This blog is about spiritual awakening, maps and stages, the blinding effects of our strong momentum/conditioning (karmic propensities), view, realization, experience, etc. If you're new here, I recommend going through the 'Must Reads' articles (see sidebar). For discussions you are welcome to join the Awakening to Reality Facebook group
A monk asked Tozan, “When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?” Tozan said, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?” The monk said, “What is the place where there is no cold or heat?” Tozan said, “When it’s cold, the cold kills you; when it’s hot, the heat kills you.”
This is not advice to “accept” your situation, as some commentators have suggested, but a direct expression of authentic practice and enlightenment. Master Tozan is not saying, “When cold, shiver; when hot, sweat,” nor is he saying, “When cold, put on a sweater; when hot, use a fan.” 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…
Intimacy is simply being open to the intimacy of experiencing which is already present and always available. This is what Zen practice actually is: opening to this openness, being a bodhisattva.
Intimacy is the recognition that everything within your life is alive AS your life. Every moment of experiencing, regardless of how you feel about it, regardless of what you think of it, is this intimacy, and everything you experience points to this intimacy whether you recognize it or not. Zen practice is seeing how we turn away from this intimacy and releasing this contraction.
On your way into the monastery this morning, you walked through the Sanmon, the Mountain Gate, and up the stone path. On either side of the stones of the path, an array of colours met your eyes as the many different greens of ferns and moss, the small flowering plants and ground cover. The air in the monastery grounds, cooled by the water in the ponds, is cooler than the air down the street. Did you feel how it was soft on your skin? And as you walked on the path, step after step, you were being observed by countless birds from overhead branches or from inside the thick hedge, calling from all directions. Perhaps you noticed some of these details. Perhaps you were so caught up in just ‘getting into the building on time’ that you missed most of this.Perhaps you were even thinking about what you would do after you left or what was happening before you came or even last week or something that has never happened and never will. In any case, whether you were allowing attention to open to those details or not, there was intimacy with your life. The question is, how intimate were you with your life? How responsive were you? If your attention was folded down into contraction, you will have noticed very little about that walk up the pathway. So you see, this intimacy we are speaking of is not something you are ever denied, it is something you can choose to open to.
You don’t have to wait for experiencing to be arranged in a certain way or for you to be interested in how experiencing is to open to this intimacy. Even when you are not feeling well, when you’re tired or grumpy, you can still be intimate with experiencing. You can have a pounding headache and still open attention to the context in which you and the pounding of your head are taking place because you are aware of the headache. The question is - what is it that is aware? How is it that you are aware of anything at all? If you have a headache, trying to manipulate it with your practice isn’t going to cure it. Take an aspirin if you want to change it. But while it’s going on, practise with it. Practice isn’t about manipulating experiencing so that you can limit and contain it and only experience what you want to experience. You can’t control reality. You can influence it, but if your attention is contracted, you will inevitably influence it in ways that will deepen contraction.
Wanting to manipulate experience by turning practice into a strategy or a formula is a misunderstanding that beginning students in particular fall into. This strategizing comes up while sitting zazen, but also when you’re not sitting. It comes up concerning work issues such as dissatisfaction with a job or a career, or a living situation, but also with more personal issues such as relationships. This is why you spend so much of your sitting time pondering these issues - you think that if you just spend enough time thinking about them, you’ll reach some state of perfect mental clarity and you’ll know exactly what to do; you’ll have the formula for it, the cure. And of course, the fact that all of this is only going on inside your head and reality is not inside your head is something that you will tend to overlook when you’re really caught up in it.
Because you spend so much time thinking about strategies and designing formulas for yourselves, topics of this sort will also come up from time to time in practice interviews and daisan. It’s not that this is a problem - far from it, students are welcome to bring up any topic they wish to discuss in interviews and daisan. But I think it’s important to understand how limiting this can be.
If you ask a practice advisor to tell you how you should respond to your boss or your significant other when they say or do this or that, yes, the practice advisor could probably put together a response that would be very clever. But the problem is that if they were to do that, all they would be giving you is one of many possible solutions to this particular problem and it’s not YOUR solution. You won’t have learned anything from that. Why? Because what you’ve asked for is a formula that will only work in a very specific set of conditions. The next time an issue comes up, that formula won’t work because the circumstances will be different. And there’s no guarantee that it will work anyway, because the practice advisor or Dharma Teacher is not IN that situation and does not know all of the details of it.
What we can do, however, is talk about the habitual patterns that people tend to fall into so that they can recognize them and avoid certain pitfalls.
Everyone wants intimacy but there are many things people call ‘intimacy’ and most are not intimate at all. Many are what you settle for when you are not really being intimate with your life - the touchy-feelly kind of intimacy people try to share that comes and goes and goes and is gone more often than it is present. There are many patterns people engage in around this, so I will bring up a few of them.
