Taken from AtR Guide

~ Reifying Host and Guest (An Unchanging Awareness)


There is a tendency at the I AM phase to reify the space of awareness as the unchanging background, Absolute host, and container, of all the passing contents of thoughts, perceptions, feelings and sensations. Instead of focusing on reifying and solidifying this image of a changeless and inherently existing Host, we should instead focus on the four aspects of I AM as described above. Otherwise we will get stuck in the I AM phase.

During my I AM phase, I saw Awareness as an unchanging host, like an infinite empty space where the ‘guests’ of all transient phenomena come and go leaving the formless host of awareness untouched. John Tan subsequently had a conversation with me, from
Soh’s Journal and Notes on Spiritual Awakening:


Soh wrote: “14 May 2010


Walking/Jogging/Running meditation


While jogging just now, I 'forgot' my mind and body. It feels like I'm the still presence in which the world moves through. Instead of being a body running on the road from here to there, it's seen that I am the space that encompasses the whole world and the whole world moves through me. I am not moving. The world is moving through me.


It feels like you're running on the treadmill, you're not actually moving! Except that the scenery moves through you.


You can practice seeing this next time when you walk or jog. This space of awareness is unmoving, whether or not the world is moving.


Later I was reminded of this video http://www.headless.org/videos/still_point.htm



15 May 2010


From: http://www.taozen.se/host.htm


Host and Guest


In the Surangama Sutra Arya Ajnatakaundinya puts the question: "What is the difference between the permanent and the changing?


He answers by giving an example of a traveler who stops at an Inn. The traveler eats, sleeps and then continues on his journey. He doesn't stay to settle in the Inn, but pays his bill and leaves.


But what with the Innkeeper? He doesn't leave. He keeps on staying at the Inn to receive and take leave of guests, because that is where he lives.


"Therefore, I declare that the changing is guest and the permanent is host", says Arya Ajnatakaundinya.


In that way we identify all thoughts that comes and goes as changing, travelers that arrives and leaves and that doesn't need any further investigation.


Our Buddha-self is the host who lets the traveler - the thought - leave without hindrance. A good host doesn't keep up the traveler at his departure.


Another way to illustrate this is by imaging an empty space with a sun ray shining in. In this ray you'll see a lot of dust in the empty room. The dust is moving but the space is empty. That that is still and clear is called space, that that is moving is called dust, because that is the being of dust.


Guest and dust refers to illusory thought, while the host and space refers to the Buddha-nature.


This shows that the permanent Buddha-nature doesn't follow the illusory thoughts in their coming and going, rising and falling. So if one is unaffected by things, there won't be any hindrances even if one is surrounded by the ten thousand things.


Illusory thoughts comes and goes by themselves and don't hinder the True Nature of Suchness.



15 May 2010


Those who wish to practice self-inquiry should read Methods of Practice in the Chan Hall and the Essentials of Chan Practice by Ch'an Master Hsu Yun



15 May 2010


Just had a discussion with John. I think there is something very important to caution readers here based on what he told me.


The experience of the Witness is important, and is undeniable. The Certainty of Being is a natural certainty that cannot be negated. This is not wrong. You cannot deny your own existence (how could you? if you try to deny it, who is it denying it?)


There is nothing wrong with experiencing directly without intermediary the pure sense of existence. But after this direct experience, one should refine the understanding, our views, our insights. Instead of deviating from the right view, reinforcing the wrong view, after the experience.


John also told me that what I have experienced has nothing to do with 'beingness being unchanging, constant and permanent'. Yet I was re-enforcing this wrong view into my consciousness like chanting. He told me not to do that, and that what I described is not my direct experience, but instead it is my mind playing tricks. What is experienced is just luminosity, non-conceptuality, directness, nothing more than that. So instead of describing what I experienced, I was reminding myself what is not true. We actually never experience anything unchanging.


He also said that though I am experiencing the "host and guest", he told me not to focus on 'permanent, unchanging, and independent' aspect as by doing so with a few more months of intense training, I will become stuck for decades in the formless realms and it will be difficult to get out. Instead, I should be focusing on the impersonality aspect, and the four aspects of I AM he talked to me about, then afterwards experience non dual and anatta.


It is not about denying the Witness, but refining our insight of it:


- what is meant by non-dual?

- what is meant by non-conceptual?

- what is meant by being spontaneous?

- what is the 'impersonality' aspect?

- what is luminosity?


p.s. just had a conversation with John to clarify on the 'unmoving' nature of Awareness in Shurangama Sutra.


