Posted by: Soh
It is important to be clear about different aspects of insight to our true nature. Many times people think that there is only one single kind of insight, one single kind of realisation, and that one and only realisation is final and complete. They do not understand that the realisation of the I AM is not the same as the realisation of Non-Dual (Thusness's Stage 4), and the realisation of non-dual is not the same as the realisation of No-Self (Thusness's Stage 5), and the realisation of No-Self is not the same as the realisation of Emptiness/Dependent Origination (Thusness's Stage 6). (See: Thusness/PasserBy's Seven Stages of Experience on Spiritual Enlightenment) As Thusness/PasserBy says, the tendency to grasp on an inherent ontological essence is surprisingly strong even after non-dual realisation.

It is easy to misunderstand any phase of insight as final and complete, as Adyashanti puts it, "Emptiness is not the totality of what you are. Emptiness is a profound aspect of what you are, it's a profound taste of your true nature, it's not the totality of what you are any than getting up in the morning and feeling good is the totality of what you are, or feeling bad is a totality of what you are... ...Whenever you touch upon a deep truth, suchness of reality, your true nature, each aspect feels like it's total and complete and all-inclusive at that moment. So that's why teachers have a very hard time getting through to people when they have an initial experience of anything because if it's an initial experience of reality it feels totally complete and there is a certain innate confidence that arises within you. Not an egoic confidence but a confidence that comes from reality." (Note: 'Emptiness' used by Adyashanti here is referring to the initial experience of I AMness, it is not referring to the insight of dependent origination that Thusness or Greg Goode is talking about)

Over the past month I have engaged in long discussions at The Tao Bums to clarify the different aspects to insight in hopes that people do not become confused and overlook/misunderstand the profound truths of no-self and emptiness by mixing up the different insights together.

As Greg Goode have said in

For those who encounter emptiness teachings after they've become familiar with awareness teachings, it's very tempting to misread the emptiness teachings by substituting terms. That is, it's very easy to misread the emptiness teachings by seeing "emptiness" on the page and thinking to yourself, "awareness, consciousness, I know what they're talking about."

Early in my own study I began with this substitution in mind. With this misreading, I found a lot in the emptiness teachings to be quite INcomprehensible! So I started again, laying aside the notion that "emptiness" and "awareness" were equivalent. I tried to let the emptiness teachings speak for themselves. I came to find that they have a subtle beauty and power, a flavor quite different from the awareness teachings. Emptiness teachings do not speak of emptiness as a true nature that underlies or supports things. Rather, it speaks of selves and things as essenceless and free.

In other words, as Bernadette Roberts said:

"That everyone has different experiences and perspectives is not a problem; rather, the problem is that when we interpret an experience outside its own paradigm, context, and stated definitions, that experience becomes lost altogether. It becomes lost because we have redefined the terms according to a totally different paradigm or perspective and thereby made it over into an experience it never was in the first place. When we force an experience into an alien paradigm, that experience becomes subsumed, interpreted away, unrecognizable, confused, or made totally indistinguishable. Thus when we impose alien definitions on the original terms of an experience, that experience becomes lost to the journey, and eventually it becomes lost to the literature as well. To keep this from happening it is necessary to draw clear lines and to make sharp, exacting distinctions. The purpose of doing so is not to criticize other paradigms, but to allow a different paradigm or perspective to stand in its own right, to have its own space in order to contribute what it can to our knowledge of man and his journey to the divine.

Distinguishing what is true or false, essential or superficial in our experience is not a matter to be taken lightly. We cannot simply define our terms and then sit back and expect perfect agreement across the board. Our spiritual-psychological journey does not work this way. We are not uniform robots with the same experiences, same definitions, same perspectives, or same anything."

By clearly understanding the phases of insights, we can avoid misinterpreting them and let each teaching and insight speak for themselves, instead of interpreting them with a different lens and paradigm. We can then allow them to "contribute what it can to our knowledge of man and his journey to the divine" -- however I should also emphasize that, even though one is clear about the different phases of insights one must still see them as without hierarchy.

The following post is a recent one I made at The Tao Bums, which Thusness thinks serves as a good summary. I was replying to a post made by 'Dwai' containing the article Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta by David Loy.

Dr. David Loy is an enlightened and authorized Zen teacher from an authentic Zen lineage (Sanbo Kyodan lineage) having completed his koan training, so he is not without personal experience, he is not just an academic. Thusness did recommend his book 'Nonduality' to me before a few years back, and it is very well written on the aspect of non-duality. I have his book, bought it a few years ago, and would recommend others to get it. However not much is spoken about dependent origination and emptiness in that book.

But take note that 'Nonduality' was the first book (his Ph.D thesis) and was written in the early 1980s and published in 1988, paperback edition 1997. However he did write articles on dependent origination and emptiness in the latter years, like in 1993 he published Indra's Postmodern Net which I think is pretty good also.

Regarding the articles in 'Nonduality' which Dwai quoted one above, it is part of his Ph.D thesis on comparative religion and his emphasis was on the similarities between Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta and other systems including Taoism and more. That is why it is written with a bias towards seeing the similarities.

Actually there are similarities between Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism. And that is clearly described in David Loy's essay -- it is the non-divison of subject and object. However, in Buddhism it is not only this insight that is important.

That is David Loy clearly stated that Non-duality is either No Self or All Self, and permits no duality between a 'true self' and 'not self', observer and observed. Which is true. So he is right that both Buddhism and Advaita is non-dual teaching, but it is not the whole story.

What is overlooked/not mentioned here is that though non-duality may be experienced as an All-Self and hence subject and object are not divided, one can still extrapolate all phenomena as being extensions of a universal substratum (i.e. reifying Brahman as an Absolute/Universal Consciousness) -- and hence seeing reality as an inherent ontological essence, which is not in accord with the principles of Shunyata. Non-duality here is seen as the union/inseparability of objects with Subject, but the insight of No-Subject has not arisen.

