Another great article by Joan Tollifson. Thusness says, "All these recent articles are very well written. Joan is clear in her expressions. She expressed the luminous aspect, yet not forgetting about the empty aspect as we can see from the writings. She is trying to put this into her writings."

[contents removed from this page as the article is subject to periodical updates, please refer to the link to read the article]


Sri Atmananda (Krishna Menon) was a teacher whose teachings flow from the fountain of nondual wisdom known as Advaita Vedanta. He lived in Kerala, South India from 1883 to 1959. This was in the same modern era shared by Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) and Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981). Like Ramana and Nisargadatta, Atmananda inspired Easterners and Westerners. And like Ramana and Nisargadatta, Atmananda even has a giant book of insightful dialogues rich enough to be contemplated for years, which has the ability to help establish one as nondual awareness.
Sri Atmananda is much less well known than Ramana or Nisargadatta. As I write this paragraph, there isn't a Wikipedia entry on Atmananda, and there are relatively few published books either by him or about him. Yet, speaking for myself, I resonated more quickly and solidly with Atmananda's teachings than with Ramana's or Nisargadatta's. Atmananda uses concepts very well suited to a modern Westerner accustomed to logical or scientific discourse - concepts that seem simple and intuitive, and yet when examined, totally dissolve under scrutiny. This feeling of having the rug pulled out from under one is part of the experiential teaching that has direct and tangible effects as one proceeds with it.
Atmananda has had well known students, some of whom became teachers in their own right. Examples include John Levy, Jean Klein, Wolter Keers, and Paul Brunton. My own association with the teaching comes through the Jean Klein branch via Francis Lucille. Francis gave me a copy of ATMA DARSHAN one day, and I read it with the attention and respect I felt went along with such a gift. This short book resolved in a wondrous flash a subtle question I had been contemplating for several years about the difference between subject and object. Here in ATMA DARSHAN were several sections devoted to the exact issue I had been pursuing, issues I had never seen touched upon in the hundreds of other books on Advaita or Western philosophy I had read.

Like Berkeley but Global
There's something else too in my case. When one first encounters Atmananda's teachings, they can seem similar to the Western philosophy of Idealism, especially as taught by George Berkeley (1685-1753). It just so happened that I had been seriously studying Berkeley's teachings and before him, Brand Blanshard's (1892-1987) teachings as part of my own academic training in Philosophy. This had been going on for 25 years before I encountered Atmananda's teachings, during which time "physical" objects had lost their associated feelings of hardness, opacity, heaviness and brute physicality. I experienced physical objects as ideational.
And this is very very similar to the way that Atmananda first approaches his teaching. He starts by having you contemplate a physical object and acknowledge that it can be 100% accounted for by visual, tactile, auditory and intellectual "forms." And that apart from, say, a visual form that arises only as something in knowledge, it makes no sense to think that we "see" an object. We simply never experience anything "of" an independent object other than this form. So we have no way to establish that this form is "of" the object. We have no experience that there's an object independent of this form.
My Berkeley teacher gave me lots of hints that Berkeley was actually a nondualist; but to actually find this element in Berkeley's works, one must cultivate the skill of esoteric and hermeneutic reading. On the surface level at least, Berkeley wrote as a bishop in the Church of Ireland; he had to write as though human minds and the conventional figure of God are well and good, separate and intact. But writing in a different culture in the middle of the 20th century, Sri Atmananda didn't have to worry about persecution by religous orthodoxy. His investigation goes very directly and openly to the core of being. Atmananda applies the same sort of scrutiny to the sense modalities, to the body and to the mind. We simply never witness anything external to witnessing awareness. There is no evidence for a limitation to seeing, or a gap between subject and object. There is also no evidence that awareness is personal, separate, limited or compartmentalized. And so nothing is missing.

How much further? All the way!
This awareness is our very self, since we don't stand apart from it and see it. It is our very seeing itself, as us. It is not separate or personal. It is clarity and openness. As Knowledge, it never feels that anything is missing. As Love, it is always accepting to everything that arises, never prohibiting or saying No to anything. As Happiness, it never suffers.

ATMA DARSHAN is the more fundamental and poetic of the two works. It lays out the kernel of Shri Atmananda's unique method, which could be called the "outside-in" approach. Instead of expanding the individual so as to become universal, ATMA DARSHAN shows how the universal is always the sum and substance of the individual. Specifically, it shows quite clearly just how everything that seems to be outside oneself (i.e. world, body and mind) is actually inseparable from oneself as pure awareness.
ATMA NIRVRITI can be seen as answering questions that might have occurred to the reader of ATMA DARSHAN. Questions may arise such as how there can be seeing without a seer or indeed without an actual object that is seen, or how knowledge of your nature is different from everyday factual knowledge. ATMA NIRVRITI clarifies the issues in ATMA DARSHAN from different angles of vision, and in places from a higher level. In addition, ATMA NIRVRITI has three articles as appendices, "I," "Witness," and "World" which are extremely helpful in understanding how these concepts are regarded by this unique teaching.
It has been many years since Advaita Publishers last reprinted these two great works, which carry a copyright date of 1983. With available copies having gravitated into the rare and out-of-print book markets, I had created a PDF file of the combined edition of ATMA DARSHAN and ATMA NIRVRITI, which could be downloaded from this site. Recently, Advaita Publishers wrote informing me that the books are still under copyright. Out of respect for this legal issue as well as respect for the heirs of Sri Atmananda, I have removed the downloadable PDF file from this site. The publisher wishes me to make known that any copies that have been downloaded from this site are similarly in violation of Sri Atmananda's heirs' rights of copyright.
If you wish to obtain these books, you can try the rare and out-of-print market. and carry copies occasionally. But I am sure that you will join me in wishing that Advaita Publishers reprints these two classic works sometime soon.

Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda
This is it, Shri Atmananda's big book, 517 pages in length! It is a collection of dialogues compiled from Nitya Tripta's notes kept over the ten year period from 1950 to 1959, plus a biography and collection of spiritual statements from Atmananda. This is a new, digitally remastered PDF file, with searchable text and a linked PDF table of contents and index.
In its scope and depth, this great work can be compared to Ramana Maharshi's Talks and Nisargadatta's I AM THAT. It has been compiled in a similar format - Q & A items on a wide variety of topics approached from different angles, with a topical and chronological table of contents.
This volume has never been for sale or been under copyright. In fact, for many years it was photocopied and passed around privately among Shri Atmananda's direct students and later generations of those inquiring into truth.
To download, right-click the link and select Save Target As (in IE) or Save Link As (FireFox). Then save to your local PC or Mac. Any problems opening the file, try downloading the newest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader from the website. Get Acrobat Reader (PC version). Get Acrobat Reader (Mac and other versions).

