If someone talks about an experience he/she had and then lost it, that's not (the true, deep) awakening... As many teachers put it, it's the great samadhi without entry and exit.

John Tan: There is no entry and exit. Especially for no-self. Why is there no entry and exit?
Me (Soh): Anatta (no-self) is always so, not a stage to attain. So it's about realisation and shift of perception.
John Tan: Yes 👍

As John also used to say to someone else, "Insight that 'anatta' is a seal and not a stage must arise to further progress into the 'effortless' mode. That is, anatta is the ground of all experiences and has always been so, no I. In seeing, always only seen, in hearing always only sound and in thinking, always only thoughts. No effort required and never was there an 'I'."


Here's a description by Daniel Ingram of what is awakening, also an interesting comment about whether he would trade it for anything else. It's a good description which resonates with my experience.

“Since the topic has come up so often and been so bandied about so many times by so many people, let me state here what I mean by 4th path, regardless of what anyone else means by it. It has the following qualities:

1) Utter centerlessness: no watcher, no sense of a watcher, no subtle watcher, no possibility of a watcher. This is immediately obvious just as color is to a man with good eyesight as the old saying goes. Thus, anything and everything simply and obviously manifest just where they are. No phenomena observe any others and never did or could.

2) Utter agencylessness: meaning no agency, no sense of doing, no sense of doer, no sense that there could be any agent or doer, no way to find anything that seems to be in control at all. Whatever effort or intent or anything like that that arises does so naturally, causally, inevitably, as it always actually did. This is immediately obvious, though not always the forefront of attention.

3) No cycles change or stages or states or anything else like that do anything to this direct comprehension of simple truths at all.

4) There is no deepening in it to do. The understanding stands on its own and holds up over cycles, moods, years, etc and doesn't change at all. I have nothing to add to my initial assessment of it from 9 years ago.

5) There is nothing subtle about it: anything and everything that arises exhibits these same qualities directly, clearly. When I was third path, particularly late in it, those things that didn't exhibit these qualities were exceedingly subtle, and trying to find the gaps in the thing was exceedingly difficult and took years and many cycles. I had periods from weeks to months where it felt done and then some subtle exception would show up and I would realize I was wrong yet again, so this is natural and understandable, and if someone claims 4th as I define it here and later says they got it wrong, have sympathy for them, as this territory is not easy and can easily fool people, as it did me many, many times over about 5 years or so. However, 4th, as I term it, ended that and 9 years later that same thing holds, which is a very long time in this business.

There are other aspects that may be of value to discuss at some other time, but those are a great place to start for those who wish to claim this. If you truly have those, then perhaps we can talk about a few other points that are less central and essential.

Now, how there can still be affect (though quite modified in many ways) when there is centerlessness and agencylessness, this is a mystery to the AF kids and to me as well, and that brings me to my next point: there seems to be areas of development depending on what you look for and aim for that may arise independently, and not everything seems to come as a package necessarily. Those things are what I looked for really hard for about 7 years, and that is what I found. Now I find that the interest in the unraveling of what drives that residual affect is arising, and so that investigation happens on its own also.

Perhaps people will find this helpful in some way.”


"Well, these debates go on and on and on.

A few simple points:

I still very much recommend my criteria as helpfully posted above. They have merit and value, and achieving those really shifts reality to something much better, having myself tried the before and after, I can tell you that from my point of view there is nothing more important that I achieved and attained than the total elimination of all sense of doer, watcher, controller, center point, observer, etc. True and total elimination of duality was a massive step up from the near total elimination of it: no comparison at all. It is hard to imagine that anyone else wouldn't value it the same way I do, but then tastes differ.

There are many axes of development: insight, concentration (and it has many axes within it), morality (an endless festival of axes to develop, including emotional and psychological health). Insight stands alone in that it is all basically towards one goal, and that goal does transform the relationship to all of the rest of it in ways that provide global improvement at the core sensate and paradigmatic levels of intrinsic processing. The rest are all also important, but nothing does what that does.

I really appreciate the chapter in Chögyam Trungpa's Journey Without Goal about the Five Buddha Families. This is a video of that chapter by the crazy old dead perverted but helpful genius himself: The Five Buddha Families

His embracing of the wide range of experience in all its human glory is so valuable, and that helped empower me to really take on everything that was going on in my experience. I still must warn against the limited emotional range models and what they can do to practice: beware becoming like those who follow those: so many complexities occur.

