Posted by: Soh
Here's a link to my e-book/e-journal, which is not just a 'journal' but also contains pointers/instructions (including the practice of self-inquiry and the method of contemplation that leads to insights of self-realization, non-duality, anatta and shunyata), which are all based on what worked out for me and others - I only speak from my experience here. These pointers and instructions are designed to quickly lead readers to the realisation of their true nature without delays or side-tracks – this is The Direct Path so to speak. If you find it helpful, pass the link along to a friend :)


Second Preface & Synopsis
(First written on 3rd February 2011, last updated on 5th June 2011)

It's been almost a year since my first journal entry, or my initial/first glimpse into awareness, or the true nature of existence. Here’s a quick summary of my journey of insight thus far.

Firstly, about one year ago, in February 2010, through contemplating the question 'Before birth, Who am I?' for almost two years with a deep desire to resolve the matter of the truth of my Being, there suddenly arose the insight into the essence of existence, being, presence. This is a direct insight into something undeniable and unavoidable. For the first time I realized what presence, luminosity, awareness actually is, directly and non-conceptually without intermediary. And I realize that to be my very essence, in which there is no division between 'me' and 'it' - I am That, the self-knowing presence. A clear and undoubtable certainty of Being arose, something more undeniable and intimate than the breath, and if anything it is the only 'thing' that cannot be denied.

At this phase, the construct of duality and the construct of inherency still remains strong. As such, I see 1) an inherent awareness 2) awareness is the ultimate observer of objects, and I am that all-pervading awareness, I am not the objects - the objects are objects happening to/in awareness, and awareness is like a vast container for them to arise and subside.

This phase continued for the next six months where the insight and experience of I AMness deepened in terms of the insight and experience of impersonality, where everything is seen to be the spontaneous manifestation and doings of an impersonal source. The feeling is one of being lived by a higher power, rather than my life being controlled or lived by an individual self. Due to the experience of impersonality, there is the impression that consciousness is universal and everyone comes from the same source. There was also the refining of that insight and experience in terms of the intensity of luminosity, seeing through and dissolving the need to abide, and there was effortlessness. The meaning of these terms are explained in more details in the book as you read on. So these four aspects are the 'refining factors of the realization of I AM' and is what eventually led to further non-dual insights. That said, in the I AM realization phase, due to the lack of insights, I was skewed into trying to abide more and more as the I AM/the Witness and trying to make this abidance constant.

In August 2010, while dancing and just immersing myself into the movement, the music, and sensuousness of everything, I experienced non-duality very intensely and effortlessly as the sense of self just dropped off. Although I have had non-dual glimpses (lasting only a few moments usually), this was different as it became very effortless and uninterrupted for the next few days. Everything was very intense, blissful, and luminously present - and it was not because of alcohol or mind-altering drugs ... the subsidance of the sense of dualistic construct is very blissful, and this bliss and clarity did not just stop - it became a perpetual experience in daily life. At this point, Awareness is seen to be seamless by nature. I no longer see and experience Presence and Awareness as a formless background to everything. In fact, it is seen that there is no division between the observer and the observed - I am the seeing, the hearing, the smelling, the tasting, the touching, everything arising moment to moment, there is no separate self or experiencer, there is only that - and that is non-dual presence. However, the construct of an inherent awareness is still strong, and as such, I see 1) an inherent awareness 2) awareness is not divided from all manifestations. In other words, I see everything as the manifestation of the same aliveness/awareness, that manifestation IS Awareness itself, and Awareness is seen as a seamless undivided field of being in which everything is equally an expression of, and not other than, this field of aliveness/awareness/consciousness. As such, the purpose of practice is no longer geared towards achieving a constant, 24/7 abidance in the purest state of Presence, the Self. Rather, seamless and effortlessness is discovered to be totally non-dual and seamless with/AS all manifestations, rather than abiding in a purest formless Presence. At this point, I keep questioning myself, "Where does awareness end and manifestation begin?" and the answer to this is a non-conceptual, borderless, centreless, seamless field of undivided presence in which everything is included AS non-dual presence. All sense of a subject and object, inside and outside, Witness and witnessed, have collapsed into nondual Awareness.