"Inquiry Via the Direct Path" (audio interview with Greg Goode on the teachings of Shri Atmananda, 47 min)

Features of the Direct Path

According to the direct path, suffering is based on taking things as real or independent, whereas they arise in thought only. I call this kind of “taking” a sense of inherent existence. The direct path is a way of following one’s direct experience to test whether the claims of inherent existence are confirmed. It is practical, not theoretical. It is like a treasure hunt – like looking for the greatest treasure in the world.
The process in a nutshell goes like this:
  • We notice that the world, body and mind seem as though they are really there, and really separate, limited and vulnerable. We ask, is this confirmed by experience?
  • We follow our direct experience, finding that the answer is No!
  • Dualisms evaporate in the discovery that everything is awareness, that is, happiness; that is, experience itself.
This awareness is clear, open, and loving, and is the reality of our experience at every moment. It is happiness. The direct path is complete from “beginning” to “end,” and is found by many people to be very intuitive for modern times. Basically, it
  • Requires no need for expertise in meditation
  • Involves both understanding and heart
  • Has been tested by experience; there is no belief required
  • Sees through creation stories
  • Dissolves issues about doership
  • Involves the body in a holistic way
  • It is modern and incisive in style
  • It transforms one’s attitude towards language, perception, thought, others, and the world
  • Gets past common sticking points

Suffering and Freedom
In more detail, suffering is caused by believing that our experience is characterized by objectively real objects, dualisms and distinctions, such as
  • I / Not I
  • Freedom / Bondage
  • Nirvana / Samsara
  • Physical / Spiritual
  • Appearance / Reality
  • Good / Evil
  • What I want / What I have
  • Present / Future and Present / Past
The inquiry proceeds through a direct and experiential investigation of the world, body and mind. This investigation results in the knowledge and unshakable experience that there is no separation or difference anywhere. The inquiry is global, and includes an examination of every type of experience. This includes physical, psychological, emotional, social, esthetic, intellectual, religious, mystical and spiritual facets of experience, as well as waking, dreaming, deep sleep, trance, anesthesia, clairvoyance, intuition, samadhis and meditative states, etc. The reality of experience (as well as the reality of the self, mind, body and world) is actually experience itself. The nature of this experience is the same everywhere – free, open, loving, and sweetly beautiful. It is the same awareness to which everything appears, and as such, is your very self.
In Vedanta, reality is called Sat-Chit-Ananda:
  • Sat or Being (as opposed to nothingness)
  • Chit or Knowledge (as opposed to ignorance)
  • Ananda or Happiness (as opposed to suffering)
These are not mental states, though if a person has certain analogous mental states, she can feel empowered and inspired to inquire further. They are also not objective qualities of experience or reality, because actual qualities require the possibility of their opposites.
Instead, the terms Sat-Chit-Ananda are sometimes called “non-qualifying attributes,” provided in Vedantic teachings in order to counteract the impression of their opposites. That is, these terms are used to correct false notions that reality is characterized by nothingness, ignorance and suffering.

Several writers have written helpful pieces that can assist one’s inquiries at various stages along the say. Sri Atmananda (Krishna Menon, 1897-1981) is increasingly recognized as one of the great sages in modern India, along with Ramana Maharshi (1979 – 1950) and Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897 – 1981).
Sri Atmananda is a great guide to this way of inquiry; his books are a blueprint from beginning to end of this path. But there are many possible sticking points along the way, such as
  • the belief that awareness comes into contact with inherently pre-existing objects
  • the belief that one’s self is contained within the body
  • the belief that awareness is a product of brain activity
This is where other writers, both Eastern and Western, can support and enhance one’s inquiry. These writers help examine the assumptions behind these common beliefs.. The most intuitive and helpful approaches I have seen come from the following. My own Standing as Awareness performs some of the same functions, especially as it addresses common sticking points the come up during the inquiry:
  • George Berkeley’s clear, intuitive yet destabilizing Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, and A Treatise Concerning The Principles Of Human Knowledge.
  • David Hume’s Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, which helps break down (i) one's notions of causality, (ii) the belief that external objects matching sensations, and (iii) the assumption that there is a separate self inside the mind,
  • Gaudapada’s masterful “karika” or commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad
  • Nagarjuna’s groundbreaking Treatise on the Middle Way
  • Brand Blanshard’s Nature of Thought

From the Outside In
The direct path can proceed in two possible directions. Both are possible ways of dissolving the distinction between the self and the world, or subject and object.
  1. One may examine the self to see that it is the world (inside out) -- This consists of looking at the separate "I", which seems small and separate, and making it larger and larger until it incorporates everything. In this way, one begins with the subject and shows that it’s really the object. After this point, the distinction between subject and object drops away.
  2. One may examine the world to see that it is the self (outside in) -- This is the direction taken by the direct path. It starts with what seems most obvious in our experience. It dissolves the distinction between the world and the self by examining the world. The world seems infinitely large and separated from the observer by an un-crossable gap, but when approached in this direct method, it’s seen as nothing other than the "I". This method proceeds by several stages, which correspond to the stages outlined in the writings of Atmananda and George Berkeley:

    1. Objects into sensation -- You examine an object in the world and see that there’s no evidence of an object external to colors, sounds, textures, etc. Objects never claim that they exist separately, and there’s no experiential evidence that they do. The most important realization at this stage is this – since everything you think you experience about an object already includes sensation, there’s no independent way to verify that you actually sense AN INDPENDENT OBJECT. Sensation actually goes into the characterization of the object, and there’s no way to separate them. The sound of the barking dog IS the barking dog. There’s no independent access to the object other than sensation. Therefore, there’s no way that you actually SENSE an OBJECT. This is key to the direct path’s approach, and it’s easy to overlook its importance. If this stage is realized clearly, two things happen. (i) the basis for the sense of physical separation as well as the sense of all other separation is removed. And (ii) the rest of the stages are very easy because the realizations are analogous to this one, but on more subtle levels. Because This is not easy to see, and the best texts to have as assistance are George Berkeley’s Three Dialogues and Treatise Concerning The Principles Of Human Knowledge, and my own Standing as Awareness. And it’s pivotal to examine one’s own body in this same way, because similar discoveries apply to the body as to the barking dog. The body does not convey sensation. Rather it is made out of sensation.
    2. Sensation into thought -- Here’s an analogous process. Sensation now dissolves into awareness the same say that in Step 1 objects dissolved into sensation. Once objects are seen as nothing more than sensation, you examine the senses themselves, and see that they are not subjects or experiencers, but rather experiences. Seeing, hearing, touch, taste and smell are not experienced as existing apart from witnessing awareness. In other words, seeing must arise as an appearance in awareness in order to exist. It does not exist somewhere else. Along with this investigation of seeing and the other senses as faculties, one investigates the apparatus of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, hands, skin, etc. This is done in stillness, in motion, and in locomotion. Examination shows that they are nothing other than arising thoughts or appearances in witnessing awareness. This awareness is not personal, because there is no basis left for the distinction between one separate point of Awareness and another. Awareness is not the kind of thing there can be two of. All distinctions are witnessed thoughts only. The person has dissolved into the sweetness of Awareness.
    3. Thought into pure consciousness -- The relationship between witnessing awareness and thoughts is analogous to the processes in step (1) and (2). At this stage, one analyzes memory and the relationship between thoughts more carefully. Because a thought is never experienced to exist apart from the presence of Consciousness, it makes no sense that a thought actually exists in the first place.
If it is never your experience that a thought exists outside of consciousness, then it makes no sense to carry around the notion that it really does exist externally. And because memory is itself another thought, it can’t prove the existence of another thought even within consciousness. One realizes that there’s no evidence that a thought existed other than the present thought. There cannot be two thoughts. If there can’t be two, then it makes no sense that the present thought is actually a thought in the first place. At this point, thought itself dissolves into consciousness. Even the most subtle separation and movement and sense of existence/non-existence dissolved into the sweet, loving arms of pure consciousness.
Pure consciousness is called the "I-Principle." It is that to which everything appears. It is your very self.

