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Two Types of Nondual Contemplation after I AM
+A and -A Emptiness

(Last Updated: 14th March 2009)

Article written by: Thusness/PasserBy

Wonder why but of late, the topic on anatta kept surfacing in forums. Perhaps 'yuan' (condition) has arisen. -:) I will just jot down some thoughts on my experiences of ‘no-self’. A casual sharing, nothing authoritative.

The 2 stanzas below are pivotal in leading me to the direct experience of no-self. Although they appear to convey the same stuff about anatta, meditating on these 2 stanzas can yield 2 very different experiential insights -- one on the emptiness aspect and the other, the non-dual luminosity aspect. The insights that arise from these experiences are very illuminating as they contradict so much our ordinary understanding of what awareness is.

  • There is thinking, no thinker
    There is hearing, no hearer
    There is seeing, no seer

  • In thinking, just thoughts
    In hearing, just sounds
    In seeing, just forms, shapes and colors.

  • Before proceeding any further, it is of absolute importance to know that there is no way the stanzas can be correctly understood by way of inference, logical deduction or induction. Not that there is something mystical or transcendental about the stanzas but simply the way of mental chattering is a 'wrong approach'. The right technique is through 'vipassana' or any more direct and attentive bare mode of observation that allows the seeing of things as they are. Just a casual note, such mode of knowing turns natural when non-dual insight matures, before that it can be quite 'efforting'.
    On the first stanza

    The two most obvious experiences from this initial glimpse of the first stanza is the lack of doer-ship and the direct insight of the absence of an agent. These 2 experiences are key for my phase 5 of the 7 phases of insights.

    1. The lack of doer-ship that links and co-ordinates experiences.
    Without the 'I' that links, phenomena (thoughts, sound, feelings and so on and so forth) appear bubble-like, floating and manifesting freely, spontaneously and boundlessly. With the absence of the doer-ship also comes a deep sense of freedom and transparency. Ironical as it may sound but it's true experientially. We will not have the right understanding when we hold too tightly 'inherent' view. It is amazing how 'inherent' view prevents us from seeing freedom as no-doership, interdependence and interconnectedness, luminosity and non-dual presence.

    2. The direct insight of the absence of an agent.
    In this case, there is a direct recognition that there is “no agent”. Just one thought then another thought. So it is always thought watching thought rather than a watcher watching thought. However the gist of this realization is skewed towards a spontaneous liberating experience and a vague glimpse of the empty nature of phenomena -- that is, the transient phenomena being bubble-like and ephemeral, nothing substantial or solid. At this phase we should not misunderstand that we have experienced thoroughly the ‘empty’ nature of phenomena and awareness, although there is this temptation to think we have. -:)

    Depending on the conditions of an individual, it may not be obvious that it is “always thought watching thought rather than a watcher watching thought.” or "the watcher is that thought." Because this is the key insight and a step that cannot afford to be wrong along the path of liberation, I cannot help but with some disrespectful tone say,

    For those masters that taught,
    “Let thoughts arise and subside,
    See the background mirror as perfect and be unaffected.”
    With all due respect, they have just “blah” something nice but deluded.


    See that there is no one behind thoughts.
    First, one thought then another thought.
    With deepening insight it will later be revealed,
    Always just this, One Thought!
    Non-arising, luminous yet empty!
    And this is the whole purpose of anatta. To thoroughly see through that this background does not exist in actuality. What exists is a stream, action or karma. There is no doer or anything being done, there is only doing; No meditator nor meditation, only meditating. From a letting go perspective, "a watcher watching thought" will create the impression that a watcher is allowing thoughts to arise and subside while itself being unaffected. This is an illusion; it is 'holding' in disguise as 'letting go'. When we realized that there is no background from start, reality will present itself as one whole letting go. With practice, ‘intention’ dwindles with the maturing of insight and ‘doing’ will be gradually experienced as mere spontaneous happening as if universe is doing the work. With the some pointers from 'dependent origination', we can then penetrate further to see this happening as a sheer expression of everything interacting with everything coming into being. In fact, if we do not reify ‘universe’, it is just that -- an expression of interdependent arising that is just right wherever and whenever is.

    Understanding this, practice is simply opening to whatever is.
    For this mere happening is just right wherever and whenever is.
    Though no place can be called home it is everywhere home.

    When experience matures in the practice of great ease,
    The experience is Maha! Great, miraculous and bliss.
    In mundane activities of seeing, eating and tasting,
    When expressed poetically is as if the entire universe meditating.

    Whatever said and expressed are really all different flavors,
    Of this everything of everything dependently originating,
    As this moment of vivid shimmering.
    By then it is clear that the transient phenomena is already happening in the perfect way; unwinding what must be unwinded, manifesting what must be manifested and subsides when it is time to go. There is no problem with this transient happening, the only problem is having an ‘extra mirror’, a reification due to the power of the mind to abstract. The mirror is not perfect; it is the happening that is perfect. The mirror appears to be perfect only to a dualistic and inherent view.

    Our deeply held inherent and dualistic view has very subtly and unknowingly personified the "luminous aspect" into the watcher and discarded the "emptiness aspect" as the transient phenomena. The key challenge of practice is then to clearly see that luminosity and emptiness are one and inseparable, they have never and can never be separated.

