Ir al contenido principal

AtR Guide - abridged version


This is a shortened version of the complete AtR Guide (1000+ pages), which in turn is a compilation of texts of John Tan’s and Soh Wei Yu’s ‘Awakening to Reality’ blog (950+ entries). It is intended to serve as an introduction for those other sources, that shouldn’t be skipped further down the road. This abridged version follows closely AtR Guide’s format, selecting the most juicy texts and adding headings and so spark the readers' interest and help retain the  most valuable teachings. It’s meant to be used as a kick start for those new to this kind of teachings. Links to the original sources will be provided at the end of the entries. This abridged guide is placed in only one page for making it easier to search for terms (Control + F). From now on, all texts were written by Soh Wei Yu, unless it’s specified. 

Table of Contents
                                    · - · - · - ·

The 7 stages of Enlightenment
Stage 1 - I AM

The Realization
How to Practice to Realize I AM
Why Realize the I AM first 
Other Questions on Self-Inquiry and I AM
Practices to Focus On after I AM Realization

(I) Four Aspects of I AM
(II) Two Types of Nondual Inquiry
Pitfalls and Dangers of the I AM Phase

Stage 5 - No Mirror Reflecting

The Realization
Bahiya Sutta
Two Stanzas of Anatta
Anatta and Emptiness of Awareness
Anatta misunderstood as mere non-doership, impersonality and subject-object nondivision
Having breakthroughs and insights into Anatta, but not stable yet
No Actor does not Imply No Action
Neo-Advaitic 'No-Practice Doctrine' is Wrong and Unhelpful
No-Self is Not Associated with a State of No Thoughts
Possible Dangers and Sidetracks of Stage 5
Mind-Body Drop
Contemplative Practices to Focus On After Anatta

Stage 6 - The Nature of Presence is Empty ("Sunyata/Secondfold Emptiness")

+A and A Emptiness (The Two Yogic Tastes of Emptiness)
Conceptual and Dependent Designation
Causes Dependent on Effect (Two-way Dependency)
Nine Points on Anatta to Emptiness
Dependent Origination
General Principle of Dependent Origination
Inseparability of Awareness and Conditions
Afflictive Dependent Origination and the DeathFree (Not “The Deathless”)
Freedom from the Four Extremes 
Total Exertion and Maha (+A) 
The Integration of Maha Total Exertion (+A) and Non-Arisen Nature of Phenomena (-A)
Emptiness as Non-Conceptuality
What emptiness is NOT
Recognition of Appearances as One’s Empty Radiance Clarity
The Four Levels of “The Place Where There is No Heat and Cold”
Wrong Understanding of Emptiness as Nihilism (Everything Doesn’t Exist)
Stage 7 - Presence is Spontaneously Perfected

What Stage 7 is about
Original Enlightenment/Nature/Liberation is a Wrong View
· - · - · - ·


Beyond the realm of imagination. Can you imagine living every moment in purity and perfection without effort? Where grasping at identity does not take hold? Where there is not a trace or sense of 'I' as a seer, feeler, thinker, doer, beer/being, an agent, a 'self' entity residing inside the body somewhere relating to an outside world? And what shines forth and stands out in the absence of a 'self' is a very marvelous, wondrous, vivid, alive world that is full of intense vividness, joy, clarity, vitality, and an intelligence that is operating as every spontaneous action, as there is no sense of being a doer? Where any bodily actions, speech and thoughts are just as spontaneous as heart beating, fingernails growing, birds singing, air moving gently, breath flowing and sun shining? No distinction between ‘you are doing action’/’you are living’ and ‘action is being done to you’/‘you are being lived’, as there is simply no ‘you’ and ‘it’ only total and boundless spontaneous presencing...

Awakening is experiential realization and completely beyond the realm of intellectual understanding … It is important to understand that reading this AtR Guide alone will not by itself bring about the benefits one finds in actual enlightenment/awakening. The difference is analogous to memorizing a restaurant menu versus actually eating the meal. (But) an intellectual understanding can be a good semblance of reality and be a good forerunner to true contemplative insights. 

Awakening to an immediate and intimate taste of reality. Personally, I can say from direct experience that direct realization is completely direct, immediate, and non-intellectual, it is the most direct and intimate taste of reality beyond the realm of imagination. It far exceeds one’s expectations and is far superior to anything the mind can ever imagine or dream of. 

Utter freedom. A freedom that is free from any artificially constructed boundaries and limitations. And yet, this boundlessness does not in any way lead to the dissociation from one’s body, instead one feels more alive than ever as one’s very body, one grows ever more somatic, at home and intimate as one’s body.

Only one indivisible, boundless and measureless world/mind. Only an infinitude of a dynamic and seamlessly interconnected dance that we call ‘the universe’. This is not a body normally conceived of, as the boundaries of an artificially solidified body that stands separated from the universe, dissolve into energetic streams of aliveness dancing and pulsating throughout the body in high energy and pleasure … The body is no longer conflated with a constructed boundary of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, ‘self’ or ‘other’. No trace of an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ can be found in one’s state of consciousness. There’s only one indivisible, boundless and measureless world/mind. Only this infinitude of a dynamic and seamlessly interconnected dance that we call ‘the universe’. 

Despite complete openness and utter nakedness, no experience leaves a trace in consciousness. Despite experiencing life to its fullest every moment without any veils, in complete openness and utter nakedness, nothing gains a foothold in consciousness. For as vivid as they are, they leave no trace just as a bird leaves no tracks in the sky, an empty and lucid display such as a gust of wind and the glittery reflections of moon on the ocean waves appearing but nothing ‘there’ or anywhere.

Even after direct realization of the nature of mind, it will almost certainly take several years for the awakening to mature. The experience I described above, which is what I am experiencing on a daily basis all the time, can only come about via direct realization of the nature of mind. Even after direct realization of the nature of mind, it will almost certainly take several years for the awakening to mature. I can say that my depth of awakening has matured by a lot from my initial awakening in 2010, and was still having breakthroughs in 2019. 

Realizing the nature of mind is not the same as having temporary and fleeting peak experiences of what I have described above. Having a peak experience is common and can come about in various ways, sometimes spontaneously. You may even have several glimpses of the perfection and purity that I describe above. Glimpses are good, because at least then, you know from personal experience that I’m not just bullshitting here. That this is all truly possible and your confidence in this is born out of your direct experience and not based merely on some fickle blind faith in the reports of others ... To have the experience that I described become a natural state 24/7 requires thorough realization. Direct realization comes with a doubtless certainty that will never be lost. This guide should hopefully make clear the importance and difference between view, realization and experience.

But realizing the nature of mind isn't a kind of let down eitherSome practitioners who have purportedly gained certain awakening seem to imply that enlightenment is a kind of let down. I do not know what their experience, level or depth of enlightenment is, but that is wrong and has simply not been the case for me.

This is a very lengthy guide, but do not fear or be overwhelmed by the amount of information.  The idea is to serve as a guide, and so if it serves to point you in the right direction to your next step, that itself might be good enough. Just like it is not necessary to memorize all the signposts in your city, you just need to see or utilize the correct signpost at the correct location, time and situation. 

The seven stages are not attainments but facets of our true nature, aspects which can be revisited and deepened endlessly. AtR Guide is a practice manual to realize and actualize the nature of mind … The point is not to see the ‘7 stages’ as a form of attainment. Although in some sense it may be seen that way and be conventionally true, I generally don’t see it in terms of attainment but in terms of View, Realization and Experience. Perhaps it would be more useful to see them as facets of our true nature, aspects which can be revisited and deepened endlessly … It should be noted that the following phases of insights may not unfold in the same exact and linear way for everyone. It is also not hierarchical, and it is not a measurement of importance. Even the first phase of realization is very important and precious. 

John Tan and Soh Wei Yu do not make claims to Arahantship nor Buddhahood. John Tan’s ‘7 stages model’ is based on experiential insights for the purpose of pointing out the subtle points regarding the nature of mind. It is not written for the purpose of claiming that one is an Arahant, Buddha or whatever stage of enlightenment. John Tan had indicated before that he would rather not be associated with the traditional Four Paths or Bhumi System. We would rather not map the 7 stages model unnecessarily to other maps of enlightenment, as it can be complex, messy, controversial, speculative, and perhaps not very fruitful.

We are not teachers nor authoritative figures representing any particular school or lineage. We are not in a position of teaching, we are not teachers, we do not have students, nor does our limited time as busy laypersons permit for such an endeavor, nor are we even interested in taking up the burden of ‘teaching’, nor are we authoritative figures representing any particular school or lineage. 

We should consider ourselves to be very fortunate for the easy access to written spiritual resources. In the old times, many practitioners may not have very strong view due to the lack of easy access to written spiritual texts or scriptures, even though they may have been very dedicated, disciplined and sincere, perhaps more so than modern day people. This can have implications on the swiftness of our spiritual progress. So consider ourselves to be very fortunate.

But online fellowship doesn't replace a face-to-face spiritual community or teacher. More people are now able to read up and get connected with spiritual resources and fellowships with the help of an open internet which brings entire libraries of information to their fingertips. This is certainly not a replacement for a face-to-face spiritual community or teacher which always remains important and most valuable. But at least more people are becoming aware and have a huge resource available to their aid and have more directions. And it is with the aid of technology, the spread of information through online media, and the support of online communities –like  the Awakening to Reality Facebook Group– that enables so many people from across the world to awaken.

May the AtR Guide be for the benefit of all motherly sentient beings. May the growing awareness of the innate potentiality to awaken to our true nature, spread like wildfire in time to come for the benefit of all motherly sentient beings. And may technology continue to evolve and become an even greater aid for our spiritual advancements.

The 7 Stages of Enlightenment

Stage 1: I AM. The mind exhausts itself and come to a complete standstill, and from that stillness comes an earthshaking revelation: a pure Certainty of Being ... This stillness absorbs, excludes and includes everything into just I ... There is neither external nor internal, there is also no observer or observed. Just complete stillness as I … It’s a doubtless certainty and realization of one’s existence being a formless yet undeniably obvious Presence Awareness, rather than mind and body. Oceanic Ground of Being out of which all phenomena emerge from and subside back to … Being freed from individuality coming and going, life and death, all phenomena merely pop in and out from the background of the AMness. The AMness is not experienced as an ‘entity’ residing anywhere, neither within nor without; rather it is experienced as the ground reality for all phenomena to take place.

Stage 2: I AM everything. Whenever and wherever there IS, that IS is Me ... It is bringing this I AM into everything. I AM the I in you. The I in the cat, the I in the bird. I AM the first person in everyone and Everything. The I is ultimate and universal … Observer and observed as one is nondual experience, sunk back to a source. It is always the source, the Self, the background, even if you fuse and merge into everything.

Stage 3: Entering Into a State of Nothingness. It’s about entering into a state of oblivion to get rid of the sense of ‘I’. In this phase comes an important understanding – The ‘I’ is the root cause of all artificialities, that true freedom is in spontaneity. Surrender into complete nothingness and everything is simply Self so … Drop everything to get around the problem of intense luminosity and at the same time experience naturalness and spontaneity by way of dropping … The mysterious gate of Taoism … The Tao is the way. The way of always in Union with the ‘source’. One has to be aware of this dimension but nothing to seek. It is rather only in daily encounter and manifestation … The ‘unfathomable depth’ cannot be approached through (intellectual) ‘knowing’. Only through moment to moment gnosis in seeing, feeling, thinking, tasting, hearing and smelling. The way to understanding the nature of aliveness and clarity is to fully ‘live’ and ‘express’.  Taoism is unique in this sense in expressing this dark illumination. It is not really interest in presence, but what is behind presence... 

Stage 4: Presence as Mirror Bright Clarity. The taste of nondual Presence, previously felt to be a formless background, is now tasted in the foreground as sound, colors, scents, textures and fabric of whatever manifests, through a (partial) realization of No-Self and the penetration of the illusionary paradigm of subject-object/perceiver-perceived division or duality. It’s the beginning of nondual realization, but not yet the full maturity.  Stage 4 tends to end up in the case of dissolving separateness into the pole of an ultimate pure subjectivity rather than seeing consciousness as the mere flow of phenomenality (as in Stage 5), thus leaving traces of an Absolute … The tendency to extrapolate an Ultimate Reality or Universal Consciousness where we are part of this Reality remains surprisingly strong. Effectively the dualistic knot is gone but the bond of seeing things inherently isn't … At this phase, experience switches back and forth between ‘One Mind’ and ‘No Mind’. In ‘One Mind’, there is a changeless open and limitless space of awareness that is indistinguishable / inseparable from –but not identical to– the changing contents of consciousness that it contains. It assumes consciousness is of true existence like a container. In ‘No Mind’, consciousness is seen as the substance of matter. There are peak experiences of no subjectivity, but not effortless nor perpetual, as the default view is still based on inherent existence and subtle subject/object duality.

Stage 5: No Mirror Reflecting. No subject/object division, no doer-ship and absence of agent. The direct and thorough seeing that 'the mirror is nothing more than an arising thought'. With this, the solidity and all the grandeur of 'Brahman' go down the drain ... The need to reify a Universal Brahman is understood as the karmic tendency to 'solidify' experiences … Yet it feels perfectly right and liberating without the agent, and being simply as an arising thought or as a vivid moment. All the vividness and presence remains, with an additional sense of freedom. Here a mirror/reflection union is clearly understood as flawed, there is only vivid reflection. There cannot be a 'union' if there isn't a subject to begin with. It is only in subtle recalling, that is in a thought recalling a previous moment of thought, that the watcher seems to exist … This phase is a very thorough non-dual experience; there is effortlessness in the non-dual … (many cycles of refining our insights are needed to make the nondual less 'concentrative' and more 'effortless') … and one realizes that in seeing there is always just scenery and in hearing, always just sounds. We find true delights in naturalness and ordinariness as commonly expressed in Zen as 'chop wood, carry water; spring comes, grass grows'. Non-dual is ordinary as there is no 'beyond' stage to arrive at. It appears to be extraordinary and grandeur only as an afterthought due to comparison.

Stage 6: The Nature of Presence is Empty. Stages 4 and 5 are the grayscale of seeing through the subject –which actually does not exist (Anatta) –, that there are only the aggregates. The realization in this Stage 6 is that even the aggregates are empty … Neither is there a mirror to cling to as the background reality nor a maya to escape from … A phenomenon's lack of inherent existence is inseparable from its dependent arising. Such mode of apprehension acts as an antidote to the extremes of both substantialism and nihilism … By Dependent Origination, it’s meant that nothing included within inner or outer phenomena has arisen without a cause. Neither have they originated from what are not their causes; that is, non-causes such as a permanent creator in the form of the self, time, or God.

Stage 7: Presence is Spontaneously Perfected. Non-dual luminosity, Anatta, empty nature, are spontaneously manifesting, self-arising and emerging naturally and every actualized sight, sound, form, experience blossoms into wisdom on its own without dualistic effort … No body, no mind, no dependent origination, no nothing, no something, no birth, no death. Profoundly deconstructed and emptied. Just vivid shimmering appearances as Primordial Suchness in one whole seamless unobstructed-interpenetration. (AtR)

On the Non-Linear and Non-Hierarchical Unfolding of Insights. We should not see these stages/phases as strictly linear or having a hierarchy. For example, some are able to understand the profound wisdom of Emptiness from the start but have no direct experience of Luminosity, then Luminosity becomes a later phase. So does that mean the most pristine experience of I AM is now the last stage? 

On the other hand, some have experienced Luminosity but do not understand how he got himself 'lost', as there is no insight to the karmic tendencies/propensities at all, therefore Dependent Origination cannot be adequately understood. But does that mean that the one that experiences Emptiness is higher than the one experiencing Luminosity? 

Some people experience nondual but do not go through the I AM, and then after realizing non-duality the I AM becomes even more precious because it brings out the Luminosity aspect more. Also, when in nondual, one can still be full of thoughts, therefore the focus then is to experience the thoroughness of  being no-thoughts, fully luminous and present... then it is not about nondual, not about the no object-subject split, it is about the degree of luminosity for these nondualist. 

But for some monks that is trapped in luminosity and rest in samadhi, then the focus should be on refining nondual insight and experience.

For nondualists, depending on the level of understanding, one can move forward and backward, there is no hierarchy.  So just see the phases as different aspect of insights of our true nature, not necessarily as linear stages or a 'superiority' and 'inferiority' comparison. What one should understand is what is lacking in the form of realization. There is no hierarchy to it, only insights, all of which are important. Understanding this means that one will be able to see all stages as flat, no higher.

That being said, although there is no strict order of precedence of insight (i.e. not everyone starts with the realization of I AM), of late, I and John realized that it is important to have a first glimpse of our luminous essence (i.e. the I AM realization) directly before proceeding into understanding nondual, Anatta and Dependent Origination. Sometimes understanding something (e.g. Emptiness/Dependent Origination) too early will deny oneself from actual realization as it becomes conceptual. Once the conceptual understanding is formed, even qualified masters will find it difficult to lead the practitioner to the actual ‘realization’ as a practitioner mistakes conceptual understanding for realization.

Therefore, if I were to make an advice to ‘beginners’ reading this, my advice would be to start with the practice of self-inquiry (though this is by no means the only method, it is one which is very direct and one which I am familiar with), realize the certainty of Being (the I AMness), then progress from there to investigate the nondual, Anatta, and empty nature of Presence. However it also depends on the person’s interests and inclinations and he/she should discern for themselves. 

Lastly, I see enlightenment as nothing mystical. It is simply the lifting of veils by practice and insight to reveal subtler aspects of reality. Once we lift conceptual thoughts, we discover I AM. Once we lift the bond of duality, we experience and discover nondual awareness. Once we lift the bond of inherency, we experience and discover the absence of agent and a wonderfully luminous yet empty universe occurring via dependent origination. 

Soh Wei Yu's awakening journey in a nutshell. (Here's) my attempt to summarize some of the insights and experiences I've gone through. Also do note that there is no strictly fixed linear way of progression - the insights/experiences can unfold in somewhat different order for different people. 
  • Non-doership (Realization+Experience): No control or doership over things, everything is spontaneously happening on its own without effort. Does serious damage to notions of free will. When one sees through the notion of 'self as doer', one realizes freedom does not lie in 'free will' but lies in releasing sense of doership/control which is a subtle aversion going against the flow of happening, contraction, sense of self, holding. One finds joy, freedom and release from 'let live' and 'surrendering'.
  • I AM (Experience): I have a glimpse of myself as a sense of changeless Beingness or Awareness or Witness behind everything.
  • I AM (Realization): I am EXISTENCE! Doubtless certainty. Sat-chit-ananda: beingness-consciousness-bliss. I am the ground of Being out of which everything emerges. Self-Realization.
  • Impersonality (Deconstruction+Experience): I am the one divine life living myself in the body, no different from the life expressing in the trees, in the other human being, or spinning the planet. Dissolving 'self' into a state clean of ego/personal self, not-mine sort of sensation. God-Realization.
  • Intensity of luminosity (Experience): Wow, amazing, the textures of touch, the taste of food, the colours and shapes so wonderfully alive and intense!
  • One Mind (Realization/Experience): I am this boundless space of awareness, and all forms/thoughts/perceptions are indistinguishable from that field, no inside/outside. Subject-Object inseparability. All is Mind/Self/Awareness/etc.
  • No Mind (Experience): Only sound. Only sight. Vividly manifest without background or any sense of self/Self. (Not even a greater 'awareness' being inseparable from forms) This state has the same effect as 'intensity of luminosity' except that all sense of a perceiver is obliterated, i.e. no 'you' looking out from your body at the 'scenery' but only brilliant scenery.
  • Anatta (Deconstruction+Realization+Experience): There never is/was a Source/Awareness/Self/Agent/Perceiver/Controller apart from manifestation! In seeing just the seen, no seer. Not only no self but no Self (caps) exists behind phenomena. No Subject. After *realization* of Anatta as the Nature of experience (empty of background subject), the experience of No-Mind becomes an effortless natural state rather than peak experience. Then one sees that no-mind is both wonderful and yet nothing special, as it simply is the natural state of phenomena when released from the extra imputation of Self/observer behind it, it is experienced as the ordinary state of phenomena rather than the 'Wow' factor accompanied by peak No Mind experiences prior to Anatta.
  • Mind-body drop (Deconstruction+Realization+Experience): No shapes/boundaries of body, just centerless boundless vibrating energies! Body/self/things as an imputation dissolves through deconstructive insight.
  • Groundlessness (Deconstruction+Realization+Experience): No persisting ground, no Here/Now, no coordinating agent, disjoint bubble-like self-releasing thought!
  • Maha +A (Deconstruction+Realization+Experience): Totality (dependencies) walking, breathing, seamless process. Mind-body drop transforms into Dharma Body. Six senses reconstruct into one suchness, whole universe in an atom, all nodes in one indra's node.
  • Karmic Propensities (Deconstruction+Realization+Experience): Karmic propensities are never hidden, totally exerted! Feel the realness of the amazing creation of the Subject/Object fiction manifesting as one's given experiential reality. Realize the 12 afflictive links of dependent origination where ignorance manifests the whole mass of grasping and suffering.
  • Emptiness -A (Realization+Experience): Directly tasting thought/perceptions as clarity without background as basis, further penetrate its nature, that very appearance which dependently originates has never arisen, like a dream or reflection, like a burning flame.

A Simple Summary

When there is simply a pure sense of existence;
When awareness appears mirror like;
When sensations become pristine clear and bright;
This is Luminosity.

When all arising appear disconnected;
When appearance springs without a center;
When phenomena appears to be on their own without controller;
This is No Doership.

When subject/object division is seen as illusion;
When there is clarity that no one is behind thoughts;
When there is only scenery, sounds, thoughts and so forth;
This is Anatta.

When phenomena appears pristinely crystal;
When there is merely one seamless experience;
When all is seen as presence;
This is Nondual Presence.

When we feel fully the un-findability and un-locatability of phenomena;
When all experiences are seen as ungraspable;
When all mind boundaries of in/out, there/here, now/then dissolve;
This is Emptiness.

When interconnectedness of everything is wholly felt;
When arising appears great, effortless and wonderful;
When presence feels universe;
This is Maha.

When arising is not caged in who, where and when;
When all phenomena appear spontaneous and effortless;
When everything appears right every where, every when;
This is Spontaneous Perfection.

Seeing these as the ground of all experiences;
Always and already so;
This is Wisdom.

Experiencing the ground in whatever arises;
This is Practice.

André Pais - Stages of Insight into Identity

[ This is a brilliant recap of the 7 stages/phases map written by André Pais, a seasoned spiritual practitioner who regularly contributes with texts and pointers to the AtR community. ]  

(1) I Am

Initially, at stage one, the invitation is to see that there is an awareness that observes everything – internal or external – without getting involved. Some call it the witness, the observer, the seer, consciousness, awareness, etc. Some call it God. This awareness is what we truly are, what “I” is. It’s not the body or the mind; it is not a person or a self, but it is detachedly aware of everything – body, mind and world. The universe comes and goes, like reflections in a mirror, while awareness remains unchanged. The main spiritual blockages (perception of duality and inherency) are both still in place, for there is clearly a separation between awareness and the objects it perceives; there is also a sense of essence, independence or ultimate status concerning awareness. There is, however, a major displacement of identity – from the forms of body, mind and world to the formlessness of awareness.

(2) One Mind

One is then, at stage two, invited to see that what is observed is, in fact, not separate from the pure awareness that observes it. The so-called external world is, indeed, nothing other than modulations in the observing awareness, like waves in the ocean. The sense of duality is dissolved here, since the appearances are essentially of the nature of awareness. However, there is a tendency to see awareness as independent of the appearances. The appearances depend on awareness, like waves on the ocean, but not the other way around – awareness can exist without its objects, as the ocean can exist without the arising of waves. Moreover, even in the presence of waves, the deepest layers of water are not disturbed and always remain “peaceful” and “unmanifest”. So too, it is believed that awareness, in its deepest sense, is unaffected by the manifesting appearances, always remaining, in some transcending way, “unmanifest” and “unknowable” as a background, despite its profound non-duality with the foreground of appearances. If seen clearly, the stage of ONE MIND still retains part of the duality inherent to the insight into I AM.

(3) Anatta

In the two previous stages, the sense of personal identity, the small “I”, was questioned and transcended. What the “I” really is, is the impersonal and inconceivable awareness that, in the first case, observes all phenomena and, in the second, is the substance of all phenomena. First, in the realization of I AM, where “I” is seen as pure consciousness, one severs the identification with the body, mind and world – the realm of forms in general. Second, in the realization of ONE MIND, where “I” is seen as the substance of body, mind and world, one dissolves the sense of duality between observer and observed, between awareness and experience. Moreover, one drains the sense of physicality, solidity and materiality out of the perceived world. All is, in fact, awareness – insubstantial and fleeting, despite awareness itself being permanent and unchanging.

At this third stage, ANATTA, one is invited into questioning, not the sense of personal identity – the small “I”, – but the sense of impersonal identity – the big “I”, – awareness itself. If I AM and ONE MIND can be seen as subscribing to a “no-self” type of teaching, ANATTA can be seen as putting forth a “no-self/Self” view. The notion of a background awareness that remains unchanged, despite the dance of appearances happening in the foreground, is deconstructed. It is understood that any sense of a background awareness is nothing but a foreground subtle object; that the connection between awareness and appearances, if they are to be truly non-dual, implies that no separation or distinction can exist between awareness itself and the appearances arising in it; that a background awareness either is forever unexperiencable (and thus imaginary) or experiencable (and thus a foreground object); that if there is a background awareness residing beyond experience, and is therefore unaware of any experience, such “unaware awareness” is not, in any way, a viable type of awareness.

What’s left is the luminous display of the foreground, the transience of appearances. No background is possible or needed to make sense of experience. Awareness is no longer seen as unchanging or independent, but as the mere clarity or luminosity intrinsic to the show of appearances itself. What happens here is that, for the first time in this model, the sense of identity, small or big, is questioned. Although the sense of duality or separation is often seen as the main blockage to spiritual understanding, the sense of inherency, or essential existence, is subtler and more pervasive – and thus harder to eradicate and deeper in its repercussions. 


Nonetheless, the absence of background and the exclusivity of foreground can be seen under two different lights. One can understand that there is no awareness outside or beyond the display of luminous experience, but still see the foreground as pertaining or making reference to some kind singular field of awareness. Although awareness morphs with the ever-changing flow of experience – and is therefore not seen as unchanging, independent and stable in its own identity, – it is still seen as retaining some type of consistency, being always the same “unitary” awareness. It is like an ever-changing hologram that, despite its transience, is always the same hologram, not to be mistaken for “another” hologram somewhere else. It feels as luminous experience is enveloped within or pervaded by some type of ever-changing, but consistent, awareness. The simplest way to express this point is to say that, despite the flux of appearances, all of them arise as the same awareness. If I see an apple and an orange resting on top of the same table, I assume they are arising in, or as, the same awareness. Only the foreground exists, but it’s “one foreground” and, implicitly, “my” foreground.

Another reading of the “no background” principle, subtler and far more liberating than the first, is one that deconstructs the sense of foreground as retaining some essential consistency, despite its utter transience. After all, if through the emptiness reasonings one analyzes and refutes any possibility of unchanging intrinsicality (temporal identity) or singularity (spatial identity), then what could serve as the base for positing the foreground as pertaining or making reference to some specific or singular ground? What could make the display of foreground luminosity belong to some changing, though consistent, awareness?

The sense that the foreground belongs to the same singular awareness is equivalent to seeing such awareness as separate from the appearances – and thus an instance of the I AM stage; and the sense that the foreground amounts to "one fluid awareness", or "one big sphere of transient sentience", is equivalent to seeing it as one singular event – as thus an instance of ONE MIND. 

So, what is proposed in this second reading of the insight on ANATTA is that appearances are not known by awareness – as such would reestablish the duality overcome in ONE MIND, along with all the incongruities that come with such duality. Rather, appearances are seen as actually self-luminous. They are not known by anything external to them; they shine naturally of their own accord. When looking at the apple and orange resting on the table, the presence of the apple refers to a somewhat separate instance of “luminosity”, while the orange refers to another instance, or manifestation, of “luminosity”. They are not the same luminosity or the same awareness, because there is no overarching awareness enveloping, controlling, owning or pervading the display of appearances. 

In a dream, we may assume that the same mind knows the dream from beginning to end – again, some type of temporal identity, as if stretching over time. Moreover, if we could freeze one single frame of “dream-activity”, we would certainly feel that the dreamscape is known, or pervaded by, the same mind – again, some type of spatial identity, as if stretching three-dimensionally. However, this subtler insight into anatta questions such claims. Not only is the mind dissolving moment-by-moment, which prevents any mind from knowing a dream from beginning to end; but also, there is no central mind permeating, enveloping or being referred to in a single “frame” of luminous experience. Whatever is experienced in a single moment is a mere multiplicity of instances of luminosity, empty of being part of one unified field. Very naturally, the same applies to the waking state. 

So, not only there is no background to experience, there is also no unity, consistency or “spreadness” of awareness in the foreground, like the same awareness extends throughout all experience. It’s not that appearances arise in awareness (ONE MIND) or even that awareness arises as appearances (first level of ANATTA). All there is, is the self-shining luminosity of appearances, devoid of any central reference point or ground. This liberates experience from the sense of being a single or unitary event or from simply being “one thing”, as opposed to "other things". Actually, this experience is merely the shape of the universe as it unfolds here and makes absolutely no reference no any unitary owner, container or experiencer. This is not “one experience”, but a naturally occurring multiplicity of luminous activity. It’s not “this experience”, or “my experience”. It’s not even “experience”, as in a singular event. Every object is its own experience, its own luminosity. 

Thus, the idea of awareness itself – as a type of mind or knowing subject or principle – is pacified and rendered superfluous. There is no awareness knowing things (I AM), as that would imply an external world and a subsequent internal representational-model. There is also no lasting awareness modulating as things (ONE MIND), as that would mean that some type of permanence or unity pervaded, and was consistent throughout, all appearances. Rather, luminous activities roll on, in total coordination, but in a somewhat independent and de-centralized fashion. With this insight, the grasping into any type of subjectivity, observing principle or background is dropped, like one is falling completely into the objective side. The sense that there is something knowing experience, or itself, is dropped. The very concept of awareness is dropped; reality is self-luminous. The need for any type of subject, or even subjectivity itself, is released. If the stage ONE MIND could be called a “mind-only” type of teaching, ANATTA could be called a “matter-only” one – a luminous “matter”, though.

(4) Shunyata 

The emptiness reasonings may now come in handy, as a natural tendency to reify the luminous appearances may arise. Of course, if one has arrived at this level of insight, emptiness reasonings have probably been investigated before. In this specific model of progressive insights into identity, the emptiness/madhyamaka reasonings are very useful when trying to move from the stage of ONE MIND to ANATTA, as usually the former represents an absolutized identitary position resulting from a reified understanding of awareness. 

Now that only "luminous activities" are seen as being present, what else is there to do? If the sense of identity is truly dissolved, then there isn't much to do. However, if the luminous appearances are seen as solid and truly existing, then a natural sense of identity may start building up around some of those appearances. If this is the case, one may be returning to square one. 

Of course, during the previous investigations, much, if not all, of the solidity of experience and reality has been deconstructed and seen through. In ONE MIND, reality is already seen as insubstantial and immaterial. So, after ANATTA, the tendency to see the luminous activities as solid or permanent is already severely weakened. (There's further clarifications of these topics in this AtR's entry)

Stage 1: I AM

Soh Wei Yu (2020):  I AM is a crucial realization that shouldn’t be dismissed by Buddhists. “The ‘I AM’ is a very important –in fact crucial– realization, even in various traditions of Buddhism. It should not just be relegated as ‘merely a non-Buddhist insight that Buddhists should skip’. I provide plenty of quotes in this AtR Guide to demonstrate the point. AtR Guide simply puts I AM realization in its proper place and explains how to navigate those territories without getting stuck in wrong views”.

The Realization

Soh Wei Yu: A pure Certainty of Being. A pure Certainty of Being. It’s a doubtless certainty and realization of one’s existence being a formless yet undeniably obvious Presence Awareness, rather than mind and body. Oceanic Ground of Being out of which all phenomena emerge from and subside back to. 

John Tan (2006): A complete standstill. A pure sense of existence. “It was about 20 years back and it all started with the question of “Before birth, who am I?” I do not know why but this question seemed to capture my entire being. I could spend days and nights just sitting focusing, pondering over this question; till one day, everything seemed to come to a complete standstill. Not even a single thread of thought arose. There was merely nothing and completely void, only this pure sense of existence. This mere sense of I, this Presence, what was it? It was not the body, not thought as there was no thought, nothing at all, just Existence itself. There was no need for anyone to authenticate this understanding”. 

John Tan (2019): A non-conceptual and direct path. The mind exhausts itself and come to a complete standstill, and from that stillness comes an earthshaking revelation. “Presence, Awareness, Beingness, Isness are all synonyms. There can be all sorts of definitions but all these are not the path to it. The path to it must be non-conceptual and direct. This is the only way. When contemplating the koan ‘before birth who am I?’, the thinking mind attempts to seek into its memory bank for similar experiences to get an answer. This is how the thinking mind works compare, categorize and measure in order to understand.  However, when we encounter such a koan, the mind reaches its limit when it tries to penetrate its own depth with no answer. There will come a time when the mind exhausts itself and come to a complete standstill and from that stillness comes an earthshaking BAM! I. Just I. Before birth, this I. A thousand years ago, this I. A thousand later, this I. I AM I. It is without any arbitrary thoughts, any comparisons. It fully authenticates its own clarity, its own existence, ITSELF in clean, pure, direct non-conceptuality. No why, no because. Just ITSELF in stillness, nothing else”.

John Tan (2020): This stillness absorbs, excludes and includes everything into just I. Neither external nor internal, neither observer nor observed. “This stillness absorbs, excludes and includes everything into just I ... That experience is non-dual. And in that experience actually, there is neither external nor internal, there is also no observer or observed. Just complete stillness as I … That is the first phase of a non-dual experience. We say this is the pure thought experience in stillness. Thought realm. But at that moment we don't know that...we treated that as ultimate reality”.

John Tan (2020): Practices to still the mind. "It has to be completely still as I-I. No room for movement, no gap. There are certain practices to slow down thoughts and then eventually still the mind completely. That is necessary. Koan is designed to trigger that authentication. Likewise for Neti-Neti of Self-Inquiry”.

John Tan (2006): All phenomena merely pop in and out from the background of the AMness. The AMness is not experienced as an ‘entity’ residing anywhere, neither within nor without. Rather, it is experienced as the ground reality for all phenomena to take place. “Like a river flowing into the ocean, the self dissolves into nothingness. When a practitioner becomes thoroughly clear about the illusory nature of individuality, subject-object division does not take place. A person experiencing AMness will find AMness in everything. What is it like? Being freed from individuality coming and going, life and death, all phenomenon merely pop in and out from the background of the AMness. The AMness is not experienced as an ‘entity’ residing anywhere, neither within nor without; rather it is experienced as the ground reality for all phenomenon to take place ... We cannot lose that AMness; rather all things can only dissolve and reemerges from it … This AMness is God. Practitioners should never mistake this as the true Buddha Mind! ‘I AMness’ is the pristine awareness. That is why it is so overwhelming. It’s just that there is no insight into its emptiness nature”.

Soh Wei Yu (2020): I AM feels like being an unmoving beingness (like a cinema screen) in which passing images of people, trees and sceneries and even your bodily movements float by/emerge from/within/then subside back into that unmoving ground of Being/Presence. “After I AM everything else does seem unreal like a dream, a movie projection on the cinema screen of Self or Pure Consciousness which is the sole doubtless reality, the more Real than Real. You feel like an infinite ground of being out of which the apparently moving sceneries and characters float by/emerge from within an unmoving, formless and attributeless ground of Pure Being and Pure Consciousness, or the Source. When you jog, you don't feel like a person going pass the trees and people and scenery around you, you feel like being an unmoving Beingness (like a cinema screen) in which passing images of people, trees and sceneries and even your bodily movements float by/emerge from/within/then subside back into that unmoving ground of Being/Presence. That’s how I experience or describe the world at my I AM phase, when exercising and moving about in the world”.

Sim Pern Chong (2004): The Presence is all pervasive, yet un-intrusive. It seems to be in all things and observes with utter passiveness. “In one ‘awakening’ meditation, I came to a state of no thoughts ... In the void of no thoughts, one naturally assume that everything must be an unconscious blank. However, that was not the case! What came next was quite a revelation to me. In the void of no thought, I perceived myself to be a Presence... Here's how I will describe myself: ‘The Presence is all pervasive, yet un-intrusive. He seems to be in all things and observes with utter passiveness. He exists beyond concepts, beliefs and do not need any form. Therefore, I understand him as eternal’. It also seems to be the subtler state of myself. I also got the feeling that it existed in all my lifetimes or even more. If I were to name it, I would describe it as The Eternal Watcher”.

Sim Pern Chong (2004): How to arrive at the Eternal Watcher. “The Eternal Watcher is ever present. That you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Because the Presence is so close to the mind, it is not easily perceived.  Perceiving the Eternal Watcher was achieved through the relaxed observation of my own breath. The ultra-relaxed observation eventually becomes a purely passive allowance for thoughts to pass through my consciousness. This, in turn, led to a gradual shutting down of the mental processes of my physical brain cumulating into a state of ‘no thoughts’. Beyond the transitional phase of ‘no thoughts’, I became the Eternal Watcher … I believed the Eternal Watcher is the individualized God/Source Presence within oneself. I also believe this Presence is Rigpa as described in Tibetan Buddhism”. 

Soh Wei Yu (2018): What Luminosity is. “Someone asked me about Luminosity. I said it is not simply a state of heightened clarity or mindfulness, but like touching the very heart of your being, your reality, your very essence without a shadow of doubt. It is a radiant, shining core of Presence Awareness, or Existence itself. It is the More Real than Real. It can be from a question of ‘Who am I?’ followed by a sudden realization. And then with further insights you touch the very life, the very heart, of everything. Everything comes alive. First as the innermost 'You', then later when the centerpoint is dropped (seen through there is no 'The Center') every 'point' is equally so, every point is a 'center', in every encounter, form, sound and activity”. 

John Tan (2020): I AM is seen down the road as just the thought realm. “Presence is the same as I AM. Of course, other people may disagree, but actually they're referring to the same thing. The same authentication ... Even in Zen is still the same.  But in later phase, I conceive that as just the thought realm. Means, in the six, I always call the six entries and six exits, so there is the sound and there’s all these… During that time, you always say I’m not sound, I’m not the appearance, I AM the Self that is behind all these appearances, alright? So, sounds, sensations, all these come and go, your thoughts come and go, those are not me, correct? This is the ultimate Me. The Self is the ultimate Me … The I AM stage is non-conceptual. And it is non-dual. Why is it non-dual? At that moment, there is no duality at all. At that moment when you experience the Self, you cannot have duality, because you are authenticated directly as IT, as this pure sense of Being. So, it’s completely I, there’s nothing else, just I. There’s nothing else, just the Self”. 

I AM sub-phases in no particular order:

- Innermost Core of Existence (aka Soul/Atomic)
- Infinite All Pervading Self/Presence
- Ocean of Bliss
- I and all beings/things are being lived by the one cosmic life and intelligence, the Source of being and will (aka God-Realization as distinguished from mere Self-Realization)
- I am the I in you, me, and everything

Experiences associated with I AM include:

- Spacious mirror-like Presence behind all objects
- Being an unchanging and formless Witnessing Presence
- Not being the body, but a Spirit
- Energetic experiences/releases 

Soh Wei Yu (2018): Glimpses vs Self-Realization. One can have glimpses and experiences of I AM without Self-Realization (the point of complete doubtless Certainty of Being/Existence with a Eureka! factor), but Self-Realization will surely come with experiences. Self-Realization is characterized by the direct realization of Self in complete stillness, ultimate, without thoughts, no inference, entire and complete, complete certainty without a trace of doubt, resting completely as Self, as if you have found what your Self is and there is nobody and nothing who can shake your understanding from that point onwards. This is not merely a glimpse or experience that later fades or leaves doubts or uncertainty, in which case you can be said to have had an “I AM experience” but not “I AM realization”.

Soh Wei Yu (2018): I AM is not a fabricated state. It is Unfabricated Presence Awareness. The I AM is not a fabricated state. It is Unfabricated Presence Awareness. You do not ‘cultivate’ the I AM Presence. It is not merely a state of Witnessing to be maintained. It is not a maintenance state. It is not a state to be reached through effort and cultivation. Instead it is discovered and directly realized to be one’s doubtless shining core of Existence, much like the clouds dissipating (our misidentification with perceived objects of mind and body as self) revealing the shining sun that was all along present but never noticed.

If one has an experience of being a Witness or enter into a state of Witnessing, but it needs to be “maintained” or is felt to be “gained” or “lost”, even if one intuits that Witness to be ever-present, that is still an “experience” but not “realization”. This does not mean after the I AM realization one can never be distracted by thoughts ever, it just means there is a kind of unshakeable certainty of Being that is never lost. You realized this is You without a shadow of doubt, as the ground of Being.

John Tan (2009): First comes luminosity, then the pristine quality of awareness. “It is common to get into this pristineness first. You will first only know about the luminosity, the clear, sharp, vivid experience. Then when you progress further, it is the empty space, void yet with a crystal clear sensation that becomes the object of your grasp. You will become intrigued by the 'transparency', like a crystal clear void. This is experiencing the 'pure', 'pristine' quality of awareness.” 

Soh Wei Yu (-): Non-breakthrough experiences disappear after a while. “There are also many other meditative states and moods, generally categorized into bliss, non-thought and clarity. You can experience episodes of bliss, episodes of being free from thoughts, episodes of intensified clarity or expansion of consciousness. However all these experiences are like mist, they disappear after a while. They are not the kind of pivotal breakthrough realization or Eureka that Self-Realization brings, a realization that comes with unshakeable certainty that will never be lost”.

Soh Wei Yu (2009): When aligned with spacious awareness, there is no fixation on anything, but at the same time they are felt intimately. “Our true nature is like clear space, a presence pervading everything but not limited or confined by anything. It is sky like awareness. However we are often fixated on particular thoughts, feelings, and because of this we lose sight of spacious awareness. Just like most of us look at particular shapes and forms but never notices the space surrounding them. When one aligns with spacious awareness, there is no fixation on anything, like the sky doesn't bother or get bothered by the clouds passing by. They just pass by without hindrance. But at the same time they are felt intimately in that field of spacious presence”.

John Tan (2009): Clarification on spacious awareness. “Yes, not to be fixated (on phenomena, thoughts and feelings) but also not to objectify the ‘spaciousness’, otherwise ‘spaciousness’ is no less fixated. The ‘space’ appears appealing only to a mind that abstracts. But to a fully participating and involving mind, such spaciousness immediately sets itself apart, distancing itself from inseparable. Emptiness is never a behind background but a fully partaking foreground manifesting as the arising and passing phenomena absence of a center. Therefore, understand ‘spaciousness’ not like sky but like passing clouds and flowing water, manifesting whenever condition is. If ‘Emptiness’ has made us more fixated and immobilized this innate freedom of our non-dual luminosity, then it is ‘stubborn emptiness’ … Nevertheless, no matter what said, it is always inadequate. If we want to fully realize the inexpressible, be willing to give up all centers and point of references that manifests in the form of ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘where’. Just give up the entire sense of self, then instantly all things are spontaneously perfected”.

