is more than is phase 5-7
        (11:24 PM) AEN: oic..
        (11:24 PM) Thusness: it is all about the integration of the insight of anatta and emptiness
        PM) Thusness: vividness into transience, feeling what i called 'the
        texture and fabric' of Awareness as forms is very important
        then come emptiness
        (11:26 PM) Thusness: the integration of luminosity and emptiness
        (to be continued)
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             · 7m
        Soh Wei Yu
        (10:45 PM) Thusness: do not deny that Witnessing but refine the view, that is very important
        (10:46 PM) Thusness: so far, you have correctly emphasized the importance of witnessing
        (10:46 PM) Thusness: unlike in the past, you gave ppl the impression that you r denying this witnessing presence
        (10:46 PM) Thusness: you merely deny the personification, reification and objectification
        (10:47 PM) Thusness: so that you can progress further and realize our empty nature.
        but don't always post what i told you in msn
        (10:48 PM) Thusness: in no time, i will become sort of cult leader
        (10:48 PM) AEN: oic.. lol
        (10:49 PM) Thusness: anatta is no ordinary insight. When we can reach the
        level of thorough transparency, you will realize the benefits
        (10:50 PM) Thusness: non-conceptuality, clarity, luminosity, transparency,
        openness, spaciousness, thoughtlessness, non-locality...all these
        descriptions become quite meaningless.
        Session Start: Sunday, October 19, 2008
        (1:01 PM) Thusness: Yes
        (1:01 PM) Thusness: Actually practice is not to deny this 'Jue' (awareness)
        (6:11 PM) Thusness: the way you explained as if 'there is no Awareness'.
        (6:11 PM) Thusness: People at times mistaken what you r trying to convey.but to correctly understand this 'jue' so that it can be experienced from all moments effortlessly.
        (1:01 PM) Thusness: But when a practitioner heard that it is not 'IT', they immediately began to worry because it is their most precious state.
        (1:01 PM) Thusness: All the phases written is about this 'Jue' or Awareness.
        (1:01 PM) Thusness: However what Awareness really is isn't correctly experienced.
        (1:01PM) Thusness: Because it isn't correctly experienced, we say that 'Awareness that you try to keep' does not exist in such a way.
        (1:01 PM) Thusness: It does not mean there is no Awareness.”
        “William Lam: It's non conceptual.
        John Tan: It’s non conceptual. Yup. Okay. Presence is not conceptual experience, it has to be direct. And you just feel pure sense of existence. Means people ask you, before birth, who are you? You just authenticate the I, that is yourself, directly. So when you first authenticate that I, you are damn happy, of course. When young, that time, wah… I authenticate this I… so you thought that you’re enlightened, but then the journey continues. So this is the first time you taste something that is different. It is… It is before thoughts, there is no thoughts. Your mind is completely still. You feel still, you feel presence, and you know yourself. Before birth it is Me, after birth, it is also Me, 10,000 years it’s still this Me, 10,000 year before, it’s still this Me. So you authenticate that, your mind is just that and authenticate your own true being, so you don't doubt that. In later phase…
        Kenneth Bok: Presence is this I AM?
        John Tan: Presence is the same as I AM. Presence is the same as… of course, other people may disagree, but actually they're referring to the same thing. The same authentication, the same what... even in Zen is still the same.
        But in later phase, I conceive that as just the thought realm. Means, in the six, I always call the six entries and six exits, so there is the sound and there’s all these… During that time, you always say I’m not sound, I’m not the appearance, I AM the Self that is behind all these appearances, alright? So, sounds, sensations, all these come and go, your thoughts come and go, those are not me, correct? This is the ultimate Me. The Self is the ultimate Me. Correct?
        William Lam: So, is that nondual? The I AM stage. It’s non-conceptual, was it nondual?
        John Tan: It’s nonconceptual. Yes, it is nondual. Why is it nondual? At that moment, there is no duality at all, at that moment when you experience the Self, you cannot have duality, because you are authenticated directly as IT, as this pure sense of Being. So, it’s completely I, there’s nothing else, just I. There’s nothing else, just the Self. I think, many of you have experienced this, the I AM. So, you probably will go and visit all the Hinduism, sing song with them, meditate with them, sleep with them, correct? Those are the young days. I meditate with them, hours after hours, meditate, sit with them, eat with them, sing song with them, drum with them. Because this is what they preach, and you find these group of people, all talking about the same language.” -
        ATR Meeting 28 October 2020
        ATR Meeting 28 October 2020
        ATR Meeting 28 October 2020
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             · 6m
        Soh Wei Yu
        "The sense of 'Self' must dissolve in all entry and exit points. In the first stage of dissolving, the dissolving of 'Self' relates only to the thought realm. The entry is at the mind level. The experience is the 'AMness'. Having such experience, a practitioner might be overwhelmed by the transcendental experience, attached to it and mistaken it as the purest stage of consciousness, not realizing that it is only a state of 'no-self' relating to the thought realm." - John Tan, decade+ ago
        “The direct realization of Mind is formless, soundless, smell-less, odourless, etc. But later on it is realised that forms, smells, odours, are Mind, are Presence, Luminosity. Without deeper realisation, one just stagnates in the I AM level and get fixated on the formless, etc. That is Thusness Stage 1.
        The I-I or I AM is later realised to be simply one aspect or 'sense gate' or 'door' of pristine consciousness. It is later seen to be not any more special or ultimate than a color, a sound, a sensation, a smell, a touch, a thought, all of which reveals its vibrant aliveness and luminosity. The same taste of I AM is now extended to all senses. Right now you don't feel that, you only authenticated the luminosity of the Mind/thought door. So your emphasis is on the formless, odourless, and so on. After anatta it is different, everything is of the same luminous, empty taste.
        And the 'I AM' of the mind door is not any more different than any other sense door, it is only different in that it is a 'different' manifestation of differing conditions just like a sound is different from a sight, a smell is different from a touch. Sure, the Mind door is odourless, but that's not any different from saying the vision door is odourless and the sound door is sensationless. It doesn't imply some sort of hierarchy or ultimacy of one mode of knowingness over another. They are simply different sense gates but equally luminous and empty, equally Buddha-nature.” – Soh, 2020
        John Tan:
        When consciousness experiences the pure sense of “I AM”, overwhelmed by the transcendental thoughtless moment of Beingness, consciousness clings to that experience as its purest identity. By doing so, it subtly creates a ‘watcher’ and fails to see that the ‘Pure Sense of Existence’ is nothing but an aspect of pure consciousness relating to the thought realm. This in turn serves as the karmic condition that prevents the experience of pure consciousness that arises from other sense-objects. Extending it to the other senses, there is hearing without a hearer and seeing without a seer -- the experience of Pure Sound-Consciousness is radically different from Pure Sight-Consciousness. Sincerely, if we are able to give up ‘I’ and replace it with “Emptiness Nature”, Consciousness is experienced as non-local. There isn't a state that is purer than the other. All is just One Taste, the manifold of Presence.
        Buddha Nature is NOT "I Am"
        Buddha Nature is NOT "I Am"
        Buddha Nature is NOT "I Am"
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             · 3m · Edited