Is my emotional life transformed by my insights? Vastly transformed, no question.

Do I still manifest all the standard emotions: definitely, and some even more strongly than I did before.

Is there vastly less suffering in them as a result of their happening totally on their own just like qualities of space? Absolutely.

Is this anything like the disconnect feared by a poster above? Not in the least: there is no disconnection, because there is no longer any imagined thing to be disconnected.

The field lights up itself totally, without division, without restraint, without any barrier or gap, so disconnection is impossible. Does really honestly feeling what is going on help with emotional transformation more than models that imply that we shouldn't feel what we are feeling? I definitely think so.

Would I trade this for anything? Maybe world peace, but I would have to think about it. Until then, this totally rocks, and missing out on it would be barking crazy from my point of view.

Best wishes, and practice well,


John Tan Purpose of one hand clapping koan is not for the realization of conditionality.
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Alejandro Serrano
Alejandro Serrano Yeah well, it also reveals clapping sound does not rise with a clapping hand. Pretty conditioned.
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Yacine Haffar
Yacine Haffar Please do tell us more John :)
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John Tan
John Tan Yacine, conditionality is crucial but more about a specific taste of suchness. Here "suchness" means ur mind itself.

We can say duality and non-duality r too conditionality but the aim is more abt the direct taste of "mind" itself, when experienced
as dual, what is it.

When experienced as non-dual how is it directly.

Means how this taste is like when in dual, in non-dual or in oneness.

Of course we can say it is to point out "conditionality and mind" but it is more abt the immediate mind itself.

Directing one to see the relationship of "externality of things" and "internal mind" and express not the "logic" but the "taste" of it.
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Alejandro Serrano
Alejandro Serrano John Tan yes. But I’m interested in knowing how do we get these tastes, and more precisely, putting it into words. Perhaps this inquiry isn’t very zen. Or maybe it is even though we get too wordy. Yet being wordy has indeed led me to the open heart. ...See More
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John LM Tan
John LM Tan Alejandro, I would separate non-arisen and emptiness from the luminosity. Imo, it's a separate pointing. The one hand clapping here directly points to the luminosity.

What is the way that leads the practitioner to “the direct taste”? In zen, koan
is the technique and the way.

The one hand clapping koan is the instrument that leads one to directly and intuitively authenticate presence = sound.

Let’s use another koan for example, “Before birth who am I?”, this is similar to just asking “Who am I”. The “Before birth” here is to skilfully lead the thinking mind to penetrate to the limit of its own depth and suddenly completely cease and rest, leaving only I-I. Only this I as pure existence itself. Before birth, this I. After birth, this I. This life or 10 thousand lives before, this I. 10 thousand lives after, still this I. The direct encounter of the I-I.

Similarly the koan of the sound of one hand clapping, is to lead the practitioner after initial break-through into I-I not to get stuck in dead water and attached to the Absolute. To direct practitioner to see the ten thousand faces of presence face to face. In this case, it is that “Sound” of one hand clapping.

Whether one hand claps or before both hands clap, what is that sound? It attempts to lead the practitioner into just that “Sound”. All along there is only one hand clapping, two hands (duality) are not needed. It is quite similar to contemplating "in hearing always only sound, no hearer".

As for the empty and non-arisen nature of that Sound, zen koans have not (imo) been able to effectively point to the non-arisen and emptiness of one’s radiance clarity.
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What is the sound of one hand clapping?

“Q: Subject and object are nondual?

KW: You know the Zen koan, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Usually, of course, we need two hands to clap--and that is the structure of typical experience. We have a sense of ourselves as a subject in here, and the world as an object out there. We have these "two hands" of experience, the subject and the object. And typical experience is a smashing of these two hands together to make a commotion, a sound. The object out there smashes into me as a subject, and I have an experience--the two hands clap together and experience emerges.

And so the typical structure of experience is like a punch in the face. The ordinary self is the battered self--it is utterly battered by the universe "out there." The ordinary self is a series of bruises, of scars, the results of these two hands of experience smashing together. This bruising is called "duhkha," suffering. As Krishnamurti used to say, in that gap between the subject and the object lies the entire misery of humankind.

