This blog is about spiritual awakening, maps and stages, the blinding effects of our strong momentum/conditioning (karmic propensities), view, realization, experience, etc. If you're new here, I recommend going through the 'Must Reads' articles (see sidebar). For discussions you are welcome to join my Facebook group, or my forum.
Even more anatta stuff! By Bill F in DhO. He's here too but never posts.
I relate to a lot of AEN's descriptions and stages. There are some that I can see on the intellectual level, but I can't honestly say that I have realized deeply in a way that has permanently shifted experience, particularly stage 7 (http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com/…/thusnesss-six-stag…). I'm feeling tired and lazy, but for the sake of comparison, here goes:
I had worked within the fold of the pragmatic dharma scene for a while. Shortly prior to stream entry it became evident that what I had called "me", this backdrop upon which all experience seemed to reflect and hinge, was not solid and durable, but was instead a composite built from causes and conditions in the field of experience. After stream entry it became impossible to solidify around this idea of an eternal, solid "me", but habitual patterns of thought and reaction could lead to thoughts and behavior not aligned with this insight.
At third path in the pragmatic dharma model it became clear to me that external phenomena in the form of thoughts, mental impressions, sights, sounds, etc. could not be separated into things with inherent solidity. I could look at a face and see it as a fluxing pattern of nondistinct, vividness. I was working with the elderly at the time and the beauty of their faces, and wrinkles was really amazing. This insight is not perfected, perhaps it never will be, but the general pattern is that it continues to infuse more and more areas of experience.
As a point of comparison, having seen the empty nature of self at stream entry, or perhaps even before, does not mean that you will never again think a sentence with the word "I" or constrict around a personal attack. If you've been driving one hundred miles per hour for ten, twenty, or forty years and you suddenly slam the breaks the momentum of the previous years will continue to effect the movement of the car. The next phases in my practice involved a further shift into what zen refers to as One Mind. Alex Weith in his excellent piece on the Bahiya Sutta -Bahiya- writes the following of this phase: "One Mind has often been compared to a bright mirror that reflects phenomena and yet remains untouched by appearances. As discussed with one of Sheng-yen's first Western students, this One Mind is still an illusion. One is not anymore identified to the self-center, ego and personality, yet one (the man) is still holding to pure non-dual awareness (the ox). Having tamed the ox, the ox-herder must let go of the ox (ox forgotten) and then forget himself and the ox (ox and man forgotten). The problem is that we still maintain a subtle duality between what we know ourself to be, a pure non-dual awareness that is not a thing, and our daily existence often marked by self-contractions. Hoping to get more and more identified with pure non-dual awareness, we may train concentration, try to hold on to the event of awakening reifying an experience, or rationalize the whole thing to conclude that self-contraction is not a problem and that suffering is not suffering because our true nature is ultimately beyond suffering. This explains why I got stuck in what Zen calls "stagnating waters" for about a year. " (http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com.au/…/zen-exploration…)
One of the more interesting aspects of this phase is that cycling between the nanas that before seemed a major problem, no longer seemed to be a problem. It was as though some physical instability that had been driving practice for me for those years (five at the time of this phase) seemed gone. Two of the major pragmatic dharma teachers diagnosed me as fourth path at this point, but in truth, I did not find my ongoing experience to match up to Daniel's description of 4th path until several months later. During the next several months I would occasionally have experiences where any sense of an internal observer just vanished. My consistent experience was still that of the non-solid Watcher, empty but in some way separate and reflecting on other empty phenomena. But then suddenly the watcher would be gone, and there would just be experience experiencing itself vividly, no doer, or watcher, simply the sensations manifesting as themselves at all sense doors. Each time I would come out of this state there would be a sense of anxiety, particularly as these experiences began to increase in consistency and duration. Then one day I was walking the dog General R.I.P and I experienced the vanishing of the observer, but with the realization that there had never been a separate observer, dual or non-dual, no watcher, no Self, or self. Experience spoke for itself without any residual observation point. Even self-referential thinking was seen to occur without a landscape from which it projected or landed onto. I documented that experience, and the fall out here, towards the bottom of the page, on January 29: Bill'sNotes (http://kennethfolkdharma.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=36)
More than anything else I had experienced this changed the nature of how I understood everything that had happened before and it totally destroyed any sense of my being a meditatior or on a spiritual path or any of that. That being said, I still practice daily for 2-3 hours, but practice is perhaps the wrong word as that implies efforting towards a goal. Things continue to change and deepen and infuse new areas. I went through a dramatic deepening a couple weeks ago, but nothing new was really revealed, just an increase in clarity and immediacy.
