Whatever we see, it is not I, not me, nor a man, not a woman.  In the eye, there is just color.  It arises and passes away.  So who is seeing the object?  There is no seer in the object.  Then how is the object seen?  On account of certain causes.  What are the causes?  Eyes are one cause; they must be intact, in good order.  Second, object or color must come in front of the eyes, must reflect on the retina of the eyes.  Third, there must be light.  Fourth, there must be attention, a mental factor.  If those four causes are present, then there arises a knowing faculty called eye consciousness.  If any one of the causes is missing, there will not be any seeing.  If eyes are blind, no seeing.  If there is no light, no seeing.  If there is no attention, no seeing.  But none of the causes can claim, "I am the seer." They're just constantly arising and passing.  

As soon as it passes away, we say, "I am seeing."  You are not seeing; you are just thinking, "I am seeing."  This is called conditioning.  Because our mind is conditioned, when we hear the sound, we say, "I am hearing." But there is no hearer waiting in the car to hear the sound.  Sound creates a wave, and, when it strikes against the eardrum, ear consciousness is the effect.  Sound is not a man, nor a woman; it is just a sound that arises and passes away.  But, according to our conditioning, we say, "That woman is singing and I am hearing."  But you're not hearing, you are thinking, "I am hearing."  Sound is already heard and gone.  There is no "I" who heard the sound;  it is the world of concept.  Buddha discovered this in the physical level, in the mental level: how everything is happening without an actor, without a doer - empty phenomenon go rolling on.

Outside the three realms are shining in freedom
Inside the wisdom, self-arisen, shines
And in between is the confidence of realizing basic being
I’ve got no fear of the true meaning—that’s all I’ve got!

In this verse Milarepa sings about his realization of the true nature of reality. To realize the true nature of reality, the necessary outer condition is for the “three realms” to be “shining in freedom.” The three realms refer to the universe and all of the sentient beings within it. Sentient beings inhabit the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm, so these three realms include all the experiences that one could possibly have, and they are shining in freedom—they are self-liberated.*

“Self-liberation” in one sense means that appearances of the three realms do not require an outside liberator to come and set them free, because freedom and purity are their very nature. This is because appearances of the three realms are not real. They are like appearances in dreams. They are the mere coming together of interdependent causes and conditions; they have no essence of their own, no inherent nature. This means that the appearances of the three realms are appearance-emptiness inseparable, and therefore, the three realms are free right where they are. Freedom is their basic reality. However, whether our experience of life in the three realms is one of freedom or bondage depends upon whether we realize their self-liberated true nature or not. It is like dreaming of being imprisoned: If you do not know you are dreaming, you will believe that your captivity is truly existent, and you will long to be liberated from it. But if you know you are dreaming, you will recognize that your captivity is a mere appearance, and that there is really no captivity at all—the captivity is self-liberated. Realizing that feels very good.

The term “self-liberation” is also used in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings, which describe appearances as “self-arisen and self-liberated.” This means that phenomena have no truly existent causes. For example, with a car that appears in a dream, you cannot say in which factory that car was made. Or with the person who appears in the mirror when you stand in front of it, you cannot say where that person was born. Since the dream car and the person in the mirror have no real causes for arising, all we can say about them is that they are self-arisen, and therefore they are also self-liberated.

When we apply this to an experience of suffering, we find that since our suffering has no real causes, it does not truly arise, like suffering in a dream. So it is self-arisen, and therefore it is self-liberated. Since the suffering is not really there in the first place, it is pure and free all by itself. And apart from knowing self-liberation is suffering’s essential nature and resting within that, we do not need to do anything to alleviate it.

Thus, Milarepa sings that what one needs on the inside is to realize self-arisen original wisdom. This wisdom is the basic nature of mind, the basic nature of reality, and all outer appearances are this wisdom’s own energy and play. Original wisdom is self-arisen in the sense that it is not something created; it does not come from causes and conditions; it does not arise anew, because it has been present since beginningless time as the basic nature of what we are. We just have to realize it. The realization of original wisdom, however, transcends there being anything to realize and anyone who realizes something, because original wisdom transcends duality.

How can we gain certainty about and cultivate our experience of this wisdom? Since wisdom is the true nature of mind, begin by looking at your mind. When you look at your mind, you do not see anything. You do not see any shape or color, or anything that you could identify as a “thing.” When you try to locate where your mind is, you cannot find it inside your body, outside your body, nor anywhere in between. So mind is unidentifiable and unfindable. If you then rest in this unfindability, you experience mind’s natural luminous clarity. That is the beginning of the experience of original wisdom. For Milarepa, original wisdom is shining. It is manifesting brightly through his realization of the nature of the three realms and of his own mind.