But with the nondual state, suddenly there are not two hands. Suddenly, the subject and the object are one hand. Suddenly, there is nothing outside of you to smash into you, bruise you, torment you.
Suddenly, you do not have an experience, you are every experience that arises, and so you are instantly released into all space: you and the entire Kosmos are one hand, one experience, one display, one gesture of great perfection. There is nothing outside of you that you can want, or desire, or seek, or grasp--your soul expands to the corners of the universe and embraces all with infinite delight. You are utterly Full, utterly Saturated, so full and saturated that the bound- aries to the Kosmos completely explode and leave you without date or duration, time or location, awash in an ocean of infinite care. You are released into the All, as the All--you are the self-seen radiant Kosmos, you are the universe of One Taste, and the taste is utterly infinite.

So what is the sound of that one hand clapping? What is the taste of that One Taste? When there is nothing outside of you that can hit you, hurt you, push you, pull you--what is the sound of that one hand clapping?

See the sunlight on the mountains? Feel the cool breeze? What is not utterly obvious? Who is not already enlightened? As a Zen Master put it, "When I heard the sound of the bell ringing, there was no I, and no bell, just the ringing." There is no twiceness, no twoness, in immediate experience! No inside and no outside, no subject and no object--just immediate awareness itself, the sound of one hand clapping.

So you are not in here, on this side of a transparent window, looking at the Kosmos out there. The transparent window has shattered, your bodymind drops, you are free of that confinement forever, you are no longer "behind your face" looking at the Kosmos--you simply are the Kosmos. You are all that. Which is precisely why you can swallow the Kosmos and span the centuries, and nothing moves at all. The sound of this one hand clapping is the sound the Big Bang made. It is the sound of supernovas exploding in space. It is the sound of the robin singing. It is the sound of a waterfall on a crystal-clear day. It is the sound of the entire manifest universe--and you are that sound.

Which is why your Original Face is not in here. It is the sheerest Emptiness or transparency of this shimmering display. If the Kosmos is arising, you are that. If nothing arises, you are that. In either case, you are that. In either case, you are not in here. The window has shattered. The gap between the subject and object is gone. There is no twiceness, no twoness, to be found anywhere--the world is never given to you twice, but always only once--and you are that. You are that One Taste.

This state is not something you can bring about. This nondual state, this state of One Taste, is the very nature of every experience before you slice it up. This One Taste is not some experience you bring about through effort; rather, it is the actual condition of all experience before you do anything to it. This uncontrived state is prior to effort, prior to grasping, prior to avoiding. It is the real world before you do anything to it, including the effort to "see it non-dually."

So you don't have to do something special to awareness or to experience in order to make it nondual. It starts out nondual, its very nature is nondual--prior to any grasping, any effort, any contrivance. If effort arises, fine; if effort doesn't arise, fine; in either case, there is only the immediacy of One Taste, prior to effort and non-effort alike.

So this is definitely not a state that is hard to get into, but rather one that is impossible to avoid. It has always been so. There has never been a moment when you did not experience One Taste--it is the only constant in the entire Kosmos, it is the only reality in all of reality. In a million billion years, there has never been a single second that you weren't aware of this Taste; there has never been a single second where it wasn't directly in your Original Face like a blast of arctic air.

Of course, we have often lied to ourselves about this, we have often been untruthful about this, the universe of One Taste, the primordial sound of one hand clapping, our own Original Face. And the nondual traditions aim, not to bring about this state, because that is impossible, but simply to point it out to you so that you can no longer ignore it, no longer lie to yourself about who you really are.

Q: So this nondual state--does this include the duality of mind and body, of Left and Right?

KW: Yes. The primordial state is prior to, but not other to, the entire world of dualistic Form. So in that primordial state there is no subject and object, no interior and exterior, no Left and no Right. All of those dualities continue to arise, but they are relative truths, not absolute or primordial truth itself. The primordial truth is the ringing; the relative truth is the "I" and the "bell," the mind and the body, the subject and the object. They have a certain relative reality, but they are not, as Eckhart would say, the final word.