Stages of Realization
The direct path mentions three stages along the path of realization. At each stage, the interest is placed on something more subtle, and what was seen as real and inherent to a lower stage is seen as nothing but the play of a higher stage.
  • At Stage 1, everything seems like it exists independently, and consciousness seems as though it comes from the head and flows out through the senses into the objective world.
  • At Stage 2, the activities (AKA superimpositions) of Stage 1 are seen to be appearances in impersonal, non-localized consciousness, which reveals them in the light of awareness.
  • At Stage 3, even the subtle superimposition of “revealing” or “illuminating” falls away, and consciousness shines in its own glory.
This is a capsule summary of how the direct path examines the world to see that it is nothing other than the self.

Taking your Stand as Awareness
As you take your stand as being something, the world changes accordingly. This happens on the everyday level for everyone. If something nice happened and you feel good about yourself, the world looks rosy. If you feel bad about yourself, the world looks bleak.
Similarly, if you take yourself as a physical body, the world and other people seem like external physical bodies. The events in the world seem like they are mechanically caused. If you take yourself as a mind or spirit, then the world will seem spiritual, like a flow of energy. Events will seem as if accomplished by magic, perhaps willed into being by your mind or a higher mind with control over everything.
If you take yourself as awareness, then the world will be experienced as awareness - the same awareness. There's nothing other for the world to be. The world won't be IN awareness, it will BE awareness. There's nothing else it can be. There'll be no separation between you and the world. Things won't really seem to happen, and there's no sense of cause, but rather of causeless spontaneity and miraculousness.
The world follows the stand you take for yourself.
There is more about this approach in Atmananda's large book, Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda, as well as in my Standing as Awareness.

Skillful Teaching
One of the surprising and hidden principles that traditional nondual teaching methods use is this - use the lowest-level or least abstract teaching that helps deconstructs the current object at hand. For example, if a person has a question about memory, it is more effective to examine memory's false claims directly than to tell one's self "Don't worry about memory, everything is consciousness anyway." Both methods tell the truth about things, but from their own level. If one immediately goes to the "everything is consciousness" answer, then the question is likely to pop up again and again. But if the claims of memory themselves are seen to be false and unwarranted, then that very seeing will dissolve the very roots of the question and it will not come up again.
In general, too subtle or abstract a teaching given too early will simply not have any lasting transformational effect. It can inspire and motivate and open the heart to some extent. But it will also be taken literally, which therefore gives the student another set of beliefs which will have to be examined later. But a more down-to-earth, less subtle teaching will be experienced as more relevant. It will have a more powerful effect on the inquirer since it accords with their background assumptions more fully. And then this lower level teaching will itself be deconstructed with a more subtle teaching later. This is why many nondual teachings seem gauged and staged.

No Conflict in the Teachings
The direct path is practical. It sees no inconsistency among its methods. There often seem to be inconsistencies between statements such as the following:
  • The external object is merely a thought
  • There is no external object
  • There is no externality in the first place
  • Externality is a thought
  • A thought arises in awareness
The reason that there’s no conflict is this. These statements aren’t meant to be factual but rather dialectical and strategic. The statements aren’t meant to be accurate representations of the world, true now and forever. Instead, they’re meant to unsettle certain assumptions implicitly held about the world. As the inquirer proceeds through the teachings, different assumptions come into play.
In the present example, at an earlier stage the focus is usually on the world and its nature. The questioner’s natural assumption might be that the world is made out of physical stuff, like rocks, chairs, or sub-atomic particles. The direct path’s strategy at this point is not to deny that the world exists. That would be too much too soon, and might alienate the inquirer. It could be scary if you’re used to a world and are told all of a sudden that there isn’t one! So instead, the direct path takes advantage of the assumption that the world exists, but refines the assumption by specifying how it can’t be made of anything other than consciousness. This is a smaller leap for the inquirer.
Later, the focus is on consciousness itself. At this point the issue isn’t what the world is made of, but whether it exists at all. When there’s the feeling that the world exists, even when it is thought to be made out of consciousness, there’s still a bit of separation between the I and the world, between the subject and object. So at this point the strategy is to deny the very existence of a world, which amounts to refuting the distinction between subject and object. Waiting to do this at a later stage is not so jarring and un-intuitive as it would be earlier on.
Because the teachings have this pragmatic, temporal dynamic, they don’t contradict each other. They have different purposes and targets. They depend on the target of refutation for a particular body of assumptions, at a particular moment as the teaching proceeds.

The Witness
Consciousness actually has no function and performs no actions. It does nothing and has no purposes of its own. But in coming to recognize this, our understanding often attributes functions to consciousness, such as memory, creativity, or purpose. Advaita knows this, and has devised teachings to take advantage of the tendency.
This is why there is a distinction between how the witnessing awareness seems when the teaching is beginning and how it seems when witnessing has stabilized. As one learns the witness teaching, the witness seems psychological (with the ability to record and retrieve memories), less abstract, and easier to grasp. It is not personal, but can seem almost personal. And although it isn’t an accurate characterization of consciousness, it nevertheless allows you to deconstruct your everyday dualistic presuppositions, showing what was assumed to be definitive of your self is actually an object appearing to the self.
This is how the witness feels when the inquirer feels that consciousness is in the body-mind (instead of vice versa). The witness allows the inquirer to realize that the body/mind is an appearance in awareness rather than the source of awareness. The witness depends on realizing that what comes up in memory had to have appeared to awareness in the first place.
When this is fully realized, then the body will no longer seem to be a container within which awareness is located. It’s at this point that one can examine more subtle things in a new light. One now turns the same light of inquiry upon the mind, values, memory and the senses that one had earlier used to examine tables, chairs and the body. The realization that none of these things are located anywhere and that they don’t belong to any ONE, is the dawn of the more subtle witness.
The psychological witness assumed that the witness is able to remember and value things. These abilities attributed to the psychological witness are superimpositions, but helpful ones. The more subtle insights actually transform the witness. What was seen as a function of the witness (especially memory) is now seen as another witnessed arising. What seemed to be part of the subject is now seen as an object. And witnessing is experienced as infinitely lighter and clearer.