Relationships aren’t all they’re made out to be. As Anzan roshi has often pointed out, ninety-five percent of the time you’re trying not to get in trouble with the other person. Another five percent can be nice or kind of nice, or just slightly better than not being in trouble. And for the last five percent, which is spread throughout, you’re in trouble. This is not intimacy, it’s the result of following habitual patterns that involve a lot of ‘leaning’. People who are in intimate relationships do tend to lean on each other a great deal and I don’t mean the kind of leaning one does with an injured hip. No, the other kind of leaning - wanting someone to prop you up, jolly you out of your states or distract you from them. When people are sad or angry or confused, there is the expectation that the other person will be available to hear their stories, sympathize with them and try to make them feel better and this can become more than a full-time job, it can become a life-long job. Even if there is something really serious going on, your first obligation as concerns your states, is to work with them yourself. Looking to another person to do this for you is sheer laziness. When both parties do this to excess, their time together is spent primarily looking at each other, continuously trying to gauge the kind of states that are present, day after day after day.
If I were to use a metaphor for good and bad relationships, it would be this: There are two people walking down the street together and as they walk, they are looking at the sky, the ground, the trees, the buildings and perhaps commenting on those. Or they might talk to one another about possibilities that may unfold for them or they may just walk together in silence. But they are attentive to the details of the walking, of their surroundings, and that of course includes each other, but without an enormous sense of problem. A bad relationship is like two people walking down the street but they are seeing nothing but each other. They watch each other, continually worrying about what the other is thinking, what facial expressions might mean, wondering what is going on in the other person’s mind, wondering about their relationship, wondering “do you love me?” which is stifling and claustrophobic.
Relationships with other people, be it with a significant other or family members or friends, provide us with countless opportunities to notice how the three klesas determine for us the criteria by which someone is worthwhile or not. If your attention is bound up by habitual patterns of contraction, then these will dictate how you view other people. Again, first and foremost, it is your responsibility to work with your own states and habitual patterns. Because these are so habitual and you feel so justified in propagating them, your attention becomes consumed by them and it is very difficult to for you to recognize that they are even present unless you make the effort to open attention. And I mean as much of the time as is possible. Any state you experience has one agenda and that is to continue itself. Practice is about interrupting states. It’s not convenient and it is never habitual. It requires an effort to open to reality in the midst of your life. But there is time to do this and there is space in your life to practice. If you can find the time to spend as much time as you do lost in habitual thoughts and feelings, you can find the time to practice.
The intimacy people wish to find in their relationships does not begin as romantic engagement. It doesn’t start with becoming personal with another person. Real intimacy is intimacy with your whole life and it is only to the extent that you can be intimate with your own life that you can be intimate with the life of another. I think this is really quite obvious. If your attention is so folded down that you are spending a good portion of your time lost in storylines and feelingtones and strategies, you make yourself unavailable and unresponsive to reality. Other people are not your thoughts and feelings about them.
If you are in a relationship that was formed on a weak foundation and you practice, it may fall apart. And that won’t be because practising will make you cold or indifferent. It will be because you will begin to understand what intimacy really is. If you are in a relationship that was built on a strong foundation and practise it will become even stronger, even more intimate. The reason for this is that intimacy is too intimate to be personal. The intimacy of the bodhisattva, of one who is opening to openness is not just intimacy with another person, it is intimacy with the whole of one’s experiencing. It includes other people but is not dependent on other people. And this intimacy is something you can practise right now.
When you are sitting and choose to open past your storylines to feel the actual contact of thumb against thumb, you are practising intimacy. A step in kinhin is intimacy with the sensations of the foot, the texture of the floor beneath the foot and the coolness of the air that passes beneath the foot as it is lifted to take the next step. And further, opening attention to the whole bodymind, balanced and at ease, intimate with the sensations of the warmth and weight of the hands held in shashu resting against the diaphragm, feeling the breath come and go; moving through the space of the room; opening to the seeing as you move through the space and the space moves past you and intimate with the space of experiencing in which all of this is occurring, When you pay attention to the sensations of the bodymind, the sounds you are hearing and the colours and forms you are seeing, you are opening past self-absorption - this same self-absorption that limits and constricts the relationships you have with other people. This intimate practice of zazen shows you how your attention abstracts and recoils from present experiencing so that you can release contraction and become intimate with the life that lives as all lives, as your life.
There is much more to look into concerning these topics and we shall continue to do so in the next Dharma Talk.
Thusness told me that he thinks all these are very well written, which I fully agree. Thusness: "AlexWeith is very
good and he is very clear about anatta."
"In the seen, there is only the seen, in the heard, there is only the heard, in the sensed, there is only the sensed, in the cognized, there is only the cognized. Thus you should see that indeed there is no thing here; this, Bahiya, is how you should train yourself. Since, Bahiya, there is for you in the seen, only the seen, in the heard, only the heard, in the sensed, only the sensed, in the cognized, only the cognized, and you see that there is no thing here, you will therefore see that indeed there is no thing there. As you see that there is no thing there, you will see that you are therefore located neither in the world of this, nor in the world of that, nor in any place betwixt the two. This alone is the end of suffering.” (Ud. 1.10)
............. There is no end to the process of awakening, but in Zen Buddhism there are steps and strategies. These introductory posts will explain my position, what I discovered so far, and how it unfolds.
