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.