In the third line, Milarepa sings of his confidence of realizing the true nature of reality, the true meaning. There are the expressions and words that we use to describe things, and the meaning that these words refer to—here Milarepa is singing about the latter. He is certain about the basic nature of reality, and as he sings in the fourth line, he has no fear of it, no doubts about what it is. He is also not afraid of the truth and reality of emptiness. When he sings: “that’s all I’ve got,” he is saying: “I am not somebody great. I do not have a high realization. All I have got is this much.” This is Milarepa’s way of being humble.

One can easily be frightened by teachings on emptiness. It is easy to think: “Everything is empty, so I am all alone in an infinite vacuum of empty space.” If you have that thought, it is a sign that you need to meditate more on the selflessness of the individual. If you think of yourself as something while everything else is nothing, it is easy to get a feeling of being alone in empty space. However, if you rememberthat all phenomena, including you yourself, are equally of the nature of emptiness, beyond the concepts of “something” and “nothing,” then you will not be lonely; you will be open, spacious, and relaxed.

In the context of this verse, it is helpful to consider a stanza from the Song of Mahamudra by Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye:

From mind itself, so difficult to describe,
Samsara and nirvana’s magical variety shines.
Knowing it is self-liberated is view supreme.

“Mind itself,” the true nature of mind, original wisdom, is difficult to describe—it is inexpressible. And from this inexpressible true nature of mind come all the appearances of samsara and nirvana. Appearances do not exist separately from the mind. What appears has no nature of its own. Appearances are merely mind’s own energy; mind’s own radiance; mind’s own light. And so appearances are a magical display. To describe the appearances of samsara and nirvana as a magical variety means that they are not real—they are magic, like a magician’s illusions. Appearances are the magical display of the energy of the inexpressible true nature of mind. When we know this, we know that appearances are self-arisen and self-liberated, and that is the supreme view we can have.
* Most sentient beings, including animals and humans, inhabit the desire realm, so named because desire for physical and mental pleasure and happiness is the overriding mental experience of beings in this realm. The form realm and the formless realm are populated by gods in various meditative states who are very attached to meditative experiences of clarity and the total absence of thoughts, respectively.


In our practice we just sit with our bodies and minds in the zendo, and we aim to practice the Buddha Way in our activities outside the zendo as well. In practicing the Buddha Way there is no separation between the self that is studying the self and the self that is studied by the self; self is studying the self, and the act of studying is also the self. There is no such thing as a self that is separate from our activity. Dogen Zenji defined this self as jijuyu-zanmai, a term that Sawaki Kodo Roshi described as “self ‘selfing’ the self.'”

To illustrate this point we can think of the relationship between a runner and the act of running. When we think of this, we realize that no runner is separate from the act of running; a runner and running are the same thing. If the runner becomes separate from running, then the runner is not running. If this is the case, the runner can no longer be called a runner since a runner is defined as “one who runs.” The great ancient Indian master Nagarjuna presented this example as part of his illustration of emptiness and the negation of a fixed, permanent, fundamental essence that “owns” the body and mind.

Running as well as sitting, eating, drinking, and breathing are very ordinary things. But when we say, “There is no ‘I’ other than running” or “running without a runner,” we think we are discussing something mysterious. But this view of the teachings of people such as Nagarjuna or Dogen is mistaken. These teachers are trying to express a very ordinary thing in a truly realistic way without fabrication. To do this they use words that negate themselves in a way that reveals the reality beyond our thoughts.

When we practice the Buddha Way, there is no self, no Buddha Way, no others. This is because self, Buddha Way, and others work together as one. What we call “our actions” are actually the work done by both self and other beings and objects. For example, when a person drives a car, the person thinks “he” as subject drives “the car” as object. But in reality we cannot drive without the car; we can only become a driver or be driven with the aid of the car, and the car can only express its full function as a vehicle of transportation when someone drives it. Our cars affect us both psychologically and materially as well. We will drive different cars in different ways, for example, depending upon the style or quality of the car. The feelings and attitude of a person driving a cheap old truck carrying a load of junk will likely be totally different from the feelings and attitude that person will have driving a luxurious new car carrying a VIP. A car can also provide us with the ability to travel quickly and conveniently, yet if it breaks down, we may have to make more effort than usual to get where we need to go repair, fuel, and insurance costs can exert an added financial stress on our lives and can even feel burdensome. So in a sense the car own us and shapes us as much as we own and control it, and the action of driving can actually be manifested only by a person and a car working together. This reality of mutual influence and interconnectedness is true not only for a “special” practice done by a group of people called “Buddhists”; in truth this is the way all beings are working within the circle of interdependent origination.

The Buddha Way includes both self and objects. The Buddha Way includes both people sitting and the sitting they do. They are actually one thing. This is very difficult to explain, yet it is an obvious reality of our lives. This reality is not some special state or condition that is only accomplished by so-called “enlightened” people. Even when we don’t realize it, self, action, and object are working together as one reality, so we don’t need to train ourselves to make them into one thing in our minds. If self, action, and object were really three separate things, they could not become one. The truth is that they are always one reality, regardless of what we do or think.