And therefore the dilemmas inherent in those relative dualisms cannot be solved on the relative plane itself. Nothing you can do to the "I" or the "bell" will make them one; you can only relax into the prior ringing, the immediacy of experience itself, at which point the dilemma does not arise. It is not solved, it is dissolved--and not by reducing the subject to the object, or the object to the subject, but by recognizing the primordial ground of which each is a partial reflection.

Which is why the dilemmas inherent in those dualisms--between mind and body, mind and brain, consciousness and form, mind and nature, subject and object, Left and Right--cannot be solved on the relative plane--which is why that problem has never been solved by conventional philosophy. The problem is not solved, but rather dis- solved, in the primordial state, which otherwise leaves the dualisms just as they are, possessing a certain conventional or relative reality, real enough in their own domains, not but absolute.”

Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything. Chapter 13.
Shared by André A. Pais

T h e M e t a c h r o n a l U n i v e r s e
Waves in the ocean don't move or travel in the ocean; instead, the ocean itself ondulates,
giving the sense that a wave is cruising it. However, the water is not traveling anywhere; the
water composing a wave is new at every millimeter traversed. So there is no water moving, just the illusory appearance of movement. It is much like the audience-wave (sometimes referred
to as “Mexican wave”) we see in sport events. There is no wave running around the stadium,
only people moving up and down while remaining in the same seat. Likewise, in the ocean the
water moves up and down in a way that creates the appearance of a moving wave when, in
fact, the water remains in the same place.
In a dream, we may imagine a car traveling down a road. However, such car doesn't remain
unitary, consistent or simply “the same” while driving down the dream road; there is no actual
car sliding or moving in the mind's surface. What happens is that the dreaming mind reshapes
itself as to give rise to the appearance of a moving car, despite the fact that no car, or mind, is
going anywhere – like the audience-wave.
In “real” life, in the waking state, the same happens. Objects don’t travel in space, like space
was made of some substance different from that of the objects appearing in it. Space itself
acquires or manifests the properties of the objects “moving” in it. So, there are no objects
moving in space, but only space arising or manifesting as the objects that apparently move in
it. But there are no objects in space, only the space itself – which is then merely another name
for existence.
Space itself is just another phenomenon, like any other, despite being quite subtle. However, it
too must be a functional thing – it cannot be either non-existent, or dysfunctional. So, to be
existent and functional, space must share the nature of all other phenomena, namely
emptiness, consciousness and information.
A car, when moving, does not retain its characteristics while traversing space. In fact, it is the
car’s characteristics that are transferred through space, much like sound waves travel in the air
before hitting our ear drums. For instance, when we walk through a room, we feel that our
constituents move from one place to the other, like the same entity or structure was moved
from one place to another. However, such entity or structure does not move at all. It is merely the information of said object that is transferred through space, recreating its shape and
function at each point of space and time.
We can also picture a tornado. There is nothing substantial moving as the tornado – there is
only wind. In addition, we could even say that the air itself is not moving – like the water in the
waving ocean. What is being transferred from one place to another is the information or
energy of the tornado, that, as it moves, excites the particles of air at every new location,
making it seem that the tornado, as a whole, has moved there.
It was said that an object does not move across the room, nor its constituents, but only its
information. In a way, this is merely a play with words, since there is no entity that possesses its
information. The information is the entity. What this metachronal view is highlighting is the
utter absence of a coherent, intrinsically existing whole, replacing it with the existence of a
merely conventional and functional agglomeration of interdependent data.
As I move across the street, “I” am not the same entity that started walking moments ago. What
happens is that “my” data, throughout the traversed space, keeps its informational consistency,
giving rise to the same appearance as before. Appearances – objects, people, thoughts,
emotions, cities, galaxies, etc. – are nothing other than coherently traveling information,
streams of data that act consistently according to their programming. The universe is only
cause-and-effectarising as informational patterns.
The sense of self is nothing other than an attempt at solidifying and personalizing what is just a
stream of impersonal information interacting in a universe of purely empty, conscious and
responsive data.
Why can’t objects merely move in space, like we are usually accustomed to believe? That
would imply that space itself was not an informational entity, since it would remain oblivious
to the passage of objects through it, assuming that space existed in a somewhat parallel reality, indifferent to its objects. However, everything that exists must be an informational, conscious
phenomenon – and that must include even space. Space is nothing but a very subtle type of
existent – one of the finer types of conscious phenomena.
Previously, in the section about Staticity11, an example was given about a particle floating in
the far reaches of space, as a possible instance of independent existence. In such an isolated
scenario, it was, however, said that even such a particle must constantly communicate with the
embracing space as to be able of functioning with it – which in this case is mere floating. What
is being affirmed now is that such communication implies the interpenetration of both
phenomena – space and particle, in this instance. Therefore, any objective and truly
established distinction between such interacting phenomena – or any other – is always a
merely conventional measurement, not any ultimate or essentially existing difference.
Ultimately, space is indistinguishable from the particle and vice-versa. Any truly dividing line,
in order to separate two existents, would have to be made of non-existence. Said hypothesis is,
however, untenable.
Space and phenomena are ultimately indistinguishable, which means that there is no space
and phenomena, but only either space or phenomena. So, there are no phenomena travelling
in space. We can either posit it as space reshaping itself as phenomena; or phenomena
interpenetrating each other – space being nothing but a label attributed to the natural
movement of transient existence.
The gist of this view is that there are no discrete and separate entities or objects moving
around, but merely a web of interpenetrating streams of information, data or consciousness,
creating the appearance of moving entities, objects and overall activity – a luminous display of
holographic and empty existence. This applies to very simple actions, like merely raising a
hand or the blinking of an eye.

