Someone wrote:

Hi friends.

I have a question.

First, I have to quickly give some back ground.

Several years ago, I had a profound experience. It was as if a veil was removed and I suddenly saw that I didn't exist. There were no Self or free will inside that could control this organism that is the body. I spent years observing myself and others from this perspective. It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up in the morning and the last thing I thought of before falling to sleep, until I was empty.

Nobody around me saw the same thing or got mad if I talked about it. I started studying science to find support or evidence against my thoughts. It only confirmed that the world is fatalistic and way to complex to understand in each moment. This took me even further.

So, now my life has stopped and there is noone inside to care. Only some faint and weak emotional and mental reactions to whatever stimuli is put in front of my senses. No hopes, ambitions or goals. I don't pay my bills or take care of myself. I mean, why should "I"?

Eventualy, 3-4 years ago, I came over some "spiritual" litterature that mentioned the buddhist doctrine of anatta and samsaric consciousness.

What would a buddhist recommend to do in this situation? I mean, I will either end up dead or in prison soon if nothing happens. I'm okay with that. I don't look forward to physical pain, though.
Is there something worth doing? Is this the end of the "path"? To realise that I don't exist?

You are right. It has been very imbalanced and unhealthy, and thus it became exhausting and eventually a problem. But it has also been profound and beautiful experiences, despite the fear, doubt and lack of understanding for what happened. I am at a point where I need some guidence and practices on how to do this properly and the right way, or at least a better and healthier way. So, I think I am open to corrections and guidence. Thank you again.
Me/Soh replied:


u/krodha (Kyle Dixon) directed me to this post... I think I will share my 2 cents.

There are different degrees of self/Self. I can elaborate a lot of them -- you can find these elaborations on my blog and (free) guide -
But in this post I will just summarise them.

There are three main degrees or aspects of self/Self and no-self/Self experience, although each of them has different degrees of refinement in terms of insight + experience:

1. no-self as 'non-doership'. You no longer feel like a doer or controller, all thoughts and actions are just happening spontaneously on its own accord. You see that even your thoughts and emotions are not from a doer, you can't even know what your next moment of thought is, it just happens. When you are thirsty, the hand just grabs the drink on its own accord and the body just gulps down the drink.

A more refined level of non-doership is what I call 'impersonality'. Impersonality is not just an experience of non-doership. It is the dissolving of the construct of 'personal self' that led to a purging of ego effect to a state of clean, pure, not-mine sort of "perception shift", accompanied with a sense that everything and everyone is being expressions of the same aliveness/intelligence/consciousness. This can then be easily extrapolated into a sense of a 'universal source' (but this is merely an extrapolation and at a later phase is deconstructed) and one will also experience 'being lived' by this greater Life and Intelligence.

Impersonality will help dissolve the sense of self but it has the danger of making one attached to a metaphysical essence or to personify, reify and extrapolate a universal consciousness. Deeper insights into anatta and emptiness will dissolve this tendency to reify and extrapolate.

Also, I should also mention that there is another insight or realization -- and this is not the same as non-doership but rather the realization of one's luminous essence as Pure Presence and Clarity. Someone who has experienced non-doership does not necessarily realize that one's very Beingness, Presence-Awareness, that I AMness -- that remains even without engaging in concepts/thinking. It is when at a moment where all engagement in thoughts subside, in that gap, there is this sudden realization of doubtless Existence itself, that even without a thought, just I/Existence/Consciousness. And you realize that is the Luminous core of Existence itself. It is consciousness, pure beingness and bliss. This realization is often reified into the Atman but I consider this realization precious and important and a progression from mere non-doership, but on later realizations below will get refined, especially with realization of anatta. Realization of anatta in point 3) sees the nature of this Presence-Awareness, not by denying it but properly comprehending it - its non-inherent, empty and non-dual nature of that Presence-Awareness (also its nondual aspect does not imply realizing its empty nature, but I will not elaborate too much yet). But basically if you have this realization, you will not end up sounding so nihilistic because you have discovered a very positive luminous core of Existence. Also, after this realization, you feel like an infinite Ground of Being underlying all your thoughts and in fact the entire world. When you jog across the streets, no longer do you see yourself as a person relating to objects out there, rather, all objects and trees and people and scenery actually emerge and subside and 'pass through' from within that Ground of Being, much like the projections of a movie merely 'pass through' the screen. You no longer feel like someone that pass by things, rather your body and mind, the scenery and objects are merely 'projected from' and 'pass by' within unmoved Beingness.

About this realization, John Tan also wrote before,

“Hi Mr. H,

In addition to what you wrote, I hope to convey another dimension of Presence to you. That is Encountering Presence in its first impression, unadulterated and full blown in stillness.

So after reading it, just feel it with your entire body-mind and forgot about it. Don't let it corrupt your mind.😝

Presence, Awareness, Beingness, Isness are all synonyms. There can be all sorts of definitions but all these are not the path to it. The path to it must be non-conceptual and direct. This is the only way.

When contemplating the koan "before birth who am I", the thinking mind attempts to seek into it's memory bank for similar experiences to get an answer. This is how the thinking mind works - compare, categorize and measure in order to understand.

However, when we encounter such a koan, the mind reaches its limit when it tries to penetrate its own depth with no answer. There will come a time when the mind exhausts itself and come to a complete standstill and from that stillness comes an earthshaking BAM!

I. Just I.

Before birth this I, a thousand years ago this I, a thousand later this I. I AM I.

It is without any arbitrary thoughts, any comparisons. It fully authenticates it's own clarity, it's own existence, ITSELF in clean, pure, direct non-conceptuality. No why, no because.

Just ITSELF in stillness nothing else.