John Tan (2009): There is no forgoing of the Witness in later stages, it is rather a deepening of insight to include the non-dual, groundlessness and interconnectedness of our luminous nature. “You may have the blissful sensation or feeling of vast and open spaciousness; you may experience a non-conceptual and objectless state; you may experience the mirror like clarity. But all these experiences are not Realization. There is no ‘eureka’, no ‘aha’, no moment of immediate and intuitive illumination that you understood something undeniable and unshakable a conviction so powerful that no one, not even Buddha, can sway you from this realization, because the practitioner so clearly sees the truth of it. It is the direct and unshakable insight of ‘You’. This is the realization that a practitioner must have in order to realize the Zen satori”. 

“You will understand clearly why it is so difficult for those practitioners to forgo this ‘I AMness’ and accept the doctrine of Anatta. Actually there is no forgoing of this ‘Witness’, it is rather a deepening of insight to include the non-dual, groundlessness and interconnectedness of our luminous nature … Keep the experience but refine the views. Lastly this realization is not an end by itself, it is the beginning. If we are truthful and not over exaggerate and get carried away by this initial glimpse, we will realize that we do not gain liberation from this realization. On the contrary, we (might) suffer more after this realization (due to energy imbalances). However it is a powerful condition that motivates a practitioner to embark on a spiritual journey in search of true freedom”.

Soh Wei Yu (2009): Once realization of I AM happens, neither grasping for an experience of this Awareness nor feeling that Awareness is some state to be maintained. “I AM realization comes with doubtless certainty, and is different from an experience or glimpse … no longer felt that this 'Awareness' is some state to be maintained or an experience to be grasped, or that comes and fades”. 

Angelo Di Lullo (AtR FB group): Non-dual realization takes several months to several years clarifying practice, dissolving fixations, integrating/dissolving afflicting repressed emotions, investigating how the most fundamental beliefs tied to self-operate. “What I find with people that go through this initial gate-less barrier is that this initial shift is consistent and has certain aspects that are undeniable. Few people clarify ongoing non-dual realization right after initial awakening but it can happen as well. More likely it will take several months to several years. That period is one of clarifying practice, dissolving fixations, integrating/dissolving afflicting repressed emotions, investigating how the most fundamental beliefs tied to self-operate, which leads naturally to clarification etc. Also I find that right after awakening the person usually seems quite enlightened for a period. They often touch into non-dual and even no-self for a time but those are usually experiential / unstable and followed by that not-so fun period of feeling quite un-enlightened. Then with good guidance and willingness to let this process dissolve the fixations more and more there can be those further refinements as described in AtR’s stage 4/5”.

Sogyal Rinpoche (Dzogchen): If we are not contriving or manipulating the mind in any way, but simply resting in an unaltered state of pure and pristine awareness, then that is (initial) Rigpa. “Sometimes when I meditate, I don't use any particular method. I just allow my mind to rest, and find, especially when I am inspired, that I can bring my mind home and relax very quickly. I sit quietly and rest in the nature of mind; I don't question or doubt whether I am in the ‘correct’ state or not. There is no effort, only rich understanding, wakefulness, and unshakable certainty. When I am in the nature of mind, the ordinary mind is no longer there. There is no need to sustain or confirm a sense of being: I simply am. A fundamental trust is present. There is nothing in particular to do… If meditation is simply to continue the flow of Rigpa after the introduction, how do we know when it is Rigpa and when it is not? I asked Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche this question, and he replied with his characteristic simplicity: ‘If you are in an unaltered state, it is Rigpa’. If we are not contriving or manipulating the mind in any way, but simply resting in an unaltered state of pure and pristine awareness, then that is (initial) Rigpa. If there is any contriving on our part or any kind of manipulating or grasping, it is not. (Initial) Rigpa is a state in which there is no longer any doubt; there is not really a mind to doubt: You see directly. If you are in this state, a complete, natural certainty and confidence surge up with the Rigpa itself, that is how you know”.

Adyashanti (somewhere before 2010): I AMness is not the totality of what you are. Whenever you touch upon a deep truth, each aspect feels like it’s total and complete and all-inclusive at that moment. That’s why it’s hard to walk to the next insight. “(I AMness) is not the totality of what you are. It’s a profound aspect of what you are; it's a profound taste of your true nature. But it's not the totality of what you are any than getting up in the morning and feeling good is the totality of what you are, or feeling bad is a totality of what you are... ...Whenever you touch upon a deep truth, suchness of reality, your true nature, each aspect feels like it's total and complete and all-inclusive at that moment. So that's why teachers have a very hard time getting through to people when they have an initial experience of anything. Because if it's an initial experience of reality, it feels totally complete and there is a certain innate confidence that arises within you. Not an egoic confidence but a confidence that comes from reality”.

Adyashanti (2021): The Universal I AM. The I AM is a doorway into the essential, the universal, and the sacred. “(One) way to approach the I AM sense is to simply attend to your immediate sense of being. This is not as simple as it sounds because we are so accustomed to thinking about our experience rather than simply experiencing our experience. This is exactly where good spiritual practice comes in. The essence of any good spiritual practice is to focus on direct experience rather than on what we think about the experience. To focus on the immediate sense of I AM devoid of all interpretations and evaluations is itself a powerful spiritual practice ... With a little practice and willingness to let go of clinging to one’s familiar identity, this simple and immediate sense of I AM will reveal itself to be the same underlying conscious presence as all other conscious beings. This then forms the basis of a transformed relationship with all beings, where our essential sameness becomes the ground of our relatedness with others, even as we have a newfound respect and appreciation for our human differences. The universal I AM wears an infinite variety of masks that we human beings call our personality. But connecting with the universal I AM in oneself and in other beings allows us to connect from a universal and essential basis, rather than from being exclusively entranced by surface appearances and conditioned reactions”.

“The I AM is a doorway into the essential, the universal, and the sacred. To gain entry into that doorway requires us to step into the realm of not knowing—which is simply to say that we must un-know, or temporarily suspend, everything that we think that we know about ourselves. We must enter into a state of innocent unknowing just prior to all egocentric identification ... (and so) directly sense into the I AM the conscious presence which pervades any and all perceptions and experiences. Then we dwell as that conscious presence. The rest of the unfolding will happen by itself, in its own time. Patient persistence is the key. Eventually, even the I AM sense will fall away . . . and self-consciousness will dissolve into its source”. 

How to Practice to Realize I AM

Self-Inquiry: Practice self-inquiry in seated meditation and in daily life (whenever not engaged in activities that require specific or full attention, such as walking, eating, etc). Keep asking ‘Before birth, who am I?’ or just ‘Who am I?’ 

Read these books:

- ‘Who Am I?’, by Ramana Maharshi
- ‘Discourses and Dharma Words’, by Ch’an Master Hsu Yun
- ‘Awake: It’s Your Turn’, by Angelo Di Lullo
- ‘True Meditation’, by Adyashanti

And check these videos:

- Who Am I?, by Greg Goode  
- A Guided Self-Inquiry, by Greg Goode   

Ken Wilber (Some Writings on Self-Inquiry and Non-duality): On Neti-Neti. “In Self-Inquiry while asking Who am I?, everything you observe the objects of five senses (vision, sounds, sensations, smells, tastes) as well as thoughts, feelings, emotions, mind, body, etc, are seen to be not me, not this, not this (Neti-Neti). What remains when all objects seen are dissociated from as ‘not me, not me’ is the realization of the Seer, the formless Presence Awareness, the doubtless pure Being which remains”. 

Soh Wei Yu (2021): Letter to his mother. “Contemplating a Zen koan is about inquiring … discovering, realizing … what exactly our Self-Nature is. It is not about achieving a meditative state … After the utter cessation of all thoughts, one must turn ones light around to find out, What am I? What is it that is Aware? If there is a thought which answers 'it is this or that' then that's wrong, because the real answer lies not in words and letters. Therefore cast aside those thoughts and continue inquiring, turning the light around. This is the most direct method to apprehend one's Mind”.

“You should meditate every day. Master Yuan Yin asks his student to meditate 2 hours a day”.

“If you are unable to quiet your mind to a state of no thought, it will be difficult to realize. You should think carefully what is the best method for you to still your mind? Is it meditation? Or is it chanting the Buddha's name and reciting mantras? Whatever method which calms the mind will do, but you have to practice every day, not only practice intermittently or occasionally”. 

“However, reaching a state of no thought is not awakening. Upon reaching a state of no thought, continue turning the light around to find out who is that which is the Clear Knowingness? What is it? Then you will realize your Self-Nature. Otherwise your meditation is merely a state of stillness, not yet realizing Self-Nature”.

Ramana Maharshi: When the mind abides in the Heart, the 'I', the root of all thoughts vanishes. Having vanished, the ever-existing Self alone will shine. “If other thoughts arise, one should, without attempting to complete them, enquire, 'To whom did they occur?' What does it matter if ever so many thoughts arise? At the very moment that each thought rises, if one vigilantly enquires 'To whom did this appear?' it will be known 'To me'. If one then enquires 'Who am I?' the mind will turn back to its source and the thought that had arisen will also subside. By repeatedly practicing in this way, the mind will increasingly acquire the power to abide at its source”.

“When the mind, which is subtle, is externalized via the brain and the sense organs, names and forms, which are material, appear. When it abides in the Heart, names and forms disappear. Keeping the mind in the Heart, not allowing it to go out, is called 'facing the Self' or 'facing inwards'. Allowing it to go out from the Heart is termed 'facing outwards'. When the mind abides in the Heart in this way, the 'I', the root of all thoughts vanishes. Having vanished, the ever-existing Self alone will shine. The state where not even the slightest trace of the thought 'I' remains is alone swarupa (one's real nature). This alone is called mauna (silence). Being still in this way can alone be called jnana drishti (seeing through true knowledge). Making the mind subside into the Self is 'being still'”. 

John Tan (2020): Don’t relate, don’t infer and don’t think. Don’t go after experiences and knowledge, return back to simplicity. “Self-Inquiry is called a direct path for a reason: “Don’t relate, don’t infer, don’t think. Authenticating ‘You’ yourself requires nothing of that. Not from teachers, books, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Zen or even Buddha, whatever comes from outside is knowledge. What that comes from the innermost depth of your own beingness, is the wisdom of you yourself … There is no need to look for any answers. Ultimately, it is your own essence and nature. To leap from the inferencing, deducting and relating mind into the most direct and immediate authentication, the mind must cease completely and right back into the place before any formation of artificialities”. 

“Don’t go after experiences and knowledge, you have read and known enough, so return back to simplicity. Your duty is not to know more, but to eliminate all these and get back to the simplicity of the direct taste. Otherwise you will have to waste a few more years or decades to return back to what that is most simple, basic and direct. And from this simplicity and directness, you then allow your nature to reveal the breadth and depth through constantly   authenticating it in all moments and all states through engagement in different conditions. Unless you drop everything and get back into a clean, pure, basic simplicity, there is no real progress in practice. Until you understand the treasure of simplicity and start back from there, every step forward is a retrogress”. 

Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now): On I AM Presence. “So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence your deeper self behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking. When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the mental stream a gap of ‘No-Mind’(*)”. 

“At first, the gaps will be short, a few seconds perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of your natural state of felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind. With practice, the sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within: the joy of Being”.

“It is not a trancelike state. Not at all. There is no loss of consciousness here. The opposite is the case. If the price of peace were a lowering of your consciousness, and the price of stillness a lack of vitality and alertness, then they would not be worth having. In this state of inner connectedness, you are much more alert, more awake than in the mind-identified state. You are fully present. It also raises the vibrational frequency of the energy field that gives life to the physical body”.

“As you go more deeply into this realm of No-Mind(*), as it is sometimes called in the East, you realize the state of pure consciousness. In that state, you feel your own presence with such intensity and such joy that all thinking, all emotions, your physical body, as well as the whole external world become relatively insignificant in comparison to it. And yet this is not a selfish but a selfless state. It takes you beyond what you previously thought of as ‘your self’. That presence is essentially you and at the same time inconceivably greater than you. What I am trying to convey here may sound paradoxical or even contradictory, but there is no other way that I can express it”.

(*) It should be noted that what Eckhart Tolle calls ‘No-Mind’ here is more akin to a state of no conceptual thinking + I AM Presence, which is different from how the Awakening to Reality blog uses the term ‘No-Mind’ as referring to an experience free from any sense of subjectivity of self/Self, which we will discuss later on in this AtR Guide. 

Annamalai Swami (Final Talks): Intensity of inquiry, no part-time effort. “You should persist and not give up so easily. When you intensely inquire 'Who am I?' the intensity of your inquiry takes you to the real Self. It is not that you are asking the wrong question. You seem to be lacking intensity in your inquiry. You need a one-pointed determination to complete this inquiry properly. Your real Self is not the body or the mind. You will not reach the Self while thoughts are dwelling on anything that is connected with the body or the mind. The intensity of the inquiry is what determines whether success or failure. If the inquiry into the Self is not taking place, thoughts will be on the body and the mind. And while those thoughts are habitually there, there will be an underlying identification: ‘I am the body; I am the mind.' This identification is something that happened at a particular point in time. It is not something that has always been there. And what comes in time also goes eventually, for nothing that exists in time is permanent. The Self, on the other hand, has always been there. It existed before the ideas about the body and the mind arose, and it will be there when they finally vanish. The Self always remains as it is: as peace, without birth, without death. Through the intensity of your inquiry, you can claim that state as your own”.

“Self-Inquiry must be done continuously. It doesn't work if you regard it as a part-time activity. You may be doing something that doesn't hold your interest or attention, so you think, ‘I will do some self-inquiry instead'. This is never going to work. You may go two steps forward when you practice, but you go five steps backward when you stop your practice and go back to your worldly affairs. You must have a lifelong commitment to establish yourself in the Self. Your determination to succeed must be strong and firm, and it should manifest as continuous, not part-time, effort”.

Nisargadatta (I Am That): On Trust, Earnestness, Laziness and Restlessness. “I got my realization through my Guru’s teaching and my trust. My confidence in him made me accept his words as true, go deep into them, live them, and that is how I came to realize what I am. The Guru’s person and words made me trust him and my trust made them fruitful. I was so attuned to my Guru, so completely trusting him, there was so little of resistance in me, that it all happened easily and quickly. But not everybody is so fortunate. Laziness and restlessness often stand in the way and until they are seen and removed, the progress is slow. All those who have realized on the spot, by mere touch, look or thought have been ripe for it. But such are very few. The majority needs some time for ripening. The ripening factor is earnestness, one must be really anxious. After all, the realized man is the most earnest man. Whatever he does, he does it completely, without limitations and reservations. Integrity will take you to reality”.

Sailor Bob Adamson: What is Pure Silence? “Let go of the thoughts, the imagination, the emotions; let go of everything and see what is left … Pure Silence is within you. It is not just the absence of sound, or lack of noise. It is the ground, the basis of your very being. There is nothing to find out, nothing to prove. Just listen with your whole being to what is here, now. It is the most amazing thing you can ever discover. It is with you now. It is you. The only way to find this is to stop everything else. Everything! Just be!”

“What you are in essence is self-shining, pure intelligence. The very idea of shining implies a movement. Movement is energy. I call it ‘pure intelligence energy’. It is shining through your eyes. You cannot say what it is, and you cannot negate it either. It is ‘no thing’. It cannot be objectified. It ever expresses as that living, vibrant sense of presence, which translates through the mind as the thought I AM. The primary thought I AM is not the reality. It is the closest the mind or thought can ever get to reality, for reality to the mind is inconceivable. It is no thing”.

“Without the thought I AM, is it stillness? Is it silence? Or is there a vibrancy about it, a livingness, a self-shining … All these expressions are mental concepts or pointers towards it, but the bottom line is that you know that you are. You cannot negate that knowing that you are. It is not a dead, empty, silent stillness. It is not about keeping the mind silent, but seeing that what is prior to the mind is the livingness itself. It is very subtle. When you see that that is what you are, then the very subtleness expresses itself. That is the uncaused joy ...  We think that we have to attain something and then stay there. Realize that you have never left it at any time. It is effortless. You don’t have to try or strive or grasp or hold. You are That!”

Soh Wei Yu: “…The pure silence underneath the sound is your true nature, but it is not an inert nothingness, in fact not even silence as such, but more accurately a featureless wide awake space which perceives all sounds, all sights, all thoughts, etc. It cannot be understood by the mind. You have to trace the hearing, the radiance, the seeing, to its Source”.

“If you truly and successfully traced all perceptions to its Source, you will realize and experience a Certainty of Being, an un-deniability of your very Consciousness which is formless and intangible but at the same time a most solid self-evident fact of your being”. 

“…By turning the attention to the mind, immediately there are doubts. More thoughts rush in to question the questions, confirm or contradict other thoughts. A maddening cycle... Notice when thoughts are paused there are no doubts; the certainty of (doubtless) Being is obviously present; the unquestionable FACT of EXISTENCE. Notice that the Being is ALWAYS presently shining, effortlessly and spontaneously. Stay with that undeniable non-conceptual confidence. Your Being has always been present for every single experience. That natural cognition in which all experiences arise is not a person. Be as you ARE and not what you imagine yourself to be.”

Lama Surya Das (Natural Radiance): Self-Inquiry instructions

Once your mind is calm, focused, lucid, and clear, abruptly turn the mind on itself, mind the mind and turn it inward, with laser like self-inquiry questions: “Who is thinking my thoughts? Who is trying to meditate? Who is it; what is it; where is it? Who is experiencing my experience right now?” 

There is no need to analyze too much, just abruptly pop the question and observe what happens. Let go and see if you can startle yourself into a new way of seeing and being, short-circuiting your usual outward looking, dualistic thought process of self and other. See through the seer, directly experience the experiencer, and be free; rest in luminous centerless openness, the natural Great Perfection, pure presence, rigpa.

Again cutting even deeper, abruptly turn the mind upon itself again: Who is experiencing? Who and what is hearing? Who and what is seeing, thinking, and feeling? Who is having these physical sensations? Who is it; what is it; where is it? Is it in the head; is it in the body; is it in the heart; is it in the mind and consciousness? Who is experiencing? Who or what am I? How is it happening? 

See if you can enter the bottomless gap between thoughts, beneath thoughts. See if you can directly experience whatever is not thought—the luminous awareness that exists pre-thought or beyond or beneath thought, or after all thought has ceased. Trace the source of all of your thoughts, feelings, experiences, physical sensations, and perceptions. Notice how they arise, and, after they arise, where they are in your present experience and where they go. 

See if you can follow the disillusion point back into the luminous void that is centerless—the openness that is everything’s ultimate identity, the great Who, the great What that is known as Buddha Nature. And if you cannot find anything to follow, just rest in that great silence, and be nothing for just one instant. Being nothing but pure awareness for an instant would be transformative in itself, and more than enough. Emaho!

When the mind starts to move, as it will, and thoughts and feelings and physical sensations again begin to proliferate, turn the mind upon itself again instead of looking outward at outer phenomena, projections, and perceptions. Turn the searchlight inward and mind the mind, becoming more keenly aware of awareness itself. Continue this laser like questioning of who and what is experiencing, who is thinking, who is hearing, who, what, where, how and then let go and release—drop everything: drop body and mind—and sense who or what is present between thoughts and when thought has ceased, even for a moment. If you discover that you really do not know who you are, then that is enough. That is what is true for you in this moment, and that is sufficient truth for now.

Angelo Di Lullo: Helper Pointers to I AM Awakening 

… Use “Who am I?” self-inquiry vehicle as a sort of depth charge. Its purpose is to plunge you down through all those layers of belief and personal narrative, right to the core of identity. If we do this the right way, it will detonate when it reaches that core. This detonation will blow a hole right through the bottom ... of everything. We are going to blow a hole right through the bottom of reality … The transformation that we’re referring to is so radical that even dimension (bottom, top, near, far) will be seen to be an illusion. Still, it’s a reasonably apt description. After my own awakening, these were the exact words that occurred to me ... “I was meditating and the bottom fell out” … Oddly enough, when the bottom fell out, there was nothing for everything to fall into. The framework of reality as I had known it had completely deconstructed itself. What was left was something like a deep and pervasive peace, and that’s how it remains. It’s obvious that whatever I thought was real before was only a very small “model” of reality, something like a shadow on a wall. 

Self-Inquiry has the power to bring this about for anyone who is willing to take the plunge … Your identity will find a new equilibrium with unbound consciousness, which is essentially limitless. The limitless experience of consciousness-Being, while astounding, is but the staging area for the more radical unfolding ahead. Yet it is a very important milestone in the process of realization.

(I) Self-Inquiry’s optimal conditions

Alert: You don’t want to be slack with your attention, daydreaming, or mind-wandering. But it’s unnecessary to be hyper-vigilant or to strain your attention into a hyper-focused state. You want to be alert enough to assure that nothing escapes your attention, including any thought. A relaxed and dilated (open) attention, engaged in the process of inquiry is ideal ... It can take a bit of practice to strike the right balance of alertness and relaxation. Keep practicing and you will find that sweet spot where you are neither daydreaming nor straining.

Curious: Genuine curiosity is necessary for this approach to work … We often circumvent natural curiosity by moving our attention to a familiar but artificial mental construct when we find ourselves in the unknown. We do this to feel some sense of certainty. This means that when faced with the unknown we often cling to old habituated patterns of thinking to help us avoid admitting to ourselves that we really don’t know … The paradox here is that using thought to “cure” that sense of unknowing will undermine the inquiry. A willingness to remain in unguarded curiosity is the lamp that lights the way forward.

Empirical: When conducting self-inquiry, it’s best to forego comparing your experience to any idealized experience or expectation. So any description we’ve read or heard about what is supposed to happen when we self-inquire is useless. We’re only interested in what we directly discover. If you’re willing to take a strictly empirical approach, then only immediate, obvious, and self-explanatory experience matters. When you really get the spirit of this, it is quite a relief. How nice it is to not to have to stress over whether your experience is the “right” one ... 

Fresh: When you begin this inquiry just let go of everything you know. Let go of past inquiries and results. Let go of any insights you might have had, even the last time you meditated or engaged in inquiry. In fact, let go of what happened five minutes ago. Just this one question. Just this one experiential observation. Do this every time you return to inquiry. Better yet, do this as you go about inquiry. It’s like writing on a chalkboard and there is an eraser immediately following the chalk. In this way every moment is fresh. Every time a question is asked, it’s asked from complete innocence and unknowing … When we free ourselves up from the bondage of the past, we are free to synchronize with the moment to moment flow of reality.

Consistent: Initially, you might approach this inquiry during seated meditation, or when you feel inclined to introspect. Over time, as the curiosity and desire to wake up build, you will find that you can carry this inquiry with you for longer periods of time. You might be surprised as it becomes quite enjoyable to carry this throughout daily activities such as cooking, working, exercising, and even talking with others. With consistency a certain momentum builds. When I was close to awakening (though I didn’t know it at the time), I would even carry inquiry off into sleep. I would try to stay with the query even as my consciousness seemed to disappear into nothingness. I would then pick it up just as soon as I remembered upon waking up. 

(II) Self-Inquiry’s Basic Process

(1) Become receptive to thought. It’s so common for us to attempt suppress or avoid thoughts when we want to relax and rest ... When it comes to self-Inquiry we actually want the thoughts to come. We orient toward thoughts, as if we can’t wait for the next thought to arrive. This might sound counterintuitive but when you truly embrace the arrival of thoughts (regardless of their content), it can relax you in a different way than you might be used to. It’s not a checked-out sort of relaxation, it’s a checked-in relaxation. To put it simply, a lot of strain is involved in resisting thoughts, and we resist thoughts to various degrees all day long. So the first step is to simply become thought-receptive … 

(2) Take a neutral stance. As a thought arrives, don’t evaluate its content. There’s no need to assign a value to it such as, “this is a good thought or a bad thought” … Just take it as a neutral experience ... When we see a thought as a thought, we have this opportunity to perceive its neutrality. It’s when we believe a thought points to some reality “out there” that we begin to struggle with polarity. As you practice with one thought at a time, you will get better at perceiving this neutrality.

(3) Clarify the thought. This step can take a bit of practice because we usually have a dynamic relationship with thought inside consciousness. We tend to move past certain thoughts that are uncomfortable or partially unconscious. This is even more marked when we are feeling restless and our monkey-mind is swinging from branch to branch so quickly that we’re not fully aware of what thought branches it’s swinging from. So slow down. Take one thought at a time as it arrives. Once you recognize a thought (whether conceptual, auditory, or visual image), try to clarify it a bit …  If you think of this like watching a slide show of thoughts on a movie screen, you want to slow down the slides. Then you want to move closer to the screen and clarify exactly what that thought/image/slide is. As you get better at holding a single thought in your mind you might be surprised how simple and even relaxing it becomes. You might also be surprised that the closer you look at a thought the less substance it seems to have. This is analogous to walking so close to the screen that all you see are soft forms, shapes, and light.

(4) Notice how the thought feels like it’s about ‘Me’. The previous steps can become somewhat passive once you get the hang of them. This step requires active engagement with each thought, if only for a moment. This is because this step addresses the precise moment when we become unconscious, meaning the moment we become identified with thought. It’s a subtle transition, so we must train ourselves to recognize it if we ever want to finally be free of it. Here you may feel like you are doing a bit of detective work, but it’s essential to do it every time … Not only does the thought appear to suggest it is about ‘me’ as the star of the internal movie, but it also suggests that there is a ‘me’ that is interested in the thought at all. Can you see that distinction? … You could say it suggests a ‘me’ in two different respects. One is a remembered ‘me’, as a thought subject. The other is an immediate ‘me’ that is aware of that thought right in this moment. Can you feel into both of those? … Do you feel the edges of identity starting to soften or distort? ... Give this some practice and sooner or later those perceptual frameworks will start to loosen and fragment … 

(5) Now, look for the ‘me’. All of the steps up until this one, were preparatory steps. They are all necessary and you shouldn’t skip over them using this approach. However, they are merely a means to orient you properly for this final step. This step is very simple. Now that you have a sense that the thought you have become aware of is about ‘me’, look for that me … Now look for it in your immediate experience. By that I mean don’t think about who/where/what that sense of me is. You have to look for evidence of it right in your experience. It helps to start by looking in the place where it feels like you are right now. Look right in the center of the one that feels like the ‘me’ that thought was about. Do you find something there? Is there something definite you can identify and say, “There’s the ‘me,’ there’s exactly what I am?” If you can then what is it you found there? If you don’t find anything specific then just keep looking. 

(III) Some common immediate results and how to navigate them

(i) You immediately start thinking again, “Well I know who I am, this practice is silly it doesn’t work for me...” When this happens, great! That is your next thought. So, start from step 2 with that thought and proceed through the inquiry ... If it is a thought it is obviously not you right? It can’t be you because you were there before that thought and you will be there after that thought, right?  … So just keep looking, and if a thought sucks you in then just start at step 2 with the new thought.

(ii) You totally forget what you’re doing. This is fine, it can be confusing to put the mind on the rack in this way. It’s not used to it. If at any point you’ve totally lost track of what you’re doing, find yourself daydreaming, etc, just start again at step 1.

(iii) You go to look for the ‘me’ that the thought says it’s about and can’t find it ... a looking that just keeps on going with no landing on anything solid or specific … the looking goes on and there is genuine curiosity even though nothing is found, then great! Just keeping doing that. You’ve figured out the point of self inquiry. If you find yourself in that pure looking but landing nowhere specific and there are no thoughts, you are doing pure self-inquiry. Just keep at it. Stay in the gap. It might happen for a few seconds at first. Then a thought will come. Over time you might go from several seconds to a few minutes or longer. The key is thoughtless looking. Neither rejecting thoughts nor getting entangled in their content. A pure movement of innocent curiosity. It might feel dynamic or it might feel quite still. Either is fine, just keep that looking going.

(IV) Fine tuning

Once you get the hang of these steps and can move through them in a short time you will notice it’s not hard to get that thoughtless gap, even if it is for a short time. The following suggestions can help fine tune to that frequency of pure self-inquiry. It’s something like tuning a radio between stations. You neither land at this thought nor at that thought, yet you aren’t rejecting any thought. Perhaps it could be said that attention moves toward a thought so quickly that it has no time to fully form. Attention becomes the thought. Over time it will become far more spontaneous and relaxing to remain in this thoughtless gap of pure looking, pure knowing without thought, and pure being.

(i) Recognize when another thought has emerged and has bound your attention. Often the thought will be about the immediate inquiry practice. This is often the moment we become re-identified with thought and don’t realize it, simply because the content of the thought is about the practice itself.

(ii) Recognize that anything you can put into words is a thought. Also any image, even vaguely defined images, are thoughts.

(iii) You may have to reinvigorate your curiosity periodically, you don’t want to practice this mechanically.

(iv) You can use the body as a gauge to assure you are doing this in a non-straining (relaxed) manner. You can periodically put attention into various parts of the body just to see if you’re holding tension anywhere or straining. This is especially useful if the inquiry feels strained, frustrating, or tense. Once you get the hang of doing self-inquiry without straining it may not be necessary to check in with the body in this way.

(v) Keep in mind that the pure looking in thoughtless gap doesn’t mean that you are out of contact with the stuff thoughts are made of (consciousness). It’s quite the opposite. It’s more like all of experience gets replaced by thought-stuff, which is also you-stuff. It’s all one endless continuum of pure conscious experience. The looking/questioning, the sense of you, the gap, and the thought stuff, are all the same substance.

(vi) Even though we’re using a question as a launch vehicle, we’re not looking for a specific arrival place, a conceptual understanding, or a certain pre-defined experience. We’re more interested in “settling in” to pure experience itself which is not apart from the experiencer. The pure experience is infused with curiosity and fascination. However it’s a satisfied curiosity, so it doesn’t require resolution like a typical question would.

 (V) Potential Pitfalls

(i) Asking “Who Am I?” or “Where am I?” and then looking around for a conceptual answer. This simply leads to more inner dialogue, thinking, and frustration.

(ii) Concluding “Oh there is no I/me/self”. This will lead to a dull inquiry with little interest in actually looking for the sense of ‘me’. The reason this happens is because we’ve become identified with the thought “There is no I/me/self.” When we are identified with that thought we don’t recognize it as just another thought ... The self we are investigating is not a mere thought or belief. It’s a sense, frame of reference, or a feeling-assumption ... 

(iii) We get frustrated. It doesn’t feel like anything is happening so we feel frustration, impatience, or even anger. If this occurs it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. In fact when we start digging into our identity, it’s common for emotions to come to the surface. If this occurs. Just take a breath and relax for a minute. Then acknowledge the emotion. Feel it in your body. See if you can relax any tension in the body associated with the emotion. Then look for the thought or belief associated with the experience. It might be something like, “I’m feeling frustration”. Then proceed with the inquiry starting with step 2.

(iv) Staring at the thought/question “who am I?” endlessly without realizing that the one who feels like you doing this practice, and having a history, and a spiritual path etc, is what you are supposed to try to investigate. 

(v) Concluding that because you haven’t found an I or a self, there is no value in continuing to look. The non-conceptual looking is the point.

(vi) Being uncomfortable with the thoughtless state, then reengaging thoughts. This happens very frequently. When it occurs, we rarely realize that the mind re-engaged thought to avoid the fear response that can arise with thoughtless gaps. If we keep at self-inquiry, returning to the thoughtless gap again and again, we will often realize there is a certain fear associated with letting go of the addiction to thoughts … If we persist in spite of any uneasiness or fear, then these emotions will settle with time and experience. If we just keep returning to this gap and remain there beyond the fear and physical responses, then things will start to change experientially. This is where magic can happen, but you have to stay in that gap.

Angelo Di Lullo (FB Group: Awakening, Realization and Liberation): Just be willing to suspend judgement, to forego conclusions, to let go of all monitoring of your progress. The inquiry that leads to first awakening is a funny thing. We want to know ‘how’ precisely to do that inquiry, which is completely understandable. The thing is that it’s not wholly conveyable by describing a certain technique. Really it’s a matter of finding that sweet spot where surrender and intention meet. I will describe an approach here, but it’s important to keep in mind that in the end, you don’t have the power (as what you take yourself to be) to wake yourself up. Only Life has that power. 

So as we give ourselves to a certain inquiry or practice it’s imperative that we remain open. We have to keep the portals open to mystery, and possibility. We have to recognize that the constant concluding that ‘no this isn’t it, no this isn’t it either...’ is simply the activity of the mind. Those are thoughts. If we believe a single thought then we will believe the next one and on and on. If however we recognize that, ‘oh that doubt is simply a thought arising now’, then we have the opportunity to recognize that that thought will subside on its own... and yet ‘I’ as the knower of that thought am still here! 

We can now become fascinated with what is here once that thought (or any thought) subsides. What is in this gap between thoughts? What is this pure sense of I, pure sense of knowing, pure sense of Being? What is this light that can shine on and illuminate a thought (as it does thousands of times per day), and yet still shines when no thought is present? It is self-illuminating. What is the nature of the one that notices thoughts, is awake and aware before, during, and after a thought, and is not altered in any way by any thought? 

Please understand that when you ask these questions you are not looking for a thought answer, the answer is the experience itself.

When we start to allow our attention to relax into this wider perspective we start to unbind ourselves from thought. We begin to recognize the nature of unbound consciousness by feel, by instinct. This is the way in. At first we may conclude that this gap, this thoughtless consciousness is uninteresting, unimportant. It feels quite neutral, and the busy mind can’t do anything with neutral so we might be inclined to purposely engage thoughts again. If we recognize that ‘not interesting, not important, not valuable’ are all thoughts and simply return to this fluid consciousness, it will start to expand. But there is no need to think about expansion or watch for it. It will do this naturally if we stay with it. 

If you are willing to recognize every thought and image in the mind as such, and keep your attention alert but relaxed into the ‘stuff’ of thought that is continuous with the sense of I, it will all take care of itself. Just be willing to suspend judgement. Be willing to forego conclusions. Be willing to let go of all monitoring of your progress, because these are all thoughts. Be open to the pure experience. Just return again and again to this place of consciousness with no object or pure sense of I Am. If you are willing to do this it will teach itself to you in a way that neither I nor anyone I’ve ever seen can explain, but it is more real than real. 

Andrew Cohen (Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening): Resting in a boundless empty space, where the mind is completely still, there is no time, no memory, not even a trace of personal history. In order to answer the question “Who am I?”, in order to go back to before the beginning within your own experience, you have to put your attention on the deepest sense of what it feels like to be yourself right now, and simultaneously let everything else go. Letting go means falling so deeply into yourself that all that is left is empty space.

To discover that infinite depth in your own self, you must find a way to enter into a deep state of meditation—so deep that your awareness of thought moves into the background and eventually disappears. As your awareness detaches itself from the thought-stream, your identification with emotion and memory begins to fall away. When awareness of thought disappears, awareness of the passing of time disappears along with it. If you keep penetrating into the infinite depths of your own self, even your awareness of your own physical form will disappear.

If you go deep enough, letting your attention expand and release from all objects in consciousness, you will find that all the structures of the created universe begin to crumble before your eyes. Awareness itself—limitless, empty, pristine—becomes the only object of your attention. As your attention is released from the conditioned mind-process, freed from the confines of the body and the boundaries of the personal self-sense, the inner dimension of your own experience begins to open up to an immeasurable degree. Imagine that you have been fast asleep in a small, dark chamber. Then, suddenly awaken to find yourself floating in the infinite expanse of a vast, peaceful ocean. 

That’s what this journey to the depths of your own self feels like. You become aware of a limitless dimension that you did not even know was there. Moments before, you may have experienced yourself as being trapped, a prisoner of your body, mind, and emotions. But when you awaken to this new dimension, all sense of confinement disappears. You find yourself resting in, and as, boundless empty space. 

In that empty space, the mind is completely still; there is no time, no memory, not even a trace of personal history. And the deeper you fall into that space, the more everything will continue to fall away, until finally all that will be left is you. When you let absolutely everything go—body, mind, memory, and time—you will find, miraculously, that you still exist. In fact, in the end, you discover that all that exists is you!

Ken Wilber (Boomeritis, Sidebar E: “The Genius Descartes Gets a Postmodern Drubbing): Integral Historiography in a Postmodern Age”) – On the Witness and One Taste: “There are many things that I can doubt, but I cannot doubt my own consciousness in this moment. My consciousness IS, and even if I tried to doubt it, it would be my consciousness doubting. I can imagine that my senses are being presented with a fake reality – say, a completely virtual reality or digital reality which looks real but is merely a series of extremely realist images. But even then, I cannot doubt the consciousness that is doing the watching… The very un-deniability of my present awareness, the un-deniability of my consciousness, immediately delivers to me a certainty of existence in this moment, a certainty of Being in the newness of this moment. I cannot doubt consciousness and Being in this moment, for it is the ground of all knowing, all seeing, all existing…”

“…This pure I AM state is not hard to achieve but impossible to escape, because it is ever present and can never really be doubted … I can doubt that clouds exist, I can doubt that feelings exist, I can doubt that objects of thought exist – but I cannot doubt that the Witness exists in this moment, because the Witness would still be there to witness the doubt. I am not objects in nature, not feelings in the body, not thoughts in the mind, for I can Witness them all. I am that Witness – a vast, spacious, empty, clear, pure, transparent Openness that impartially notices all that arises, as a mirror spontaneously reflects all its objects…”

“You can already feel some of this Great Liberation in that, as you rest in the ease of witnessing this moment, you already feel that you are free from the suffocating constriction of mere objects, mere feelings, mere thoughts – they all come and go, but you are that vast, free, empty, open Witness of them all, untouched by their torments and tortures”.

“This is actually the profound discovery of… the pure divine Self, the formless Witness, causal nothingness, the vast Emptiness in which the entire world arises, stays a bit, and passes. And you are That. You are not the body, not the ego, not nature, not thoughts, not this, not that – you are a vast Emptiness, Freedom, Release, and Liberation”.

“With this discovery… you are halfway home. You have disidentified from any and all finite objects; you rest as infinite Consciousness. You are free, open, empty, clear, radiant, released, liberated, exalted, drenched in a blissful emptiness that exists prior to space, prior to time, prior to tears and terror, prior to pain and mortality and suffering and death. You have found the great Unborn, the vast Abyss, the unqualifiable Ground of all that is, and all that was, and all that ever shall be”. 

“But why is that only halfway home? Because as you rest in the infinite ease of consciousness, spontaneously aware of all that is arising, there will soon enough come the great catastrophe of Freedom and Fullness: the Witness itself will disappear entirely, and instead of witnessing the sky, you are the sky; instead of touching the earth, you are the earth; instead of hearing the thunder, you are the thunder. You and the entire Kosmos because One Taste – you can drink the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp, hold Mt. Everest in the palm of your hand; supernovas swirl in your heart and the solar system replaces your head… You are One Taste, the empty mirror that is one with any and all objects that arise in its embrace, a mindlessly vast translucent expanse: infinite, eternal, radiant beyond release”.

Why Realize the I AM First 

Soh Wei Yu: Non-dual experiences are dry and barren without the luminous taste of Presence-Awareness. Some people wonder if it is necessary to go through the I AM realization before they realize further stages of insight like Anatta (Stage 5). While possible, it is easy to miss out certain aspects like the luminous Presence. One can have non-dual experiences but it is dry and barren without the luminous taste of Presence-Awareness. Furthermore, as discussed towards the end of this document, the stages are not to be seen as purely linear progression nor as a measurement of importance even the first phase of I AM Realization is important as it brings out the luminous essence. Actually, the taste of Stage 1 (I AM) and Stage 4 and 5 is similar, only the insight and view is different. At Stage 4, John Tan wrote that it is the same luminous taste as the direct taste of Mind (called “I AM”) but now extended to all six senses.

Soh Wei Yu (2020): being stuck is due to lack of right pointers and directions, not inherently an issue with I AM. “Regarding whether it is important to go through I AM realization or can we skip to Anatta, John Tan, Sim Pern Chong and I have had differing and evolving opinions about this over the years. I remember Sim Pern Chong saying he thinks people can skip it altogether. John also wondered if it is possible or advisable as certain AF people seem to have skipped it but experience luminosity. However after witnessing the progress of people it seems to us that those who went into Anatta without the I AM realization tend to miss out the luminosity and intensity of luminosity. And then they will have to go through another phase. For those with I AM realization, the second stanza of Anatta comes very easily, in fact the first aspect to become more apparent. Nowadays John and my opinion is that it is best to go through the I AM phase, then non-dual and Anatta… There was also the worry that by leading people into the I AM, they can get stuck there. (As John Tan and Sim Pern Chong was stuck there for decades). But I have shown that it is possible to progress rather quickly (in eight months) from I AM to Anatta. So the being stuck is due to lack of right pointers and directions, not inherently an issue with I AM”. 

John Tan (2020): Realizing the intensity of Luminosity. “People that do not go through the phases of insights between I AM will not know the difference but it is important to go through I AM to realize the intensity”.

John Tan (2009): Understanding Anatta too early could deny oneself from actual realization. “… it is important to have a first glimpse of our luminous essence directly before proceeding into such understanding (Anatta). Sometimes understanding something too early will deny oneself from actual realization as it becomes conceptual. Once the conceptual understanding is formed, even qualified masters will find it difficult to lead the practitioner to the actual ‘realization’ as a practitioner mistakes conceptual understanding for realization”.

John Tan (2009): I AM Experience/Glimpse/Recognition vs I AM Realization (Certainty of Being). “If a practitioner can experience like what Ramana Maharshi experience as SELF in Anatta, then he is near full enlightenment liao (already). It is the thoroughness and the depth and degree of luminosity. For non-dual Anatta to have that sort of presence, there must be complete effortlessness. Because unlike concentrative mode of practice, non-dual or the formless and pathless path requires one to be completely effortless and spontaneous to have total non-dual luminosity … (Ramana’s is still a concentrative mode of practice rite, like abiding on self) … If a person can have that experience then go into non-dual, it is different. If Anatta can be experienced, it will be better. A person can experience non-dual, there is no separation. But there is no such experience like "I AM", so he does not have that 'quality' of experience. However he a practitioner experience that "I AM", then when non-dual he knows that there is such an experience and all experiences are really like that”.

“(Not that the non-dual experience will be more in-depth). No. it is all the same, but found in all manifestation, not as a stage … If luminosity and emptiness is taught but there is no realization that it is the great bliss, then one has not realized anything ... not that it is pointless but just a step along the path. So what is it the great bliss? It is actually a sort of absorption. I think I will write about Anatta, so that you don't get confused with non-dual. Anatta is about no agent. Clarity that there is no agent, and because there is no agent, it has to be direct. It is naturally non dual”.

Soh Wei Yu: The I AM realization does not contradict Anatta realization but complements it. I noticed that many Buddhists trained under the doctrine of Anatta and emptiness seem to be put off by the description of “I AM realization” as it seems to contradict Anatta. This will prevent their progress as they will fail to appreciate and realize the depth of luminous presence, and their understanding of Anatta and emptiness remains intellectual. It should be understood that the I AM realization does not contradict Anatta realization but complements it. It is the “original face before your parents were born” of Zen, and the unfabricated clarity in Dzogchen that serves as initial rigpa, it is also the initial certainty of Mind discovered in the first of the four yogas of Mahamudra (see: Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal). Calling it “I AM” is just another name for the same thing, and you should also know that AtR’s definition of I AM is different from Buddhism’s term “conceit of I Am” or Nisargadatta’s I Am. The I AM of AtR is a direct taste and realization of the Mind of Clear Light. The view gets refined and the taste gets brought to effortless maturity and non-contrivance in all manifestation as one’s insights deepen”. 