    On the second stanza

    For the second stanza, the focus is on the vivid, pristine-ness of transience phenomena. Thoughts, sounds and all transient are indistinguishable from Awareness. There is no-experiencer-experience split, only one seamless spontaneous experience arising as thinker/thoughts, hearer/sounds, feeler/feelings and so on. In hearing, hearer and sound are indistinguishably one. For anyone that is familiar with the “I AM” experience, that pure sense of existence, that powerful experience of presence that makes one feel so real, is unforgettable. When the background is gone, all foreground phenomena reveal themselves as Presence. It is like naturally 'vipassanic' throughout or simply put, naked in awareness. From the hissing sound of PC, to the vibration of the moving MRT train, to the sensation when the feet touches the ground, all these experiences are crystal clear, no less “I AM” than “I AM”. The Presence is still fully present, nothing is denied. -:)

    Division of subject and object is merely an assumption.
    Thus someone giving up and something to be given up is an illusion.
    When self becomes more and more transparent,
    Likewise phenomena become more and more luminous.
    In thorough transparency all happening are pristinely and vividly clear.
    Obviousness throughout, aliveness everywhere!
    It will be obvious by then that only the deeply held dualistic view is obscuring our insight into this experiential fact. In actual experience, there is just the crystal clarity of phenomena manifesting. Maturing this experience, the mind-body dissolves into mere non-dual luminosity and all phenomena are experientially understood as the manifestation of this non-dual luminous presence -- the key insight leading to the realization that "All is Mind".

    After this, not to be too overwhelmed or over-claimed what is more than necessary; rather investigate further. Does this non-dual luminosity exhibits any characteristic of self-nature that is independent, unchanging and permanent? A practitioner can still get stuck for quite sometimes solidifying non-dual presence unknowingly. This is leaving marks of the 'One mirror' as described in the stage 4 of the 7 phases of my insights. Although experience is non-dual, the insight of emptiness is still not there. Though the dualistic bond has loosened sufficiently, the 'inherent' view remains strong.

    When the 'subject' is gone, experience becomes non-dual but we forgotten about the 'object'. When object is further emptied, we see Dharmakaya.
    Do See clearly that for the case of a ‘subject’ that is first penetrated, it is a mere label collating the 5 aggregates but for the next level that is to be negated, it is the Presence that we are emptying -- not a label but the very presence itself that is non-dual in nature.

    For sincere Buddhist practitioners that have matured non-dual insight, they may prompt themselves why is there a need for Buddha to put so much emphasis on dependent origination if non-dual presence is final? The experience is still as Vedantic, more 'Brahman' than 'Sunyata'. This 'solidity of non-dual presence' must be broken with the help of dependent origination and emptiness. Knowing this a practitioner can then progress to understand the empty (dependently originated) nature of non-dual presence. It is a further refining of anatta experience according to the first stanza.

    As for those "I AMness" practitioners, it is very common for them after non-dual insight to stay in non-dual presence. They find delight in 'chop wood, carry water' and 'spring comes, grass grows by its own'. Nothing much can be stressed; the experience do appear to be final. Hopefully 'yuan' (condition) can arise for these practitioners to see this subtle mark that prevent the seeing.
    On Emptiness

    If we observe thought and ask where does thought arise, how does it arise, what is ‘thought’ like. 'Thought' will reveal its nature is empty -- vividly present yet completely un-locatable. It is very important not to infer, think or conceptualise but feel with our entire being this ‘ungraspability’ and 'unlocatability'. It seems to reside 'somewhere' but there is no way to locate it. It is just an impression of somewhere "there" but never "there". Similarly “here-ness” and “now-ness” are merely impressions formed by sensations, aggregates of causes and conditions, nothing inherently ‘there’; equally empty like ‘selfness’.

    This ungraspable and unlocatable empty nature is not only peculiar to ‘thought’. All experiences or sensations are like that -- vividly present yet insubstantial, un-graspable, spontaneous, un-locatable.

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

    Likewise when standing in front of a burning fire pit, the entire phenomena of ‘fire’, the burning heat, the whole sensation of ‘hotness’ that are so vividly present and seem so real but when examined they are also not inherently “there” -- merely dependently manifest whenever conditions are there. It is amazing how dualistic and inherent views have caged seamless experience in a who-where-when construct.

    All experiences are empty. They are like sky flowers, like painting on the surface of a pond. There is no way to point to a moment of experience and say this is ‘in’ and that is ‘out’. All ‘in’ are as ‘out’; to awareness seamless experience is all there is. It is not the mirror or pond that is important but that process of illusion-like phenomenon of the paint shimmering on the surface of the pond; like an illusion but not an illusion, like a dream but not a dream. This is the ground of all experiences.

    Yet this ‘ungraspability and unlocatabilty’ nature is not all there is; there is also this Maha, this great without boundaries feeling of 'interconnectedness'. When someone hits a bell, the person, the stick, the bell, the vibration of the air, the ears and then the magically appearance of sound -- ’Tongsss…re-sounding…’ is all a seamless one happening, one experience. When breathing, it is just this one whole entire breath; it is all causes and conditions coming together to give rise to this entire sensation of breath as if the whole of universe is doing this breathing. The significance of this Maha experience is not in words; in my opinion, without this experience, there is no true experience of 'interconnectedness' and non-dual presence is incomplete.