Intuit the vipassana and the samantha. Intuit the total exertion and realization. The essence of message must be raw and uncontaminated by words.

Hope that helps!” - John Tan, 2019”

However someone who realize non-doership may not yet realize that Presence-Awareness, so doing self-enquiry (asking Who/What am I?) can help one going into that direction. The I AM realization is also important, and can serve as an important base for further insights, as explained in Anatta and Pure Presence. To realize I AM, the most direct method is Self-Inquiry, asking yourself 'Before birth, Who am I?' or just 'Who am I?' See: What is your very Mind right now?, and the self-inquiry chapter in The Awakening to Reality Practice Guide and AtR Guide - abridged version.

It is actually very important to have the direct realization of one's radiance, one's pristine consciousness or pure Presence. Without which, one's experience of no-self will be skewed to non-doership and one will not experience pellucid non-dual luminosity. That is not considered genuine realization of anatman in AtR. For more reading on this topic, you can read Pellucid No-Self, Non-DoershipNice Advice and Expression of Anatta from Yin Ling and Albert Hong + What is Experiential Insight?Anatta and Pure PresenceActual Freedom and the Immediate Radiance in the TransienceThe Transient Universe has a Heart

2) no-self in terms of the penetrating and dissolving of the subject/object or perceiver/perceived dichotomy. This relates to the sense of being an internal subjective perceiver perceiving the world of objects in the senses. In other words, normal people feel deeply that they are relating to the world from behind their own eyes, as someone perceiving an 'outside world' of trees and people and objects and so on and the shapes and colors and characteristics of those trees/tables/objects are just inherent attributes of observer-independent objects 'out there', and they are merely observing them from a vantagepoint 'within' their body as an internal perceiver -- subject, and object. Perceiver and perceived. And this is so not only in relation to sights but even sounds and other sensory perceptions, for normal people hear sound as if the sound is somewhere 'out there' while they are located and hearing the sounds from somewhere 'in here', that is to say, inside their own body (exactly where that is, is uncertain, and upon examination some people may say it is the head, some people point to their heart, basically normal people don't examine things clearly and just take their sense of self and duality for granted). But this sense of self and sense of duality is a very real experience for most people, that they have unquestioningly taken it for granted as their reality.

It should be understood and noted that someone who has experienced the non-doership or even impersonality aspect of no-self in 1), may not experience non-duality in 2). In other words, one can still experience everything happening on its own accord, but still feel like a dissociated observer detached from things happening on their own. In a sense, it's almost like everything the body and mind is doing seems like another person, like you are playing a third person shooter game where you are sort of watching the whole character from a distance behind, except in a dissociated state you aren't even 'controlling' the character people refer to as 'you' -- rather, you are merely observing this person or body-mind called 'you' acting and thinking and behaving in its own way and you are just this aloof and detached observer of this character or body-mind doing its own thing. Some people have experienced this sort of dissociation coupled with a sense of non-doership.

Now, this means that the sense of doership dissolving does not mean that the subject and object dichotomy is dissolved. Therefore we can call that sense of subject-object duality, or the gap between perceiver and perceived, as a distinct layer of 'self' that can be penetrated in deeper insight.
Now, the dissolution of subject-object/perceiver-perceived dichotomy can happen as an experience, which is transient, short-lived peak experiences, or it can happen as a realization which leads to stabilization of non-dual experience.

As an experience, it is quite commonly experienced and described by people, often spontaneously when they just enjoy music, watch a sunset, enjoy a beautiful scenery and so on, where they suddenly become so engaged and engrossed in their sensory experience that they have totally forgotten their 'self' -- and in the act of forgetting the self they enter into what seems like a different state of consciousness, a very vivid and intensified one where they are no longer 'seeing' the sunset from a distance, they are the very sunset itself -- they may describe it as 'I have merged with the sun!' 'I have become the trees!' There is suddenly no longer this sense that 'I' am someone 'in here' separate from the 'sun over there', there is just brilliant and very alive bright orange light displaying itself to itself at no distance at all, a very vivid, brilliant and alive display of colors as clear vivid consciousness.

In describing such a peak experience, Michael Jackson wrote,

“Consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in is the dance of the creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye but the dance lives on. On many an occasion when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists.

I become the stars and the moon. I become the lover and the beloved. I become the victor and the vanquished. I become the master and the slave. I become the singer and the song. I become the knower and the known. I keep on dancing then it is the eternal dance or creation. The creator and creation merge into one wholeness of joy. I keep on dancing...and dancing...and dancing. Until there is only...the dance.”

However, what is described here is still merely an experience. An experience of non-duality, but not the realisation. Such experiences come and go. Some people engage in dangerous sports to enter the zone and glimpse the bliss of non-duality, some people do it through dance, some people through certain drugs, some people do it through meditation.

But all these experiences come and go, until a paradigm shift takes place in consciousness where one suddenly realizes that the truth about reality or consciousness is that there never was a subject and object division, that consciousness was in truth never from the beginning ever divided into a perceiver and perceived, consciousness and its display, that they were never separate to begin with. After insights into non-duality, the tendency will no longer be to dissociate from experience but to fully open to experience in an undivided and gapless way -- experiencing everything without distance as vivid consciousness.

Such a realization can however be divided into two types:

a) substantialist/essentialist non-duality
b) non-substantialist/non-essentialist non-duality

The latter, I call the realization of anatta, proper.