As an aside, I can't know for sure that what I'm writing about/experienced is what AEN and Thusness are writing about. I am just sharing my own experience, and it may not correspond exactly so I'm not making definitive notes as a representative of Thusness and AEN's understanding.
I am glad these things are being discussed. I think an important point would be that just because one is no longer priviledging non-dual experience as being an ultimate reality does not mean that one is prohibited from acting in a way towards living a good life. In my experience, when the idea of the spiritual and Awareness and Ultimate Reality fell away, I was devastated. It was as though what had given my life meaning for so many years had suddenly been taken away, and I had no way to account for all the hours I'd spent practicing, nor the way I had held certain states or practices or insights as being special. It really and truly broke my heart. I could not practice for a while, or even really think about it, as I had no way to configure this new understanding with the way I had constructed practice and life before. That was a bout a year. It was in some ways very dark, and yet I couldn't feel that bad about it somehow.
Gradually I returned to practice, but with a new sense of freedom. Without being tied to ideas of non-duality, self/no self, I was more or less free to pursue whatever I wanted. This might be the brahma viharas. It might be the jhanas. It might be therapy. Or relationships. I might choose to spend a couple hours a day walking outside and not practice at all.
One question that comes up for me is this: Having had a similar experience, how can I be sure that I am not now just creating another model? In other words, the stage of reifying a Super Awareness or Non-duality or whatever it might be, is just the stage before the stage of seeing through all that, and in what ways am I currently cutting myself off from further development? Just some food for thought for myself.
I don't know that there's much there I don't agree with. I do think you are projecting onto me ideas that are not being put forth. All I was stating was that the belief in awareness separate from phenomena, is itself an experience, not to be priviliged, and it is flimsy.
At a certain point in practice it seemed to me that all of my experience, though empty, was being experienced through the filter of empty, lucid, awareness. At a certain point (January 2012) Awareness as Self, Watcher, Primordial Reality, or whatever term we use or don't use to designate a backdrop or landscape for reality that contains that reality, was seen through. It became apparent that that experience of Awareness was simply another appearance, undivided, not happening on any landscape or with any backdrop or source. It was simply the experience and the possibility that it reflected onto something or was born from something was seen to be impossible. The idea of Awareness as backdrop is simply the idea of Awareness as backdrop. It is not symbolic of anything else. The same could be said for the sense of identity. The experience of I or non-self is simply that, with nothing attached, signifying neither the absence of identity nor a separate self who experiences. The sense of self, the sense of awareness, the sense of reflective consciousness is immediate and is not happening against a backdrop, born out of anything, or landing on anything.
I am not trying to build a new model out of this realization. As I wrote above it took me time to integrate this new, and very much unexpected understanding into what I understood my life and practice to be before it happened. It really and totally put me into a new and different place than any insight or change in practice had brought before. After it was integrated there was a great deal of freedom in not being tied to spiritual ideas, or models. That being said, I can not see that this insight could not progressively happen after some reliance and belief on a non-dual backdrop behind experience, as it is precisely seeing through that that is the experience.
I have been practicing Mahamudra for the past few weeks in a systematic way using Reggie Ray's "Mahamudra for the Modern World" as a practical guide. I have also been practicing a form of metta involving simply tuning into the direct sensations of the body (using breath as an anchor) and spreading the feeling of metta through the body. The latter does not involve sending myself or anyone else metta, just submerging into the pleasurable directness of the body, and repeating the word "happy" at the beginning of the out breath. At times the invocation of any word becomes too cumbersome, and it is enough to just bathe in the comfort of the body. This feeling has persisted at times throughout the day so that it seems the practice has begun to take effect on a cellular level. The feeling is at times that of having a new physical body free from tension so that the whole body for hours oozes a sense of release. If you have experienced a deeply pleasant exhale where release seems at the forefront it is as if the deep tissue of the body is doing that in an extended and potent way. Regarding Mahamudra, Reggie Ray in "Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet" writes, "In the realization of Mahamudra, each phenomenon stands as a proclamation of the inseparability of form (mudra) and emptiness (maha). The form aspect of each phenomenom is the fact that it appears vividly; the emptiness aspect is that it is beyond concept or imagination." Though for me this became evident "in real time" consistently at third path such that no effort was needed to induce the insight, I continue to find variations in how the depth of what has been seen play out in my life and in my reactions.
I spent the last couple of weeks using shamatha to heighten enjoyableness and clear seeing, and am now mostly in a phase where I am practicing the somatic metta (not a mahamudra teaching, though similar to vajrayana tonglen in some ways), shamatha without an object, and investigating the nature of thoughts.