Having got hold of the ox, one has realized the One Mind. In Zen literature this One Mind has often been compared to a bright mirror that reflects phenomena and yet remains untouched by appearances. As discussed with one of Sheng-yen's first Western students, this One Mind is still an illusion. One is not anymore identified to the self-center, ego and personality, yet one (the man) is still holding to pure non-dual awareness (the ox). Having tamed the ox, the ox-herder must let go of the ox (ox forgotten) and then forget himself and the ox (ox and man forgotten).
The problem is that we still maintain a subtle duality between what we know ourself to be, a pure non-dual awareness that is not a thing, and our daily existence often marked by self-contractions. Hoping to get more and more identified with pure non-dual awareness, we may train concentration, try to hold on to the event of awakening reifying an experience, or rationalize the whole thing to conclude that self-contraction is not a problem and that suffering is not suffering because our true nature is ultimately beyond suffering. This explains why I got stuck in what Zen calls "stagnating waters" for about a year.
This is however not seen as a problem in other traditions such as Advaita Vedanta where the One Mind is identified with the Brahman that contains and manifests the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep within itself, yet remains untouched by its dreamlike manifestation.
............. So what has been puzzling me what the sense of presence, the sense of being and its relation with the sense that things around me manifest their presence. Over the months I realized that if this beingness seems to be located as the center of our being, it is actually the flavor of all things.
Reading the blog "Awakening to Reality" that has become my main source of inspiration, I realized that this presence felt as the presence of 'what is' is the *luminosity* that the Mahamudra teachings are talking about. Gradually, feeling my own sense of being has become feeling the beingness of all things, leading to a deeper non-dual realization that gradually colapsed the sense of a Primoridal Awareness, True Self, or Bright Mirror into what is present here and now.
The conclusion is that all phenomena are in themself empty and luminous, ungraspable and self-aware, ever changing and alive. The conclusion is also that there is nothing beyond that; no permanent pure potential beyond phenomena, no true self that would be the source and substance of phenomena and above all no primordial awareness or Consciousness that would contain the five aggregates.
The whole universe is contained and expressed in a the "cypress tree in the court", simply because in the absence of a super Self in the background, the cypress tree brightly present in this very moment is the absolute reality made manifest in its suchness (tathata). Most Zen koans point to this realization, together with Hui-neng poem "Fundamentally no wisdom-tree exists, Nor the stand of a mirror bright. Since all is empty from the beginning, Where can the dust alight".
Surprizingly this deconstruction leads to a deeper level of non-duality. Huang-po's "One Mind' is starting to become Mazu's "No Mind, no Buddha".
to find a self within or apart from seeing, hearing, touching, thinking and
the other streams of sense-consciousness, insight into anatta is starting to dawn.
But I also realize that each major stages of insight must be mastered and
perfected, especially seeing clearly that phenomena arising in this very moment
manifest the entire universe expressing the suchness (tathata) of what
is (without an unmanifest inherent detached pure Awareness standing in the
background). As Nishijima Roshi put it poetically in Brad Warner's first book,
"eating a tangerine is true enlightenment". Even after a few days, I
realize that it is becoming impossible to apprehend or conceptualize a pure
Mind standing outside the mind stream.
Chinul's student was obviously a novice, while Kashyapa was obviously a very advanced disciple who had already realized the unconditioned and unborn (Pali. ajati) essence of the mind (insight into no-self), but went further to realize tathata (or suchness), namely that when no-self is truly realized, there is no more grasping at any reified essence, unborn, unconditioned, Mind is Buddha, Self, no-self, non-dual awareness, etc.
For Kashyapa there was therefore "no Buddha, no Mind". Just that. A flower turning. The blink of eye. A smile. Pure. Luminous. Empty. Perfect.
In traditional Southern Ch'an, the teaching method was sudden, namely similar to the direct pointing introduction to Mahamudra or Dzogchen. This was more like Ramana Maharishi's direct path. Instead of disembedding from sensations, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, etc. peeling the onion until nothing remains through vipassana, one would go strait to the source of hearing and seeing to eventually realize there "there is hearing, no hearer", "there is seeing, no seer". But it still unfolds into finer and finer insights, from "I cannot find anything there!" to "who could have thought that the mind is the source of the myriad things!" (Huineng, Ming edition of the Liu Zu Tan Jing) - [Not yet Mahakashyapa's realization however].
The sudden teachings are therefore sudden in the sense that there is no gradual step-by-step training where one starts with samatha and switches to vipassana to go through 16 stages of insights, cycles, etc. Instead, one is directly introduced to the heart of the matter. Yet it unfolds from an inditial glimpse to the same sudden enlightenment (MCTB 4th path, catching the ox), which must be followed by gradual cultivation to polish the view and remove the remaining fetters. .............