But lets talk about a) substantialist/essentialist non-duality in summary:

Such a person may have realized that their consciousness was never divided from manifestations, that all manifestations are none other than consciousness itself. However the karmic (deep conditioning) tendency to conceive of consciousness as an inherently existing, unchanging source and substratum of phenomena, remains — except consciousness is now seen to be undivided from its manifestation, so one subsumes everything to be modulations of Pure Consciousness. One sees that all phenomena are merely Consciousness displaying itself in various forms. Yet one does not equate the forms with consciousness -- the forms are like passing light shows displayed on an unchanging screen/mirror, while the projections and reflections pass through inseparably from the base of the mirror without subject/object division, the underlying basis of consciousness remains unchanged. Hinduism can get as far to this point.

3) No-Self in terms of what I call realization of Anatta

But then there is b), where one realizes that not only is it the case that all forms are merely modulations of consciousness, in actual fact 'Awareness' or 'Consciousness' is truly and only Everything -- in other words, there is no 'Awareness' or 'Consciousness' besides the very luminous manifestation of the aggregates, whatever is seen, heard, sensed, touched, cognized, smelled...
Anatta is not merely a freeing of personality sort of experience; rather, there is an insight into the complete lack of a self/agent, a doer, a thinker, a watcher, etc, cannot be found apart from the moment to moment flow of manifestation. Non-duality is thoroughly seen to be always already so: here is effortlessness in the non-dual and one realizes that in seeing there is always just scenery (no seer or even seeing besides the colors) and in hearing, always just sounds (never a hearer or even a hearing besides the sounds). A very important point here is that Anatta/No-Self is a Dharma Seal, it is the nature of Reality all the time -- and not merely as a state free from personality, ego or the ‘small self’ or a stage to attain. This means that it does not depend on the level of achievement of a practitioner to experience anatta but Reality has always been Anatta and what is important here is the intuitive insight into it as the nature, characteristic, of phenomenon (dharma seal).

To illustrate further due to the importance of this seal, I would like to borrow a quote from the Bahiya Sutta (…/ajahn-amaro-on-non…)

‘in the seeing, there is just the seen, no seer’, ‘in the hearing, there is just the heard, no hearer’…
If a practitioner were to feel that he has gone beyond the experiences from ‘I hear sound’ to a stage of ‘becoming sound’ or takes that ‘there is just mere sound’, then this experience is again distorted. For in actual case, there is and always is only sound when hearing; never was there a hearer to begin with. Nothing attained for it is always so. This is the main difference between a momentary peak experience (lasting minutes or at most an hour) of non-duality, and a permanent quantum shift of perception that makes that peak experience become a permanent mode of perception.
This is the seal of no-self and can be realized and experienced in all moments; not just a mere concept.

In summary, after the realization of anatta of b), and even a), non-dual no longer becomes a passing peak experience that comes and goes, as the entire paradigm of consciousness, knot of perception, mental proliferation -- the continuous activity of projecting a 'self' or 'subject/object dichotomy' is severed at a more fundamental level as the delusional framework through which one perceives the world is undermined. What I can say is that for me personally, for the past 9+ years after realizing anatta, I have not experienced the slightest sense of subject/object duality or agency at all, not even the slightest trace. That is gone for good and is not merely a peak experience here.
What you described in your post is what I called 'non-doership'. And yes, that's a wonderful insight but there are still more wonderful insights down the road that is truly life changing in a very positive way, that I cannot highly recommend enough.

The world experienced after realization and maturation of anatta, after all sense of self/Self in all its facets are totally dissolved, is truly wonderful. Here is how I described it in my (free) guide:

"This is a world where nothing can ever sully and touch that purity and perfection, where the whole of universe/whole of mind is always experienced vividly as that very purity and perfection devoid of any kind of sense of self or perceiver whatsoever that is experiencing the world at a distance from a vantagepoint -- life without ‘self’ is a living paradise free of afflictive/painful emotions, where every color, sound, smell, taste, touch and detail of the world stands out as the very boundless field of pristine awareness, sparkling brilliance/radiance, colorful, high-saturation, HD, luminous, heightened intensity and shining wonderment and magicality, where the surrounding sights, sounds, scents, sensations, smells, thoughts are seen and experienced so clearly down to the tiniest details, vividly and naturally, not just in one sense door but all six, where the world is a fairy-tale like wonderland, revealed anew every moment in its fullest depths as if you are a new-born baby experiencing life for the first time, afresh and never seen before, where life is abundant with peace, joy and fearlessness even amidst the apparent chaos and troubles of life, and everything experienced through all the senses far surpasses any beauty previously experienced, as if the universe is like heaven made of glittering gold and jewels, experienced in complete gapless directness without separation, where life and the universe is experienced in its intense lucidity, clarity, aliveness and vivifying presence not only without intermediary and separation but without center and boundaries - infinitude as vast as an endless night sky is actualized every moment, an infinitude that is simply the vast universe appearing as an empty, distanceless, dimensionless and powerful presencing, where the mountains and stars on the horizon stands out no more distant than one’s breath, and shines forth as intimately as one’s heartbeat, where the cosmic scale of infinitude is actualized even in ordinary activities as the entirety of the universe is always participating as every ordinary activity including walking and breathing and one’s very body (without a trace of an ‘I’ or ‘mine’) is as much the universe/dependent origination in action and there is nothing outside of this boundless exertion/universe, where the purity and infinitude of the marvellous world experienced through being cleansed in all doors of perception is constant. (If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern. - William Blake)"

Non-doership is just one of the aspects of anatta, by itself it is not the anatta realization. (Thusness Stage 5: "...Phase 5 is quite thorough in being no one and I would call this anatta in all 3 aspects -- no subject/object division, no doer-ship and absence of agent...") One can experience non-doership during the I AM phase, or for some people even before the I AM realization. Hence non-doership is not equivalent with anatta realization.