Many years ago I wrote to Tony Parsons (the Neo Advaita teacher) as I was curious about what his view on Awareness was. It became clear that he is clearly speaking from the insight of “no mirror reflecting”. On this point I think he is clearer than many teachers, be it non-Buddhist or Buddhist ones, that speak of a changeless awareness underlying or being inseparable from manifestations.  Was reminded of him after a discussiong with Thusness as Tony too wrote “All appearance is source.”

His email to me:

Dear Wei Yu

Thank you for your interesting email and I feel it is better if we speak together.

Please therefore give me a phone number and a good time to call you.

In the meantime, since we are using words to point to the unknowable, perhaps we need to be clear about what some words and ideas mean to us.

From this "perspective" consciousness is a function of knowing or awareness which only arises in the deluded story of me and has no meaning or relevance.

Therefore all of the Norquist ideas about consciousness are still dualistic . . . there is no before, in or after manifestation, nor is there a "feeling of existence", nor does manifestation arise from consciousness, live and then return.

What is your meaning for substratum? What is your vivid reflection? How can there be what you call "non-dual awareness".

For here there is no union, container, or mirror.

best wishes

(r) "Because (followers of anuyoga) do not understand that the phenomena of the universe, however they appear, are the Source, just-that-ness, they see space and wisdom (respectively as) cause and effect. Because they affirm the cause and deny the effect, (they have) obstacles until (they develop) confidence in (dzogchen) that transcends both affirmation and negation."

"Followers of anuyoga do not understand that all phenomena of the universe, however they appear, are the state of Pure Perfect Presence, the Source, just-that-ness. They see a duality of cause and effect, in which the two aspects -- the emptiness of space and the luminosity of wisdom -- are, respectively, earlier cause and later effect. They affirm the production of the effect from the cause, but deny the dependence of the cause upon the effect. They do not understand that all phenomena are the essence of self-originated wisdom, which primordially transcends arising, ceasing, accepting, and rejecting based upon cause and effect. Thus they have the obstacle of not understanding the authentic state, the real condition, until they correctly acquire confidence in the fundamental principle of ati dzogchen that transcends both affirmation and negation."

- Ornament of the State of Samantabhadra: Commentary on the All-Creating King, Pure Perfect Presence, Great Perfection of All Phenomena

(The text is translated by Jim Valby, chapter 1-10, second edition: https://sites.google.com/site/jimvalbythings/)


A discussion based on the above sharing:

RC: There is no where to go and no experience that requires correcting.

I don't follow the distinction that is being made in the sentence "they affirm the production of the effect from the cause but deny the dependence of the cause on the effect"

Soh Wei Yu (Me): If you have some notion that there is a space behind phenomena out of which phenomena is later created, that is dualism. All phenomena are one's own state, one's own essence, nature and energy.