Practically speaking this means:
1). becoming aware of one's sense of existence and focusing on it until it starts to feel as if the only reality is this pure presence-awareness containing everything;
2). shifting this sense of being-existence-presence-awareness to apprehend the beingness of all things, until everything starts to feel bright, luminous, present and alive. At this stage, there is no more "self" and "other", nor is there any subtle duality between primordial awareness and phenomena arising and passing away within it. There is only "seeing seeing the seen" without a seer, nor solid material objects behind the seen.
This does not mean that there is absolutely no Primordial Awareness, Self or One Mind. This would be an extreme position rejected by the Buddha. This explains why the Buddha remained silent when asked about the existence of a Self. Answering "Yes" would mean that there is an eternal abiding inherent essence beyond phenomena (eternalism), while answering "No" would lead to nihilism, the other extreme view. The Buddha's way is the middle way, between these two extremes. There is a self, but this self is an conventional concept to describe something that appears to be and is experienced as such, but it not an abiding ultimate reality.
There is a Mind, but this Mind is empty [of an abiding essence]. This Mind is the *non-abiding mind* of the Diamond Sutra. Therefore, *Mind* is *No Mind*.
............. This also means that the first step is to disembed from impermanent phenomena until the only thing that feels real is this all pervading uncreated all pervading awareness that feels like the source and substance of phenomena. Holding on to it after this realization can hower become a subtle form of grasping diguised as letting go.
The second step is therefore to realize that this brightness, awakeness or luminosity is there very nature of phenomena and then only does the duality between the True Self and the appearences arising and passing within the Self dissolve, revealing the suchness of what is.
The next step that I found very practical is to push the process of deconstruction a step further, realizing that all that is experienced is one of the six consciousness. In other words, there is neither a super Awareness beyond phenomena, not solid material objects, but only six streams of sensory experiences. The seen, the heard, the sensed, the tasted, the smelled and the cognized (including thoughts, emotions, and subtle thougths like absorbtion states, jhanas).
At this point it is not difficult to see how relevent the Bahiya Sutta can become.
@beoman & @giragirasol:
Yes, when we realize that there is no super Awareness beyond consciousnes and become mindful of consciousness as it manifests at the 6 doors of the senses, we also realize that everything that we can ever experience is contained within one of these 6 streams of consciousness, including the 4 other aggregates that are known through the agregate of consciousness and the arupa jhanas that are in reality very subtle non-conceptual mind-states of the cognizing-consciousness.
Arriving at this point, we can start to investigate the 5 aggregate as well as the sense of self.
If we start with the aggregate of form (the physical body), we realize that our direct experience of the body is nothing more than stream of images (seeing legs, arms, a nose), the other senses and above all sensations. Exploring these sensations we realize that there is an impermanent stream of sensations that more of less matches the images of the body. However, the stream of seeing-consciousness is always distinct from the stream of sensing-consciousness. One never sees a sensation, but an unpleasant sensations can match the sight of a wounder arm. These stream are therfore seem as independent, yet totally interdependent. A sound, can trigger a thought that can trigger a sensations, that can trigger the images of a hand moving. Altogether, these 6 impermanent every changing streams of consciousness create the illusion of a solid substancial body. The same method applies to the other aggregates.
When it comes to the investiation of the sense of self, we must first realize that, even after what some have called technical 4th path, and even if we know that what we are is not any of the 5 aggregates, we still have a sense of self, a sense of existence. The sense "I am" has not been overcome yet.
This issue is discussed in the Khemaka Sutta. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.089.than.html
In this text, Ven. Dasaka meets the Arhant Khemaka and tells him that "there is nothing I assume to be self or belonging to self, and yet I am not an arahant. With regard to these five clinging-aggregates, 'I am' has not been overcome, although I don't assume that 'I am this." (...) ""Friends, it's not that I say 'I am form,' nor do I say 'I am something other than form.' It's not that I say, 'I am feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness,' nor do I say, 'I am something other than consciousness.' With regard to these five clinging-aggregates, 'I am' has not been overcome, although I don't assume that 'I am this.'"
The Arhat answers saying "friends, even though a noble disciple has abandoned the five lower fetters, he still has with regard to the five clinging-aggregates a lingering residual 'I am' conceit, an 'I am' desire, an 'I am' obsession."
Abendoning the five lower fetters means being an Anagami. Here the Arhant says that that even Anagami may still have a residual sense of self that he calls, the 'I am' conceit, an 'I am' desire, an 'I am' obsession."
As to how this sense 'I am' is experienced, the Arhant asks: "then how would he describe it if he were describing it correctly?"
And the monk replies, "as the scent of the flower: That's how he would describe it if he were describing it correctly." he sense of self is like the scent of the flower. It is the flavor of being.
