Posted by: PasserBy
(Last Updated: 3 May 2009)

Recently I participated in a discussion forum in Dharma Overground, never been so chatty in a forum before. It is such a joy sharing one's understanding openly among sincere and experienced practitioners. :-) The discussions are also quite related to some of the mails I received regarding 'Emptiness' and non-dual practices. Originally my intent was to make this post as a simple documentation and summary for my discussions in Dharma Overground, but after some thoughts I see it also appropriate to talk about the experiential insight of the twofold emptiness and how the insights of the twofold Emptiness lead to the full embracement of the transience.

Here is an excerpt from a Buddhist glossary site on the definition of twofold Emptiness:

Two emptinesses (二空) include (1) emptiness of self, the ātman, the soul, in a person composed of the five aggregates, constantly changing with causes and conditions; and (2) emptiness of selves in all dharmas—each of the five aggregates, each of the twelve fields, and each of the eighteen spheres, as well as everything else with no independent existence. No-self in any dharma implies no-self in a person, but the latter is separated out in the first category. Realization of the emptiness of self in a person will lead to attainment of Arhatship or Pratyekabuddhahood. Bodhisattvas who have realized both emptinesses ascend to the First Ground on their Way to Buddhahood.
Let's start from the viewless view aspect of Emptiness.

"In other words, right view is the beginning of the noble path. It is
certainly the case that dependent origination is "correct view"; when one analyzes a bit deeper, one discovers that in the case "view" means being free from views. The teaching of dependent origination is what permits this freedom from views."
I like the comment by Namdrol. He brings out the "viewless" aspect of Dependent Origination. Like Namdrol, I see Dependent Origination as a viewless view that neutralizes all our misconceptions that arise out of the deeply rooted tendency of seeing things 'inherently and dualistically' and eventually gets itself dissolved in the end process. However it must also be understood that "freeing from views" by realizing dependent origination is no ordinary way of negation and is different from the Advaita Vedanta way of negation -- "neti neti". It is not a mere act of rejection but involves a deep realization that 'true freedom' lies in thoroughly seeing through the “non-dual and non-inherent” aspect of whatever arises. It does not deny the conventional; contrary there is the full acknowledgement and total embracement of the conventional. This is very difficult to express. Experientially when one truly sees dependent origination, one sees the essence-less, attribute-less, trait-less, center-less and connectedness and at the same time, sees the full vividness and luminous presence of appearances. In other words, “Emptiness” is 'the wisdom' to see the Absolute in the Relative without the need to 'abstract' the Absolute from the Relative and seeing Reality as one seamless functioning. In fact any attempt to separate is due to our lack of understanding of dependent origination. This is the explicit message I wish to convey through my post to Gozen.

Nevertheless Gozen's intention to impart the feeling expressed by the Buddha in the Mahasihananda Sutta [The Greater Discourse of the Lion's Roar] stanza 30, which concludes with his statement that: "...I abide in safety, fearlessness, and intrepidity" is equally important. What I am proposing is first go center-less, fully embrace the transience and not taint with any marks, the 'Vajra' sensation will naturally arise.

24. RE: The mind and the watcher
Apr 7 2009, 5:46 PM EDT | Post edited: Apr 7 2009, 5:57 PM EDT
"I AM: Paradoxically, one feels at the same time that one is both essentially untouched by all phenomena and yet intimately at one with them. As the Upanishad says "Thou are That."

1.a. Body and Mind as Constructs: Another way to look at this is to observe that all compound things -- including one's own body and mind -- are **objects to awareness.** That is to say, from the "fundamental" point of view of primordial awareness, or True Self, even body and mind are **not self.**"

Ha Gozen, I re-read the post and saw **not self**, I supposed u r referring to anatta then I have to disagree...:-). However I agree with what that u said from the Vedanta (True Self) standpoint. But going into it can make it appears unnecessary complex.

As a summary, I see anatta as understanding the **transience** as Awareness by realizing that there is no observer apart from the observed. Effectively it is referring to the experience of in seeing, only scenery, no seer. In hearing, only sound, no hearer. The experience is quite similar to “Thou are That” except that there is no sinking back to a Source as it is deemed unnecessary. Full comfort is found in resting completely as the transience without even the slightest need to refer back to a source. For the source has always been the manifestation due to its emptiness nature.

All along there is no dust alighting on the Mirror; the dust has always been the Mirror. We fail to recognize the dust as the Mirror when we are attached to a particular speck of dust and call it the ”Mirror”; When a particular speck of dust becomes special, then all other pristine happening that are self-mirroring suddenly appears dusty.

Anything further, we will have to take it private again. :-)

That said, in order to have a complete experience of Awareness as the arising and passing transience, we must have direct knowledge of the twofold Emptiness. We must also be aware of the subtle influences of the tendencies that make experiences appear dualistic and inherent. Without being aware of how deeply we are being affect, it will be difficult for us to appreciate how the twofold Emptiness can serve as the antidote for these tendencies.

Just how strong and subtle are these imprints and why are these tendencies called 'imprints'? They are called 'imprints' because they seemed quite beyond the power of the conscious mind to do anything and despite years of practices, practitioners can still feel pretty helpless unless there is a break-through in the form of insights. They are like magical spells that shape experiences and distort understandings without practitioners even noticing them as what I have shared in my following 3 posts to garyrh.

152. RE: Responses to Realization and Development
Tuesday, 10:04 AM EDT | Post edited: Tuesday, 10:04 AM EDT

If we ask “Who am I”, does the question already condition the experience from beginning? If we look for a 'who' and enters into the realm of pure, it naturally becomes a pure subject. Is the subject that important in the realm of pure? Similarly when we say 'here and now', has the mind already pre-assumed the existence of space and time?

If for a moment we are able to free ourselves from of all sort of definitions and labellings, feel the bare sensations without words, feel 'aliveness', feel 'existence' then search with our entire being its 'location'. Have the same sort of 'awakeness' for 'location' as we have for “I AM”. Is impermanence a movement from here to there?

If we penetrate deeply, it will reveal that there is nothing here, nothing now, nothing self, yet, there is vivid appearance. There is only always vivid appearance which is the very living presence that dependently originates whenever condition is. And what that dependently originates does not arise, does not cease, does not come, does not go.

We may then have an intuitive glimpse that direct path and vipassana are intimately related. :-)

226. RE: Responses to Realization and Development
Thursday, 12:46 AM EDT | Post edited: Thursday, 12:46 AM EDT
"Just clarifying the "inmost of our consciousness" is not Awareness? Is this correct?"Hi Gary,

Yes, it is not that luminous cognizance, knowing (not knower),

That 'awakening' to the 'knowingness' is most important but after that it is immediately distorted by our understanding of it. There is a difference and must be correctly discern. To completely dissolve all subtle influences from these traces in one go is almost impossible.

What you have experienced and awake to is most precious, you touch the most real and pristine. It is preventing the distortion of that 'awakenness' that is the challenge, more tricky that we can imagine. I can only say the dualistic absolute-relative dichotomy is not able to effectively understand the non-dual, non-local nature of Awareness. Try to understand dependent origination in a non-dual and non-local context. You will appreciate it later and find delights in expressing that way.

Hope that helps. :-)

228. RE: Responses to Realization and Development
Thursday, 12:59 AM EDT | Post edited: Thursday, 1:15 AM EDT
"Oh Wow got it! The system itself causes the separation and in moving out of the system we see our true nature."