In the practice of shamatha without an object one returns again and again to the undivided, ununified, knowing, natural aspect of reality. Though it is referred to as the "natural state" or "emptiness of mind" what's left in the practice is what remains when thoughts that would take one outside of the direct immediacy of reality have been let go. What remains is the immediacy of reality, totally at rest. The more I practice in this way the more evident that direct, restful, non-separate nature of reality becomes my reality, and the less pull there is from thoughts that, if grasped onto, obscure this naturalness.
The other practice I have been useing frequently is the practice of investigating thoughts. There are a variety of instructions, but basically it begins with resting in the natural state, allowing thoughts to arise, and investigating from the innocence of the natural state. In this practice it becomes apparent that thoughts upon their arising are just blips of energy, inseparable from naturalness. Writing of Mahamudra using the analogy of a child visiting a colorful temple, Trungpa Rinpoche writes, "He sees all kinds of magnificient decorations, displays, rich colors, vividness of all kinds. But this child has no preconceptions or any concept whatsoever about to begin to analyze...The experience is all pervasive. At the same time, it is perhaps somewhat overwhelmingly pleasurable." There is the experience when practicing in this way of seeing thoughts as beautiful patterns of energy, arising and dying of their own accord. To further the analogy, if you have ever lay on the ground on a winter night when it is snowing and looked up into the sky, mostly there is the all pervasive peacefulness of the limitless dark above, and out of the dark flashes of pristine light. One may begin to conceptualize the snowflake, think about the weather, what time it is, when to be home, but the nakeness of the experience remains unblemished when seen directly.
To clarify the analogy above, I am not suggesting a non-dual watcher gazing into the sky of emptiness. Rather, "I" am an empty thought, the same as a star erupting and dying, and in direct experience there is only the nakedness of sky and snow.
Though it is tempting to think of awakening as binary, an on/off switch that once encountered is complete, my own experience is that it is more gray scale. It is true that there are insights that once seen, can never be unseen, and that in the seeing perception changes clearly in a permanent, effortless, no need to induce anything sort of way. None the less, within that transformation there are still moments of dullness or narrowing that obscure the lucidity of luminosity and emptiness. Inspired by reading Droll's recent postings, and former practice logs from a few years ago I have again begun incorporating the process of grounding. Formally influenced by Kenneth Folk's method of grounding emotions in the body, I spent a serious chunk of practice time keeping an almost constant thread of awareness on the body, watching for pockets of reactivity and then feeling into them. This resulted in a shift in a way that emotions presented. It did not stop them, nor was that the intent. Rather, it was that the energy of the emotions became more clear, lucid, richer and in some subtle way pleasurable, while the story lines themselves that would normally occur as a result of disassociating from that initial spark of energy, became signifigantly less pronounced and elaborate. This process has continued to deepen in subtle ways in the intervening years. As a side note, I don't like the word grounding, and its implications, and my own experience is that it is intimacy with the arising of energy in the body. In being with the body in direct experience the boundaries of skin are not obvious, and it is impossible to tell where the body begins and ends. Similarly emotions when seen in direct experience as arising energy, when neither grasped onto nor consolidated into story, are without border or definite shape. Dzogchen master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche spoke about the experience of empty, knowing as "space suffused with sunlight", and it is a good description of the immediacy of the practice.
In Reggie Ray's Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body, he writes "When we remain within the body and are thereby able to remain open enough to allow the process of emotions to unfold, we make the starling discovery that the the so-called "neurotic emotions" are not inherently neurotic at all. The neurotic emotionality -the self-absorption or twisted reaction that happens with us- is not a result of the emotions at all, but rather of our attempts to get control of them, to short circuit their own natural, in-born process, and to prematurely come to closure about them. This discovery, which we make over and over in working with subtle as well as highly charged emotional states, can be experienced as astonishing, moving and deeply inspiring". What this has looked like for me recently is that when the subtle changes of energy that would normally lead to disassociating from the immediacy of the energy -by conceptualizing the energy into a story or simply a narrowing but nonverbal change in attention- are remained with in an intimate way the story line does not begin and there is just the energy, fluid, transparent, immediate and lucid. So my practice has been continued somatic metta, shamatha without an object, and the practice of feeling into the body and remaining with the immediacy of the changing energy. It has been rewarding, and I am trying to remain without ideas about where it will go.
Not much to add here, but for the sake of consistency why not:
What became interesting to me recently was the subtle sense of presence, that can be felt attentionally or somatically as a narrowing. Mostly for me I experience it in the gut. I have been playing around with the feeling of how it is that this sense of presence comes to be, locating the narrowing in the immediate directness of experience.
At other times it is just sitting in effortlessness. This is non-meditation. No focus. Just sights, thoughts, sensations. No intention. No intention to have no intention.