In order to get rid of this residual sense of self and become an Arahat, the sage explains:
"As he keeps focusing on the arising & passing away of these five clinging-aggregates, the lingering residual 'I am' conceit, 'I am' desire, 'I am' obsession is fully obliterated. Just like a cloth, dirty & stained: Its owners give it over to a washerman, who scrubs it with salt earth or lye or cow-dung and then rinses it in clear water. Now even though the cloth is clean & spotless, it still has a lingering residual scent of salt earth or lye or cow-dung. The washerman gives it to the owners, the owners put it away in a scent-infused wicker hamper, and its lingering residual scent of salt earth, lye, or cow-dung is fully obliterated".
This means observing the arising and passing away of the 5 aggregates until "the lingering residual 'I am' conceit, 'I am' desire, 'I am' obsession is fully obliterated".
Practically speaking, the above mentioned method works in the same way. One can either split each of the 5 aggregates into 6 streams of consciousness, to see how the sense of "a body" (aggregate of form) arises when all senses working together create the illusion of substantiality, pretty much like the images track and the sounds tracks of a movie that together create the illusion of reality. Using the same method we can also see how the illusion of a solid body dissolves when we look deeply and see that what we had assumed to be a body is nothing more than an illusion created by 6 impermanent, separate-yet-interdependent streams of consciousness.
We can also investigate the sense of self as such.
In the seen, only the seen. We first realize that we cannot know the objects seen as such, but only the seen (shapes, colors, textures, etc.). We also realize that there is no separate entity that sees. There is seeing, but no seer. Seeing is seeing. Same with the other streams of sense consciousness.
Then, what I do is to look for a sense of self, and see whether it is more assocated to one of these 6 streams of consciousness. It is generally associated with a physical sensation around the solar plexus or gut, and is therefore related to the stream of sensing-consciousness. When this is seen for what it is, the sense of self drops. There is nothing beside the spontanious functioning of the senses.
Here the purpose is not to lock and make permanent a special state of consciousness, but only to gain deeper and deeper insights into Anatta and Shunyata until we become absolutely unable to make anything into "me" or "mine".
@giragirasol - and yes the results experienced during meditation when we stop investigating and let go of clinging that what has been seen as an illusion does match the traditional description of Rigpa. It first come for a brief moment, until it eventually becomes the only game in town. This is no surpize, since the Dzogchen teachings are basically about seeing the fruit (of mainstream Buddhism) as its ground (view) and the path (practice).
But here one should clearly mention that there is absolutely no inherently existing "Awareness" that is felt as existing separately from "phenomena arising witghin awareness", which would be Advaita Vedanta and maybe Kashmir Shaivism, but not Dzogchen. The Dalai Lama was very clear about that and insisted on the fact that Dzogchen can lead people astay if they lack a clear understanding of no-self, emptiness, co-dependent origination, interdependence, etc., recommending the in-depth study of Longchenpa with a solid background rooted in Tsongkapa's Lam Rim or other similar treaties.
............. With respect to the Zen 10 ox-herding pictures this above deals with "ox forgotten, man remains" (no more super-Awareness, One Mind beyond the 18 dhatus, 6 senses) and then "ox and man forgotten" when the lingering "sense I am" that used to apprehend the aggregate of consciousnes as the One Mind is also extinguished. This is not the only interpretation, but it does match Zen master Sheng-yen's commentaries.
And of course, mindfulness of the mind/6 sense doors/citta, being totally one with the seen, the heard, etc. is at the heart of Zen practice.
Ultimately, meditation practice is always "allowing everything to be as it is". However can only let go of what we see as an illusion. As an exemple disembedding from thoughts, sensations and perceptions allows us see them as mere reflexions. It then becomes easier to let go of thougths, sensations and perceptions. However, the same practice will also crystalize the sense of a witness untouched by phenomena that gradually evolves into a super non-dual Awareness seen as the source and substance of phenomena. Without further investigation, letting go is letting go thoughts, sensations and perceptions, but unknowingly also holding on to the Witness, Awareness or some other illusory inherent self hanging somewhere in the background. It is only when we investigate and look deeply into this awareness that we become able to let go of clinging to what looked like the Absolute leading to a deeper non-dual realization from the Awareness vs reflections-within-awareness duality.
............. @jhsaintonge - hi, it's pretty much on topic actually. On May 12, 2011, I was doing the laundry after struggling for days on the fundamental koan "if you knew that you couldn't do anything to gain elightenment, then what do you do?" Suddenly, everything felt dreamlike, everything namely may life, the universe, several past lives, everything felt like a dream, something that never happened, something illusory arising from a great void, a creative nothingness, unborn, uncreated, beyond birth and death, beyond time, non existing yet source and substance of all things; me, awareness, consciousness was seen as being nothing more than its projection that would then get identified with its projected dreamlike appearences to create the illusion of a real life in a real world. As a result of this event, everything felt perfect, whole and complete for weeks. And something did shift permanently.