    The experience of our empty nature is a very different from that of non-dual oneness. ‘Distance’ for example is overcome in non-dual oneness by seeing through the illusory aspect of subject/object division and resulted in a one non-dual presence. It is seeing all as just ‘This’ but experiencing Emptiness breaks the boundary through its empty ungraspable and unlocatable nature.

    There is no need for a ‘where-place' or a ‘when-time' or a ‘who-I' when we penetrate deeply into this nature. When hearing sound, sound is neither ‘in here’ nor ‘out there’, it is where it is and gone! All centers and reference points dissolve with the wisdom that manifestation dependently originates and hence empty. The experience creates an "always right wherever and whenever is" sensation. A sensation of home everywhere though nowhere can be called home. Experiencing the emptiness nature of presence, a sincere practitioner becomes clear that indeed the non-dual presence is leaving a subtle mark; seeing its nature as empty, the last mark that solidifies experiences dissolves. It feels cool because presence is made more present and effortless. We then move from "vivid non-dual presence" into "though vividly and non-dually present, it is nothing real, empty!".
    On Maha and Ordinariness

    The experience of Maha may sound as if one is going after certain sort of experience and appears to be in contradiction with the 'ordinariness of enlightenment' promoted in Zen Buddhism. This is not true and in fact, without this experience, non-dual is incomplete. This section is not about Maha as a stage to achieve but to see that Sunyata is Maha in nature. In Maha, one does not feel self, one 'feels' universe; one does not feel 'Brahman' but feels 'interconnectedness'; one does not feel 'helplessness' due to 'dependence and interconnection' but feels great without boundary, spontaneous and marvelous. Now lets get back to 'ordinariness'.

    Ordinariness has always been Taoism’s forte. In Zen we also see the importance of this being depicted in those enlightenment models like Tozan’s 5 ranks and the The Ten Oxherding Pictures. But ordinariness must only be understood that non-dual and the Maha world of suchness is nothing beyond. There is no beyond realm to arrive at and never a separated state from our ordinary daily world; rather it is to bring this primordial, original and untainted experience of non-dual and Maha experience into the most mundane activities. If this experience is not found in most mundane and ordinary activities then practitioners have not matured their understandings and practices.

    Before Maha experience has always been rare occurrence in the natural state and was treated as a passing trend that comes and goes. Inducing the experience often involves concentration on repeatedly doing some task for a short period of time for example,

    If we were to breathe in and out, in and out…till there is simply this entire sensation of breath, just breath as all causes and conditions coming into this moment of manifestation.

    If we were to focus on the sensation of stepping, the sensation of hardness, just the sensation of the hardness, till there is simply this entire sensation ‘hardness’ when the feet touches the ground, just this ‘hardness’ as all causes and conditions coming into this moment of manifestation.

    If we were to focus on hearing someone hitting a bell, the stick, the bell, the vibration of the air, the ears all coming together for this sensation of sound to arise, we will have Maha experience.

    However ever since incorporating the teaching of dependent origination into non-dual presence, over the years it has become more ‘accessible’ but never has this been understood as a ground state. There seems to be a predictable relationship of seeing interdependent arising and emptiness on the experience of non-dual presence.

    A week ago, the clear experience of Maha dawned and became quite effortless and at the same time there is a direct realization that it is also a natural state. In Sunyata, Maha is natural and must be fully factored into the path of experiencing whatever arises. Nevertheless Maha as a ground state requires the maturing of non-dual experience; we cannot feel entirely as the interconnectedness of everything coming spontaneously into being as this moment of vivid manifestation with a divided mind.

    The universe is this arising thought.
    The universe is this arising sound.
    Just this magnificent arising!
    Is Tao.
    Homage to all arising.


    On Spontaneous Perfection

    Lastly, when these 2 experiences inter-permeate, what is really needed is simply to experience whatever arises openly and unreservedly. It may sound simple but do not underestimate this simple path; even aeon lives of practices cannot touch the depth of its profundity.

    In fact all the subsections -- “On Stanza One”, “On Stanza Two”, “On Emptiness”, there is already certain emphasis of the natural way. With regards to the natural way, I must say that spontaneous presence and experiencing whatever arises openly, unreservedly and fearlessly is not the 'path' of any tradition or religion -- Be it Zen, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Advaita, Taoism or Buddhism. In fact the natural way is the 'path' of Tao but Taoism cannot claim monopoly over the 'path' simply because it has a longer history. My experience is that any sincere practitioner after maturing non-dual experiences will eventually come to this automatically and naturally. It is like in the blood, there is no other way than the natural way.

    That said, the natural and spontaneous way is often misrepresented. It should not be taken to mean that there is no need to do anything or practice is unnecessary. Rather it is the deepest insight of a practitioner that after cycles and cycles of refining his insights on the aspect of anatta, emptiness and dependent origination, he suddenly realized that anatta is a seal and non-dual luminosity and emptiness have always been ‘the ground’ of all experiences. Practice then shift from ‘concentrative’ to ‘effortless’ mode and for this it requires the complete pervading of non-dual and emptiness insights into our entire being like how “dualistic and inherent views” has invaded consciousness.

