Writing this article has been on my to-do list for a few months but I couldn't do it due to exams and workload. Now I'm having a short holiday so I think I should quickly get this typed out.

There is a kind of pathology or danger in various kinds of insights because they are partial and one may not have yet seen the complete picture. As you may have seen in my recent discussions, the pathology or danger in non-doership is that one will fall into a kind of extreme deterministic thinking - that somehow because there is no doer, nothing can/should be done about things. This leads to a very passive attitude to things, or rather, one is restricted to experiencing no-self in a passive way (of merely letting experience happen in non-doership), one which prevents the experience of non-dual in action/activities via complete non-dual engagement, involvement, incorporating intentions, and later going into total exertion. (Also non-doership does not imply one has arisen non-dual insight)

Furthermore, someone who had some insight into the non-division of subject and object can fall into the extremes of subsuming (either object into subject like certain forms of traditional and neo Vedanta, or subsuming subject into object like Actualism), and via subsuming all phenomena into pure subjectivity, end up with an extreme notion of solipsism (the view that there is no others, only me).

Then there is the often mentioned-by-me (and Thusness) "disease of non-conceptuality". And finally -- blindness to karmic propensities, the afflictive actions and conditioning arising out of delusional framework of inherency and subject/object.

As I pasted some days back an excerpt from Thusness from one year ago on the disease of non-doership:

"John Tan: Nihilistic tendencies arise when the insight of anatta is skewed towards the no-doership aspect. The happening by itself must be correctly understood. It appears that things are accomplished by doing nothing but in actual case it is things get done due to ripening of action and conditions.

So the lack of self-nature does not imply nothing needs be done or nothing can be done. That is one extreme. At the other end of extreme is the self-nature of perfect control of what one wills, one gets. Both are seen to be false. Action + conditions leads to effect.

June 1 at 11:32am · Unlike · 8"

And I just wrote:

"What you said is not completely wrong but can be misleading unless you understand 'nature' as 'dependent origination' (replying to a post about anger, killing, suffering being the expression of nature instead of a self). Which is to say, it is not fate, or some sort of outside determinism, nor is it spontaneous arising without causes, but simply dependencies playing out here.

For example, torturing people is the result of ignorance, aggression, etc etc. There are various causes and conditions as listed in the twelve links of dependent arising. And it is not something that is fixed. By engaging in dharma practice we deal with the afflictions and liberate them. Four noble truths are like what doctor does - diagnosis, cause, relief, cure. Four noble truths are completely in alignment with "no self, dependent origination". It would be erroneous if a doctor realizes there is no self, therefore, thinks that all diseases are 'just as it is' and should not or cannot be dealt with. They should be dealt with. But they are dealt with not via the attempting to exert control or hard will via by the false notion of agency (sickness can't be cured merely by trying to will or control it out of existence - there are so many dependencies involved). They are dealt with via seeing its dependent origination and treating its dependent origination in a non-inherent way.

Now in the case of 'torturing', if someone practices metta, it can help (or if you prefer, leave out the 'someone' -- 'practicing metta can help'). Then when fundamental delusion is cleared, aggression can no longer arise. There is nobody controlling anger, anger arise whether one wants to or not -- yet it can be treated by applying the right antidote (e.g. metta) or actualizing wisdom so that it releases (e.g. anatta, twofold emptiness), just like diseases happen whether one wants to or not -- yet there is medicine, cure. There is suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path that ends suffering."

Thusness then added on:

"“There is nobody controlling anger, anger arise whether one wants to or not”

Maybe sees it this way:

There is no one controlling anger, anger arises due to dependent origination.

With ignorance comes attachment. When attachment meets its secondary conditions, anger arises. Without secondary conditions, anger does not arise. Although it does not arise, it will not cease to arise unless the primary cause is severed. Here the appearance of “spontaneous arising” is seen from the perspective of DO.

Seeing this way, there is anatta; there is dependent origination; there is mindfulness of the cause of anger, the conditions, the cure and the ending of it. There is no bypassing as in “nothing needs be done”, albeit no-self."


