Also see:

Kenneth Folk on Anatta
Three levels of understanding Non-Dual
No Awareness Does Not Mean Non-Existence of Awareness 

Redditors who clearly realized anatta: (Kyle Dixon/asunthatneversets)

The last redditor wrote something quite good here:

There's No Such Thing As Awareness

Five days ago I posted an anecdote thread on /r/Buddhism here labelled "Do Nothing or Do Something?". Something else was missing though. I know it's only been five days but I've had a much deeper insight in between that and now.
This all started from the Buddha's own words in the Sabba Sutta:
The Blessed One said, "What is the All? 
Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, 
nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body 
& tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. 
This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who 
would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will 
describe another,' if questioned on what 
exactly might be the grounds for his 
statement, would be unable to explain, 
and furthermore, would be put to grief. 
Why? Because it lies beyond range."
When I first read this sutta in the past, it never gave any insight. With this new insight, I suddenly understand what the Buddha meant - it has an extremely deep meaning! To me at least, he was describing the true nature of Mind, of reality.
I'll start with the backstory.
My past was in Theravada, Thai Forest, the Pali Canon, as well as other schools of Buddhism like Mahayana (Pure land, Ch'an/Zen, Tiantai, and so on) as well as the Vajrayana (Nyingmapa's Dzogchen, Kagyu's Mahamudra, Gelug's Prasangika, and so on). All of that and personal inquiry/exploration with meditation, along with the help of an eminent monastic teacher, built up to this.
I've done nearly my whole Buddhism life thinking there was awareness. Ajahn Chah taught the Mind as Awareness, the Mahayana taught the purified Eighth Consciousness as Awareness, the Vajrayana taught the Awareness (rigpa) as the base beyond that of the eight consciousnesses.
My understanding moved in this sequence:
  1. Awareness looks at objects. There is a clear witness and a clear object being witnessed. So if we witness the breath, we call it breath meditation; If we witness a kasina, it is kasina meditation.
  2. Awareness with varying occupation with objects. This means that awareness can be focused like a laser to produce intensified jhana states (Samatha, called 'Hard Jhana' by some). If it was less focused and more lightly balanced, it is called 'Soft Jhana'. However, also, this means awareness can be completely expansive to encompass all the four bases of mindfulness arising and passing away (also called Vipassana).
  3. Awareness is not a Subject. Before, I had the insight of there being a subject and an object - so there was a subject-object duality. No matter how I meditated, there was always a sense of there being a meditator when I emerged. In this phase, I suddenly understood that any feeling, sensation or perception that arose as a 'sense of self' are actually Objects. There are never any Subjects. For example, an eyeball can only see things outside, it cannot see itself. Likewise, Awareness cannot see itself, it can only see other Objects - therefore any sense of self is necessarily an object.
So reaching the 3rd phase was liberating and freeing. I thought I had reached a good understanding of emptiness. But then I was so wrong.
This fourth insight phase hit me five days after my previous post, and I would call this insight "No Such Thing As Awareness".
This was a development from the third phase. I had already said that an eyeball is not able to see itself, and that it can only see things outside of itself. The Awareness likewise, can only see things outside of itself and not Awareness itself. This is where everything was wrong.
By assuming that there was something outside of Awareness, I made it a Awareness-Object duality. It was a duality of Perception and Non-Perception. Even though Awareness is not a Subject, by assuming that Awareness can only see something outside of itself already means that there are two things: Awareness and outside-Awareness-objects.
My insight is this: Awareness IS the object.
Referring back to the Blessed One's words in the Sabba Sutta, he had said -
"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All.
This was a perfect description of everything in reality, everything in experience, everything that can ever be right now in the moment, in experience, in time and space. This is what everyone experiences.
Buddha then continues:
Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range."
Did the Buddha ever talk about Awareness as part of the All? No way! Because it lies out of range, it is Nibbana. It is completely impossible to have something outside of the Six Senses.
This corresponded exactly to my own understanding here, because I realized that when I saw a bird flying out there in the sky, this bird was not something apart from my mind. It WAS my mind, it WAS awareness.
How far was the bird to my mind? Zero distance! If it had to travel distance or take time, then I would not have experienced this bird right here and now. It HAD to be part of my mind!
Now the paradox is that the Sixth Sense, the mental faculty, is going to become noisy and construct an 'experiencer', a Subject. It is going to also generate a false sense of an Awareness.
If you really, really, really analyse this right now in your experience. You will suddenly realise this clear as day: Awareness is a complete inference.
If you try to look for your Awareness, you will find nothing. You may find a sensation, a feeling, or a perception. But Awareness cannot exist, it only exists as a complete inference, a conjecture, a made-up projection.
This brings to me a famous Zen story between the First and Second Patriarch:
“Bring your mind here and I will pacify it for you,” replied Bodhidharma.
“I have searched for my mind, and I cannot take hold of it,” said the Second Patriarch.
“Now your mind is pacified,” said Bodhidharma.
Why? Because there is no Mind to grasp onto. There is no stain-able Awareness. It is a mere projection, inference, conjecture. Again, the Sixth Zen Patriarch illustrated this wonderfully in his poem:
Originally, Bodhi has no tree
And a mirror has no stand
If originally there is nothing (true nature is pure)
So where can dust rest on?
However, when the master of the Sixth Zen Patriarch saw this, he shook his head and said that he was not enlightened, asking Hui-Neng to see him in his room in private where he gave further pointing-out instructions and transmission.
The reason why is this... the Mind should not be thought of as Space either. Empty-space is also a perception, it is within the realm of appearances.
Instead, the Mind is whatever appears as the Six Senses.
Suzuki Roshi very wonderfully put it this way:
You may say, “The bird is singing there—over there.” But we think, you know—bird—when we hear the bird, bird is “me,” you know, already. I—actually I am not listening to [laughs] bird. Bird is here, you know, in my mind already, and I am singing with the bird. “Peep-peep-peep.” [Laughs.]
When we see other beings, it is not "other beings". It is our own mind. "Other beings" is "me". "I" am "other beings". There is no difference whatsoever, because "this being" appears with "other beings" as Awareness itself.
There is a certain freedom, of liberation, that happens when you suddenly realize that Awareness has always been a mind-trick, or at least, "the way we understand Awareness". There is no looker, there is just the looked. The looked itself is Awareness already. There is no looker, no separate thing that makes it lookable, any other processing deviates from what is true right here in experience.
The Mahayana and Vajrayana like to say - "A Bodhisattva is not attached to samsara or nibbana." Samsara is when the Six Senses are full, Nibbana is when it is outside the range of the Six Senses. Perhaps, just perhaps, in my very limited understanding, this is referring to not clinging onto an 'empty awareness space' and a 'filled awareness with objects'.
Hope you liked my little essay. I do not claim to know anything, neither do I want to argue for my essay. I do not reinforce whatever I've written here, neither do I disagree with it. I hope peace will be with you.