Yes! It is very subtle, like a magical spell. Infact 'ignorance' is also a form of knowing; a very very deep and conditioned form of relative knowing. The subject-object way of seeing things is not the only way, it is just a convenient way but has since then become ultimate. When we are not completely out of the subtle influences, it is advisable to have firm establishment of the right view of dependent origination (a non-dual and non-local view) and practice with this new 'awaken eye of immediacy'. When the non-dual and non-local direct experience dawn, the emptiness view will dissolve itself. It too is a raft. :)

Happy Journey.
Never underestimate the subtlety of these tendencies. They are so strong and subtle that even the antidote introduced can turn around and becomes the virus! This is exactly what happened to some practitioners. To them "Emptiness" or “Dependent Origination” are treated as a teaching to disassociate the Absolute from the transience phenomena in order to have clear glimpse of the formless Absolute. This happens when we see Absolute as distinctly separated from the relative. Very often we see practitioners holding such view shunting from the transience and attempt to rest in the Absolute. This is obviously a mistaken view; it will be quite illogical for Buddhism to place such emphasis on Dependent Origination if the sole purpose is simply to ‘disassociate’ the mind from the arising and passing phenomena. For those that have some experiences and realization of the Absolute, I strongly recommend the article on Nondual Emptiness Teachings by Dr Greg Goode, a very enlightened practitioner who after the realization of the Non-Dual Absolute and clear experience of no-self, is still able to humble himself and further penetrates the profundity of ‘Emptiness’. (Recently he updated his articles to include another section on The Experience of Emptiness, do visit!)

The Absolute as separated from the transience is what I have indicated as the 'Background' in my 2 posts to theprisonergreco.

84. RE: Is there an absolute reality? [Skarda 4 of 4]
Mar 27 2009, 9:15 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 27 2009, 9:15 AM EDT
Hi theprisonergreco,

First is what exactly is the ‘background’? Actually it doesn’t exist. It is only an image of a ‘non-dual’ experience that is already gone. The dualistic mind fabricates a ‘background’ due to the poverty of its dualistic and inherent thinking mechanism. It ‘cannot’ understand or function without something to hold on to. That experience of the ‘I’ is a complete, non-dual foreground experience.

When the background subject is understood as an illusion, all transience phenomena reveal themselves as Presence. It is like naturally 'vipassanic' throughout. From the hissing sound of PC, to the vibration of the moving MRT train, to the sensation when the feet touches the ground, all these experiences are crystal clear, no less “I AM” than “I AM”. The Presence is still fully present, nothing is denied. -:) So the “I AM” is just like any other experiences when the subject-object split is gone. No different from an arising sound. It only becomes a static background as an after thought when our dualistic and inherent tendencies are in action.

The first 'I-ness' stage of experiencing awareness face to face is like a point on a sphere which you called it the center. You marked it.

Then later you realized that when you marked other points on the surface of a sphere, they have the same characteristics. This is the initial experience of non-dual. Once the insight of No-Self is stabilized, you just freely point to any point on the surface of the sphere -- all points are a center, hence there is no 'the' center. 'The' center does not exist: all points are a center.

After then practice move from 'concentrative' to 'effortlessness'. That said, after this initial non-dual insight, 'background' will still surface occasionally for another few years due to latent tendencies...

86. RE: Is there an absolute reality? [Skarda 4 of 4]
Mar 27 2009, 11:59 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 27 2009, 11:59 AM EDT
To be more exact, the so called 'background' consciousness is that pristine happening. There is no a 'background' and a 'pristine happening'. During the initial phase of non-dual, there is still habitual attempt to 'fix' this imaginary split that does not exist. It matures when we realized that anatta is a seal, not a stage; in hearing, always only sounds; in seeing always only colors, shapes and forms; in thinking, always only thoughts. Always and already so. -:)
Many non-dualists after the intuitive insight of the Absolute hold tightly to the Absolute. This is like attaching to a point on the surface of a sphere and calling it 'the one and only center'. Even for those Advaitins that have clear experiential insight of no-self (no object-subject split), an experience similar to that of anatta (First emptying of subject) are not spared from these tendencies. They continue to sink back to a Source.

It is natural to reference back to the Source when we have not sufficiently dissolved the latent disposition but it must be correctly understood for what it is. Is this necessary and how could we rest in the Source when we cannot even locate its whereabout? Where is that resting place? Why sink back? Isn't that another illusion of the mind? The 'Background' is just a thought moment to recall or an attempt to reconfirm the Source. How is this necessary? Can we even be a thought moment apart? The tendency to grasp, to solidify experience into a 'center' is a habitual tendency of the mind at work. It is just a karmic tendency. Realize It! This is what I meant to Adam the difference between One-Mind and No-Mind.

284. RE: Responses to Realization and Development
Saturday, 2:20 AM EDT | Post edited: Saturday, 2:20 AM EDT
"Bypasser, that's it my brother! Very nice description indeed! :-) Note I also stated phenomena or appearance is not caused by or separate from essence per se - they are fundamentally inseparable. And yet, clearly, it is false to say that because appearance is dependently arising and yet one in essence, that it follows Dharmakaya is also dependently arise, right?

In kind regards,

Adam."Hi Adam,

Yes. I agree with you on this.

Just a casual point I want to make. In practice, there is also a difference between staying in "One Mind" and "No Mind". I see it this way. Since the source is without any traits, essence, attributes, any attempt to grasp or hold is not IT. What grasped is always only an image, a snapshot, a trace of IT. However when there is no grasping and holding, whatever arises is IT. Whether at rest or in movement, manifest or unmanifested, All is IT.

Thanks for sharing!

286. RE: Responses to Realization and Development
Saturday, 3:30 AM EDT | Post edited: Saturday, 3:30 AM EDT
@ ByPasser: "Just a casual point I want to make. In practice, there is also a difference between staying in "One Mind" and "No Mind". I see it this way. Since the source is without any traits, essence, attributes, any attempt to grasp or hold is not IT. What grasped is always only an image, a snapshot, a trace of IT. However when there is no grasping and holding, whatever arises is IT. Whether at rest or in movement, manifest or unmanifested, All is IT."

Hey mate,

Yep, I could not agree more - absolutely love it. It is for that exact reason that I am inclined to Shikantaza - just sitting-no-mind. This is the underlying assumption implicit to my thread on Shikantaza, as I see it. If you haven't read it, I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

In kind regards,

Yet we find it so hard not to 'hold and grasp'. We must be deeply aware of how the tendency of the mind plays tricks on us. How it managed to fool us into believing that dissociation is 'letting go' which in actual case is really another subtle form of 'grasping'.

It is here that I find delight in the teaching of Dependent Origination. It points out the problem and solve it from the root. With Dependent Origination, we are able to identify the many faces of the 'tendency that solidifies' and dissolve the 'dualistic and inherent' knot of perception. In my opinion, we cannot understand Dependent Origination from a 'dualistic and local' standpoint. I never understand it that way. Perhaps due to my “I AM” and Anatta experience and most importantly my faith in Buddha's teaching, there is an immediate recognition that this teaching of Dependent Origination is pointing towards a non-dual and non-local aspect of our pristine nature. In fact it is more descriptive than hypothetical -- a description of the workings of the actual experiential reality right at this instantaneous mind moment. Once the view, the non-dual experience and the tendencies that cause the solidifying and splitting of experiences are clearly seen through, practitioners will be able to progress smoothly to "No Mind".

In "No Mind", one is clear that the entire idea of “I” and “mine” is learnt; even 'here and now' is learnt; there is nothing 'essence', nothing 'substantial', nothing 'here'. 'Self', 'Now' or 'Here' is no more special than an arising scent, a passing thought, a resounding bell. Empty yet vividly clear and present. The transience is fully embraced in Zen as "No Mind".

Similarly in Theravada mind is being de-constructed and not experienced as an entity but as mind moments. The transience is also fully embraced when we clearly see that mind as an arising moment is itself non-dual, non-local and complete. Mind moment does not arise or cease anywhere in particular. This is what I tried to bring out in Dharma Overground. Unfortunately, the conditions aren't there and I am unable to convey this message across clearly. :-)

An interesting point worth mentioning is about the maps and techniques detailed in Daniel's MCTB (Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha). It is a very systematic way of leading one step by step towards the full integration of the transience. It is also the state of "No Mind" in Zen. Paraphrasing from Kenneth, "once we are familiar with the vocabulary, we are effectively talking the same stuff". That said, I think what lacks in the approach of MCTB is an effective way to allow practitioners to have adequate experience of the vividness, realness and presence of Awareness and the full experience of these qualities in the transience. Without which it will not be easy to realize that "the arising and passing sensations are the very awareness itself." A balance is therefore needed, otherwise practitioners may experience equanimity but skew towards dispassion and lack realization.