Now.. there is another pathology which actually is the main one I wanted to address in this post.

On solipsism, as pointed out by Thusness before based on his own experience (that is, he too faced this tendency of solipsism after an initial breakthrough to nondual over a decade ago), the danger of someone going into nondual or even emptiness without the taste of total interpenetration is that one can easily fall into the extremes of solipsism. If we are directly experiencing our reality like in Vipassana, what we see are endless dependencies - seamless and intricate, in such a case there is no danger of falling into the view of solipsism.

As I wrote in my article Dharma Body last year: "...(Note: Dharma as simply a unit of experience dependently originating - not implying any inherently existing material universe [as the universe/dharma body here is seen as marvelous activities/phenomena dependently originating seamlessly without center or boundaries], nor is this dharma body in any sense a subjective body at all [if it is subjectively self-existent then causes and conditions will not be incorporated nor necessary for any given manifestation])..." - http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.sg/2013/09/dharma-body.html

Also, as Piotr shared last month, "...what Soh told me in the past, if we apply Buddha's deconstruction from sound example from sutra, then clarity I call visual form right now of this laptop, letters is no more "mine" than any of secondary conditions right now, and Buddha's teaching about not-mine and other teachings sealed possibility of solipsism permanently for me. Somehow [solipsism] for me its non-issue lol "

He's referring to what I told him many months ago:

"Thusness wrote "you see, when we say there is no self or other, we can still not see in terms of DO."

I commented: this is very important.. and lately I'm seeing it more as well. To overcome all sense of I, me, and even mine, D.O. has to step in. Many people talk about no I, no background, but still there is sense of mine... and there are also those that say everything is 'the manifestation of my mind or my nature'.. that is subtly subsuming everything to mind. Even if there is no duality.

In dependent origination you totally see the entire formation of interdependencies... not in words but directly taste the totality of its workings forming every moment of experience. When the drum beat sounds you don't see it as just 'the manifestation of my mind' but you see it as the person hitting, the drum, the vibration, the ears etc... all in total exertion... how can that have anything to do with I or mine? It is not 'mine' anymore than it is the person hitting, the drum's, the vibration's... etc. It is not only that there is no hearer behind sound... not only no I but no mine at all.. the sound itself does not belong to anyone... it is the entire universe in total exertion so to speak.. but it is not understood in logic. You have to see the whole process and interdependencies directly. Breathing is like this... walking is like this... every action every experience is like this. This is the path to dissolve I, me, mine... only through D.O. is the release thorough.

Not 'everything is just consciousness' or 'everything is my consciousness'... consciousness isn't that special or important. It does not have a special, independent, ontological status. Rather it is the interdependencies the workings of D.O. through which that moment of consciousness/experience is in total exertion. The true turning point is when mind is completely separated from mine.. I, me, mine.. the dualistic and inherent tendency must be dissolved and replaced with the wisdom of D.O."

Some conversations with Thusness back in 2012 are quite illuminating on this subject:

10/22/2012 9:09 AM: John: To me is just is "AEN" an eternal being...that's all. No denial of AEN as a conventional self

10/27/2012 2:48 PM: John: All is just him is an inference too. There is no other is also an assumption
10/27/2012 2:48 PM: AEN: That's what I said lol
10/27/2012 2:48 PM: AEN: He didn't see it
10/27/2012 2:49 PM: John: But other mindstreams is a more valid assumption. Don't u think so?
10/27/2012 2:50 PM: John: And verifiable
10/27/2012 2:50 PM: AEN: Yeah