    In any case, care must be taken not to make our empty and luminous nature into a metaphysical essence. I will end with a comment I wrote in another blog Luminous Emptiness as it summarizes pretty well what I have written.

    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!
    We should not treat the insight of emptiness as 'higher' than that of non-dual luminosity. It is just different insights dawning due to differing conditions. To some practitioners, the insight of our empty nature comes before non-dual luminosity.

    For a more detailed conceptual understanding of Emptiness, do read the article "Non-Dual Emptiness" by Dr. Greg Goode.


    Update 2020 by Soh:

    Here are some related quotes to this article.

    “To me anatta stanza is still the best trigger… lol.  It allows us to clearly see anatta is the natural state. Always is and effortlessly so. It shows "how ignorance" blinds and creates misconceptions of separation and substantiality of what we called "things and phenomena".


    And realising the view is all pointing to this truth of anatta from top to bottom of how the mind confuses and mistakens conventional existence as true and real.  Dependent origination and emptiness are the raft to balance and neutralize all mind-made conventionalities, so that the mind can rest in natural ease and balance, seeing all arising as spontaneously perfected.” - John Tan, 2019


    “Insight that 'anatta' is a seal and not a stage must arise to further progress into the 'effortless' mode. That is, anatta is the ground of all experiences and has always been so, no I. In seeing, always only seen, in hearing always only sound and in thinking, always only thoughts. No effort required and never was there an 'I'.” - John Tan, 2009


    You need to contemplate on anatta correctly as mentioned by (seeing anatta as dharma seal rather than merely a state of no mind)” – Soh, 2020

    Without thorough breakthrough of both stanzas of anatta 1 and 2, there is no thorough or clear realization of anatta proper in AtR definition. Although the 2nd was clearer to me in the beginning breakthrough in October 2010, the 1st stanza shortly became clearer in the following months and dissolving further grounding, including a very subtle grounding to a Here/Now as well as any subtle remaining referencing to Mind (although that is already largely dissolved, a very subtle unseen tendency was seen and dissolved later).” – Soh, 2020


    “TD Unmanifest

    3h ·

    I have found that in my practice that emptying the subject to be “easier” than emptying the object. So in AtR parlance, working on the first stanza vs. the second.

    Emptying of the aggregates and dhatus have been very helpful in deepening insight into the annata realization. Working to root out karmic propensities in the residual I, me, mine.

    However, I’m curious about practices that have helped in the same kind of penetration of the object, related to the second stanza and Presence, DO, and emptiness to total exertion.




    Soh Wei Yu

    badge icon

    Both stanzas of anatta are on anatta, not emptiness of aggregates



    TD Unmanifest

    Ah, I mistook this section related to the second stanza to be focused on the aggregates and objects:

    "When the 'subject' is gone, experience becomes non-dual but we forgotten about the 'object'. When object is further emptied, we see Dharmakaya. Do See clearly that for the case of a ‘subject’ that is first penetrated, it is a mere label collating the 5 aggregates but for the next level that is to be negated, it is the Presence that we are emptying -- not a label but the very presence itself that is non-dual in nature."

    It has progressed very well in deepening annata, but I was contemplating from the perspective of objects vs subject. So self/Self continues to be nowhere to be found, and always already so. Objects of awareness can seem "real" where self clearly isn't, only aggregates, etc.


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         · 1h


    Soh Wei Yu

    That is a reminder to apply the insight of no-self to all phenomena.

    The two stanzas target the illusion of self/Self. But it must later be applied to all phenomena to realise twofold emptiness. Like the insight of no wind besides blowing ( ) must then apply to all phenomena, including movement, etc.

    In 2011:

    “I am telling the first and second stanza must go hand in hand to have real insight of anatta even for a start. You must have these 2 aspects of insight in anatta. So what is anatta? Means when you penetrate no-agent, you are effectively developing your direct insight. That is not reifying anything extra. That is direct insight into suchness. So that when you see 'Self', there is nothing but aggregates. When you see 'weather', there is nothing but the changing clouds, rain… when you see 'body', you see changing sensation. When you hear sound, you see the DO [dependent origination], then you see how the 2 fold emptiness are simply one insight and why that leads to 一合相 (yi4 he2 xiang4; one totality/composite of appearance). If there is no insight but cling to words then you missed the essence. That is, the gaining of insight on the 2 stanzas is not to think only of 'Self'” - John Tan, 2011


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         · 6m


    Soh Wei Yu

    badge icon

    [10:03 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: To me subject-action-object is just a structure to help articulate and make sense of the world. I do not see it that way. I see it as total exertion of appearance-conditions, not appearance and conditions.

    [10:10 PM, 7/27/2020] Soh Wei Yu: You are referring to td unmanifest?

    [10:47 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Yes

    [10:49 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: If you see object separated from subject or see phenomena apart from mind, no matter how you deconstruct, it is just knowledge. you won't have direct taste of anything.

    [10:52 PM, 7/27/2020] Soh Wei Yu: But not all conditions are appearing right, some are simply intuited or inferred even when unseen.. so they are merely conventional

    [10:53 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Of course, there is no way to know all conditions involved.