In October 2010 by the contemplation of Bahiya Sutta while I was marching (was enlisted last year for a mandatory two year military service), I realized Anatta. The contemplation of 'in the seeing just the seen, in the hearing just the heard' as Buddha instructed Bahiya triggered that realization. As such, I no longer see an agent that perceives, i.e. an Awareness. I realized that there is no agent that perceives at all, no subject to be found. In seeing, there is only just the seen, the scenery - the seeing IS the seen, the seeing IS the scenery. There is just scenery - and that alone is the seeing. There is no seer, no agent, no perceiver behind perception. Only always just perception without perceiver. Everything is just happening, and there is only the happening without anything behind or hiding. There is no "seamless field of aliveness" because aliveness is simply these everchanging and ungraspable sensations arising and subsiding each moment. Just thoughts, sensations, sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, that's all. Phenomena manifesting. The entire process itself rolls and knows, there is no knower. There is no Awareness that is one with its perceptions. There is just perception, the perception itself is its knowing. Because there is always only arising phenomena, there is no such thing as 'unicity'. There is no awareness to be united with objects, no mirror that is one with its reflections. There is no subject to begin with that could be inseparable with its objects. There is always only phenomena. However when I said ‘No Awareness’ I don’t mean there is no awareness, or that there is just a blank, a nothingness. What I mean is that awareness, or the nature of mind, is empty of any entity – it is empty of a self, just like the word ‘river’ cannot be found to have an entity apart from the activities of flowing, and the word ‘wind’ cannot be found to have an entity apart from the activities of blowing, the same as the case for ‘Knowing’ or ‘Awareness’, therefore it is like the 3rd Karmapa saying, “All phenomena are illusory displays of mind. Mind is no mind--the mind's nature is empty of any entity that is mind. Being empty, it is unceasing and unimpeded, manifesting as everything whatsoever.”

A few months later, even though it has been seen that ‘seeing is always the sights, sounds, colours and shapes, never a seer’, I began to notice this subtle remaining tendency to cling to a Here and Now. Somehow, I still want to return to a Here, a Now,
like 'The actual world right here and now', which I can 'ground myself in', like I needed to ground in something truly existing, like I needed to return to being actual, here, now, whatever you want to call it. At that point when I detected this subtle movement I instantly recognised it to be illusory and dropped it, however I still could not find a natural resolution to that.
Until, shortly maybe two weeks later, a deeper insight arose and I saw how Here/Now or something I can ground myself in doesn't apply when the "brilliant, self-luminous, vivid, alive, wonderful textures and forms and shapes and colours and details of the universe", all sense perceptions and thoughts, are in reality insubstantial, groundless, disjoint, unsupported and spontaneous, there was a deeper freedom and effortlessness. It is this insight into all as insubstantial, ephemeral, bubble-like, disjoint manifestations that allows this overcoming of a subtle view of something inherent. There is no observer observing something changing: simply that the "sensate world" is simply these disjoint manifestations without anything linking each sensation to another, without some inherent ground that could link manifestations, so manifestations are 'scattered', disconnected, self-releasing and traceless. Somewhere around this time, Thusness wrote me a post in our blog:

Prior to this insight, there wasn't the insight into phenomena as being 'scattered' without a linking basis (well there already was but it was not strong enough to remove the subtle view or construct of an inherent ground that remained)... the moment you say there is an ‘Actual World Here/Now’, or a Mind, or an Awareness, or a Presence that is constant throughout all experiences, that pervades and arise as all appearances, you have failed to see the 'no-linking', 'disjointed', 'unsupported' nature of manifestation – an insight which breaks a subtle clinging to an inherent ground, resulting in greater freedom.
So in reality, Presence is empty and non-local. It cannot be located, it cannot be found, it cannot be pinpointed even as 'here' or 'now'. It cannot be grasped in any way, because there is no core or essence to Awareness. There is always only dependently originated appearances, that alone is Presence which is unlocatable, ungraspable, unfindable in any way whatsoever. Therefore we must not only dissolve the construct of "Who", even the more subtle construct of a "Where" and "When" must be dissolved for true liberation. When this is seen, the subtle tendency to seek an inherent source/awareness/presence is then allowed to be dropped, and in place of that seeking tendency is the effortless and natural spontaneous manifestation of interdepedent origination.
The luminosity and the emptiness are inseparable. They are both essential aspects of our experiential reality and must be seen in its seamlessness and unity. Realizing this, there is just disjoint thoughts and phenomena arising without support and liberating on its own accord. There is nothing solid acting as the basis of these experiences and linking them... there is just spontaneous and unsupported manifestations and self liberating experiences.

Therefore, this ‘insubstantial, disjoint, unsupported, bubble-like, non-solid, spontaneous, self-releasing’ nature of activities was revealed as a further progression from the initial insight into Anatta which was still skewed towards non-dual luminosity and being grounded in the ‘Here/Now’.
In June 2011, while contemplating on the place of origin, place of abidance and destination of thoughts as per what Chodpa wrote in his blog post in Luminous Emptiness, I suddenly realized that all thoughts and all sensate experiences are like a magical appearance – without a place of origin, a place of abidance, and a destination! Nowhere to be found, coreless, empty, yet magically appearing, like a magician’s trick. How amazing is the functioning of magical empty-luminosity! The realization of Shunyata, the emptiness of all dharmas, arose, and it was blissful and wonderful on a new level. The Mahayana sutras (they all talk a lot about shunyata/emptiness) as well as Phena Sutta all start to make sense!