10/27/2012 6:21 PM: John: Whatever in conventional reality still remain, only that reification is seen through. Get it?
10/27/2012 6:23 PM: John: The centre is seen through be it "subject" or "object", they r imputed mental constructs.
10/27/2012 6:24 PM: John: Only the additional "ghostly something" is seen through
10/27/2012 6:26 PM: AEN: Ic..
10/27/2012 6:26 PM: John: Not construing and reifying. Nothing that "subject" does not exist.
10/27/2012 6:26 PM: John: Get it?
10/27/2012 6:28 PM: John: This seeing through itself led to implicit non-dual experience
10/27/2012 6:28 PM: AEN: "Nothing that "subject" does not exist." - what u mean?
10/27/2012 6:29 PM: John: Not "subject" or "object" does not exist.
10/27/2012 6:30 PM: John: Or dissolving object into subject or subject into object...etc
10/27/2012 6:30 PM: AEN: Ic..
10/27/2012 6:30 PM: John: That "extra" imputation is seen through.
10/27/2012 6:30 PM: AEN: Oic
10/27/2012 6:31 PM: John: R u clear? Conventional reality still remain as it is.
10/27/2012 6:34 PM: John: Btw focus more on practice in releasing any holdings....do not keep engaging on all these.
10/27/2012 6:35 PM: AEN: Ic.. Conventional reality are just names imposed on non-inherent aggregates right
10/27/2012 6:35 PM: John: Yes
10/27/2012 6:37 PM: John: That led to releasing of the mind from holding...no subsuming of anything
10/27/2012 6:39 PM: John: What u wrote is unclear
10/27/2012 6:40 PM: John: Do u get what I mean?
10/27/2012 6:42 PM: AEN: Yeah
10/27/2012 6:43 PM: John: Doesn't mean AEN does not exist...lol
10/27/2012 6:43 PM: John: Or I m u or u r me
10/27/2012 6:44 PM: John: Just not construing and reifying
10/27/2012 6:44 PM: AEN: Ic..
10/27/2012 6:45 PM: AEN: Nondual is collapsing objects to self, thus I am you
10/27/2012 6:45 PM: AEN: Anatta simply sees through reification, but conventionally I am I, you are you
10/27/2012 6:45 PM: John: Or collapsing subject into object
10/27/2012 6:45 PM: AEN: Ic..
10/27/2012 6:45 PM: John: Yes
10/27/2012 6:46 PM: John: U r still unclear abt this and mixed up
10/27/2012 6:47 PM: John: Seeing through the reification of "subject", "object", "self", "now", "here"
10/27/2012 6:48 PM: John: Get it?
10/27/2012 6:48 PM: AEN: Oic..
10/27/2012 6:48 PM: John: Seeing through "self" led to implicit non-dual experience
10/27/2012 6:49 PM: John: Coz experience turns direct without reification
10/27/2012 6:49 PM: John: In seeing, just scenery
10/27/2012 6:50 PM: John: Like u see through the word "weather"
10/27/2012 6:51 PM: John: That weather-ness
10/27/2012 6:51 PM: John: Be it subject/object/weather/...etc
10/27/2012 6:52 PM: AEN: ic..
10/27/2012 6:53 PM: John: That is mind free of seeing "things" existing inherently
10/27/2012 6:53 PM: John: Experience turns vivid direct and releasing
10/27/2012 6:55 PM: John: But I don't want u to keep participating idle talk and neglect practice...always over emphasizing unnecessarily
10/27/2012 6:57 PM: AEN: Oic..
10/27/2012 7:06 PM: John: What happens to experience?
10/27/2012 7:10 PM: John: I hv very important deal that should take place within this month hopefully they go through smoothly...we meet after that
10/27/2012 7:13 PM: AEN: Oic.. Ok..
10/27/2012 7:13 PM: AEN: U mean after anatta? Direct, luminous, but no ground of abiding (like some inherent awareness)
10/27/2012 7:15 PM: John: And what do u mean by that?
10/27/2012 7:20 PM: AEN: Means there are only transient six sense streams experience, in seen just seen, etc
10/27/2012 7:20 PM: AEN: Nothing extra
10/27/2012 7:21 PM: John: Six stream experiences is just a convenient raft
10/27/2012 7:21 PM: John: Nothing ultimate
10/27/2012 7:23 PM: John: Not only must u see that there is no Seer + seeing + seen...u must see the immerse connectedness
10/27/2012 7:26 PM: John: Implicit Non-dual in experience in anatta to u means what?