    [10:54 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: It is simply to say appearance do not just manifest.

    [10:56 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: There is also the experience of spaciousness when you go through the process of deconstructing both subject and object...the experience is like mind body drop.

    [11:04 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: When you say, the car is empty but you are sitting inside it...what do you mean?

    [11:05 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: It is same as no wind is blowing...

    [11:05 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Or lightning flashing

    [11:07 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Or spring goes, summer comes...

    [11:09 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Means you apply the same insight to everything

    [11:09 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Not only the self...

    [11:10 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Even movement

    [11:13 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: So your mind is perpetually seeing through constructs, so what happens?

    [11:16 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Tell me when you say car is empty yet you are sitting on it. you see through the construct, then what happened?

    [11:16 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: When you see through the wind that is blowing...what happened?

    [11:16 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: When you see through summer or weather? What happened?

    [11:17 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Or I say lightning is flashing, when you really see through that lightning...

    [11:19 PM, 7/27/2020] Soh Wei Yu: is just the mere appearance.. no reifications

    [11:19 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Don't think, experience it...

    [11:19 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: you are force into non-conceptuality

    [11:21 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Like PCE fact very mindful and watchful when you begin ... you begin to feel the blowing...correct...

    [11:21 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: When i say no lightning flashing...u look at the flashing

    [11:24 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Correct? Have you actually practice or pay attention, not just blah out a sentence...

    [11:25 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: When you say no summer, you are experiencing the heat, humidity...etc

    [11:26 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Means you see through the construct but you cannot just think

    [11:27 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: When I say there is no car, I touch the car... what is it... ....the color...the leather, the wheels...

    [11:28 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: If you constantly and perpetually into that ...what happened?

    [11:34 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: You are talking about deconstruction of object and phenomena and I am telling you if you see through, what happens...if you only think, you would not understand...

    [11:38 PM, 7/27/2020] Soh Wei Yu: everything is just vibrant spontaneous presence but no subject or object

    [11:39 PM, 7/27/2020] Soh Wei Yu: like i dont see solid objects, but just shimmering vibrant colors as vivid empty presence

    [11:39 PM, 7/27/2020] Soh Wei Yu: and sounds, sensations, etc

    [11:41 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Yes

    [11:42 PM, 7/27/2020] John Tan: Then it depends on the depth of experiencing the sensation or appearances themselves


    TD Unmanifest

    This is very helpful, thank you. I've just returned from a walk, and used these pointers to feel into what is being pointed to. I was too focused on the deconstruction of objects vs feeling / seeing the direct vibrancy. Many thanks Soh

    , and please pass on my thanks to John Tan.


     · Reply

     · 3m”

    The svabhāva is like the core entity which possesses characteristics. Like a telephone pole possesses the characteristic of being tall, cylindrical, made of wood, brown in color and so on. Perceiving svabhāva is perceiving the telephone pole to be an entity, something that owns these characteristics.

    Realizing emptiness is the experiential recognition that there is no entity that possesses these characteristics, there is only the characteristics, and without the entity at the core, those characteristics cease to be characteristics. There is no entity there, no object which sits at a distance or in a location.

    Emptiness is indeed the non-existence of svabhāva, but it is not a true non-existence like that mentioned as the second position in the catuskoti tetralemma. It is the realization that there has never at any point been an entity from the very beginning.

    Is it non-existence? Sort of, as there is no existent entity to be found, and the entity was always a fallacy. But how can something that never arose in the first place actually lack existence? This is how the freedom from extremes is established." - Kyle Dixon, 2022


    There is only sound

    Geovani Geo wrote:

    We hear a sound. The immediate deeply inbuilt conditioning says, "hearing ". But there is a fallacy there. There is only sound. Ultimately, no hearer and no hearing. The same with all other senses. A centralized, or expanded, or zero-dimensional inherent perceiver or aware-er is an illusion.

    Thusness/John Tan:

    Very good.

    Means both stanza is clear.
    In hearing, no hearer.
    In hearing, only sound.  No hearing.
    Labels: , 0 comments | |



    John Tan wrote in 2022,


    The weight of thoughts -- Part 1

    When contemplating, do not just let our contemplation remain as a mental reasoning exercise.  For example: 

    What appears is neither "internal" nor "external". For the notion of "internality" is dependent on the notion of "externality", without either, the sense of neither can arise.  Therefore both notions r merely conventional, they originates dependently.

    Do not just let our contemplation remain at this level. If we do that, at most the freedom will simply remain at the mental level -- merely a pellucid, pure and clean state.  It is no different from practicing raw attention although insight on how conceptualities proliferate the mind may arise. 

    But go further to relate directly to our sensations, thoughts, smells, colors, tastes, sounds and ask: 

    "What do we mean by thoughts are neither inside nor outside our head?" 

    Seeing through this will be much more penetrating.  It will bring a deep sense of illusoriness and mystical awe as a real-time lived-experience.


    The weight of thoughts -- Part 2

    How heavy are thoughts?

    Where are their roots? 

    It is not uncommon to hear in the spiritual circle phrases like "the 'I' is just a thought" or "thought is empty and spacious, there is no weight or root to it". 

