Sunday, June 28, 2009


The great sage Krishnamurti said that between subject and object lies the suffering of all humanity. Subject and object is dualism. Dualism means that you believe there is a subject, you and your awareness, and separate objects, everything you experience through your senses. Though it sounds absurd to you, that is merely a perspective and a limited one at that. Actually, everything you see or hear or experience, and ever will see, hear, or experience, are objects arising in your awareness and your awareness and that object are not two but one. Everything that makes that object what it is, that you experience, everything, is your awareness. Your awareness and everything we consider to make an object what it is are one and the same. It does not mean however that when you are not aware of an object, like a tree for example, it somehow blips out of existence. It is still there but its true nature is simply beyond our understanding. Its color, taste, feel, smell, sound, or apparent nature, everything you believe that makes it that tree, arises solely in your mind. There is no color, taste, feel, smell or sound without a corresponding mind. So its apparent nature, what makes it that object in our mind, is our mind. So in a very real sense, your awareness and any object are one. In fact the awareness of all beings and all objects in the universe are one. To ignore this and believe there is two, subject and object, is dualism.

Sound counter intuitive, even ridiculous? Consider this example. When you dream, do you believe the objects and images in your dream are separate from you, somehow outside of you? Probably not. You will agree they are your images, a part of you, your own awareness. Your mind is not tapping into some separate dream projection center located elsewhere. Why then is it so difficult for you to accept the same process in your waking state? Because, you may argue, you initiate and generate dream images. Waking images are initiated by and reflect objects and events separate from you. It may be true that the objects in your waking awareness are initiated by objects separate from you but everything they are, everything that will ever be accessable to you are created in your sensory awareness, no different than dream images. Sight, sound, smell, taste, and feeling, everything that any object is, is created by you, is your awareness, is the awareness of any living being, is not two but one. Nothing that you have ever experienced exists outside of your sensory awareness. This is not to say that the object itself, does not exist separate from you. But its true nature is beyond our understanding. Its appearance, sound, smell, taste, and tactile feel, in fact everything that makes it an object, is you, is your awareness, exactly as you do in the dream state.

So what, some may argue. So our awareness is like a mirror, reflecting and amplifying and interpreting the qualities already existing independently in all objects. Our sensory facilities reproduce internally what is already there outside of us, like a video recorder and player. Unfortunately, that does not hold up to inquiry. That perspective presumes that there there is one fixed state of all objects and living beings perceive it with their senses. But any scientist can tell you, begrudgingly perhaps, that it is all relative. There are immense differences in sensory perception among life forms, even among people. no one perception is more or less valid than another. Take vision for example. We "see" only a narrow band of light waves. There are far more frequencies out there many of which may be visible to different sets of eyes. So in regards to vision, and all the senses, all the qualities that make an object an object, are the products of your awareness and there is no fixed, locked in master version existing "out there". It is all "in here". "Out there" and "in here" are really the same thing. It is all you, your awareness. There is not one fixed state of all objects. All objects and all awareness are not two, but one.

The relevance of this, a non dualistic perspective, is that any notion of a separate self at odds with the universe should come tumbling down. Your awareness and the awareness of all beings defines the universe. That is why one great scientist and physicist said that the more we learn about the true nature of the universe, it is less like a thing and more like a thought. So rather than limiting yourself to a small self in a vulnerable bag of skin and bones and all the problems that come with that, recognize that what you really are, your awareness, is universal. And if you do, your view of your own life will expand immeasurably.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Take a look at the June 14, 2009 posting "What Does No Self Mean" where we initially discuss emptiness. An explanation of emptiness could easily fill a book or a series of books but there are more succinct explanations which is what Contemporary Enlightenment is all about.

Many people believe emptiness means void or even, the void, a place or status or mind state where there is nothing, empty of all form and substance. Many seek that state in meditation. Others believe it means empty of a separate status or self so that all things are connected and many gain comfort from that realization. Although not incorrect, such definitions are woefully incomplete. Emptiness is far more than that.

Emptiness is not a state or thing or process or condition or even the absence of states or things or processes. It is a term used to reference everything that is, attempting to break free of the mind's love of duality, or subject and object, and relative terminology. Trying to explain it then precisely in those same dualistic, relative terms, which is how our minds have been trained to process, can be maddening! But lets try at least an introduction.

