Friday, November 5, 2010


In an earlier posting I discussed suffering as a focus of Buddhist practice. One need only refer to the Four Noble Truths as a foundational doctrine for practice. Yet there is another application of the concept of suffering to the development of insight and I believe it is more illuminating.

Ken Wilber explained in several of his works that as your insight develops and you move beyond the Witness, you begin to experience that the only thing that makes sense for you to do is to profoundly care about the suffering of others and help alleviate that suffering. You actually almost begin to tire of witnessing the endless display of mind objects and the insights accompanying them. There are only so many glorious sunsets, peak experiences, and profound glimpses of emptiness to move you, as odd as that may sound. instead, you find yourself developing a profound sense of compassion for others who "don't get it" and see them not as actors in their own roles but as a part of yourself, the big I, and almost feel the pain they are feeling. Your heart breaks for the suffering they are experiencing and you truly want to lessen that pain, and share your insights so that they too may grow beyond it.

This insight is far beyond mere human kindness. It is a measurement of your own experience of your true nature where you recognize how others suffer when they have forgotten or have never known their own. And you also experience in a very real sense, how in emptiness, their suffering is your own.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Enlightenment practice methods can be as diverse as the practitioners. But two principles seem to always apply.

Practice first to quiet the mind. That is essential. If your mind is busy with racing thoughts and emotions, it is unrealistic to expect any progress. This can be done through many methods including meditation, contemplation, chanting, and mindfully engaging in any activity or what is referred to as one pointed attention. What I advise you to be cautious about is engaging in any of these activities, especially meditation, for the purpose of achieving temporary heightened states of consciousness. These can be wonderful and compelling and even temporarily transforming but they are not enlightenment. They are ultimately mind objects like all else. Too many of us meditate to experience these states and then, sometimes smugly, declare ourselves at a higher level of consciousness. That, sadly, is merely boasting by the ego. Remember from the earlier postings, the goal is emptiness, that formless pure awareness, that is most closely experienced in deep dreamless sleep. Again, I call your attention to the earlier postings where these ideas are addressed in detail. Without an understanding of the vocabulary, this can all be easily misunderstood.

When the racing, distracted mind is finally restrained a bit, then practice throughout your day by constantly reminding yourself of the screen metaphor and see everything you experience, including your thoughts, as projections on your screen of awareness. Every object, person, thought, emotion, feeling, all arising on that screen, that stage of awareness. Some practitioners have used a video camera metaphor as if their life is being filmed and recorded. It sounds artificial, even silly to some, but it gently moves you toward what the Buddhists call the Witness, which really is what we are talking about. You begin to experience the realization that you are not just that mind and body that has consumed your awareness from your earliest moments. You start to truly feel that you are instead that formless awareness in which all objects, even your mind and body, are arising. This practice method begins to break our compulsion with subject and object. It allows you to step back and experience much needed detachment. Try it in everything you do. It can even be enjoyable.

Please also review my earlier posting where I describing the specific steps ton achieving insight. You should instantly see how the two practice methods above fuel that process.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


We have all heard the mystics and sages speak of the stages of being. It is often presented as gross, subtle, causal, non dual and One Taste. Gross is your ordinary waking state. Subtle is intense thought and dream states. Causal is often referred to as deep dreamless sleep. They will also say that the causal state of deep dreamless sleep is most like your true nature. How can that be? You are not aware of anything in dreamless sleep. Some would say you are unconscious, dead to the world.

But that is exactly the point. Why is a state where there is nothing, no mind objects whatsoever, not even self awareness not as valid or representative of you as when you are thinking or feeling or perceiving? A third of your life is spent in such a state. Surely you would not argue that you literally die when you fall into deep dreamless sleep and are suddenly reborn when you awaken.

Instead, such a state represents what you truly are before the infinite mind objects project themselves. This is the state like the metaphor of the screen. Where all the images of consciousness and awareness will be projected. You are not dead in dreamless sleep. You are instead your true nature, quiet and still now, but waiting to manifest the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, feelings and thoughts of the entire universe to be projected on your awareness. You are not those objects any more than a screen is what is projected upon it. You are the screen, quiet, immovable, and unaffected by the projection.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


We have all heard the mystics and sages say that our most difficult times can be our most productive in terms of spiritual growth and insight. Probably, most of us don't buy it and consider such advice as a rationalization meant only to soften the blow of whatever ails us. But if instead we were to express such advice in the more practical terms of Contemporary Enlightenment as defined in the preceding postings of this website, it may have a very different meaning.