    While the rootlessness and the space-like nature of "thoughts" should be pointed out, one must not be misled into thinking they have seen through "anything" much less up-rooted the deeply seated conceptual notions of "I/mine", "body/mind", "space/time"...etc. 

    So emphasis must also be placed on the other side of the coin. "Thoughts" are astonishingly heavy like a black-hole (size of a pinhole, weight of a star); the roots of conceptual notions" they carry permeate our entire being and everywhere. 

    The "roots" of thoughts are no where to be found also means they can be found anywhere and everywhere, spreaded across the 3 times and 10 directions -- in modern context, over different time-lines across the multiverse.  In other words, "this arises, that arises".


    In anatta, we see through self as a mental construct and one is set on a de-constructive journey to free oneself from all mental constructs, from self to all phenomena and the relationships among them.

    However when we see dependent arising, nothing is eliminated.

    Conceptualization remains, parts remain, cause-effect remains, self remains, others remains...Everything remains, only the mistaken view of "essence" is relinquished.

    Instead of seeing them to exist essentially, it is now understood that they originates dependently and whatever originates in dependence is free from the four pairs of extremes (aka 8 negations of Nagarjuna).

    Without understanding dependent arising and emptiness, spontaneous perfection free from all elaborations will be distorted.”

    Also see: (note: there are two aspects to emptiness expressed inside. Can you tell what are they?)

    For further exploration on Emptiness after reading this article, I highly recommend reading and contemplating on all the contents within this link and also reading all the other articles linked within: Compilation of Post Anatta Advise


    Update, 2024 by Soh:


    Important message for everyone.  

    The two stanzas of anatta are linked to this:

    [8:40 PM, 6/9/2021] John Tan: 1. Dzogchen has a phrase "spontaneous presence". I do not know it's exact meaning in dzogchen however the phrase is intimately related to the 2 experiences of the 2 stanzas:

    1. No doership = spontaneous

    2. Mere appearances as Presence

    You'll see that I wrote about both aspects in

    Without realizing of the second stanza of anatta in , it is not considered genuine anatman (no-self) realisation in AtR. Related: , , ,

    I have also remarked that 99% of the time, people who said they realised no-self merely experienced the non-doership aspect and not the genuine nondual anatman realisation. Also see:

    Based on my experiences from discussions with thousands of individuals, I've observed that claims of recognizing nonduality—where there's no differentiation between the internal and external, or an absence of self—do not necessarily indicate a true realization of anatman or an authentic nondual experience or insight. Often, there is a chance that the person is simply adopting specific jargon or imitating others, under the impression that they have reached a similar level of understanding. However, in reality, their experience may only encompass a sense of impersonality and non-doership, rather than a genuine nondual experience or insight.

    I (Soh) have once asked John Tan if he thinks a certain teacher has realised anatta, to which John replied, “There is no authentication of one's radiance, no recognition of appearances as one's radiance and no clear pointing of how conventional constructs (Soh: are seen through and released).  So what led you to that conclusion?” 

    Additionally, commenting on a certain teacher’s writings, John Tan wrote,

    “When we say "Mind is the great earth", the first step is to understand and taste what is mind before we go a step further.

    If the teaching doesn't teach and taste what mind is, then it is just beautiful talks and grandious speech.

    Next one has to point out what is "great earth"?  Where is this "great earth"?  The soil, the ground, the flower, the air or buildings or the conventional world?

    Then talk about what is total exertion they have been talking?

    Then the integration of the mind and total exertion and that is +A.”

    However it does not mean the second stanza of anatta is more important than the first stanza. In fact, after awakening the second stanza of anatta, the pellucid radiance as all appearances beyond the paradigm of subject-action-object, it is vital to penetrate deeply into the first stanza.

    Everything self-arises without doer or agent, as natural as breathing and heart beating. Thoroughly penetrating this, be completely spontaneous and effortless and releasing. Natural radiance is completely effortless, 0 effort required at all. Let deep insight into anatman and emptiness carry you into self-liberation and spontaneous perfection and dissolve the disease of effort and subtle overfocusing or clinging to radiance. As John Tan also said before, it is important not to over emphasize on the radiance (lest it causes the unpleasant effects of energy imbalance), and that it must be complemented with the first stanza of non-doership. He added that after non-dual, one's practice must be relaxed and open, insubstantial and free -- be natural and open, light, relaxed and effortless, then contemplate on effortlessness. The openness and relaxation should build up into a momentum in one's practice. Additionally, as John Tan said, we have to understand the relationship between non-doership and total exertion -- allowing the totality of the situations to exert itself. Seen from one side of the coin, it is complete "effortlessness" of radiance, and seen from another side, it is the exertion of the totality of conditions.

    Satsang Nathan videos are a good expression of the non-doership aspect of anatta. See: Satsang Nathan Videos

    To emphasize: building up the momentum mentioned above in practice is crucial. To paraphrase John Tan, "You must engage in regular practice and refrain from pretentious wisdom until a certain momentum builds. Only then can you hope to overcome challenges associated with x’s issues. I am sincere in my advice; you have not yet experienced these issues firsthand, but when you do, you will understand the importance of mastering this art.