Lastly, if full integration of the source and transience is completely realized and spontaneously perfected, then all words are futile and it becomes quite pointless muddling over views as I have indicated in the post below to Kenneth and xsurf. But before undergoing the twofold Emptiness purification of the tendencies, it is advisable not to dispel the teaching of 'Emptiness' as irrelevant too quickly. :-)

78. RE: Responses to Realization and Development
Apr 18 2009, 9:41 AM EDT | Post edited: Apr 18 2009, 9:41 AM EDT
@Kenneth: “As I've pointed out before, the very fact that enlightened people speak about their experiences in such diverse ways puts the lie to any facile theory of one enlightenment for all.”

Therefore the enlightened penetrates beyond forms, situations, conditions, all arbitrary opinions and communicates directly. :-) The simplest thing that is indivisibly whole, is no difference from this breathe, this sound. A thousands years ago, a thousand years later and now, still, this breathe, this sound. Neither the same nor different, always so primordial.

283. RE: Responses to Realization and Development
Saturday, 2:04 AM EDT | Post edited: Saturday, 2:04 AM EDT
"Hi ByPasser,

You teacher will not want you to engage in too much thoughts. Rather touched directly the essence.

In hearing, Tao is.
Seeing forms, Mind is.
No mind, Zen is.
In movement is where your practice is. :)
Posted by: PasserBy
The Absolute is ever present yet completely "ungraspable". In fact it is amazing how this idea of 'grasping' and 'possession' comes about. If I were to ask myself what exactly can be held or grasped when it comes to our Buddha Nature? The answer is a straight 'nothing'.

Staying too long in the world of "forms", we confused the mechanics and laws of "forms" as ultimate truth and unknowingly apply these laws to the "formless"; these laws don't apply, even 'here and now' does not apply. When we rely our understanding on these ideas and concepts of the 'forms', we find it difficult to understand our pristine nature.

Although the laws of 'forms' do not apply, karma applies. We must be well aware that actions leave imprints on consciousness. Imprints and traces are often neglected especially for practitioners that have some glimpses of the Absolute. They merely see the Presence, not the empty nature and imprints. Traces of latent tendencies continue to manifest from moment to moment, there is nothing to deny. These tendencies and dispositions do not subside with the realization of our pristine nature or by residing in the Unmanifest; they have to be unwinded and let manifest.

Therefore understanding our true nature is not only about non duality, presence, existence and as the light of everything (to be more exact, the light is the "Everything"); it is also about its ungraspability, unlocatibility and empty nature; it is also about the latent tendencies and dispositions. All these must be included to have a complete understanding of our nature. We cannot choose one and ignore the others. Attaching to the Unmanifest is not an attainment, it is a retrogression. What happens when one attempt to grasp the ungraspable? Nothing gained, only leaving traces and imprints. :-)
Posted by: PasserBy
Quite few articles you (AEN) have there about Dependent Origination. :-)

After reading these articles, something came to my mind. I just want to say something about the importance of direct experience. If we only understand in terms of concepts and theories, we will not be able to appreciate the beauty of Dependent Origination. Frankly, stressing Self as permanent, unchanging and independent does not make it ultimate; instead we merely cage what that is seamless, free, connected without boundaries into something limited and dualistic. These “permanent, unchanging and independent” characteristics merely appear appealing due to our inherent and dualistic tendencies of seeing things, in practice, holding to these characteristics will only present itself as a hindrance than help. In actual experience it is ‘Emptiness nature’ that is liberating.

I have always stressed the importance of direct realization and experience of this ‘vividly present’ yet completely un-locatable nature of Pristine Awareness. It is very important not to infer, think or conceptualize but feel with our entire being this ‘ungraspability’ and 'unlocatability' (see On Anatta (No-Self), Emptiness, Maha and Ordinariness, and Spontaneous Perfection). Are we able to feel, this moment vividly and clearly yet unmistakably see how this moment of manifestation is free from any ‘now’, ‘here’ and ‘self’? ‘Here, now and Self’ are convenient references, nothing ultimate. Similarly when we say sensations, are we having direct experience of what sensations are? If for a moment we are able to give up all arbitrary thoughts/definitions and vividly experience in bare all these arising and passing sensations, we will realize that they are nothing but just luminous happening. We will realize that the transience is Awareness itself. This is vipassana; this will bring the “background consciousness” into the foreground. Still this ‘foreground’ though free from all labelings must be further emptied. Therefore after anatta (non-dual), Dependent Origination are further taught.

The purpose of Dependent Origination is to free us from the limitation of our subject/object dichotomy and see phenomena and our nature in new light. The mind will continue its attempt to sort, categorize and frame seamless experience into its dualistic schema. Experience may be non-dual but insight can still not arise; even if non-dual realization arises, it still needs time to mature and stabilize. Before we can liberate ourselves sufficiently from the dualistic framework and correctly understand our nature that is beyond words, non-dual experience will still be understood dualistically in a very subtle manner without us even noticing it, not to underestimate it. We have been so affected by inherent and dualistic views that we fail to realize that how views and imprints influence us.

It is therefore advisable to replace our existing inherent and dualistic framework with Dependent Origination. If Dependent Origination simply remains as a form of knowledge, then it defeats the purpose. It must pervade our entire being so that we can feel, experience and understand deeply how Dependent Origination is not limited or constraint by space, time, self, any centricity or point of references. That said it must not be another view to attach to; simply another skillful mean to lead us go beyond the simplistic view of “permanent, unchanging and independent” characteristics of our pristine nature. Ultimately our nature is free from any sort of views and no expression can adequately express it. Dependent Origination is too a raft; it is like the stick that stirs the fire and is eventually consumed by fire without leaving any trace.

Lastly if practitioners that have direct realization of the ‘Self’ can have similar sort of intensity in both realization and experience of their ‘Emptiness’ nature (as they have in ‘Self’), they will appreciate the beauty and find delight in seeing our nature as dependently originated. For what that dependently originates is empty, unborn, does not come, does not go, does not arise and does not cease.
Posted by: Soh
Thusness/PasserBy thinks Dan Berkow has deep insights into non-duality and dependent origination/emptiness and that his writings are "truly good". Another article I have posted by him is This Is It: An Interview with Dan Berkow but there are many other articles by him I have not posted (for a list of articles by him see and and

Here are some great expressions on the experience of interdependent origination and "Maha" (also see the subsection "On Emptiness" and "On Maha" of the post "On Anatta (No-Self), Emptiness and Spontaneous Perfection" posted by Thusness/PasserBy):
From: "Dan Berkow, PhD"
Subject: Re: Zenbob/interbeing

Dan: Interbeing (as I've typically heard Thich Naht Hahn translated
into English) means that no thing exists on its own. This is a
restatement of the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination,
sometimes termed "interdependent origination". Therefore,
no thing exists as a separate thing. At the same time, the
of different qualities can arise with no difficulty, although
these appareances and qualities are actually in constant flux
if observed closely. So what is it that is existing in
"interbeing"? Not a thing can be said to be existing,
as anything that is named is dependent on other things existing,
into infinity. So who is the "you" who has "your pain" and the
who has "my pain"? These entities, according to
"interbeing", aren't there in any sense as a discreet entity. The
sensation of pain arises, but no one "has" it.

Empathy is a
resonation of vibration, not a feeling-state of one separate
entity toward another. There is pain "over there" and pleasure
"over here" - but whose pain and pleasure is it? The apprehension
of interbeing leads to an unimaginable and unspeakable Infinity
is capable of indefinite flux and eternal stillness
In the midst of this Infinity, you and I converse, words emanating
from "here" are heard "there" and vice versa. The Void is alive
and resonating. It is indeed a marvelous unbounded symphony
in which every note has its place in the song, and the song
arises as a simultaneous unsplit melody, every "this" resonating
with every "that".

-- Love -- Dan



> Thought, of course tries endlessly
> and futily to verify its own existence as real,
> its constructs as true, its perceptions as valid,
> and its memory as correct. But if this self-enclosed
> loop is seen to be based on nothing except its
> own ceaseless self-referencing, then what is
> outside the loop? What *is* reality? Once "seen",
> the entire deck of cards collapses, body and mind
> drop.