Although the aspect of non-doership itself does not indicate the realization of anatta, this does not mean it is not important. Particularly, non-doership becomes clearly experienced when the John Tan's first stanza of anatta is penetrated and clearly realised. However, the first stanza of anatta is not merely non-doership, as explained in the conversation here. The first stanza of anatta conveys both absence of agent and non-doership, and not just non-doership. Commenting on someone's breakthrough, John Tan said, "More towards second stanza [of anatta], non-doership is equally important." and on someone else, "Non-dual but can't discern clearly the difference between conventionalities and ultimate. Did it talk about natural spontaneity? [In] The 2 stanzas of anatta, the non-doership will lead to natural spontaneity. Currently it is talking about freedom from observer and observed, but the second part of realising appearances are just empty clarity isn't there. Therefore effortlessness of vivid presence will not be possible without these 2 insights as base."
It is my estimate that when someone says they have broken through to no-self, 95% to 99% of the time they are referring to impersonality or non-doership, not even non dual, let alone the true realization of anatman (Buddhism's no-self dharma seal). For those that claimed insight into no-self, I usually ask them to check their experience against this: 

What is experiential insight


Yin Ling:

When we say experiential insight in Buddhism, 

It means.. 

A literal transformation of energetic orientation of the whole being, down to the marrow. 

The sound MUST literally hears themselves. 

No hearer. 

Clean. Clear. 

A bondage from the head here to there cut off overnight. 

Then gradually the rest of the 5 senses. 

Then one can talk about Anatta. 

So if for you, 

Does sound hear themselves? 

If no, not yet. You have to keep going! Inquire and meditate.

You haven’t reach the basic insight requirement for the deeper insights like anatta and emptiness yet!

Yin Ling:

Yin Ling: “Realisation is when 

This insight goes down to the marrow and you don’t need even a minute amount of effort for sound to hear themselves. 

It is like how you live with dualistic perception now, very normal, no effort. 

Ppl with Anatta realisation live in Anatta effortlessly, without using thinking to orient. It’s their life. 

They cannot even go back to dualistic perception because that is an imputation, it js uprooted 

At first you might need to purposely orient with some effort. 

Then at one point there is no need.. further along, dreams will become Anatta too. 

That’s experiential realisation. 

There’s no realisation unless this benchmark is achieved!”




what is important is that there is experiential realisation that leads

to an energetic expansion outwards into all the forms, sounds, radiant

universe... such that it is not that you are in here, in the body,

looking outwards at the tree, listening the birds chirping from here

it is just the trees are vividly swaying in and of itself, luminously

without an observer

the trees sees themselves

the sounds hear itself

there is no location from which they are experienced, no vantage point

the energetic expansion outward into vivid manifestation, boundless, yet

it is not an expansion from a center, there is just no center

without such energetic shift it is not really the real experience of no

selfxabir Snoovatar" -


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Also.. “Sound hearing themselves, sights see themselves” etc

Thats just nondual. A state of no mind. This is not yet the realisation of anatman.

Whats more important is the realization of anatta as a dharma seal and which sees through the referents of inherent view

As I wrote before:

“Mr JD, regarding your question:

Not so. Recently I wrote to someone:

Just yesterday someone at the I AM phase told me, he said “I have a hard time seeing foreground [appearance] as "awareness." Probably just equating "awareness" and "background" in my mind.” I told him thats because he has some definition of awareness that is blocking him. He told me “So forget definition of awareness and just see the radical aliveness of "foreground." That is enough, yeah?” I told him “No, not just forget definition of awareness. You need to deeply look into it, challenge it, investigate it”. I also sent him some texts I sent to another person earlier and said “Having an experience without background [as an experience of no mind] is not the same as realizing there never was a background subject or a seer or a seeing besides or behind the seen. The latter must arise as a realization. So you need to analyse in direct experience. 

Khamtrul Rinpoche on the realization of anatta in the Mahamudra text:

"At that point, is the observer—awareness—other than the observed—stillness and movement—or is it actually that stillness and movement itself? By investigating with the gaze of your own awareness, you come to understand that that which is investigating itself is also no other than stillness and movement. Once this happens you will experience lucid emptiness as the naturally luminous self-knowing awareness. Ultimately, whether we say nature and radiance, undesirable and antidote, observer and observed, mindfulness and thoughts, stillness and movement, etc., you should know that the terms of each pair are no different from one another; by receiving the blessing of the guru, properly ascertain that they are inseparable. Ultimately, to arrive at the expanse free of observer and observed is the realization of the true meaning and the culmination of all analyses. This is called “the view transcending concepts,” which is free of conceptualization, or “the vajra mind view.”

"Fruition vipashyana is the correct realization of the final conviction of the nonduality of observer and observed."

What Khamtrul Rinpoche said above is not just mere experience. It sees through the conventions and analysis and realized the emptiness of these conventions.

In buddhism, non analytical cessations like states of no-mind and samadhi does not liberate. Only analytical cessation based on wisdom that penetrates and sees through the wrong view of inherent existence is able to liberate. The prajna wisdom that realizes the dharma seal of anatta, dependent origination and emptiness.


In the past, many years ago, I visited a Zen center in Geylang many times, whose master is a very famous Korean Zen master with many established dharma centers throughout the world, who passed away in the early 2000s. I found his writings quite resonating because he was able to express simply and articulately the state of no-mind. I read many books by him. He even said things like, "your true self has no outside, no inside. Sound is clear mind, clear mind is sound. Sound and hearing are not separate, there is only sound.", and so on.