Consider this for example. The Buddha did not select suffering as the foundation for his message because his sole purpose was to fix or cure the events causing suffering as we know it. He could have selected emptiness, selflessness, non-duality, conceptual thought and other approaches. He selected the emphasis on suffering as a foundation for his teachings because everyone suffers and everyone wants suffering to stop. And when you are suffering, you may be more focused and committed and open to whatever will make it stop. The suffering the Buddha spoke of was much broader than the pain of a disease or the loss of a loved one. He spoke in terms of the dissatisfaction and unhappiness of the human experience, however it manifests. The exact nature of the suffering and the events causing it do not matter.

He essentially said you suffer, whatever the cause, because you are not awake and do not understand your true nature. When you do finally understand it, it is not that the event at issue stops, but there simply is no suffering. Like all else, it is simply an illusion, with no effect whatsoever upon what you truly are. This is not esoteric dharma babble. It is a fact.

If you believe yourself only to be a body encompassing a mind that perceives through its senses and thinks through its brain, then anything that tears at that body or causes unpleasant thoughts will hurt you. But, as explained in the dozen or so prior postings, if you know yourself to be more, that your awareness is emptiness itself, the "screen" upon which the suchness of the universe arises, then pain, pleasure, thoughts, feelings, and everything else for that matter, are just objects, arising and falling in your awareness, images projected on the screen of awareness, never affecting or changing that screen.

But wait you say. When I am sick, I hurt. When a loved one dies, I suffer. Of course you do but which "you" are we talking about, which you are you really? If you are only that mind and body, you do indeed suffer. But if you know, truly know that your awareness is so much greater, is the very "reflective ability of the universe" itself (using a term from an earlier posting), that from which everything there is or can ever be arises, whatever you thought could hurt you cannot. It cannot hurt you because it arises within what your true nature truly is, an image, a projection on the screen of emptiness.

Why is this so hard to get, so hard to believe, so seemingly impractical yet so many of us believe in religious and spiritual imagery and mythology which is far more fantastic? Read the last two postings where this is addressed directly. It is precisely growing beyond these barriers that is the goal of spiritual growth and insight.

So when you hurt, just hurt. When you dance, just dance. When you see a child, just see her. When you suffer, let its unpleasantness remind you of what you truly are, let it awaken you and know that the suffering is just a mind object like everything else. And remember, that it cannot touch what you really are.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


This is one of the most direct and concise guides to the process of insight you will find anywhere. The great master and sage Ramana Maharshi in Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi said the following:

"...the disciple feels he is unable to realize the truth even after repeatedly hearing it. What is it due to? Impurities in his mind: ignorance, doubt, and wrong identity are the obstacles to be removed.
(a) To remove ignorance completely, he has to hear the truth repeatedly, until his knowledge of the subject matter becomes perfect;
(b) To remove doubts, he must reflect on what he has heard; ultimately his knowledge will be free from doubts of any kind;
(c) To remove the wrong identity of the Self with the non-self (such as the body, the mind, the senses, or the intellect) his mind must become one-pointed.

All these things accomplished, the obstacles are at an end and samadhi results, that is, Peace reigns."

It is the final step, wrong identity, that is the most difficult yet the most simple, that we simply choose not to be believe because of physicality, materiality, the senses, and thought and the conceptualizations and conditionings of a lifetime. Please see my prior posting a couple of weeks ago for more on this point.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


It is not. We just make it that way. You simply do not accept the simplicity and directness of it. When the sages tell us "you are already enlightened" or "there is nothing to seek, you are already there" we do not believe them. We have been conditioned to think through our cultural, societal, family and religious influences that spiritual growth and insight must be mystical and magical and dramatically transforming laced with iconic and intense imagery. That is wrong. It is ordinary. In fact, it can be nothing else but ordinary. But as long as you seek the drama, you will miss what simply is.

So what is it? Just this moment, and every one thereafter. The fact that you are aware, that the images of life are projected and actually co-created on your awareness like images on a screen. The screen, your awareness, unchanging, with an infinite stream of images dancing in and out of that awareness. The universe, observing, experiencing itself. But remember, not your mind or body or brain or anything physical or chemical or energy flow. We are talking about Emptiness itself, not the images on the screen or its surface, but its ability to project, to reflect, to be seen, to be known. That is what you are.

Your awareness is so much more than your body and mind but you insist on forcing them together, reducing universal awareness to mere sensory processes and internal dialogue and physicality. You reject, even scorn that you are Emptiness itself, part of a universal whole, yet interestingly you may well believe in religion and mysticism and all the mythic and fantastic visions and imagery that come with it. Why do so many of us believe in angels and demons and god figures and mystical experiences but find it far fetched to believe the simple fact that your true nature and state is Emptiness itself and that your puny body and mind are really illusions, fleeting dream images, just tools and vehicles to enjoy the ride.

Please read my earlier postings where I discuss the ideas supporting this insight.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


This web site is dedicated to commentary in contemporary terms on the fundamental vocabulary and terminology of spiritual practice, the development of insight, and enlightenment. The previous postings address the major concepts of emptiness, non-duality, impermanence and no self as well as others.