When the loop is seen to be nothing but circular and self-enclosing, then
everything pops and drops, body, mind, thoughts, all appearances.
Actually, one of the first things to go (an early casualty), is that ol'
question about external reality!



Dan: Indeed.

The external reality is constructed
by the internal observer, and
the internal observer couldn't
self-perceive or construct "its"
perception except in contrast/relation
to external reality. As each
is needed to assume the other,
any inherent reality to them
dissolves when the "middle
way" is attended to. Thought-memory
and emotional-sensory processes
construed as reactions to external beings
and forces or internal states and needs are
dependent on the inner-outer
scheme of reality, so they have
no place to stand.

*Truly* there is no
external or internal,
yet there is the appearance of
external and internal through
mutual arising and co-construction.
Hence, language, culture, families,
lives being lived, deaths being
died, places to go,
things to do.

The intriguing question here is:
"how can this appearance of co-constructed
'interbeing' appear?"
There is no "where" for it to appear, and
any "how" is simply a construction
arising within and from the appearance

So, the answer is: poof! like this!

Yet it's this very "poof" in which "they"
seem to appear, in which "they" aren't!

So, as you say, "pop" and "drop" -
(that has a much better ring to it
than, say, "poop" and "droop" ;-)

a frog jumps in the old pond.

Plop, plop
fizz, fizz

oh, what a relief
it izz.

(old alkaseltzer commercial).



"No experiencer, hence no
experience" is only what is
already the case.


>From: "Dan Berkow, PhD"
>D: All there is, is experience.
> There's no one having an experience.
> Just experience.
> Including the experience of the idea that someone is having
> an experience.
> There's no one who gets born and who dies, although there's
> the experience we label "birth", the experience we label "death",
> and the experience of the idea that someone is born and dies.
(4:30 AM) AEN:    > There is no way to get outside of experience, nor are there
> any objects that exist apart from experience.
> The illusion of objects existing apart from experience is
> the experience of illusion, occuring along with delusion,
> the experience of the belief that one experiences objects
> that exist apart from experience.
(4:30 AM) AEN:    > Experience has no experiencer, no location, and no divisions.
> Distinctions that arise within experience simply *are* experience.
> Love,
> Dan

The consciousness that was assumed to be looking
at things across a distance, suddenly has no
distance. And the things being looked at suddenly
aren't anything else, or other.

Yet, the content isn't any different.

It's just that the content is the consciousness
and vice versa.

And has been all along.


- A Conversation on Buddhism between Dan Berkow, Ph.D. and Greg Goode, Ph.D.

It would look like this: An infinitude of meaning with endless self-ripples manifesting as constant flux, endless living-

universes of changing meaning, yet without any change occurring in all-pervading self-evident self-nature. The 'catch' is: this self-nature

isn't to be found anywhere, and can't be said to exist, ever. Without existing,
it is merely self-evident (to who else?) as its own manifestation as living/dying endlessly living universe here, now. I am all that is,

hence I am no one and no-thing.
Posted by: Soh
The Net of Indra is a metaphor from Mahayana Buddhism that demonstrates the principles of Interdependent Origination.

Here are a few articles explaining what this is about:



The metaphor of Indra's Jeweled Net is attributed to an ancient Buddhist named Tu-Shun (557-640 B.C.E.) who asks us to envision a vast net that:
  • at each juncture there lies a jewel;
  • each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix.
  • Every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness.
  • Each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others;
  • thus, a change in one gem is reflected in all the others.

This last aspect of the jeweled net is explored in a question/answer dialog of teacher and student in the Avatamsaka Sutra. In answer to the question: "how can all these jewels be considered one jewel?" it is replied: "If you don't believe that one all the jewels...just put a dot on the jewel [in question]. When one jewel is dotted, there are dots on all the jewels...Since there are dots on all the jewels...We know that all the jewels are one jewel"
The moral of Indra's net is that the compassionate and the constructive interventions a person makes or does can produce a ripple effect of beneficial action that will reverberate throughout the universe or until it plays out. By the same token you cannot damage one strand of the web without damaging the others or setting off a cascade effect of destruction.
A good explanation of the Hindu/Buddhist myth of Indra's net can be found in The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra: "...particles are dynamically composed of one another in a self-consistent way, and in that sense can be said to 'contain' one another. In Mahayana Buddhism, a very similar notion is applied to the whole universe. This cosmic network of interpenetrating things is illustrated in the Avatamsaka Sutra by the metaphor of Indra's net, a vast network of precious gems hanging over the palace of the god Indra." In the words of Sir Charles Eliot:
"In the Heaven of Indra, there is said to be a network of pearls, so arranged that if you look at one you see all the others reflected in it. In the same way each object in the world is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact IS everything else. In every particle of dust, there are present Buddhas without number."
The similarity of this image to the Hadron Bootstrap is indeed striking. The metaphor of Indra's net may justly be called the first bootstrap model, created by the Eastern sages some 2,500 years before the beginning of particle physics.
Compare the first picture with:

Computer model of early universe. Gravity arranges matter in thin filaments.


...One of the images used to illustrate the nature of reality as understood in Mahayana is The Jewel Net of Indra. According to this image, all reality is to be understood on analogy with Indra's Net. This net consists entirely of jewels. Each jewel reflects all of the other jewels, and the existence of each jewel is wholly dependent on its reflection in all of the other jewels. As such, all parts of reality are interdependent with each other, but even the most basic parts of existence have no independent existence themselves. As such, to the degree that reality takes form and appears to us, it is because the whole arises in an interdependent matrix of parts to whole and of subject to object. But in the end, there is nothing (literally no-thing) there to grasp....

Source: Sunyata ('Emptiness')


The Indra's Net: What Is It?


When I was trying to come to a decision regarding the look and feel of my new web site, I wanted to employ a background image that had universal import and could point the way to an adequate description of the nature or reality. A tall order, if not impossible, but the choice was clear: Indra's Net.
There are several aspects of Indra's Net, as described in the above quote, that signify it as a crystal clear allegory of reality:
1. The Holographic Nature of the Universe
Long before the existence of the hologram, the jeweled net is an excellent description of the special characteristic of holograms: that every point of the hologram contains information regarding all other points. This reflective nature of the jewels is an obvious reference to this.
This kind of analogy has been suggested by science as a theory for an essential characteristic of the cosmos, as well as as the functioning of the human brain, as beautifully described in The Holograpic Universe by Michael Talbot.
2. The Interconnectedness of All Thingss
When any jewel in the net is touched, all other jewels in the node are affected. This speaks to the hidden interconnectedness and interdependency of everything and everyone in the universe, and has an indirect reference to the concept of "Dependent Origination" in Buddhism. Additionally, Indra's Net is a definitive ancient correlate of Bell's Theorum, or the theory of non-local causes.
3. Lack of a substantive self
Each node, representing an individual, simply reflects the qualities of all other nodes, inferring the notion of 'not-self' or a lack of a solid and real inherent self, as seen in the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism and Buddhism in general.
4. Non-locality
Indra's Net shoots holes in the assumption or imputation of a solid and fixed universe 'out there'. The capacity of one jewel to reflect the light of another jewel from the other edge of infinity is something that is difficult for the linear mind, rational mind to comprehend. The fact that all nodes are simply reflections indicates that there is no particular single source point from where it all arises.
5. Innate Wisdom
The ability to reflect the entirety of all light in the universe attests to the inherent transcendant wisdom that is at the core of all nodes, representing all sentient beings, and to the inherent Buddha Nature.
6. Illusion or Maya
The fact that all nodes are simply a reflection of all others implies the illusory nature of all appearances. Appearances are thus not reality but a reflection of reality.
7. Universal Creativity
A familiar concept in various high dharmas is one of an impersonal creative intelligence that springs forth into reality through the instruments of all living beings.
8. The Mirror-like Nature of Mind
The capacity to reflect all things attests to the mind being a mirror of reality, not its basis. This is a common thesis among various schools and religions.
And Indra's Net has been used as a defining metaphor for the Internet. One major web hosting site is
The following are some quotes and interesting web sites regarding Indra's Net:

Indra's Net is a core metaphor of HuaYen.
Stephen Mitchell, in his book The Enlightened Mind, wrote:
"The Net of Indra is a profound and subtle metaphor for the structure of reality. Imagine a vast net; at each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net, the way two mirrors placed opposite each other will reflect an image ad infinitum. The jewel in this metaphor stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom. Every jewel is intimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel."
(It's also interesting to note that contemporary physicists are in general agreement that this ancient metaphor is indeed a good description for the universe.)
As one of the West's preeminent philosophers defined human interaction:
The [people] are the primary units of the actual community, and the community is composed of the units. But each unit has in its nature a reference to every other member of the community, so that each other member of the community, so that each unit is a microcosm representing in itself the entire all-inclusive universe.
--Lecture: Body and Spirit, 1926, Alfred North Whitehead
URL #1: A great graphic of Indra's Net
URL #2: Indra's Net and The Glass Bead Game
URL #3: The Glass Bead Game
URL #4: Another interesting graphic
URL #5: An artist's conception...
URL #6: Indra's Net and Holography
URL #7: Philosopher David Loy's Explanation of Indra's Net and Mahayana Buddhism
URL #8: Buddhist Thangka similar to Indra's Net
Posted by: Soh
Two articles by Nathan Gill:

Going beyond.

So there's an awareness of this room right now, but what about the unmanifest level?

What unmanifest level? Isn't what's appearing enough?

The appearance is merely a pointer to what is beyond Consciousness.

Why do you want to go beyond?

Because that's where all the action is, for creating this manifestation.

This manifestation isn't created - it spontaneously appears.

But ultimately there's nothing more important than what is beyond Consciousness.

When there's exclusive identification with the content of awareness, with the story of 'me' as an imagined entity, there's a tendency for the awareness aspect of Consciousness to be objectified as 'the beyond', a state or realm which once attained will offer oneness, lasting peace.

But in actuality there is no beyond, nothing to be attained 'ultimately'. There's simply this as it is: simple presence. This is already that 'realm'. Consciousness (awareness and the presently appearing content of awareness) is already one or whole, and when the story of 'me' - of identification - is seen as just a play, a movie, then all pursuit of oneness, all pursuit of the beyond or whatever, quite naturally becomes obsolete.

The cosmic entertainment.

Are you saying that thought doesn't make a difference, that nothing makes a difference in the sense of cause and effect? Everything just arises?

Everything just arises, including the idea of cause and effect.

But doesn't that idea itself make a difference? Doesn't the idea create an effect at a local level?

Only apparently so, as part of the play or movie of life. In actuality there's no cause and effect. Everything - all of this imagery - arises entirely spontaneously, immediately. Within the movie of life, there is the impression of cause and effect, but in actuality there is no separation, so nothing that can act upon anything else.

So it all just happens to arise and it just looks as though there's relationship?

Yes, the imagery that arises merely suggests separation.

And so somebody who identifies with an 'I' or with a body -

Well, it's not that there's 'someone' who identifies - rather it's more accurately described by saying 'Where identification arises …'.

OK, so where identification arises, that is something that nothing can be done about?

Precisely so. If anything changes it does so entirely spontaneously - because there's no one here who can effect any change. Cause and effect, action and reaction, are appearance only, the imagery of the movie of life, the cosmic entertainment.
Posted by: Soh

Nonduality Salon (/ \)

issue number two - October, 2000

Nonduality Salon Magazine



by Gloria Lee

[Editor's note: Dan Berkow is a long-time prolific contributor to Nonduality Salon email list, as well as to HarshaSatsangh, Advaitin, and A Net of Jewels lists. His words have a way of slipping the reader into the 'void'. Gloria Lee is one of the founders of Nonduality Salon, organizer of the HS/NDS retreats, a respected voice on Buddhist subjects, and a contributor to email community's in many indefinable ways.]

Gloria: There are some frequently heard expressions that are used in discussions of spirituality, like those on the Nonduality Salon, often with the assumption that everybody already knows what is meant by these ideas. Besides possibly being confusing to someone new to nonduality, this assumption means they are seldom questioned. Words that are originally very descriptive, then are used prescriptively, as in: Here, just see this, realize this, do this, and you will become enlightened, or whatever result is being advised. Yet with a closer look at what is actually meant, or what are the implications of some of these ideas, even much well-intended advice may actually be seen to be counter-productive. So, Dan, that is the aspect I would ask you to explore here, by looking more closely at a few of these popular concepts and ideas.

To begin with one example, the phrase "I am not the body, thoughts, feelings" may be used to indicate a state of spiritual detachment or some different perception of identity. This may be said with the intention to break the habit of self identification or to step back from reacting automatically, and
supposedly represents progress. Often this practice may be called being in the "witness state" or just observing. This practice may be advised to lessen desire/aversion or reduce ego. Supposedly the experience of being "pure awareness" is the intended result, though it still may leave some form of identification as the observer. Furthermore, it may also result in a kind of distancing from experience, even a resistance to what is happening. As I am sure you are aware of these issues,
what are your thoughts on the implications of this concept?

The "recommended witness state" can only be a construction that is put together while trying to make sense of what is being recommended. As a result there is "this Present as is" with the added imposition of the idea of the recommended state - which
is now retained as a description of Reality. This is like trying to avoid breathing, because one doesn't want to breathe until one has read a good description about breathing from a certified specialist in oxygen intake.

All that can occur from this attempt is the activity of trying to imitate the description, the idea -- striving to "make it real". Meanwhile, awareness of and as the actual Present is made "distant".

We find here the attempt of the "me" to become something the "me" isn't, but would like to become. Nonetheless, Reality is never in the idea, isn't something that will become in the future, isn't produced by or for the "me".

Striving to maintain "the witness state" can only be the imposition of a remembered idea or experience, a bringing of the past to bear on the present. What is missed is the Present as is, the Present that doesn't have, carry, or refer to a past. The unbroken Present has nothing outside of itself - neither past nor future is somewhere else, somewhere outside as a reference point. Words about the past or future, images or memories that arise, can only seem misleading if awareness conceives of itself as split in nature. When awareness doesn't try to retain a conception of a "me" opposed to and separate from an "it", there is no being misled.

In your question, you ask about breaking the habit of identification and the "intended result" of pure Awareness. Looking into this situation, it is seen that an observer appears to have taken a position. That position is that "breaking identification" would be useful and that the experience of being pure Awareness would be fulfilling. As long as this observer continues to attempt to break identifications, detach from this or that, or experience pure Awareness, the full depth of the question of the nature and existence of the observer cannot be explored. The observer is always assumed to be there, as the one who witnesses, the one who recognizes identification and detachment, the one who experiences Awareness, or who knows Awareness as such and can talk about it.

The "deepest" question is looking into the reality of the observer, about whether any position ever has actually been taken by an observer. The question isn't used by an observer, it is used to negate assumptions about an observer. The instant the observer is not, no question arises, no answer is needed. As long as there is continuing thought and energy aimed at a goal, or aimed at maintaining or changing a state of being, there will always remain the impression of an observer. It is at the very moment that no attempt is made to continue a thought
process, achieve a goal, have a particular outcome, maintain a state - at that very moment there is the seeing that no observer has ever taken a position anywhere. This was always assumed, was always the basis for activity. Nonactivity of mind allows the truth to clarify itself.

Because these questions seem to lead to an answer, the misconception tends to arise that the idea of "no observer" or "Awareness is all" is some kind of answer, philosophy, or belief to be promoted. The opposite of this is the case. If such ideas are taken as answers, the observer clearly has set up shop as the one who can promote the idea that there is no observer. Thus, this inquiry is profound, and is not at all a matter of accepting any answer or formula. The questioning intensifies so that "this moment", "this instant" becomes the only "place" the question can arise or be directed. "This instant" is a flash, and yet is "all that is". "Instantaneous awareness" is this moment, is where the question arising and that to which the question is addressed are not-two. The subject conceiving the question and the object of inquiry (e.g., the present moment) are unsplit. It is a matter of intensifying inquiry to the pointless point which is presentness. Then, neither question nor answer is needed.