However I was dismayed to find out later that he was having the experience of no mind but the view of one mind, meaning that he has not had the realisation of anatman that penetrated the view of inherent existence. As a result, despite his nondual experience, he was still unable to overcome the view of an inherently existing one substance modulating as many, which is the view of substantiated nonduality (nondual based on substance or essence view). I only realised this after reading in more details his views and writings and found an article where he expressed that Dharma-nature is the universal substance which everything in the universe is composed, is an unchanging substance that is formless like h2o but can appear as rain, snow, fog, vapor, river, sea, sleet, and ice, and everything is different forms of the same universal and unchanging substance.

It is clear to me that he experiences nondual and no-mind, but what he said above is still precisely reifying an ontological, universal, one, indivisible and unchanging source and substratum that is the "one without a second" manifesting as many. This is having a view of inherent existence pertaining to a metaphysical source and substratum even though it is nondual with phenomena.

I informed John Tan the above in 2018 and he replied, “To me yes. Mistaken experience due to lack of view. That is Zen's problem imo. No mind is an experience. Insight of anatta must arise, then refine one's view." (This is a general trend but there are many Zen masters with clear view and deep realisations too)

Another American Zen writer, whose books I have enjoyed reading and found to be quite resonating in many ways, because he was able to express the experience of no-mind and what I call Maha total exertion. He wrote that the Buddha mind is mountains, rivers, and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars. And that "In the state of authentic practice and enlightenment, the cold kills you, and there is only cold in the whole universe. The heat kills you, and there is only heat in the whole universe. The fragrance of incense kills you, and there is only the fragrance of incense in the whole universe. The sound of the bell kills you, and there is only “boooong” in the whole universe…" This is a good expression of no mind.

However, later on, upon further reading, I was disappointed to find out that he is still lacking realization into anatman, and hence did not go beyond the view of one mind yet having no mind experience. He continued to assert that "Objects of mind come and go in an endless stream, contents of awareness arise and cease – mind or awareness is the unchanging realm in which objects come and go, the immutable dimension wherein the contents of awareness arise and cease", and although he sees awareness as unchanging while all phenomena are changing, he insists awareness is nondual with phenomena: "In short, reality is nondual (not-two), thus everything in reality is an intrinsic aspect or element of that one reality."

It is clear that despite his nondual experience up to no mind, the view of inherent existence is very strong, and subtly dual. The desync between view and experience persists. It is having the atman view of an unchanging and inherently existing one reality yet being nondual with everything. I could go on and on and cite countless other teachers and practitioners, whether Buddhist or non-Buddhist, that are having this problem, because it is very common.

This is why anatta is not just the experience of no-mind, or a nondual experience, or even the realisation of the non-division between subject and object, perceiver and perceived, hearing and sound. Many practitioners and teachers unfortunately mistaken it to be so. It should instead be a realization that sees throughs, cuts through the view of inherent existence of a source/substratum/awareness. It is the realization that only vivid luminous manifestation knows and rolls without ever a knower or an agent, much like there is no wind that is the agent of blowing or lightning that is the agent of flash (both are just dependent designations and mere names), and also there is no ontological or metaphysical essence that exists in any way or form.

So after breakthrough from I AM to nondual, it is crucial to get out of “one substance” view and phase through the realization of anatman. Even this is just a start.

In recent weeks more people realized anatman in my blog and I have been guiding them into deeper insights into dependent origination and emptiness. However, genuine insights of emptiness and dependent origination cannot be understood without deep understanding of our consciousness, our empty clarity. I generally do not confuse people too much on dependent origination and emptiness until they are thoroughly clear about the realization of anatta through the two stanzas, the 2 authentications of anatta, because that is the base. Everything is empty of inherent existence but vividly clear and radiant, everything appears because it is all radiance of clarity. Therefore to have deep insight, the direct authentication of one's radiance and clarity is crucial. Anatman realization is key.

In the first stanza, the background subject, agent, watcher, doer is seen through, everything is spontaneous arising. In the second stanza, seeing is just the seen, one’s radiance clarity and presence-awareness is directly authenticated as all appearances, as all mountains, rivers, the great earth.

Both stanzas are equally important. Lacking this direct authentication of radiance as all vivid appearance, this powerful taste and insight of all transience as Presence-Awareness, is not what I call an authentic realization of anatman. It can be either an intellectual understanding, or still skewed towards non-doership, not yet nondual and anatta. Yet even if one has the realization of awareness as vivid appearance, it can still fall into substantialist nondual, so one must be careful to deepen insight and see through any remaining views and sense of an inherently existing and unchanging awareness.

The two authentications of anatta are like what I wrote earlier, “Stanza 1

There is thinking, no thinker

�There is hearing, no hearer

�There is seeing, no seer

Stanza 2

In thinking, just thoughts

�In hearing, just sounds

In seeing, just forms, shapes and colors.

This must be realized as a dharma seal. 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'.

Therefore, I think it is important to stress on anatta as a realisation of dharma seal, which is to say, in seeing just the seen, never has there been a seer. This is not a stage where the sense of a seer dissolve into just the seen, as this can just be a stage without the prajna wisdom that pierces and sees through the construct of an internal reference point of a perceiver/inherently existing perceiving, as fundamentally illusory and empty. Having an experience of no-mind is not very difficult nor uncommon, it is actually much more rare to have the realisation of anatta, even though the realisation of anatta is also just another start along the path to Buddhahood. Many focus on the experience, and there is a lack of clarity to penetrate the differences. It is rare to find practitioners and teachers that truly realized anatta. Most people that has nondual experience take "in the seen just the seen" as simply a state of no mind, rather than the more important realization that sees through the referencepoint of an inherently existing self, perceiver, agent, awareness, perceiving that could exist in and of itself apart from manifestation, seeing that always already, there never was a seer or even a seeing besides the seen, always already so.”