John Tan (2011): I AM is PCE in thought (only)

John Tan: What is "I AM"? Is it a PCE (pure consciousness experience)? Is there emotion? Is there feeling? Is there thought? Is there division or complete stillness? In hearing there is just sound, just this complete, direct clarity of sound! So what is "I AM"?

Soh Wei Yu: It is the same, just that pure non conceptual thought.

John Tan: Is there 'being'?

Soh Wei Yu: No, an ultimate identity is created as an afterthought.

John Tan: Indeed. It is the misinterpretation after that experience that is causing the confusion. That experience itself is pure conscious experience. There is nothing that is impure, that is why it is a sense of pure existence. It is only mistaken due to the 'wrong view'. So it is a pure conscious experience in thought. Not sound, taste, touch...etc. PCE (Pure Consciousness Experience) is about direct and pure experience of whatever we encounter in sight, sound, taste... The quality and depth of experience in sound, in contacts, in taste, in scenery, has he truly experience the immense luminous clarity in the senses? If so, what about 'thought'? When all senses are shut, the pure sense of existence as it is when the senses are shut. Then with senses open have a clear understanding. 

John Tan (2007): I AMness and non-dual is the same. It is just the clarity in terms of insight, not experience. You don't think that "I AMness" is low stage of enlightenment? A person that has experienced "I AMness" and non-dual is the same. The experience is the same. It is just the clarity in terms of insight, not experience. Non dual is every moment there is the experience of presence. Or the insight into the every moment experience of presence. What prevents that experience is the illusion of self, and "I AM" is that distorted view. The experience is the same leh ...  there is nothing wrong with that experience to Sim Pern Chong, Jonls... I only say it is skewed towards the thought realm. So don't differentiate but know what is the problem. I always say it is misinterpretation of the experience of presence. not the experience itself. but "I AMness" prevents us from seeing.

John Tan (2009): I AM is the experience of no background (background becoming foreground) and experiencing consciousness directly

John Tan: I AM is the same as Hokai’s description of the Shingon practice of the body, mind and speech into one. That’s an I Am experience, except that the object of practice is not based on consciousness. What is meant by foreground? It is the disappearance of the background and what’s left is it. Similarly, the "I AM" is the experience of no background and experiencing consciousness directly. That is why it is just simply "I-I" or "I AM".

Soh Wei Yu: I've heard of the way people describe consciousness as the background consciousness becoming the foreground... so there's only consciousness aware of itself and that’s still like I AM experience.

John Tan: That is why it is described that way, awareness aware of itself and as itself.

Soh Wei Yu: But you also said I AM people sink to a background?

John Tan: Yes

Soh Wei Yu: Sinking to background = background becoming foreground?

John Tan: That is why I said it is misunderstood. And we treat that as ultimate.

Soh Wei Yu: But what Hokai described is also non-dual experience rite.

John Tan: I have told you many times that the experience is right but the understanding is wrong. That’s why it is an insight and opening of the wisdom eyes. There is nothing wrong with the experience of I AM". Did I say that there is anything wrong with it?

Soh Wei Yu: nope

John Tan: Even In stage 4 what did I say?

Soh Wei Yu: It’s the same experience except in sound, sight, etc

John Tan:  Sound as the exact same experience as "I AM"... as presence.

John Tan (2010): Don’t deny Witnessing, but its personification, reification and objectification

Can you deny Witnessing? Can you deny that certainty of being? Then there is nothing wrong with it. How could you deny your very own existence? How could you deny existence at all? There is nothing wrong experiencing directly without intermediary the pure sense of existence. After this direct experience, you should refine your understanding, your view, your insights ... You do not deny the Witness, you refine your insight of it. What is meant by non-dual. What is meant by non-conceptual. What is being spontaneous. What is the 'impersonality' aspect. What is luminosity. Do not deny that Witnessing but refine the view. You merely deny the personification, reification and objectification so that you can progress further and realize our empty nature.

Soh Wei Yu: I AM is am appearance of the Mind door, a formless one, but it is still a manifestation: "Presence is just appearance (however it will not be seen as such prior to Anatta realization, instead it will be seen as very Absolute and Ultimate and distinguished from other transient appearances due to immaturity of insight). The so called formless is really another appearance, another manifestation, not any different from the appearance of a color, a sound. A sound is not a sight, but a sound is a manifestation, an appearance. A sight is not a sound, but a sight is a manifestation, an appearance. A sensations is not a sound, but it is manifestation, appearance. The I AM is likewise just another appearance, it is of the Mind door and therefore you say it is not a sight, not a sound. That I AM or Mind (pure sense of formless Presence Awareness even when five senses are shut) is formless because it is not visually seen nor auditory heard (because it is the Mind door, not the visual or auditory sense door) but it is still a manifestation. But it is really just another appearance, a manifestation. You do not say Presence allows appearance, for Presence is just appearances in all its diversities. In other words, Presence has not just one particular face but ten thousand faces”.

“The view of Anatta, dependent origination and emptiness is very different from Advaita … Don't get disturbed by whether Presence is self or not self while doing self-inquiry, or on Anatta, etc. Just direct realize the Awareness/Presence/I AM first. If you get disturbed by thinking or concepts, you will never come to the Certainty of Being / Existence”.

“As a matter of fact, that doubtless taste of luminous Presence does not contradict Anatta, but complements it when properly understood. Merely understanding Anatta without the direct taste of Presence is dry and nihilistic or merely intellectual. However after you realize Presence (I AM), then non-dual, then Anatta and dependent origination and emptiness, you will start to see and appreciate that Buddha's view and insight is profound”.

“John Tan told me in 2008: ‘Although the 'teaching of Anatta' helps to prevent you from landing into wrong views, the downside is it also denies you from experiencing that deep and ultimate conviction, that certainty beyond doubt of your very own existence "I AM'. This is a very important factor for Advaita practitioners. The next important factor is the duration of this non-dual experience must be prolonged; long enough for you to enter into a sort of absorption that the experience becomes 'oceanic'”.

Soh Wei Yu: Self-Inquiry and Mahasi Noting: “… Someone asked me about self-inquiry vs Mahasi style noting. Pure noting would not suit me or my character because it would have felt dry and barren to me. That taste of Presence, a direct taste of Spirit or the Heart seems missing in those practices. Which I was already having glimpses of as early as 2006-2007, a few years before doubtless Self-Realization arose. But through awareness teachings and the practice of self-inquiry when I AM realization arose, all further progressions are based on the maturing of insight in relation to that non-dual luminous taste of presence. However if you are drawn to MCTB approach there is nothing wrong pursuing noting and the path as outlined there. The luminosity aspect is eventually brought forth at the 3rd path of MCTB and matures at 4th and post 4th path (Daniel Ingram’s exploration of AF practices). You have to gauge and see for yourself which approach you felt more resonance with”.

John Tan (2009): Gradual Approach and Direct Path. “It appears that there are two groups of practitioners in DhO, one adopting the gradual approach and the other, the direct path … You have to gauge your own conditions, if you choose the direct path, you cannot downplay this ‘I’; contrary, you must fully and completely experience the whole of ‘YOU’ as ‘Existence’. Emptiness nature of our pristine nature will step in for the direct path practitioners when they come face to face to the ‘traceless’, ‘centerless’ and ‘effortless’ nature of non-dual awareness”.

“Perhaps a little on where the two approaches meet will be of help to you. Awakening to the ‘Watcher’ will at the same time ‘open’ the ‘eye of immediacy’; that is, it is the capacity to immediately penetrate discursive thoughts and sense, feel, perceive without intermediary the perceived. It is a kind of direct knowing. You must be deeply aware of this ‘direct without intermediary’ sort of perception too direct to have subject/object gap, too short to have time, too simple to have thoughts. It is the ‘eye’ that can see the whole of ‘sound’ by being ‘sound’. It is the same ‘eye’ that is required when doing vipassana, that is, being ‘bare’. Be it non-dual or vipassana, both require the opening of this 'eye of immediacy'”.

John Tan (2007): Impermanence door and No-Self door. "In the three (or four) dharma seals, the universal seals (characteristics of existence), there is the understanding of no-self, there is impermanence, there is suffering and there is nirvana. Entering from the door of impermanence is different from entering the door of no-self".

"When you observe the arising and passing away of your thoughts, it can also lead to the understanding of no-self, but from the door of impermanence. This means that Self is seen as a series: Self1, Self2, Self3, that does not remain, from moment to moment it changes". 

"However, a person that enters through the door of no-self, means understanding no-self directly, he enters through luminosity. That is more like a mirror bright, but he cannot understand the luminosity due to momentum, then he separates the external world and the internal world. But the no-self itself will break this mirror; he will then see that everything is the Mind". 

"Do you get it? One is from the luminosity door. No-self leads to the mirror bright, and then breaking the mirror and then experience everything as the nature. The other one that leads to no-self is through the understanding of impermanence".

"The understanding of these two is important, it must later be fused into one to understand what Emptiness about. This means there is no point of reference, there is no centricity, there is no where, there is no when, there is no I, but there is manifestation all and everywhere. If you enter the gate of impermanence, later you have to experience no-self from luminosity, then you have to fuse the two, then you have to stabilize the two, then you can understand Emptiness".

Other Questions on Self-Inquiry and I AM
Soh Wei Yu: A relatively silent stable state is needed for effective Self-Inquiry

“Ramana Maharshi teaches that the most direct path to self-realization is Self-Inquiry. That is what Ramana would teach first. However if the seeker says he/she has trouble inquiring properly, Ramana may advice on other methods like controlling the breath. Other secondary practices are useful, such as breath control, if one is unable to get the mind to a relatively silent stable state for effective inquiry. A wandering monkey mind –a chattery mind– is not able to effectively inquire into what you truly are prior to thinking. However one must come back to inquiry at the end”.

The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi: Should Self-Inquiry be done 24/7? “You ask, ‘Should I keep doing Self-Inquiry all day for hours in seated position? Should I continue the inquiry in bed as well before sleep? Or should I stop the inquiry from time to time to give some rest to the body?’ Firstly, self-investigation has nothing to do with the body, so we can practice it whether the body is lying, sitting, standing, walking or doing anything else. For the same reason, we do not have to stop being self-attentive in order to give some rest to the body, because being self-attentive cannot strain the body in any way. In fact, when the body and mind are resting is a very favourable condition for us to be self-attentive”.

“Regarding your question about continuing the practice in bed before sleep, that is also good, but since we are generally very tired at that time, we usually subside into sleep soon after trying to be self-attentive. There is no harm in that, because when we need to sleep we should sleep. There is no time and no circumstance that is not suitable for us to be self-attentive, so we should try to be self-attentive as much as possible whatever the time or circumstances may be, but we should not try to deprive ourselves of however much sleep we may need”.

Soh Wei You (personal communication): I think it’s better to just sleep when you are sleeping. No need to inquire. But (do) inquire when meditating and when doing not so cognitively engaging tasks, like walking.

Soh Wei Yu: The purpose of generating doubt is not to create endless doubt but to direct the mind to the Source so that the very doubt resolves into the Doubtless Self/Beingness that is revealed in its shining radiance

The point of self inquiry is really to investigate (and this process of investigation consists of an earnest curiosity and inquisitiveness) and direct the mind to the Source, which is prior to everything thoughts, perceptions, etc. The purpose of generating doubt is not to create endless doubt but to direct the mind to the Source so that the very doubt resolves into the Doubtless Self/Beingness that is revealed in its shining radiance. The doubt is itself the inquisitiveness and curiosity (an important key element to successful self-inquiry, otherwise the thought 'Who am I?' will just be a monotonous and robotic mental chanting like a mantra rather than lead the mind to the Source), to really find out the truth of your Being. You have to ask "Who am I?" like you really, really mean it, like you really, really want to find out what you truly are at the core of your Being and unlock the secret of Existence. Like, what the hell, after all these years living on this planet, what is at the core of this wondrous Life itself? What is this Existence? What am I??? I've seen many things in life and lived for so many years, but WHO is living this Life? Who is seeing, hearing, smelling? Who is dragging this corpse along? That's the meaning of doubt, nothing else.

Soh Wei Yu: Why is "before birth, what am I?" being advocated 

Before any observable five senses or conceptual phenomena, what are you? There is a doubtless Presence before senses. But don’t intellectualize the question or ponder conceptually while enquiring. The purpose of self-inquiry is to have a direct non-conceptual realization of Self/Presence. So any conceptual rumination will be an obstruction during the practice of self-enquiring.

Wayne Woo: What is the Original Face? 

What is the Original Face? It is the face all of us have before our parents gave birth to us. Before we even have the 6 sense organs of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body & brain to perceive the 6 sense objects of form, sound, smell, taste, feeling & thought. Before we even know good & evil, happiness & suffering, samsara & nirvana. Simply  the pure awareness untainted by all 6 senses that is the real YOU. That is also me, that is also all sentient beings & all Buddhas. (The Original Face)

Angelo Di Lullo: Once in the thoughtless space, stay alert but don’t strain

“… With any of these perceptions, experiences you can simply inquire ‘who is the one perceiving?’ Then look ‘there’. Also can just notice the vantage FROM which you seem to be perceiving each experience and rest there. Often this comes with a sort of stepwise inward moving experience but hold that description loosely. When you come to a truly contentless experience there will be nothing to do, no where specific to look, and an alertness to any arising thought or perception which will be immediately discounted as such. Once this is clear there’s not a lot more to do but stay with it, stay alert but don’t strain. There are a few expected ‘reactions’ at this point one being physiologic fear/terror. If it comes and you remain in thoughtless clarity it will pass. Practice this way and let me know what you find. I’ve worked with a handful of people in exactly the way you are practicing in last couple weeks who all broke through. You got this. But you gotta go where you no longer know where you are”.

Soh Wei Yu: Not necessary to enter extra-ordinary meditative states in order to realize I AMtion states needed

It should be noted that it is not necessary to enter certain states of meditation to shut off the five senses before realizing I AM. As Ramana Maharshi said before, it is not necessary to lose body consciousness to realize Self, although doing so simply intensifies the samadhi or absorption in Self. 

The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi: Self-Inquiry and Kundalini “When you say ‘The practice of Self-Inquiry, especially in seated position –just being aware of awareness itself, not meditating in any object or form etc, simply just being, not even ‘I’ in the I AM– boosted my kundalini’, it is not clear to me what you are actually practicing, because you say you are ‘just being aware of awareness itself’ but then seem to say that you are not meditating even on ‘I’. Meditating on ‘I’ means attending only to yourself [not in the space], or in other words, just being self-attentive, so if you are not meditating on ‘I’, what do you mean by saying that you are ‘just being aware of awareness itself’?”

This is why Bhagavan gave us the powerful pointer ‘to whom?’ If we understand this pointer correctly, it is directing our attention back towards our-self, the one to whom all other things appear. In other words, it is pointing our attention back to what is aware, away from whatever we were hitherto aware of”.

“If you are aware of any phenomenon, such as the boosting of your Kundalini, your attention has been diverted away from yourself, so you need to turn it back to yourself, the one to whom all phenomena appear … the energy, the spine, the chakras and the energy’s movement are all objects or phenomena, so you should ignore all such things by trying to be keenly self-attentive … If you turn your attention back to yourself and hold firmly to yourself –that is, if you just remain firmly self-attentive–, whatever phenomena may have appeared will thereby disappear, because no phenomenon can appear or remain in your awareness unless you attend to it at least to a certain extent”.

Devotion and AMness

Albert Hong: “Devotion for instance is a great access point to realize AMness. When you truly love something without boundaries, without desire then the aliveness or soul essence of what you love shines forth”.

Soh Wei Yu: “…Ramana Maharshi became more devotional after Self-Realization. Some people were devotional before Self-Realization, e.g. Greg Goode mentioned about devotion leading to some opening of the heart that facilitated his non-dual inquiry. Metta definitely has the same heart opening potential and can definitely aid inquiry and other non-dual contemplations. Personally I'm never the really devotional kind but I still pray to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at times”.

Shinzen Young’s Do Nothing Approach

Soh Wei Yu: “Also as an alternative to Self-Inquiry, John Tan back then asked me to look into the Do Nothing method by Shinzen Young as another alternative way to realize the Self. However I did not focus on that practice”.

Soh Wei Yu: I AMness without Self-Inquiry is a gradual approach

 Is it possible to experience I AMness without self-inquiry? For example, the person who wrote ‘awareness watching awareness’ just focused on awareness alone then experienced I AMness. He didn’t ask ‘Who am I?’. But I think ‘Who am I?’ is very useful.

John Tan: It’s possible but that sort of practice it is a more gradual approach. It will not have that sort of 'Eureka' factor. The next step into non-dual is to bring this into the foreground by practicing bare attention of our body sensations. The Eureka factor is very important part for Realization. Self-Inquiry is the direct (not gradual) method to Self-Realization.

Soh Wei Yu: Awareness Watching Awareness is a gradual approach 

“IMO, Self-Inquiry is more direct than Michael Langford's ‘Awareness Watching Awareness’ practice. Though they are in some ways related, AWA is a more gradual path towards Self-Realization, but also effective”.

John Tan: Kundalini related practices can lead to I AM realization as well, although it’s a different process from self-enquiry

Soh Wei Yu: Kundalini related practices may lead to experience but for realization you need to do some kind of investigation like self-inquiry or koan. 

John Tan: No, both can lead to realization, koan is just an instrument … The Self (may be) realized by kundalini, opening of chakras, or by micro and macroscopic orbit of chi … when you practice into a state of total openness, purity and clarity (as in Kundalini), you will realize your non-dual luminous essence … Kundalini leads you differently to realization of Self too, ultimately. However, the path is different. It is like the difference between gradual path and direct path … When you practice bringing to the foreground, you will also experience complete and full integration of energy. You may then focus on energy.

John Tan: How does awakening of kundalini lead to Self-Realization? It’s the same as koan, except that it is by way of awakening the magic serpent in this case. You do not need to penetrate by way of koan, koan might not suit everyone. if you ask your mum, it might be more suitable to do chanting or even kundalini practice, but she would have to know the purpose of practice. Much like your grandmaster teaches you ‘illumination of awareness’, same like teaching ‘awareness of awareness’. If you practice until there is total practice openness, pure like a mirror, spaciousness and luminous… if you stabilized these experiences, you will realize. But your experience and realization will be very stable, not like direct path of realization, the strength is not there.

Soh Wei Yu: Same for kundalini? Will the experience be stable?

John Tan: Yeah...because they start from there, opening gate by gate.

Soh Wei Yu: Michael Langford, the one who taught awareness watching awareness practice, practiced 2 to 12 hours of AWA practice every day for almost 2 years... and then he achieved something like eternal bliss or liberation or something. But it sounded like he has a very very stable experience plus realization through that practice alone.

John Tan: yes. I have told you once you realized, you are guided by what?

Soh Wei Yu: The taste of a pure, original, primordial, non-conceptual and non-dual luminous state of existence.

John Tan: Yes. Isn't that an experience? I have said I do not like to differentiate but it is just to bring out this point, so you might stabilize your experience of mirror like clarity, you practice non-conceptuality and stabilized it. You practice purity of intention till you deconstruct personality.

Soh Wei Yu: Oh I see. It means that after realization, one must work to stabilize those experiences?

John Tan: You can, and indirectly yes. But you can also do by further refining your realizations. Like bringing this experience to the foreground, and then you realized Anatta, and then Emptiness and Self-Liberation … Foreground practice becomes very important to you now. Now if you were to practice bringing this experience to the foreground, what will you realized?

Soh Wei Yu: That there is no inside and outside, subject and object division in direct experience of sound, seeing, taste, etc

John Tan: Yes. You challenge 'inside/outside', boundaries, arising and ceasing... one by one. You must come to several important direct realizations. What did Richard teach the AF practitioners? How is ‘how am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’ different from bringing the experience to the foreground? Anything special?

Soh Wei Yu: I think 'being alive' can mean background or foreground depending on context of it being said.

John Tan: You have already experienced the background. And the AF crowd is not interested in the background … [if you realize the background, you realize the foreground and viceversa

Albert Hong: Taste of I AMness and Integration with the Somatic

“To get access to AMness or Beingness one has to distinguish the vital energy from the body … If you do anything body-based or breath-based then naturally you will understand what is meant by inner vitality: an inner sense of aliveness or well-being or just having more energy due to spiritual practice. If you give you attention to that life energy then it will naturally become more subtle until your whole sense of a body is just bliss and knowingness. Then, AMness becomes the very most subtle substance of everything. But it all begins with coarse to subtle to AMness. A large part of isolating the sense of YOU ARE is due to interacting with being abiding in such state. Then it becomes clear what that taste or flavor is. Then it becomes a process of distinguishing that from coarse body identification, which is nothing but muscular tensions. Those tensions then when recognized as the YOU ARE become bliss, become nothing but YOU ARE”.

Sailor Bob Adamson: Before the next thought arises, you are absolutely certain of the fact of your own being, your own awareness, your own presence. This awareness is what you are; it is what you always have been. All thoughts, perceptions, sensations and feelings appear within or upon that

“Right now, as you read this, you exist and you are aware that you exist. You are undoubtedly present and aware. Before the next thought arises, you are absolutely certain of the fact of your own being, your own awareness, your own presence. This awareness is what you are; it is what you always have been. All thoughts, perceptions, sensations and feelings appear within or upon that. This awareness does not move, change or shift at any time. It is always free and completely untouched. However, it is not a thing or an object that you can see or grasp. The mind, being simply thoughts arising in awareness, cannot grasp it or know it or even think about it. Yet, as Bob says, you cannot deny the fact of your own being. It is palpably obvious, and yet, from the time we were born, no one has pointed this out. Once it is pointed out it can be grasped or understood very quickly because it is just a matter of noticing, ‘Oh, that is what I am!’ It is a bright, luminous, empty, presence of awareness; it is absolutely radiant, yet without form; it is seemingly intangible, but the most solid fact in your existence; it is effortlessly here right now, forever untouched. Without taking a step, you have arrived; you are home. No practice can reveal this because practices are in time and in the mind. Practices aim at a result, but you (as presence-awareness) are here already, only you don’t recognize it till it is pointed out. Once seen, you can’t lose it, and you don’t have to practice to exist, to be. This is, in essence, what Bob pointed out to me in the first conversation I had with him.

Once I saw this, I felt very clear and free immediately. Later, some thoughts came up, some old personality patterns, some old definitions of who I thought myself to be. I seemed to lose the clear understanding of my nature as presence-awareness. The next day, I talked to Bob about it. He said, ‘Let’s have a look. Do you exist? Are you aware? What is illumining the thought that you have lost it?’ Then I realized that thoughts of suffering were only passing concepts being illumined by the ever-present awareness. I hadn’t lost anything at all. The awareness that we are is never obscured! Suffering seems real because we don’t have a clear understanding of our true nature. Instead, we believe the passing thoughts, such as ‘I am no good,’ ‘I am not there yet,’ ‘I am stuck’ or whatever the thought may be. Eventually we understand that we are not those thoughts. Once our real self is pointed out, the suffering loses its grip.

Bob pointed out that there is no person here at all. The person that we think we are is an imaginary concept. There are thoughts and feelings and perceptions, but they are not a problem. They just rise and fall like dust motes in the light of the presence-awareness that we are. 

Ajahn Brahm: When the body disappears along with sensory perception, one discovers I AM

There's one living in your mind right now, and you believe every word he says! His name is Thinking. When you let go of that inner talk and get silent, you get happy. Then when you let go of the movement of the mind and stay with the breath, you experience even more delight. Then when you let go of the body ,all these five senses disappear and you're really blissing out. This is original Buddhism. Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch completely vanish. This is like being in a sensory deprivation chamber but much better. But it's not just silence, you just don't hear anything. It's not just blackness, you just don't see anything. It's not just a feeling of comfort in the body, there is no body at all.

When the body disappears that really starts to feel great. You know of all those people who have out of the body experiences? When the body dies, every person has that experience, they float out of the body. And one of the things they always say is it's so peaceful, so beautiful, so blissful. It's the same in meditation when the body disappears, it's so peaceful, so beautiful, so blissful when you are free from this body. What's left? Here there's no sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. This is what the Buddha called the mind in deep meditation. When the body disappears what is left is the mind.

I gave a simile to a monk the other night. Imagine an Emperor who is wearing a long pair of trousers and a big tunic. He's got shoes on his feet, a scarf around the bottom half of his head and a hat on the top half of his head. You can't see him at all because he's completely covered in five garments. It's the same with the mind. It's completely covered with sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. So people don't know it. They just know the garments. When they see the Emperor, they just see the robes and the garments. They don't know who lives inside them. And so it is no wonder they're confused about what is life, what is mind, who is this inside of here, where did I come from? Why? What am I supposed to be doing with this life? When the five senses disappear, it's like unclothing the Emperor and seeing what is actually in here, what's actually running the show, who's listening to these words, who's seeing, who's feeling life, who this is. When the five senses disappear, you're coming close to the answer to those questions. 

John Tan: The experience of dark nights are very real for many reasons but it still depends on one’s individual conditions

“The dark nights described by Dharma Dan are very real for many reasons but then it still depends on one’s conditions. I experienced most of the problems. It took me more than 9 months to overcome them. This self-claimed Arahat is truly experience, he has all my respects! All is still due to the propensities of the ‘Self’, they are working at a very subtle level. It is not detectable at the conscious level and it is for this that I must commend you for not being misled by the non-dual experience. You are mindful that the karmic patterns still hover around. This is very important. Deeper insight must come from understanding how consciousness works. It is not at the conscious level alone. So deep are these propensities then even with the non-dual experience that is so clear and vivid, the propensities still persist and manifest from moment to moment. They do not go even after death. It is these patterns that we must be aware. Once rooted, they cannot be easily overcome. The antidote is to habituate the non-dual insight deep down into our consciousness. Do not push yourself too hard, but make more regular meditations. It is not easy to submerge entirely into the luminous bliss of arising and dissolving from moment to moment in day to day working life. Though you can’t completely fuse the experience into daily working life, you will still be authenticated”.

John Wheeler: The closest that the mind can come to representing who we are is the thought I AM

“The closest that the mind can come to representing who we are is the thought I AM. But that thought is not who we really are. Whether that thought is there or not, we still exist. We know the thought I AM. That thought is the start of the false sense of an individual, a separate ‘I’. Because we didn’t know any better, the mind attached other labels to this ‘I’ thought, such as ‘I am good,’ ‘I am bad,’ ‘I have this problem,’ and so on. But those thoughts don’t have anything to do with us, because the very ‘I’ thought itself, the sense of separation, is not actually who we are. Once you see the falseness of the ‘I’ thought, that what we are is not an individual person at all, the identifications and ideas of a lifetime all collapse because they are all based on a false premise”. 

John Tan: The thinking mind will mistake the Eternal Witness as the ultimate

“The thinking mind will mistake the Eternal Witness as the ultimate. Smile if without the correct insight and understanding of our emptiness nature, somehow the thinking mind is able to ‘sway’ the experience into thinking ‘No-Self’ as the absence of personality and ego. It is this ‘personality’ or Ego, the totality of all our cultural makeup, that does not exist; but that Reality behind all forms, thinking, mental formations and feelings is very real; it is the ultimate background of all existence. This is false and in Buddhism, this is the ‘big Self’ that should be eliminated through the experience of non-duality (Anatta). Our pristine nature is not what the linear mode of reasoning can understanding. However ‘seeing in raw’ does not necessarily lead to the experience of true non-duality; the experience of AMness is also a very crucial condition. Together with the realization of ‘the sense of self is not the doer of action’, then the conditions are ready. They are all part of the progress”.

Soh Wei Yu: Different levels of I AM

“There are different levels of I AM. At a deeper level, it reveals its non-localized, diffused, infinite and all-pervading aspect. Also at I AM, you feel like the luminous void background containing all sceneries. You do not pass by objects while walking, they pass through you. Perhaps you can get a sense of it if you do Douglas Harding’s exercises on having no head: Who are we really? 1A and Who are we really? 1B   

What is the drive to look any deeper?

Soh Wei Yu: “Once the I AM is realized, I'm guided by the taste of a pure, original, primordial, non-conceptual and non-dual luminous state of existence. To bring it into natural, effortless, full-blown spontaneous perfection and intensity in all experience, manifestation, activities, the way I found out (thankfully not very long process due to pointers by John Tan) is through deepening of insights into non-dual, Anatta and Emptiness”.

“After the initial realization, I AM becomes stagnant water as one becomes fixed on a dead Absolute. This is where Zen Master Hakuin criticized about an evil spirit watching over the corpse and being stuck in stagnant waters”.

“The direct realization of Mind is formless, soundless, smell-less, odor-less, etc. But later on it is realized that forms, smells, odors, are Mind, are Presence, Luminosity. Without deeper realization, one just stagnates in the I AM level and get fixated on the formless, etc. That is John Tan Stage 1”.

“The I AM is later realized to be simply one aspect or 'sense gate' or 'door' of pristine consciousness. It is later seen to be not any more special or ultimate than a color, a sound, a sensation, a smell, a touch, a thought, all of which reveals its vibrant aliveness and luminosity. The same taste of I AM is now extended to all senses. Right now you don't feel that, you only authenticated the luminosity of the Mind/thought door. So your emphasis is on the formless, odorless, and so on. After Anatta it is different, everything is of the same luminous, empty taste”.

“And the 'I AM' of the mind door is not any more different than any other sense door … It doesn't imply some sort of hierarchy or ultimacy of one mode of knowingness over another. They are simply different sense gates but equally luminous and empty, equally Buddha-Nature”.

John Tan: “When consciousness experiences the pure sense of I AM, overwhelmed by the transcendental thoughtless moment of Beingness, consciousness clings to that experience as its purest identity. By doing so, it subtly creates a ‘watcher’ and fails to see that the ‘Pure Sense of Existence’ is nothing but an aspect of pure consciousness relating to the thought realm. This in turn serves as the karmic condition that prevents the experience of pure consciousness that arises from other sense objects. Extending it to the other senses, there is hearing without a hearer and seeing without a seer the experience of Pure Sound Consciousness is radically different from Pure Sight Consciousness. Sincerely, if we are able to give up ‘I’ and replace it with “Emptiness Nature”, Consciousness is experienced as non-local. There isn't a state that is purer than the other. All is just One Taste, the manifold of Presence”.

“The ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’, the ‘I’, ‘here’ and ‘now’ must ultimately give way to the experience of total transparency. Do not fall back to a source, just the manifestation is sufficient. This will become so clear that total transparency is experienced. When total transparency is stabilized, transcendental body is experienced, and Dharmakaya is seen everywhere. This is the samadhi bliss of Bodhisattva. This is the fruition of practice”. (Buddha Nature is NOT "I Am")

John Tan: “The True Buddha Nature is the Pure Presence, however when the mind attempts to grasp its essence after its initial experience, it creatively creates the I AM: an Entity having all the properties of, yet still stubbornly attached to the ‘I'. It is the tricks of the monkey mind unwillingness to let go yet trying to recapture the Pure Presence experience as such, when it turns inwards to break layer by layer of its own boundaries. It will have all hurdles to clear”.

John Tan: “First is directly authenticating mind/consciousness 明心(Soh: Apprehending Mind). There is the direct path like Zen sudden enlightenment of one's original mind, or Mahamudra or Dzogchen direct introduction of Rigpa, or even Self- Inquiry of Advaita the direct, immediate, perception of consciousness without intermediaries. They are the same. 

However that is not realization of emptiness. Realization of emptiness is Seeing Nature. In my opinion there is direct path to Apprehending Mind but I have not seen any direct path to Seeing Nature yet. If you go through the depth and nuances of our mental constructs, you will understand how deep and subtle the blind spots are. 

Therefore emptiness or 空性 (Soh: Empty Nature) is the main difference between Buddhism and other religions. Although Anatta is the direct experiential taste of Emptiness, there is still a difference between Buddhist's Anatta and selflessness of other religions whether it is Anatta by experiential taste of the dissolution of self alone or the experiential taste is triggered by wisdom of emptiness. 

The former focused on selflessness, and whole path of practice is all about doing away with self, whereas the latter is about living in the wisdom of emptiness and applying that insight and wisdom of emptiness to all phenomena”.

Dropping – Let Go

Soh Wei Yu: “When I was practicing Self-Inquiry, John Tan told me to practice 'dropping' as well. Separate sessions: morning practice self-inquiry, at night practice dropping. However I personally skewed towards the self-inquiry part. That said, dropping is also important and the experience of intense luminosity without being accompanied by letting go (even of the radiance) can lead to other issues. A rather balanced book I would think is ‘True Meditation’ by Adyashanti, that seems to incorporate both aspects. If you are practicing self-inquiry, do check out that book”.

John Tan: “You need to understand that even up to the phase of non-dual, is still not Anatta and Dependent Origination. So you must further refine your so called 'Advaita Vedanta' experiences, learn to drop, mind body and presence. At night learn how to drop. Morning and after, practice vivid, non-dual awareness”. 

Soh Wei Yu: By ‘dropping’ I mean: release, relax, let go of everything.

John Tan: Yes. You are already experiencing "I AMness" and that is natural. But that insight of non-duality will not come that easily. Even glimpses after glimpses, it will not be obvious and clear. The most difficult task of all practice is 'letting go'. You can take life after life, you will not understanding the essence of it. Though ultimately there is not even a letting go, with the sense of 'self', the essence will not be understood. So don't underestimate it. You must practice letting go. Drop your body, mind… all … Give up. Give up everything… everything during your practice. In meditation just practice that. Within that period of meditation, it should be fully and totally dedicated to giving up… of everything. Whenever there is holding even the slightest sense, there is self. All thoughts, all teachings, everything, family, mind, life...let go … There is no intention even to find out what is presence, what is Buddha Nature. You only have to give up everything, not to reason… initially you will want to understand... but keep this in mind and as a practice. For non-dual insight to arise, these 2 practices must go hand in hand, but it will take years. Initially without fail, it will always appear as the background, the Eternal Witness. It is necessary and from there know the 'strength' of propensities.

Soh Wei Yu: “Someone asked me: ‘Is letting go is another form of grasping? A concession to make as a practice until realization occurs? Kinda like effortful mindfulness’. I replied that letting go is not necessarily grasping. That you can reach very deep levels of de-grasping like John Tan’s Stage 3 without realizing Anatta, but it becomes like a trance state samadhi, temporary. There are different levels of dropping, the 5th and 6th requires Anatta to be effortless.

Six Stages of Dropping

(1) ‘Someone’ is dropping…
(2) Dropping appears as a mirror reflecting…
(3) There is only endless dropping without footing and mental reasoning…
(4) Dropping as vivid wide opening…
(5) Vivid wide opening as everything…
(6) Only Dharma spontaneously manifesting…

Soh Wei Yu: Can the Four Aspects of I AM be experienced without the realization of I AM?

“The four aspects of I AM do not come simultaneously with I AM realization. The aspect of impersonality (like being lived by a cosmic and impersonal Life/Spirit/Intelligence/God) is experienced for some before I AM realization, and for me it is experienced a few months after the I AM realization. They complement each other and a mature state of I AM will include impersonality”. 

“Some Indian Advaita masters distinguish 'Self-Realization' from 'God-Realization', with the latter being a more advanced phase. God-Realization is the Impersonality aspect being experienced after initial I AM realization”.

“To me, the scriptural version (as opposed to other versions like MCTB, which is rather defined as the 4th Path) of Stream Entry requires realization of Anatta, a thorough seeing through of self view. John Tan Stage 5. Otherwise it cannot be called the end of self view. All stages before John Tan Stage 5 still does not overcome the false view of self and extreme views like Eternalism thoroughly, therefore fall into various non-Buddhist views”.

“I AM is absolutely not Buddhist Stream Entry. It is also not found in some maps like MCTB, nor does it feature as a stage of enlightenment in the earliest Buddhist teachings, although it is very likely that Buddha went through that phase while studying under two Samkhya meditation teachers but that’s another story”.

Soh Wei Yu: Whether it is suitable or not to skip I AM and directly attempt to realize Anatta 

“Regarding whether it is important to go through I AM realization or can we skip to anatta -- John Tan and I and Sim Pern Chong have had differing and evolving opinions about this over the years (I remember Sim Pern Chong saying he thinks people can skip it altogether, John also wondered if it is possible or advisable as certain AF people seem to have skipped it but experience luminosity), however after witnessing the progress of people it seems to us that those who went into anatta without the I AM realization tend to miss out the luminosity and intensity of luminosity. And then they will have to go through another phase. For those with I AM realization, the second stanza of anatta comes very easily, in fact the first aspect to become more apparent. Nowadays John and my opinion is that it is best to go through the I AM phase, then nondual and anatta..

There was also the worry that by leading people into the I AM, they can get stuck there. (As John Tan and Sim Pern Chong was stuck there for decades)

But I have shown that it is possible to progress rather quickly (in eight months) from I AM to anatta. So the being stuck is due to lack of right pointers and directions, not inherently an issue with I AM.” - Soh, 2020

On a related topic, John Tan wrote in Dharma Overground back in 2009,

“Hi Gary,

It appears that there are two groups of practitioners in this forum, one adopting the gradual approach and the other, the direct path. I am quite new here so I may be wrong.

My take is that you are adopting a gradual approach yet you are experiencing something very significant in the direct path, that is, the ‘Watcher’. As what Kenneth said, “You're onto something very big here, Gary. This practice will set you free.” But what Kenneth said would require you to be awaken to this ‘I’. It requires you to have the ‘eureka!’ sort of realization. Awaken to this ‘I’, the path of spirituality becomes clear; it is simply the unfolding of this ‘I’.

On the other hand, what that is described by Yabaxoule is a gradual approach and therefore there is downplaying of the ‘I AM’. You have to gauge your own conditions, if you choose the direct path, you cannot downplay this ‘I’; contrary, you must fully and completely experience the whole of ‘YOU’ as ‘Existence’. Emptiness nature of our pristine nature will step in for the direct path practitioners when they come face to face to the ‘traceless’, ‘centerless’ and ‘effortless’ nature of non-dual awareness.

Perhaps a little on where the two approaches meet will be of help to you.

Awakening to the ‘Watcher’ will at the same time ‘open’ the ‘eye of immediacy’; that is, it is the capacity to immediately penetrate discursive thoughts and sense, feel, perceive without intermediary the perceived. It is a kind of direct knowing. You must be deeply aware of this “direct without intermediary” sort of perception -- too direct to have subject-object gap, too short to have time, too simple to have thoughts. It is the ‘eye’ that can see the whole of ‘sound’ by being ‘sound’. It is the same ‘eye’ that is required when doing vipassana, that is, being ‘bare’. Be it non-dual or vipassana, both require the opening of this 'eye of immediacy'.”

Practices to Focus On after I AM Realization

(I) Four Aspects of I AM

(1) Impersonality

This happens when practitioners experience that everything is an expression of a universal cosmic intelligence. There is therefore no sense of a personal doer... rather, it feels like I and everything is being lived by a higher power, being expressed by a higher cosmic intelligence. But this is still dualistic – there is still this sense of separation between a 'cosmic intelligence' and the 'world of experience', so it is still dualistic.

Soh Wei Yu experienced impersonality after the I AM realization, however some people experience it before I AM realization. 

Some of the Theistic Christians may not have I AM realization (it depends although many Christian mystics including Jesus Christ himself have pointed out the I AM realization), however through their surrendering to Christ, they can drop their sense of personal Doership and experience the sense of 'being lived by Christ', as in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”. This is an experience of impersonality that may or may not come with the realization of I AM. 

Sailor Bob Adamson: The patterning and functioning of this body implies that there is a wonderful intelligence expressing through it, as it. And that is actually what you are—that intelligence-energy. “That separate entity, the belief in that entity or person, has never done a damn thing! It never can and never will. You must realize that you have been lived. That body-mind that you call 'you' is being lived, and it is being lived quite effortlessly. As Christ said, 'Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit to his stature?' That separate entity can’t do a bloody thing”.

“What I'm talking about is that same intelligence that functions the universe. The very fact that the stars can orbit or the planets can orbit around the Earth and form out of the gases into the particular shape and form and hold that form implies an intelligence. That which keeps the seasons coming and going implies an intelligence. The tides coming in and out imply an intelligence. Look at it closely. It is beating your heart right now. It is growing your hair and your fingernails. It is digesting your food. It is replacing the cells in your body. The patterning and functioning of this body implies that there is a wonderful intelligence expressing through it, as it. And that is actually what you are—that intelligence-energy. It formed you, grew you and is continuing to grow you. It is replacing the cells in your body and doing other things naturally, the same as it is in the universe. But that natural state has seemingly been clouded over by the reasoning or the functioning of the mind. Look at the body and break it down. There is no center here in this body that I can say 'This is what I am'. It started with the sperm and the ovum coming together. If the body had any center it would be that original cell. But that is long since gone. There are many cells dying in this body right now and being replaced”.

John Wheeler: There are thoughts, but no thinker; actions, but no actor; choices, but no choice maker. "The ‘knockout blow’ was seeing the absence of a person. There is no such entity in the machine. There are only thoughts, experiences and objects arising and subsiding in awareness. There is no one controlling them and no one affected by them. Once this is seen, everything happens just as before, but the imagined person is removed from the film. The film goes on but there is no person starring in it. There are thoughts, but no thinker; actions, but no actor; choices, but no choice maker. Basically, there is no difference from before, except the sense of separation is gone, along with the psychological suffering, confusion and doubt that appear along with the belief in a separate ‘I’. There is no one at the controls. Life is happening; thoughts are arising; actions are occurring spontaneously. You, as a separate person, are not doing any of these things. You don’t choose your thoughts, feelings, sensations. As Bob says, ‘You are being lived’”.

John Wheeler (Clear in Your Heart): Moreover, there is no one there to step back or refuse to play the fake ‘I’ game. “Thinking, seeing, living, breathing and so on all are going on just fine. The limited ‘I’ notion comes in as a subsequent concept. Just because you are not a limited, isolated, defective person, why should any of the natural functioning stop? Life goes on just as before but without any reference to the assumed self-center”.

“You say, ‘Who or what is doing this sorting and selecting, coming and going? And since there is no ‘I’, why not just not step back, stop, refuse to participate in the fake ‘I’ game, and just let the river take its course?’

“Who is there to step back? Who is present to refuse to participate? Who is there to let the river take its course? All appears in awareness and functions. The separate person is not. Your question implies that without a self-concept, no functioning is possible. That is not true. Which self-center is beating your heart? None! When you say ‘Why not just step back?’, you are bringing in a tacit reference to an entity with the capacity to do that. There is no one there to step back or refuse to play the game. The fake ‘I’ game, as you call it, is a fake game. When seen, it is all over. All your questions are really hanging on the assumed reality of the conceptual ‘I’: that it is either necessary for functioning, which is false, or that it is present to step back, refuse, not decide or whatever. 

“You say, ‘There are decisions but no decider, doing but no doer, acting but no actor, thinking but no thinker’. This is it exactly. All these things are going on and will continue to do so. There is just no ‘I’ doing any of it. This is a description of your own experience, even now. Seeing is happening. Thinking is happening. Later the mind comes in and posits an ‘I’ doing those things, but that ‘I’ is only a concept. The ‘I’ concept cannot see, think or do anything. Are ‘you’ beating your heart or growing your hair? Yet there is no problem with any of that functioning. It is the same with thoughts also. It is an illusion to think there is a ‘you’ manufacturing thought. Do you know what the next thought is going to be before it appears? No! Then how can you say ‘you’ created it? You cannot! And yet it happens just fine”.

“You ask, ‘Why not just sit on a bench, blow smoke rings towards the sun and talk to the birds?’ Yes, if there is any entity present to do that! If it happens it will happen; if not, not. Planning, deciding and functional activity do not imply or require a separate self concept. In fact, things flow better without that erroneous notion mucking up the works”.