Then, there is another disease after one has some non-conceptual direct realization -- be it I AMness or some sort of non-dual insight, one has a direct taste of pristine, unsullied Awareness or Presence. One's practice then becomes based on that direct taste, that taste is only present when one is bare, naked and non-conceptual.

Furthermore, one may find that 'thoughts' is a source of much misery and confusion, and think that the goal of practice is therefore to completely strip off all thoughts. These practitioners could not find a resolution to these confusion and so they resorted to practice of non-conceptuality and naked awareness (however if they did realize anatta and emptiness, these confusions will dissolve but not via grasping to a state of non-conceptuality). Actually, suffering and confused thoughts are the result of a more fundamental underlying cause -- delusion, view of inherency, and so it is more important to resolve those fundamental underlying causes that causes grasping.

As I often quoted from Thusness in this article on the disease of non-conceptuality:

Excerpt: "In case 1 practitioners see ‘The seen is neither subjective nor objective.... it just IS....’
In terms of experience, practitioners will feel Universe, Life. However this is not anatta but rather the result of stripping off (deconstructing) identity and personality.

When this mode of non-conceptual perception is taken to be ultimate, the terms “What is”, “Isness”, “Thusness” are often taken to mean simply resting in non-conceptuality and not adding to or subtracting anything from the ‘raw manifestation’. There is a side effect to such an experience. Although in non-conceptuality, non-dual is most vivid and clear, practitioners may wrongly conclude that ‘concepts’ are the problem because the presence of ‘concepts’ divides and prevent the non-dual experience. This seems logical and reasonable only to a mind that is deeply root in a subject/object dichotomy. Very quickly ‘non-conceptuality’ becomes an object of practice. The process of objectification is the result of the tendency in action perpetually repeating itself taking different forms like an endless loop. This can continue to the extent that a practitioner can even ‘fear’ to establish concepts without knowing it. They are immobilized by trying to prevent the formation of views and concepts. When we see ‘suffering just IS’, we must be very careful not to fall into the ‘disease’ of non-conceptuality."

What these practitioners fail to understand that the key to release does not lie in trying to sustain a state of non-conceptuality or naked awareness, but in releasing the various bonds of consciousness that reifies self and phenomena. Very soon, non-conceptuality itself becomes one's new bondage and attachment. Non-conceptual experience isn't itself a problem, but attachment to it or treating as a be-all end-all of practice is problematic.

In fact, non-conceptual experience should be complemented with right view, and at the beginning even a conceptual understanding of right view can be very helpful, as it serves as a condition for direct realization of emptiness. As Thusness also wrote, "...The journey of emptying also convinces me the importance of having the right view of Emptiness even though it is only an intellectual grasped initially. Non-conceptuality has its associated diseases…lol…therefore I always advocate not falling to conceptuality and yet not ignoring conceptuality. That is, strict non-conceptuality is not necessary, only that habitual pattern of reification needs be severed..." - http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.sg/2014/07/a-and-emptiness.html

Only after deepening of insights do we realize, it is the realization and actualization of twofold emptiness that is the definitive path of self-release/liberation. This is discussed more indepth in my previous article, "Self-Release".

Then comes the fourth pathology -- blindness to karmic propensities.

What is karmic propensities? Kyle Dixon wrote: "...the very act of 'holding' or grasping is another factor which reifies a subject relating to objects. For the very act of 'holding' presupposes something to be held and a subject to hold it, and that activity in and of itself implies these two. The action or activity literally creates the illusion of a subject-object dichotomy, and if that illusion is not seen for what it is, then the entire process runs away with itself, becoming an intricate and delusional structure of habitual tendencies which are conventionally referred to as a 'self'. Again, there is no self contained therein, within, or apart from that activity, but the delusion surrounding that activity cannot see that in the absence of insight which reveals it to be so.