Now what is that? Advaita Vedanta Jnanis told me you are That". You are a jnani. Zen masters said, "you have seen the ox", the essence of the Mind. Reading Christian mystics, it is clear that this event is seeing God as the Ground of Being, the unmanifest source of all things. Nothing wrong with the experience. It is great, awesome, and enlightening in the sense that it opened the an abiding non-dual state that some call technical 4th path.
But then, iis this the Buddha's awakening? Not so sure. Because although this event does validate the teachings of Neoplantonism, Advaita Vedanta, Christian mysticsm, there is no real insight into "Co-dependent origination" and most as the other things that set the Buddha's teachings apart from other great Indian spiritual traditions.
............. There remains a duality between "That" and phenomena. "That" feels like an impersonal uncreated clean mirror in the background that reflect phenomena, yet remains untouched. As a matter of fact that is the Self that Raman Maharishi talked about. That is the Arma (or Atta in Pali).
On a later stage, we realize that "That" can self-contract or on the contrary expend. It is like zooming in an out. In reality, it never changes, but gets more or less identified with phenomena. Attending to this pure presence-awareness, it naturally grows and overpowers phenomena to the point where everything is seen as appearences reflected within it. Yet "That" is the Self.
The problem is not the Self, but what we make out of it. Grasping at it tends to create a subtle duality, since we can become more or less identified with its dreamlike projections. There is Awareness vs phenomena arising within awareness. Awarenees is IT. Phenomena arising within it are Maya, illusions. We must cease identification with, or disembed from illusory (empty, impermanent, not-the-self) phenomena. This is precisely what great Advaita Jnanis did, like Ramana Maharishi who meditated for years in a cave after his awakening.
The problem is that the more we disembed as this stage, the more we grasp at this pure non-dual Awareness, Absolute or Self and fail to realize what the Buddha realized under the Bodhi Tree.
My conviction is that in order to realize No-Self (Anatta), the Buddha has realized the Self. He was already an accomplished yogi, a master in his own right. But he still wasn't satisfied, because it wasn't yet the end of suffering. Why, because as long as there remains any tiny sense of "me" or "mine" either in relation with body and mind, or with a Self, primordial awareness, Consciousness, Brahman, the One Mind, God, etc. there will be suffering.
............. My guess is that the Buddha first realized the Self and then started deconstructing it. He took this non-dual awareness and thought, "how can I be sure that this will not perish with the body?", "isn't awareness nothing more than something that arises as the result of sense contact"; "can awareness or consciousness exist beyond the 5 aggregates?", "what is the sense of self, being, existence?", "how does it arise?", "why is it still there after self-realization?", "why is it still there in the highest arupa jhanas?", "how can it be extinguished without dying?"
Then one day, Gautama awakened to impermanence, co-dependent origination, no-Atma (antta), emptiness, suchness, etc. and knew that, "this is the end of suffering", "the holy life has been lived, there is no more coming and going, etc.".
I am far from that, but I am starting to realize that the Buddha did go beyond what everybody saw (and still seem to see -even Buddhists- as enlightenment, awakening or self-realization. Something that implies the realization of the Self, but goes further.
............. So what is this pure, unborn, empty, timeless and nondual Awareness? As I see it now, it is just the non-arising, unsupported, empty and self-luminous nature of what is that the mind grasps and imagines to be an essential sustancial inherhent ultimate reality beyond phenomena. Seeing a white ox on a while empty field covered with snow (common Zen simile for the experience of the One Mind), the mind assumes that there is a pure "Whiteness" beyond all white objects.
Why? Because when the mind is not yet freed from ignorance, it needs to hold on to some kind of stable reference point, reifying its unconditioned and nonabiding nature realized in a moment of total surrender into seeing the eternal Source and substance of all things.
As I am starting to see it now, there is no clean mirror behind the images reflected in the mirror.The mirror cannot be separated from its reflected images. The reflected images are the mirror. Reality is like a lucid dream, but there is no dreamer, nor dreamed reality beyond the dream. There is just an timeless flow of dream images dreaming themselves within the dream. In dreaming, only the dream / in seeing, only the seen / in hearing, only the heard.
............. Padmasambhava's take on the same subject (where we see that Dzogchen and Vajrayana do not contract Pali Buddhism):
"The mind that observes is also devoid of an ego or self-entity. It is neither seen as something different from the aggregates Nor as identical with these five aggregates. If the first were true, there would exist some other substance.
This is not the case, so were the second true, That would contradict a permanent self, since the aggregates are impermanent. Therefore, based on the five aggregates, The self is a mere imputation based on the power of the ego-clinging.
As to that which imputes, the past thought has vanished and is nonexistent. The future thought has not occurred, and the present thought does not withstand scrutiny."
The suggestions that I have received were to acquire 'right view'. The mind needs to acquire some form of conceptual model that allows it to accept the possibility of its own non-abiding ungraspable empty nature. Right view is therefore required to facilitate the shift of perspective from "I am Awareness, everything is in me" to "nothing whatsoever is me or mine, all dharmas are empty".