Stabilization of the Witness
At this point, one’s interest is not in objects, but in awareness, in consciousness. One is no longer trying to analyze external objects to see what they are made of and whether they are separate. Objects no longer have an ultimate metaphysical or emotional charge, and one doesn’t feel that one’s nature depends on objects. It’s natural at this point to become interested in consciousness, to fall in love with consciousness.
This is a much more subtle interest, one which is able to be satisfied wherever one looks. One has also dropped the superimpositions that had been attributed to the witness. It’s now realized that memory is itself an arising, along with valuation, thought and sensation. In the more subtle witness there’s no separate mind, body or world. All there is (and it’s even too much to say this) is awareness and the appearances that arise, abide and subside in awareness. It feels warm and wonderful and sweet.
Of course the witness is itself a superimposition, but a subtle and benevolent one. It is pleasant and free. As soon as it is firmly established, it begins to collapse. This can happen spontaneously if left alone, or it can happen through inquiry into how it works. One begins to suspect that there simply cannot be a difference between the witness and that which is witnessed – and to realize that they are both pure consciousness.

From the Witness to Pure Consciousness
When the witness is very stable, it begins to open or dissolve into global, loving lightness of pure consciousness, which is without any gaps or separation anywhere. This happens through time, or when one looks into the witness the same way that one looked into objects at the beginning of the investigation.
The witness has become stable when:
  • Witnessing doesn’t seem like a mental state
  • Witnessing doesn’t seem as though it needs practice or vigilance
  • Witnessing doesn’t seem as though it’s reversible or able to be "lost"
  • Witnessing no longer seems like it is happening “here” as opposed to "there"
  • It no longer feels as though there are objects that exist outside of awareness
  • You no longer wonder whether awareness should allows one person to see all of another person’s thoughts
  • The witness no longer seems personal
  • There no longer seem to be unseen arisings
At this point, there is no presumption of a person. There is no separate “one” that arisings appear to. There is no felt authorship, doership or receivership. There is no personalization or experience of separation.
Experience is sweet, open and loving – the source of the arisings is awareness and love, and the arisings themselves are sweet because their source is sweet. Even pain is open, loving and sweet. Its nature is not pain, but awareness. One can no longer "be" a person (indeed, one never was a person). One has recognized one’s self as awareness.
But there is still a very subtle dualistic structure to the witness. Sweet, but dualistic nevertheless. The dualistic structure consists of:
  • A subject/object distinction, i.e., a distinction between awareness and the arisings in awareness
  • A multiplicity, a distinction between arisings themselves
Both of these distinctions go together; they need each other. And inquiry into the either one of them will dissolve them both.
The investigation at this level is very subtle, but the basic insight is the same as it is everywhere. There is no experience of objects outside of awareness. There is no phenomenon that organizes or structures awareness; if there were such a phenomenon, then it would be just the same as any other phenomenon has been discovered to be: just another arising in awareness. This was what was realized with color, sound, the body, seeing and hearing, memory, will, intention and causality. So the same realization is available for these ultra-subtle relations - relations such as subject/object and multiplicity/unicity. There is no subject/object distinction outside the current arising. It is never witnessed. There is a projection or presumption of this distinction, and the presumption is nothing other than an image in this very thought. When it is seen that neither distinction nor multiplicity is an objective feature anywhere in experience, then the feeling that these sbutle things are present dissolves. And then experience will no longer seem conditioned by any duality, even the most subtle or hidden duality.
This can be looked at in another way too. All that is ever experienced is the current arising or thought. There is no passage of time experienced in that arising. There is no passage of time experienced outside of that arising. There can in fact be no time. Without time, then there can't be any such things as arisings. They don't make sense unless time is present - which it's not. This establishes you as the Timeless. And your experience confirms this.
Another way to see this is also to see that, according to the way the witness is structured, only the current arising is ever experienced. There are never two arisings experiences, expecially since memory is itself inoperative. That is, memory itself has been seen through as merely an arising, therefore absolutely incapable of establishing anything other than what is current. So there cannot be said to be two or more arisings. And nor is it your experience that there is an arising before THIS or after THIS. If there cannot be two arisings, then how can there be even one? What is present is not even the kind of thing that numbers apply to. The present is not one of several items in a string, nor is it experienced in any way like that. Without the present seeming like it arises in a numerical series, then the very notion of arising itself gently and peacefully collapses in to pure consciousness. Consciousness shines as itself. Openly, sweetly and lovingly.

Another clear article by Joan Tollifson, who is progressing from non-dual experience into Anatta and Emptiness.

[contents removed from this page as the article is subject to periodical updates, please refer to the link to read the article]
Comments: A very good description of Anatta (no-self) by Joan Tollifson.

[contents removed from this page as the article is subject to periodical updates, please refer to the link to read the article]
Comments: A very good description of Anatta (no-self) by Joan Tollifson.

[contents removed from this page as the article is subject to periodical updates, please refer to the link to read the article]
Originally Posted by Subjectivity9 View  Post
Good Morning, xabir,

I believe that you are far too dismissive of this intrinsic feeling, of the I Am; or said more intimately, dismissive of your 'Original Me,' simply because the mind cannot flesh it out with description.

I also have to wonder if, in throwing away your ego, you haven’t also thrown away the baby with the bath water?

For me, it is because of contemplated this very feeling of ‘Me,’ and in this way asking “Who am I?” as Ramana says we should, that I have been able to go beyond definitions.

In contemplating this ‘Original Me,’ I have continued to deepen within it, become it, to the point where satisfaction has come to stay. This ‘Me’ is not like anything else, and yet it is very Real.

This ‘Me’ is not two, and it is not one, and yet it is not empty. “Me” is an ‘Alive Presence,’ which once experienced; cannot be denied.

Run as you may, you cannot outrun 'Intrinsic Me.' Everywhere you go, it is right there with you. Don’t take my word for it. Try to out run the 'Presence of Me,' and see where that gets you. It is impossible.