For example, if we were to say there is only unpleasant emotions and no entity which is feeling those emotions; emptiness would argue that those emotions are still arising due to either accepting or rejecting. The very act of accepting and/or rejecting presupposes something to be accepted or rejected, and the very act itself (along with the presupposition the action is based upon) is precisely what the entity is. The entity cannot be found apart from that action, and ultimately the so-called entity cannot be found within that action either, but under the sway of delusion this is not apparent. That is what the notion of karma truly is: 'action', but it is delusional action which is predicated upon the misunderstanding that the apparent dependencies and relationships between subjects and objects, or objects and objects etc., is valid. So emptiness seeks to penetrate these subtle assumptions, presuppositions, conditioning behaviors and so on by revealing the unreality of the factors they are based upon. It is a very thorough and comprehensive process, which is also very liberating. If done skillfully it utterly exhausts these subtle tendencies and neuroses, and with the pacification of those tendencies, the illusion of the entity which can exist or not exist is also pacified..." - http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/self-as-karmic-tendencies.html

Overwhelmed by a partial insight -- be it non-doership, or I AMness, or usually One Mind, one clings to the 'Absolute' and neglects the 'relative'. This can happen when one fails to see the total exertion of karmic propensities from moment to moment - manifest completely as traces of clinging and identification in various forms.

Zen priest/teacher Alex Weith also talks about the stagnating waters (emphasis added): "...The problem is that we still maintain a subtle duality between what we know ourself to be, a pure non-dual awareness that is not a thing, and our daily existence often marked by self-contractions. Hoping to get more and more identified with pure non-dual awareness, we may train concentration, try to hold on to the event of awakening reifying an experience, ***or rationalize the whole thing to conclude that self-contraction is not a problem and that suffering is not suffering because our true nature is ultimately beyond suffering. This explains why I got stuck in what Zen calls "stagnating waters" for about a year.***

This is however not seen as a problem in other traditions such as Advaita Vedanta where the One Mind is identified with the Brahman that contains and manifests the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep within itself, yet remains untouched by its dreamlike manifestation..."

Also, others may also say things like "suffering is awareness, contraction is awareness" etc etc -- skewing towards the aspect of non-dual luminous clarity that is never lost. Sure -- luminous clarity is never lost, and is manifest in every single manifestation, but no matter how clear that clarity is, it will never release suffering. Your mindstream has always been luminously clear but still you have been lost in samsara for beginningless lifetimes undergoing tremendous and countless sufferings. What good is that? Realizing non-dual luminosity is not enough. As discussed earlier, it is not the definitive path of release. And although even suffering and emotions are by nature luminous and empty, if we do not realize and actualize this luminous yet empty nature (note: not just 'luminous clarity' but more importantly the 'empty' nature) which releases those afflictions, then we are simply mouthing high views and deluded concepts.

Often coming together with this pathology of blindness to karmic propensities is the "I got it syndrome", which is to say, they think whatever they realize is complete or is perfect. Every insight can have that effect -- the realization of I AMness may result in a deceptive thought "this is it, this is liberation, enlightenment" etc. The realization of One Mind, pure transparency, etc, can also result in that effect. In truth, one is still far from total release and realization. Even if one has realized twofold emptiness, one is far from full actualization, which explains for the relative difference between the 1st bhumi Bodhisattva (who realized emptiness) and the 11th/13th/16th bhumi corresponding to Buddhahood. I must say, I am far from full Buddhahood, and I doubt anyone I know is anywhere close to full Buddhahood yet (although a number of people I personally know have begun the definitive path of release). It is always good to keep this in mind and be humble about one's practice and achievements.