I think it is pretty clear in explaining how the 'unmoving' nature of awareness is not the Hindu understanding of 'permanence of Self, impermanence of objects'.


John: The Hinayanist is not what that is wrong. Some of the sutra like to belittle Hinayanist. :P


(Note by Soh: It is known nowadays that Shurangama Sutra, the scripture from which the notion of Host and Guest comes from, is a Chinese invention - it talks about Taoist ‘xiens’ (immortals) and is evidently a Chinese composition not of Indian origins, with no counterparts in the Tibetan canon, a topic discussed in My opinion on Shurangama Sutra


Mahayana Sutras and Vajrayana Tantras are composed later by unknown authors showing development over time, in contrast to Pali suttas which stays closest to the Buddha’s original words, a topic discussed in Yogacara vs Madhyamaka, Authorship of Mahayana Sutras - which is not to say that they are any less valuable as it should be noted that Mahayana sutras are generally very profound especially on its elaborations on the emptiness and non-arising of phenomena.)


What Buddha [Soh: i.e. Shurangama Sutra] is trying to teach is about non-movement, but the illustration is not a good one in my opinion. In non-dual insight, nothing moves. When your mind follows phenomena and dwell in dualistic concept, phenomena appears moving. But when insight arises, nothing moves. Now for there to be moving, what must happen? If you cannot measure, cannot grasp, cannot find its locality, from where is it moving? If awareness hasn’t moved then how does knowing arise? How is there awareness? IF awareness cannot be said to be moving, then how can we say thoughts are moving? If one taste of both nature and essence are directly experienced, then there is true insight. If you cling to thoughts or discard thoughts, that is also moving. If you see the luminous and empty nature, nothing moves. Get it?


An Eternal Now: I think so


John: If you say you saw something...that is awareness. Do you consider that to be moving or not moving? You see the words flow…


An Eternal Now: The pure experience is not moving, if we measure it then we see movement


John: If you are looking from the perspective of object, everything is moving. If you are looking from the perspective of awareness, nothing seems to move. If you realize luminous essence and empty nature, then nothing also moves. The former is One-Mind, the latter is no-mind. But no-mind can have varying degrees of insight and experience. Though people might say it is conceptual to say or categorize further, but it is a skilful means.” - A journal entry in Soh’s E-Book


In the I AM phase the spacious all-pervading aspect of Presence is reified into a static background, while in the further phase of anatta, the space-like, boundless field of consciousness/universe is experienced and realized to be the foreground without being abstracted and reified into a background.


“Hi AEN,


Yes not to be fixated but also not to objectify the “spaciousness” otherwise “spaciousness” is no less fixated.  The ‘space’ appears appealing only to a mind that abstracts but to a fully participating and involving mind, such “spaciousness” has immediately sets itself apart, distancing itself from inseparable.  Emptiness is never a behind background but a fully partaking foreground manifesting as the arising and passing phenomena absence of a center. Therefore understand ‘spaciousness’ not like sky but like passing clouds and flowing water, manifesting whenever condition is.  If ‘Emptiness’ has made us more fixated and immobilized this innate freedom of our non-dual luminosity, then it is ‘stubborn emptiness’.


Nevertheless, no matter what said, it is always inadequate. If we want to fully realize the inexpressible, be willing to give up all centers and point of references that manifests in the form of ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘where’.  Just give up the entire sense of self then instantly all things are spontaneously perfected.


Just a sharing, nothing intense.


Happy New Year! :)



There is no lack of clarity in whatever that is manifesting, simply forgo the self and be fully participating.” - John Tan, 2009

Therefore the so called "Clear Aware Space" is no more special than this moment of arising sound or passing scent.  The failure to recognize that all apparent arising and passing transience is non other than the Dharmakaya is the problem of all problems.

When a pith instruction like “Relax and fully open to whatever is” is taught to a mind that is still under strong influence of dualistic tendencies, it is easy for such a mind to read  and practice in the form of clinging to the “Aware Space” and shunting away from the transience, thereby setting itself infinitely apart unknowingly.

If however there is maturity of insight that whatever arises share the same taste -- luminous yet empty (via twofold emptiness), then practice is naturally and simply unreserved opening to whatever is, it cannot be otherwise.  There can be no movement, duality and preference from this to that for there is no ‘this’ that is more ‘this’ than that.  

With clear recognition and unperturbed practice of complete unreserved opening to whatever is, all transience will reveal to posses the same taste of non-dual samadhi and self-liberation that we once thought to be the monopoly of the so called “Clear Aware Space”.