The observer has disappeared this instant, as this "momentary" or "discontinuous" perception has no place for an observer. The observer requires time and distance. The instant that there is not the intent to describe or act upon a description, the observer (who is nothing but description) ceases.

There indeed can be distancing from feelings, and resistance to 'what is' in the process of "aiming to be the Witness", or trying to "experience pure Awareness". That friction and distance is the attempt of the observer to be, where no observer actually is.

Gloria: Dan, when you mention no observer, that brings to mind another popular expression, that there is "no doer" either. Then furthermore "pure awareness" becomes "choiceless awareness" and we are usually off to the races, debating free will vs determinism once again. Let's not go there! The difficulty with applying these ideas as a recommended practice, even if one somehow believes them to be true, is that not only do they contradict the usual childhood conditioning to be responsible for our choices, but also our "felt experience" of life is often that we are a someone doing something. So when "choiceless awareness" is recommended or spoken of as desirable, it is sometimes misunderstood to be merely a form of passivity. Or to a beginner, "no doer" may sound like advice to literally do nothing! How would you clear up this confusion for someone who imagines or sees all this as leading up to some sort of zombie like state of mind? What can it mean to someone to simply be told, "there is no doer"? If this is not already one's experience, how can one move toward that being true?

At this point in our discussion, it's clear that the "choiceless awareness" that can be recommended or spoken of as if desirable isn't the fact of "choiceless awareness". Recommending something implies choice by the one who hears the recommendation, and something desirable implies the choice to go after what is desired, to realize it, to "make it a reality for oneself". Truly choiceless awareness can't be recommended, desired, or implemented. It is not a conceptual product nor a description. When the observer/doer is not, choiceless awareness automatically is the case. There is no one there to choose or not choose. The observer/doer isn't done away with, "logicked" out of existence, nor made to go away by choosing (?) not to believe in it.

The observer ceases the instant that clarity *is* as "presentness". The only impediment to clarity is the attempt to make a certain kind of clarity be the case (based on idea, desire, anxiety, or description - all of which imply and require an observer). When there is not the attempt to manufacture clarity (or well-being), there is nothing to impede "what is" *as is*. The truth is, we don't want "what is". We don't want "no observer". We don't want Reality. Methinks we doth protest too much. All our supposed expressing of Reality, explanations of how we found Reality, attempts to seek for Reality, descriptions of Reality -- all of these bring Reality no closer than it is now. The truth is, we are avoiding Reality. Even in the process of expressing, describing, and pretending we *are* Reality - we're avoiding. It's clear how we're avoiding. We're avoiding whenever we are "there" as the observer/expresser. We can't make ourselves not be "there". We can only not be there. This is true humility. It means that not one word said here about Reality is true, nor any other words about Reality.

To clear up confusion for a beginner isn't difficult. Simply let the beginner forget all ideas about becoming an "expert". There
are no "experts" Here. If a zombie-like state of mind is imagined, that is no worse than if a glorious state of sat-chit-ananda is imagined, or Clear Light, or beginningless and endless Awareness or Enlightenment. Let the beginner simply do nothing to move ahead beyond beginning, set no image as a goal. Any attempt to move anywhere will only be an introjection of one's own projection, like eating a picture of a sandwich for lunch. Indeed, what does the beginner imagine he or she has begun? Who is imagined to be there to begin something? Even to think that one is a beginner is far too sophisticated for the simplicity of "what is".

Gloria: Thanks for verifying an intuition that sometimes a lot of this "spiritual advice" is actually counter-productive and merely sends people down the proverbial garden path chasing
rainbows. Ha! been there, done that, like who hasn't? It seems that many of us begin (and continue) some form of spiritual seeking without even questioning what is behind this dissatisfaction with reality to begin with anyway. Or we just believe it all needs to be difficult and complicated. But what else can you do with yourself if nothing like this simplicity occurs to you? This reminds me of those Zen guys who say things like: Spend 10 years studying bamboo and then when you draw, forget all you know about bamboo. We seem to want to study how to become spontaneous. Maybe the vital aspect is only a readiness to hear. For example, having read Ram Dass's "Be Here Now" over thirty years ago, it certainly was not understood then to be anything simple. Or more likely, I would not want have wanted to hear anything about me not being there. Whether the truth was in that book or not is irrelevant, I am just verifying what you say about avoiding. What, do nothing? The ego does not want to hear it is not real and doesn't have important things to do.

Saying that "the observer is not" is not to say that something real is missing. What has ceased (as "Now" is the case) is the conceptual position onto which "an observer" is projected, along with the striving to maintain that position by employing thought, memory, expectations, and goals.

If "Here" is "Nowness", no point of view can be identified with as "me", even from moment to moment. In fact, psychological time (which is constructed by comparison) has ceased. Therefore, there is only "this unsplit Present moment", not even
the imagined sensation of moving from this moment into the next moment.

Because the conceptual point of observation is not, that which is observed cannot be "fit" into conceptual categories previously maintained as the "me-center" of perception. The relativity of all these categories is "seen", and Reality that is undivided, unsplit by thought or concept simply is the case.

What has happened to the awareness previously situated as "the observer"? Now, awareness and perception are unsplit. For example, if a tree is perceived, the "observer" is "every leaf of the tree". There is no observer/awareness apart from things,
nor are there any things apart from awareness. What dawns is: "this is it". All the pontifications, pointings, wise sayings, implications of "special knowledge", fearless quests for truth, paradoxically clever insights -- all of these are seen to be unnecessary and beside the point. "This", exactly as is, is "It". There is no need to add to "This" with anything further, in fact there is no "further" - nor is there any "thing" to hold on to, or to do away with.

Gloria: Dan, at this point, any assertion seems superfluous. This is a territory only referred to by silence and emptiness, and even that is too much. Even to say, "I AM" only further complicates, it adds another layer of meaning to awareness. Even saying no-doer is a type of assertion, isn't it? So is this just impossible to discuss further?

You bring up two points here, Glo, which seem worth addressing: not referring to "I AM" and using "nondoer" terminology, or I think, perhaps "nonobserver" terminology might be more apt.

Not using "I AM", and instead referring to "pure awareness", is a way to say the awareness isn't focused on an "I" nor is it concerned with distinguishing being from not-being regarding
itself. It isn't viewing itself in any sort of objectifying way, so wouldn't have concepts about states it is in -- "I AM" only fits as opposed to "something else is", or "I am not". With no "something else" and no "not-I", there can't be an "I AM" awareness. "Pure awareness" can be criticized in a similar way - is there "impure" awareness, is there something other than awareness? So the terms "pure awareness, or just "awareness" are simply used to interact through dialogue, with recognition that words always imply dualistic contrasts.

The related concepts that "the observer is not", or "the doer is not" are ways to question assumptions that tend to govern perception. When the assumption has been sufficiently questioned, the assertion is no longer needed. This is the principle of "using a thorn to remove a thorn." No negative has relevance when no positive has been asserted. "Simple awareness" has not thought of an observer or doer being present or not being present.

Gloria: Yet when a doer is present, say even as an assumption in an email dialogue like this, you seem to bring this to attention by a process of gentle negation. You can use negation, as you say, to remove that thorn. I call you an artist of net-neti, because you can expose and remove previously unconscious supports, until one has nothing left to stand on at all. Instead of just talking and hearing words, something within actually collapses. One time in a discussion with you of "no experiencer, no experience" - consciousness just shifted, space opened up, letting go... somehow the actual disappearance becomes real, though it may or may not be a lasting change in perception.

As you bring up "neti, neti"
and "no experiencer or

Negation is the mind
releasing itself
from its self,
its reliance
on positives.

As long as a truth is affirmed,
there is the focusing on that
truth, the attempt to
perpetuate it, keep it.

With no clinging to affirmation,
no need for a negation.