However, it is unfortunate that very often, people who have not even realized emptiness (but may have realized the aspect of unconditioned Clarity/Awareness) can often be tricked into thinking of himself as "I got it". Even the neo-Advaitin/Zen teacher Adyashanti have made a related remark, "Whenever you touch upon a deep truth, suchness of reality, your true nature, each aspect feels like it's total and complete and all-inclusive at that moment. So that's why teachers have a very hard time getting through to people when they have an initial experience of anything because if it's an initial experience of reality it feels totally complete and there is a certain innate confidence that arises within you. Not an egoic confidence but a confidence that comes from reality." I will also add, very often that experiential confidence does in fact translate into an egoic kind of confidence. The "I got it syndrome" translates into "I know it all syndrome", so one has effectively shut down from further learning and practice.

Yet another neo-Advaitin teacher Vishrant said in a talk where he described 'awareness of awareness' as merely a kindergarten stage of awakening, "the teachers that are flying in and out and telling people they are awake are actually misleading people. The terrible side of that is when somebody is told they are awake, the ego grasps it and says, 'I am awake', and then stop seeking, and then these people stop looking because they think they've already found. So it cuts off their chances for ongoing awakening. It's very sad."

If even these neo-Advaitin teachers are clear about this pitfall, so much more must Buddhists (and other traditions like traditional Advaita) take heed and be aware of our kleshas!

If we are clear about our many faces of karmic propensities, we will know the path ahead. If we are ignorant of them, or in denial of them, or cling to the Absolute, then there is no way we will ever experience its release. There is no way, no chance at all, for someone ignorant of their karmic propensities or the four noble truths to experience Nirvana. They are not even on the path towards its release because they do not even see the afflictions/propensities, nor the cause of the afflictions, nor the end or path that ends afflictions.

Very often if one is blind to karmic propensities, one can also fall into a nihilistic attitude -- a denial or rejection of a path, or a denial or rejection of suffering, afflictions, etc.

First we need to know the faces of self/Self, I, me, mine, inherency. Then we need to scan our entire body mind for any clinging and contraction and grasping... fully touch the dharma of clinging and afflictions. This is a moment to moment practice.. very often various afflictions only manifest in the presence of secondary conditions (the primary condition is ignorance). Get intimate with afflictions, with karmic propensities, with delusion. It's ok.. you won't be harmed as there never was a you separate from these afflictions anyway, so any sort of avoidance or dissociation is simply another form of delusion and affliction. But through wisdom into its true (luminous and empty) nature they are allowed to release.
3 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    My question is only vaguely related to this post, but I figured this is a fine place to ask anyway :)

    I'm curious about the stages of realization as presented on this site (I guess by Thusness, and shared by other authors).

    Since maybe age four, it has been clear that "awareness" or "consciousness" -- this luminous, ineffable, indestructible property of experiencing -- is fundamental in a way that the world can never be. I think I arrived at that startling realization one day while praying very pure-heartedly under the advice of my (traditional) Advaita teacher.

    But for most of my life, I treated it as a property that "I" had. Only now, having picked up Dzogchen (under the guidance of a guru), am I learning to release that identification. I think under their classification, this is a form of rigpa, though not the "whole enchilada." Of course, any real guru would (and does) chide me for even asking where I am, so I've only pieced this together.

    So my question is: does this sound like the "I AM" realization spoken of here? How might I identify other elements (either realizations or unrealizations) present? My practice of simply letting be and letting "it" work its magic is a fine practice, but I've been inspired to hear about advice from other quarters.


  2. Anonymous Says:

    I realize my wording may have been confusing.

    > But for most of my life, I treated it as a property that "I" had.

    More precisely: there was some indescribable "I" that had the fundamental property of conscious-ness. But free will seemed like one of its properties as well.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks Wei. Whatever it is I am seeing, it is certainly doubtless and direct. As a child, I used to argue with adults who tried to tell me that consciousness is "created" by the brain. I could see quite clearly that this is nonsensical: it is beyond birth, death, or harm. I felt that "when the body dies, I will still be looking."

    But indeed I cannot say that it is what I "am." I have no idea what I "am," if anything. I suppose it is hard for anyone to "diagnose" me over the internet, so maybe it's impossible for me to get specific suggestions here.

    Which is of course fine, since I do practice Dzogchen under a teacher, after all :)