“You say, ‘How did those decisions get made without some kind of a reference point?’ That is just it. It is a reference point, not who you are. Until people look into this, they are apt to confuse the reference point, which is a conceptual construct, with their actual identity. With the basic identity clear, you can use the reference point, if necessary, but not be used by it”.

Soh Wei Yu: Impersonality is not just an experience of non-doership but a sense that everything and everyone is being expressions  of the same aliveness/intelligence/consciousness. “It should be noted that impersonality is not just an experience of non-Doership. It is the dissolving of the construct of 'personal self' that led to a purging of ego effect to a state of clean, pure, not mine sort of perception shift, accompanied with a sense that everything and everyone is being expressions  of the same aliveness/intelligence/consciousness. This can then be easily extrapolated into a sense of a 'universal source' (but this is merely an extrapolation and at a later phase is deconstructed) and one will also experience 'being lived' by this greater Life and Intelligence”. 

David Carse (Perfect Brilliant Stillness): “Of course, make no mistake, from the point of view of the total Understanding this teaching about whether you are the doer is in fact redundant; the question does not even arise. With the Understanding comes the natural and spontaneous apperception that there is no one here no individual to either be the doer or not be the doer. So the question is moot. What you think of as yourself; the whole package of body, mind, personality, ego, sense of individuality, personal history; none of that even exists as such, as anything other than an idea, a story, a concept in Consciousness”. 

“At the morning talks recently there has been a musician who plays traditional Indian flute for the group after the talks. The flute does not know music: it does not know 'G' from 'B flat;' it does not know tempo or emphasis, and cannot make music come out of itself: it's just a hollow bamboo stick with holes in it! It is the musician who has the knowledge and the skill and the intention and the dexterity, and whose breath blows through the instrument and whose fingers manipulate the openings so that beautiful music flows out. When the music is ended, no one congratulates the wooden stick on the music it made: it is the musician who is applauded and thanked for this beautiful gift of music”.

“It is precisely so with what we think of as our 'selves'. We are instruments, hollow sticks, through which the Breath, the Spirit, the Energy which is Presence, All That Is, Consciousness, flows. Just as it is not the flute making the note, but the Musician making the note through the instrument, so it is the breath which is Presence which animates this mind and body and comes out through this mouth to make it seem that this mouth is speaking words. The basic misunderstanding, the basic ignorance, is this unwitting usurpation of the role of Musician by the instrument. This inversion of the truth is spontaneously realized when the Understanding occurs. It becomes obvious that there is no individual, that there is 'nobody home’, 'no entity’ here to be the doer or not. Because awakening is simply the Understanding that there is no one here to awaken”.

Soh Wei Yu: Impersonality will help dissolve the sense of self but it has the danger of making one extrapolate an universal consciousness. “Impersonality will help dissolve the sense of self but it has the danger of making one attached to a metaphysical essence or to personify, reify and extrapolate an universal consciousness. It makes a practitioner feel ‘God’. At this phase it is good to focus on this impersonal and universal aspect of consciousness, but beware of the tendency to extrapolate”.

Joseph Naft (A Meditation: Climbing Jacob's Ladder): “Next — and remarkably there is a next — we become aware of the other side of I Am, of the source from which it arises, within a stillness of surpassing quality. We see our ‘I’ as a knot that blocks off the depths, a knot that makes itself the source of our will, intentions, choices, and decisions, including the intention to meditate in this moment. Gradually we loosen the knot until it gives way, until I let go entirely of being myself, of being my own source”.

“Until this point, our ascent has been into the depths within us. But always we have remained at the core of the experience, with the experience outside of us, of our core. Now we must empty that very core and open to what is deeper than our innermost center. We ourselves become the outside to the Sacred Will of the World, Who is our Source, and let that Will come through us, as us”.

“We inwardly prostrate ourselves, begging for reconnection, begging to become a part of that Greatness. Silently and wholeheartedly calling out to the Ultimate, completely and utterly opening the very kernel of who we are, we reach beyond the world of sacred light, into the unbounded emptiness, which is also an overflowing fullness, an intimacy with all, with the All”. 

“This ultimate stage of the meditation comes only as an act of grace from Above. It lies well beyond our ability to make happen, although our emptiness, our surrender, and our love are necessary. Attempting to enter here, prayer may help. If you are so inclined, silently repeat one of God’s names, one close to your heart, one that both expresses your yearning and brings you peace”.

“In closing the meditation, we climb back down Jacob’s Ladder to return to our daily life, though somewhat changed inwardly. We come, in turn, back to the sacred light, back to the cognizant stillness of consciousness and the presence of I Am, back to sensation and relaxation, and thus back to the base of the ladder. We rest in awareness as the meditation settles in us”.

Joseph Benner: The Impersonal Life, a book on Christian Mysticism emphasizing on the aspect of impersonality after I AM realization. “I AM the Tree of Life within you. My Life will and must push forth, but It will do it by gradual and steady growth. You cannot come into your fruitage before you have grown to it … You who have begun to realize I AM within, but have not yet learned to commune with Me. Listen and learn now”.

“… Yes, this cell consciousness is common to every cell of every body, no matter what its kind, because it is an Impersonal consciousness, having no purpose other than doing the work allotted it. It lives only to work wherever needed. When through with building one form, it takes up the work of building another, under whatever consciousness I desire it to serve”.

“Thus it is likewise with you. You, as one of the cells of My Body, have a consciousness that is My Consciousness, an intelligence that is My Intelligence, even a will that is My Will. You have none of these for yourself or of yourself. They are all Mine and for My use only. Now, My consciousness and My Intelligence and My Will are wholly Impersonal, and therefore are common with you and with all the cells of My Body, even as they are common with all the cells of your body”.

“I AM the directing Intelligence of All, the animating Spirit, the Life, the Consciousness of all matter, of all Substance. If you can see it, You, the Real you, the Impersonal you, are in all and are one with all, are in Me and are one with Me; just as I AM in you and in all, and thereby am expressing My Reality through you and through all”.

“This will, which you call your will, is likewise no more yours personally than is this consciousness and this intelligence of your mind and of the cells of your body yours. It is but that small portion of My Will which I permit the personal you to use. Just as fast as you awaken to recognition of a certain power or faculty within you and begin consciously to use it, do I allow you that much more of My Infinite Power”. 

“All power and its use is but so much recognition and understanding of the use of My Will. Your will and all your powers are only phases of My Will, which I supply to suit your capacity to use it. Were I to entrust you with the full power of My Will, before you know how consciously to use it, it would annihilate your body utterly”.

“... All this may be difficult for you now to accept, and you may protest very strenuously that it cannot be, that every instinct of your nature rebels against such yielding and subordinating yourself to an unseen and unknown power, however Impersonal or Divine ... Fear not, it is only your personality that thus rebels". 

John Tan (2009): We experience God-like qualities. But that is not non-duality. That is impersonality. “When we move from I AMness and mature the deconstruction of personality, we experience God-like qualities. Seeing everything as one manifestation of 'One Life' and Presence being the same for everyone. ... Just like the Isness but without the individuality. Once this individuality is gone (whether permanently or temporary), you will intuit that all as sharing the Source or as Manifestation of this Source. But that is not non-duality. That is impersonality. That is why you need to experience that too.” 

John Tan (2010): Divine Will is just Dependent Origination

John Tan: (Once realized) Certainty of Being, when you focus on the 4 aspects till the peak and with right understanding, you will also have the same experience as Anatta and Emptiness. When you felt that the will of the source becomes your will, you become life itself, that’s the same experience. Actually, all is the same experience except that Buddhism provides the right understanding. In the experience of "I AM" and the article you posted about the divine, what is the peak of experience phase? … After glimpses and realization of the source, when the divine will becomes your will, you must be able to experience every manifestation as the grace of Divine Will. So must understand this in terms of direct experience and right view. Do you know why there is the sensation of a 'Divine Will'?

Soh Wei Yu: Because the sense of self is being let go... and it’s seen that everything is spontaneously arising from the source

John Tan: And what is this 'source' that seems to be doing the work?

Soh Wei Yu: Consciousness, life?

John Tan: Isn't I AM the consciousness?

Soh Wei Yu: Yeah but at the beginning it still feels like an individuated sense of presence... but then later its seen as more impersonal, like everything is merely the expression of the source.

John Tan: First you must understand the separation is due to dualistic thought. Thought separates. Do you know what is the 'Divine Will'? What causes the 'Divine Will' is the sensation due to “the sense of self is being let go... and it’s seen that everything is spontaneously arising from the source” (you said).

John Tan: Then, what is the Divine Will?

Soh Wei Yu: It means it’s happening due to the divine source, nothing is happening due to an individual will/agent/doer

John Tan: When someone hits the bell, is anything due to Divine Will?

Soh Wei Yu: It’s also Divine Will because there is ultimately no separate person who acts, and no separate person who experience. Everything is manifested by the Divine Will... including every action that is spontaneously arising.

John Tan: When someone hit the bell, anything so divine?

Soh Wei Yu: It’s a manifestation of consciousness.

John Tan: Not good, not good. Because of the lack of understanding of your nature. Your nature is empty. What is this Divine Will? It’s just Dependent Origination. It’s because we think in terms of entity and the 'weight of this dualistic and inherent' tendencies that makes us feel separate and inherent. Instead of seeing Dependent Origination, we see it as Divine Will. Not knowing empty nature, we mistaken Dependent Origination for Divine Will. Not knowing no-self nature, we thought we are independent. When no-self is fully experienced and insight of Anatta rises, you do not feel source as separated from 'you'. There is merely manifestation, empty luminosity. Empty as in Dependent Origination and therefore does not require 'Divine Will', yet all manifests due to empty nature, effortless and spontaneous. There are conditions that are required for manifestations. A 'Divine Will' is not necessary.

When a practitioner realizes no-self and Anatta insight arises, he clearly sees conditions. There is no divine will to listen to, but whenever condition is, manifestation is. Slowly understand this. Do not see Dependent Origination as something dead. See it as direct manifestation of your breathe, just like you experience everything as the grace of this Divine Will. Feel this grace of life everywhere. Letting go of yourself completely and feel this life.

The second experience is more of ‘heaven and earth have one root, ten thousand phenomena have the same substance’. Clouded by self-image, egoity. It means that the second experience is more of a realization on the same source. 

Soh Wei Yu: Why you said clouded by self-image, egoity?

John Tan: Self-image is simply a construct. That is from a dualistic point of view, being 'connected' must always be the case. When you deconstruct personality, you merely discover. A practitioner must also be aware of the 'weight' of these constructs. From an empty point of view, when the tendency is there, it is also not right to say that the interconnected state is always there, always the case. Obviously 'you' are not 'connected'. When the 'construct' is strong, there is no such experience or when the 'personality' is there, there is no experience of ‘everything has the same substance/source’. Or 'personality' is that very experience of individuality and therefore cannot have any experience of same 'source'. 

The former does not realize the causes and conditions for any arising. When we say it is always 'there' we are having 'absolute view'. If we cling to that, then that will prevent clear seeing. So what is the experience of 'individuality' like? it is the very experience of what practitioner before the 'connection' feel and understand. That is a state of reality, cannot be said to be determined or not.

Soh Wei Yu: What you mean by that is a state of reality cannot be said to be determined or not … So one must deconstruct the individuality otherwise there is no feeling of connection.

John Tan: Yes. For personality is the very state of individuality. What I want you to understand is not to have a predetermined state.

Soh Wei Yu: So that means that according to conditions we experience the connection, but it’s not always there?

John Tan: Yes it is better to understand that way.

John Tan: Now when you experience Certainty of Being, you only experience the un-deniability of your existence. doubtless, certain and present. But being connected to the source is different. It will also determine your later phase of practice. If you are attached to the Presence, what happens?

Soh Wei Yu: hmm. You mean when you are attached to Presence you will have difficulty seeing the connection?

John Tan: You wanted the state of Presence to transcend to the 3 states (waking, dreaming and sleeping) for you are only interested in that Certainty of Being. Whereas when you realized the source, you don't do that. You are surrendering much like the Christian mystics. You are devoting. Nothing is important besides serving the divine. Sustaining the state of presence and devoting to a divine source is different. You sleep when it is time to sleep. Whatever thy will is. In Presence, you still think of control, in surrendering, you realized you are being lived. Awareness is being done. it is almost the opposite, but then there is also the integration.

Soh Wei Yu: Actually, I think if we let go of control completely the presence is also naturally there, there is no need to try to control presence. 

John Tan: if you think that, that becomes a hindrance. Because you are torn in between. You are serving 2 masters. Presence and Source. But then there is also the integration where divine will becomes your will. Then in Jacob’s Ladder meditation: after realization and experience of the grace, it must be found everywhere. Therefore you return to Phase 1 of the Ladder with new understanding. You are directly and intuitively experiencing all manifestations as the expression of life. Where you and the divine become one, where phenomena and the divine becomes indistinguishable, as transient, as inner and outer world.

However that is because we are trying to express and understand this in an inherent and dualistic way. We speak in such a way because we are using a dualistic paradigm. And the experience seems difficult to reconcile and become seamless. So you must arise insight. You realized, what you call Self/self is just a label. Rhis is very difficult to understand. Then you are not trapped in 'reconnection' or surrendering.

You realized there is no-self (Stage 4 and 5). Whatever experienced is vividly present and aliveness everywhere because what that 'blocks' is no more there through the arising insight. Now, how clear are you in directly experiencing sensation? In experiencing sound, color, sight, taste? The mind at present is more interested in the behind reality. So Anatta transform the experience of individuality through insight, clear seeing. There is a difference in saying what you call Awareness has always been sight, sound, the scent of fragrance… and there is Awareness and there is sound, sight, taste… When you see and mature your insight of Anatta, it is realized that wrong view is what that is causing the problem. 

However after that, you must practice directly. You shouldn't think theoretically too much after the arising insight of Anatta. There is a difference between thinking that a Weather truly exist and the changing clouds, the rain exist inside weather. Get it? So when you took that to be real, it creates the problem of reification and intensifying the inherent existence of Self. If there is no-weight to the constructs, then there would be no problem. Unfortunately, constructs are like spells. 

Just experience first. Feel this aliveness everywhere. In other words, what you realized is beyond appearance, but you do not understand the impact of (imputed) appearance. 

Soh (2015): Vast Impersonal Intelligence. “If you think that I am sounding like an advocate of 'God', I have to reiterate that this so called 'God' or intelligent Mind is empty of its own existence apart from Dharma, is not something changeless and independent, and is not some sort of source acting behind the scenes or pulling the strings. Because this vast impersonal intelligence is so magnificent, powerful and impersonal, it can give the impression that we are all just the dream or expression of a Universal Mind of God, and if we follow this 'personification' and 'reification' we may start to think whether we are living in a matrix, a dream of Shiva for no other reason than his own enjoyment. But we are not the play or lila of a Brahman, there is no need to personify or reify this at all. This intelligence IS the miracle of manifestation. The divine has no face of its own, and yet every face is the face of divinity. There is no I, no perceiver, or a controller of this spontaneous intelligent happening. Living this is living in complete ecstasy and joy born of this total intelligence, life and clarity”. (Note: I wrote this post-Anatta insight, therefore there is no more reification of this impersonal intelligence into universal consciousness)

John Tan (2005): On the phases of I AM into Impersonality. “Hi Omsairam, you are such a sincere seeker, just do not get trap into too much analysis. When one first experienced Total Presence, how clear and vivid it was! But when the experience descended into thought-level, It became ‘I am I’, the name of Yahweh. And later a metaphysical Self, either way up above or deep down in us. Eventually the 'I' becomes a tiny conscious being living inside our body seeking union with God that is DEEP down in us… and the beginning of all confusions and divisions”.

“When we made progress by taking the 'I' out for a moment and transform ‘I am I’ into ‘AMness’, subject and object temporarily becomes one. Then we begin to wonder, how does God get slip outside and become IT? Has it always been an ‘IT’ and never was an enclosed ‘I’? Was it always Suchness, Thusness, Isness?”

“If you like thinking, think about it until you exhaust the entirety of your thinking mechanism. Until you are willing to let go. Completely let go of the illusionary 'I' and see our true nature. The mind travels to and fro in an unbelievable speed, playing multiple roles, one as You and the other as God. It plays hide and seek as long as we continue to adopt the method of analysis”.

“Can the ultimate Subject be made an Object of observation? God is within and without, it cannot be contained. It is the current mode of thinking and understanding God that is at fault. As long as Reality is concerned, it is the wrong tool to use. Analysis is the way of comparison and measurement, it is dual. The Luminous Light 'knows' not through analysis. 'Knowing' to the Mystic is not to make an object in mind and study it. It is ‘knowing’ through oneness, it is ‘knowing’ through Beingness. It is losing yourself and finding itself in otherness. It is an entirely different art - Merely reflecting and simply IS. If we are resistant to the idea of dropping the 'How' and 'What', then the path of faith and total submission towards God is preferred. If we love God, do not analyze him, we are slaying him. The mysterious gate is ever open in the HERE and NOW. To experience in full, let go completely and leave not a trace of ourselves”.

(2) The Intensity of Luminosity

The degree of luminosity refers to feeling with entire being, feel wholly and directly without thoughts. Feeling 'realness' of whatever one encounters, the tree bark, the sand, etc. As with Impersonality, one may experience this even before the I AM realization. I (Soh) did. However one should practice to experience this aspect further after the I AM realization. This will also serve as one of the conditions further nondual insight. You will also need to engage in nondual contemplation (Two Types of Nondual Contemplation after I AM), explained here after the 4 aspects. This aspect will come by practicing Vipassana, see Thusness's Vipassana  and Vipassana

John Tan (2007): Revisit and re-experience each of the 6 sense doors.  “It will be advisable to take a step back to revisit and re-experience each of the 6 sense doors, in order to cultivate a little on the aspect of being 'bare' for all the senses. Experience as much vividness as possible and have clarity on the luminous aspect of awareness first. Touch, taste, smell and sound… are all equally vivid as compared to seeing. Experience the texture and fabric of awareness. The rest of the conditions that give rise to no-self will come later. There is no ‘willful’ entrance into non-duality, create enough conditions, that’s all”. 

Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now): Be totally present. Measure your success in this practice by the degree of peace that you fell within: “In your everyday life, you can practice this by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself. For example, every time you walk up and down the stairs in your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement, even your breathing. Be totally present. Or when you wash your hands, pay attention to all the sense perceptions associated with the activity: the sound and feel of the water, the movement of your hands, the scent of the soap, and so on. Or when you get into your car, after you close the door, pause for a few seconds and observe the flow of your breath. Become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence. There is one certain criterion by which you can measure your success in this practice: the degree of peace that you fell within”.

John Tan (2009): Why Vipassana is needed. “Self inquiry is a form of meditation like koan. The purpose is to have a direct experience of our inner most essence called 'Self'. The next step is to bring this 'Self' into the foreground. That requires vipassana meditation. It is the key towards nondual. Even after nondual, we have to practice vipassana but the focus is in being 'bare'. By being 'bare', it becomes mirror like, pristine, clear and luminous”.

“The next step is to bring this Presence into the foreground by practicing bare attention of our body sensations. When we first experience the Eternal Witness, it is nondual, presence, very real, it is the Reality. At that moment the experience is nondual. When we come to understand it, it becomes dual. We understood it wrongly but we think that it is right. Therefore it appears to be 'there', still, unchanging, wherever is. In actual fact, we are abstracting the characteristics of 'pristine clarity' from a moment of arising and call it Presence. It is the mind doing the abstraction”.

“This is a tendency that is dividing. That is why vipassana is taught. Observing all arising sensation. That sensation is already Awareness itself. Otherwise, self-inquiry instead of vipassana would be taught and there is no point observing sensation. To be bare is to understand sensation in its pristineness, its luminosity that when it is bare. Yet it is impermanent”. 

Soh Wei Yu (2009): When we experience Awareness directly without using our thoughts, everything is experienced as having a magical, alive, shimmery, fresh, amazing and blissful quality to it. “When we experience Awareness directly without using our thoughts, everything is experienced as having a magical, alive, shimmery, fresh, amazing and blissful quality to it. Life is not the 'boring and ordinary' as the mind interprets it, even the most ordinary things (such as eating, walking, etc) just feels awesome. You will be naturally attracted, pulled towards the pristine awareness than to stressful thoughts. The ego will melt in the wonder and majesty of awareness.” 

Eckhart Tolle: “I was awakened by the chirping of a bird outside the window. I had never heard such a sound before. My eyes were still closed, and I saw the image of a precious diamond. Yes, if a diamond could make a sound, this is what it would be like. I opened my eyes. The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains. Without any thought, I felt, I knew, that there is infinitely more to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself. Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognized the room, and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pencil, an empty bottle, marveling at the beauty and aliveness of it all”.

“That day I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth, as if I had just been born into this world. For the next 5 months, I lived in a state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss. After that, it diminished somewhat in intensity, or perhaps it just seemed to because it became my natural state. I could still function in the world, although I realized that nothing I ever did could possibly add anything to what I already had”.

Din Robinson (2006): Enjoying all as a child would enjoy a new and novel experience ... Energy radiated outwards in all directions at the same time … It feels very right and it makes everything sacred, my own body, and everything else in the world. “I was walking through the park on my way home when something happened. Something holy arose from within and took over. I was standing there looking out at the trees and the grass like it was the first time I was seeing them. I was looking at my hands and feeling my body as it moved and I was marveling at being alive and being in this body. I was acutely aware of being in the world, that I was a separate being in the world. I was enjoying all this as a child would enjoy a new and novel experience. I went over to a tree and grabbed a branch, I touched it softly and then grabbed it firmly, I really wanted to feel the tree, I really wanted to be there with it, to be present, to feel and see and take it all in. I bent down and touched the trunk near the roots, it was very real, very solid to my touch, it felt very alive. I noticed some bare earth around the tree trunk and picked up a chunk and broke it in my hand and watched and felt it crumble and stream through my fingers as it fell down to the earth. I was feeling so primal, so alive, I went around to the other side of the tree where the branches were a little higher off the ground and squatted under the branches near the tree trunk and put my hand on the trunk and left it there. I was feeling the roots and feeling extremely rooted myself in being. I stayed there for a few minutes, the feelings arising were so intense and overwhelming that tears were streaming down my face. Finally I left the tree and moved closer to the bench and sat and watched the crescent moon in the clear blue sky, there was a very bright star right beside it, so bright that I thought it might be the headlight of a plane heading towards me. I sat there and watched this scene and marveled at life and being alive”.

“(…Then) I went into the bedroom … I was drawn down to my knees and I bent very low with my forehead against the carpet. The energy was flowing like crazy inside, it felt like it was all emanating from the gut area. My head was on the carpet and my gut was much higher since I was still on my knees, this felt right as it had so many times before. Energy was flowing from my gut down through my head and out. But the energy also radiated outwards in all directions at the same time, like a sacred sun was shining in my gut. It was extremely intense and overwhelming and continued for at least 15 minutes. I have no idea what is going on and I don't care. It feels very right and it makes everything sacred, my own body, and everything else in the world. It's almost a mystical experience at times to be alive. I'm completely filled by this experience, it's overflowing”.

Olivier S. (2020): Totally immanent, direct perception, pure unfolding of shapes and colors bound by nothing, flux. “At noon, after getting up and waiting for the bell to call us up for lunch, I kept an extremely relax and extremely sharp investigation of objects of perception going while sitting on a bench. Opening my eyes, I looked at one of my fellow retreatants walking back to her room. This was astounding. I don't really know how to explain it, but I believe I was experiencing emptiness in real time. It was absolutely clear that there was no past and future in that immediate experience: though she was obviously changing position, her movement was not of time. It was utter immanence, eternity: she was moving, and everything around her was moving; yet nothing was moving. In fact, she didn't exist, and yet existed more than ever. Something angelic”.

“I got up, went to get my food. As I looked upon the face of some of my fellow meditators, I was struck by two profound things: first, I was perceiving them in such detail and in such a light, that they appeared like universes, like   infinite things which had nothing to do with anything else; each one of them was a miracle, right here in front of me, indistinct from me, of the same fabric. This brought about deep compassion and love, which moves me to tears now as I write about it. As I was eating, in silence, my visual perception was deepening. It was already quite astounding, in detail and brightness”.

“For about two hours I explored the premises, walking around the pond, into the forest, etc. It was completely surreal, psychedelic. Visual perception was totally illuminated: every object that had some kind of brightness or movement was emitting intense light in the whole of my visual field. It was like the experience I described earlier, x10, with an added depth to spatial perception that was astounding. Furthermore, I could ‘freeze’ perception on command by stilling it on a particular object, which would start to acquire the same ‘transfigured’ quality I described. The same, yet totally different, totally new, totally immanent: direct perception, pure unfolding of shapes and colors bound by nothing, flux”. (Note by Soh: it is important to understand the terms ‘Emptiness’ and ‘Realization’ used here is very different from how AtR uses these terms. This person’s experience has more to do with the intensity of luminosity aspect, it has nothing to do with realizing the empty nature)

John Tan (2010, right after Soh’s I AM realization): In nondual, the same sacredness you find in the background is also found in the transience. “I have already told you that in nondual, especially Anatta, the same sacredness you find in the background is also found in the transience. Identification is getting lost in the story or content. Not to deny yourself the clarity of the essence and nature of the phenomena and aggregates. You do not resort to a background from dis-identification. But from dis-identification, realize the essence and nature of the aggregates in its primordial and pure state. When you do that, you are disassociating. When you dis-identify from your body, you free yourself from the 'inherent aspect of the body construct' but is having a full vivid experience of the sensations”. 

(3) Dissolving the Need to Return or Abide in I AM

Two pitfalls that prevent effortless and total Presence. There are two tendencies after I AM realization which are pitfalls that prevent effortless and total Presence, although the second is more helpful than the first:

(a) Attempting to reconfirm the ever-presence of Awareness through reasoning
(b) Attempting to abide in Presence 

Dissolving the need to reconfirm is important as whatever is done is an attempt to distance itself from itself, if there is no way one can distant from the I AM. Furthermore, the attempt to abide in it is itself an illusion. However, abiding in presence is a form of meditative practice, like chanting, and leads to absorption. It can result in the oceanic experience. So although it is a pitfall that prevents effortless and nondual experience of Presence (this requires deeper insights) and is a form of efforting, abiding in Presence through samadhi is a form of development after I AM realization. But once one focuses on the 4 aspects discussed here, one will have that experience of oceanic Presence too.

John Tan (2020): Depth of the moment of authentication of I AM. “It’s crucial how still, how silent, how oceanic and immense is that moment of authentication of I AM”. 

Attempting to reconfirm the ever-presence of Awareness through reasoning is a retrogression. On the other hand, attempting to reconfirm the ever-presence of Awareness through reasoning (reasoning to oneself that Presence Awareness is always here regardless of what experiences arise) is a retrogression from the I AM realization (which is direct certainty without inference), instead of any kind of development. The following conversation explains why:

John Tan: What is the difference before and after the realization of "I AM"?

Soh Wei Yu: A non-conceptual certainty that does not come from inference, words and concepts: Certainty of Being.

John Tan: This certainty is unshakeable at that moment of realization. Complete, Done, Still, Perfect, Pure, nondual, non-conceptual, primordial. Yet it doesn't seem 'there' anymore. Intuitively it can't be lost, but this clarity does not stay despite the realization.

Soh Wei Yu: Because of conceptual thoughts... the I AM experience is a non-conceptual direct authentication, just abiding as that.

John Tan: Why does conceptual thought arise?

Soh Wei Yu: By habit mostly. I can see that thoughts are illusory... yet when I get lost in thoughts it still seems real and powerful. That’s why suffering still arise.

John Tan: I remember reading something you said you read somewhere that the only problem is 'thought', because it becomes a 'reality' to the mind. Suggestion is very real to the mind to consciousness, so how does problem arise? You cannot have 'problems' if you do not react to the content of 'thoughts'... if you can't understand this, it is difficult for you to progress and understand deeper.

Soh Wei Yu: Yeah… We invest meaning and invest identity to our thoughts. I wrote about 'What's wrong with right now unless you think about it?'. It’s when we label and give meaning to things that there are problems. Otherwise, there are just wordless vibrations. Even thoughts are wordless.

John Tan: Yes, and problems includes confusions. Now in the direct mode, is there confusion?

Soh Wei Yu: no

John Tan: Is any explanation needed?

Soh Wei Yu: no

John Tan: Is any reconfirmation needed?

Soh Wei Yu: no

John Tan: Now if I were to ask you about source, is there any differentiation in that mode? You do not differentiate between source and you. There is no such differentiation… But when you are out of that mode, you seek explanation. You attempt to reconfirm, and your way is by explaining to yourself. This very act itself already distant itself from the direct and immediate mode ... no matter how logical it sounds, how much sense it makes, it is irrelevant, and from that (when comparing the logical reasoning process with direct realization) quality of experience in your realization, it is completely off the mark… ...actually Ramana Maharshi only tells to abide in the Self. There is no explanation, just the abiding. However, that is not the way though it is better than explanation… hahaha. Is surrendering a form of 'explanation'?

Soh Wei Yu: no

John Tan: It is just a quality of nondual experience... a direct, immediate, nondual, pure and non-conceptual experience that is still, complete and entire. Nothing matters in that mode. It is not about reading or no reading. If I don't explain to you, how are you to know? It is about getting into that mode and not falling into the trap. If you want to relive the experience, you cannot approach that way. 

(4) Effortlessness

Any effort to sustain or achieve a state of Presence is contrary to the self-shining and spontaneous nature of Presence. But this aspect will require further insights (into nondual, anatta and empty nature Thusness/PasserBy's Seven Stages of Enlightenment)  to unfold and mature much further. Aspects 3 (Dissolving the Need to Return or Abide in I AM) and 4 (Effortlessness) are especially clear after realization of Anatta.

John Tan (2009): Awareness is already and always at rest. Nondiscrimination does not deny us from clear discernment. “In the most direct path, Awareness is already and always at rest. In the most direct path, whatever manifests is Awareness; there is no ‘in Awareness’ and there is no such thing as going deeper in Awareness or resting in Awareness. Anything ‘going deeper’ or ‘resting’ is nothing direct. Nothing more than the illusionary appearances of 'hierarchy' caused by the inherent and dualistic tendency of understanding things … By the way, nondiscrimination does not deny us from clear discernment. An enlightenment person is not one that cannot differentiate 'left' from 'right'”.

Distinction between Effortlessness and Dissolving the need to return or abide in I AM

Aditya Prasad: I've never understood the distinction between aspects 3 and 4. Shouldn't effortlessness (4) just be the result of dissolving the need to return (3)?

Soh Wei Yu: Aspect 3 is about un-contrivance, while aspect 4 is about effortlessness, spontaneous emergence of presence. One is telling you to stop creating karma. The other is telling you the effortless spontaneity of presence. But all these are difficult without the correct insights... But still, we have to practice in this way as a means of imitating what life is like in Anatta. Means Anatta has all the four aspects in maturity, but if you have not reached Anatta realization, you consciously and knowingly imitate all those aspects and then with the right pointers and contemplation a breakthrough occurs.

Aditya Prasad: Let me see if I understood: Aspect 3 is about not needing to return to presence and Aspect 4 is noticing that it's there even if you don't.

Soh Wei Yu: Yes but not even a ‘noticer’ remains. In I AM just I AM, in seeing just scenery, both are nondual actualization and not the usual noticing or noting. Not as a subject object knowledge Although.. Even after Anatta (‘in the seen just the seen...’) initially it may be concentrative before it turns into totally effortless spontaneous presence.

Soh Wei Yu (2020): Anatta should resolve the need to return and abide. Effortlessness reaches full maturity in later phase of Spontaneous Presence. “In initial Anatta, one has the realization there is no one purest state to abide in or return to, no I to abide in. In the seen, just the seen. Initial Anatta should resolve the need to return and abide (Aspect 3). But effortlessness (Aspect 4) reaches full maturity in later phase of spontaneous presence. That’s how it is for me. Then concentrative mode is not necessary. The intensity of luminosity (Aspect 2) also varies even after Anatta. Because J. Krishnamurti was stucked at concentrative mode of Anatta instead of maturing it into spontaneous presence, his over exertion in PCE mode caused life-long energy imbalances and pain, kundalini issues … I think Stage 5 to Stage 5.5 is the phase where Anatta turns from subtly concentrative to effortless and spontaneous presence. Energy and tension in over-focusing on the details release, all effort releases into selfless spontaneity”.

(II) Two Types of Nondual Inquiry

Two Types of Nondual Inquiry which leads to the collapse of perceiver/perceived duality

(i) Where does awareness end and manifestation begins? Is there a border/dividing line between awareness and manifestation? (Leads to One Mind)

(ii) Contemplating Bahiya Sutta -- in seeing only the seen, on hearing only the heard, (no seer or hearer besides) and same for all other senses. Until it is suddenly realized that the whole structure of Seer-Seeing-Seen doesn't apply and there is no seeing besides colors -- no seer, no hearing besides sound -- no hearer, no awareness besides manifestation. This is not just realising the lack of borders or duality but realizing the Absence of an inherently existing Self/Agent/Awareness behind manifestation. This is the realization of Anatta. (link)

TD Unmanifest (AtR,DhO): Nondual experience moved from mind to body to everything. “I got stuck in I AM for a long time due to clinging to dissociation and the experience as Soh mentioned above. The focus was almost entirely on the mind. When I shifted to other sense doors (hearing in particular) something ‘popped’ and the nondual experience moved from mind to body to everything (not really the best description, but the only way I can think to explain it). Contemplation on where the nondual Self ended and manifestation begins shifted my experience again, and began the process to a taste of No Mind then to Anatta. The issue wasn't the dissociation; it was the clinging to the experience that was taken to be something more transcendental than it was”. 

Instead of abiding in I AM, Non-Dual is the key. It becomes rather effortless and is not a matter of sustaining a samadhi state

John Tan: When you first experience I AM, what you think is your next phase?

Soh Wei Yu: The four phases or aspects of I AM? impersonality, etc

John Tan: No, I mean you yourself.

Soh Wei Yu: Oh, to constantly abide in I AM.

John Tan:  That would be a state of perfection to you, isn't it?

Soh Wei Yu: Yeah

John Tan:  But that would be quite impossible. And requires deep concentration and focus however when you realized nondual, what happened?

Soh Wei Yu: It becomes rather effortless and is not a matter of sustaining a samadhi state

John Tan:  You realized that instead of abiding, nondual is the key. So your next focus is nondual, how to make it seamless. Then you realized Anatta.

Soh Wei Yu: Yeah

John Tan:  And you realized the key to perfection of nondual. Then you are now perfecting the Anatta. All is about the same taste throughout. And you refine understanding and view accordingly.


When one has deepened meditative samadhi, the I AM or Pure Presence turns oceanic and can be intensely blissful. The I AM or Pure Presence turns oceanic and can be intensely blissful when one has deepened meditative samadhi, a prime modern example being Ramana Maharshi who can sit for days in Nirvikalpa Samadhi or a thoughtless state of Self-Abidance in Pure Presence without leaving his seat, although you do not need to go to such extremes. Even contemporary teachers like Eckhart Tolle spent years sitting in meditative absorption and bliss of Self in a park after initial Self-Realization.

Ramana Maharshi: Remain in the state of meditation, free from thoughts. “In samadhi, there is only the feeling 'I am' and no thoughts. See to whom the trouble is. It is to the 'I-thought'. Hold it. Then the other thoughts vanish. When these thoughts are dispelled, you remain in the state of meditation, free from thoughts. The limited and multifarious thoughts having disappeared, there shines in the Heart a kind of wordless illumination of 'I-I', which is pure consciousness”.

Samadhi training is a good complementary practice even after Self-Realization, but focusing in the four aspects of I AM and two nondual contemplations is key. However, entering a state of samadhi is not the same as Self-Realization, it can simply be an experience. Some training in samadhi (a daily meditation practice is important in any phase of one’s practice) even after Self-Realization can be a good complementary practice both in this phase and for future phases, but it is even more important to focus on the four aspects of I AM and two nondual contemplations for further advancement.

In many cases, including John Tan, one can spend years cultivating deep samadhi in the I AM phase before cultivating any further insights into Nondual, Anatta and Emptiness. In Soh Wei Yu’s case, due to being familiar with certain pointers and a map, he progressed from I AM to Anatta realization in less than a year even before mastery of samadhi was developed. One can get stuck in I AM for decades or a whole life abiding in Samadhi without any further progress of insights; or one can get speedy insights, but needs to cultivate samadhi further later.

Developing Wisdom and Samadhi in tandem. One other possibility is that a practitioner develops both the Wisdom and Samadhi aspect in tandem, such that there is no need for a ‘catching up’ of the other aspect later on. (Related: Buddha’s teachings in Yuganaddha Sutta) In either case, eventually both Samadhi and Wisdom, Shamatha and Vipassana need to be conjoined and perfected for total liberation and bliss. Maha Total Exertion in the latter phase comes with the aspect of samadhi.

John Tan (2019): “Total exertion is shamatha and vipassana into one. It is total focus and involvement of the entire body-mind, of everything. However that requires post-Anatta insight”. 

John Tan (2010): Bringing Non-Dual to Foreground. “After the initial realization (I AM), there is a strong desire to ‘relive’ the experience this pure sense of existence; in fact the mind wishes the experience be made permanent and it is not uncommon that practitioners perceive the permanent, natural and effortless abiding of this state as ‘Nirvana’. Therefore it is a natural progression for you to seek permanent abiding in the Self as a background at this point in time. If you intensify your meditation and abide in the Self, an oceanic blissful experience may arise as a result of deep absorption but it is still a contrived effort, it is not the ‘key’ towards effortlessness”.

“Nonetheless having a ‘taste’ of deep Samadhi bliss and understanding the relationship between deep concentration and this oceanic bliss is still crucial. Having said that, since none of your (Soh’s) recent posts are about the absorptive state but are experiences relating to nondual in transience, it is appropriate to practice bringing this ‘taste’ of pure luminous brilliance to the foreground. By ‘foreground’, I am referring to all your six entries and exits (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind) and experience vivid luminous aliveness in colors, forms, shape, sound, scent, taste and thoughts. It is essential for Phase 4 and 5 insights, that is, experiencing directly the 18 dhatus and aggregates and realize that the entire idea of 'I and Mine' is learnt. Also, I do not think you have the time to practice deep absorptive meditation in army. You can revisit this ‘Oceanic Samadhi Bliss’ later when there is thoroughness and fearlessness in forgoing the sense of self/Self”.

The universe is this arising thought.
The universe is this arising sound.
Just this magnificent arising!
Is Tao.
Homage to all arising.

“Doing this foreground practice, you are effectively refining your realization from ‘You as pure Existence’ to ‘Existence is the very stuff of whatever arises’. The actual stuff the screen, the keyboard, the clicking sound, the cool air, the taste, the vibration…is the actuality of Universe itself, there is no other. Nevertheless, do take note that these are still experiences, they are not realizations. You will have to go through what you have gone through in the phase of ‘I AM’ from intermittent experiences to realizations”.

“I have read some of the articles written by Richard (AF), they are very well written and will be of great help in this 'foreground' practice. There are values in the teachings of Actual Freedom but there is no need to over-claim anything. In my opinion, saying what that is more than necessary does not make one superior”.

“Also do not get overwhelmed by the vivid luminous brilliance that manifests as the background source or foreground phenomena, let go of all; much like lamas building a sand mandala that is so vivid, colorful and beautiful, is destroyed immediately after it is completed. It is not just about the 'brilliant luminosity', it is also about the 'Gone'; therefore vividly present and instantly gone GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA”.

“Lastly be sincere to the deeper dispositions, they reveal more about us more than the ‘surface’ achievements, not to take it lightly. You are a sincere guy so allow your sincerity and your realizations be your inner guides they are your only ‘true teachers’, I am not”.

Soh Wei Yu: Grounding insights into daily living is not indicative or equivalent to the depth of insights. “…I have seen many who have realized I AM yet remain pretty grounded in their everyday life, they treat daily life as practice and as a way to express their realization of I AMness even though they have not had deeper realizations into non-duality, Anatta or Emptiness. As John Tan said in 2007, grounding one’s insights into daily living is not indicative or equivalent to the depth of insights, yet in each phase of insight one’s realizations should be actualized and grounded in our daily living as a practice. On the other hand, people, particularly the NeoAdvaitins, advocate no further need for meditation and practices after (or even before) some initial I AM or nondual breakthrough. Don’t listen to these naïve statements”.

Dogen (Zen): Buddha sat for six years, Bodhidharma for nine years. Why can we not practice like them? “Although Buddha was endowed with natural knowledge, he sat in zazen for six years. Bodhidharma bequeathed us the legacy of the Buddha-mind, yet still sat facing a wall for nine years. Such were the ancient sages. Why can we not practice like them? Therefore, desist from pursuing words and letters intellectually and reflect upon your self inwardly. Thus your body and mind shall be cast off naturally and your original nature shall be realized. If you wish to attain it, be diligent in zazen at once”. 

Greg Goode (The Direct Path FB Group - Advaita Vedanta): How silent meditation helped me with nondual inquiry. “This is about how silent meditation helped me with nondual inquiry. Silent meditation is different from inquiry, and helps prepare one for doing inquiry. It helps in several ways, which I’ll say more about below. There are various forms of silent meditation and various paths of inquiry. For example, Shamatha is recommended if one wants to realize emptiness via analytic meditation. Personally, I found Zazen helpful for nondual inquiry. How can it help? It stabilizes the mind so that the mind doesn’t get off track or fall asleep during the inquiry. Here is a very rough and schematic quasi Vedantic account of how this works. It’s not a DP account, but something that we were taught in the Chinmaya Mission. Vedanta looks at the body/mind apparatus as composed of various layers or sheaths of active energy. At the grossest is the body. At a more subtle layer is the ‘emotional body’, then the mind as controller of its activities. And more subtle still is the intellect, the process of ratiocination, making connections and insight”. 

“All activities engage all of the levels, but some activities have their center of gravity more on one level than another. According to the present scheme, Nondual inquiry begins largely at the energetic level of the intellect. But the insights permeate all levels. And nondual insights deconstruct the levels altogether. In order that the intellect does its appointed job well, it needs to be somewhat calm. It cannot be jumpy or inclined to nod off into sleep. For the intellect to be calm, the less subtle levels need to be somewhat calm as well. This is familiar if there is emotional turbulence, it is hard to think.

“There are activities that address each of the levels: karma yoga or recreational dancing or athletics for the physical level; Bhakti yoga or art or singing or performing music for the emotional level; Raja yoga or study or concentrated meditation for the level of controlling the mind; Jnana yoga or mathematics or other kinds of coursing stuff out for the intellectual level”. 

“The calmer the levels that are less subtle than the intellect, the calmer the intellect will be able to be. This is where zazen helped me. It came in at the level of the control of the mind level and smoothed things out wonderfully. Plus it gives a taste of silence. For me, it helped the mind stay with the subtleties of jnana yoga without a a rage of chattering thoughts, and without getting drowsy and falling asleep”. 

“Zazen is taught at Zen centers. Phenomenally (not doctrinally) it is a process of keeping the mind extremely steady on a subtle object like counting or the breath. There are two things that could depart from that: a chatty mind or a sleepy one. Whenever you notice that either has happened, you simply go back to counting or following the breath. Besides calmness and stability and subtlety, I noticed physically healthy things, like better digestion, more energy on the lower body and more closely focused in everything where needed. One can do zazen earlier in the day, and then nondual inquiry later in the day. And nondual inquiry will be supercharged. Of course there are other preparatory activities that will help”.