"No experiencer, hence no
experience" is only what is
already the case.

Posted by: Soh
Comments by AEN: Zen Master Sheng-yen speaks here of four general stages of experience/view -- from the scattered mind to a concentrated mind, from the concentrated mind to the One Mind (an all-reflecting mirror) also called by Master Sheng-yen as the 'Unified State' (as Thusness commented in his 'Stage 5' that at Stage 4, the practitioner sees that subject/Mind and object is an inseparable union, but it is not yet the no-subject/no-mind/no-mirror experience), and then later progress from the One Mind to the No-Mind (no-mirror) experience. Hence, Master Sheng-yen is quite clear in differentiating the 'Mirror Bright' stage with the 'No Mirror' stage. These two stages are also described and commentated according to Thusness in the Thusness's Seven Stages of Experience, especially Stage 4 and 5.

(Late Master Sheng Yen)

Ch'an Newsletter - No. 52 February 1986

Four Views of Ch'an
(Lecture given by Master Sheng-Yen at the Great Taoist Center in Washington, D.C., November 22, 1985)

Let me begin with a koan. In the T'ang dynasty there was a Ch'an patriarch named Yao-shan Wei-yen. A disciple once asked him, "Before Bodhidharma came to China, was there Ch'an in China?" The Master replied, "Ch'an originally existed in China." "In that case," the disciple continued, "Why did Bodhidharma come to China?" The Master said, "It is precisely because there was Ch'an in China that Bodhidharma came to China."

So you see I've come to Washington today because there is Ch'an in Washington. I've come here because all of you know about Ch'an. Those of you who know something about Ch'an, please raise your hands... Those of you who didn't raise your hands probably know more than those who did!

Tonight I will talk about Ch'an from four points of view. These topics should help you to raise some questions about Ch'an: the theory of Ch'an, the experience of Ch'an, the goal of Ch'an, and the training and practice of Ch'an.

1. There is really no theory in Ch'an. If we theorize about Ch'an -- that is not Ch'an. Ch'an cannot be understood by any logical reasoning. It can't be explained in words. Nevertheless, I will use some theoretical description in my talk.

There are two basic concepts associated with Ch'an. One is causes and conditions. The other is emptiness. These two concepts are linked; they cannot be separated. When we talk about causes and conditions and emptiness, we are really talking about the nature of existence, which is temporary and impermanent. All phenomena arise because of the coming together of the proper causes and conditions. All phenomena perish because of change in the causes and conditions.

Chinese Taoism and Confucianism use a text called the "I Ching." "I" means change. This is continual, constant change. It is called "arising." Constant arising means that causes and conditions change continually -- all phenomena are ever-changing. Ordinary sentient beings see things as arising and perishing. In the "I Ching" there is no perishing, only constant arising. Seeing something disappear, you miss seeing something else arise.

In the Buddhist view, when causes and conditions change, phenomena arise. But because this arising is rooted in temporary, constantly changing causes and conditions, the phenomena which arise can be nothing more than temporary themselves. Because they only have temporary existence, they are said to have no real existence. Hence these phenomena are called empty. Emptiness only means that there is no unchanging eternal existence; it doesn't mean that nothing exists at all.

All phenomena and existence can arise only because they are empty. It is because they are empty that there is nothing permanent or unchanging about them. If things never changed, there would be no arising. If nothing changed in our present configuration, it would mean that this lecture would go on indefinitely. But when this talk ends, the configuration changes. If everything were unchanging and solid, if there were no emptiness, then this lecture would go on forever. It is because of the present situation -- this particular configuration of constantly changing causes and conditions -- that we are all gathered in this room.

Therefore when we ask about Ch'an, we find that Ch'an is just a word, a bit of terminology. Very few people can say what it is. For over a thousand years masters and disciples in the Ch'an tradition have been asking questions such as, "What was it that Bodhidharma brought to China?" Many people have sought the answers to these questions. The masters never gave direct answers. Some simply ignored the questions. If they didn't ignore the question, they only would give very simple answers.

A T'ang dynasty master, Chao-chou once had a disciple who asked him, "Master, what are we really learning here?" Chao-chou said, "All. right, you can now go and have a cup of tea." Another disciple came and said that he had had a certain experience the day before, and he wanted to know it his experience was really Ch'an. Chao-chou said, "All right, you can have a cup of tea now." A third disciple was quite puzzled after he heard this exchange. He asked, "Master, you had two disciples ask you entirely different questions, and you simply told them to have a cup of tea. What did you mean by this?" The Master replied, "You can also have a cup of tea."

There is another story along the same lines involving Chao-chou. Two disciples were arguing. One said, "The Master said that men have Buddha nature, but dogs and cats don't." The other disciple said, "That's impossible, the Master could not have said anything like that." They both went to see Chao-chou. One said, "Master, you couldn't possibly have said anything like that." And the Master said, "You're right." But the other disciple said, "I'm positive that is what you said." And the Master said, "You re right." A third person, an attendant said, "But Master, only one of them can be right." And the Master said, "You're right."

These stories sound like meaningless exchanges, like nonsense, but the underlying implication is that existence or non-existence, or ideas of right or wrong, are things which only live in your own mind, your personal experience, your knowledge. These things can't be Ch'an.

2. The experience of Ch'an must be personal and direct. It cannot come from education or be arrived at by logical reasoning. In a retreat I will often try to help a student get an experience of Ch'an by telling him to bring himself to the state that existed before he was born. After birth, we begin to acquire experience, and we are trying to look beyond what we have learned.

Before your life began, who were you? What was your name? How would you answer these questions? There is a story of a Ch'an Master who told his disciple to wash charcoal until it was clean. The disciple complained that it was simply impossible. A somewhat dimwitted disciple took the charcoal and began to wash it. He didn't have a thought in his mind other than that his Master had told him to wash the charcoal. So he simply washed the charcoal. One day he asked the Master why the charcoal was still not white. The Master said, "Isn't it already white?" The disciple took another look at it and said, "Indeed it is white; it has always been white." When most of us look at charcoal, we see black, but the Master and disciple saw it as white.

In Ch'an we say that training and practice will make our discriminations disappear. These thoughts and feelings of liking or disliking come from our experience. If you can go back to the state before you were born, then you arrive at the point where discriminations do not exist. It no longer matters whether something is black or white. What is important is that your mind is free from discrimination and conceptualization.

In China between the fourth and sixth centuries, there was a period called the Northern and Southern Dynasties. At that time a famous Taoist, T'ao Hung-ching lived in the mountains. He was a well-known scholar, and the emperor had great respect for him, and wanted him to serve as his minister. But T'ao declined. The emperor asked him what it was in the mountains that attracted him so much that he preferred his hermitage to the glories of the court. T'ao wrote an answer to the emperor in the a four-line poem:

You ask me what I find in the mountains,
I say: white clouds are in the mountains,
This I alone can enjoy,
It is not something I can offer you.

The emperor read the poem and realized there was something that made no sense: white clouds can be seen anywhere, not just in the mountains. But the point is that the white clouds that T'ao Hung-ching saw were quite different from the ones the emperor could see. This is experience. A practitioner's experience of the Tao is quite different from that of a non-practitioner.

There was a famous monk, Han Shan, who was often asked, "What do you have?" He would say that he had everything: "The white clouds in the sky serve as my blanket, the earth is my bed, the mountains, my pillow. And the four seas are not big enough for a bath or a somersault."

That was his experience: oneness with nature. There was no separation between him and the world. But most people thought that he had nothing. His shoes were made from the bark of a tree; his pants, from the leaves of a tree.

It's only after you've put down everything that you've acquired since the time you were born, that a Ch'an experience can manifest. When I teach my students how to practice Ch'an, I tell them to first separate their thoughts into three categories: the past, the present, and the future. Then I tell them to discard the thoughts of the past, then the thoughts of the future. Only thoughts of the present moment are left. The next step is to let go of the present moment, because there is no such thing as the present moment. It is only a bridge between the past and the future. When you let go of the present moment, the Ch'an experience can manifest, but only at the most elementary level.