    If you practice meditation consistently, both in opening up and in your daily life, a momentum will eventually develop. Even when challenges arise, if you can manage to stay calm and allow this momentum to guide you, you will find yourself capable of overcoming them.

    It resembles the art of letting go, although it's quite challenging to articulate effectively. Our natural tendency leans towards attachment, regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise. This is why consistent practice is essential.

    You may spend all day discussing the concept of freedom from all elaborations, the natural state, and sounds, and you might even gain some insights. However, when you are confronted with these issues for various reasons, all your attachments will come to the forefront.

    Fears about death, health, and personal anomalies will emerge. Your mind will struggle to release these attachments.”

    John Tan also told X before, “You got good karma...just relax and understand that essencelessness also implies effortlessness, don't focus, don't concentrate.  Simply refine the view and understanding after anatta insight that appearances are one's radiance.”

    John also wrote to X, a friend of ours, “Can be overcomed. I used to have very intense energy disruptions of energy imbalance post I AM due to over focusing. 

    Currently I think it is better to let the body and mind calm down first through distractions, shifting attentions...the body and mind at the very subtle level is very sensitive, the hidden fear will just sway ur entire balance.

    Medicines do help and I think you should.

    We must be very careful, there is relaxation of mind that lead to more alertness and there is the relaxation that calms the mind into peace via overcoming afflictions (eg fear).

    When we are in a state of later, then we can rest and response to conditions in balance.”

    John also wrote to me before, “ Focus on "effortlessness" first, then later you release you can let go of ur thoughts and let what happen happens as happening...but you may later feel you are unable to concentrate, it's ok...slowly and gently recall that appearances are one's own radiance, then radiance is by nature beyond effort...get use to it first.

    Whatever appears by nature self liberates.”

    If insight and practice is not mature in this aspect and radiance becomes strong, and one subtly overfocuses on the radiance, one runs the risk of encountering painful energy imbalances leading to stuck energy in the brow chakra, serious tension, headaches, insomnia (literally 0 sleep at night, super consciousness throughout night which some mistakes as accomplishment), waves of energy that feels like panic attacks (I said feels like because it was more of a bodily than a mental fear, it was a very tense and “nervous” bodily sensation running through the body), and worse symptoms than that. I've had such unpleasant encounters in 2019 for seven days, as detailed in This leads to what is known as 'zen sickness' which doctors will not be able to cure, and I have dedicated a whole chapter to this topic in the original AtR guide. I've been fortunate to have not re-trigger such episodes through a shift in practice but have seen others experience something similar. So, it is my heartfelt wish that people don't go in the wrong direction in practice. Please take care and practice well.

    Perhaps if you are interested in Dzogchen, receive transmission and teachings from  Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith (who also likewise stressed on this crucial aspect of non-doership and effortlessness of radiance appearances in anatta, and the integration of the 2 stanzas of anatta -- it is not in his public writings but in his online teachings to subscribers which I attended) and get the book 'The Supreme Source' which elucidates clearly the total effortlessness of spontaneously perfect and self-arising nature of total presence. But please do not DIY Dzogchen as that will be extremely misleading, but rather find good teachers (e.g. Acarya Malcolm) in that tradition. You can watch this YouTube video (highly recommended) for an introduction to Acarya Malcolm’s Dzogchen teachings that was recommended by Sim Pern Chong on the AtR group: . Also, some of Malcolm’s writings can be found here . To practice that book "The Supreme Source", empowerment, direct introduction and guidance from a qualified Dzogchen teacher is necessary, and it is certainly not to be mistaken as lazing around without practice nor the nihilism of neo-Advaita. Case in point:

    Here’s a good video shared by John Tan:

    Mind, attention, energy, focus, are one.

    When you practice, especially awareness practitioners, who practice in a focused way will lead to an energy imbalance where energy get stuck in the brow chakra. It is very common for awareness practitioners. Either brow or sometimes heart chakra blockages.

    However the insights of anatman by itself is very safe, in fact in full actualization of anatman, there cannot be energy imbalances. Energy imbalances are all tied to subtle selfing. This is why complete maturation and actualization of both stanzas of anatta (without skewing to the 2nd) will resolve energy imbalance.

    So your practice should bring and base your mind on the Dantien. The energy should flow and not be stuck in the head. Being somatic helps with overcoming energy imbalances. 

    See Vase Breathing:

    [11:46 AM, 9/5/2020] John Tan: I like his descriptions, quite good but may result in energy imbalances.  Best is to practice breathing exercises and learn to regulate the energy into calmness...

    Comments by Soh:

    One good way to regulate energy through breathing exercise is to practice the vase breathing.

    Here is an excerpt from “Open Mind, Open Heart” by Tsoknyi Rinpoche:

    “Vase Breathing

    One of the methods that helped this woman and countless others cope with emotions is a practice that helps us draw lung back to its center, or “home.” For this, we use a special breathing technique as a tool, because breath is a physical correlation to the subtle wind energy of lung.

    This technique is called vase breathing, and it involves breathing even more deeply than the type of deep diaphragmatic breathing often taught in many yoga and other types of classes with which people may be familiar.