The notion of true origination is erroneous. For example, there is no such thing as sunlight truly created by the sun as the sun is designated in dependence on sunlight, it's not that sun precedes sunlight. Sun has no sun-essence apart from shining and shining has no essence of its own apart from sun. Father is also designated in dependence on the son, the cause does not truly precede its effects. If you think the father could exist without the son, then you are affirming the producer of the effect independently of the effect. In truth, the son, the love for the son 'actualizes' the father. Both are merely designated in dependence without any independent reality. In truth, sunlight/manifestation is non-originated, non-arising. There is no that which produces and that which is produced when both are merely/dependently designated.

Stian: Nice pointing, thanks. I got a sense of it.

RC: Richard Cooper So we are saying that concepts rely on one another to create the perception of a universe/the world we experience.
That there is perception going on seems to be a bit of a sticking point for me. The emptiness of "external" phenomena seems a lot more obvious.

Soh Wei Yu (Me): Yes, the concepts of inherently existing entities/realities, cause and effect (one that could precede another), and so forth.

Perception already has loaded connotations with it, as it implies a perceiver and a perceiving. Same in fact for the term "awareness" if understood incorrectly. But these terms are not an issue as long as you understand that perception has no self-existence apart from perceiving/perceiver and perceiver/perceiving has no self-existence apart from perception, they are all merely designated in dependence but does not refer to some independent or inherently existing reality.

As for the non-referential "basis" or "ground" which you may call "perception", perhaps a better word would be "presence" or better yet "presencing". Whatever is vividly appearing is simply "presencing". "all phenomena of the universe, however they appear, are the state of Pure Perfect Presence"

There is no denial of that direct experience of Presence. It's just whether it's understood properly

If we talk about pure perfect presence as the source, it's very easy to fall into an ontological notion of creator-creation dualism. And this is the reason for the clarification above regarding cause and effect.

RC: I don't think it is basis/ground I am speaking about it is the illusion of perception and perceiver. I see it/it falls sometimes when I do chi gung/tai chi. But generally it stands and any attempt to investigate seems to involve perception/perceiver ( the very thing I am trying to investigate)

Stian: What about this, RC:

Things arise dependent on conditions, and they remain dependent on their conditions. When things are cut off from their conditions, that is called cessation.

The thing to notice here is that since it is like this, arising can’t be a matter of first being given rise to and then being cut off from conditions and from then on abiding cut off from its conditions (i.e. ex-isting).

Hence we don’t get free-standing things (free from its conditions) having arisen and now abiding cut off from their conditions for arising.

We can’t cut off the sun from the means by which we know it (for example its rays), and then conceive of the sun standing apart from our means to know it (rays, warmth, etc.). If we did, that would be tantamount to the cessation of the sun, since it would have been cut off from its conditions. Hence, the sun giving rise to its rays, like cause and effect, would be tantamount to the cessation of the sun!

Soh Wei Yu (Me): "the illusion of perception and perceiver. I see it/it falls sometimes when I do chi gung/tai chi."

Bahiya Sutta worked for me, also the two stanzas of anatta may be helpful.




RC: Stian. It isn't clear to me whether you are speaking about externally existing objects or our experience.

Stian: Soh wrote this:

> For example, there is no such thing as sunlight truly created by the sun as the sun is designated in dependence on sunlight, it's not that sun precedes sunlight.
> Father is also designated in dependence on the son, the cause does not truly precede its effects.

This whole “this does not precede that”-business applies to “externally existing objects” and “our experience”. We can boil down this “externally existing objects vs. our experience” into a consideration of each in turn being the cause and the effect.

So first we take externally existing objects and we ask if that is the cause and that our experience is the effect.

Try to consider this by reading the analogies that Soh mentioned of the sun/rays and father/son and reading my comment again.

Then we take our experience and we ask if that is the cause and that externally existing objects is the effect. Same procedure.

If you do this, what do you make of it?

Yacine: You guys mighy enjoy chapter IV A)e) page 38 of APM by Gendlin:


John Tan: A very interesting book, Yacine.

SGH: Written by a very interesting person! 

John Tan: Yes. I bought the book. Well written and very insightful.