Kyle Dixon I wasn’t sure what to make of this remark though, where he is stating there is always necessarily a mirror.


Soh Wei Yu Kyle Dixon my impression from reading his posts is that his insight is not very stable. Hovering between Thusness Stage 4 and 5

Recently he wrote about space and content. Seems to be falling back to the fault he originally refuted
Update 2021:
I have seen his most recent posts, seems his insights into Anatta and Dependent Origination has stabilized. Worth reading. See RealDharma's response on refuting Brahman:

53 points · 1 year ago · edited 1 year ago

My favorite analogy is a radio and a radio wave.

Consciousness is the radiowave, invisibly vibrating across the universe.

Our bodies are the radio, picking up the consciousness signal.

We are neither the radio nor the radio wave - we are the music.

edit: some have pointed out my error in that this drifts too far away from the Buddhist notion of anatta, or no-self. My apologies, I am forever a beginner.

4 points · 1 year ago · edited 1 year ago

Unfortunately (also to OP: /u/followTheDharma), this is reifying the notion of a universal self (aka Brahman), which is more akin to the lines of Hinduism, in particular, Advaita Vedanta. This is not compatible with the Buddhist teachings. In fact, if you believe in that view, you are going against the Buddha's teaching of anatta (without atta/self).

Why? Because tathagatagarba does not mean a common substance that animates all life. In fact, the Buddha actively denounces that view here:

The Buddha replied, “Mahamati, the tathagata-garba of which I speak is not the same as the self mentioned by followers of other paths. Mahamati, when I speak about the tathagata-garbha, sometimes I call it ‘emptiness,’ ‘formlessness,’ or ‘intentionlessness,’ or ‘realm of reality,’ ‘dharma nature,’ or ‘dharma body,’ or ‘nirvana,’ ‘what is devoid of self-existence,’ or ‘what neither arises nor ceases,’ or ‘original quiescence,’ or ‘intrinsic nirvana,’ or similar expressions.

“It is to put an end to the fear foolish beings have about the expression ‘no self’ that the tathagatas, the arhats, the fully enlightened ones proclaim the teaching of the tathagata-garbha as a projectionless realm devoid of fabrications. Mahamati, bodhisattvas of the present and the future should not become attached to any view of a self.

“Take for example a potter who applies such things as manual labor, water, a stick, a wheel, and a string to a lump of clay to make different kinds of vessels. The Tathagata is also like this, applying wisdom and a variety of skillful means to what has no self and is free from projection. Sometimes I speak about the tathagatagarbha and sometimes no self. Thus, the tathagata-garbha of which I speak is not the same as the self spoken of by followers of other paths. This is what is meant by the teaching of the tathagata-garbha. The tathagata-garbha is taught to attract those members of other paths who are attached to a self so that they will give up their projection of an unreal self and will enter the threefold gate of liberation and aspire to attain unexcelled, complete enlightenment forthwith. This is why the tathagatas, the arhats, the fully enlightened ones speak in this manner about the tathagata-garbha. To speak otherwise would be to agree with the followers of other paths. Therefore, Mahamati, in order to avoid the views of followers of other paths, you should rely on the selfless tathagata-garbha.”

Therefore, you should understand that just like there is nothing to grasp at in space, tathagata-garbha is pointing to this lack of any form of inherent self (or for this matter, "Self").