In Stage 5, there is only vivid reflection and manifestation without mirror/Subject, there is no mirror (Ultimate Subject) reflecting or being in union with the manifestations. 'Everything' is a process, event, manifestation and phenomenon, nothing ontological or having an essence. Stage 5 is quite thorough in being no one and Thusness calls this anatta in all 3 aspects -- no subject/object division, no doer-ship and absence of agent. There is no agent, not just no subject/object division. This is Buddhism's No-Self.

So the difference between Advaita's non-dualism of brahman and world and Buddhism's No-Self is the difference between Thusness's Stage 4 and 5 which he explained in his comments:

And also as I said earlier, Dependent Origination and Emptiness (Stage 6) is overlooked -- since the thesis is focused on the similarities on the Non-Dual aspect (Stage 4).

In my opinion, we should read both David Loy's book on Nonduality, and then read the article by Acharya Mahayogi Shridhar Rana Rinpoche on Madhyamika Buddhism Vis-a-vis Hindu Vedanta, to have a balanced view of the similarities and differences. To know only the difference is not enough, we must also be able to see the non-dual aspect which is also an important insight and experience. Likewise to see the similarities is not enough, we have to see Dependent Origination and Emptiness and the paradigm difference due to this.
Posted by: Soh

The following blog entry is from a post made in my forum on 9th October 2008. It is about seeing awareness as manifestation instead of a mirror reflecting, and seeing the inseparability of awareness and conditions. This is also related to a previous blog entry Dependent Arising of Consciousness which contains a related text by Arya Nagarjuna.


Passerby/Thusness saw some inadequateness in one of the Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma translations, and translated himself a certain passage and commented on my forum:

Original Chinese text from Bodhidharma's Bloodstream Sermon (血脉论): 若智慧明了,此心号名法性,亦名解脱。生死不拘,一切法拘它不得,是名大自在王如来;亦名不思议,亦名圣体,亦名长生不死,亦名大仙。名虽不同,体即是一。圣人种种分别,皆不离自心。心量广大,应用无穷,应眼见色,应耳闻声,应鼻嗅香,应舌知味,乃至施为运动,皆是自心。

(I myself translated certain parts to fill in the gap): With the illumination of wisdom (prajna), mind is known as Dharma Nature, mind is known as Liberation. Neither life nor death can restrain this mind, no dharmas (phenomenon) can. It’s also called the King of Great Freedom Tathagata, the Incomprehensible, the Holy Essence, the Immortality, the Great Immortal. Its names vary but its essence is one. Sages vary, but none are separate from his own mind. The mind’s capacity is limitless, and its conditional functions are inexhaustible. With the condition of eyes, forms are seen, With the condition of ears, sounds are heard, With the condition of nose, smells are smelled, With the condition of tongue, tastes are tasted, every movement or states are all one's Mind.

Comments by Passerby/Thusness:


A better way to translate this should be:

With the illumination of wisdom (prajna), mind is known as Dharma Nature, mind is known as Liberation.

Comments: It is important to know that mind is itself liberation. That is why knowing the nature of our mind is the way of liberation. If Liberation is not experienced, then the clarity is still not there. There is no true understanding of what mind is.

Liberation is this Pristine Awareness itself in its natural state. That is why understanding this Pristine Awareness is the direct path towards liberation. If we cannot see that the 5 aggregates are themselves our Buddha Nature, then we will not understand there is nothing to shunt from the transience. Thought liberates, sound liberates, tastes liberates. The transience liberates. If we do not see that, then we are taking a gradual path. It is also not advisable to speak too much about spontaneous arising or self liberation. It can be quite misleading.



A better way to translate should be:

With the condition of the eye, forms are seen, With the condition of ears, sounds are heard, With the condition of nose, smells are smelled, With the condition of tongue, tastes are tasted, every movement or states are all one's Mind.

Thusness/Passerby's comments:

Here there are 2 important points to take note. First is that Buddha Nature is the transience. Second it is more of '应'. Means with the condition of the eye, forms arise. With ears, sound arises.

Awareness is not like a mirror reflecting but rather a manifestation. Luminosity is an arising luminous manifestation rather than a mirror reflecting. The center here is being replaced with Dependent Origination, the experience however is non-dual.

One must learn how to see Appearances as Awareness and all others as conditions. Example, sound is awareness. The person, the stick, the bell, hitting, air, ears...are conditions. One should learn to see in this way. All problems arise because we cannot experience Awareness this way.

Conventionally we experience in the form of subject and object interaction taking place in a space-time continuum. This is just an assumption. Experientially it is not so. One should learn to experience awareness as the manifestation. There is no subject, there is only and always manifestation, all else are conditions of arising. All these are just provisional explanations for one to understand.

Further comments:

What's seen is Awareness. What's heard is Awareness. All experiences are non-dual in nature. However this non-dual luminosity cannot be understood apart from the ‘causes and conditions’ of arising. Therefore do not see ‘yin’ as Awareness interacting with external conditions. If you see it as so, then it still falls in the category of mirror-reflecting. Rather see it as an instantaneous manifestation where nothing is excluded. As if the universe is giving its very best for this moment to arise. A moment is complete and non-dual. Vividly manifest and thoroughly gone leaving no traces.

Other comments:

Phrase like “everything arises from Emptiness and subsides back to Emptiness” is equally misleading. By doing so, we have made ‘Emptiness’ into a metaphysical essence; similarly not to make the same mistake for “causes and conditions”, not to objectify it into a metaphysical essence. All are provisional terms to point to our insubstantial, essence-less and interdependent nature.