One question that might occur to you is: we have to discard our experiences until we reach the state we were in before we were born, so does this mean that a new born baby is closest to Ch'an? No, a new born baby does not know about Ch'an because a baby's mental faculties are hardly developed, and he is not in control of them. The control of mental functioning is necessary. When you have this control, then you can let go of knowledge and reasoning. Then there is a possibility that the Ch'an experience can manifest.

If you knock someone into unconsciousness, is this like Ch'an? This is nonsense. If you know nothing of the past or future, and your mind is a blank, that is also not Ch'an. A mind that is blank in this way is a very tired mind. Only a very clear, alert mind can experience Ch'an.

I can only describe the experience of Ch'an by using an analogy. Consider the surface of water and consider a mirror. The surface of water will move at the slightest touch, but a mirror is unmoving. A mirror can be obscured by dust, but remove the dust and it will reflect clearly. If water is agitated, it will not be able to reflect an image, only a distortion of the image. The movement in water is like the movement in our minds. Our minds move because of the knowledge we have and the experience we have acquired. Because of these things, we are constantly making judgments. Just as moving water cannot reflect well, so a moving mind cannot see clearly -- what we see or think we see is not real.

For example, there are about fifty people in the audience. You all have different backgrounds, different experiences, and different levels of education. Because of these differences, each of you will hear the same thing a little differently. Each of you judges this lecture in your own way. It may be one lecture, but it could also be fifty different lectures. That is not Ch'an. If it were, when one person spoke, it would be as if there were one person listening. And if that were the case, there would be no need for me to speak, because you would know what I was going to say before I said it.

This is illustrated by a story from the early days of the Ch'an sect. The emperor at the time asked a certain Ch'an Master to give a discourse. To make ready for the occasion, the emperor commanded his workmen to build an elaborate platform from which the Master would speak. When the time arrived, the Master mounted the platform, sat down, and then quickly left. The emperor was quite surprised. The Master said, "I've said everything I wanted to Say."

The unspoken Dharma and only the unspoken Dharma is the highest Dharma. Whatever can be said or described is not the real Dharma. Chan Masters have been talking about this for many, many years.

When we speak about reflection in water and in a mirror, note that a mirror that is perfectly clean will reflect better than water that is stable and unmoving. However, the Sixth Patriarch was opposed to using the analogy of the mirror. He pointed out that if there were a mirror, there would be a mind, and this would not be Ch'an. Nonetheless, we will use the mirror to a make a point. Later, we will throw out the mirror.

What is reflected by a mirror is outside the mirror. If a person is in a mirror-like state, everything that is reflected is on the outside. For such a person, there is no self involved. What he sees and feels is only the existence of phenomena -- when there is no self, there is no experience of discrimination, of liking or disliking.

This is not the ultimate state, because if you have nothing but awareness of the environment and there is no self apparent, there must still be a self to be aware of the environment. Someone who is in this state is certainly in a unified state, because there seems to be no self and only the environment seems to exist. This is called the state of "one mind," but still it is not Ch'an. There must be "no mind' if it is to be Ch'an.

A true Ch'an state should not be compared to an all-reflecting mirror. All things exists without the mirror. In this state everything is seen very clearly, but there is no concept of outside or inside, existing or not existing, having or not having.

3. What is the good of this kind of experience? This leads us to the third section, the goal of Ch'an practice. There are so many benefits to Ch'an practice -- for myself and many more for others. These benefits can be seen on three levels: First, there is physical benefit, then mental balance and good mental health, and last, the potential to become enlightened -- the spiritual benefit.

By helping a practitioner attain a more stable mind, Ch'an practice can improve mental health. And the reason for an unhealthy body is really psychological imbalance. Ch'an practice can strengthen mental power and capacity. Even with physical sickness, a practitioner will have a positive attitude and will not be hindered from doing what he needs to do. Good mental health is a fundamental aim of the practice, but in the beginning stages, physical strength is acquired through physical sitting. Practicing in this way helps maintain and focus the flow of energy known as "ch'i." Taoism and Yoga share this aspect of practice.

The highest benefit of practice is enlightenment, the genuine Ch'an experience. What good is this? I can only say this: before enlightenment, there are things that one needs and there are things that one would rather do without, there are things that are liked and things that are disliked. After enlightenment, there is no such thing as that which I need or don't need, what I like or don't like. Do you understand? That's why I said that all of you already know Ch'an. You see, before we are enlightened, we have many vexations, and there are many things that we have to do; there are many things that we don't want to do. We may seek and attain enlightenment, but once we have experienced it, there is no longer any such thing as enlightenment. At this point there is nothing that we have to do; there's nothing that we don't have to do.

Lin-chi Yi-hsuan, a famous Ch'an Master, was studying with his Master when he got enlightened, but his Master was not immediately aware of Lin-chi's enlightenment. One day the Master was making his rounds and checking to see that all of his students were practicing hard. He came upon Lin-chi lying on his mat, fast asleep. The Master woke him with his staff, and asked, "How can you be so lazy, when everyone around you is practicing diligently?" Lin-chi just looked up at his Master, picked up his blanket and cushion, and went to lie down in another place.

The Master watched Lin-chi move, and asked, "What are you doing now?" Lin-chi Yi-hsuan answered, "What else is there for me to do?" When the Master heard this, he walked over to a disciple who was practicing particularly hard. He took his staff, gave him several stiff blows, and said, "There's someone over there who's practicing very hard, what are you doing here, sleeping like this?" The Master's eldest disciple said to himself, "This old Master has really gone crazy." From that point on Lin-chi didn't remain sleeping -- he traveled spreading the Dharma. The lineage that evolved from him is called the Lin Chi sect; in Japanese it is known as the Rinzai sect.

The story of Lin-chi shows that after enlightenment, there is nothing, no practice or striving, that is needed for oneself. There are only other sentient beings to work for and to help.

4. The training and practice of Ch'an can be divided into three levels. First, to move from a scattered to a concentrated mind. Second, to move from a concentrated mind to one-mind. Finally, to let go of even one-mind, and reach no-mind.

The scattered mind is easy to see. We can all be aware of this state where thoughts come and go in a haphazard manner. Let's try an experiment. Everyone raise your index finger and look at it. Just look, and have no thoughts. Do this in a relaxed manner.

We did that for thirty seconds. Were you able to do it with no thoughts? If you couldn't do it, you had a scattered mind. When we do things with a scattered mind, we are not using our fullest capacity.

A Ch'an Master once told his disciples: Chan practice is very easy. When you eat, just eat; when you sleep, just sleep; when you walk, just walk." One disciple said, "I know how to eat, sleep, and walk. Everybody knows that, so is everybody practicing Ch'an?" The Master said, "That's not true: when you eat, your mind is not on eating; when you sleep your mind is either filled with dreams or lost in a muddled state of blankness; when you walk, you're just daydreaming."

Once in our Center in New York, we hired a carpenter to do some work for us. He was nailing a nail into a wall, when he looked out the window, and saw a pretty woman passing by. He hit his finger, and twisted the nail. He had to start all over again. What was he doing with his mind? It certainly wasn't on his work. Most of us function like this. We must use special methods to bring our scattered minds into a concentrated state. Do as the Master said: when you eat, eat; when you sleep; sleep; when you walk, walk. When you practice, keep your mind in a concentrated state. Then if you hear a sound, visualize or feel something -- whatever you do, you will be doing just that and nothing else. This is a concentrated mind.

When you expand this state further, you will eventually get to the point where the separation between self and environment disappears -- there is no distinction between you and the world. If you are repeating a mantra, then you and the mantra become one. There are many levels to this state. At the elementary level you and your method of practice become one. A deeper state is when you feel that whatever your senses encounter, what you see and hear, is the same as yourself. At this point there is no distinction between what you see and what you hear. The sense organs no longer have separate functions. This is an intermediate level. Deeper still is the state where you sense an unlimited universe within yourself. Still this is not the experience of Ch 'an.

From here we must use the methods of Ch'an -- the gung-an (koan) and the hua-t'ou -- to break apart the state of one-mind. In this way we can reach enlightenment, we can reach Ch'an.