It's late here and this post is getting way too long and I will address some of your issues regarding non-doership in a separate post tomorrow.


The poster replied:

Oh my world..

I am lost for words right now. I'll try to reply properly when all this has sunk in a bit. You do actually understand. You describe other experiences I have had as well, or glimpses and even "suspicions". I very much look forward to read what you have to say about the issues on non-doership. You have no idea how grateful I am for this. Or.. perhaps you do, actually. I have read it twice now, and I will read it again. Wow.

I think I should read your guide as well. I just scrolled through the table of content and it looks very interesting.

Thank you so, so much!


The next day, I wrote more:

More replies:

After describing the different facets of self/Self and no-self/Self, I'll dwell a little into the pitfalls and misunderstandings of non-doership and no-self.

Someone who goes through non-doership experiences spontaneity and a sense of freedom to a certain degree, yet it often comes with a great deal of confusion that only gets cleared up with deeper insights or pointers.

One possible pitfall is that one could end up with a confused understanding of no-self and non-action.

I wrote this in Facebook in reply to a friend Din Robinson to whom Thusness wrote his "7 stages of experience" (originally 6) in 2006:

Din: "as soon as you take any action or any need for training, then you are perpetuating the myth of a "you" that exists in time and space, not that there's any wrong with that!"

My reply:

This is not true. This is as ridiculous as saying "as long as you take any action to keep fit, such as going to gym, then you are perpetuating the myth of a "you" that exists in time and space"


"as long as you take any action to pass your exams, such as studying hard, then you are perpetuating the myth of a "you" that exists in time and space"


"as long as you take any action to survive, such as eating and sleeping, then you are perpetuating the myth of a "you" that exists in time and space"


"as long as you take any action to cure your disease, such as seeing the doctor, then you are perpetuating the myth of a "you" that exists in time and space"

No-self/Anatta is not about denying thinking, action, carrying water and chopping wood... and this is the key difference between genuine anatta insight from dualistic conceptual understanding. The very notion that "action" and "intention" implies, or necessitates, an "actor", and therefore for non-action the intentions and actions must also cease, is precisely using dualistic thinking to understanding anatta...

Action never required a self (in fact there never was a self or a doer apart from action to begin with: only a delusion of one), and action does not need to perpetuate the myth of a self. The myth of a self is not exactly dependent on action or lack thereof. Sure, action that arises out of the dualistic sense of actor/act where there is an "I" trying to modify or achieve "that" is a form of action produced by ignorance. But not all actions necessarily arise out of an underlying sense of duality. If all actions arise out of a sense of duality, then after awakening one will just die as he cannot even feed himself.

When one is operating with a dualistic way of understanding, one thinks that action implies a self that is doing an act, and one thinks that non-action implies that the self ends with the action. But genuine insight into non-action is simply the realization that never was there a real actor behind action, so there is always in acting just that action - whole being is only the total exertion of action, and this is always already the case but not realized. That is true non-action - there is no subject (actor) performing an act (object).

Futhermore: The myth of a self is not dependent on practice and lack thereof. (Oh but, 'right practice' and 'contemplation' does a lot to deconstruct that myth!) The myth of a self is however dependent on ignorance, and only wisdom ends that ignorance, just like turning on the lights lead to the natural cessation of irrational fear and thinking of monster in the dark room by a child.

There is always only action without a doer. No doer does not deny action, it denies agency, and realization of such leads to the direct, immediate, experience of total exertion/total action where doer/deed is refined till none in one whole movement. There is nothing passive about non-action. Non-action is simply action without self/Self. All actions performed without sense of self/Self is in fact non-action. Without the subjective pole (actor), the objective pole in contrast to the subject (being acted upon) is also automatically negated. Yet clearly, the total exertion - pure action... goes on.

Dogen calls this practice-enlightenment. You do not practice For enlightenment (as some future goal separated from you). Your very practice of actualizing insight of anatta itself is practice-enlightenment. Sitting down is practice is actualization is Buddha-nature is enlightenment. Shitting too can be practice/actualization and that very act is Buddha-nature is enlightenment. Your very practice/actualization/act of just sitting, hearing the wind blowing, sight of scenery, walking on the street, chop wood carry water (without any delusion of self/Self) - that itself is practice-actualization-enlightenment, that is the total exertion where entire being is just entire sound, entire scenery, entire action.. This is non-dual practice and non-dual action.

2) A misunderstanding of no-self leads to a fatalistic and deterministic idea that negates or misunderstands causality and dependent origination. No-self in Buddhadharma is based on the understanding of dependent origination. But dependent origination should not be misunderstood as fatalism or with the idea that 'nothing can be done to accomplish things'.

It would be erroneous if a doctor realizes there is no self, therefore, tells his patients that all diseases are kind of fated or predetermined and so one should just passively surrender to the flow of things and just see what happens. Of course that is just silly. They should be dealt with, quickly and actively. But they are dealt with not via attempting to exert control or hard will via by the false notion of agency (sickness can't be cured merely by trying to will or control it out of existence - there are so many dependencies involved). They are dealt with via seeing its dependent origination and treating its dependent origination in a non-inherent way. Likewise the Buddha is like a great doctor that completely discerns our disease and the cure to our disease, and this is how through discerning dependent origination he taught the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path that ends suffering (which is the noble eightfold path).

Also, as John Tan/Thusness said many years ago:

“Nihilistic tendencies arise when the insight of anatta is skewed towards the no-doership aspect. The happening by itself must be correctly understood. It appears that things are accomplished by doing nothing but in actual case it is things get done due to ripening of action and conditions.