At other times it is just returning again and again to the immediacy of experience.
I also am continuing with the metta practice as before. Some times it is "may this body be happy", but more recenlt it has become "may love (on the inbreath), love this body (on the out-breath)" There are more sustained periods where the attentional focus seems not to shift at all. It is interesting to practice metta from this place. It's nice in a way, but also doesn't seem to do much.
Without agency, there is no one to meditate. Meditation then becomes simply the effortless experience of aliveness, experience, thoughts, sights and sounds. The experience of life released of the pressure of navigation justifies itself in its nakenedess.
Having seen this before, I know that intention can and does arise again, and in the intention, just the intention, though clarity waxes and wanes.
Had an experience two weeks ago where the practices I had been doing intensively for the previous two months seemed to culminate. It was not the experience of anything new, rather the immediacy of thinking became apparent in a way it had not before such that thoughts seemed to be unraveling in direct, immediateness with the same clarity as the perception of the external world. Due to the immediacy of it all thoughts were thoughts, but were experienced more like physical energy, and were brief, and somehow pleasant in their duration.
I have lately been working with familiar methods to some extent, but putting more focus on locating the "where" of transient phenomena (thoughts/feelings). There can at times be the vague sense of location related to thinking. Often this is the sense that a thought or feeling is located in the area of the body where the sensations occurring along with the thought or sensation are. In looking directly into the experience the mental impressions reveal themselves to be empty, without a fixed position, neither divided or inside but separate from the seamless landscape of experience, but existing as a seamless movement of the field of experience.
I don't know if there is a good way to maintain awareness while thinking if this suggests that the thoughts are playing themselves out and you are aware of it. In my experience prolongued conceptual thinking only occurs when I am disassociated from thoughts in their immediacy. In being with the immediacy of thoughts they reveal themselves as explosions of energy, and quickly die. If a thought has been going on and attention inclines to looking directly at the thought it seems to vanish. Most of the dullness in my experience anymore comes from moments where there is just some habitual, neutral thinking going on at a low hum below the surface.
Mahamudra practice regarding thoughts involves looking at thoughts from a place of emptiness as though looking at the surface of a still pond and watching for a ripple to appear in a very intense way. Conversely there is the practice of relaxing the focus and allowing the thoughts to do whatever they may as though watching from sidelines in appreciation of the wild, energetic nature of thinking. The analogy that is given is like watching children play from the side without interfering.
John Wilde wrote:
Only that which is delineated is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-me/not-mine/not-self. The totality -- by whatever name -- never is. (And there's no place from which to evaluate it as such, nothing to compare it against).
Bill replied: The delineation is the totality. Thinking that it is somehow different, or apart from, separate, is uneccesary confusion and the result of separating the two and creating borders where there need not be any. Even this separating is only experience manifest. Look closer into the looker who is able to perceive the perfection of the totality, as well as the experience of the totality itself. That or just spend a lot of time resting attention on the direct experience of the body, which is really just a fancy way of saying the immediacy of experience.
Not Tao: Why make bold proclamations that refute the understanding of others and then ignore any criticism when others try to engage you on the post you created. I believe you won't respond to this as criticism of others, and avoidance of their responses seems to be the name of the game, but it's a pretty slimey way to operate.
John Wilde: I think you think I was saying that 'the delineated' is impermanent / unsatisfactory while 'the whole' is permanent / satisfactory. If so, that's not quite where I was coming from. What I meant was that, once you partition anything off and reify it as an object, that which is partitioned off is thereby subject to the 3Cs... as an artefact of the partitioning.Which is to say, the language of limitation (in time, space, knowledge, etc) then becomes applicable to 'it'. (Which is never the case regarding the totality, by definition, because it can't be objectified). Bill: Yes, I did read you that way, which I guess you are saying was a misinterpretation. I like what you wrote here. Well put. How are you defining the totality that can't be objectified, and are you saying that it itself is neither permanent nor impermanent? How do you know that you are accurately reading it, and it is not just your subjective interpretation? John Wilde: Why? I'm not sure what you want me to notice, or quite how it relates... Bill: I guess I'd need you to clarify the question above, but if you believe that the totality stands apart from conditioned experience like thoughts, and feelings, then this itself is a misperception caused by the believe that there is a separate observer or that thoughts/feelings are somehow an experience separate from the totality. A closer look would reveal that they are not two separate things. Even the thought that they are is just the thought that they are. I'm not being clever. I mean that exactly. The thought or perception of separation is only and totally the thought or perception of separation. In seeing this more clearly the attachment to perfection as separate from one's subjective experience evaporates, and the load is lessened significant