“Session Start: Tuesday, 10 July, 2007




(11:35 AM) Thusness:    X last time used to say something like we should 'yi jue' (rely on awareness) and not 'yi xin' (rely on thoughts) bcos jue is everlasting, thoughts are impermanent... something like that. this is not right. this is advaita teaching.


(11:35 AM) AEN:    oic


(11:36 AM) Thusness:    now what is most difficult to understand in buddhism is this. to experience the unchanging is not difficult. but to experience impermanence yet know the unborn nature is prajna wisdom. It would be a misconception to think that Buddha do not know the state of unchanging. or when Buddha talked about unchanging it is referring to an unchanging background. otherwise why would i have stressed so much about the misunderstanding and misinterpretation. And of course, it is a misunderstanding that I have not experienced the unchanging. 🙂 what you must know is to develop the insight into impermanence and yet realised the unborn. this then is prajna wisdom. to 'see' permanence and say it is unborn is momentum. when buddha say permanence it is not referring to that. to go beyond the momentum you must be able to be naked for a prolong period of time. then experience impermanence itself, not labelling anything. the seals are even more important than the buddha in person. even buddha when misunderstood it becomes sentient. 🙂  longchen [Sim Pern Chong] wrote an interesting passage on closinggap. reincarnation.


(11:47 AM) AEN:    oh ya i read it


(11:48 AM) Thusness:    the one he clarify kyo's reply?


(11:50 AM) AEN:    ya


(11:50 AM) Thusness:    that reply is a very important reply, and it also proves that longchen has realised the importance of transients and the five aggregates as buddha nature. time for unborn nature. You see, it takes one to go through such phases, from "I AM" to Non-dual to isness then to the very very basic of what buddha taught… Can you see that?


(11:52 AM) AEN:    yea


(11:52 AM) Thusness:    the more one experience, the more truth one sees in what buddha taught in the most basic teaching. Whatever longchen experience is not because he read what buddha taught, but because he really experience it.


(11:54 AM) AEN:    icic..”


Also see: The Unborn Dharma

2 Responses
  1. Unknown Says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. javi gomez Says:


    I am currently letting go of trying to dissolve the subject or awareness into the 1 sound, the trees, the keyboard. I just question if there is an awareness outside of manifestation existing as a thing, a background, a subject, an awareness, a witness. I rest in non conceptuality and surrender......letting the awareness merge with object or manifestation. I also use rupert spira's technique of seeing that there is an awareness first. Awareness of I AM. According to rupert it happens by itself. If there is no I, no doer, then realizing enlightenment must also happen by itself.