So the lack of self-nature does not imply nothing needs be done or nothing can be done. That is one extreme. At the other end of extreme is the self-nature of perfect control of what one wills, one gets. Both are seen to be false. Action + conditions leads to effect.”

3) Are you aware of the seven factors of awakening taught by the Buddha? They are mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, stability of mind, and equanimity. This is how we should cultivate in our practice and also gauge where our practice is at. These are the factors to be cultivated, that leads to awakening and liberation. This means our practice should make us joyous, radiant, bright, aware, tranquil, calm, focused, with energy, have deeper insights, and so on. These positive qualities of mind naturally grow more and more as we practice. But if instead we become more and more like a zombie, more and more lethargic and demotivated, that means something is going wrong in our direction and we should investigate that and correct it. After maturing of anatta one feels great energy coursing through one's body and even one's complexions naturally radiates the joy and luminosity that is experienced.

I remember one of the first things John Tan/Thusness asked someone many years ago after that person described certain insight of no-self and non-doership, he asked, "has zealous energy arisen?" and commented, "Advisable to bring the insight of anatta into the active mode."

So it is good to know that there is the passive and active mode of no-self .

There is the passive way of non-doership where one just let things happen on its own, but this is often coupled with a sense of dissociation because one's level of insight has not reached into non-dual level yet. Even after anatta non-duality, it often takes some time to mature that insight and experience such that anatta enters into total action and total exertion. You remember what I said about Michael Jackson? He danced until all sense of self is forgotten into 'just the dance'. Notice that he wasn't sitting cross-legged in lotus posture, he was totally engaged. The people doing dangerous sports also often report entering the zone and forgetting the self into a state of complete unity with their action and environment because any missteps can mean death, and it is this heightened state of aliveness and ego-death in that moment of total engagement in activity that is also itself the allure of engaging in such activities. But alas, all these are but passing peak experiences since they have not realised anatta. It is not necessary to engage in extraordinary feats to achieve such states of peak experience, the realisation of anatta turns the ordinary and mundane activities of daily living into marvelous activities of buddha-nature and total exertion.

However all these people described above are not just experiencing a 'passive experience of non-doership' -- yet their sense of self is completely dissolved. What's the difference? They're not just 'passively watching things unfold on its own'. Far from merely watching things float by with passive disinterest from behind as some sort of dissociated watcher... They are totally focused, totally in the zone, totally engaged with their whole being/body-mind and their intentions in their action, till the gap between actor and action, doer and deed, observer and observed is refined till none, into that very activity itself. It is like the dissolution of subject/object not just in passively experiencing a sound without hearer or sight without seer, but also in that very full engagement of action without a separate actor. That is true non-action, which is not literally passive inactivity but non-dual action, action without the sense of self, or one's whole being is the action. It is total engagement in action without sense of self, not only without the sense of a doer, but also without the sense of being a passive watcher.

As I said earlier, once realization of anatta arises, non-duality becomes the natural state and is realised to be always already the case. Initially after insight one may still be prone to experiencing non-duality in a state of passivity -- just relaxing and letting the sensory experiences and events just arise in a non-dual state, experiencing no-self in a state of passivity like just enjoying the scenery to the point of completely forgetting the self in the vivid brilliance or luminosity of the scenery, the sounds, the sensations and aromas, etc -- this time it is effortless and natural, without entry or exit -- for one realizes that in seeing, seeing is just colors without seer, and hearing is just sounds without hearer.

And yet mature insight into anatta also allows us the path to completely and gaplessly engage in actions to the point of dissolving all sense of self in that activity. The last stage of the ten oxherding pictures of Zen is called 'entering the marketplace'. The experience of total action/non-action/non-dual action is basically sort of like being in the zone as mentioned above, but the importance is realizing and actualizing this as a natural state in all activities, and that is only possible after realising anatta. After realising anatta (and not just non-doership), it is very natural and effortless to completely engage in activity to the point of leaving no trace of self and fully actualizing your true nature as that very activity. This is heavily emphasized in Zen, but even basic Theravada teachings can get you there if understood well -- - I discussed a conversation I had with a Zen master and this might interest you.

This non-dual action eventually matures into total exertion, which is emphasized in certain teachings like Soto Zen and Zen Master Dogen. Total exertion is like when you are eating, the whole universe is eating. When you walk, the whole sky and mountains walks with you. At this point, in every mundane experience and activity, you experience the infinitude of the universe exerting as that activity.

Thusness: "[Total] Exertion is after the realization of seamless interdependence, the practitioner feels the universe giving its best to make this moment possible. Read the dogen of rowing the boat."

Dogen: "Birth is just like riding in a boat. You raise the sails, row with the oar, and steer. Although you row, the boat gives you a ride, and without the boat you couldn't ride. But you ride in the boat and your riding makes the boat what it is… When you ride in a boat, your body and mind and the environs together are the undivided activity of the boat. The entire earth and the entire sky are both the undivided activity of the boat."

"With going the boundless sky goes, with coming the entire earth comes. This is everyday mind."

Now, if you mature your insights to the point of true non-action and total exertion, you will not end up in a state of dissociation, passivity and lethargy. Instead, one lives life to its fullest, literally -- in all areas of life, fully alive, fully engaged and yet non-attached.

My impression from your post is that you are experiencing non-doership but with a sense of dissociation, along with some confusion. But if you progress in insights and practice in accordance with the AtR guide, or find a good Zen master (there are many good ones especially from the Soto Zen/Dogen's lineage) that can lead you to total exertion, your problems will be solved. You will come to experience whatever I said in this thread.

As John Tan/Thusness said before:

“When anatta matures, one is fully and completely integrated into whatever arises till there is no difference and no distinction.