It is therefore advisable that after the direct experience and realization of the pure sense of existence, a practitioner further penetrates anatta and the empty nature of phenomena.  These insights are necessary and should not be considered “long cut”.  It will help a practitioner better appreciate the art of great ease in time to come.

My 2 cents.

The degree of “un-contrivance”,
Is the degree of how unreserved and fearless we open to whatever is.
For whatever arises is mind, always seen, heard, tasted and experienced.
What that is not seen, not heard and not experienced,
Is our conceptual idea of what mind is.

Whenever we objectify the “brilliance, the pristine-ness” into an entity that is formless,
It becomes an object of grasp that prevents the seeing of the “forms”,
the texture and the fabric of awareness.
The tendency to objectify is subtle,
we let go of 'selfness' yet unknowingly grasped ‘nowness’ and ‘hereness’.
Whatever arises merely dependently originates, needless of who, where and when.

All experiences are equal, luminous yet empty of self-nature.
Though empty it has not in anyway denied its vivid luminosity.

Liberation is experiencing mind as it is.
Self-Liberation is the thorough insight that this liberation is always and already is;
Spontaneously present, naturally perfected!” – John Tan to Mr. J, 2012

He has realized I AM, not just an experience. Impersonality is also clear and there are intermitent non-dual experiences but has mistaken the death of the ego as anatta. Focus on forgetting the ‘beingness’ and leave no trace of ‘beingness’ until the background is completely gone, always only the phenomenon in its primordial purity.” – John Tan on Mr. P, 2011


Be it Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana; be it Dzogchen, Mahamudra or Zen; they do not deviate from the definitive view of the 3 universal characteristics of dharma.  Therefore experiences and realizations must always be authenticated with right view, otherwise we end in wonderland that is neither here nor there.


The "who am I" of advaita and "before birth who am I" may have the same initial "realization" -- the face to face direct authentication of one's original face, and followed by a series of similar mind-shaking experiences but when subject to madhyamaka ultimate analysis, they fall short of the prajna that buddhism is talking abtou.  Therefore keep the realization but refine the view.” – John Tan, 2020, to someone at the I AM phase

Many Zen and Ch'an masters do point to a similar realization as Hinduism's Atman, however as some of them clarified, such as Phillip Kapleau Roshi, it is simply an initial realization and the realization is to be refined later on. Hinduism's Atman is the direct authentication of the aspect of the luminous clarity and Presence of our Buddha-nature, but its empty nature ('no mind' as taught by Bodhidharma) is realised later on. Prior to that refinement of insight, Buddha-nature can be somewhat reified into Atman-Brahman.


For example, Phillip Kapleau Roshi mentioned in his book "Straight to the Heart of Zen: Eleven Classic Koans & Their Inner Meanings", the two distinct phases of realization in Zen practice that corresponds to what I personally term "I AM realization" and "anatta~total exertion":


"...A shallow kensho is not fully satisfying. One has seen into constant change, it is true, and into the formless Self as well - that which makes change possible. One has caught a glimpse of both change and changelessness. But it's only a glimpse, and it is not enough, because in reality, the two worlds of change and changelessness are not really two at all. After a time this initial seeing makes us want to go further, deeper. Instinctively we know that it's only well-chewed food that nourishes and satisfies. This we might take as meaning long training through which we more fully integrate our understanding into our daily lives. Our enlightenment is fully digested. Now change is Changelessness. This is what keeps away hunger and uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and above all unsatisfactoriness, the constant feeling of being on edge, alienated, separated - 'a stranger and afraid', as the poet A. E. Housman wrote, 'in a world I never made.' At last we know real peace.


The verse says: 'This one instant, as it is, is an infinite number of kalpas.' What is a kalpa? The sutras describe a kalpa as the length of time it would take a heavenly being, adeva, sweeping its gossamer wings across the top of the mile-high mountain once each year to wear that mountain down to the ground. This one instant is a kalpa. All time is in this instant, and an infinite number of kalpas are, at the time, this one instant. All time means past, present, and future....


...if our mind is entirely free from both time and timelessness, it we are living fully and wholly every moment, every moment is everything; all of time is in each full, vitally alive moment. If one has truly seen into time and timelessness - if one has really become time itself - then there is no notion of time or timelessness to hinder or bind..."” – Soh, 2020, Is Mind Unchanging

Actually the I AM is a very important, in fact crucial realization even in various traditions of Buddhism. It should not just be relegated as "merely a non-Buddhist insight that Buddhists should skip". I provided plenty of quotes in AtR guide to demonstrate this point.


AtR guide simply puts it in its proper place and explains how to navigate those territories without getting stuck in wrong views.” – Soh, 2020

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