It may be helpful to explain in practical terms what the process of insight is and how it may actually occur in many people. Without an understanding of the process, the terminology we address may seem abstract and artificial. The following is the summary of one approach.

STEP ONE: You live your life normally experiencing, responding to and influenced by feelings, sensory input, thoughts, fantasies, emotions and all the things you do, see and feel. You see everything as either out there or in here. You live all of this and occasionally reflect on it briefly but usually superficially while engaged in other activities or thoughts.

STEP TWO: You begin to play much closer attention to all the things you do, see and feel. You begin to observe internally the fact that you are actually aware of all these things that make up your life. You begin to watch your experiences in detail. We call this mindfulness. The first step to insight. Watching each present moment of your life in increasing detail. In addition to this increased level of awareness, the practice of mindfulness calms the mind and usually leads to a feeling of greater balance. It is the first practice step of most spiritual approaches.

STEP THREE: After a period of mindfulness, your awareness shifts subtly from mindfulness, or paying much closer attention to your life, to a type of slight detachment to where you begin to observe or witness that these thoughts, emotions, feelings, and events you are paying closer attention to are actually arising instead of being lost in their content as you once were. In other words, if you are angry, you are not only mindful and much more aware of the feeling and experience of your anger, but you now also see it as a separate process you are experiencing. You are now subtly and simultaneously aware of not only the substance of everything you experience but also the fact that you are aware of it. You begin to witness the substance or content of your awareness and the fact that you are aware of it almost as as two separate events. You also begin to realize that your awareness is not a fixed continuing uniform entity but is instead made up of countless individual mind objects that are constantly rising and falling. One of the benefits of this is that you are less frequently lost in thoughts and emotions and are far more present. Distractions and internal drama consume you less frequently and for shorter durations.

STEP FOUR: You begin to expand your attention to the process of your awareness beyond witnessing merely its existence to actually inquiry and contemplation upon how it arises and what is its nature. You observe all its components and attending feelings and emotions and you dissect it. You have a strong realization that in between those constantly rising and falling mind objects is a deep and inexplicable sense of peace and openness. This as well as the earlier stage of Step Three above is called the beginning of the Witness. You are not only aware of the content and process of awareness as it is arising but you begin to become intensely curious upon how it does so. You begin to analyze, meditate and contemplate on the very process of your own awareness. In other words, the subject, you, becomes the object. You begin to truly feel the first steps of insight and a recognition that you are moving toward an understanding of your true nature instead of being lost in and limited to the thoughts, feelings and fantasies of your life before these insights. You feel your consciousness inexplicably expanding beyond thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensory input to include an as yet unknown but intuitively larger context that actually gives rise to awareness. You begin to feel occasional profound flashes of insight but they are short lived and even momentary and they usually quickly fade.

STEP FIVE: Much of what you now experience is done as the Witness and you have developed a more insightful and sophisticated perspective to witness your own process of awareness. Your understanding of the nature of your own being has substantially expanded and you are beginning to innately understand that you are much more than a separate mind and body. You have conceptually identified that larger context of awareness and sense of openness and peace experienced between your thoughts and at times in meditation as Emptiness. Most people are meditating heavily and working with a teacher or reading spiritual and practice texts intensely at this stage and grasping for a practical understanding of the commentaries and vocabulary. The enormity of the challenge begins to become clear. The message of the mystics and sages that all of this is in the realm of intuition and feeling and not logic and empirical investigation becomes abundantly clear as you frequently encounter logical dead ends and inconsistencies as you inquire and contemplate the texts and commentaries.

STEP SIX: You begin to wrestle with the concepts of non duality and emptiness. You are beginning to understand the writings portraying what you always thought as the real world as unreal and illusory. Your exclusive identification with all the subjects and objects of your life begin to break down and you begin instead to recognize and identify instead with the space or Emptiness in which they are all arising. You begin to almost passively witness everything that is arising and you actually rest in that awareness or Emptiness. You become acutely aware of the constant rising and falling of all phenomenon on the screen of your awareness.

STEP SEVEN: You realize that even your own sense of self, your mind and body arise in Emptiness as objects identical to everything else. Your ego and sense of self usually fight this realization, struggling to maintain the sense of separate self and raising doubt and skepticism upon the whole process of insight and awareness. You eventually work through these doubts and recognize that these too are simply mind objects rising and falling in Emptiness. Your sense of a separate unchanging self and all the drama, pain and suffering that comes with it is rapidly dissolving.

STEP EIGHT: Eventually, resting and observing in this Emptiness, the inexplicable occurs, the truth that cannot really be put into words. As Ken Wilber put it "the entire manifest world continues to arise just as it is, except that all subjects and objects have disappeared...every object is its own subject. Every event "sees itself" as it were, because I am now that event seeing itself...I am no longer on this side of my face looking at the world out there; I simply am the world...I am not in the universe. The universe is in my awareness." You are liberated in the non dual awareness which is called One Taste. The sense of peace and balance is simply indescribable.