I'll be replying your post in reverse order. First of all let it be clear that I am not dismissing the clear experience and insight of that I AM Presence (this is what I have been trying to point out in 11-11-2009, 12:24 PM). It's impossible. It's undoubtable. That sense of pure Beingness, Presence, I AMness, is the most real 'thing' or 'non-thing', for whatever you are experiencing at that moment, that sense of Presence, Beingness, Pure Knowingness is constantly present, cognizant, alive and is your very nature, with such vividness and realness such that everything else including thoughts pales in comparison and is seen as merely like a dream or an illusion (though no longer the case in non-dual realisation when these phenomena themselves reveal as Presence as you will see later). And yes, You can't run away from You, for that attempt to run away is simply a thought arising in the clear presence of You. Even if one wants to doubt that I AM Presence, that I AM Presence is present as that to which the doubting arises, and that is undeniable, so the doubt is without basis. So it is certainly not just an experience that is available at a particular meditative state or a particular experience, it just goes unnoticed for most people whose attention is almost constantly fixated on and chasing after their conceptual notion of self and things. But Presence can never be lost anytime (it is timeless) and that is not separate at all from you -- It cannot be made an object of observation from a point of view of an observer, for you are never separate from IT -- this Presence that you are, being of the nature of cognizance is Self-Knowing. Therefore as I state earlier, that pure I AMness is non-dual, non-separate. For it is YOU/I, so when one who realises it feels that he/she has touched his innermost core of being.

So if I am not dismissing this clear experience and insight of I AMness then what am I talking about? I'm saying that, to quote from Thusness, that there is no forgoing of this I AMness but " 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"." -- so again, same Presence as I AMness, only that one sees through the notion of center-ness, the notion of being a permanent agent, seeing the non-dual nature (not non-dual as I AM but non-dual with all phenomena), etc.

And by that: I mean, originally the I AMness feels centered, not in the sense of being located somewhere in phenomena or the body-mind, but centered in a sense that there is still some separation between this I AMness and phenomena. You feel that this I AMness not AS those phenomena, but as behind all those passing phenomena.

However there will come a time, resting in I AMness, if you then look at, say, a mountain, you might begin to notice that the sensation of the I AM or Pure Being 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. (see Some Writings on Non-duality by Ken Wilber - Do read this) And when this realisation arise, you cannot deny this as well, the non-dual Presence revealing As everything cannot be denied just as you cannot deny the I AMness. The I AM-Presence is no more I AM, no more real, non-dual, and vivid than the non-dual Mountain-Presence, so to speak, and there is no trace of separation between you and that Mountain-Presence just as you do not feel separate from the I AM Presence. Just pure mountain-presence, bird chirping-presence, without a hearer, feeler, seer, etc.

As Thusness wrote in his Stage 4:


I was meditating the above stanza deeply…about its meaning until one day, suddenly I heard ‘tongss…’, it was so clear, there was nothing else, just the sound and nothing else! And ‘tongs…’ resounding…. It was so clear, so vivid!

That experience is so familiar, so real and so clear. It is the same experience of “I AM”….it is without thought, without concepts, without intermediary, without anyone there, without any in-between…What is it? IT is Presence! But this time it is not ‘I AM’, it is not asking ‘who am I’, it is not the pure sense of “I AM”, it is ‘TONGSss….’, the pure Sound…
Then come Taste, just the Taste and nothing else….
The heart beats…..
the Scenery…

(as you can see also, the methodology is also different, to give rise to the non-conceptual experience/insight of I AM you contemplate 'Who am I' Ramana Maharshi style, and like you, Thusness was very attracted to Ramana Maharshi at that stage and collected all his books... and also very attracted to Zen (because after the I AM realisation one feels authenticated by these texts easily) but to realise non-dual and no-self, you contemplate on something different, as stated here On Anatta (No-Self), Emptiness, Maha and Ordinariness, and Spontaneous Perfection -- this is not to say R.M. or Zen only reached Stage 1 but that they emphasize a lot on leading practitioners to the I AM realisation first, which is an important realisation btw and paves the way to further realisations, but it is clear that even they do not stop at Stage 1 - I AM -- see R.M.'s explanation of 'Brahman is the World' (scroll to the bottom: for instance, though many of them, many Zen masters included, stop at Stage 4 Non-Dual Brahman, though not always the case)

So this time, it is still the same non-dual self-knowing presence as I AM, except that its nonseparation is the non-separation of you and mountain. There is no sense of being an outside observer apart from the mountain. No sense of standing back from the mountain. No sense of distance at all from 'you' and 'mountain', 0 distance, just as you feel 0 distance with the I AM Presence. When you see this (when there is no 'you' to see this), then any sense of subtle localization at all, whether somewhere in your body-mind, somewhere in your head, completely dissolves, and you no longer feel you are looking out from yourself through your eyes at the mountain, and there is Just mountain itself, self-aware, self-felt. Just non-localized Presence pervading and not separate from all phenomena. This is the meaning of 'body-mind drop off'. So there is sound, taste, touch, but no sense of a separate hearer, taster, feeler, etc. You enter (well not exactly 'enter' since it is not a stage, but rather to realised it as always already so) the mode of being/seeing where there is just mountain self-aware of itself. So again it is the same self-aware Presence as I AM, but except this time it is self-aware Presence as Sound, Taste, Touch, Smells, Sight, even Thought. Everything reveals itself as Pure Non-Dual Presence. And I emphasize again, that this must arise as an Insight into the nature of reality, and is not an altered state of experience or a meditative state, just as the I AMness is not something induced by meditation but is something that is very fundamental as the nature of reality itself, already always so.

The sense of The Center dissolves and Presence turns out to be everything -- everything is a center, a point of luminous clarity, a manifestation of buddha-nature.

This is what is meant by the analogy given by Thusness:

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.

So at this point, since there is no more sense of The Center, it is as Dan Berkow says:


What has happened to the awareness previously situated as "the observer"? Now, awareness and perception are unsplit. For example, if a tree is perceived, the "observer" is "every leaf of the tree". There is no observer/awareness apart from things,
nor are there any things apart from awareness. What dawns is: "this is it". All the pontifications, pointings, wise sayings, implications of "special knowledge", fearless quests for truth, paradoxically clever insights -- all of these are seen to be unnecessary and beside the point. "This", exactly as is, is "It". There is no need to add to "This" with anything further, in fact there is no "further" - nor is there any "thing" to hold on to, or to do away with.


Not using "I AM", and instead referring to "pure awareness", is a way to say the awareness isn't focused on an "I" nor is it concerned with distinguishing being from not-being regarding
itself. It isn't viewing itself in any sort of objectifying way, so wouldn't have concepts about states it is in -- "I AM" only fits as opposed to "something else is", or "I am not". With no "something else" and no "not-I", there can't be an "I AM" awareness. "Pure awareness" can be criticized in a similar way - is there "impure" awareness, is there something other than awareness? So the terms "pure awareness, or just "awareness" are simply used to interact through dialogue, with recognition that words always imply dualistic contrasts.

Even the notion of 'Consciousness' as I mentioned earlier as something granduer, something more ultimate than transient manifestation, eventually the notion is dropped (it is already naturally implicit in/as everything without needing to make it an ultimate reality), as Greg Goode puts it:

once experience doesn't seem divided and once it doesn't seem like there is anything
other than consciousness, then the notion of consciousness itself will gently and peacefully dissolve.