Thrangu Rinpoche: The Correct Sitting Posture. “Generally, one might think that one meditates with one’s mind and it doesn’t really matter what position the body is in, that one will still be able to meditate without taking the physical posture into account. But there is a very central factor of meditation involved with the physical posture in making the mind stable. It is said that if one is sitting with the body straight, the channels within the body will also be straight. What is the benefit if the channels in the body are straight because the body is straight? It means that the air flowing through the channels will then flow straight. Then there will be no blockages and nothing preventing the flow of the airs within the channels. What is the benefit if the airs flow straight through the channels? It means that the mind will be in accord if the channels are straight and the airs flow straight. This means that if the mind itself is wavering and unsteady, it is usually based on the wavering movements of the airs flowing through the channels. The nature of the air is related to the mind, so the movement of the mind depends on the movement of the airs. Therefore, if the airs are flowing in a straight way through the channels, then the mind itself will become still and stable; it will not be agitated or unstable. This is the reason why the correct posture in sitting is important for meditation. There is what is called “the seven aspects of Vairocana” for the physical posture in meditation, which doesn’t refer to Buddha Vairocana but to the seven aspects of the physical posture that will bring clarity to one’s meditation”.

“Two faults can occur during meditation. The first is mental dullness, in which case the mind is not clear. So, first there is a lack of clarity, then a dullness of mind, then stupor, and finally sleep. When these occur, one doesn’t have the necessary clarity for the meditation; there is a lack of clarity in the meditation. That is one defect one has to be free of. Another defect is agitation of the mind, in which case one may think about things one likes. Feeling happy and glad, one becomes involved with those thoughts and then the mind becomes more and more unstable. Sometimes agitation may arise because one regrets something, in which case one ponders things one has done, e.g., thinking, “Oh, that was bad. I shouldn’t have done that.” One feels more and more regret, which creates instability in one’s meditation. Or agitation may arise due to thoughts of doubt, e.g., thinking, “Oh, it should be like this or like that.” One feels more and more doubt, which creates instability of meditation. That is the second fault of meditation, which has to be overcome. One can eliminate the two faults arising in meditation by taking in the seven aspects of sitting that bring clarity to meditation. If one is sitting in the correct posture, sometimes one can have dullness or agitation, but one can eliminate these faults more easily by sitting in the correct posture”.

Kyle Dixon (2021): On non-doing. “Relaxing means remaining still, coordinated breathing, holding a fixed gaze, etc., that is the actual meaning of ‘non-doing’. Essentially, it’s staying still for prolonged periods of time, like in Thögal. Yet at the same time, that lack of doing takes a great deal of effort, it isn’t easy to sit still for that long. The same goes for resting in a moment of unfabricated consciousness, that clarity takes no effort, but remaining undistracted and self-liberating thought takes a great deal of effort. One could say it is a paradox but it isn’t really, the ‘doing’ and ‘non-doing’ are different facets of the same undertaking. It is just that sometimes the non-doing is emphasized to contrast causal vehicle practices. Dzogchen isn’t all non-doing though, there is much to do”.

Kyle Dixon (2021): Resting undistracted in the nature of mind. “The true method that develops the view is undistracted self-liberation. It is not so easy, as Sogyal Rinpoche discusses here: ‘It is extremely hard to rest undistracted in the nature of mind, even for a moment, let alone to self-liberate a single thought or emotion as it rises. We often assume that simply because we understand something intellectually, or think we do, we have actually realized it. This is a great delusion. It requires the maturity that only years of listening, contemplation, reflection, meditation, and sustained practice can ripen’”.

Kyle Dixon: Dzogchen meditation and effort

Reddit poster: And to me the logical answer to how one can sustain 24/7 meditation and bliss is by doing the effortless practices. Since it was posted in r/dzogchen I gave a dzogchen explanation.

Kyle Dixon: To which I replied with the Dzogchen explanation that you cannot jump into effortlessness without initially cultivating the view with effort, and you proceeded to reject that and claimed I am explaining things from the standpoint of causal methods, which I am not, this is mennagde.

Reddit poster: But that’s honestly where it started and I feel we’re kind of saying the same thing—I agree in the beginning effort based practices are used after recognition.

Kyle Dixon: I’m not sure that we are saying the same thing. You think practice is effortless, yet for how long can you sustain the view before distraction arises? Not long unless you are in retreat, and so sustaining the view requires effort and diligence, and then later when some stability is achieved, it becomes more and more effortless. Eventually, awakened equipoise dawns, and then it is actually effortless. There is a gradient of degrees in practice and how it develops, and you seem to want to throw that all out the window and pretend your practice is effortless when it absolutely isn’t. No one’s practice is effortless who does have a high degree of stability. There are aspects of practice that are effortless, but someone who claims their practice in toto is effortless is deluded.

Reddit poster: But using effort based practice to try and sustain 24/7 meditation and bliss, as OP was saying, seems harmful.

Kyle Dixon: It isn’t harmful. Your practice will not develop otherwise. 24/7 isn’t necessary, but set sessions where the view is cultivated are necessary, and the longer the better. We are discussing actual practice here. Actual Dzogchen practice. Not catch phrases about effortlessness we cherry pick from expositions. Trekchö develops through applied effort and it will never, ever, develop without skillfully applied effort.

Reddit poster: I’ve posted a bunch of teachings talking about this effortless dzogchen practice

Kyle Dixon: Yes, but you have no understanding as to how effort is applied within that so-called “effortless” context. The approach is multifaceted, aspects which require effort coupled with aspects that are effortless, it is not black and white like you are suggesting, all effortless. If it were truly effortless there would be no need for 18 month trekchö retreats, and it wouldn’t take teachers like Kunzang Dechen Lingpa 7 years in strict retreat to accomplish the third vision. If it were effortless, these accomplishments would arise spontaneously by themselves, but they don’t. They arise for those who employ the view effectively and who understand how diligence and effort are dovetailed with these so-called effortless aspects of the view. The problem is that if you go around just saying it’s all effortless, you end up closing the door on many people who will follow that advice, form an aversion to effort, and their precious human life will not reach its full potential, worst case it will be wasted altogether.

Reddit poster: You will fall into distraction and this state of being distracted can be left as it is, unaltered

Kyle Dixon: No my friend, the minute you detect that you have fallen into discursiveness the view has to be reeled in immediately and that all has to be cut off so that one goes back to exercising self-liberation. Discursiveness is never left as it is, it is a total corruption of one’s practice. 

Reddit poster: Maybe you do some other practice and that’s fine. 

Kyle Dixon: I practice the actual view, which involves the attributes I have already covered in previous posts, that is the method as described in the 17 tantras. If you are distracted and allowing distraction to be left unaltered, then you aren’t even practicing sūtrayāna, much less dzogpachenpo. Distraction is impossible if you are accurately cultivating the view, because every arising is directly hit.

Reddit poster: I’ve acknowledged effort based practices are used in the beginning.

Kyle Dixon: I’m not talking about effort based practices. I am discussing the role of effort in the very same discipline you claim is devoid of effort.

Malcolm (Loppon Namdrol): The mental factors of first dhyana should be developed. “Rongzom makes the point very clearly that Dzogchen practitioners must develop the mental factors that characterize the first dhyana, vitarka, vicara, pritvi, sukha and ekagraha, i.e. applied attention, sustained attention, physical ease, mental ease and one-pointedness. If you do not have a stable samatha practice, you can't really call yourself a Dzogchen practitioner at all. At best, you can call yourself someone who would like to be a Dzogchen practitioner a ma rdzogs chen pa. People who think that Dzogchen frees one from the need to meditate seriously are seriously deluded”.

John Tan (2018): On nihilistic understanding of non-doing. “People that have gone into the nihilistic understanding of 'non-doing' ended up in a mess. You see that those having right understanding of 'non-doing' are free, yet you see discipline, focus and peace in them. Like just sitting and walking... whatever they endeavor. Fully Anatta”. 

Pitfalls and Dangers of the I AM Phase

John Tan (2007): Beware of saying 'this is it' if not knowing the process. “Though Buddha Nature is plainness and most direct, these are still the steps. If one does not know the process and said ‘yes this is it’… then it is extremely misleading. For 99% of ‘realized’/’enlightened’ persons what they  are talking about is ‘I AMness’, and has not gone beyond permanence, still thinking of permanence, formless… ...all and almost all will think of it along the line of I AMness, all are like the grandchildren of ‘AMness’, and that is the root cause of duality”.

Soh Wei Yu (2020): Most people who realized I AM just stagnate there. “One of the most common pitfalls is thinking that the ‘I AM’ is the final, ultimate Truth. Most people who realized I AM think that way and just stagnate there. As I mentioned before, as an estimate based on my decade+ years of encountering, reading and conversing with many realized practitioners and teachers, roughly 90% of any given realized person is simply having the realization of I AMness, 8% are about One Mind, and only 2% or less are having Anatta realization and further.

Adyashanti: Whenever you touch upon a deep truth, suchness of reality, your true nature, each aspect feels like it's total and complete and all-inclusive at that moment. “Emptiness (Adyashanti’s Emptiness is ‘I AMness’ - John Tan’s Stage 1, not the Buddhistic Emptiness/Sunyata of John Tan’s Stage 6 discussed in this AtR Guide) is not the totality of what you are. Emptiness is a profound aspect of what you are. It's a profound taste of your true nature, (but) it's not the totality of what you are any (other) than getting up in the morning and feeling good is the totality of what you are, or feeling bad is a totality of what you are... ...Whenever you touch upon a deep truth, suchness of reality, your true nature, each aspect feels like it's total and complete and all-inclusive at that moment. So that's why teachers have a very hard time getting through to people when they have an initial experience of anything because if it's an initial experience of reality it feels totally complete and there is a certain innate confidence that arises within you. Not an egoic confidence but a confidence that comes from reality”.

Soh Wei Yu (2010): On Reifying Host and Guest (An Unchanging Awareness). “There is a tendency at the I AM phase to reify the space of awareness as the unchanging background, Absolute host, and container, of all the passing contents of thoughts, perceptions, feelings and sensations. Instead of focusing on reifying and solidifying this image of a changeless and inherently existing Host, we should instead focus on the four aspects of I AM as described above. Otherwise we will get stuck in the I AM phase. During my I AM phase, I saw Awareness as an unchanging host, like an infinite empty space where the ‘guests’ of all transient phenomena come and go leaving the formless host of awareness untouched”. 

“(As an example of reification, from my personal journal around 2010:) While jogging just now, I 'forgot' my mind and body. It feels like I'm the still presence in which the world moves through. Instead of being a body running on the road from here to there, it's seen that I am the space that encompasses the whole world and the whole world moves through me. I am not moving. The world is moving through me. It feels like you're running on the treadmill, you're not actually moving! Except that the scenery moves through you. You can practice seeing this next time when you walk or jog. This space of awareness is unmoving, whether or not the world is moving”.

Soh Wei Yu (2010): Don't reify ‘Host and Guest’ but focus on the 4 aspects of I AM and the 2 non-dual contemplations. “The experience of the Witness is important, and is undeniable. The Certainty of Being is a natural certainty that cannot be negated. This is not wrong. You cannot deny your own existence (how could you? if you try to deny it, who is it denying it?). There is nothing wrong with experiencing directly without intermediary the pure sense of existence. But after this direct experience, one should refine the understanding, our views, our insights. Instead of deviating from the right view, reinforcing the wrong view, after the experience”.

“John Tan also told me that what I have experienced has nothing to do with 'beingness being unchanging, constant and permanent'. Yet I was re-enforcing this wrong view into my consciousness like chanting. He told me not to do that, and that what I described is not my direct experience, but instead it is my mind playing tricks. What is experienced is just luminosity, non-conceptuality, directness, nothing more than that. So instead of describing what I experienced, I was reminding myself what is not true. We actually never experience anything unchanging”.

“He also said that though I am experiencing the ‘host and guest’, he told me not to focus on 'permanent, unchanging, and independent' aspect as by doing so with a few more months of intense training, I will become stuck for decades in the formless realms and it will be difficult to get out. Instead, I should be focusing on the impersonality aspect, and the four aspects of I AM he talked to me about, (so) then (I could) afterwards experience non-dual and Anatta”. 

It is not about denying the Witness, but refining our insight of it:

What is meant by nondual?
What is meant by non-conceptual?
What is meant by being spontaneous?
What is the 'impersonality' aspect?
What is luminosity?

Soh Wei Yu's further clarification: “Many people experience mature I AM with impersonality yet still cannot overcome host and guest. Rather, what is meant is: don’t mentally reify host and guest (reifying and clinging to an ‘unchanging’ awareness) but focus on the four aspects and two nondual contemplations instead for progression. They will eventually lead to nondual Anatta”. 

“If one instead focuses on establishing oneself as unchanging host underlying passing guests, one is just strengthening one’s deep karmic propensities or conditionings and it will become very difficult to overcome later on”. 

“Impersonality alone will not overcome host and guest. It’s rather that the focus must be on the four aspects and two nondual contemplations and right view. And the direction must be correct and not focus on the wrong things. Impersonality alone is insufficient, as it does not overcome inherent view. Anatta insight will. But only the beginning… there are degrees… and twofold emptiness”. 

The space-like, boundless field of consciousness neither should be reified into a static background nor be objectified; otherwise it’s no less fixated

John Tan: If you are looking from the perspective of object, everything is moving. If you are looking from the perspective of awareness, nothing seems to move. If you realize luminous essence and empty nature, then nothing also moves. The former is One-Mind, the latter is No-Mind. But No-Mind can have varying degrees of insight and experience. Though people might say it is conceptual to say or categorize further, but it is a skillful means. 

Soh Wei Yu: In the I AM phase the spacious all-pervading aspect of Presence is reified into a static background, while in the further phase of Anatta, the space-like, boundless field of consciousness/universe is experienced and realized to be the foreground without being abstracted and reified into a background.

John Tan: Yes. Not to be fixated, but also not to objectify the ‘spaciousness’ otherwise ‘spaciousness’ is no less fixated. The ‘space’ appears appealing only to a mind that abstracts but to a fully participating and involving mind, such ‘spaciousness’ has immediately sets itself apart, distancing itself from inseparable. Emptiness is never a behind background but a fully partaking foreground manifesting as the arising and passing phenomena absence of a center. Therefore understand ‘spaciousness’ not like sky but like passing clouds and flowing water, manifesting whenever condition is. If ‘Emptiness’ has made us more fixated and immobilized this innate freedom of our nondual luminosity, then it is ‘stubborn emptiness’.

“Nevertheless, no matter what said, it is always inadequate. If we want to fully realize the inexpressible, be willing to give up all centers and point of references that manifests in the form of ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘where’. Just give up the entire sense of self then instantly all things are spontaneously perfected”.

John Tan (2012): The failure to recognize the Three Characteristics of Existence is the problem of all problems. “The so called ‘Clear Aware Space’ is no more special than this moment of arising sound or passing scent. The failure to recognize that all apparent arising and passing transience is no other than the Dharmakaya is the problem of all problems. When a pith instruction like ‘Relax and fully open to whatever is’ is taught to a mind that is still under strong influence of dualistic tendencies, it is easy for such a mind to read and practice in the form of clinging to the ‘Aware Space’ and shunting away from the transience, thereby setting itself infinitely apart unknowingly”.

“If however there is maturity of insight that whatever arises share the same taste luminous yet empty (via twofold emptiness), then practice is naturally and simply unreserved opening to whatever is, it cannot be otherwise. There can be no movement, duality and preference from this to that for there is no ‘this’ that is more ‘this’ than that”.

“With clear recognition and unperturbed practice of complete unreserved opening to whatever is, all transience will reveal to poses the same taste of nondual samadhi and self-liberation that we once thought to be the monopoly of the so called ‘Clear Aware Space’. It is therefore advisable that after the direct experience and realization of the pure sense of existence, a practitioner further penetrates Anatta and the empty nature of phenomena. These insights are necessary and should not be considered ‘long cut’ (not the shortest path). It will help a practitioner better appreciate the art of great ease in time to come”.

“The degree of ‘un-contrivance’ is the degree of how unreserved and fearless we open to whatever is. For whatever arises is mind, always seen, heard, tasted and experienced. What that is not seen, not heard and not experienced, is our conceptual idea of what mind is. Whenever we objectify the ‘brilliance, the pristineness’ into an entity that is formless, it becomes an object of grasp that prevents the seeing of the ‘forms’, the texture and the fabric of awareness”. 

“The tendency to objectify is subtle, we let go of 'self-ness' yet unknowingly grasped ‘now-ness’ and ‘here-ness’. Whatever arises merely dependently originates, needless of who, where and when”. 

“All experiences are equal, luminous yet empty of self-nature. Though empty, it has not in any way denied its vivid luminosity. Liberation is experiencing mind as it is. Self-Liberation is the thorough insight that this liberation is always and already is; spontaneously present, naturally perfected!”

John Tan (2020): Advaita falls short of understanding The Three Characteristics of Existence. “Be it Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana; be it Dzogchen, Mahamudra or Zen; they do not deviate from the definitive view of the 3 universal characteristics of dharma. Therefore experiences and realizations must always be authenticated with right view, otherwise we end in wonderland that is neither here nor there. The ‘who am I?’ of Advaita and ‘before birth who am I?’ may have the same initial ‘realization’, the face to face direct authentication of one's original face, and followed by a series of similar mind-shaking experiences, but when subject to Madhyamaka (Emptiness Doctrine) ultimate analysis, they fall short of the prajna that Buddhism (wisdom on the 3Cs) is talking about”. 

Soh Wei Yu (2010): Reifying an Universal Consciousness. “This reification comes when the impersonality aspect of the Four Aspects of I AM is experienced. Your mirror-like awareness has no limitations, has no boundaries and edges. It does not belong to any object that appears on it. It does not belong to the bodymind object that you identify as 'yourself'. It does not belong to anything. But everything arises from that… …Impersonal/Universal Awareness is animating or ‘powering’ the body and the personality like electricity is powering the TV to show the images on screen. Whatever happens on screen is ‘run’ only by the ‘power’ of the One Mind. Everything and everyone is the spontaneous functioning of One Mind, there is no individual doers/actors/selves”.

“John Tan told me that there is a problem of saying more than what is necessary, and that it comes from a clinging mind. That is, stripping of 'individuality' and 'personality' becoming a 'Universal Mind' is an extrapolation, a deduction. It is not direct experience like ‘in thinking just thoughts’, ‘in perceptions just perceptions’, ‘in seeing just the seen’ just 'what is'. Similarly, when I experienced 'impersonality', it is just 'impersonality', but it becomes a 'Universal Mind' due to clinging which prevents seeing. And if I further reinforce this idea, it becomes a made belief and appears true and real”.

“Therefore when I said 'impersonality', I am not being blinded as I am merely describing what I have experienced. This Mind is still an individual mindstream, and though impersonality leads one to have the sort of 'Universal Mind' kind of sensation, one must correctly understand it. Buddhism never denies this mind stream, it simply denies the self-view. It denies separation, it denies an observer, a thinker. It denies a perfect controller, an independent agent. This is what 'Self' means, otherwise why is it a 'Self'? An individual mindstream remains as an individual mindstream, but it is nothing related to a Self. Hence it is important to understand liberation from the right understanding, otherwise one gets confused”.

“There is the experience of non-duality, Anatta, 'Tada' [Just as it is, Suchness] (Tada!), Stainlessness (, but these have nothing to do with Self. Hence if one wants to understand Presence, then one must clearly and correctly understand Presence”.

“It is important to refine the understanding of Presence through the four aspects: impersonality, degree of luminosity, dissolving the need to reconfirm and understanding why it is unnecessary, and effortlessness. These have no extrapolation and are what I am experiencing currently, and these requires improvement so that one can progress from ‘I AM’.

“There is the experience of impersonality. It is the stripping off of the personality aspect, and it causes one to link to a higher force, as if a cosmic life is functioning within me, like what Casino_King (a forum member who posted many years ago in both the Christian and Buddhist forums) experienced and described the impersonal life force, which he called Holy Spirit”.

It is as if it is all the functioning of a higher power, that life is itself taking the functioning, so dissolving 'personality' somehow allows me to get 'connected'.

“I agreed with John and told him that just yesterday I remembered a Christian quote that is very apt in describing this aspect: ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). John agrees and told me that it is about surrendering to this greater power, that it is not you, but the life in you that is doing the work. It is the key of getting 'connected' to a higher power, to a divine life, to a sacred power and one wants to lose oneself for this divinity to work through us. And this is what John meant by John Stage 3 experience, the 'I' is the block, because of 'holding' one is unable to 'surrender' completely. When one completely surrenders, the ‘divine will’ will become your 'will'. This is not the nondual sort of experience, nor is it about I AM or the Certainty of Being, nor is it about Anatta”. 

“For example, I AM allows you to directly experience 'your' very own existence, the beingness, the innermost essence of 'You'. 

“A true and genuine practitioner must give rise to all these insights, and understand the causes and conditions that give rise to the experiences and not get mixed up. Many people get mixed up over different 'types' of 'no self'. For example, no-self of nondual, no-self of Anatta, non-inherent existence and impersonality, are all not referring to the same experience but rather they are different results of dissolving certain aspect of the tendencies”.

“Hence, a practitioner must be sincere in his practice to clearly see, and not pretend that one knows. Otherwise practice is simply more mix-up, confusion, and nonsense. It is not that it cannot be known, it is just that the mind isn't clear enough to see the causes and conditions of arising”.

Stage 2 - I AM Everything

A general remark about this stage/phase: Whenever and wherever there IS, that IS is Me ... It is bringing this I AM into everything. I AM the I in you. The I in the cat, the I in the bird. I AM the first person in everyone and Everything. The I is ultimate and universal … Observer and observed as one is nondual experience, sunk back to a source. It is always the source, the Self, the background, even if you fuse and merge into everything.

John Tan (2013) – Bringing I AM into everything: “It is bringing this I AM into everything. I AM the I in you. The I in the cat, the I in the bird. I AM the first person in everyone and Everything. I. That is my second phase. That the I is ultimate and universal”. 

John Tan (2008) - Observer and observed as one is nondual experience: “Observer and observed as one is nondual experience. Stage 2 is nondual but there is no insight of no-self. The insight is that you know and understand the pathless path of no-self. You see it although it is pathless. You see the path. This is due to insight and therefore there is more permanent lucidity. Stage 2 remains as a stage you don't know how to get it. Don't know when it comes again or the path towards it. It’s needed to further refine by penetrating into the deeper depth of nondual and into Anatta as stated in the Bahiya Sutta, then comes Emptiness. So you understand more about the various stages? Stage 1 can be very blissful too when the meditative strength is there, but there is no understanding of the 'forms’. Only the pure sense of existence in thought realm. Not in the 'forms'”.

John Tan (2007) - It's nondual and sunk back to a source:  “Stage 2 is like nondual and sunk back to a source. It is always the source, the Self, the background, even if you fuse and merge into everything”.  

Stage 3 - Entering Into a State of Nothingness

A general remark about this stage/phase: It’s about entering into a state of oblivion to get rid of the sense of ‘I’. In this phase comes an important understanding – The ‘I’ is the root cause of all artificialities, that true freedom is in spontaneity. Surrender into complete nothingness and everything is simply Self so … Drop everything to get around the problem of intense luminosity and at the same time experience naturalness and spontaneity by way of dropping … The mysterious gate of Taoism … The Tao is the way. The way of always in Union with the ‘source’. One has to be aware of this dimension but nothing to seek. It is rather only in daily encounter and manifestation … The ‘unfathomable depth’ cannot be approached through (intellectual) ‘knowing’. Only through moment to moment gnosis in seeing, feeling, thinking, tasting, hearing and smelling. The way to understanding the nature of aliveness and clarity is to fully ‘live’ and ‘express’.  Taoism is unique in this sense in expressing this dark illumination. It is not really interest in presence, but what is behind presence...

John Tan (2008) - The focus is not on luminosity, but effortlessness, naturalness and spontaneity: “There is the experience of practitioners by way of complete surrendering or elimination (dropping) like Taoist practitioners. An experience of deep bliss that is beyond that of what you experienced can occur. But the focus is not on luminosity, but effortlessness, naturalness and spontaneity. In complete giving up, there is no 'I' ; it is also needless to know anything; in fact 'knowledge' is considered a stumbling block. The practitioner drops away mind, body, knowledge...everything. There is no insight, there is no luminosity there is only total allowing of whatever that happens, happen in its own accord. All senses including consciousness are shut and fully absorbed. Awareness of 'anything' is only after emerging from that state”.

John Tan (2018) - It can only come as a leap over: “It’s the mysterious pass. It can only come as a ‘leap over’ because it can't be approached with a ‘known mind’. Therefore the mysterious gate is dark. So, subjective radiance from one's clarity is secondary, entirely not a concern at all. When we look at the idea of Mu and the technique of koan, it is not difficult to see that Zen is a”.

The way to understanding the nature of aliveness and clarity is to fully ‘live’ and ‘express’. Taoism is unique in this sense in expressing this dark illumination

John Tan: Lately I kept seeing articles and conversations relating to "nothingness" wonder why. The mysterious gate of Taoism. Taoist valley spirit is the opposite of clarity... it attempts to express the depth ‘source’ of life.

Soh Wei Yu: Sounds like Christianity? Was reading some Christian mystic website I think based on Father Thomas Keating. They are aware of I AM and witnessing but states that the goal of Christian contemplation is beyond that, is the source of that and will and doing. 

John Tan: Nothingness. Even Nisargadatta. There is nothing to contemplate as it cannot be approached through a known mind. They call it contemplative prayer.

Soh Wei Yu: More like prayer or meditation. Dunno, what is it. Maybe surrendering.

John Tan: Yes. The Tao is the way. The way of always in union with the ‘source’. Or even yoga. One has to be aware of this dimension but nothing to seek. It is rather only in daily encounter and manifestation.

Soh Wei Yu: Union with source is like divine happening? Not my will but the source.

John Tan: Yes, but we cannot approach the ‘unfathomable depth’ through ‘knowing’. Only through moment to moment gnosis in seeing, feeling, thinking, tasting, hearing and smelling. 

Soh Wei Yu: Knowing as in intellect?

John Tan: Yes, intellect. The way to understanding the nature of aliveness and clarity is to fully ‘live’ and ‘express’. Taoism is unique in this sense in expressing this dark illumination. It is not really interest in presence. But what is behind presence...when in deep sleep, where is awareness? So the valley spirit is often described as dark. How is this different from Anatta?

Soh Wei Yu: Anatta does not see something behind presence but source is none other than manifestation.

John Tan: What does ‘source is none other manifestation’ mean to you?

Soh Wei Yu: Means when hearing sound, I don’t see it arising out of a nothingness but sound springs from right where it is fully aliveness and full expression of life. 

John Tan: First you must differentiate between experiential insight that there is nothing behind and directly experiencing presence as the 6 entries and exits. From seeing through conventions and how the mind mistaken. How the mind mistakes and reify conventions. How the mind attempt to fix and fit and explain in a "known" pattern according to its existing paradigm. What is the difference? And only when these two insights arise, practitioner can clearly understand and experience.

Soh Wei Yu: Insight that there is nothing behind is realizing Anatta, directly experience presence is all six senses is just PCE. (AtR)

John Tan (2006) – How is Stage 3 different from other stages: “Stages 1 and 2 are non-dual experience. Stage 3 is dropping. Stages 5 and 6 are nondual insight”. 

John Tan (2008) - Dropping is the antidote of intense vividness. Then, Anatta is like the integration of both luminosity and dropping: … Dropping is the antidote of intense vividness. And dropping allows you to have another experience … The purpose of me telling you to drop is for you to get around the problem of intense luminosity and at the same time experience naturalness and spontaneity by way of dropping. However, all these experiences contribute later to the insight of Anatta. Or great clarity of Anatta. Therefore, I told you to summarize at the same time. And also learn how to drop. Anatta is like the integration of both with right understanding. With luminosity and dropping, you experience new frontiers and refinement of what you know about consciousness then continue to summarize it. And take the Bahiya Sutta seriously until the insight dawn.

There are six stages of dropping. First is ‘someone’ is dropping. Second is dropping appears as a mirror reflecting. Third is there is only endless dropping without footing and mental reasoning. Fourth is dropping as vivid wide opening. Fifth is vivid wide opening as everything. Sixth is only Dharma spontaneously manifesting. The last two stages of dropping require deep insights into nondual, Anatta and Emptiness.

Stage 4 -  Presence as Mirror Bright Clarity

A general remark about this stage/phase The taste of nondual Presence, previously felt to be a formless background, is now tasted in the foreground as sound, colors, scents, textures and fabric of whatever manifests, through a (partial) realization of No-Self and the penetration of the illusionary paradigm of subject-object/perceiver-perceived division or duality. It’s the beginning of nondual realization, but not yet the full maturity.

John Tan (2006) - There is thinking, no thinker. There is sound, no hearer. Suffering exists, no sufferer. Deeds there are, no doer: “This time it was not ‘I AM’, it was not asking ‘who am I’, it was not the pure sense of ‘I AM’, it was ‘TONGSss…’ the pure Sound … There is no Sound out there or in here… There is no ‘I’ apart from the arising and ceasing… The manifold of Presence… Moment to moment Presence unfolds…” 

John Tan (2009) - The illusory nature of subject-object division is seen through. The sense of sacredness that was once the monopoly of the Absolute is now also found in the Relative: “Nondual realization is a deep understanding that comes from seeing through the illusory nature of subject-object division. It is a natural nondual state that resulted from an insight that arises after rigorous investigation, challenge and a prolonged period of practice that is specially focused on ‘No-Self’. Somehow focusing on No-Self will spark a sense of sacredness towards the transient and fleeting phenomena. The sense of sacredness that is once the monopoly of the Absolute is now also found in the Relative. The term ‘No-Self’ like Zen Koan may appear cryptic, senseless or illogical but when realized, it is actually obviously clear, direct and simple”. 

John Tan (2009) - Subject/Object as an inseparable union, rather than absolutely no-subject: “Phase 4 is merely the experience of non-division between subject/object. The initial insight glimpsed from the Anatta stanza is without self, but in the later phase of my progress it appeared more like subject/object as an inseparable union, rather than absolutely no-subject.”

Soh Wei Yu – Back and forth between One Mind and No Mind:  “Experience switches back and forth between One Mind and No Mind, due to persisting view/paradigm of inherent existence despite nondual realization. In fact, if you look at certain people like Ken Wilber in his journal/book ‘One Taste’, he kept switching between Witnessing (I AM) and nondual (one mind to no mind) despite their insight of nondual (Stage 4), and occasionally lose access even to that Witnessing (such as when drinking alcohol, thus resuming the merely normal, egoic state of consciousness). This is because the very deeply rooted view of inherency as well as subject-object paradigm is still present, therefore nondual Presence cannot be effortlessly sustained. After Stage 5 is realized deeply, there will be no more switching, there will not be a trace of subject-object duality and agency 24/7, and no mind becomes constant. Even wine does not disturb my state of no-mind the slightest, however I must say I seldom partake of alcohol and even if I do, it is in very moderate amounts”.

One Mind

A changeless open and limitless space of awareness that is indistinguishable-inseparable from, but not identical to, the changing contents of consciousness that it contains.

John Tan (2013): “One Mind means consciousness is of true existence like a container. Consciousness is not in the body, but the body is in consciousness. Sound arises in consciousness. Therefore consciousness doesn't change”. 

John Tan: One Mind is you are always looking at an ultimate mind behind, you are not looking at manifestation

Soh Wei Yu: But it's not I Am, right?

John Tan: It is not

Soh Wei Yu: It's like integrating foreground as being an aspect of background

John Tan: I AM is just the pure background behind but external objects are not subsumed into it… like separate. I AM I is dualistic. In this case of One Mind, all is being consumed/subsumed into the source. One mind is different. One mind is that the witness is gone but subsume into an overarching Awareness.

No Mind

There are peak experiences of no subjectivity, but not effortless nor perpetual, as the default view is still based on inherent existence and subtle subject/object duality. 

John Tan (2013): “No-Mind is as if consciousness is the substance of matter. When we say sound-consciousness, there is no such thing as sound and sound-consciousness… When the hearer is gone and there is only sound, that sound is precisely consciousness. That is the experience of No-Mind”.

“No mind is like the mirror becomes transparent and there is just that. But the view is the reflection and the mirror is not the same. Like sky is not the flowing cloud”.

“You may have No-Mind as an experience and understood that there is such an experience as simple manifestation or just the radiant world, but still it remains as a stage. You have no idea that it is a wrong view that hinders effortless actualization. We do not 'see' that it is the wrong view that 'blinds', a mistaken view shaping our entire experience.

“No-Mind is the peak of nondual, the natural state of nondual where the background is completely gone. Very often a practitioner in an advance phase of nondual and One Mind, will naturally know the importance of No-Mind. And that becomes the practice. They know they have to be there. However, to come to this natural state of nondual where the background is deemed irrelevant, it requires insight of Anatta”. 

John Tan (2011): “To mature Anatta realization, even direct experience of the absence of an agent will prove insufficient. There must also be a total new paradigm shift in terms of view. We must free ourselves from being bonded to the idea, the need, the urge and the tendency of analyzing, seeing and understanding our moment to moment of experiential reality from a source, an essence, a center, a location, an agent or a controller and rest entirely on Anatta and Dependent Origination”.

“Therefore despite the clear realization and right experience, seamlessness and effortlessness of nondual experience will not be smooth without ‘right view’. The reason though obvious is often overlooked; if deep at the back of a practitioner’s mind he still hold the dualistic and inherent view, how is it possible to have seamless and effortless experience of in seeing, just scenery; in hearing, just sound? How unreserved, open and seamless can a practitioner be in transcending the self altogether into the transience? Hence equip oneself with a view that can integrate with the realization and experience, it will help practitioners progress more smoothly”. 

“With regards to the attachment of view, it does not apply to practitioners that have gone pass certain phases of insights. Practitioners after certain phases of insights are constantly abolishing ground and are clear that whatever pith instructions and views are merely provisional. There are masters that caution practitioners and there are students that parrot their masters’ advises, so do not follow blindly. In fact, every deepening of view is a giving up. In the case of Anatta, it is the total elimination of Self”.

“Anatta is often not correctly understood. it is common that one progress from experience of nondual to No-Mind instead of direct realization into Anatta. Many focus on the experience and there is a lack of clarity to penetrate the differences, so you must be clear of the various phases of insights first and not mistake one for the other. At the same time, refine your experience these few days... Have deeper sleep and exercise more. Balance your body energies”.

John Tan (2020) – Difference between One Mind, No Mind and Original Mind: “So what is One Mind, what is No Mind and what is Original Mind (*) in this context? One Mind is post nondual but subsuming leaving trace. No Mind is just One Mind except that there is evenness till the last trace is gone … All is time therefore no time. When you go from dual to nondual or One Mind to No Mind, those are stages and experiences... If you got the condition to get pointed out that originally there never was a mind, there are no stages to climb... that is Original Mind. This requires insights and wisdom”. 

(Note by Soh: the Original Mind spoken here does not mean some unborn metaphysical primordial mind such as the I AM, but the originally, already is nature of mind –empty of itself– … originally there never was a mind, empty of all self/Self.)

Stages 1 and 2 are also like One Mind, except dualistic

Soh Wei Yu: One Mind is Phase 4 onwards? Before Phase 4 you also had glimpse of One Mind, right?

John Tan: One Mind, doesn't matter if dual or nondual, it is just a subsuming tendency that the mind attempts to explain everything into an ultimate consciousness.

Soh Wei Yu: So Stages 1 and 2 are also like One Mind, except dualistic. And Stage 4 is like nondual but still have subsuming tendency, so might not yet overcome One Mind.

John Tan: Yes.

Soh Wei Yu: I remember during I AM, I also had subsuming tendency. But that I AM sort of One Mind was somewhat different from post nondual (as in, nondual sort of One Mind) but only really overcome subsuming after Anatta. 

John Tan: Subsuming tendency is always beautiful to an inherent mind.

Soh Wei Yu (2020) – No Mind is like PCE. Even after Stage 4 one is still cycling between One Mind and No Mind, until Stage 5 clears that tendency: “No Mind is not Stage 3 but a peak experience of the dissolution of being self/Self or a 'Mind' -- even 'One Mind'. It’s hard to put No Mind into a stage. For example I had glimpses of No Mind even before Stage 1. Also, after Stage 4 one is cycling between One Mind and No Mind until Stage 5 clears that tendency, as insight is very clear on Anatta as always so. No mind is like PCE. No self/Self just luminous manifestation. But as a state of experience, it is not necessarily realization of Anatta as always so. After Anatta, no mind should become a natural state”.

No Mind is important, though should not be making of it a state but addressing the view aspect

Matt H.: I have consistent access to One Mind as an experience and periodic, but not consistent, access to No Mind as an experience. Judging by what I've read so far, the missing piece is deeper insight into Anatta to make the flip from 'temporary experience' to 'baseline ground reality'. Over the last few months I've been practicing a certain kind of letting go (*) to cause the No Mind experience to arise more consistently, but I guess the AtR view is that this approach is somewhat mistaken and my time would be better spent contemplating Anatta?

(*) In a nutshell, it's about finding a sense of 'pulling together' (towards a center point) in my experience, which seems to be what's behind the subjective sense of a central point, and then allowing that to relax. What's been tricky over the last few months of exploring this is that sometimes the 'fist' will relax and sometimes it won't, and I don't yet have a clear enough sense of why or why not to be able to make it more consistent. I'd found that gently inclining my mind toward a sense of space/silence between/around/behind thoughts was a good way of kick-starting the process. And then, when the No-Mind experience opens up, that sense of space/silence being inclined toward vanishes, leaving just the thoughts … 

Soh Wei Yu: Not exactly mistaken because No Mind is important, but should be complimented with the two stanzas and Bahiya Sutta style of contemplation and make sure not to contemplate in a way of making it a state but in a way that addresses the view aspect.

You might stay in One Mind/No Mind for some time even after Anatta

John Tan: Unlike you, I have been stuck in One Mind for quite some time. It is not easy to get rid of that trace. Without guidance, it can take many years. Even then one may just be a state of No Mind rather than Anatta. So it remains a form of experience rather than insight and realization. A state I mean.

Soh Wei Yu: So, you realized through contemplating the first stanza of Anatta in 1997 but that was still followed by One Mind and No Mind for a few years? 

John Tan: No... post Anatta, the karmic tendency wasn't that strong anymore...maybe 1 year or so for One Mind and No Mind... Before that, overcoming of background is tough.

Three Levels of Non-Dual 

1. There is an Awareness reflecting thoughts and manifestation. ("I AM") Stages 1 and 2. Mirror bright is experienced but distorted. Dualistic and Inherent seeing.

2. Thoughts and manifestation are required for the mirror to see itself. Stage 4. Non-Dualistic but Inherent seeing. Beginning of nondual insight.

3. Thoughts and manifestation have always been the mirror (The mirror here is seen as a whole). Stage 5. Non-Dualistic and non-inherent insight.

In 3 not even a quantum line can be drawn from whatever arises; whatever that appears to come and goes is the Awareness itself. There is no Awareness other than that. We should use the teachings of Anatta (no-self), Dependent Origination and Emptiness to see the 'forms' of awareness.

How to Progress from Stage 4 into Stage 5

Investigate and challenge all sense of awareness being unchanging and independent. Contemplate on Bahiya Sutta and the Wind/Blowing analogy (Stage 5). In Stage 4, Awareness is still understood to be a one-way dependency: transient forms are none other than expressions of changeless awareness, but changeless awareness is not equivalent to transient forms. Contemplating on the two-way dependency can also be helpful if you like analytical approach: Greg Goode on Advaita/Madhyamika.

Soh Wei Yu (2021) - Realize the emptiness of awareness, and understand consciousness in terms of Dependent Origination: “At phase 4 one may be trapped in the view that everything is one awareness modulating as various forms, like gold being shaped into various ornaments while never leaving its pure substance of gold. This is the Brahman view. Although such a view and insight is nondual, it is still based on a paradigm of essence-view and ‘inherent existence’. Instead, one should realize the emptiness of awareness, and should understand consciousness in terms of Dependent Origination. This clarity of insight will get rid of the essence view that consciousness is an intrinsic essence that modulates into this and that”.

John Tan (2020) - Consciousness is in a perpetual state of fluxing and in any moment it’s one of the six types of consciousness: “Buddha named consciousness after its ayatanas (internal and external senses). This is to prevent us from abstracting and reifying a pure self standing consciousness. In other words, consciousness is in a perpetual state of fluxing and if you were to slice a moment out of this stream of consciousness-ing, it is always one of the six types of consciousness eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness and mental-consciousness.”

John Tan (2013) - When you see through reification, you realized ‘awareness’ is just a label point to these (six senses) manifestations: Anatta is a realization that there isn't a consciousness besides sound, scenery...etc. You see through reification of that agent and get in touch with the base manifestation where the label relies upon. So sound is the actuality that consciousness is referring to. There is no consciousness other than that. When they see through reification, then phenomena has a different meaning. Seeing everything as awareness is not One Mind. Seeing everything as the same unchanging mind is the problem. When you see through reification, you realized ‘awareness’ is just a label point to these manifestations. So there is nothing wrong saying that. Only when we treat awareness to be of true existence then we are deluded, because there isn't any. In hearing, there is only sound. Hearing implies the presence of sound”.

Daniel Ingram (2009) – Rigpa and the aggregates: “Assume something really simple about sensations and awareness: they are exactly the same. In fact, make it simpler: there are sensations, and this includes all sensations that make up space, thought, image, body, anything you can imagine being mind, and all qualities that are experienced, meaning the sum total of the world”.

“In this very simple framework, Rigpa is all sensations, but there can be this subtle attachment and lack of investigation when high terms are used that we want there to be this Super-Rigpa, this awareness that is other. You mention that you feel there is a larger awareness, an awareness that is not just there the limits of your senses. I would claim otherwise: that the whole sensate universe by definition can't arise without the quality of awareness by definition, and so some very subtle sensations are tricking you into thinking they are bigger than the rest of the sensate field and are actually the awareness that is aware of other sensations”.

“Awareness is simply manifestation. All sensations are simply present”.

“Thus, be wary of anything that wants to be a Super-Awareness, a Rigpa that is larger than everything else, as it can't be, by definition. Investigate at the level of bare sensate experience just what arises and see that it can't possibly be different from awareness, as this is actually an extraneous concept and there are actually just sensations as the first and final basis of reality”.

“As you like the Tibetan stuff, and to quote Padmasambhava in the root text of the book The Light of Wisdom”:

‘The mind that observes is also devoid of an ego or self-entity. It is neither seen as something different from the aggregates, nor as identical with these five aggregates. If the first were true, there would exist some other substance. This is not the case, so were the second true, that would contradict a permanent self, since the aggregates are impermanent. Therefore, based on the five aggregates, The self is a mere imputation based on the power of the ego-clinging. As to that which imputes, the past thought has vanished and is nonexistent. The future thought has not occurred, and the present thought does not withstand scrutiny’.

“I really found this little block of tight philosophy helpful. It is also very vipassana at its core, but it is no surprise the wisdom traditions converge. Thus, if you want to crack the nut, notice that everything is 5 aggregates, including everything you think is super-awareness, and be less concerned with what every little type of consciousness is than with just perceiving them directly and noticing the gaps that section off this from that, such as rigpa from thought stream, or awareness from sensations, as these are golden chains”. 