The steps I have described above are highly condensed and are drawn from my own experiences, teachings, readings, contemplations, experiences described by others and other sources. The specifics of course vary greatly among practitioners. This is just one path. Obviously, much is omitted including the Buddhist practices of compassion and loving kindness, the paths of other schools of spirituality, as well as the many new insights being developed pursuant to integral theory and practice.

What remains so frustrating is that the ultimate insight developed above is profoundly simple yet ineffable. I believe the key is grasping Emptiness. It is so difficult because trying to explain it is probably logically impossible. In doing so, you are attempting to express in relative terms the non relative. That cannot be done. Plus, semantically, the actual term itself is not the best expression. Although I referenced this previously as being derived from the speculations of several famous physicists and philosophers, I also heard it expressed on a much more humble level by a practitioner who startled me with the clarity of her insight, especially after I had wrongly dismissed her. "Stop fighting it," she said. "It all becomes beautifully simple and all the contradictions go away if you see the universe more as a thought and not a thing. We call that thought process Emptiness."

Please read the earlier postings where I addressed emptiness, non duality, selflessness and other terms.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Yes they can but it is not easily understood. It is not logical. It has never been an issue of clarity of explanation or the skills of the speaker. The mystics and sages are not withholding anything from us. Even the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, renown for his gentle, non controversial and accommodating approach, referred to all of this as "the truth that cannot be described". This is very tough stuff because we are trying to use our minds to solve the very same problems the existing perspectives of our minds have created.

Let's try though. Short and sweet. This is, after all, one of the goals of Contemporary Enlightenment.

One of the great 20th century Buddhist teachers, when asked a similar question, supposedly laughed and said simply, "No self, no problem." And that was it. Get it or don't get it. I am sure he probably also promptly dismissed the questioner.

I like how the great sage Ramana Maharshi put it: "The wrong knowledge of 'I am the body and the mind' is the cause of all the mischief. This wrong knowledge must go. That is Realization." It is that simple but simple in this case certainly is not easy.

Why this answer? Because this wrong knowledge makes you think you are a separate self (no self), confronting a universe made up of infinite amounts of matter and energy (duality), shut off and even hostile to the real nature of things (emptiness). This knowledge obscures and blinds you to the true nature of being. Most of us cannot even conceive that we are more than a body and mind. Our dualistic mindset allows us to consider the religious, the spiritual, the metaphysical and even the supernatural beyond mind and body, but always separate from and acting upon mind and body. Dualistically. Never the same. Never one, not two.

So what really are the sages saying when they say no self and no mind and body? We believe we are a body and a mind dwelling in an external, material universe filled with other bodies and minds and an infinite number of other material objects that are permanent and real. However, this permanent and real external universe is an illusion. What we see as real and permanent and external and material are appearances only projected by our senses, like images projected on a screen. What is real is the screen itself. The screen is there whether there are images projected or not. The screen is our true is awareness...emptiness itself. The projection is our mind and all the sensory objects created by it. The screen is unchanging and real regardless of the images projected upon it. The projections are impermanent and in constant flux...appearances only...mind objects. When you forget this and delude yourself into thinking you are only a mind and body and the material world is real and permanent, you have narrowed and limited your awareness and very being itself similar to a viewer of a film so lost in the projected images that he believes himself only to be a participant in the film and has forgotten the world at large. These thoughts are difficult and seem profoundly counter intuitive. But as the earlier postings explain, everything that happens happens in your awareness and most of what you experience are representations only created and projected by your senses. Further, as the scientists begrudgingly admit, the so called real and fixed material world is anything but that
and is made up of primarily space and rapidly moving particles bearing no resemblance to what we actually experience. As one great physicist put it, the closer you look, the less the universe looks like a thing and the more it seems like a thought. We have simply confused appearances for the real and looked for permanency where there is none and forgotten that the dance of the universe is projected on the screen of our awareness. So what is the solution? Be the screen of your being, not the ever changing projections. Try and challenge yourself to live your life from that perspective in everything you do. Look for it in every moment of your awareness, even in deep sleep when all objects have subsided. Remind yourself of it constantly. Make it your mantra and an object of contemplation. And after you have done that, really done that, I promise you, no matter how strange it may sound right now, that you will begin to intuit that they and you (the projections, the screen, the mind objects and your awareness) are all really one and your perspective will expand immeasurably...form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

This website is dedicated to trying to apply in contemporary terms the concepts of impermanence, no self, non duality, and emptiness. Read the earlier postings, then the quotes of the masters and other reflections above and let it sink in. Remember, these are the truths that cannot really be described. It is instead intuitive and wordless.