And then, even if this non-dual is clearly seen through, not to mistake that this is the end of the path. This is just Stage 4. There are further insights, which do not in any way deny the vividness and clarity of Presence but provides clearer insight into the nature of that Presence (i.e. the insights of anatta, emptiness, interdependent origination, etc)

It will not be easy to understand or be convinced about non-duality, let alone anatta and emptiness, until you have a real taste, glimpse, and hopefully a 'decisive realisation' beyond mere glimpses that will make this as clear as cloudless sunlit sky, just as once you had a clear taste of I AMness it is not going to be something that can be doubted. Eventually the clinging to Pure Subjectivity dissolves when the last trace of it being more ultimate than something else dissolves, and it happens on its own accord when the insight manifests.
I think that “the sense of observation” is a fine way to put it; as you are certainly aware of this observing that seems to be going on. Yet, at the same time, you cannot quite seem to put your finger on what, or who, is looking,

As Lin Chi has said, “Who is this fellow going in and out of my eyes? “

However, I do agree with Krishnamurti in this way, that when speaking about I Am, the observed being the I Am is also the observer, but of one piece.

Yet, we must not take this as dualistic, just because language has a propensity to lean us in this direction. I believe that Krishnamurti was speaking of a more 'Intrinsic Knowing,' which isn’t actually broken up into pieces like observer and observed. You might rather say that, the I Am knows its self to be the I Am, and all that that entails, simply by being its self.
Krishnamurti never talks about I AM. Observer is observed can mean two things: the I AM is Self-Knowing without subject-object division, or it could mean that the sense of an observer turns out to be none other than everything that is experienced such that there is no trace of an observer apart from these sights, sounds, etc. This is what he meant (the 2nd one). He is always talking about Non-Duality in that sense -- the non-duality of thinker and thought, seer and scenery, hearer and sound, etc. And his insight on that matter (non-dual, and anatta) is subtle but seldom do people understand him.

For example:

You look at this magnificent tree and you wonder who is watching whom and presently there is no watcher at all. Everything is so intensely alive and there is only life, and the watcher is as dead as that leaf... Utterly still... listening without a moment of action, without recording, without experiencing, only seeing and listening... really the outside is the inside and the inside is the outside, and it is difficult, almost impossible to separate them. (p. 214)

So we are asking is there a holistic awareness of all the senses, therefore there is never asking for the 'more'. I wonder if you follow all this ?. Are we together in this even partially? And where there is this total - fully aware - of all the senses, awareness of it - not you are aware of it.... the awareness of the senses in themselves - then there is no centre - in which there is awareness of the wholeness. If you consider it, you will see that to suppress the senses... is contradictory, conflicting, sorrowful.... To understand the truth you must have complete sensitivity. Do you understand Sirs? Reality demands your whole being; you must come to it with your body, mind, and heart as a total human being..... Insight is complete total attention....
When this is a fact not an idea, then dualism and division between observer and observed comes to an end. The observer is the observed - they are not separate states. The observer and the observed are a joint phenomenon and when you experience that directly then you will find that the thing which you have dreaded as emptiness which makes you seek escape into various forms of sensation including religion - ceases and you are able to face it and be it.

- Collection of K teachings from the KFT CDROM

Watch what is happening inside you, do not think, but just watch, do not move your eye-balls, just keep them very, very quiet, because there is nothing to see now, you have seen all the things around you, now you are seeing what is happening inside your mind, and to see what is happening inside your mind, you have to be very quiet inside. And when you do this, do you know what happens to you? You become very sensitive, you become very alert to things outside and inside. Then you find out that the outside is the inside, then you find out that the observer is the observed.

- Pg 36, K on education

As long as there is the thinker and the thought, there must be duality. As long as there is a seeker who is seeking, there must be duality. As long as there is an experiencer and the thing to be experienced, there must be duality. So duality exists when there is the observer and the observed. That is, as long as there is a centre, the censor, the observer, the thinker, the seeker, the experiencer as the centre, there must be the opposite.

- Talks by Krishnamurty in India 1966 p.72

Liberation is not an end. Liberation is from moment to moment in the understanding of 'what is'-when the mind is free, not made free.

- Krishnamurti's Talks 1949-1950 (Verbatim Report)
...India p.22

Are not the thinker and his thought an inseparable phenomenon? Why do we separate the thought from the thinker? Is it not one of the cunning tricks of the mind so that the thinker can change his garb according to circumstances, yet remain the same? Outwardly there is the appearance of change but inwardly the thinker continues to be as he is. The craving for continuity, for permanency, creates this division between the thinker and his thoughts. When the thinker and his thought become inseparable then only is duality transcended. Only then is there the true religious experience. Only when the thinker ceases is there Reality. This inseparable unity of the thinker and his thought is to be experienced but not to be speculated upon. This experience is liberation; in it there is inexpressible joy.

- Authentic Report of Sixteen Talks given in 1945 & 1946 ...p.14.
Here's a video that Thusness and I found very interesting. I think what is said in this video lines up well with the Buddhist teaching of Emptiness.

It also reminds me of an article written by Longchen:

The non-solidity of existence

This article describes a spiritual insight. It may be quite hard to understand.

The things that we experience are registered by all the sense organs. The eye sight registers vision, the ears register sound, the body registers sensations. These perception, sensations and experiences are not happening in some places. They are the experience of the arising of certain conditions. There is no solidity and physicality in the actual experience.

What we experienced is not universal and common to all. Here's an example to illustrate that: We know that as human beings, we see in term of colours. Some animals are however colour-blind, thus they see differently from us. But none of us, is really seeing the truth nature directly. The senses of different species of sentient beings experience things differently. So who is seeing the real image of an object? None.

Likewise, the various planes of existence are due to different conditions arising. In certain types of meditation, one is said to be able to access these planes of existence. This is because they are not specific locations. They are mental states and are thus non-localised. In these meditations, our consciousness changes and 'aligned' more with these other states or planes of existence.

All the planes of existence are simultaneously manifesting, but because our senses are human-based conditioned arisings, we only see the human world and other beings that shared 'similar' resonating arising conditions. But nevertheless, the other planes of existences are not elsewhere in some other places.

What we think of as places are really just consciousness and there is no solidity whatsoever. Even our touch sense is just that. The touch sense gives an impression of feeling something that is physical and three-dimensional. But there is really no solid self-existing object there. Instead, it is simply the sensation that gives the impression of physical solidity and form.
OK, that all I can think of and write about this topic. I will revise and improve this article where the need arises.

For your necessary ponderance. Thank you for reading.

These articles are parts of a series of spiritual realisation articles .

