Tan Jui Horng (who also lives in my country/city Singapore) wrote this on 9 August 2012 after his initial anatta breakthrough:
Just the Scenery
Hello everyone, seemed to have got a realization and since AEN asked me to share my experience, here's a long post starting from the first "sighting" of awareness. Any advice, admonishments, please do post a reply. Please definitely post if this realization is delusion in disguise. Thanks in advance!
I was originally just keeping bare attention on all sensations trying to see if there's a "self" anywhere. Somehow though, I experienced from time to time something underneath these sensations, a "something" (that I realised was what people referred to as awareness) that's seems to be receiving and acknowledging sensation.
This awareness eventually became felt as being switched on pretty much all the time. There's no getting away from it at all because it's always present. Essentially, if I had to say what I was, I was this awareness, and this awareness is constantly looking out into the world waiting to acknowledge all sensory input. Eventually there was another development where I realised everything experienced was in the here and now. Time and distance was only inferred through a series of experience via awareness rather than directly i.e. a string of "now"s and "here"s processed into time and distance. All past experiences can only be invoked from here and now.
Also at this point, the experience of awareness is something like this: "Aware of muscle tension", "Aware of the song of the birds", "Aware of the sound of the cars driving past". Essentially I was breaking things apart, where "awareness of this sensation" was not "awareness of that sensation".
The separation of an awareness "receiving" sensation was gradually removed starting from one day when my back started acting up while showering. I began to wonder "which part of being aware of the backache is not in being aware of water on skin?" And then, eventually it just became "There is just one awareness, and every sensation is in this awareness". Awareness encompasses the backache, as is the water on skin, the blinking, forming only one picture. The experience of "awareness receiving sensation" also became "awareness IS sensation", because there are no gaps at all separating the experiencer and the content of experience. Awareness has now become some kind of source where everything is the work of awareness.
Throughout the whole ordeal I had refused to believe in an actual source, an agent. There is no source in any form, so even if the experience tells me otherwise, there was no reason to believe it was true. So I begin looking at the question: "Is there an awareness outside of these sensations?" which led to this a few days back:
Without sensation, there is no awareness. Awareness is not a solid entity, rather it is like a quality of sensations, just like saying that water is wet. Which also explains why I have never experienced being aware of literally nothing. Even in the dead of the night I hear some kind of "low frequency noise" (hopely you all know what I mean here), even with my eyes closed I see blackness. Even while dreaming, awareness is there, if not it's impossible to recall dreams. Can't remember I've dreamt? That's ok, doesn't mean there was no dream and awareness wasn't present, it's not like liberated people will suddenly develop photographic memory and can remember every waking experience.
Sensations are always changing moment to moment, and thus awareness is changing moment by moment. Not a source, just a quality, forever changing. Everything happening is now seen as scenery, and life is just scenery after scenery playing now, becoming like a movie. A pretty great movie too!
Tan Jui Horng
I thought it was strange that I suddenly had a bunch of notifications...
So anyway, yes originally it was not quite stable, likely because like the average person on the street I did not actually have anything resembling regular practice, either on and off the cushion. I mostly did the investigations during moments in the day when my mind was relatively calm. Post initial anatta insight, when I was returning to a more thoughtless state after constant thinking, that moment of heightened clarity would sometimes cause this confusion. I suppose this sudden redirection of energy was bringing up the last remnants of the awareness delusion. The issue petered out gradually over the years. Every time it came up I just did what I had been doing leading up to my insight: honestly investigate what was going on in experience.
Tan Jui Horng
Certainly there some future development such as experiencing total exertion, experiencing the world as illusory, getting some insight into conditionality, breaking down assumptions about objects into mere sensations, etc. However, it was when my life became way more complex and a magnitude less comfortable that shortcomings in my practice were exposed, making me see what I was still clinging on to despite my apparent progress. The surface level self-view is just the first of many challenges. It's very humbling, and reminds me of how much further I have to go.
I really love hearing stories about how ppl use their realisations, any of it, to manoeuvre life situations.
It gives so much motivation and aim to practise, and also give other ppl a little guide as to how to use situations on the path!
Hoping for more life stories like this on ATR
Tan Jui Horng
I have to elaborate on this. It was because I had sufficient faith that what the Buddha taught was correct. Also because people like Wei Yu and even other non-Buddhists also emphasizing on anatta being what the Buddha taught. Hence, I was never content with stopping at awareness.