John Tan - Two major causes that gave rise to such phenomena like awareness as an observer and nondual awareness: “With the arising insight of Anatta, self is seen through. A new mode of perception arises, a mode of perception that pierces through reification. Does this sound like the practitioner has now acquired ‘a new mode of perception’, as if a third eye suddenly appears in between the eyebrows? In truth nothing new has arisen; contrary it is a process of elimination. What eliminated is the habitual tendency to ‘reify’. Now using the same analogy, let’s look at ‘nondual’? It will be helpful to understand the 2 major causes that gave rise to such phenomena like awareness as an observer and nondual awareness. They are: (1) one's ability to suspense ‘conceptualization’; (2) habitual tendencies to ‘reify’ and ‘dualify’”.

“Without conceptualization experience becomes direct, clean, clear, vivid, crystal, brilliance and transparent. Without the layer of conceptualization, there is no layer that separates observer from the observed. If there is no insight that all along the subject-object division is assumed, then ‘nondual’ becomes a state and there is oscillation between duality and non-duality. If there is realization of the emptiness of the ‘division’, then experiences turn effortlessly nondual”. 

“How does ‘nondual awareness’ arise? It is the continuation of the habitual tendency to reify that objectifies the ‘clean, clear, vivid, crystal, brilliance and transparent’ state of experience that is free from duality into nondual awareness. This also means that latent tendencies lie far deeper than surface conceptualization, mere cessation of conceptual thoughts is unable to overcome these tendencies”.

John Tan (2010) – When an experience of intense luminosity happens, the bodymind will not rest in great content but get more attached to a nondual ultimate luminous state. For the mind to rest, it must have an experience of ‘great dissolve’ that whatever arises perpetually self-liberates: “We cannot get carried away by all these blissful experiences. Blissfulness is the result of luminosity whereas liberation is due to prajna wisdom. For intense luminosity in the foreground, you will not only have vivid experience of ‘brilliant aliveness’, ‘you’ must also completely disappear. It is an experience of being totally ‘transparent’ and without boundaries. These experiences are quite obvious, you will not miss it. However the bodymind will not rest in great content due to an experience of intense luminosity. Contrary it can make a practitioner more attached to a nondual ultimate luminous state”.

“For the mind to rest, it must have an experience of ‘great dissolve’ that whatever arises perpetually self-liberates. It is not about phenomena dissolving into some great void but it is the empty nature of whatever arises that self-liberates. It is the direct experience of groundlessness and non-abiding due to direct insight of the empty nature of phenomena and that includes the nondual luminous essence”.

“Therefore In addition to bringing this ‘taste’ to the foreground, you must also ‘realize’ the difference between wrong and right view. There is also a difference in saying ‘Different forms of Aliveness’ and ‘There is just breath, sound, scenery...magical display that is utterly unfindable, ungraspable and without essence empty’”.

“In the former case, realize how the mind is manifesting a subtle tendency of attempting to ‘pin’ and locate something that inherently exists. The mind feels uneasy and needs to seek for something due to its existing paradigm. It is not simply a matter of expression for communication sake but a habit that runs deep because it lacks a ‘view’ that is able to cater for reality that is dynamic, ungraspable, nonlocal, centerless and interdependent”.

“After direct realization of the nondual essence and empty nature, the mind can then have a direct glimpse of what is meant by being ‘natural’, otherwise there will always be a ‘sense of contrivance’”.

Soh Wei Yu - Different trigger points for Anatta: “So far, many people who came across our group and blog has realized Anatta. I estimate about 40 people. So I have collected some of their writings and even requested some to write a little. From all these cases, you can see that some of them have slightly different trigger points. You can look into them and see what is their inquiry and contemplations that triggered the shift of insight for me. 

- For me (Soh), it was slightly different, although not all that different, it was through contemplating on Bahiya Sutta to penetrate the subject-action-object dichotomy , 

- For Soto Zen priest and teacher Alex R. Weith, it was through Bahiya Sutta 

- For Robert Dominik too there was a series of contemplations and inquiries 

- For Joel Agee, reading a verse on Dzogchen triggered the insight  

- For TD Unmanifest, it was the two nondual contemplations in the AtR Guide and Zen Master Dogen's Uji that led to his insights 

- I think you will like the approach of Kyle Dixon, because he approaches deconstruction and contemplation from many angles even quite early on, not just from the aspect of Anatta, which is why he penetrated into twofold emptiness pretty quickly, so, highly recommended reading and   You can see that he actually also integrated a little bit of his insights from Madhyamika, DP, J. Krishnamurti, Alan Watts etc along with AtR, Dzogchen, all into it.

Kyle Dixon is very clear about view and realization and experience are clear. He practices Dzogchen and his teacher Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith is also clear. Might want to read this on Madhyamika, will help:  and 

The 90 Days Cycle 

Soh Wei Yu: “John Tan often cautioned about the 90 day cycle to those who just had a breakthrough awakening into no-self. This refers to the intense nondual luminous clarity and bliss that occurs for a period of 90 days after the initial breakthrough of some insights into no-self (could be phase 4 or phase 5 insight), only for it to become dull as karmic (deep conditioning) propensities return. Only after some periods of practice and deepening of insights does the experience become stabilized. The purpose of cautioning is so that one does not prematurely think that the experience has stabilized, and one should not be disheartened when some dullness or karmic propensities creep back. Simply continue practicing diligently and mature one’s insights even further”.

John Tan explained to someone: “There is a sudden realization of non-duality. Then you will be in a stage of probably 60 to 90 days of bliss, of joy, or rapture. These things will happen first. Then, you will suddenly feel {inaudible} the momentum is coming to work. Now, this sudden {inaudible} of non-duality or the experience of non-duality will come again probably in {inaudible} even with practice. Because it will not just stop, but it will not just continuously surface. I mean it will continue to surface, but it will take place with the momentum, that you feel a bit confused. Can you get what I mean? But, if after certain time about 2, 3 years of continuous practice and continuous experiencing it becomes stabilized. Then it becomes very clear. Then the experience of transparency will {inaudible}. And when you experience, a person will feel radiance bright. Means when you see him, you will find radiance bright, you know? Because once a person experience non-duality, there is no holding, there is just luminosity. There is just a pure sense of existence, of clarity, of all things. Somehow, there is an utmost joy and energy that flows from everywhere, that sustains a person. This is its nature”.

John Tan: “Most intense is Anatta, explosion of luminous intensity into 3 states (waking, dreaming, deep sleep) into meditative experiences into 3 states and several episodes of dreams of clarity … but even then never went beyond 90 days cycle… that’s why I tell you always wait for 90 days cycle.” 

John Tan (2017): “In the 90 days cycle, different experiences can manifest depending on the depth of intensities. It is also best and easiest to witness all sort of phenomena in the first 90 days cycle commonly described as intense meditative experiences. This is due to the powerful momentum from the breakthrough of insight at that moment. If he has strong base of meditation previously, the effect is sort of ‘multiplied’”.

“The first factor is the willingness to let go. Surrendering is thorough. The release is thorough. Therefore, second factor is energy release. There is tremendous energy that is previously held up and tied up in preserving the ‘I’ is now released. The mind and body constructs dropped and practitioner feels ‘light’. Fearlessness is third factor. The intensity of clarity due to directness of perception is fourth factor. All these factors serve as the conditions that intensify the 6 entries and exits”. 

“Whether energy turn oceanic-wave like pattern or sensations turns crystal and transparent is experienced or surrendering leading to mind state ceased, they are all A&P. Test is whether the factors can penetrate into the 3 states and whether unconscious dreams manifest karmic tendencies or dreams of clarity or dreamless clarity. Also diet is an important factor that is often overlooked. Anyway we are not teachers, so don’t anyhow advice and mislead”.

Seven Factors of Enlightenment

John Tan (2007): “I read a post saying that after sometime, enlightenment becomes dull. And this is true until a form is emptiness is clearly experienced. Forgotten. It becomes dull because Isness, the clarity and intensity of no-self, nondual oneness cannot be experienced. If there is clarity, spontaneity and aliveness, how can there be dullness? Bear this in mind and relate it to the seven factors of enlightenment”.

“In addition to deepening one's insights, which is very important, all seven factors of enlightenment must be present with nondual insight so that one can overcome our karmic (deep conditioning) momentum. So we should continue practicing diligently”.

“…When we practice, we are not practicing to attain the ultimate. There is nothing to attain. We only attempt to create conditions to experience certain aspect of our pristine awareness. When we put attention into mindfulness, into 'bare' attention. 'Seeing' bare, we actually give up other aspect of our pristine awareness. That is the effortless spontaneity. So when someone teaches mindfulness, he said put in effort to be bare in attention....he is not wrong. When someone said no no no, gentle effort in being mindfulness and be bare in attention, he is also not wrong. For all these paths are truly pathless. One that thinks he knows what is pathless doesn't really know. He thinks effortless is doing nothing, laze around, and when he act, he thought that is effort. It is a misunderstanding of a dualistic mind”.

Soh Wei Yu: “How do we develop the 7 factors of enlightenment? Through the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness, which the Buddha said was the only way to liberation. He also assures that practitioners developing the four foundations of mindfulness can expect to attain the high levels of awakening such as Non-Returner or Arahantship in 7 years or as little as 7 days. So check out Satipatthana Sutta and also the Anapanasati Sutta Anapanasati – Mindfulness of Breathing – is recommendable and in it the Buddha taught that it develops the four foundations of mindfulness which in turn develops the seven factors of awakening”.

Pitfalls and Dangers of One Mind

Soh Wei Yu: “At the One Mind phase, there is still the reification of an unchanging consciousness, and for some an unchanging and universal consciousness. The pitfalls of the One Mind phase can also be present in the I Am phase, as explained in the chapter on reifying Host and Guest. In One Mind, the Host is now seen to subsume all Guests and be inseparable with them, instead of being absolutely distinct and separate from them as in the I AM phase, however the Host is still as Absolute and Unchanging”.

John Tan (2009):  “Phase 4 is the beginning of seeing through no-self. Insight into no-self has arisen but nondual experience is still very much 'Brahman' rather than 'Sunyata'; in fact it is more Brahman than ever. Now ‘I AMness’ is experienced in All. Nevertheless it is a very important key phase where the practitioner experiences a quantum leap in perception untying the dualistic knot. This is also the key insight leading to the realization that ‘All is Mind’, all is just this One Reality. The tendency to extrapolate an Ultimate Reality or Universal Consciousness where we are part of this Reality remains surprisingly strong. Effectively the dualistic knot is gone but the bond of seeing things inherently isn't. 'Dualistic' and 'inherent' knots that prevent the full experiencing of our Maha, empty and nondual nature of pristine awareness are two very different 'perceptual spells' that blind. The subsection ‘On Second Stanza’ of the post ‘On Anatta (No-Self), Emptiness, Maha and Ordinariness, and Spontaneous Perfection’ further elaborates this insight”. 

Alex R. Weith (Soto Zen teacher): “Having got hold of the ox, one has realized the One Mind. In Zen literature this One Mind has often been compared to a bright mirror that reflects phenomena and yet remains untouched by appearances. As discussed with one of Sheng-Yen's first Western students, this One Mind is still an illusion. One is not anymore identified to the self-center, ego and personality, yet one (the man) is still holding to pure nondual awareness (the ox). Having tamed the ox, the ox-herder must let go of the ox (ox forgotten) and then forget himself and the ox (ox and man forgotten)”.

“The problem is that we still maintain a subtle duality between what we know ourself to be, a pure nondual awareness that is not a thing, and our daily existence often marked by self-contractions. Hoping to get more and more identified with pure nondual awareness, we may train concentration, try to hold on to the event of awakening reifying an experience, or rationalize the whole thing to conclude that self-contraction is not a problem and that suffering is not suffering because our true nature is ultimately beyond suffering. This explains why I got stuck in what Zen calls ‘stagnating waters’ for about a year”.

“This is however not seen as a problem in other traditions such as Advaita Vedanta where the One Mind is identified with the Brahman that contains and manifests the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep within itself, yet remains untouched by its dreamlike manifestation”.

Soh Wei Yu: “I have seen many Buddhist teachers reify I AM, many reify One Mind, while some have realized Anatta and Emptiness. By the way, it is not necessary to get stuck with a belief in universal consciousness to get stuck at I AM or One Mind. Even non Buddhist systems like Samkhya is about I AM but each I AM is individual. And as I wrote in AtR Guide, there are different phases of I AM. Those who gone through impersonality are more prone to reifying the universal, until insight into Anatta arise at least”.

“I have seen many Theravadin, Zen and Tibetan masters and teachers reify universal awareness. I reckon so many Chan/Zen teachers conceive a universal consciousness partly due to doctrinal influence. For example the ‘The Awakening of Faith in Mahayana’ of Ashvagosha talks about One Mind and that text has been criticized by Lopon Malcolm to be holding a view similar to Advaita Vedanta. But this text is usually taken as authoritative in Chinese Buddhism, and even Huang Po talks about One Mind in a way that sounds like that or is often interpreted that way, e.g. ‘All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and sentient beings’”. 

“Of course, there are those like Dogen that reinterprets One Mind in a way that makes it congruent with Anatta. And Soto Zen masters like Steve Hagen are very clear about Anatta, his use of the term is congruent with Anatta, ‘This Mind is nothing other than the Whole. It's simply thus, the fabric of the world itself the ongoing arising and falling away that are matter, energy and events’. But that is not the case for most”.

“In Tibetan Buddhism side, I have seen a few masters (although more infrequently than Chinese Buddhism) elude to universal awareness, but generally even if they do not, they often still reify an unchanging awareness that is one’s innermost essence. Meaning I AM is reified like an unchanging background of pure awareness, or one mind subsuming all phenomena. The sky and clouds, mirror and reflections that AtR talks about in the One Mind chapter often gets reified, that is very common. I have seen many Tibetan books just talking about I AM, some one mind, etc. It is rare even in Tibetan Buddhism today (but this applies to any tradition) to break through to no mirror and Anatta and Emptiness, but as I mentioned there are some”. 

“As for Thai Forest Theravada, as I mentioned many get stuck at Poo Roo (Witness), and one master that broke through that got stuck at One Mind. It is very common in awareness teachings to get stuck there. Therefore, the Thusness 7 stages can help and do apply to all traditions, whatever tradition one is following so that one has a clearer direction and can avoid the pitfalls”.
Stage 5 -  No Mirror Reflecting

The Realization 

What No Mirror Reflecting Means: No subject/object division, no doer-ship and absence of agent. The direct and thorough seeing that 'the mirror is nothing more than an arising thought'. With this, the solidity and all the grandeur of 'Brahman' go down the drain ... The need to reify a Universal Brahman is understood as the karmic tendency to 'solidify' experiences … Yet it feels perfectly right and liberating without the agent, and being simply as an arising thought or as a vivid moment. All the vividness and presence remains, with an additional sense of freedom. Here a mirror/reflection union is clearly understood as flawed, there is only vivid reflection. There cannot be a 'union' if there isn't a subject to begin with. It is only in subtle recalling, that is in a thought recalling a previous moment of thought, that the watcher seems to exist … This phase is a very thorough non-dual experience; there is effortlessness in the non-dual … (many cycles of refining our insights are needed to make the nondual less 'concentrative' and more 'effortless') … and one realizes that in seeing there is always just scenery and in hearing, always just sounds. We find true delights in naturalness and ordinariness as commonly expressed in Zen as 'chop wood, carry water; spring comes, grass grows'. Non-dual is ordinary as there is no 'beyond' stage to arrive at. It appears to be extraordinary and grandeur only as an afterthought due to comparison.

A general remark: Anatta is a key insight for liberation. Why is this so? Because as Buddha taught, Appropriated Aggregates are Suffering  which means all aggregates tainted with I-making and mine-making are suffering. There can be no liberation from suffering without realizing and actualizing anatta. This is why of the 7 Stages of Thusness, only stage 5 onwards are considered the key important insights of Buddhism. Stages before Stage 5 are in fact not considered ‘Buddhist enlightenment’ and can be found in other religions.

John Tan: The dharma seal of Anatta. This "Originally there never was any 'I' " is wisdom and the dharma seal of Anatta. It is neither an art like an artist in zone where self is dissolved into the flow of action nor is it a state to be achieved in the case of the taoist "坐忘" (sit and forget) a state of no-mind. For example in cooking, there is no self that cooks, only the activity of cooking. The hands moves, the utensils act, the water boils, the potatoes peel and the universe sings together in the act of cooking. Whether one appears clumsy or smooth in act of cooking doesn't matter and when the dishes are out, they may still taste horrible; still there never was any 'I' in any moment of the activity. There is no entry or exit point in the wisdom of anatta.”

John Tan: No mirror reflecting, manifestation alone IS. But what exactly is this “witness” we are talking about? It is the manifestation itself! It is the appearance itself! There is no Source to fall back, the Appearance is the Source! Including the moment to moment of thoughts. The problem is we choose, but all is really it. There is nothing to choose. There is no mirror reflecting Manifestation alone IS. From blinking your eyes, raising a, sky, chirping birds, footsteps...every single moment...nothing is not it! There is just IT. The instantaneous moment is total intelligence, total life, total clarity. Everything Knows, it's it. There is no two, there is one.

John Tan: Stage 5 is the beginning  of Buddhism. In Buddhism, insight is to see, penetrate and investigate and become thoroughly clear that the idea of a source, an essence is unnecessary. Once you experience and arise the insight of Anatta, you begin open to happening without source, without the need of an essence. This is then the beginning of Buddhism. 

John Tan: Replacing the Self in Hinduism with Conditioned Arising. Buddhism is nothing but replacing the 'Self' in Hinduism with Condition Arising. Keep the clarity, the presence, the luminosity and eliminate the ultimate 'Self', the controller, the supreme. Still you must taste, sense, eat, hear and see Pure Awareness in every authentication. And every authentication is Bliss.

John Tan: Impersonality and Anatta. The doing away of the ego is Impersonality (remember the four aspects of I AM). Doing away with the I AM is Anatta. 

John Tan: Anatta and Effortlessness. 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'.

John Tan: True delight in naturalness and ordinariness. This phase is a very thorough nondual experience; there is effortlessness in the nondual and one realizes that in seeing there is always just scenery and in hearing, always just sounds. We find true delight in naturalness and ordinariness as commonly expressed in Zen as 'chop wood, carry water; spring comes, grass grows'.

John Tan: Phase 4 vs Phase 5. Phase 4 is the dissolution of subject/object division. Phase 5 onwards is the dissolution of inherent tendency. But not denying clarity. Rather it is the full, complete, effortless expression of empty clarity. Or experience in its total and natural state… which is nondual, insubstantial and natural.

Soh Wei Yu: Stage 4 vs Stage 5. Basically the difference between Thusness Stage 4 and Stage 5 is that in Stage 4, there is the view that awareness is the unchanging substance that can only experience itself in various forms and modulations. Stage 5 is the realization that like lightning and flash (no lightning ever existed besides flash), wind and blowing (there is no wind besides blowing), there is simply no awareness besides manifestation, no seer-seeing-seen, agent-action dichotomy.. then from there one replaces one's view of a source, substratum, substance, and continue to penetrate into D.O., total exertion and emptiness.

For Stage 5, you must see the no-agent, not only no-division

Soh Wei Yu (2010): What's the difference between stages 4 and 5 other than stabilizing non dual?

John Tan: Because you have not experienced non-division, so you do not know what is non-division, what is no-doership and what is no-agent in experience, and it is difficult to know what is that 'marks' that prevent the experience of spontaneity. There is a difference seeing thinker/thoughts as one and hearer/sound as one…. then sound is awareness, no hearer. Stage 4 is more like hearer/sound as one, that is why I said 'one thought, then another thought'. Just like you, you said you feel like an open space. Then you hear sound, sound and awareness seem to be one. Indistinguishable, but you cannot have that experience that there is only sound. Only in logic you have, but not in experience. Until one day you mature that experience.

John Tan: It's difficult to see Anatta. You must see the no-agent, not only no-division ... If you ask non-dualists, they will not realise that they are an arising thought. They will feel damn ultimate. They see self, not events, process phenomena. They see Brahman, not Sunyata. Even when the experiences are very similar, the insight has not matured into Anatta. Like Shingon sort of practice, the experience can be said to be Maha like, but it is not the Maha sort of experience I am talking about. it is oneness sort of experience, but it is a stage. What I said is: oneness is always there when one realises that presence is always a manifestation and full embodiment of interconnectedness. No effort needs to be done to induce a maha experience.

Stage 5, Spaciousness and Emptiness

Not to be fixated but also not to objectify the “spaciousness”,  otherwise “spaciousness” is no less fixated. The ‘space’ appears appealing only to a mind that abstracts but to a fully participating and involving mind, such “spaciousness” immediately sets itself apart, distancing itself from inseparable. 

Emptiness is never a behind background, but a fully partaking foreground manifesting as the arising and passing phenomena absence of a center. 

Therefore understand ‘spaciousness’ not like sky but like passing clouds and flowing water, manifesting whenever condition is. If ‘Emptiness’ has made us more fixated and immobilized this innate freedom of our non-dual luminosity, then it is ‘stubborn emptiness’.

The quality of spaciousness is important even in Stage 5, but is experienced and realized to be a fully participating foreground and total exertion of a boundless and immense universe, with no trace of spaciousness being reified as an ultimate background or even a container subsuming all else as ‘mere contents of the Absolute’ (One Mind). 

Hence John Tan’s advise to be “as light as a feather, as immense as the universe”, the lightness being the energetic quality of total mind-body relaxation and release from self in all aspects, and not overly contrived and overfocused with an obsessive intent to experience more, but a natural and spontaneous presencing of the manifold. 

In short, without contrived overfocus, there is a natural spaciousness that is the immensity of the luminous and boundless world in total exertion, not in anyway absolutized and aggrandised into a metaphysical substratum.

Soh Wei Yu: Glimpses of experience but lacking the direct realization. Phase 5 onwards are the crucial elements of the Buddhist form of enlightenment. It should be noted that it is possible to have peak experiences of no-mind (sense of a self temporarily dissolve, leaving merely the vivid colors/forms/sounds/sensations) but not having the direct realization of anatta as a dharma seal (characteristic of mind/phenomena/experience) as being always already so. This is similar to having a glimpse of recognition or experience of I AM and yet lacking direct realization of I AM as stated in Stage 1. A similar thing can happen for Stage 5, or Stage 6 having glimpses of experiences similar to Stage 5 and 6, but lacking the direct realization that is the defining criteria for having realized the insights of these phases.

John Tan: There is no neutral state to hold on to. The basic nature has no nature. To negate the "inherentness" of nature is to directly see and taste the dynamism of one's empty clarity. To negate "color" as "no color" is to see and experience the rainbow of colours. There is no neutral state to hold on to, the neutral state is a state fabricated by the conceptual mind as that is the further it can go conceptually. If one tries to maintain a state of "neutrality" of neither this nor that, then he will be imobilized therefore no "no color". To be free is to fully open to whatever is, for whatever appears is just one's radiance clarity. Therefore anatta is a crucial experiential taste and insight.

Soh Wei Yu: 'Consciousness' is just the mere event and manifestation happening or dependently originating without agent. Anatta is the realisation that there never was a truly existing mind/Mind/Awareness/Brahman/Presence/Ultimate-Reality etc. Mind, Awareness, Seeing, etc, all these are just conventions for the ongoing appearance. There is simply no seer-seeing-seen. Having such a realization, one simply stops projecting an ultimate substance or substratum. 

I remember right after Anatta, it was a very obvious shift. I no longer see consciousness as a 'substance' holding all appearances. Rather 'consciousness' is just the mere event and manifestation happening or dependently originating without agent, there isn't even a single thought about 'consciousness', just the self-luminous event/manifestation happening or gaplessly and nondually appearing at no distance, that's all. 

No self/Self or static source and substratum or reality underlying all. Completely dynamic and centerless and boundless and seamless beyond/free of the threefold structures of subject-action-object, seer-seeing-seen. Even the notion that 'consciousness is modulating as everything' falls apart. 

Dependent origination and emptiness is then another leap that liberates the 'foreground'.

John Tan: Using DO to refine the experience of Anatta. It is very difficult to move from substantialist nondual to Anatta. Even after arising insight of Anatta, there is still this problem. Very often you need to have clarity in DO to rid it... that is using DO to refine the experience of Anatta. So when a person undergoes awareness practice until a certain phase (non-dual), it is very very important to keep instilling the right view, keep breaking the essence. For this, a certain amount of faith in the teacher is very important. Otherwise one will not be able to progress to the next phase. 

Even if you have undergone the experience (experience of Anatta like a glimpse of No Mind experience), you will not be able to realize Anatta, until practitioners realized that it is not necessary to have 'essence' at all... It is just simply a distorted view ... There must be willingness to let go of the 'wrong view' entirely, then with the experience of No-Mind and realization, the adoption of the view carries you... until you perfect the experience. Then the doubts are completely gone. Your entire experience transcend the entire idea of 'essence'. The center is completely gone... just flat, disjoint, unsupported, dimensionless and pure experience, manifested as whatever arises. 

Kyle Dixon: substantial background substrate is an afflictive byproduct of delusion. Take the Advaitan who takes the passive knowing witness to be an ultimately substantial background substrate. That apparent attribute is assumed to be an unerring and unassailable characteristic of consciousness, and said practitioner will use that characteristic as an anchor in their practice, which will then be refined into its purest form as what the Advaitan considers to be their ultimate purusa. 

For Buddhists, that same characteristic (revered by the Advaitan) is considered to be an afflictive byproduct of delusion. It is seen as faulty, ultimately erroneous and an obscuration. Jigme Lingpa, for example, states that those who mistake that substrate and its strata as definitive and something to be cultivated are "like blind men wandering in the desert without a guide".

A mirror is not feeling the reflection 

John Tan: When you say mind/clarity and sound/phenomenon...why mirror and reflection is a bad analogy?

Soh Wei Yu: Because it can be mistaken as an inherent mirror reflecting inherent objects.

John Tan: Because a mirror is not feeling the reflection. Is awareness like that? hearing sound, there is just sound... the whole of sound... fully experienced... It is always the reflection. Fully felt and tasted... Separation is simply a mistaken view. So how can a mirror be a good example ... Instead it is misleading people turning away from realising what exactly is clarity. 

What actually one wants to emphasize is the non-arisen unborn nature of sound... instead we created a mirror and mislead people to look at the mirror and neglect the reflection. Distancing further from directly and effortlessly experiencing what we called "awareness" and also misleading people from see non-arisen from DO view.

The issue about a mirror is always it gives people a sense of something is beyond. Instead of bringing people into the relative, conventional, day to day. Seeing the nature of the relative and conventional is the key and is where profound insights and wisdom lie.

Kyle Dixon: Self is inferred, a tool for engaging with and navigating experience. There is ultimately no separate self as an entity which possesses those personality traits. The self is a mere construct which is only those traits, and so on. In actuality however, those traits do not truly construct an entity. The entity or self is inferred, and we use that inference as a tool for engaging with and navigating experience, but we mistake that inference to be a referent, meaning we become entrenched in the nexus of conditions and come to view the self as an inherently real entity. 

The actual meaning of selflessness in these teachings revolves around the non-conceptual, direct realization that there in fact is no inherent self, or any self at all for that matter. This results from recognizing that there is no thinker of thought, no separate feeler of feelings, no seer of sights, no hearer of sound, and so on.

Selflessness means there is ultimately no actual subject, which means there is no actual internal reference point that is apprehending sensory phenomena. 

Bahiya Sutta

Buddha's words: “Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: in the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized. Practising in this way, Bāhiya, you will not be 'because of that' (because of any sensory experience). When you are not 'because of that', you will not be 'in that'. And when you are not 'in that', you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering”.

AtR's recap: “There is thinking, no thinker. There is hearing, no hearer. There is seeing, no seer. In thinking, just thoughts. In hearing, just sounds. In seeing, just forms, shapes and colors”. 

Leigh Brasington: Why did the Buddha give this particular instruction to Bahiya? The bark cloth clothing marked him as a serious student of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad; thus he would be familiar with the teaching found there: "The unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the uncognized cognizer... There is no other seer but he, no other hearer, no other thinker, no other cognizer. This is thy self, the inner controller, the immortal...." (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3.7.23) 

Bahiya would also be familiar with "... that imperishable is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the ununderstood understander. Other than it there is naught that sees. Other than it there is naught that hears. Other than it there is naught that thinks. Other than it there is naught that understands...." (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8.11) 

Ajahn Brahmavamso: What the Buddha meant. When the sensory processes are discarded as tenable evidence for a self, a soul or a me, then you are no longer located in the sensory experience. In the Buddha's words, "You will not be 'in that'". You no longer view, perceive or even think that there is a 'me' involved in life.

Just to close off the loophole that you might think you can escape nonexistence of a self or soul by identifying with a transcendental state of being beyond what is seen, heard, sensed or cognized, the Buddha thunders, "and you will be neither here (with the seen, heard, sensed or cognized) nor beyond (outside of the seen, heard, sensed or cognized) nor in between the two (neither of the world nor beyond the world).

The Third Gyalwa Karmapa: The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra 

... All phenomena are illusory displays of mind. 
Mind is no mind -the mind's nature is empty of any entity that is mind .
Being empty, it is unceasing and unimpeded, 
manifesting as everything whatsoever. 

Examining well, may all doubts about the ground be discerned and cut. 
Naturally manifesting appearances, that never truly exist, are confused into objects. 
Spontaneous intelligence, under the power of ignorance, is confused into a self. 
By the power of this dualistic fixation, beings wander in the realms of samsaric existence. 

May ignorance, the root of confusion, he discovered and cut. 
It is not existent -even the Victorious Ones do not see it. 
It is not non-existent -it is the basis of all samsara and nirvana. 
This is not a contradiction, but the middle path of unity. 

May the ultimate nature of phenomena, limitless mind beyond extremes, be realised. 
If one says, "This is it," there is nothing to show. 
If one says, "This is not it," there is nothing to deny. 
The true nature of phenomena, which transcends conceptual understanding, is unconditioned.

May conviction he gained in the ultimate, perfect truth. 
Not realising it, one circles in the ocean of samsara. 
If it is realised, buddha is not anything other. 
It is completely devoid of any "This is it," or "This is not it." 

May this simple secret, this ultimate essence of phenomena, which is the basis of everything, be realised. 
Appearance is mind and emptiness is mind. 
Realisation is mind and confusion is mind. 
Arising is mind and cessation is mind. 

May all doubts about mind be resolved. 
Not adulterating meditation with conceptual striving or mentally created meditation, Unmoved by the winds of everyday busyness, Knowing how to rest in the uncontrived, natural spontaneous flow.

May the practice of resting in mind's true nature be skilfully sustained.
The waves of subtle and coarse thoughts calm down by themselves in their own place, and the unmoving waters of mind rest naturally, free from dullness, torpor, and, murkiness.

May the ocean of shamatha be unmoving and stable. 
Looking again and again at the mind which cannot be looked at, The meaning which cannot be seen is vividly seen, just as it is. Thus cutting doubts about how it is or is not. 

May the unconfused genuine self-nature be known by self-nature itself. 
Looking at objects, the mind devoid of objects is seen; 
Looking at mind, its empty nature devoid of mind is seen; 
Looking at both of these, dualistic clinging is selfliberated. 

May the nature of mind, the clear light nature of what is, be realised.
Free from mental fabrication, it is the great seal, mahamudra. 
Free from extremes, it is the great middle way, madhyamika. 
The consummation of everything, it is also called the great perfection, dzogchen. 

May there be confidence that by understanding one, the essential meaning of all is realised. 
Great bliss free from attachment is unceasing. 
Luminosity free from fixation on characteristics is unobscured.
Non-thought transcending conceptual mind is spontaneous presence.

John Tan: Post-Anatta, mind and phenomena are indistinguishable. In Zen, though they say there is 'no mind', they in fact embrace mind more fully than 'all is mind', until no trace of mind can be detected. Yet, Ven. Sheng Yen said this is just the entry point of zen because originally there is no mind and this is clearly realized in Anatta. So post Anatta, mind and phenomena are completely indistinguishable. If both mind and phenomena are completely indistinguishable in experience, then distinctions are nothing more than conventional designation of empty luminous display. 

Emptiness of Emptiness: Nagarjuna’s fundamental ontology paradox 

Since all things are empty, all things lack any ultimate nature, and this is a characterization of what things are like from the ultimate perspective. Thus, ultimately, things are empty. 

But emptiness is, by definition, the lack of any essence or ultimate nature. Nature, or essence, is just what empty things are empty of. Hence, ultimately, things must lack emptiness. To be ultimately empty is, ultimately, to lack emptiness. 

In other words, emptiness is the nature of all things; by virtue of this they have no nature, not even emptiness. As Nagarjuna puts it in his autocommentary to the Vigrahavyavartanı, quoting lines from the Astasahasrikaprajnaparamitasutra: ‘‘All things have one nature, that is, no nature.’’ 

Nagarjuna’s enterprise is one of fundamental ontology, and the conclusion he comes to is that fundamental ontology is impossible. But that is a fundamentally ontological conclusion—and that is the paradox. 

There is no way that things are ultimately, not even that way. The IndoTibetan tradition, following the Vimalakırtinirdesasutra, hence repeatedly advises one to learn to ‘‘tolerate the groundlessness of things.’’ 

The emptiness of emptiness is the fact that not even emptiness exists ultimately, that it is also dependent, conventional, nominal, and, in the end, that it is just the everydayness of the everyday. Penetrating to the depths of being, we find ourselves back on the surface of things, and so discover that there is nothing, after all, beneath these deceptive surfaces. Moreover, what is deceptive about them is simply the fact that we take there to be ontological depths lurking just beneath.

(excerpt from Jay Garfield's "Nagarjuna and the limits of thought")

John Tan: I really like this article from Jay Garfield expressing 'emptiness of emptiness' as: (1) The everydayness of everyday; (2) Penetrating to the depth of being, we find ourselves back to the surface of things; (3) There is nothing after all beneath these deceptive surfaces. Also, he concisely and precisely expressed the key insight of Anatta in AtR.

Loppon Namdrol/Malcolm: No apophatic absolute. Buddhism is all its forms is strictly nominalist, and rejects all universals (samanyaartha) as being unreal abstractions. If you imagine there is really some transpersonal overmind, you are far outside the Buddha's teachings. The difference between Buddhism and K. Shaivism (but not the only difference) is that in Dharma there is no apophatic absolute. This kind of absolute is completely absent in Buddhadharma, despite the fact that many people import their absolutist and theistic misconceptions into their understanding of Dharma. 

Ted Biringer: To say that Zen is somehow mysterious, ineffable or inexpressible is simply off the mark. True nature, according to the classic Zen records is ever and always immediately present, particular, and precise. Notions or assertions suggesting that Zen is somehow mysterious, ineffable, or inexpressible are simply off the mark. The only place such terms can be accurately applied in Zen is to definite mysteries, particular unknowns, and specific inexpressible experiences. Indeed, in Zen, the terms definite, particular, and specific accurately characterize all dharmas. Dogen’s refrain, ‘Nothing in the whole universe is concealed’ means exactly what it says; no reality is the least bit obscure or vague.

John Tan: What Isness is. It is extremely difficult to express what ‘Isness’ is. Isness is awareness as forms. It is a pure sense of presence yet encompassing the ‘transparent concreteness’ of forms. There is a crystal clear sensations of awareness manifesting as the manifold of phenomenal existence. If we are vague in the experiencing of this ‘transparent concreteness’ of Isness, it is always due to that ‘sense of self’ creating the sense of division… must stress the ‘form’ part of awareness. It is the ‘forms’, it is the ‘things’.

John Tan: Impermanent and dynamic aspect of Isness presence. Thoughts, feelings and perceptions come and go; they are not ‘me’; they are transient in nature. Isn’t it clear that if I am aware of these passing thoughts, feelings and perceptions, then it proves some entity is immutable and unchanging? This is a logical conclusion rather than experiential truth. The formless reality seems real and unchanging because of propensities (conditioning) and the power to recall a previous experience and the experience of ‘impersonality’ may not be able to bring sufficient clarity to the ‘impermanent and dynamic’ aspect of isness presence. The bliss and peace experienced here, is still the bliss of formlessness. 

There is also another experience, this experience does not discard or disown the transients forms, thoughts, feelings and perceptions. It is the experience that thought thinks and sound hears. Thought knows not because there is a separate knower but because it is that which is known. It knows because it's it. It gives rise to the insight that isness never exists in an undifferentiated state but as transient manifestation; each moment of manifestation is an entirely new reality, complete in its own. This brings about the insight of nonduality but the experience of impersonality need not necessarily arise. 

My experience is fusing and stabilizing these 2 experiences are necessary to help further dissolve the ‘I’. With the dropping of the 'I' , experience wholeheartedly and dropped the experience immediately; then nothing will imobilize the flow.

The Transience 

The arising and ceasing is called the Transience, 
Is self luminous and self perfected from beginning. 
However due to the karmic propensity that divides, 
The mind separates the ‘brilliance’ from the ever arising and ceasing.
This karmic illusion constructs ‘the brilliance’, 
Into an object that is permanent and unchanging. 
The ‘unchanging’ which appears unimaginably real, 
Only exists in subtle thinking and recalling. 
In essence the luminosity is itself empty, 
Is already unborn, unconditioned and ever pervading. 
Therefore fear not the arising and ceasing. 
There is no this that is more this than that. 
Although thought arises and ceases vividly, 
Every arising and ceasing remains as entire as it can be. 
The emptiness nature that is ever manifesting presently 
Has not in anyway denied its own luminosity. 

Although nondual is seen with clarity, 
The urge to remain can still blind subtly. 
Like a passerby that passes, is gone completely. 
Die utterly And bear witness of this pure presence, its non-locality.

(John Tan)

Ted Biringer: Time, Impermanence and Total Exertion. In light of Shobogenzo’s (hence Zen’s) vision of existence-time (uji), existence (ontology; being) and time are not-two (nondual); dharmas are not simply existents in time, they are existents of time, and (all) time is in and of existents (i.e. dharmas). In short, dharmas do not exist independent of time, and time does not exist independent of dharmas. 

On a corollary note, since (all) existence demonstrates the quality of ‘impermanence,’ time too is impermanent. In Zen the nonduality of impermanence and time is treated in terms of ‘ceaseless advance’ or ‘ever passing’ – ‘ceaseless’ and ‘ever’ connoting ‘permanence’ or ‘eternity,’ ‘advance’ and ‘passing’ indicating ‘impermanence’ or ‘temporal’ (temporary). Accordingly, ‘impermanence’ is ‘permanent’ and ‘change’ is ‘changeless’ – existence-time ever-always (eternally) advances (changes).

Dogen’s vision of reality exploits the significance of this to the utmost, unfolding its most profound implications with his notion of ‘the self-obstruction of a single dharma’ or ‘the total exertion of a single dharma’ (ippo gujin). This notion reveals a number of important implications concerning the nature of existence-time; two of which are: (1) Each and all dharmas reveal, disclose, or present the whole universe (the totality of existence-time); (2) Each and all dharmas are inherently infinite and eternal.

(Ted Biringer,Zen Cosmology: Dogen's Contribution to the Search for a New Worldview) 

Soh Wei Yu: Impermanence in itself is the Buddha-Nature. "It is often misinterpreted that Buddha-Nature is some sort of immutable soul or inherently existing essence that is contrasted with the impermanent and mutable aggregates of the mind and body. Dogen however insists that impermanence is the Buddha nature. He quotes the following words of Huineng: 'The sixth Patriarch taught his disciple Hsingch'ang (Gyosho) that impermanence in itself is the Buddha nature, that permanence is good and evil, each and every phenomenal thing, and discriminating mind' ". 

Dogen: "Therefore, the very impermanency of grass and tree, thicket and forest is the Buddha nature. The very impermanency of men and things, body and mind, is the Buddha nature. Nature and lands, mountains and rivers, are impermanent because they are the Buddha nature. Supreme and complete enlightenment, because it is impermanent, is the Buddha nature. Great Nirvana, because it is impermanent, is the Buddha nature."

Soh Wei Yu: Inference through glimpses of Impersonality and Non-Doership is not Anatta realization. It is important to understand that the realisation of Anatta is not just understanding everything to be impermanent and momentary, and hence, not-self. Many people understand anatta/noself that way. However, as John Tan said before, that is merely an inferential understanding and not a direct realization. Most Buddhists only understand Anatta (if they have any understanding at all) inferentially, through logical deductions like that, or even a partially deduced understanding based on some glimpses of the momentary nature of all experiences in meditation which led to a mental conclusion that what is impermanent does not belong to a self, but all these partially or fully inferentiallydeduced understandings are far from the yogic and direct realization, taste and actualization of anatta as in the case of John Tan Stage 5.

Furthermore, if one has certain insights and experiences into no-self but has not given rise to the realisation of ‘no background’ and ‘no agent’ leading to effortless nondual luminosity, that is still not the Phase 5 type of realization of Anatta but a more minor aspect of no-self experience such as impersonality and non-doership. You can have those insights even at the I AM phase or even before the I AM phase, while experience still remains dualistic most of the time (experience remains split into a subject and object, a Witness/observer and a witnessed/observed).

Soh Wei Yu: Centerless is just one aspect of Anatta. Had a conversation with someone who shared about an experience of dissolving into centerless space. I told him what I call Anatta is not just being centerless, it is the effulgence and radiance of the transience. And John Tan concurs with me on this point. That is, regardless of any realization of no-self, and no matter how centerless one feels or how centerless is one's experience of awareness and so forth... still, anything short of direct realization of the radiance or luminosity as the very stuff of transiency is still not what I call the realization of Anatta (and that too is also just an aspect of anatta, and furthermore not yet into the two-fold emptying).

Soh Wei Yu: Hinaya Buddhism as the straw man. It is also important to understand that this realisation of non-dual Anatta is crucial to all vehicles/traditions of Buddhism, even though the majority of current practitioners and teachers may not have attained these realisations themselves. I noticed many teachers in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism are making a straw man out of so called ‘Hinayana Buddhism’, hence I wrote in Problems with Zen Teachings:

“...Basically, this Venerable (and many other teachers) make the mistake of attributing Hinayana to I AMness level of formless realisation, and Mahayana to One Mind where the Substance can produce infinite functions and is non-dual with its functions. They get stuck between Thusness Stage 1 to 4. They didn't realise that 'Hinayana'/Theravada teachers like Daniel M. Ingram can have an effortless, constant non-dual experience of 'Bamboos are dharmakaya' WITH Right View and realization of Anatta which makes nondual even more effortless". 

"Other Theravadin masters/teachers/practitioners who realized non-dual Anatta insights include but are not limited to Ajahn Amaro, Phra Kovit Khemananda, and so on. Hence, the notion that Theravada leads only to 'Causal/Formless/I AM' realization and do not have access to nondual insights is unequivocally false".  

"... (It's also true that) many Theravada masters also have the misunderstanding that Anatta is not nondual. Many Theravada masters like from the Thai forest tradition fall into a dualistic and eternalistic Witness or an ultimate and changeless Mind while dissociating from the aggregates as not self, making them no different from Advaita Vedanta. Even if they do not hold eternalistic views, they usually do not have experiential realization of anatta, which is to say that their understanding of anatta remains inferential or intellectual or surface level".

"The Venerable (Chinese Mahayana) didn't realise that the 'Hinayana sutta', Bahiya Sutta, is clearly not only nondual but in fact taught the peak of nondual experience, with right view, and Bahiya attained arahantship instantly upon hearing Buddha speak of that teaching. Bahiya Sutta, Kalaka Sutta, and many other suttas are all about this. Without the direct realisation of right view (Anatta, Dependent Origination, Emptiness), whatever nondual realisations cannot be considered Buddhadharma, even at the Hinayana level, let alone Mahayana which further elaborates on the direct realisation of the nonarising of all phenomena that are dependently designated/dependently originated”. 