(Written by PasserBy)

AEN, you have posted some very interesting and good quality articles in this blog. I enjoy reading them as well as those posts that you have written in TheTaoBums and your forum. Actually of all those recent articles you posted in the past 2 months, I like the talk given by Rob Burbea best but somehow I do not have the ‘on the spot urge’ to comment until this article by Rupert came. I do not know why but I will allow this urge to write itself. :)

While reading through these articles, there are several points that came to my mind, so I will just jot them down and expand them along the way.

1. On Experience and Realization
2. On Letting Go
3. On Ignorance, Disassociation and Liberation
4. On Non-Dual Experience, Realization and Anatta

1. On Experience and Realization

Comments by Soh: Also see related article - I AM Experience/Glimpse/Recognition vs I AM Realization (Certainty of Being)

One of the direct and immediate response I get after reading the articles by Rob Burbea and Rupert is that they missed one very and most important point when talking about the Eternal Witness Experience -- The Realization. They focus too much on the experience but overlook the realization. Honestly I do not like to make this distinction as I see realization also as a form of experience. However in this particular case, it seems appropriate as it could better illustrate what I am trying to convey. It also relates to the few occasions where you described to me your space-like experiences of Awareness and asked whether they correspond to the phase one insight of Eternal Witness. While your experiences are there, I told you ‘not exactly’ even though you told me you clearly experienced a pure sense of presence.

So what is lacking? You do not lack the experience, you lack the realization. You may have the blissful sensation or feeling of vast and open spaciousness; you may experience a non-conceptual and objectless state; you may experience the mirror like clarity but all these experiences are not Realization. There is no ‘eureka’, no ‘aha’, no 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".

Lastly this realization is not an end by itself, it is the beginning. If we are truthful and not over exaggerate and get carried away by this initial glimpse, we will realize that we do not gain liberation from this realization; contrary we suffer more after this realization. However it is a powerful condition that motivates a practitioner to embark on a spiritual journey in search of true freedom. :)

(Comments by Soh: the reason John Tan/Thusness said ‘we suffer more after this [I AM] realization’ is due to his energy imbalances triggered after I AM. However, the period after I AM realization was blissful and mostly problem-free for me, as I avoided pitfalls or incorrect practice by practicing according to John’s pointers and guidance, which I have written in this chapterSee chapter on Tips on Energy Imbalances in Awakening to Reality: A Guide to the Nature of Mind for more details.).

2. On Letting Go

Before proceeding further, I must thank you for the great effort of typing out the entire talk by Rob Burbea and making this transcript available. It is definitely worth reading again and again. There are 3 paragraphs about letting go in the transcript; I will add some comments to these paragraphs.

Now, one possibility is through developing the attentiveness, developing the mindfulness in a very sharp way, very focused awareness, very bright attentiveness, microscopic kind of fine awareness and really refining the mindfulness like that. And what happens is that the reality that’s revealed to us through that lens is of a very fastly, rapidly changing reality. Everything like pixels on the screen changing, like sand falling on the surface of a lake, just change, change, change, arising and passing, arising and passing, included in that consciousness. So the sense of consciousness is of rapidly arising moments, moment of consciousness, moment of consciousness, arises in relationship to something. And you find this very commonly in the commentaries to the Pali canon, it’s also a little bit in the Buddha said, but mostly in the commentaries. But again, can be very useful if one can develop that way just from the consistency of mindfulness. In that what it brings, seeing all these impermanence, there’s nothing to hold on to. Everything is just slipping through the fingers, like sand through the fingers, including consciousness, can’t be clung to. And so letting go happens with that. I say theoretically, because actually sometimes that mode of working doesn’t actually bring a letting go, but theoretically it brings a letting go and it certainly has that potential. So that’s another possibility again, with its fruits.

A third one we’ve touched more on in the course of the talks here, and it’s more practicing in the kind of more open out sense – and so awareness kind of opens out into the whole field of experience and phenomena. And this opening out of the practice lends itself to having a sense of awareness as something very spacious. Especially when we talk about silence a little bit. Awareness begins to seem incredibly spacious, vast, unimaginably vast. Now this can be arrived at actually through letting go. So the more we let go in practice, the likelihood of the sense of awareness opening up in this very beautiful way. Very vast awareness, dependent on letting go.

And how do we let go? We could either just focus on letting go, we could focus on the impermanence and then we let go, or we could focus on the Anatta – not me, not mine. That’s the three classic ways of letting go. That sense of vast awareness might also be discovered or arrived at just by kind of practicing in a kind of way that relaxes the attention. So usually we attend to this object and that object, and another object, and another object. But actually relaxing that propensity, and being more interested in the space that opens up, rather than the objects or things in the space. And we say you can rest then in Awareness, instead of going out and doing things with objects, one just rests in that space of Awareness that begins to opens up. This is something one can do with the eyes open, or with the eyes close, actually completely irrelevant. Practice it with the eyes open, practice it with the eyes closed.
Buddhism aside, I would like to emphasize that we should never underestimate the art of ‘letting go’, it will soon prove to be our most challenging endeavor in life. To ‘let go’ often requires the deep wisdom from undergoing the ups and downs of life and even with a life-long practice, we may still not be able to understand the breadth and depth of 'letting go'.

My experience is that before the arising insight of anatta and emptiness nature of all phenomena, ‘letting go’ is somehow related to the degree of suffering. Very often, many of us need to go through a process of intense suffering before which we can really ‘let go’. It seems to be a pre-requisite condition in order to give rise to that ‘willingness’ of ‘letting go’. :)

The mind does not know how to liberate itself.
By going beyond its own limits it experiences unwinding.
From deep confusion it drops knowing.
From intense suffering comes releasing.
From complete exhaustion comes resting.
All these go in cycle perpetually repeating,
Till one realizes everything is indeed already liberated,
As spontaneous happening from before beginning.

~ Thusness
Rob links the practice of seeing impermanence and anatta in transient phenomena to dis-identification and disassociation. I disagree; I will give my views and comments in the next section.

3. On Ignorance, Disassociation and Liberation

Most of the articles you posted recently are about non-dual experience and vast open spaciousness of awareness. My advice is not to over-skew yourself into just the non-dual aspect of experience and neglect 'ignorance', having direct insight of ignorance is as important. For non-dualists, Presence pervades everywhere but this is equally true for Ignorance. It pervades in all aspects of our experiences and that includes deep absorptive state or non-dual, non-conceptual, objectless state. So deeply feel the amazing blinding power of ‘ignorance’, how latently deep, how it shapes and distorts experiential reality. I cannot find any magical spell more hypnotic than our inherent and dualistic view.