I think it is best to back into an explanation by using existing insights. Perhaps the most famous and, I believe, profound insight on emptiness is the Buddhist Heart Sutra which said in part "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form." This statement has been referenced endlessly through the ages, and for good reason, because in referencing form it attempts to break through the perspective of dualism which is the cause of the confusion.

I initially and simplistically referred to emptiness as the reflective ability of the universe in an earlier posting using a mirror as a metaphor. To communicate with you I must use some common reference, even a dualistic one. Referring for illustration purposes to the mirror as we did in the earlier posting, emptiness is not the object reflected on the surface or the surface itself. Empty in that the reflective ability has no qualities or substance or form itself whatsoever, yet it is simultaneously capable of manifesting or reflecting any object in the universe. Emptiness is the universal ability to manifest form, the reality in which all form arises and therefore is form. For example, if a universe consisted solely of reflected images in an individual mirror, emptiness is the term we use for the reflecting or manifesting ability of that mirror, whether no objects are present or all objects are present. The point of the Heart Sutra statement is that there is no duality here. Any images or objects and the universal reflecting or manifesting ability are one and the same and cannot be separated. Yet the dualistic perspective of our minds do separate them into subject and object, in this case a reflecting ability and the reflected image. The mind must be trained to reject that perspective because it is clearly erroneous. The image and the reflecting ability are one and the same. Note that we do not say identical because that word implies two. The sutra actually says form is "none other than" emptiness and emptiness in "none other than" form.

The consequences of this insight are nearly limitless. Emptiness is often used to reference the connection and inter dependence of every object in the universe. That is true as well but incomplete. The primary meaning is that all form arises in your awareness, in your consciousness, in the awareness and consciousness of all beings, in other words, your awareness is emptiness itself. Your awareness and consciousness, and that of all life, is like that reflective ability of the mirror. Although it sounds counter intuitive and, initially, even absurd, your awareness and consciousness and all objects and form, are one and the same. Because you think dualistically, you believe there is a subject, your consciousness (and almost certainly your mind and body), and separate objects or form. But as emptiness, they are one and the same. How then can you ever consider yourself a lonely separate self at odds with the universe?

That is why the sages will say, metaphorically you think, you and the clouds you see enveloping a stunning sunset are one. Poetic license you say but logically absurd. They are there, you are here, and however pretty they may be, always separate. And as long as you think that you are just your body and your mind and only the material is "real", that perspective is understandable. But if you instead understand that you are really your awareness and your consciousness and that you are really emptiness itself (and not that vulnerable bag of skin and bones), you will understand that your awareness is part of that universal reflective ability in which all form arises and that all form and that reflective ability, or emptiness, are one and the same.

But wait a minute you say. So I create all objects, they exist in my mind? No, of course not. That is not insight, that is narcissism. The qualia or "suchness" of any object, its form, is defined by, is one with, the awareness of it. That does not mean it does not exist in some sense. But the sages say its true nature is beyond our understanding. Our awareness and the awareness of all life colors or defines or manifests all objects and phenomenon. Our awareness and that color or definition are one and the same. And, very importantly, that goes for all objects and all form, even your own mind and body. And it is this last insight that fatally attacks dualism and must eventually be grasped. Because as long as you think you are your mind and body and all of this is the object, separate from you, and you are the observing subject, you just won't get it. Your perspective must change. From a material subject and object perspective, this will never work and although you may gain partial insights, the more you look the more irreconcilable logical holes you will see until it is rendered frustratingly unsupportable and you retreat comfortably back to duality grumbling about new age nonsense.

Remember, this is not about right or wrong, correct or incorrect. It is a bit like looking at an abstract painting from a purely classical perspective. It looks like jumbled, meaningless form. But take a course on modern art, and from this new perspective, you will begin to see. But I am not asking you to broaden your perspective to look at a single canvass. I am asking you to see the entire universe.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


No. If it could, the greatest philosophers, sages, scientists, authors and poets across the ages, in effect the greatest minds who have ever lived, would have already done so. There is no secret society here guarding a secret explanation known to only a few.