It is like saying "nothing". Does 'nothing' mean anything at all? No, because there is no-thing you can point your finger to in 'nothing'. In the same way, you are taking the meaning of tathagata-garbha, or emptiness, to be a self, when it is pointing to no-self.

Tathagata-garbha is in fact, pointing directly to the heart of Buddhism, which is the interdependent origination of things, which basically is expressed by this:

"If this exists, that exists.

if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist."

well I certainly appreciate the lesson, stranger. I'll edit the comment.

Unfortunately there is no "beginner" flair for this subreddit or I would be using that. I am always relying on what I so far understand.

I have not been educated on Buddhisms dis-belief in consciousness. Consciousness is real, and it seems to me the only thing which cannot be an illusion. Not the 'reality' consciousness perceives, but the actual awareness cannot be an illusion. The content of consciousness is always changing, but the awareness is ever-present. As I understand Buddhism's no-self, this consciousness is not a sufficient condition for some permanent trait, as it is always reliant on external phenomena as part of the interdependent origination you brought up. But I was not aware Buddhism rejected consciousness as an existing characteristic.

How I interpret that section you've quoted (you got a source by the way?) is that Buddha-nature is the capacity to be completely in the moment without attachment. I suppose this capacity does not require a consciousness, but the Buddha seemed preeminently focused on the suffering of living beings (a consequence of consciousness).

How I see the tathagata-garba is the capacity to remain aware and present as reality constantly shifts where there is no distinct self which things happen to or because, rather things are seen as indiscriminate.

4 points · 1 year ago · edited 1 year ago

you got a source by the way?

The Lankavatara Sutra.

I have not been educated on Buddhisms dis-belief in consciousness.

There is no denial of consciousness (vijñāna) in Buddhism. In fact, its actual translation in some texts is 'dualistic consciousness'. It is not a denial of consciousness, because without consciousness, how can you see, hear, taste, smell, touch and think?

In SN25.3, however, Buddha says:

Monks, eye-consciousness is inconstant, changeable, alterable. Ear-consciousness... Nose-consciousness... Tongue-consciousness... Body-consciousness... Intellect-consciousness is inconstant, changeable, alterable.

The error is not in seeing the results of the function of what you call awareness, but taking awareness to be a singular real thing. For example, it is undeniable that there are sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch and thoughts. We are not denying that. In fact, Buddha says that for every sense-object, there is a corresponding consciousness.

So actually, there are six different sense-consciousnesses:

  • The eye-consciousness in dependence with sight and the eye-faculty

  • The ear-consciousness, sounds, ear-faculty...

  • ... The thinking-consciousness, thoughts, thinking-faculty

The error comes when we start to group all these six together within one singular boundary - we reify the sense of a global consciousness that extends throughout these six. In the Mahayana teachings, this is explained as the seventh consciousness grasping at what is seen, heard, smelt, tasted, touched or thought of as Objects, and at the seeing/hearing/smelling/tasting/touching/thinking faculties as the Subject.

Here is an analogy:

When we say the word 'Shapes' what comes to mind? We can say rectangles, squares, stars, circles, lines, polygons, parallelograms, and more. However, if we simply said the word "shape", this word by itself would not mean anything without the rectangles, squares, stars [...].

This is what we call in language, an abstract noun. In the dictionary, it says this as the definition: "a noun denoting an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object".

In the same way, we have a tendency to abstract-ize things and form very concrete ideas of them existing. Does it mean that rectangles, squares [...] are not shapes? It does not mean that. However, the word "shape" by itself is very meaningless - we conventionally call it a shape for the sake of convenience. In fact, we just assume that it exists just for the sake of convenience.

In the same way, when sights, sounds, tastes, smells, sensations, and thoughts arise, we group them all together as "sense objects" or "experience". These are just names, just conceptual designations, that are abstract ideas pointing to what is directly there in experience. The problem when taken to extreme is that it is solidified as "Objects".

In the converse way, when the seeing-consciousness [...] are grouped in an abstract way, we take it as a singular consciousness. Even more erroneously, we can even go as far as to extend this abstraction to every being on the planet. Again, this is just a name, an abstract idea, pointing to the six consciousnesses. When taken to the extreme, it is solidified as a "Subject".

In fact, this subject-object duality is the root of a lot of problems. We love abstract-ifying things and then solidifying that abstracted idea into something that seems very real. For example, we can take a bunch of common bodily sensations and think that we are "right here". If you examine carefully, these sensations have already disappeared, and are replaced with another bunch of rapidly arising-and-passing-away sensations in random locations.

To end this reply, I would also like to quote this sutta (Ud 1.10) which points directly to the heart of no self:

'In the seen will be merely what is seen;

in the heard will be merely what is heard;

in the sensed will be merely what is sensed;

in the cognized will be merely what is cognized.'

In this way you should train yourself, Bahiya.

"When, Bahiya, for you in the seen is merely what is seen...

in the cognized is merely what is cognized,

then, Bahiya, you will not be 'with that.'

When, Bahiya, you are not 'with that,'

then, Bahiya, you will not be 'in that.'

When, Bahiya, you are not 'in that,'

then, Bahiya, you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two.

Just this is the end of suffering."

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