If we were to practice observing impermanence of phenomena while the ‘blinding spell’ is still strong, the purpose of the practice appears to swerve towards dispassion, dis-identification and disassociation. In fact it is quite fine even if it is understood that way but many can’t stop at dispassion and dis-identification and rest in perfect contentment in groundlessness. Somehow they will ‘conjure’ out a permanent unchanging state to rest upon. ‘Not self, not mine’ sounds as if there is something ‘Mine or Self’. I would prefer practitioners to treat ‘anatta’ as ‘there is absolutely nothing that can be said to be mine or self’; even then this realization that ‘there is absolutely nothing that can be said to be mine or self’ should not be misunderstood as the experiential insight of anatta (see On Anatta (No-Self), Emptiness, Maha and Ordinariness, and Spontaneous Perfection). I have placed stronger emphasis on this aspect as in Buddhism, nothing is more important than to arise the insight of anatta and dependent origination because it is wisdom (prajna wisdom in particular) that liberates (since the cause of suffering is ignorance). Do not take it too lightly. :)

Nevertheless this progression seems quite inevitable because the mind is ruled by ignorance (dualistic and inherent tendency). More amazingly, the mind can fabricate such a state and think that it is the resting place, nirvana. This is the danger of all dangers because like what Rob said, it is so beautiful and fits so nicely into the ideal model of an inherent and dualistic mind. When a practitioner gets into it, it is difficult to let go.

However if insight of anatta arises and we revisit the practice of observing phenomena, we will realize that liberation does not require ‘such permanent state or self/Self’. We just have to dissolve ignorance and impermanence turns self liberating. So what we discard turns out to be our ultimate goal and the reason why we can’t find liberation becomes obvious -- because we are running away from liberation; likewise, the reason why we suffer is because we are actively seeking suffering. This is exactly what I meant by the following 2 paragraphs in your forum:

" seems that lots of effort need to be put in -- which is really not the case. The entire practice turns out to an undoing process. It is a process of gradually understanding the workings of our nature that is from beginning liberated but clouded by this sense of ‘self’ that is always trying to preserve, protect and ever attached. The entire sense of self is a ‘doing’. Whatever we do, positive or negative, is still doing. Ultimately there is not-even a letting go or let be, as there is already continuous dissolving and arising and this ever dissolving and arising turns out to be self-liberating. Without this ‘self’ or ‘Self’, there is no ‘doing’, there is only spontaneous arising. "

~ Thusness (source: Non-dual and karmic patterns)

"...When one is unable to see the truth of our nature, all letting go is nothing more than another form of holding in disguise. Therefore without the 'insight', there is no releasing.... it is a gradual process of deeper seeing. when it is seen, the letting go is natural. You cannot force yourself into giving up the self... purification to me is always these insights... non-dual and emptiness nature...."

~ Thusness
Hence disassociation immediately puts us into a position of dualism and that is why I disagree with Rob. If insight of anatta arises, there is no center, no base, no agent; there is only phenomena dependently originating and practitioners must from this very experience of vivid arising and dissolving instantly arise another important insight -- that this vivid shimmering that dependently originates is naturally pure and self-liberating.

Lastly, I am not suggesting that there is a definite order of precedence for realizing the profound meaning of the dharma seals; it all depends on the conditions and capacity of each practitioner. But given the choice, start from penetrating the true meaning of anatta first, we will have very different understanding of impermanence, suffering and nirvana once we mature our insight of anatta. :)

4. On Non-Dual Experience, Realization and Anatta

I have just casually gone through some of your forum discussions. Very enlightening discussions and well presentation of my 7-phases-of-insights but try not to over-emphasize it as a model; it should not be taken as a definite model of enlightenment nor should you use it as a framework to validate others' experiences and insights. Simply take it as a guide along your spiritual journey.

You are right to differentiate non-dual experience from non-dual realization and non-dual realization from the insight of anatta. We have discussed this umpteem times. Non-dual experience in the context we are using refers to the experience of no-subject-object division. The experience is much like putting two candle flames together where the boundary between the flames becomes indistinguishable. It is not a realization but simply a stage, an experience of unity between the observer and the observed where the conceptual layer that divides is temporarily suspended in a meditative state. This you have experienced.

Non-dual realization on the other hand is a deep understanding that comes from seeing through the illusionary nature of subject-object division. It is a natural non-dual state that resulted from an insight that arises after rigorous investigation, challenge and a prolonged period of practice that is specially focused on ‘No-Self’. Somehow focusing on “No-Self” will spark a sense of sacredness towards the transient and fleeting phenomena. The sense of sacredness that is once the monopoly of the Absolute is now also found in the Relative. The term ‘No-Self’ like Zen-Koan may appear cryptic, senseless or illogical but when realized, it is actually obviously clear, direct and simple. The realization is accompanied with the experience that everything is being dissolved into either:

1. An ultimate Subject or
2. As mere ‘flow of phenomenality’

In whatever the case, both spells the end of separateness; experientially there is no sense of two-ness and the experience of unity can be quite overwhelming initially but eventually it will lose its grandeur and things turn quite ordinary. Nevertheless, regardless of whether the sense of Oneness is derived from the experience of ‘All as Self’ or ‘as simply just manifestation’, it is the beginning insight of “No-Self”. The former is known as One-Mind and the later, No-Mind.

In Case 1 it is usual that practitioners will continue to personify, reify and extrapolate a metaphysical essence in a very subtle way, almost unknowingly. This is because despite the non-dual realization, understanding is still orientated from a view that is based on subject-object dichotomy. As such it is hard to detect this tendency and practitioners continue their journey of building their understanding of ‘No-Self based on Self’.

For Case 2 practitioners, they are in a better position to appreciate the doctrine of anatta. When insight of Anatta arises, all experiences become implicitly non-dual. But the insight is not simply about seeing through separateness; it is about the thorough ending of reification so that there is an instant recognition that the ‘agent’ is extra, in actual experience it does not exist. It is an immediate realization that experiential reality has always been so and the existence of a center, a base, a ground, a source has always been assumed.

To mature this realization, even direct experience of the absence of an agent will prove insufficient; there must also be a total new paradigm shift in terms of view; we must free ourselves from being bonded to the idea, the need, the urge and the tendency of analyzing, seeing and understanding our moment to moment of experiential reality from a source, an essence, a center, a location, an agent or a controller and rest entirely on anatta and Dependent Origination.

Therefore this phase of insight is not about singing eloquently the non-dual nature of an Ultimate Reality; contrary it is deeming this Ultimate Reality as irrelevant. Ultimate Reality appears relevant only to a mind that is bond to seeing things inherently, once this tendency dissolves, the idea of a source will be seen as flawed and erroneous. Therefore to fully experience the breadth and depth of no-self, practitioners must be prepared and willing to give up the entire subject-object framework and be open to eliminate the entire idea of a ‘source’. Rob expressed very skillfully this point in his talk:

One time the Buddha went 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.
What then is the view that Buddhism is talking about without resorting to a ‘source’? I think the post by Vajrahridaya in the thread ‘What makes Buddhism different’ of your forum succinctly and concisely expressed the view, it is well written. That said, do remember to infinitely regress back into this vivid present moment of manifestation – as this arising thought, as this passing scent – Emptiness is Form. :)