When sound arises, fully and completely embraced with sound yet non-attached. Similarly, in life we must be fully engaged yet non-attached” - John Tan/Thusness

“Actually there is no forcing. All the 4 aspects in I AMness are fully expressed in anatta as I told you. If aliveness is everywhere, how is one not to engage… it is a natural [tendency] to explore in [various] arena[s] and enjoy in business, family, spiritual practices... I [am] involve[d] in Finance, business, society, nature, spirituality, yoga...🤣🤣🤣. I don't find it efforting… You just don't have to boast about this and that and be non-dual and open.” - John Tan/Thusness, 2019

“Just met a friend yesterday who recently started meditating. His girlfriend joked that he might be becoming a monk. I told him that besides the daily sitting meditation (which is very important even after anatman realization, let alone before -, practice is mostly and very much in daily life and engagement rather than in some remote region in the mountains, it is about living a life in the marketplace that is spontaneously beneficial for oneself and others around, and joyful, rather than one that is miserable. It is fully engaged and free.


Zen Master Bernie Glassman said,


“At its deepest, most basic level, Zen—or any spiritual path, for that matter—is much more than a list of what we can get from it. In fact, Zen is the realization of the oneness of life in all its aspects. It’s not just the pure or “spiritual” part of life: it’s the whole thing. It’s flowers, mountains, rivers, streams, and the inner city and homeless children on Forty-second Street. It’s the empty sky and the cloudy sky and the smoggy sky, too. It’s the pigeon flying in the empty sky, the pigeon shitting in the empty sky, and walking through the pigeon droppings on the sidewalk. It’s the rose growing in the garden, the cut rose shining in the vase in the living room, the garbage where we throw away the rose, and the compost where we throw away the garbage. Zen is life—our life. It’s coming to the realization that all things are nothing but expressions of myself. And myself is nothing but the full expression of all things. It’s a life without limits. There are many different metaphors for such a life. But the one that I have found the most useful, and the most meaningful, comes from the kitchen. Zen masters call a life that is lived fully and completely, with nothing held back, “the supreme meal.” And a person who lives such a life—a person who knows how to plan, cook, appreciate, serve, and offer the supreme meal of life, is called a Zen cook.”


“But why does a venerable elder such as yourself waste time doing the hard work of a head cook?” Dogen persisted. “Why don’t you spend your time practicing meditation or studying the words of the masters?” The Zen cook burst out laughing, as if Dogen had said something very funny. “My dear foreign friend,” he said, “it’s clear you do not yet understand what Zen practice is all about. When you get the chance, please come and visit me at my monastery so we can discuss these matters more fully.” And with that, he gathered up his mushrooms and began the long journey back to his monastery. Dogen did eventually visit and study with the Zen cook in his monastery, as well as with many other masters. When he finally returned to Japan, Dogen became a celebrated Zen master. But he never forgot the lessons he learned from the Zen cook in China.”


- Zen Master Bernie Glassman” - Soh, 2019


“In Zen, enlightenment implies full integration into activities. Any lack of such insight is not 'enlightenment in Zen'.” - John Tan, 2010


“My daily activities are not unusual,

I'm just naturally in harmony with them.

Grasping nothing, discarding nothing,

In every place there's no hindrance, no conflict.

Who assigns the ranks of vermilion and purple?

The hills' and mountains' last speck of dust

is extinguished.

[My] supernatural power and marvelous activity—

Drawing water and carrying firewood.” - Layman Pang


An old Zen saying— “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”


Also see: a conversation I had with a Zen master in 2012, Total Exertion

“What you said is very good. I was reminded of a discussion I just had with Thusness about a new book by Tony Parsons called "This Freedom".

I asked Thusness what freedom is. Freedom is not doing what one likes, that would be still self-view. It is also not just simply being unentangled within the paradigm of duality of subject/object, life/death division.
The realization of anatta and emptiness relinquishes the self and reified constructs, consequently artificial boundaries and hindrance are also dissolved.

When artificial constructs are dissolved, the natural, primordial and untainted are also spontaneously manifested in every engagement. If it is not, then one risks the danger of still being entangled in a non-dual ultimate and drowned in stagnant water. Hence there is a difference in understanding non-dual free from the framework of duality and the actualization of the non-dual realization as the spontaneity of action that is full of energy and compassion.

So as Thusness pointed out to me, freedom must be realized not simply as non-attachment but also as boundless expression that is full of life and power.

Therefore not only the path of non-attachment is seen clearly but the way of boundless compassion and powerful viriya (energy) must also be directly felt and lived. Not immobilized by artificial constructs and duality, action is natural and spontaneous; without self, there is no hesitation and obstruction.

If one only sees freedom as non-attachment, then one will have missed an enormous part of the experiential insight of anatta and will not understand why Mipham is so insistent on talking about the positive attributes of Buddha, yet not falling into the views of Shentong.

For example when Thusness asked me what fear is, my answer had mostly to do with the mental/psychological factors and attachment. However what Thusness want me to see is that fear is not only overcome by non-attachment but also by the feeling of unbounded life and energy.
Btw, do you do yoga or any form of energy practice?” – Soh, 2016

"And when you experience, a person will feel radiance bright. Means when you see him, you will find radiance bright, you know? Because once a person experience non-duality, there is no holding, there is just luminosity. There is just a pure sense of existence, of clarity, of all things. Somehow, there is an utmost joy and energy that flows from everywhere, that sustains a person. This is its nature.” - John Tan, 2007,

I remember one of the first things John Tan/Thusness asked someone many years ago after that person described certain insight of no-self and non-doership, he asked, "has zealous energy arisen?" and commented, "Advisable to bring the insight of anatta into the active mode."

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