A good start would be Walpola Rahula's classic "What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada". It can be completed by "The Way to Buddhahood: Instructions from a Modern Chinese Master" by Ven. Yin-shun. A great autoritative summary of the Mahayana path. Then, based on a solid understanding of the core insights of Buddhism, Dakpo Tashi Namgyal's "Clarifying the Natural State" (if still in print, or anything from the same great 16th century yogi) will be the best introduction to the Mahamudra and indirectly to the the sem-de series of Dzogchen.
If we skip Pali and Mahayana Buddhism and jump directly to Mahamudra or Dzogchen, the risk is to interpret Mahamudra or Dzogchen as a Buddhist version of pop-neo-advaita, equating emptiness and rigpa with awareness.
This is very common nowadays and some Western lamas seem to encourage this trend to water-down the Dzogchen teachings, as always in order to appeal to a larger public. Business is business.
The great thing about Buddhism is that is never goes beyond our direct experience.
In our direct experience, "the seen" does not imply the existence of solid objects out there that are the objects of what is seen. They may or may may not exist, but our direct experience is only "in seeing, only the seen".
In our direct experience, "the seen" does not imply the existence of a subject (an entity located in our brain looking through our eyes) or an impersonal unmanifest eternal witness (the Self, Awareness). In our direct experience there is only "the seen", without anybody seeing.
The dream is just a metaphor. "The seen" is itself: not existing, not non-existing, nor both existing and non-existing ;-)
............. Mahamudra is often defined as the union of emptiness and clarity. In Zen we call it the inseparability of the empty essence and luminous function of the mind.
What does it mean exacty and how is it related to practice.
As I see it, the practice of what Kenneth called 1st and 2nd gear (noting vipassana and self-inquiry) allows us to witness the impermanent nature or phenomena that are gradually seen as being dreamlike, impermanent and ungraspable. As a result, we disembed from our identification to phenomena and wake up to our existence as pure awareness, first as the silent witness untouched by thoughts, then as an impersonal presence-awareness somehow detached from phenomena (3rd path) and finally as a non-dual awareness [that is not a thing] that includes phenomena and manifests as phenomena (4th path).
Through this process, the witness crystalizes the *clarity* aspect of what is, while phenomena manifest the *emptiness* aspect of what is. When the separation is complete, empty phenomedna are seen as dreamlike apprearences within pure clarity apprehended as non-dual awareness.
In the Direct Mode (3rd gear?) some have noticed that phenomena become more alive, luminous, clear, in a way hyper-real, while the sense of an observing witness tends to dissolve.
Why? Because at this stage the direct mode shifts the our attention for the witnessing position beyond or behind phenomena towards phenomena and objects on the foreground. As a result phenomena (the seen, the heard, etc.) become more clear, alive, actual and hyper-real revealing its *clarity* aspect, while the sense of self, the witness, the observer or the sense of existing as a pure impersonal univolved awareness dissolves and fades away, revealing the *emptiness* aspect.
In both cases, *emptiness* and *clarity* are present but are somehow divided into two opposites sides:
a). The subject is the only reality: the all pervading witnessing non-dual awareness (clarity) on one side, and empty impermanent phenomena reflected within awareness on the other (emptiness), or
b.) The objects are the only reality in the absence of a knower: the "actual" world bright clear and luminous out there (clarity) and no self, witness or presence on the other side (emptiness).
Both states are valid point of views as long as we understand that everything is both *empty* and *luminous*. Then there is no opposion or conflict between cycling mode and direct mode, this or that. Gaining freedom from fixed views we gradually realize the union of emptiness and clarity.
Zen master Linji (Jap. Rinzai) illustrates a). and b). as the 1st and 2nd of his Four Positions:
1). Remove the objects, not the man (non-dual awareness that is both the source and substance of all things) 2). Remove the man, not the objects (no sense of self or agency, all that remains is the functioning of the six senses) 3). Remove both man and objects (emptiness of both self and phenomena) 4). Remove neither man, nor objects (traceless enlightenment beyond enlightenment)
............. What is nibbana?
"If we wish to go by the Buddha's words, there is an easy principle that the Buddha taught to a disciple named Bahiya. "O Bahiya, whenever you see a form, let there be just the seeing; whenever you hear a sound, let there be just the hearing; when you smell an odor, let there be just the smelling (...) When you practice like this, there will be no self, no "I". When there is no self, there will be no running that way and no coming this way and no stopping anywhere. Self does not exist. That is the end of dukkha. That itself is nibbana". Whenever life is like that, it's nibbana. If it's lasting, then it is lasting nibanna; if it is temporary, then it is temporary nibanna. In other words, there is just one principle to live by".
- Buddhdassa Bhikkhu, 'Heartwood of the bodhi Tree'
I know that it sounds strange and counter-intuitive. To bring it back to the reality of our direct experience of things as they are, let me try answer with the following questions:
- Have you noticed that no sunlight ever enters into the mind, nor even into the brain?