"...We cannot completely blame the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachers for denigrating or underestimating the realizations of the Theravada tradition, because these teachers come from a tradition that has lost touch and communication with Theravada Buddhism (also called ‘Hinayana’ in a more derogatory convention of Mahayana-speak) for centuries or millenniums".

"However, today we live in a time of unprecedented technological breakthroughs that allow the teachers and practitioners of many traditions to coexist at the same place, and that alone should encourage and foster more cross-traditional dialogues, or at least online conversations, and provide for access to recorded materials of other traditions online and in libraries. Hence, dharma teachers ought to look outside of their own little bubble and not make faulty or grossly inaccurate assumptions about what kind of realisations and experiences the other traditions are capable of ‘producing’, before making unfair and inaccurate criticisms about other traditions". 

Soh Wei Yu: Many Theravadins fail to grasp the essence of Anatta. Even though Vipassana is commonly taught in many Theravadin dharma centers, the key towards luminous manifestation and nondual anatta is often not taught, a point John Tan made years ago (see: Vipassana Must Go With Luminous Manifestation). Although it should also be mentioned that not all Mahayana/Vajrayana teachers make the same criticisms, as some would relegate the realization of an arahant to a higher level or even be on par with a sixth or eighth bhumi bodhisattva, the views vary according to schools and teachers. 

The Mahayana and Vajrayana teachers’ often made criticisms that the Theravadins/early traditions do not grasp the truth of nonduality (i.e. The nonduality of subject and object, Mind and phenomena, etc) isn’t helped by the fact that most teachers and practitioners in the Theravada tradition themselves did not truly realize nondual Anatta, and may instead be prone towards dissociation and equanimity, although there are also clearly those who do realize nondual Anatta in the Theravada tradition. 

That is not to say that the situation in Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions nowadays are much better, as I have seen too many teachers and masters from those traditions who are also stuck at the I AM and One Mind level, holding eternalistic views no different from Advaita Vedanta. This statement is not made to belittle or denigrate Advaita Vedanta which I have much respect for, but it would be a pity that the true essence, import and liberative potential of Buddhadharma (teachings of Buddha) continues to be missed and misinterpreted by these teachers and communities. 

However, as a general trend I find that Soto Zen masters/teachers/communities tend to produce more practitioners that realise anatta. This is due to the deep clarity of anatman in the writings of their school’s founder, Zen Master Dogen: 

"When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore is moving. But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see that the boat moves. Similarly, if you examine many things with a confused mind, you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. But when you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that there is nothing that has unchanging self".

John Tan: Actual Freedom and the Immediate Radiance in the Transience. What Richard (AF) teaches has some problem... that focus is in the experience. You should focus on the realization. The PCE (Pure Consciousness Experience) is what I told you, bring what you experience into the foreground. Richard has a very important realization: he is able to realize the immediate radiance in the transience. This is like the second point of anatta in the anatta article. There is nothing to argue, it is obvious and clear. However I do not want to focus on the experience.

John Tan: Awareness is a DO manifestation. Non-dual and Anatta is a matter of degree of clarity of the relationship between awareness and transience. Is truly existing behind reality somehow having a 'nondual' experience. One is realizing that awareness is a DO manifestation. 

Two Stanzas of Anatta

John Tan (2009): The 2 stanzas below were pivotal in leading me to the direct experience of no-self. Although they appear to convey the same stuff about Anatta, meditating on these 2 stanzas can yield two very different experiential insights, one on the emptiness aspect and the other on the non-dual luminosity aspect. The insights that arise from these experiences are very illuminating as they contradict so much our ordinary understanding of what awareness is.

Soh Wei Yu (2010): Without thorough breakthrough of both stanzas of Anatta 1 and 2, there is no thorough or clear realization of Anatta proper by AtR definition. 

Stanza One 

There is thinking, no thinker. 
There is hearing, no hearer. 
There is seeing, no seer.

1. The lack of doership that links and coordinates experiences

John Tan: Without the 'I' that links, phenomena (thoughts, sound, feelings and so on and so forth) appear bubblelike, floating and manifesting freely, spontaneously and boundlessly. With the absence of the doership also comes a deep sense of freedom and transparency. Ironical as it may sound but it's true experientially. We will not have the right understanding when we hold too tightly 'inherent' view. It is amazing how 'inherent' view prevents us from seeing freedom as nodoership, interdependence and interconnectedness, luminosity and nondual presence. 

David Loy (Zen teacher): Thought is "unsupported" because it does not arise in dependence upon anything else, not "caused" by another thought ("mind-objects") and of course not "produced" by a thinker, which the Bodhisattva realizes does not exist. Such an "unsupported thought" is prajña, arising by itself non-dually. Normally, we leave one thought only when we have another one to go to , but to think in this way constitutes ignorance. Instead, we should realize that thinking is actually like this (thoughts arising on its own). Then we will understand the true nature of thoughts: that thoughts do not arise from each other but by themselves.

John Tan: Dependent Origination and the idea of substantialist cause and effect is different. 'Arise in dependence' cannot be said to be causeless/uncaused or caused. That is why it is the middle path. So we say 'arise in dependence'. 

U G Krishnamurti: Is there in you an entity which you call the 'I' or the 'mind' or the 'self'? Is there a coordinator who is coordinating what you are looking at with what you are listening to, what you are smelling with what you are tasting, and so on? Or is there anything which links together the various sensations originating from a single sense the flow of impulses from the eyes, for example? 

Actually, there is always a gap between any two sensations. The coordinator bridges that gap: he establishes himself as an illusion of continuity. In the natural state there is no entity who is coordinating the messages from the different senses. Each sense is functioning independently in its own way. 

When there is a demand from outside which makes it necessary to coordinate one or two or all of the senses and come up with a response, still there is no coordinator, but there is a temporary state of coordination. There is no continuity; when the demand has been met, again there is only the uncoordinated, disconnected, disjointed functioning of the senses. This is always the case. Once the (illusory) continuity is blown apart, it's finished once and for all.

When there is no coordinator, there is no linking of sensations, there is no translating of sensations; they stay pure and simple sensations. I don't even know that they are sensations. 

I may look at you as you are talking. The eyes will focus on your mouth because that is what is moving, and the ears will receive the sound vibrations. There is nothing inside which links up the two and says that it is you talking. 

I may be looking at a spring bubbling out of the earth and hear the water, but there is nothing to say that the noise being heard is the sound of water, or that that sound is in any way connected with what I am seeing. 

I may be looking at my foot, but nothing says that this is my foot. When I am walking, I see my feet moving it is such a funny thing: "What is that which is moving?"

Leo Hartong: Let's say it will be noticed that the body is out of shape. A thought may arise that the body could do with some exercise. Next a decision to go to the gym could come up. Nowhere in this 'chain of events' is there the need for an entity that takes the decision. If there was such an entity, it first would have to decide to take such a decision to be able to claim 'authorship'. It also would have to decide to decide to decide ad infinitum, thus creating an infinite regress. 

What I always say is that non-doership does not mean that you are helpless, but that the 'you-agent' is fictitious. We say "I live, I think, I breathe" and so on but living, thinking and breathing is not done by someone; it happens by itself. 

Let's have a look at thinking: Is there really a 'thinker of thoughts' independent of thought? Does this 'thinker' know what the next thought will be? Or is the thought only known when it comes along? This thought may get claimed in the next thought, which could goes something like "Oh, I just thought about such and such". But is the 'I' claiming to be the thinker of the thoughtnot itself part of the thought? 

Do not take this too literally please, as there actually isn't even a 'next thought'; only this thought right now. There is no past, which has led up to this moment. There is only THIS; including memories and other apparent evidence for such a past. 

Nevertheless, there is the unfolding of this dream in which "the Tao, without doing anything, leaves nothing undone." As such there may be the appearance of doing exercises, making decisions, planning your day, falling asleep, waking up, gazing at the stars, reading these words, or registering the sounds around you. It all happens by itself.

John Tan: "There is no thinker, just thoughts". A practitioner must not only see that there is "no agent", he must also see the "just thoughts". 'Thought' not as a passing phenomenon and nothing to care about, but 'thought' as pristine, luminous, non-dual, emptiness, its dependent originated nature and powerful imprints it can cause leading to the understanding of actions and tendencies rolling on. The best part is when 'tendency' is experienced in conventional sense it appears 'so solidly real'. Only when emptiness nature is directly experienced does reality becomes dream-like.

There are 4 important insights a practitioner must have on the experience of Anatta: 

1. The no doership leading to a spontaneous arising experience. Though spontaneous, it is not by 'nature' or 'haphazard'; with the presence of conditions, the arising is spontaneous. 

2. The absence of an agent leading to a 'direct' experience of phenomena. A nondual experience that dissolve the subject/object split. 

3. No doer but there is doing and leading to the understanding of imprints and actions. 

4. The impermanence and manifestation that leads to the understanding of arising due to conditions. The no-self nature of dependent origination that is free from the view based on who, where and when. 

Buddhism is not exactly the union or co-arising of subjective witness and objective phenomena, but rather the inseparability of luminosity and emptiness, appearances and conditions.

There is just this actual moment, which is a thought. Not arising from anywhere or going anywhere. There is even no “right now”, no timeline; free from the dream of the 3 times and resting entirely in this actual phenomena which is, a thought. Arising and ceasing is an appearance, the nature of clarity is non-arising, always just this: a moment, a thought, a witnessing, an action, yet empty!

2. The direct insight of the absence of an agent

John Tan: There is a direct recognition that there is “no agent”. Just one thought then another thought. So it is always 'thought watching thought' rather than a 'watcher watching thought'. 

However the gist of this realization is skewed towards a spontaneous liberating experience and a vague glimpse of the empty nature of phenomena. That is, the transient phenomena being bubble-like and ephemeral, nothing substantial or solid. 

At this phase we should not misunderstand that we have experienced thoroughly the ‘empty’ nature of phenomena and awareness, although there is this temptation to think we have. Depending on the conditions of an individual, it may not be obvious that it is “always thought watching thought rather than a watcher watching thought” or "the watcher is that thought”.

John Tan: Having immediate and direct experience but with dualistic framework intact vs complete replacement of the dualistic framework entirely with DO, yields very different experiential insight. Investigate further and move from "they are all flowing independently" to "manifesting in seamless interdependencies".

Stanza two 

"In thinking, just thoughts.
In hearing, just sounds. 
In seeing, just forms, shapes and colors". (John Tan)

Soh Wei Yu/John Tan: Direct realization of luminosity/radiance as the very vividness of forms and textures of transience beyond subject/object division. 

John Tan: Division of subject and object is merely an assumption. Thus someone giving up and something to be given up is an illusion. When self becomes more and more transparent, likewise phenomena become more and more luminous. In thorough transparency all happening are pristinely and vividly clear. Obviousness throughout, aliveness everywhere!

John Tan: Have adequate experience of the vividness, realness and presence of Awareness and the full experience of these qualities in the transience. Without which it will not be easy to realize that "the arising and passing sensations are the very awareness itself". A balance is therefore needed, otherwise practitioners may experience equanimity but skew towards dispassion and lack realization.

The key towards pure knowingness is to bring the taste of presence into the 6 entries and exits. So that what is seen, heard, touched, tasted are pervaded by a deep sense of crystal, radiance and transparency. This requires seeing through the center.

Khamtrul Rinpoche: Regarding whatever is in the field of the tactile sense organ, such things as fabrics that are soft or rough to the touch, this tactile sensation itself is your own mind. Avoid slipping into grasping or rejecting. Whether soft or rough, do not try to find the mind anywhere apart from the softness or roughness itself, but rest at ease right there without distraction. If a pleasant or an unpleasant feeling arises, recognize it and rest mindfully.


John Tan: It is of absolute importance to know that there is no way the stanzas can be correctly understood by way of inference, logical deduction or induction. Not that there is something mystical or transcendental about the stanzas but simply the way of mental chattering is a 'wrong approach'. The right technique is through 'vipassana' or any more direct and attentive bare mode of observation that allows the seeing of things as they are. Just a casual note, such mode of knowing turns natural when non-dual insight matures, before that it can be quite 'efforting'.

John Tan: As whatever can be expressed is easily reified, objectified and grasped instead of realizing, it is merely pointing at seen, heard, sensed ... all 6 entries and exits, nothing beyond. The conventions created artificial boundaries when there is none. So, vipassana is taught but not just the 3 seals (impermanence, suffering, no-self), (it) needs to go hand in hand with the luminous manifestation. Otherwise it becomes just a mindful reminder, but vipassana is a direct insight. 

Soh Wei Yu: A good video on Vipassana by Daniel M. Ingram and relating it to Anatta realization: Vipassana, the Six Sense Doors and the Three Characteristics  

Soh Wei Yu: The purpose of the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness. Stability of experience has a predictable relationship with the unfolding and deepening of insights. For example how seamless and effortless can nondual experience be, if in the back of one's mind, subtle views of duality and inherency and tendencies continue to surface and affect our moment to moment experience for example conjuring an unchanging source or mind that results in a perpetual tendency to sink back and referencing experience back to a source. 

For example even after it is seen that everything is a manifestation of awareness or mind, there might still be subtle tendencies to reference back to a source, awareness or mind and therefore the transience is not appreciated in full. Non-dual is experienced but one sinks back into substantial nonduality, there is always a referencing back to a base, an "awareness" that is nevertheless inseparable from all phenomena. 

If one arises the insight that our ideas of an unchanging source, awareness or mind is just another thought that there is simply thought after thought, sight after sight, sound after sound, and there isn't an inherent or unchanging "awareness", "mind", "source". Nondual becomes implicit and effortless when there is the realisation that what awareness, seeing, hearing really is, is just the seen... The heard... The transience... The transience itself rolls and knows, no knower or other "awareness" can be found. Like there is no river apart from flowing, no wind apart from blowing, each noun implies its verb... Similarly awareness is simply the process of knowing not separated from the known. Scenery sees, music hears. Because there is nothing unchanging, independent, ultimate apart from the transience, there is no more sinking back to a source and instead there is full comfort resting as the transience itself. 

Lastly do continue practicing the intensity of luminosity... When looking at tennis ball just sense the tennis ball fully.... Without thinking of a source, background, observer, self. Just the tennis ball as a luminous light. When breathing... Just the breathe... When seeing scenery, just sights, shapes and colours intensely luminous and vivid without an agent or observer. When hearing music... Sound of bird chirping, the crickets… Just that chirp chirp. A zen master noted upon his awakening... When I am hearing the bell ringing, there is no I and no bell... Just the ringing. The direct experiencing of no-mind and intensity of luminosity.. This is the purpose of the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness that is taught by the Buddha.

Soh Wei Yu: Wind and Blowing are simply two words referring to a single activity. There is no wind performing the blowing, since the activity of blowing is itself “wind”. Likewise for “awareness” and “experience”: awareness is not aware of experience, but is none other than experience. Same for “hearer-hearing-sound”, “seer-seeing-colors”, “doer-doing-deed”, etc. The subject-action-object paradigm is thus seen through.

"A thinker is thinking a thought" is simply a construct of a faulty framework and view of inherent and dualistic self. Just like language is structured in a way that it often requires subject-action-object predicates, making us to say things like "the wind is blowing", "I am thinking a thought"... but, is there really a truly existing and independent thing called "the wind" that "is blowing" or is "wind" and "blowing" simply two words referring to a single activity? 

Likewise is there truly an "I" that is "thinking, a thought" or is "I", "thinking", and "thought" three different labels imputed on a single activity? Seer, seeing and seen are just a conventional view... they only appear as separate, independent existences due to ignorance but such a view does not tally with reality.

Alan Watts: Chickens imply eggs, and vice versa. Most languages are arranged so that actions (verbs) have to be set in motion by things (nouns), and we forget that rules of grammar are not necessarily patterns of nature. 

Scientists would be less embarrassed if they used a language, on the model of Amerindian Nootka, consisting of verbs and adverbs, and leaving off nouns and adjectives ... Everything labeled with a noun is demonstrably a process or action, but language is full of spooks, like the “it” in “It is raining,” which are the supposed causes, of action.

... In each instance the “cause” of the behavior is the situation as a whole, the organism/environment. Indeed, it would be best to drop the idea of causality and use instead the idea of relativity ... It is easier to think of situations as moving patterns, like organisms themselves.

As the Chinese say, the various features of a situation “arise mutually” or imply one another as back implies front, and as chickens imply eggs—and vice versa. They exist in relation to each other like the poles of the magnet, only more complexly patterned.

Moreover, as the egg-chicken relation suggests, not all the features of a total situation have to appear at the same time. The existence of a man implies parents, even though they may be long since dead, and the birth of an organism implies its death. Wouldn't it be as farfetched to call birth the cause of death as to call the cat's head the cause of the tail? Lifting the neck of a bottle implies lifting the bottom as well, for the “two parts” come up at the same time. If I pick up an accordion by one end, the other will follow a little later, but the principle is the same. Total situations are, therefore, patterns in time as much as patterns in space... 

Acarya Malcolm Smith: Dependent Designation. Agents are mere conventions. If one claims there is agent with agency, one is claiming the agent and the agency are separate. But if you claim that agency is merely a characteristic of an agent, when agent does not exercise agency, it isn't an agent, since an agent that is not exercising agency is in fact a non-agent. Therefore, rather than agency being dependent on an agent, an agent is predicated upon exercising agency.

... The key to understanding everything is the term "dependent designation." We don't question the statement "I am going to town." In this there are three appearances, for convenience's sake, a person, a road, and a destination. A person is designated on the basis of the aggregates, but there is no person in the aggregates, in one of the aggregates, or separate from the aggregates. Agreed? A road is designated in dependence on its parts, agreed? A town s designated upon its parts. Agreed? 

If you agree to this, then you should have no problem with the following teaching of the Buddha in the Vimalakirti Sutra:

This body arises from various conditions, but lacks a self.
This body is like the earth, lacking an agent. 
This body is like water, lacking a self. 
This body is like fire, lacking a living being. 
This body is like the wind, lacking a person. 
This body is like space, lacking a nature. 
This body is the place of the four elements, but is not real. 
This body that is not a self nor pertains to a self is empty. 

In other words, when it comes to the conventional use of language, Buddha never rejected statements like "When I was a so and so in a past life, I did so and so, and served such and such a Buddha" ... It is merely a question of distinguishing between conventional use of language versus the insight into the nature of phenomena that results from ultimate analysis. 

Acarya Malcolm Smith: There are no agents. There are only actions. Things have no natures, conventionally or otherwise. Look, we can say "water is wet", but actually, there no water that possesses a wet nature. Water is wet, that is all. There is no wetness apart from water and not water apart from wetness. 

If you say a given thing has a separate nature, you are making the exact mistaken Nāgārajuna points out in the analysis of movement: it is senseless to say there is a "moving mover" 

... A "mirroring mirror" is redundant, just like moving movers ... There is no "typing typer", no "learning learner", no "digesting digester", "thinking thinker", or "driving driver" ...

There are no two parts. The purpose is the insight that sees through reification of mental constructs. Once it is seen through in real time experientially, all appearances become naturally pellucid, transparent, crystal and pure. No amount of effort can bring us to this natural luminosity, it is not man-made (unconditioned).

...There is no point to eternalism if there is no eternal agent or object.

Spontaneous Presence

John Tan: Why spontaneous presence is important for anatta insight?

Soh Wei Yu: Without agent, what arises does not arise by manner of agency, self, control.... but via conditionality. So naturally there is a sense of spontaneity, effortless, natural. Like non-doership but more than that. More like self arising by total exertion.

John Tan: The phrase Spontaneous Presence! can be separated into two words: (1) Spontaneous = no doership = first stanza; (2) Presence = second stanza. Spontaneous presence to me is perfection of the union of these 2 stanzas in AR anatta insight. So from Anatta, then the in between (connecting) dots to spontaneous presence and natural perfection. What are these dots? Mipham has 2 models of 2 truth and they are linked, this is exactly where the dots are. The notional emptiness will take the most time, freedom from all elaborations, coalesence, purity and equality =>> the spontaneous presence and natural perfection (言语道断) .

The Weather Metaphor

There is no weather actively creating, as an independent agent, the activities of clouds, rain, sun, wind, etc. Weather is a designation conceptually established upon a multiplicity of events/activities which are seamlessly interconnected, dynamic, and conditionally arisen. It is important to realize these metaphors directly, as the empty nature of Awareness/Mind in one’s direct experience and not remain as an intellectual concept or ideation.

John Tan: When you understand anatta, you realize awareness is like weather, it is a label to denote this luminous yet empty arising, that is pure aggregates.


John Tan: When you say "weather", does weather exist? 

Soh Wei Yu: No. It's a convention imputed on a seamless activity. Existence and non existence don't apply. 

John Tan: What is the basis where this label rely on? 

Soh Wei Yu: Rain clouds wind etc 

John Tan: Don't talk prasanga. Directly see. Rain too is a label. But in direct experience, there is no issue but when probed, you realized how one is confused about the reification from language. And from there life/death/creation/cessation arise. And whole lots of attachment. But it does not mean there is no basis...get it? 

Soh Wei Yu: The basis is just the experience right? 

John Tan: Yes which is plain and simple. When we say the weather is windy. Feel the wind, the blowing… But when we look at language and mistaken verb for nouns there are big issues. So before we talk about this and that. Understand what consciousness is and awareness is. Get it? When we say weather, feel the sunshine, the wind, the rain. You do not search for weather. Get it? Similarly, when we say awareness, look into scenery, sound, tactile sensations, scents and thoughts”. 

(Note that this is still understanding emptiness from the perspective of firstfold emptiness, in secondfold emptiness there is nothing to ground conventions on to be elaborated in the chapter on Stage 6).

Realizing Anatta - Some Conversations

Seraph Tai's Case

Seraph Tai: I was reading the text on integral psychotherapy and transpersonal identity development, and while reading the notions about the Non-dual, it happened. 

Those notions are worth mentioning, I think: in Kashmir Shivaism, they outline ancient guidelines about obstacles to ultimate reality, so called malas (impurities): 

(1) anava mala: the belief that any given person occupies particular space (i.e. I am here not there, and certainly not everywhere) 

(2) mayiya mala: the belief that there are other objects outside of us (i.e. Jane is out there, not here where I am located). 

Basically that is the root perception of false ego, the illusory center of reference. 

By that time, Non-dual was already here (only seeing the seen, hearing the sound etc...), it seems the first two malas were recognized as false straight away. 

It is important to note that I was at that point able to switch back to "I am" presence, perceiving the well known Omnipresence of my True self. For years I entered this state at will, hence falling back to the "I am" presence was happening, I guess. It was different this time, however: I realized with the so called aha! moment, that the I am presence is exactly the same as the "sensory input" I was experiencing. The seen, sensed, cognized AS the "I am" presence only that "I am" presence was not there anymore. I was however, able to switch, back and forth, so to speak. Maybe it is worth mentioning that the Nondual was/is (still is) more liberating and peaceful than "I am" presence insight. 

What sealed the deal, so to speak LOL, was: 

(3) karma mala: the belief that a person must perform an action, do something to remedy any given situation, say "I need to meditate to get enlightened".

It happened few moments after I read that notion, and everything just became crystal clear, no switching back to "I am" presence, there was no one here, there, anywhere to switch to!! And I am not talking only about the little false ego, I am also talking about the ultimate "I am" presence! For years, I was happy to abide as a Witness, Omnipresent and liberated, free from mental/emotional/physical bullshit. 

But now, the "I am" presence was gone!! Even the so called Unmanifested "I am" was nowhere to be found (the Causal level has two sublevels, lower (I am presence, the Witness) and higher (No "I am", just the Unmanifested, latent absolute potential), according to Wilber). 

It seems that after years of entering satori at will, I was allowed to move on. Only there isn't anyone to give the permission, or anyone to be allowed to move on. No one is here, it never was, it can not exist, because events are unfolding by their own, on their own. Phenomena is free, separated from every other phenomena, not touching but liberating as they come and go.

I can enter into Non-dual at will now, especially after the shared experience. Driving the car, eating, looking out the window it seems that these situations are easy and do not require much mental effort on my part, so I can easily let go. 

What I also notice now is that I can discern the Advaita texts from the Non-dual ones. To my saddness, I realized that my favorite master, Sri Ramana Maharshi, is not speaking about Anatta, or not even about Non-dual (as far as I can see), He mentions that even in Sahaja Nirbikalpa Samadhi (the ultimate state, according to Him) there is "something" there which mediator is at One with. Well, He must be talking about something different, not about Anatta or Non-dual. 

Regarding Anatta, I can enter almost at will now, but it usually just slips back to the Non-dual insight, with slight resemblance of something here, traces or tendencies from years of "I am" presence samadhis, I guess. 

Soh Wei Yu: What is your view about what consciousness is now? Does consciousness have any characteristics of being unchanging, independent or etc and if not what is it?" 

Seraph Tai: Well, now I view consciousness as non-local, not centered in the "I am presence" anymore, there is no split between samadhi and everyday life, in a sense that there is no one to make that distinction. I am more at peace now, more at ease, laid back so to speak. Yes, at the moment, I see the consciousness as something free, liberating in itself, "changing" by itself: events come and go by themselves, no one is in control, so to speak, no one to instigate coming and going, not even God. And, I promise you, for me this notion ( there is no God, as a separate entity or Absolute Self etc... ) is rather dramatic change. 

Soh Wei Yu: Have you read Thusness's articles in our blog? How stable is your non dual experiencing now? Any changes in your sleep and dream?" 

Seraph Tai: I have read most of Thusness' articles at your blog, yes. But I don't get everything yet, especially about the Sunyata insights. 

How stable is my Nondual experiencing now? I don't know what is the criteria for stability, but I can enter Non-dual at will, it is easiest to do, as there is no effort needed (apart from letting go) or something gained. When everything is let go of, the Nondual remains, not as a state or level, but as base reality. No need to do anything, as it already and alone is. All of this, it is not spontaneous yet, though. 

It is interesting you should mention sleep (dreamless one, I suppose) and dreams. Lucid dreaming is an important part of my sadhana, I have been dreaming lucidly (on and off) for years. The change I am noticing for a few years is that all three states (waking, dreams and dreamless sleep) are happening to Me, the base Reality, they are happening in Me, so to speak (actually, everything else, everything, is happening in Me, as a part of my Being). Even in dreaming I am aware of this, not as in  classic lucid dreaming sense but more profound. It is like common denominator, silver lining in all three states, so to speak. But now even this has changed as I know beyond the shadow of the doubt that there is no Me as the base reality. It is a process, I think, so I look forward to experiencing new insights.

Soh Wei Yu: Good insights there Seraphis! You seem able to actualize the living experience of anatta without dwelling much into view. Your insights unfold from recognizing "the same taste" of I AM in all six entries and exits, into seeing that the very idea of abiding is a hindrance, to the doubtless realization that there never was a "This I" to abide in, and whatever arises is already free and liberating. 

There are similarities with my experience but somewhat different triggers. I had an intense non-dual experience (Aug '10) when dancing at a nightclub that totally dissolved the Witness for a few days (after which I was switching between I AM and non-dual for a period of time due to previous practice tendencies like you until clearer insights), before this event nondual glimpses was occassional, few, short and intermittent but after this event I was able to 'switch' into non-dual mode with relative ease as my insight into Awareness/Existence was refined from "I AM pure Existence" to "Existence is the very stuff of whatever arises". Soon I was also contemplating and challenging the sense of subjectobject, insideoutside, border and boundaries of awareness and manifestation, etc until it was all seen as seamless awareness (one mind). Then nondual was pretty clear to me. Later (October 2010), I wrote two articles in reference to my insights, first on One Taste and then it was contemplating on the Bahiya Sutta about a week later that triggered the clear insight into anatta/"No I" (Commentary on Bahiya Sutta). For now, you should not be distracted with stages of insights (sunyata or whatever) but be thorough and leave no trace of "I" for the willingness to let go completely (the I) has arisen.

Mr NR's Case

Mr NR: Not sure what stage this is, just sharing from personal experience. Will try to be as clear as possible. For the past 2 months, I focused mainly on somatic techniques due to having an energy imbalance. Very limited contemplation or formal meditation. 

When I walk, there is just the sensation of my feet touching the hard floor. When hearing a song on Youtube, it’s just hearing the sound itself without any kind of internal interference. Sometimes I even redevelop an energy imbalance while listening to music. There’s no need for a “hearer” to hear for me, but it’s actually happening in real-time rather than merely theoretically. 

Any concept of anything absolute or unchanging no longer exists. I used to believe in God, but it disappeared as well. There’s no need for a separate awareness, and through practicing the exercises in Seeing that Frees and Clarifying the Natural State I know firsthand that the self never existed in the first place. It was all a self-deception.

I’ve had no-mind experiences in the past, but since it’s been stable for over one month, I think the insight has fully developed. However I still have thoughts, emotions, and get absent-minded. The world around me still feels very much physical. After practicing some of the emptiness exercises, I have weird visions and hallucinations, like objects have no boundary surrounding it. But still working on it, so ignore this section. 

Sometimes the world seems “flat” like everything is 2D or a painting, but again, I’m not confident in anything beyond Anatta. Or that the colors of each object start mixing together like a wet painting. I feel like I can make everyday experience even more direct, that the directness of how everything is perceived can be increased. However when I do so, I experience pressure around my third eye. If I try to delve into sensations even more it spreads to the crown chakra. Even with Anatta I feel there are phases in terms of how directly everything is perceived by the 5 senses. But again, it’s difficult to go further at present.

John Tan: Even in Anatta there are several phases. Anatta as in the experiential insight of seeing through self, and seeing through the cause for the sense of self are different. The later path, one towards emptiness realizing "inherency" is the result of a reification. One then progress through deconstructing the reification thoroughly and gain the wisdom that not only sees through directly the mental constructs and conventionalities but also the direct knowledge of one's empty clarity. 

Don't rush post Anatta or even no-mind but refine one's view. Nevertheless, it is hard not to get energy imbalances initially which is due attachment of going after certain experiences. 

The sense of self/Self or any sense of it-ness is a hindrance for natural spontaneity and therefore thorough exhaustion is necessary. However maturing this emptiness of "it-ness or self-ness" post anatta is an ongoing process. Deeply held blindspots are slippery and extremely difficult to see and can take decades to reveal. 

So practice calmly and evenly...don't rush into anything... Just relax and be fully open to whatever arises without dual, don't go after anything and keep refining view instead of chasing after experiences. Eventually the clarity of seeing through will automatically result in the everyday experiences. Without dual and without self.

Mr NR wrote: Yeah, I was too busy chasing after the experience itself rather than focusing on view. Right now I'm focused on gently deconstructing emptiness and dependent origination. Should I focus on theoretical books instead or continue with this current practice? 

John Tan: Just continue with current practice. Allow the whole body mind to become a sensing organ, vibrantly alive and intimately connected with the ten thousand things!


Mr NR wrote: Totally Random thoughts, not sure it will be that helpful… I had experiences of anatta (just sound, touch, smell) in the past that lasted over 3 days, and thought this was it! But the sense of self always came back although significantly weakened, and there was a subtle clinging to God or some kind of cosmic force.

Personally, I had to approach the self from multiple angles, really explore how it manifested in the mind in relation to the Thusness stanzas and everyday experience. For example, when hearing sound, why is there a necessity for a hearer to hear for me, rather than just hearing directly? Why go through this unnecessary loop of “hearer is hearing a sound”? Even for thinking, why should this separate thinker think for me? Thoughts are still happening regardless, better to just kick this thinker out of my head! Going through the ebook from I Am all the way to Anatta (don’t touch stage 6) really helped in terms of view. Especially the difference between onemind, nomind, or void in terms of direct experience. The book Crystal Clear by Thrangu Rinpoche really provided the tools and the trigger to just smash this self into pieces until you realize you’re just hitting empty air. But it’s not immediately obvious, so some patience is necessary. Especially being radically honest with oneself about one’s insights and experience. Always remain selfcritical. I probably spent 2 weeks after the “realization” just reading Advaita books to challenge this breakthrough as much as possible.

This is an article by Soh that I found helpful: Different Degress of NoSelf: NonDoership, Nondual, Anatta, Total Exertion and Dealing with Pitfalls (I kept on clinging to nondoership in earlier phases)

Anatta and Emptiness of Awareness

Although Awareness is seen to not seem to exist in and of its own (its nature is empty), it is not a denial of Awareness/Clarity. 

John Tan: Since all 6 senses become transparent and pure, entire body-mind becomes transparent and pristine. To be without dual is not to subsume into one and although awareness is negated, it is not to say there is nothing. Negating the Awareness/Presence (Absolute) is not to let Awareness remain at the abstract level. When such transpersonal Awareness that exists only in wonderland is negated, the vivid radiance of presence are fully tasted in the transient appearances; zero gap and zero distance between presence and moment to moment of ordinary experiences and we realize separation has always only been conventional. Then mundane activities hearing, sitting, standing, seeing and sensing, become pristine and vibrant, natural and free.

Buddhism does not deny luminous clarity. In fact, it is to have a total, uncontrived, direct non-referential experience of clarity in all moments… Therefore, no-self apart from manifestation. Otherwise one is only holding ghost images.

Dissolve the self in the incredible realness of the phenomenon world… When someone ask zen masters what is buddha's nature.... it’s the tile, rocks… feel the hardness, jumps… it is exactly that. Experience anything… everything…

Awareness effortlessly and marvelously manifests without the slightest sense of referencing and point of centricity and duality and subsuming… be it here, now, in, out… This can only come from realization of Anatta, Dependent Origination and Emptiness so that the spontaneity of appearance is realized to one's radiance clarity.

This pristine, clean, transparent quality is always there, otherwise there is no cognition nor manifestation. When there is no conceptual thoughts, it is obvious...when covered with mental thoughts, it is not that obvious but all manifestations are pervaded with this taste...

In Anatta, since all 6 senses become transparent and pure, entire body-mind becomes transparent and pristine... So one should not separate this transparent, pristine quality as if it is something separate from manifestation. The radiance is naturally pristine and crystal, no polishing needed. Nor can one distance from it.

Soh Wei Yu: Presence is mystically alive, wondrous and magnificent, more real than real. There is something tremendously alive, intelligent, a quality of pure Presence and that is nothing inert but intensely luminous (not in the sutric definition of purity and emptiness) but in the sense that the intensity of our cognizant mind evokes the sense of powerful radiance and illumination but without any separation between an illuminator and the illuminated, with absolutely no agent/perceiver/doer involved. It can evoke the sense of a radiance that is so intense that it completely outshines all visual darkness of night and brightness of the sun. This Presence is mystically alive, wondrous and magnificent, “more real than real”, and the complete opposite of an inert or merely some dull state of non conceptuality and absorption. 

This outshining of Presence-Awareness is not about some hidden invisible background existing behind manifestation (although it will be perceived this way at the I AM stage) but is vividly manifest or “Presencing” (Presencing is a better word than Presence as it is not a static background or entity and none other than the dynamic stuff of transience) as the very “realness” or “vividness” of any appearance/display, color, sound, scent, touch, taste, thought, as if everything comes alive and there is something very wonderful and beautiful about it. The brilliant light of Presence-Awareness is none other than the body-mind-universe which when deconstructed and freed from self/Self/physicality is experienced as spheres of vivid light, colors, sounds, and sensations.

Soh Wei Yu: Luminosity is not simply a state of heightened clarity or mindfulness. Someone asked me about luminosity. I said it is not simply a state of heightened clarity or mindfulness, but like touching the very heart of your being, your reality, your very essence without a shadow of doubt. It is a radiant, shining core of Presence-Awareness, or Existence itself. It is the More Real than Real. It can be from a question of "Who am I?" followed by a sudden realization. And then with further insights you touch the very life, the very heart, of everything. Everything comes alive. First as the innermost 'You', then later when the centerpoint is dropped (seen through there is no 'The Center') every 'point' is equally so, every point is a 'center', in every encounter, form, sound and activity.

Soh Wei Yu: All the qualities of I AM are effortlessly experienced without contrivance, and the sense of cosmic Impersonality is now experienced as the total exertion where a single activity is the exertion of the Whole. There is a wide variety of methods to bring oneself to an abrupt stoppage of concepts and a face to face encounter of Pure Presence ... Whatever method one uses to introduce that initial glimpse and taste of Presence, it is always through the deepening of insight into nondual Anatta that brings that taste to effortless uncontrivance and fullblown maturity in all encounters and manifestations. 

So when one has access to a state of nondual, one should ask whether it is dull and inert or suffused with a powerful sense of Presence. After Anatta, this Presence is no longer seen as a background but vividly shining forth as the manifold dynamic and seamlessly interconnected display, and the play of dharma and dependent origination is something which is alive, not just inert and mechanistic as someone wrote. 

All the qualities of I AM (infinite like space, powerful Presence, Luminosity, Clarity, Vitality and Intelligence) are effortlessly experienced without contrivance, and furthermore no longer seen as something hidden behind but fully manifested from moment to moment activity.

And the sense of cosmic Impersonality which was once experienced as being lived through a reified cosmic intelligence is now experienced as the total exertion where a single activity is the exertion of the Whole: an activity that is seamlessly connected and coordinated with the entire Whole, a spontaneous exertion of the Whole of seamless dependencies. 

In other words all the taste of Presence similar to the I AM, including all the Four Aspects of I AM and the experience of Anatta as requisites, are fully present in the experience of Maha suchness in each single manifest experience, even as simple and ordinary as a breath. Maha suchness is an experience of greatness beyond measure, such that a single breath, a single step forward while walking feels cosmic and limitless.

John Tan: Anatta is no ordinary insight. When we can reach the level of thorough transparency, you will realize the benefits. nonconceptuality, clarity, luminosity, transparency, openness, spaciousness, thoughtlessness, nonlocality... all these descriptions become quite meaningless.

... What Malcolm is trying to convey about the inexpressibity is the unconditioned, creative, intelligence aspect beyond expression of conventions. The Advaita abstract this into an absolute beyond relative, whereas Anatta insight brings us back right to the relative and directly realised the relative is exactly where this so called inexpressible clean purity is. Therefore it is naturally and effortlessly nondual.

Background seen as foreground means I AM seen as foreground

Soh Wei Yu: The background is empty like rabbit horns but the foreground is free from extremes like reflection. Is that right? 

John Tan: To me all are like an occurence

Soh Wei Yu: Hmm but the background to me is totally an illusion has never arisen for the past 8 years.. like once seen through it never arises. Foreground is a bit different, its clearly appearing just whether its non arisen nature is seen 

John Tan: That is why you have to integrate. There is this issue. To you, background is nonexistence. And foreground is appearance like reflection.

Soh Wei Yu: Even if i access I AM now it is seen as foreground, not background.

John Tan: Yes 

Soh Wei Yu: Therefore is an occurrence.

John Tan: If background is seen as foreground, then where is the difference? The difference is like sound, color, thoughts and tastes 

Soh Wei Yu: Background seen as foreground means I AM seen as foreground right? Its just a sense of existence in the thought realm, so the difference is simply in the differing mode of appearing like you said sound, color, etc 

John Tan: Yes. So the difference is like sound and colors, thoughts and sensations. So, do you know the way of "non-inherence"? 

Soh Wei Yu: Just spontaneous opening and springing forth of occurrence without reifying subject, object or arising

John Tan: You must understand what is meant by inherent way and what is not... 

Soh Wei Yu: Inherent way is like seeking and grasping. Such as abiding in an ultimate or Self. Non inherent way is spontaneous opening and releasing all grasping 

John Tan: Don't just look at releasing of grasping...look at the creative living expression... But first clearly understand and taste clarity/appearance without any distortion.

Anatta misunderstood as mere non-doership, impersonality and subject-object nondivision

Not a genuine authentication if there is no direct taste

John Tan: Like in prasangika mmk, the non-affirming negation, in the phases of insights approach of the 2 stanzas, one is not interested in the affirmation, just the thorough deconstruction of self construct. The seeing through of self in Anatta is the direct experiential taste of non-dual, purity and spontaneity. So, when someone describe to you, they say they have deconstruct self/Self but there is no direct taste of colors, smell, sensation, sound, no direct face to face of the radiance, pellucidity, purity, spontaneity, insubstantiality and nonduality of appearances, is that genuine authentication? 

Soh Wei Yu: No its not.. more like impersonality or nondoership.

John Tan: Dzogchen has a phrase "spontaneous presence". I do not know it's exact meaning in Dzogchen, however the phrase is intimately related to the two experiences of the 2 stanzas of Anatta: (1) No doership = spontaneous ; (2) Mere appearances as Presence.

Soh Wei Yu:  Stage 5 is the thorough dissolution of the many faces of self/Self through deep experiential insight. Many people mistakenly think that they have realized Stage 5 but in fact they have not. This is because there are many faces of self/Self. Note the big letter and small letter distinctions of self/Self. In Phase 5, not only is the sense of ‘small ego’ or ‘sense of individuality’ dissolved. Even the sense of being a metaphysical Self, an ultimate, changeless, transcendental Subject is being seen through, dissolved and made irrelevant through insight, even though the Presence/Presencing and unfabricated Clarity is not denied but ‘made’ total, uncontrived, direct and non-referential (as mentioned in the previous section). 

Relinquishing one aspect self does not mean other aspects of self/Self has been dissolved. Stage 5 is the thorough dissolution of the many faces of self/Self through deep experiential insight. Someone may experience non-doership and think it is the same as the Stage 5 realization of Anatta, but in fact it isn’t. Some people may experience impersonality (see: Four Aspects of I AM above)… non-dual (as in stage 4)… and think of it as Anatta. But it isn’t the same.

... All phenomena happening by itself spontaneously and causally (via dependent origination) on its own, without the sense of doership or control, is not what I call Anatta realization. This is so even if one has the experience of impersonality, being lived by the divine or cosmic life and intelligence as a divine happening. You can trigger an insight or experience into non-doership by asking yourself: do you know what your next moment of thought or experience is, or does it just happen? Then by observing your experience, you see that all thoughts and experience just happens spontaneously on its own accord, unbidden.

In the case of mere non-doership and impersonality, the subject/object paradigm is still present, and although one feels that phenomena happens on its own, the sense of being an observer watching things happening on its own is still present. This is not what I call the realization of Anatta, in fact it is not even non-dual realization yet. 

Soh Wei Yu: Experiencing non-doership before Anatta. One can experience non-doership during the I AM phase, or for some people even before the I AM realization. Hence non-doership is not equivalent with Anatta realization.

Soh Wei Yu: Non-doership is important, though. Although the aspect of non-doership itself does not indicate the realization of Anatta, this does not mean it is not important. Particularly, non-doership becomes clearly experienced when the first stanza of anatta is penetrated and clearly realised. However, this stanza is not merely non-doership. It conveys both absence of agent and non-doership, and not just non-doership. 

John Tan: No agent as phenomena. No agent as a phenomena means seeing there is no agent, that is without the subject in experience. Then there is no controller, no coordinator, no agent that links. means on phenomena. not only doership. that there is no agent and phenomena. Only phenomena exist. That is different from no-doership. Means one, just that doing. Means seeing the actual phenomena that there is no agent, just phenomena. 