Jared K Jones‎ shared in Dharma Connection:

Photo: Guru Rinpoche's palm print in solid rock, a demonstration for a private group of students that phenomena are empty of inherent existence and do not exist separate from mind.

There are only two branches to the teachings: emptiness and method. The Buddha taught all other teachings - all methods - in order to illuminate or to point-out the emptiness of all phenomena.

Emptiness is the prajna, the wisdom, the special insight, and the valid perception which eliminates the root of suffering, which is ignorance. Everything else within Buddhist philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, cosmology, and psychology flows out of the question: "Empty of what?"

Emptiness is revealed or recognized using a number of philosophical systems and types of analysis. This seems to be where many people's confusion arises. Within Buddhism, there are - at least - four major philosophical positions with different ideas on both the conventional and ultimate nature of reality. Within those four we find, maybe 20-30 interpretations and hundreds of methods of practice.

In other words, there is no final agreement between all Buddhists on what the Buddha meant when he said, "It's empty." This - in part - is due to the fact that (arguably) the Buddha meant different things on different occasions when speaking about emptiness. That being said, scholars and cave-dwelling yogis from the last 2,500 years of Buddhist thought have mostly identified with and fallen into these four major schools of thought with regards to emptiness:

1. Sautrantika. Conventional means things arise, exist, and cease based upon a huge set of causes and conditions. Things are composed of various parts, upon which basis they arise and exist. The "ultimate" means there is no static self to the person and sometimes also, no static self to material phenomena.

Phenomena are self-arising and have self established characteristics - including impermanence - but there is no static, unchanging self to the person. This includes most of the "Orthodox" modern Theravada schools, but the modern Theravada is a very diverse tradition.

2. Chittamatra or Yogacara. This school literally translates as "mind-only" and includes most Zen, Chan, and Seon Buddhist schools. It also includes a number of Tibetan Buddhist lineages. The conventional level is one composed of the appearances mind itself creates, and ultimate level is the mind-appearance inseparability.

The appearances are mind. The mind is also the mind, so reality is mind-only. The conventional reality exists as a "non-dual" or a "not-two" appearance of mind itself. The mind is real and self-established, but there is no "self-established person" who is unchanging. There is only the "non-dual all-there-is." This view places "awareness, mind, consciousness, or knowingness" at the center of training.

3. Madhyamika-Svatantrika. In this school, the Ultimate means a lack of “true existence” beyond mental designation. Things do posses properties, characteristics, distinctive features, and so on, but have no essence or identity which makes them what they are. Phenomena exist as mere valid mental construction, imputed upon self-existent or self-arising characteristics.

4. Madhyamika-Prasangika. The conventional is mere designation by mind onto a valid basis of designation. The ultimate is full emptiness (a full lack of characterization) of all phenomena. All phenomena lack relationships, identity, structure, characteristics, properties, and an essence.

When the mind draws boundary conditions such as "this and that have a relationship" on a valid basis of designation, then it exists and functions as such. But, from the side of undesignated or unconstructed ultimate reality, it is utterly devoid of self-borne identities, characteristics, relationships, and so on.

Nagarjuna, "I pay homage to dependent origination which is not ceasing, not arising, not impermanent, not permanent, not coming, not going, not identical, and not different, free from [mental] fabrication, and peaceful." The ultimate level is utterly free from existence, non-existence, both, or neither, which are all merely validly and invalidly socially constructed designations.

In Tantra, Dzogchen, and Mahamudra, they then point out that the awareness or knowingness aspect of experience is inseparable from the emptiness aspect in the ground condition: clear light, rigpa, or bliss-emptiness. But these terms are attempting to point-out a state without any boundary conditions, reference-points, parts, and so on.

There is no agent, no action, and no object acted upon. There is no subject, no object, and no inseparability or non-duality of the two. There is also no utter non-existence, nihilism, or nothingness.

This all perhaps brings up the question: "What is dependent origination? Doesn't it mean parts-whole or cause-effect? What is this dependent designation?" Dependent designation finds its bones in Sutra, it's organs in Nagarjuna, it's nerves and blood vessels in Dignaga, Dharmakirti, and Chandrakiriti, and it's skin and clothing in the writings of Tibetan yogis like Tsongkhapa and Ju Mipham. It means: "application of a term, name, symbol, sign, or denotation to a valid basis of designation."