The problem here is not the complexity of the question or the answer. It is the perspective from which it is asked. From the perspective of subject and object, mind and body and every other dualistic, relativistic world view, the question is invalid and there can be no answer.

To put it simply, you cannot express in relative terms the non-relative. Put another way, how do you relate an awareness of a universal, integrated whole to something else? There is nothing else. The problem in asking the question then is your limited, relative perspective. When you learn to think differently, the question takes on a very different meaning.

There actually are however "simple" explanations to the question above that can provide brief glimpses. They are expressed experientially and not relatively or dualistically.

Read a good Zen poem. Four or five lines is all it usually takes. You will find your answer but only if you really understand your question.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


"No self", a frequently utilized term in spiritual inquiries, means that your consciousness, your awareness, your being is not fixed or static or even defined. It doesn't mean you are not aware or you don't exist. That would be absurd. It means that when you look at your own awareness deeply, usually in meditation or contemplation, you will see that it is flowing and impermanent, with countless thoughts, feelings and sensations arising and falling virtually every moment of your life, with nothing fixed or permanent, and if you look closely, NOTHING in between. The accumulation of those countless thoughts and feelings create a foundation, a familiarity, a base, a flow, a sensation of continuity that is what most people call the self or "I". And it feels natural and normal and familiar and unquestionable. Anything to the contrary seems counter intuitive, contrived, and even ridiculous. That is, until you have the initiative and drive to look more closely. I believe the very process of not looking deeply creates the illusion of the fixed self. When you finally do look deeply, it is all very different from the fragmented, repetitive thoughts and mental processes you use on auto pilot to get through the day.

Where the wonder lies is the quiet or empty space in between your thoughts and other mind objects whether feelings, emotions, background sensations or whatever. That space is very hard to describe, it is best experienced which can be done easily, although initially briefly. It is frequently called "emptiness". This term itself is very difficult and easily misunderstood and is a complex foundation for many spiritual inquiries. Emptiness is a paradox in that it means although your consciousness may be empty of thoughts or other mind objects when you find that quiet space, it is simultaneously full of potentially everything in the universe. It is the foundation of what you really are, like the reflective ability of a mirror, not the actual reflecting images and certainly not the polished surface. And that reflective ability is not a thing or even a process, it is a quality, it just is. And that is what you and your awareness are, not a thing, not a process, just the reflective or conscious ability of the universe. In the same way you would never say a mirror is the actual images reflected by it or the accumulation of those images, stop saying your self is the thoughts and mind objects arising and falling in your awareness or even their accumulation. You are not that. That is not self. "No self" means that you recognize that your real self is the ineffable, undefinable quality of being, the reflective or conscious quality of the universe, void or "empty" of any detail or substance, initially experienced as the brief quiet or empty spaces between thoughts. And it is infinitely more than that, you will discover, if you stay on the path to inquiry.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Contemporary Enlightenment is an evolving guide, a dialogue, perhaps even a map for the path to growth in consciousness and spirit expressed in contemporary, clear, pragmatic and direct terms. While we respect and treasure all that has come before, many of the traditions are founded on expressions reflecting social and cultural structures long since evolved and offering diminished relevancy to today's personal and social processes. In the dialogues we hope to present, our goal is to update and express in more culturally understandable 21st century terms the path to personal growth in consciousness and enlightenment.

This site is really for those serious about spiritual inquiries who have already pursued the path to some degree. My hope is to create an easily accessible web based reference or even hand book revisiting, updating, applying and integrating the seemingly endless expressions of spirit and growth in consciousness. I hope for a collective effort of other serious investigators who may share their insights and together experience a synergy in thought and insight. Many of the insights to be addressed could easily be the topics of entire books. That is not the goal. Instead we intend to address such issues directly and concisely using accessible, contemporary terminology and hopefully conclusions permitting the reader to pursue further insight and detail independently.

Most importantly, this is not a new age self help, stress reduction, egoic comfort, or disguised search for immortality site. Those familiar with the path to true growth in consciousness know or at least intuit the pain and perils of doing so and how ultimately, the goal is the true and not metaphoric death of the separate self. The goal is genuine transformation for those who are ready. There are countless other sites for those who are not.