    The technique itself is rather simple. First, exhale slowly and completely, collapsing the abdominal muscles as close to the spine as possible. As you slowly breathe in, imagine that you’re drawing your breath down to an area about four finger widths below your navel, just above your pubic bone. This area is shaped a bit like a vase, which is why the technique is called vase breathing. Of course, you’re not really drawing your breath down to that region, but by turning your attention there, you will find yourself inhaling a bit more deeply than usual and will experience a bit more of an expansion in the vase region.

    As you continue to draw your breath in and your attention down, your lung will gradually begin to travel down there and begin to rest there. Hold your breath down in the vase region just for a few seconds - don’t wait until the need to exhale becomes urgent - then slowly breathe out again.

    Just breathe slowly this way three or four times, exhaling completely and inhaling down into the vase area. After the third or fourth inhalation, try holding a little bit of your breath - maybe 10 percent - in the vase area at the end of the exhalation, focusing very lightly and gently on maintaining a bit of lung in its home place.

    Try it now.

    Exhale completely and then breathe slowly and gently down to the vase area three or four times, and on the last exhalation, hold a little bit of breath in the vase area. Keep this up for about ten minutes.

    How did that feel?

    Maybe it was a little uncomfortable. Some people have said that directing their breath in this way is difficult. Others have said that doing so gave them a sense of calmness and centeredness they’d never felt before.

    Vase breathing, if practiced ten or even twenty minutes every day, can become a direct means of developing awareness of our feelings and learning how to work with them even while we’re engaged in our daily activities. When our lung is centered in its home place, our bodies, or feelings, and our thoughts gradually find a healthy balance. The horse and rider work together in a very loose and easy way, neither trying to seize control or drive the other crazy. In the process, we find that subtle body patterns associated with fear, pain, anxiety, anger, restlessness, and so on gradually loosen up, that there’s a little bit of space between the mind and the feelings.

    Ultimately the goal is to be able to maintain that small bit of breath in the vase area throughout the day, during all our activities - walking, talking, eating, drinking, driving. For some people, this ability becomes automatic after only a short while of practice. For others, it may require a bit more time.

    I have to admit that, even after years of practicing, I still find that I sometimes lose my connection to my home base, especially when meeting with people who are very speedy. I’m a bit of a speedy person myself, and meeting other speedy people acts as a kind of subtle body stimulus. I get caught up in their restless and displaced energy and consequently become a bit restless, nervous, and sometimes even anxious. So I take what I call a reminder breath: exhaling completely, breathing down into the vase area, and then exhaling again leaving a little bit of breath in the lung’s home.”

    John Tan also said,

    “Energy imbalance are very related to what we conventionally termed as "physical".  Energies in spirituality are the "physical" aspects in our modern conventional usage, it is just lingo difference.  So do exercises and learn the art of openness and effortlessness, open our body, be pragmatic and sincere.  

    Vase breathing exercises are all good but need discipline, persistency and perseverance, not some 三分钟热度.  (Soh: three minutes of enthusiasm) When practiced with diligence with no magical or fairy tales mentality [it] will sure have benefits.”

    “[10:16 AM, 6/29/2020] John Tan: Frank is very experiential, no need to be too theoretical into emptiness, non-arisen of phenomena for now. 

    Rather it is to allow him to move the energy and radiance to his body...entire body...although the background is gone, you may think that all six senses are in equal radiance but it is far from truth in real time and causes all the energy imbalances.

    Relax into the natural state and feel the energetic radiance over the entire body.  Not by way of thinking.  Touch anything, touch the toes, they legs, feel them.  It is your you understand that?

    [10:23 AM, 6/29/2020] John Tan: The mountain is mind, the grasses are mind, everything is mind.  That is through the vision and mental, feel the body, toes fingers, touch them. They are mind.  So do you understand that in real time?

    As for sleep don't worry too much, it will happen and use less thoughts, let whole body be a sense of touch not by thinking, but feel and touch it.  So don't think that when insight of all is mind anatta arise, means you are already into all is mind.  If you can't embrace and feel all as mind, how are you to eliminate the common denominator called mind and into no mind which is the natural state of anatta.”

    Labels: Anatta, Energy | 


    Note: Serious energy imbalances related to depression and anxiety and traumas should be treated with the expert help of psychiatrists and psychologists, possibly with the medications as support. If you exhibit symptoms that may be related to these, you should be checked out by professionals.

    In Soh's case of 7 days of energy imbalances in 2019, it was not related to mental issues as there was no depression, sad mood, or mental anxiety (aside from bodily sensations of tensions), nor was it related to traumas, but instead it was due to extreme intensity of luminosity - an intensity that persists throughout the day and into sleep, and an energy pattern of overfocusing and tenseness that was difficult to dissolve. That said, if you are unsure, it's better to get checked out. Additionally, you can also check out books by Judith Blackstone, which goes deeply into trauma release and relates it with nondual practice (although not exactly based on anatta practice, still it is worth reading).

    John Tan also said, “There is a big difference between depressions caused by work or physical appearances or lack of family support...etc and issues for example related to "I AM". All those anxieties that relate to physical appearances or work load or studies etc will gradually release if the respective issues are solved. But there are issues that are like "I AM" that is your first immediate thought, so close and so immediate that are not easy to "rid".”

    “Some (energy imbalances) may relate to opening of certain energy gates when body is not ready also.”