This process of mental designation onto a valid basis is, from the Prasangika perspective, the only way in which phenomena exist. Emptiness in Prasangika does not mean “arises from causes” and does not mean “has parts.” Those two definitions of “dependent arising” do not pervade all phenomena. Only “merely designated” pervades all phenomena.

The parts and whole are merely designated. The cause and effect are merely designated. The subject and object are merely designated. Mind is merely designated. Space is merely designated. Time and impermanence are merely designed. Atemporality and permanence are merely designated. Emptiness is merely designated.

The confusion arises here because the first two types of analysis (parts-whole and cause-effect) are used as a skillful means to help move someone out of seeing things as inherent: “It has causes, so it is not self-established.” Or “It has parts, so it is not self established.” But in the end, you are still clinging to real parts or a real nexus of causes in Sautrantika.

If you are still clinging to real “parts out there” and a real “causal web that brings things into existence.” You are not perfectly free of mental fabrication. As Dogen says, “causes do not happen before effects, effects do not happen after causes.” When the effect is designated, the causal nexus occurs simultaneously as merely designated. The "causal nexus" is merely a valid and functional mental construct, which has no objective existence.

Similarly, when the whole is designated, the parts occur simultaneously as merely designated. When an object is designated, then the subject occurs simultaneously. If you are clinging to a real “mind-only” which exists in and of itself through a quality of giving rise to and knowing phenomena, then you are clinging to mind, in Chittamatra.

When anything is existing or not existing, it is only on the basis of mere designation onto a valid basis of designation. Therefore, phenomena do not objectively, intrinsically, or inherently exists, not exist, both exist and not exist, or neither exist and not-exist. There are no self-borne characteristics like in Bhavaviveka’s Svatantrika.

Things are not one, not many, not both, and not neither. That is the meaning of Prasangika emptiness: uncharacterized, referenceless, and without fabrication.

The "valid basis of designation" is a long discussion, but it has no self borne structure, characteristic marks, identity, causal web, etc. According to Dignaga and Dharmakirti it is the ineffable, undifferentiated ground that is designated. Because of this, form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. There is no distinction.

What appears already lacks inherent identity. If it occurs, then it's a mental designation. If it doesn't occur, then it's a mental designation. It was always empty. Therefore, the gate is gateless. There is no attainment and no non-attainment. There is no "person" to "gain realization," about how things already are. The ground condition is without reference points of existence and non-existence: that is your "buddha-nature" and "your face before you were born."

For example, there arises an ineffable, unconstructed ground condition, which can be divided into subject-object, and then the objective aspect can be further divided into a house, a kitchen, a body, and coffee cup. When the cup is there, the nexus of causes that brought the cup into being is also there. But both are only social agreement, confirmed through my ability to use the object within the social parameters associated with the term “cup.”

(sips coffee)

But when investigated, no aspect of the occurrence from top-to-bottom, left-to-right, front-to-back, inside-to-outside, and mind-to-matter can be found existing beyond a mere mental label. The rest of the Buddhist path - all methods - flow from this understanding.

J: http://actualfreedom.com.au/…/ar…/thismomentofbeingalive.htm

Me: Focus on the insight of anatta in the two stanzas*. The rest will follow. The pce (pure consciousness experience) is an effortless everyday experience for me. Even now sitting at a food court waiting for food everything is experienced as vivid luminous aliveness - sights-sounds-smells, without self/Self.

Even after a tiring day at work, the gapless vivid luminosity simply does not “turn off”. It is not the result of effort but a natural ongoing actualising of insight.

By over-emphasising on the experience, the AF fail to bring out the key that makes PCE effortless.

J: Effortlessness is a key element in my practice. Thank you for confirming.

Me: It’s really about letting insight sink in. When the insight sinks in you cannot “turn it off” even if you want to. Until then, effort cannot help but arise. Contemplating to let insight arise is important.

There has to be realization that the stuff of transience is the very radiance of Awareness and the very radiance of Awareness is none other than the stuff of transience.

(There are some good articles in the AFT website, but it's not necessary to become a hardcore follower of their doctrines or dogmas)

* two stanzas of anatta: http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com/2009/03/on-anatta-emptiness-and-spontaneous.html