- Have you noticed that even in dreams, while sleeping in a dark room with our eyes closed, we experience bright vivid dreams?
- Have you noticed that when the sense of self fades away, everything becomes more vivid, bright and luminous?
- Have you noticed that when I am aware of something, this "I" is itself a thought and/or a feeling?
- Have you noticed that althought our sense of existence seems to imply the existence of a knower located somewhere behind the eyes, the sense of existence-presence-being is only the actualization of an ungoing impermanent flow of phenomena [coming into being], including what we had assumed to be the subject of all experiences?
When the self/Self is seen as an illusion, awareness is also revealed as a quality of phenomena. In other words, there is no Awareness out there aware of phenomena. Phenomena are themselves self-aware, empty and luminous.
This is also what Dogen means by "to study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away" (Genjokoan).
............. The notion of a 'primordial awareness', 'knowingness' or 'buddha-nature', seem to find its origin in the 'tathatagarbha' (Buddha's embryo) described in the Lankavatara sutra that soon became very popular in China, Korea, Japan and Tibet, in relation with Yogachara (Vijnanavada, mind-only) Buddhism that strongly influenced the Zen (that used to be called the Lanka school), Mahamudra (also called the 'Mind Seal') and Dzogchen traditions.
Scholars agree to find its root in the Anguttara Nikaya, where the Buddha talks about the 'luminous mind' ('pabhassara citta' in Pali):
"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements".
As mentioned above -at least as far I am concerned- there is nothing wrong with it, provided that we clearly understand that the Buddha did not talk about a permanent unconditioned entity untouched by phenomena. There is a "luminous is the mind" and "the triple world is mind-only" (Avatamsaka sutra), yet this mind is empty [of an abiding essence]. This mind is a more like a stream of interdependent luminous phenomena, a flow of seeing, hearing, sensing, thinking, etc.
Just for the sake of clarification, I would like to make it clear that I never said that "these luminous self-perceiving phenomena which are craving-free and nondual are the Ultimate", if there could still be any ambiguity about that.
On the contrary, I said that what I used to take for an eternal, empty, uncreated, nondual, primordial awareness, source and substance of all things, turned out to be nothing more than the luminous nature of phenomena, themselves empty and ungraspable, somehow crystallized in a very subtle witnessing position. The whole topic of this thread is the deconstruction of this Primordial Awareness, One Mind, Cognizing Emptiness, Self, Atman, Luminous Mind, Tathagatgabha, or whatever we may call it,
As shocking as it may seem, the Buddha was very clear to say that this pure impersonal objectless nondual awareness (that Vedantists called Atma in Sanskrit, Atta in Pali) is still the aggregate of consciousness and that consciousness, as pure and luminous as it can be, does not stand beyond the aggregates.
"Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'" (Anatta-lakkhana Sutta).
............. What I realized also is that authoritative self-realized students of direct students of both Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj called me a 'Jnani', inviting me to give satsangs and write books, while I had not yet understood the simplest core principles of Buddhism. I realized also that the vast majority of Buddhist teachers, East and West, never went beyond the same initial insights (that Adhyashanti calls "an abiding awakening"), confusing the Atma with the ego, assuming that transcending the ego or self-center (ahamkara in Sanskrit) was identical to what the Buddha had called Anatta (Non-Atma).
It would seem therefore that the Buddha had realized the Self at a certain stage of his acetic years (it is not that difficult after all) and was not yet satisfied. As paradoxical as it may seem, his "divide and conquer strategy" aimed at a systematic deconstruction of the Self (Atma, Atta), reduced to -and divided into- what he then called the five aggregates of clinging and the six sense-spheres, does lead to further and deeper insights into the nature of reality. As far as I can tell, this makes me a Buddhist, not because I find Buddhism cool and trendy, but because I am unable to find other teachings and traditions that provide a complete set of tools and strategies aimed at unlocking these ultimate mysteries, even if mystics from various traditions did stumble on the same stages and insights often unknowingly.
Thanks, sure. I especially like the "In lhatong—in terms of the Four Naljors—one is not naming what arises; one is not separate from what arises. One becomes completely identified with that which arises".
This is how the practice these days. There is seeing, hearing, thinking, sensing, tasting and smelling, but obviously no seer, hearer, senser, etc. out there trying to dis-embed from the seen, the heard... If it seem that someone or something is investigating, seeing, practicing, it soon appears that this sense of a doer, an observer or even this abstract and impersonal sense of being is just thinking, feeling, sensing. ............. As a matter of far, I am not familiar with noting vipassana. What I do is to hold on the 'sense of being' or 'sense of presence'.
This presence that first felt like "I am presence-awareness" now turns into the direct apprehension of the beingness, presence or actuality of seeing, hearing, sensing, etc. in the absence of a subject, knower, self or non-dual awareness-super-Self.
The sense of being (or feeling of existence) is not anymore the sense of my being as a sentient being or even as pure non-dual awareness, but is simply experienced as the beingness of 'what is' manifesting its presence.