So... that's the story so far anyway. I claim no finality in the spiritual journey. And since I see reality as a process, I do not make neo-Advaitic claims like 'oh the time bound story is just relative stuff and actually all there is is Here/Now' - there is no inherently existing 'Here/Now' at all, there is just phenomena rolling on its own accord and telling its story but without a self at the center claiming ownership of the process (and yet using personal pronouns is unavoidable for convenient communication - I don't want to sound like a weirdo for using impersonal pronouns) And yet since reality/phenomena is as ungraspable as lightning strikes, no phenomena including enlightenment could be captured or clung to. (Yet this traceless clarity – empty luminosity – continue to manifest every single moment as the diverse, myriad experiences of life! All moments of life are an authentication of our Buddha-nature.) So I always refer back to what Zen Master Dogen wrote:

To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.

Also, even though I presented my journal as if there is a kind of linear progression going on, in truth we should not see these stages/phases as strictly linear or having a hierarchy. For example, some are able to understand the profound wisdom of emptiness from the start but have no direct experience of luminosity, then luminosity becomes a later phase. So does that mean the most pristine experience of "I AM" is now the last stage? On the other hand, some have experienced luminosity but do not understand how he got himself 'lost', as there is no insight to the karmic tendencies/propensities at all, therefore dependent origination cannot be adequately understood. But does that mean that the one that experiences emptiness is higher than the one experiencing luminosity?

Some people experience non-dual but do not go through the I AM, and then after realizing non-duality the I AM becomes even more precious because it brings out the luminosity aspect more. Also, when in non-dual, one can still be full of thoughts, therefore the focus then is to experience the thoroughness of being no-thoughts, fully luminous and present... then it is not about non-dual, not about the no object-subject split, it is about the degree of luminosity for these non-dualist. But for some monks that is trapped in luminosity and rest in samadhi, then the focus should be on refining non-dual insight and experience. For non-dualists, depending on the level of understanding, one can move forward and backward, there is no hierarchy.

So just see the phases as different aspect of insights of our true nature, not necessarily as linear stages or a 'superiority' and 'inferiority' comparison. What one should understand is what is lacking in the form of realization. There is no hierarchy to it, only insights, all of which are important. Understanding this means that one will be able to see all stages as flat, no higher.

And as I told my friend: There is no order of precedence how the phases of insight can unfold for people. Some experience/realize I AM after non-dual, some before. Just like Joan Tollifson puts it: rather than a linear stage progression, sometimes it is more like a spiral going back and forth, even though that is also just a relative perspective of things. The spiralling continues until one sees with utter conviction that all phenomena shares the same taste, that everything in its primordial purity is Dharmakaya itself.

That being said, although there is no strict order of precedence of insight (i.e. not everyone starts with the realization of I AM), of late, I and Thusness realized that it is important to have a first glimpse of our luminous essence (i.e. the I AM realization) directly before proceeding into understanding non-dual, anatta and dependent origination. Some times understanding something (e.g. emptiness/dependent origination) too early will deny oneself from actual realization as it becomes conceptual. Once the conceptual understanding is formed, even qualified masters will find it difficult to lead the practitioner to the actual ‘realization’ as a practitioner mistakes conceptual understanding for realization.

Therefore, if I were to make an advice to ‘beginners’ reading this, my advice would be to start with the practice of self-inquiry (though this is by no means the only method, it is one which is very direct and one which I am familiar with), realize the certainty of Being (the I AMness), then progress from there to investigate the non-dual, anatta, and empty nature of Presence. However it also depends on the person's interests and inclinations and he/she should discern for themselves.

One thing that is unique about this book is that it covers such a wide range or spectrum of insights - I AM, the aspects of I AM, Non-Dual, Anatta, Emptiness and Maha/Dependent Origination, etc. Thusness once told me that there are no books currently available that he knows of, that actually covers all his 7 stages of enlightenment. My journal perhaps is unique in covering many of those insights he mentioned, all in one single book. However, how relevant each section is to a person would highly depend. If you are reading this, I recommend getting some basic understanding of what is I AM, non-dual, anatta and emptiness, but if for example, you still do not realize what is I AM, I would suggest that you focus more on the I AM and self-inquiry section first, in terms of practice.

Lastly, I see enlightenment as nothing mystical. It is simply the lifting of veils by practice and insight to reveal subtler aspects of reality. Once we lift conceptual thoughts, we discover I AM. Once we lift the bond of duality, we experience and discover non-dual awareness. Once we lift the bond of inherency, we experience and discover the absence of agent and a wonderfully luminous yet empty universe occuring via dependent origination.

May all beings be free and liberated like birds flying in the sky, leaving no tracks. May you become traceless and incomprehensible in this life.