No agent as no doership... Means in terms of controlling, coordinating. Means there can be an agent, but that agent has no control this means no doership. The other is the absence of an agent in phenomena. Usually there are 2, the subject and the object

John Tan: Three Levels of Understanding of Non-dual Awareness. When Soh Wei Yu said: "Thought is, but no thinker. Sound is, but no hearer. Awareness cannot be separated from thoughts and manifestation", John Tan replied: "Yes, but what said can still have the following scenario": 

(1) There is an Awareness reflecting thoughts and manifestation. (I AM). Mirror bright is experienced but distorted. Dualistic and Inherent seeing
(2) Thoughts and manifestation are required for the mirror to see itself. NonDualistic but Inherent seeing. Beginning of nondual insight
(3) Thoughts and manifestation have always been the mirror (The mirror here is seen as a whole). Non-Dualistic and non-inherent insight 

In (3) not even a quantum line can be drawn from whatever arises; whatever that appears to come and goes is the Awareness itself. There is no Awareness other than that. We should use the teachings of Anatta (noself), DO (dependent origination) and Emptiness to see the 'forms' of awareness.

Mulapariyaya Sutta - The Root Sequence

Thanissaro Bhikkhu on "Buddhist" metaphysics. Although at present we rarely think in the same terms as the Samkhya philosophers, there has long been — and still is — a common tendency to create a "Buddhist" metaphysics in which the experience of emptiness, the Unconditioned, the Dharmabody, Buddhanature, rigpa, etc., is said to function as the ground of being from which the "All" — the entirety of our sensory & mental experience — is said to spring and to which we return when we meditate. Some people think that these theories are the inventions of scholars without any direct meditative experience, but actually they have most often originated among meditators, who label (or in the words of the discourse, "perceive") a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, identify with it in a subtle way (as when we are told that "we are the knowing"), and then view that level of experience as the ground of being out of which all other experience comes. Any teaching that follows these lines would be subject to the same criticism that the Buddha directed against the monks who first heard this discourse (Mulapariyaya Sutta).

Rob Burbea: The only sutta where at the end it doesn’t say the monks rejoiced in Buddha's words. One time the Buddha to a group of monks and he basically told them not to see Awareness as The Source of all things. So this sense of there being a vast awareness and everything just appears out of that and disappears back into it, beautiful as that is, he told them that’s actually not a skillful way of viewing reality. And that is a very interesting sutta, because it’s one of the only suttas where at the end it doesn’t say the monks rejoiced in his words. This group of monks didn’t want to hear that. They were quite happy with that level of insight, lovely as it was, and it said the monks did not rejoice in the Buddha’s words. And similarly, one runs into this as a teacher, I have to say. This level is so attractive, it has so much of the flavor of something ultimate, that often times people are unbudgeable there.

John Tan: Resting in a 'Source' becomes irrelevant. The advaita experience will sort of see awareness as permeating and transcending that is because the view is rest upon subject-object dualism. (Instead,) if it is resting upon DO, there is no such problem. How important is the 'Source' if it is resting on a view that has no source, center, substantiality and inherent essence? it becomes irrelevant and erroneous and nothing to boast about. Only when we rest our view on a 'Source', Ultimate reality seems very special. 

The realization of the selfluminosity of manifestation an important criteria for Stage 5 hasn’t arisen in all of these earlier phases of mere nondoership, impersonality and nondual (nondual luminosity is also experienced in Stage 4 but reified into an unchanging awareness inseparable from manifestation, but in Stage 5 even that something unchanging is seen through and dissolved).

Soh Wei Yu: Non-dual luminosity before Stage 5 is reified into an unchanging awareness inseparable from manifestation. The realization of the self-luminosity of manifestation -an important criteria for Stage- 5 hasn’t arisen in all of these earlier phases of mere non-doership, impersonality and non-dual. Non-dual luminosity is also experienced in Stage 4, but reified into an unchanging awareness inseparable from manifestation. But in Stage 5, even that something unchanging is seen through and dissolved. Daniel Ingram explains well the self-luminosity of manifestation below:

Daniel Ingram: Luminosity is both a useful and possibly very misleading term. Here's what Luminosity doesn't mean: That a person will suddenly see things more brightly, that there will be more light in things than the standard amount, or anything like that. Here's what it points to, said a number of equivalent ways: (1) In the seeing, just the seen. In the hearing, just the heard. In cognition, just the cognized. In feeling, just the felt... This standard line from the Bahiya of the Bark Cloth Sutta in the Udana is one of the most profound there is in the whole of the Pali Canon. It means that sensations are just sensations, simply that, with no knower, doer, be-er (not beer, as that is a beverage), or self in them to be found at all. (2) Point one, taken in its logical inverse, means that the "light" of awareness is in things where they are, including all of the space between/around/through them equally. (3) Said another way, things just are aware/manifest/occurring where they are just as they are, extremely straightforwardly.

Luminous Presence may come at a later phase,  depending on conditions · Pellucid No-Self vs Non-Doership

For John Tan, Soh Wei Yu and many others, the aspect of luminous Presence-Awareness was realized even at their earliest phases of development. However, some people may have certain understanding (perhaps not direct realization) into Emptiness, and certain insights into non-dual Anatta, without the direct realization of Luminous Presence. Without this aspect, one’s experiential insights are still incomplete.

Pellucid No-Self vs Non-Doership

Soh Wei Yu: Of late I had a few conversations with a number of people whose experience of noself is skewed towards nondoership rather than pellucid noself, the pellucidity of luminosity in nondual and noself. John Tan too have similar encounters. At the most their insight is into the first stanza of Anatta (No doership = spontaneous) but not the second stanza (mere appearances as Presence).

John Tan: The non-affirming negation, in the phases of insights approach of the 2 stanzas, one is not interested in the affirmation, just the thorough deconstruction of self construct. The seeing through of self in Anatta is the direct experiential taste of non-dual, purity and spontaneity. So when someone describe to you, they say they have deconstruct self/Self but there is no direct taste of colors, smell, sensation, sound, no direct face to face of the radiance, pellucidity, purity, spontaneity, insubstantiality and nonduality of appearances, is that genuine authentication? (No its not, but more like impersonality or non-doership instead.)

Soh Wei Yu: Pellucidity in no-self is important (second stanza). But this does not mean the non-doership or no agent aspect of first stanza is less important. As John Tan also said about someone else: "More towards second stanza, non-doership is equally important".

Even if Luminosity and Anatta is realised, there are differing depths
Soh Wei Yu: Even after anatta, John Tan has at times told me to revisit the aspect of I AM. It is possible, even important, to integrate that quality and taste. He also calls it ‘reversing the cycle of insight’. One may need to cycle through the phases of insights, sort of to refresh one’s practice and deepen it, for a few rounds.


John Tan: After the maturity of Anatta insight and twofold Emptiness, eventually there is effortless, ongoing and intense experience of "everything as Self", "As in that experience of I AM powerfully present at this moment", "As if like Awareness clear and open like space, without meditation yet powerfully present and nondual. Where the 4 Aspects of I AM are fully experienced in this moment. 

This experience will become more and more powerful later yet effortless and uncontrived. How so? If it is not correct insights and practice, how is it possible for such complete and total experience of effortless and uncontrived Presence be possible?. Indeed and this is being authenticated by the immediate moment of experience. How could there be doubt about it? The last trace of Presence must be released with seeing through the emptiness nature of whatever arises. After maturing and integrating your insights into practice, there must be no effort and action.... The entire whole is doing the work and arises as this vivid moment of shimmering appearance, this has always been what we always called Presence. Yes and you should in all moment of 6 entries and exits experience all coming together for this moment to arise....this will dissolve all senses of holdings and will lead you effortless and maha experience of suchness effortlessly, interpenetration, open, boundless, effortless and uncontrived.


John Tan: There is a very intense and much deeper state I assure you. But there is clear understanding that the manifestation is it. However, awareness is like an unbounded and limitless expanse field. The luminosity is intensely clear, the experience is like Non-Dual Awareness broke loose and exist as an unbounded Field. There is a difference in seeing sound and a hearer and realizing sound as awareness itself. You cannot focus and there cannot be any sense of effort, there cannot be any sense of boundaries, just itself. 

You must be very very stable and mature in the Anatta state, and you cannot be in an enclosed room... it is the effortlessness and crystal clear transparency and intensity of luminosity... but duality must no more trouble the practitioner, phenomena is clearly understood as the radiance... so nothing is obscuring then in total effortless and emanation arises and the expanse just continues ... one mind is subsuming, therefore there is a sense of dual. In this case there isn't. It is like a drop of water landed on the surface of a clear ocean. The nature of water and ocean are one and the same...nothing containing anything, when sounds and music arise... they are like water and waves in ocean... everything is it.

John Tan: Experience should be natural and spontaneous, no strain and no effort. What appears is fully transparent, vivid, pure, clean and pristine as the layer that blocks dissapears. Until each moment of experience is free from observer and observed, just natural spontaneous pellucid appearance in obviousness. When we deconstruct more and more, we will also notice the relationship between radiance energy and mental deconstructions. The universe will reveal itself more and more as radiance of vibrational energies in dance rather than "concrete things".

As for nonconceptuality, it is not a mind trying to free itself from symbols and language. Rather it is the insight that sees through mental constructs (reifications) and conventionalities. It is an unbinding process of freeing the mind from being blinded by the semantics of conventions (existence, physicality, cause and effect, production) that is more crucial.


Soh Wei Yu: Lately the intensity here seems to be intensifying even further and whole bodyminduniverse is/are spheres of boundless light as manifestation, the textures and details of the moment. Was jogging just now and this boundless light (emptyclarity as the whole infinite field of manifestation) just keeps intensifying and intensifying into complete stunning brilliance, and had this out of body feel which is not a dissociated state (I can no longer experience subject/object dualistic state nor dissociation, nondual is always experienced here) but like a dispersing into the infinite field, and yet this is not mere mindbody drop as mindbody drop is already my everpresent state for many years.

John Tan: Like pure open awareness. Lol. Without center without boundaries. However it is often misinterpreted as always...something behind. Don't hold on to any experience, not the radiance. Allow the knowledge of emptiness to seamlessly integrate into radiance clarity. Let the radiance be as light as feather but immense like universe. Don't be intense.


Soh Wei Yu: Today the sense of tightness seems loosening and yet the radiance is still as clear. I had headache two days ago dunno why. Maybe some tenseness. 

John Tan: Yes. Because you don't know how to relax. You have wrong understanding attempting to focus on intensity unknowingly, wanted to feel more. Therefore I kept telling you relax, don't hold, be as light as feather and as immense as universe. With practice Awareness will stand out, more braman than braman… lol. However that is an emergence effect due to evenness of pristine empty clarity.


Soh Wei Yu: There are those that have very clear understanding of sunyata, and yet lack direct taste of PCE and luminosity and clear realization of Anatta (direct realization of radiance/effulgence in/as transience), and in that case the luminosity must come up in later phases. But for those who went through I AM phase first, there is not much danger of missing out the luminosity aspect of direct realization, and it is just a path of letting that luminosity's taste and nature unfold into complete freedom from fabrication and effortless, spontaneous perfection.

Having breakthroughs and insights into Anatta, but not stable yet

John Tan: Focus on vividness. It will be ´concentrative´ for some time before it turns effortless.

Continue contemplating until the insight of “always already so” arises and sinks in deeply into your mindstream. At first 'effort' to focus on experiencing on the vividness of 'sensation' in the most immediate and direct way will remain. It will be 'concentrative' for some time before it turns effortless. There are a few points I would like to share: 

(1) 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'. 

(2) It is better not to treat sensation as 'real' as the word 'real' in Buddhism carries a different meaning. It is rather a moment of vivid, luminous presence but nothing 'real'. It may be difficult to realise why is this important but it will become clearer in later phase of our progress. 

(3) Do go further into the aspect of Dependent Origination and Emptiness to further 'purify' the experience of Anatta. Not only is there no who, there is no where and when in all manifestation.

No Actor does not Imply No Action

This refers to a wrong understanding of anatta, prior to the direct realization of anatta. Wrong understanding includes the notion that “suffering” is caused by a real “sufferer”, “action” is caused by a real “actor/doer”, and hence if the doer dissolves there is no more action, or if there is suffering/action that implies there is a real sufferer/doer that is present and causing it (and when sufferer dissolves the suffering goes with it), etc. Or that because there is no sufferer, there is also no suffering (a nihilistic interpretation of no-self and emptiness).

John Tan: No-Self must be understood from the perspective of dependent origination. There never was a self. One must re-orientate oneself that it is functionality and action that give rise to [the sense of a] self/entity rather than [a real] agent giving rise to action. Therefore from anatta, we see Dependent Origination, cause and conditions, action, karma... unlike [the misunderstanding of] no-self therefore no dependent origination and causality. The former is non-substantialist view, the later is using substantialist self view to understand anatta (no-self).

Kyle Dixon: In Buddhism the self is ultimately just a secondary imputation, action never required an agent/self.

Buddhist teachings refer to this idea that an ultimate absence of identity somehow renders conventional activity and processes invalid as “nihilism” [uccedavāda].

A “self” is ultimately a secondary imputation that is attributed to a complex nexus of causal activity. By negating that imputation in a blanketed manner which calls into question and all processes that said “self” is attributed to, we only negate that surface level designation. However this does not resolve the causal nexus of afflictive activity that the designation is imputed onto.

In Buddhist teachings, the sense of selfhood is a byproduct of activity. Not the other way around.

In some “spiritual” approaches, such as neo-Advaita, they believe the imputation is primary and the activity is secondary. And so they only negate the imputation and then ask “who is there to do X?” or “who could have such and such realization?” or “there is no one who suffers because the self is a concept,” etc., but this only negates a surface level imputation and completely ignores the underlying factors that cause identification as a whole.

In contrast, the buddhadharma says that identity and identification in general is a process that is caused by afflictive action. The “self” as an imputation ie merely the very tip of the iceberg in terms of the activity that spawns identification and suffering. Therefore negating the self does not actually resolve the issue.

We agree that the self is a construct, and that selves are ultimately false, but we as practitioners of the buddhadharma also understand that there is underlying activity that manifests the self. That affliction must be resolved. Ignorance, grasping, etc., the afflictive chain of dependent origination that underlies selfhood.

The self does not create action. Action creates the self.

Therefore negating the self does not resolve affliction or the activity of dependent origination that creates the driving force of identification which binds us as sentient beings.

The process of bondage and the process of liberation in Buddhism are agentless action. Agentless activity. The agent is always secondary and is merely a useful designation that claims ownership. Therefore it is vital to understand there are causes and conditions that create samsara and the delusion of selfhood, and there is the undoing of those causes and conditions which leads to liberation”. 

Soh Wei Yu: It's important to understand the difference between genuine anatta insight vs dualistic conceptual understanding.

"No-self/Anatta is not about denying thinking, action, carrying water and chopping wood... and this is the key difference between genuine anatta insight from dualistic conceptual understanding. The very notion that "action" and "intention" implies, or necessitates, an "actor", and therefore for non-action the intentions and actions must also cease, is precisely using dualistic thinking to understanding anatta...

Action never required a self (in fact there never was a self or a doer apart from action to begin with: only a delusion of one), and action does not need to perpetuate the myth of a self. The myth of a self is not exactly dependent on action or lack thereof. Sure, action that arises out of the dualistic sense of actor/act where there is an "I" trying to modify or achieve "that" is a form of action produced by ignorance. But not all actions necessarily arise out of an underlying sense of duality. If all actions arise out of a sense of duality, then after awakening one will just die as he cannot even feed himself.

When one is operating with a dualistic way of understanding, one thinks that action implies a self that is doing an act, and one thinks that non-action implies that the self ends with the action. But genuine insight into non-action is simply the realization that never was there a real actor behind action, so there is always in acting just that action - whole being is only the total exertion of action, and this is always already the case but not realized. That is true non-action - there is no subject (actor) performing an act (object)".

Buddhagosa (Visuddhimagga): Poem on no-agent.

Mere suffering is, not any sufferer is found
The deeds exist, but no performer of the deeds:
Nibbana is, but not the man that enters it,
The path is, but no wanderer is to be seen.

No doer of the deeds is found,
No one whoever reaps their fruits,
Empty phenomena roll on,
This view alone is right and true.

No god, no Brahma, may be called,
The maker of this wheel of life,
Empty phenomena roll on,
Dependent on conditions all. 

John Tan: Choosing never required an agent/chooser.

The logic that since there is no agency, hence no choice to be made is no different from "no sufferer, therefore no suffering". 

This is not anatta insight.

What is seen through in anatta is the mistaken view that the conventional structure of "subject action object" represents reality when it is not. Action does not require an agent to initiate it. It is language that creates the confusion that nouns are required to set verbs into motion.

Therefore the action of choosing continues albeit no chooser.

"Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found;
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there;
Nibbāna is, but not the man that enters it;
The path is, but no traveler on it is seen. 

Neo-Advaitic “No-Practice Doctrine” is Wrong and Unhelpful

Soh Wei Yu: This is related to “No Actor does not Imply No Action”. The Neo Advaitins, as well as some Buddhists these days, teach that you should not do any practices, since there is no one to do them and so on. That is based on the faulty premise the practices and actions require a doer, and that they are ineffective, or that they necessarily perpetuate the notion of a self or doer. That is lacking the discernment into conditionality, karmic conditionings, the role and relationships of path, view, experience, realization, fruition. It requires people with deep wisdom like Buddha, or like John Tan to be able to discern this.

Padmasambhava: Impossible to realize Buddhahood without engaging in practice.
Just as is the case with the sesame seed being the cause of the oil and the milk being the cause of butter,
But where the oil is not obtained without pressing and the butter is not obtained without churning,

So all sentient beings, even though they possess the actual essence of Buddhahood,

Will not realize Buddhahood without engaging in practice.
If he practices, then even a cowherd can realize liberation.
Even though he does not know the explanation, he can systematically establish himself in the experience of it.
(For example) when one has had the experience of actually tasting sugar in one's own mouth, one does not need to have that taste explained by someone else.

Acarya Malcolm Smith: Buddha-nature only exists in terms of potentiality, useless unless discovered or pointed-out.
That does not matter. Let's say you have a house, and in your house is a million dollars. If you never discover the million dollars or it is never shown to you, you will have a million dollars and never know it. Likewise, unless those buddha qualities are discovered by you in a direct perception, or pointed out to you, even if you have them, they are of no use to you. 
As far as Dzogchen view goes, such qualities exist in the form of potential only. The analogy Longchenpa uses is that even though you may not need to gather the two accumulations ultimately in order to possess the kāyas and wisdoms, practicing the two accumulations is like polishing a dirty gem. One is not really adding anything new, but instead one is revealing what is already there, but hidden from ordinary sight.
Dzogchen teaching make a clear distinction between the basis (the time of non-realization) and the result.
The real issue which causes argument is whether tathagatāgabha, a.k.a., the dharmakāya at the time of the basis, is something that is naturally perfected or something which requires development. In general, the Sakyapas for example argue that the natural perfection of the qualities of awakening in the person does not conflict with transformation in the same way the natural presence of the quality in milk which produces butter does not mitigate or render unnecessary the process of transformation which produces butter (churning). Longchenpa for example argues that while the two accumulations have always been perfected, they need to be reaccumulated in the same sense that a gem that has been lost in a swamp needs to be polished in order to restore its former luster". 

Nyingma master Dampa Deshek: On people advocating nihilistic views. There are some who show they are weary (or fatigued) about practicing something profound (like Dzogchen); they say that all phenomena are primordially liberated; they argue that they (themselves) are naturally liberated, and being carried away by these numerous reasons (or quotes), they do not practice (formally) and thus signs of success do not arise, nor (liberating) experiences. They say they are (already) Buddhas and don’t practice virtues; they are those who don’t give up vices. These are people (advocating) a nihilist view (chad par lta ba rnams).

Kyle Dixon: No-practice doctrine leads to complacency and a false of security.

Stian, Mr. J is implying that there is nothing to do, because all notions of 'anything to do', 'emptiness', 'right view', 'wrong view', 'ignorance', 'defilement' etc., are nothing more than concepts which arise and fall within the space of 'awareness' which cannot be improved upon or defiled... that is his view he is proposing. I beg to differ... to me this view is nothing more than a license for stagnation and complacency which only serves to perpetuate the issue. It is a false sense of security that one has already 'arrived' so to speak. 

The quote applies to Mr. J, because he claims precisely what Jigme Lingpa is describing in that statement to be true, and did so directly above that quotation: Jackson's view being, nothing need be done, because all concepts (including those of the dharma such as emptiness etc.), are nothing more than thoughts which arise in what is already complete, as expressions of what is already complete. His logic therefore being, there is no need to even entertain such notions, one is already innately realized. Jigme Lingpa is stating that such a notion is an incorrect view which actually severs one from the profound dharma. Mr. J’s assertion that 'nothing needs fixin' is a view he has touted for a very long time now, it is very unskillful and misleading. 

Kyle Dixon: Warning against holding neo-advaitic views.

And to clarify, I only harp on this issue like I do because I used to carry the same view: that everything is already perfect... there's nothing to realize... there's no one here to do anything... there's no such thing as "correct" or "incorrect"... or that concepts were the enemy, and so on, and so on, and so on. All the same narratives you see being spun by most neo-nondual teachers and systems. I remember I used to argue with a friend/mentor all the time about how he doesn't get it, and he's just fooling himself with practice and so on. And I used to cite the same quotations from Longchenpa and others that were speaking from the point of view of the ultimate, and I (in my delusion) provided them as proof that I was correct etc.

Then one day that changed, and I experientially tasted what all of these masters are pointing to. And I was shown directly that I had been wrong, and that was very humbling.

That made these teachings real for me. And surprisingly, instead of continuing to reject practice, and all of these other aspects of these systems that I had previously thought to be extraneous and a waste of time... I saw their value and their place for the first time. It became clear how and why they are applied, where they fit into the scheme of things... and I saw the sheer wisdom behind the structures that I had once mistakenly rejected.

So I only speak out against those who attempt to propagate the same mistakes because I've been there. I was so certain that I was right, and that I "got it", and that others didn't understand. And I was so wrong... unbelievably wrong. 

I'm no teacher or messiah, I don't have a superiority complex or have some strange need to be "right", it's nothing like that. I simply speak out because when I see others who appear to be passionate about these teachings, making the same mistakes I made, I see myself, I can't help but to want to say "hey, it really isn't that way." And if all I accomplish is at least planting some shred of a seed of a possibility that X person may think twice and consider being open to the fact that they don't have it completely figured out, then that is good enough for me. If not, that is alright too, but at least I can say I tried......

No-Self is Not Associated with a State of No Thoughts

The association of anatta (no-self) to the cessation of thoughts is due to a lack of insight that anatta is a seal, not a stage of attainment. In thinking there are always only thoughts, no thinker. In fact it is the realization that the continual arising and ceasing of thoughts without a thinker that is precious. The 2 important qualities that must be experienced are non-dual and spontaneity. Thoughts can slow down or even completely ceased but it has nothing to do with the insight of anatta.

John Tan: Commenting on posts misinterpreting freedom as a state of thoughtlessness.

I dunno what to say and dont want to comment.  It is just seeing through reification that results in pristineness of appearance free from imputations... that is thought free wakefulness.  There is clear intuitive discernment that is boundless and spontaneously free.

One should first have the experiential insight of anatta as it is the exhaustion of the background self as the reified construct.  To just say free of thoughts or to say it is a blank state that one can't differentiate left from right is just nonsense and pure ignorance.

Soh Wei Yu (2022): To summarise, thoughts are buddha nature. They are not the problem. The problem is due to ignorance it is misconstrued that thoughts necessitate a thinker or there is a thinker, agent, or watcher behind thoughts. In thinking there is only thoughts, no thinker. Thoughts are empty and self luminous. That is buddha nature and same goes for all other senses. 

No-Self is Not Pre-Determinism

(This issue is not peculiar to Stage 5 but can be present the moment one has glimpses or experiences of the non-doership aspect of no-self, even if one has not yet reached Stage 1) 

There is a kind of pathology or danger in various kinds of insights because they are partial and one may not have yet seen the complete picture. As you may have seen in my recent discussions, the pathology or danger in non-doership is that one will fall into a kind of extreme deterministic thinking - that somehow because there is no doer, nothing can/should be done about things. This leads to a very passive attitude to things, or rather, one is restricted to experiencing no-self in a passive way (of merely letting experience happen in non-doership), one which prevents the experience of non-dual in action/activities via complete non-dual engagement, involvement, incorporating intentions, and later going into total exertion. (Also non-doership does not imply one has arisen non-dual insight).

John Tan: On the disease of non-doership. 

“Nihilistic tendencies arise when the insight of anatta is skewed towards the no-doership aspect. The happening by itself must be correctly understood. It appears that things are accomplished by doing nothing but in actual case it is things get done due to ripening of action and conditions.

So the lack of self-nature does not imply nothing needs be done or nothing can be done. That is one extreme. At the other end of extreme is the self-nature of perfect control of what one wills, one gets. Both are seen to be false. Action + conditions leads to effect.”

Kyle Dixon: Differences between classical determinism and Buddhist karmic causality.

As to the specifics of your question I’m not sure, but here are a few major differences between classical “determinism” and Buddhist karmic causality:

Determinism proper necessarily involves inherently existent causes giving rise to inherently existent effects in a unilateral manner.

Karmic cause and effect in the context of the buddhadharma is only valid conventionally, and since every cause is an effect and every effect a cause, they are, in a coarse sense, bilateral in nature. 

Karma can be “determined” in a certain sense, but since karma takes direction from intention, change can occur, certain results can be averted, suffering can be mitigated and ideally uprooted altogether.

Life is not a fully automated process in the sense that you are like a helpless leaf being blown around by the wind, is the point.

You can make choices and direct volition. 

Soh Wei Yu: Endless dependencies play out in order for an event to occur rather than spontaneous arising or some form of determinism.

What you said is not completely wrong but can be misleading unless you understand 'nature' as 'dependent origination' (replying to a post about anger, killing, suffering being the expression of nature instead of a self). Which is to say, it is not fate, or some sort of outside determinism, nor is it spontaneous arising without causes, but simply dependencies playing out here.

For example, torturing people is the result of ignorance, aggression, etc etc. There are various causes and conditions as listed in the twelve links of dependent arising. And it is not something that is fixed. By engaging in dharma practice we deal with the afflictions and liberate them. Four noble truths are like what doctor does - diagnosis, cause, relief, cure. Four noble truths are completely in alignment with "no self, dependent origination". It would be erroneous if a doctor realizes there is no self, therefore, thinks that all diseases are 'just as it is' and should not or cannot be dealt with. They should be dealt with. But they are dealt with not via the attempting to exert control or hard will via by the false notion of agency (sickness can't be cured merely by trying to will or control it out of existence - there are so many dependencies involved). They are dealt with via seeing its dependent origination and treating its dependent origination in a non-inherent way.

Now in the case of 'torturing', if someone practices metta, it can help (or if you prefer, leave out the 'someone' -- 'practicing metta can help'). Then when fundamental delusion is cleared, aggression can no longer arise. There is nobody controlling anger, anger arise whether one wants to or not -- yet it can be treated by applying the right antidote (e.g. metta) or actualizing wisdom so that it releases (e.g. anatta, twofold emptiness), just like diseases happen whether one wants to or not -- yet there is medicine, cure. There is suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path that ends suffering.

John Tan: Anger from the perspective of dependent origination.

Someone else: There is nobody controlling anger, anger arise whether one wants to or not”

John replied: Maybe sees it this way:

There is no one controlling anger, anger arises due to dependent origination.

With ignorance comes attachment. When attachment meets its secondary conditions, anger arises. Without secondary conditions, anger does not arise. Although it does not arise, it will not cease to arise unless the primary cause is severed. Here the appearance of “spontaneous arising” is seen from the perspective of DO.

Seeing this way, there is anatta; there is dependent origination; there is mindfulness of the cause of anger, the conditions, the cure and the ending of it. There is no bypassing as in “nothing needs be done”, albeit no-self.

Soh Wei Yu: No-self does not imply pre-determinism.

As I wrote to someone:

Yes but not to be mistaken that will has no part in all these. The teaching of anatta or no self does not deny will or the aggregates... The buddha teaches that a sentient being is simply a convention for five aggregates: matter/body, feelings, perception, volition, consciousness. Notice that volition is part of it. This will/volition can be directed towards a wholesome or unwholesome path. However, also remember that the five aggregates are empty of self - and are without agent. Does that mean there is no free will? In a sense yes, but neither does it imply determinism: another dualistic extreme. Free will means subjective controller determines action, determinism means objective world determines subjective experience. In reality there is no subject and object - in thinking just thought, in hearing just sound. But there are requisite conditions for every manifestation. Those conditions can be changed if there is a correct path.

A concrete example: if you ask a beginner to run 2.4km in 9 minutes with an unfit body, that is asking for the impossible. No matter how hard willed is he, he is never going to make it. Why? The current requisite conditions of his body is such that the result of running 9 minutes is impossible. Control, agency, doesn't apply when manifestation always arise due to conditions.

It however also means that if you exercise regularly for months or years, there is no reason the body (conditions) cannot be improved to the degree that running 9 mins is definitely possible. This is what I mean by working with conditions.

So those teachers who say meditation are useless are not understanding latent tendencies and conditions. They mistook no doership with some kind of fatalism. Every proper practice has its place in working with one's conditions.

Just because there is no self, no doer, doesn't mean my body is fated to be unfit and I can't reach the 9 min. Just because I exercise regularly doesn't mean I am reinforcing the notion of self or doership. In any case, action is always without self.

It also does not mean that "will" has no place at all. "Will" is often misunderstood to be linked to a self or agent that has full control over things, whereas it is simply more manifestation and conditions. Yes, sheer will going against conditions isn't going to work – this is not understanding no-self and dependent origination. But if will is directed properly with correct understanding of no-self and conditionality, at a proper path and practice, it can lead to benefits.

That is why the first teaching of Buddha is the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, the way to end suffering. This path arises as a result of his direct insight into no-self and dependent origination.

Like a doctor, you don't tell your patients "you are fated to be ill and sick and in pain, because there is no individual controller, everything is the will of God". That is nonsense. Instead, you diagnose the illness, you seek the cause of illness, you give a treatment that eliminates the cause of illness. There is no self, there is no controller, but there is conditions and manifestation and a way to treat bad conditions. This is the way of the four noble truths.

No-Self Does Not Imply Solipsism

(This issue is not peculiar to Stage 5 and in fact may be more common in earlier phases of insights prior to thorough deconstruction of Subjectivity, the issue of falling into the other extreme of inherently existing physicality may be more pertinent to Stage 5)

Some people fall into the erroneous view of solipsism, the notion that there is no others than yourself, or that there are no others and only your presently arising experience exists. No-self does not negate conventional (other) mindstreams, only an inherently existing and unchanging and independent soul, self/Self, agent (perceiver, doer) or medium of experiences and actions. Mindstreams are conventionally valid like chariot, while the notion of inherent existence and souls are as impossible and invalid even conventionally as a rabbit with horns, which is to say they have no valid basis of designation at all and is purely a figment of imagination, just like unicorns. Inherent existence does not exist even conventionally, it is an impossible way of existence much like the impossibility of a “square triangle”. Conventionally, we can understand minds and mindstreams to be unique for each individual, there is nothing universal (all beings are mere extensions of One Mind) nor solipsistic (only my present mind/experience exists) about minds. However, just as with a chariot, mindstreams when sought for cannot be found whether apart from or within the parts or basis of designation, so mindstreams too are merely (dependently) designated and are ultimately also empty and non-arisen.

Soh Wei Yu: Ontological oneness doesn’t exist in Buddhism unlike Advaita Vedanta. 

Anatta and emptiness is in some ways diametrically opposite of Advaita view. We deconstruct "Oneness", there is no ontological "oneness" or a unifying reality in Buddhism. That would be an essence view, and the insight of anatta and emptiness deconstructs all essence views. Not only does all mindstreams remain differentiated rather than collapsed into oneness, all experiences are also not collapsed into oneness - therefore sight is not same as sound, no two moments or experience arising in dependence on the different sense faculties and objects are the same, and consciousness is always simply the myriad manifestation in all its diversities.

John Tan: Only when you subsume into one, it turns solipsistic.  So either freedom of extremes or you see DO and total exertion and emptiness.  Then you do not fall into extremes.

Bhaviveka: Since [the tīrthika position of] self, permanence, all pervasiveness and oneness contradict their opposite, [the Buddhist position of] no-self, impermanence, non-pervasiveness and multiplicity, they are completely different.

The statement "The tathāgata pervades" means wisdom pervades all objects of knowledge, but it does not mean abiding in everything like Viśnu. Further, "Tathāgatagarbhin" means emptiness, signlessness and absence of aspiration exist the continuums of all sentient beings, but is not an inner personal agent pervading everyone.

John Tan: How to overcome solipsism using Madhyamaka reasoning. 

The subsuming of everything into one's mind took place because one's mind seems to be the common factor in the mode of enquiry in solipsism.
However if using the same line of reasoning, it is in others’ mind as well.  If everything is in everyone's mind, then mind is no more the common factor but "Everything".  If you see this common factor of everything and shift your attention to everything, then experience turns very "physical".
Prasangika overcomes such issue by inquiring into its "inherentness".  Taking the “seed-plant-tree" example, why is the seed "growing"? Is there anything at the side of the "sprout" that is saying it is growing?  It can be understood as a decaying process as well.

Soh Wei Yu: Necessary to perceive reality in terms of endless dependencies to avoid falling into the view of solipsism. 

On solipsism, as pointed out by John before based on his own experience (that is, he too faced this tendency of solipsism after an initial breakthrough to nondual decades ago), the danger of someone going into nondual or even emptiness without the taste of total interpenetration is that one can easily fall into the extreme of solipsism. If we are directly experiencing our reality like in Vipassana, what we see are endless dependencies - seamless and intricate, in such a case there is no danger of falling into the view of solipsism.

Soh Wei Yu: Dependent Origination has to step in to fully dissolve solipsist views.

John Tan: you see, when we say there is no self or other, we can still not see in terms of DO.

Soh Wei Yu: I commented - this is very important.. and lately I'm seeing it more as well. To overcome all sense of I, me, and even mine, D.O. has to step in. Many people talk about no I, no background, but still there is sense of mine... and there are also those that say everything is 'the manifestation of my mind or my nature'.. that is subtly subsuming everything to mind. Even if there is no duality.

In dependent origination you totally see the entire formation of interdependencies... not in words but directly taste the totality of its workings forming every moment of experience. When the drum beat sounds you don't see it as just 'the manifestation of my mind' but you see it as the person hitting, the drum, the vibration, the ears etc... all in total exertion... how can that have anything to do with I or mine? It is not 'mine' anymore than it is the person hitting, the drum's, the vibration's... etc. It is not only that there is no hearer behind sound... not only no I but no mine at all.. the sound itself does not belong to anyone... it is the entire universe in total exertion so to speak.. but it is not understood in logic. You have to see the whole process and interdependencies directly. Breathing is like this... walking is like this... every action every experience is like this. This is the path to dissolve I, me, mine... only through D.O. is the release thorough.

Not 'everything is just consciousness' or 'everything is my consciousness'... consciousness isn't that special or important. It does not have a special, independent, ontological status. Rather it is the interdependencies the workings of D.O. through which that moment of consciousness/experience is in total exertion. The true turning point is when mind is completely separated from mine.. I, me, mine.. the dualistic and inherent tendency must be dissolved and replaced with the wisdom of D.O.

The Lucknow Disease

Generally Buddhists don’t have this issue, the neo-Advaitins have this issue.

Greg Goode: Description of Lucknow Disease. Linguistic malady befalling seekers at neo-advaita satsangs, from a manner of speech first observed in Lucknow, India in the early 1990's. It is characterized by never using the word "I." Avoidance of the "I-word" is to demonstrate to one's self but mostly to others that there is no longer any ego or sense of self here. Instead of using the word "I" in sentences, Lucknow Disease sufferers say things like "This form is going to the bathroom." The irony of the Lucknow Disease is that it only strikes when the person's sense of self is present and poorly integrated. It has never been observed in those whose sense of self is well-integrated - or absent.

Kyle Dixon: Conventional distinctions are not negated if anatta is understood properly.

You recognize and stabilize.
Dzogchen does not negate conventions such as our nominal identity as an agent who can engage in activity.
Identity is negated ultimately, through the cessation of the conditioned mind, however we are still free to implement conventional distinctions.
Otherwise we end up like neo-Advaita. Saying “who recognizes? Who is there to stabilize? No one wakes up.” These are unnecessary statements if the teaching is understood correctly.

Kyle Dixon: On ‘what’ realizes emptiness.

Answering someone’s question on “what is it that realizes emptiness?” Kyle Dixon wrote,

This used to confuse me as well, but really when it comes to insights and realizations of this nature, you can insert your conventional designation of choice.

I, you, he, she, they, them, the mind, consciousness, etc., I’ve even seen an excerpt Malcolm shared which said prajñā is the “realizer.” 

Conventions serve to indicate functions accurate to the characteristic, process or entity they are designating. The convention is a tool for communication and given that we are already functioning on the premise that everything is empty, the convention in question is ultimately treated as an inference. Therefore there is freedom to employ whatever convention is fitting to the context, as long as it is accurate in its application. 

In this sense you can say the conventional identity realizes emptiness and this is not an assertion that actually reifies said identity. 

In another context the inclusion of an agent, identity or entity related to the realization of emptiness is also extraneous. The process of delusion and the cessation of delusion is in one sense, a completely agentless process. 

Hence the famous “Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements [...] Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements.”

There truly is just the presence or absence of afflictive factors, which obstruct cognition of the nature of phenomena when present, and do not obstruct when absent. The identity is a secondary imputation that arises as the result of the appearance of a seemingly personal reference point once affliction is present. But a conventionally useful identity which can perform conventional actions and have conventional realizations of emptiness just the same.

Buddha: Conventional pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘mine’ are still used for pragmatic purposes after no-self realization.

“Would an arahant say "I" or "mine"?

Other devas had more sophisticated queries. One deva, for example, asked the Buddha if an arahant could use words that refer to a self:

"Consummate with taints destroyed,
One who bears his final body,
Would he still say 'I speak'?
And would he say 'They speak to me'?"

This deva realized that arahantship means the end of rebirth and suffering by uprooting mental defilements; he knew that arahants have no belief in any self or soul. But he was puzzled to hear monks reputed to be arahants continuing to use such self-referential expressions.

The Buddha replied that an arahant might say "I" always aware of the merely pragmatic value of common terms:

"Skillful, knowing the world's parlance,
He uses such terms as mere expressions."

The deva, trying to grasp the Buddha's meaning, asked whether an arahant would use such expressions because he is still prone to conceit. The Buddha made it clear that the arahant has no delusions about his true nature. He has uprooted all notions of self and removed all traces of pride and conceit:

"No knots exist for one with conceit cast off;
For him all knots of conceit are consumed.
When the wise one has transcended the conceived
He might still say 'I speak,'
And he might say 'They speak to me.'
Skillful, knowing the world's parlance,
He uses such terms as mere expressions." (KS I, 21-22; SN 1:25)” - (link)

Acarya Malcolm Smith: Anatman doesn’t negate conventional designations.

Anatman is the negation of an unconditioned, permanent, ultimate entity that moves from one temporary body to another. It is not the negation of "Sam," "Fred," or "Jane" used as a conventional designation for a collection of aggregates. Since the Buddha clearly states in many Mahāyāna sūtras, "all phenomena" are not self, and since everything is included there, including buddhahood, therefore, there are no phenomena that can be called a self, and since there are nothing outside of all phenomena, a "self," other than an arbitrary designation, does not exist.”

Buddha never used the term "self" to refer to an unconditioned, permanent, ultimate entity. He also never asserted that there was no conventional "self," the subject of transactional discourse. So, it is very clear in the sutras that the Buddha negated an ultimate self and did not negate a conventional self.

Soh Wei Yu (2011): Active No-Self vs Passive No-Self

After realization of anatta, there is the passive no-self of experiencing non-dual anatta clarity in all six senses, but there is a further phase where there is the no-self in actions and activities which in its mature phase will lead to total exertion (see Stage 6 subchapter on total exertion for more details).

Next step is not to stagnate in no-self and engage wholly and completely into actions and activities then "satori" has no entry or exit; when the thunder claps, the whole of "satori" is actualized! - (link) 

Soh (2012): Full engagement in terms of no-self leads to total exertion. 

Hi James, I think after realizing anatta, the super-clarity of mindfulness becomes sort of effortless and uncontrived. Pure natural aliveness and crystal clarity in all six senses. Isn't it the case for you? So any kind of contrivance becomes counterproductive. But if you try to practice mindfulness before penetrating no-self, it is quite effortful to maintain. This is because clarity is intrinsic to mind/experience rather than being produced, only the sense of self is 'obscuring'.

Also the non-action that Thusness said is not merely 'no doer, everything just happening, just being done' but total involvement, total action, entire being is just action, so intention and effort is fully exterted to do what is being done. It is not a contrived effort like "trying to maintain a witness of what is being done", no. No contrived mindfulness is involved. I'm talking about full exertion in just doing that activity like the whole being, whole universe is fully exerting as the action, eating the apple, cleaning the stain off the toilet. Intention is fully included/involved in that moment, rather than dissociated/a kind of "let things happen on their own".

Whole body-mind is engaged in seeing, hearing, acting: "When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you grasp things directly. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illumined the other side is dark." - Dogen

When there is total action, that is also non action because there is no doer-deed dichotomy, whole being is just action and there is no doer or acting or even movement.” (link)

Soh (2016): Understanding freedom in terms of boundlessness rather than merely non-attachment.

What you said is very good. I was reminded of a discussion I just had with Thusness about a new book by Tony Parsons called "This Freedom".

I asked Thusness what freedom is. Freedom is not doing what one likes, that would be still self-view. It is also not just simply being unentangled within the paradigm of duality of subject/object, life/death division.

The realization of anatta and emptiness relinquishes the self and reified constructs, consequently artificial boundaries and hindrance are also dissolved.

When artificial constructs are dissolved, the natural, primordial and untainted are also spontaneously manifested in every engagement. If it is not, then one risks the danger of still being entangled in a non-dual ultimate and drowned in stagnant water. Hence there is a difference in understanding non-dual free from the framework of duality and the actualization of the non-dual realization as the spontaneity of action that is full of energy and compassion.

So as Thusness pointed out to me, freedom must be realized not simply as non-attachment but also as boundless expression that is full of life and power.

Therefore not only the path of non-attachment is seen clearly but the way of boundless compassion and powerful viriya must also be directly felt and lived. Not immobilized by artificial constructs and duality, action is natural and spontaneous; without self, there is no hesitation and obstruction.

If one only sees freedom as non-attachment, then one will have missed an enormous part of the experiential insight of anatta and will not understand why Mipham is so insistent on talking about the positive attributes of Buddha, yet not falling into the views of Shentong.

For example when Thusness asked me what fear is, my answer had mostly to do with the mental/psychological factors and attachment. However what Thusness want me to see is that fear is not only overcome by non-attachment but also by the feeling of unbounded life and energy.

Possible Dangers and Sidetracks of Stage 5

(a) Falling into reification of the physical like Actual Freedom teachings: 

Soh Wei Yu: After Anatta, luminous radiance or aliveness is naturally experienced in the foreground as everything: mountains, rivers, sky, etc. The luminosity becomes natural, effortless and very intense, however the tendency to reify the physical body and physical world as truly existing, solid, inherent is strong.

Actual Freedom founder Richard Maynard: I am the universe’s experience of itself. The limpid and lucid perfection and purity of being here now, as-I-am, is akin to the crystalline perfection and purity seen in a dew-drop hanging from the tip of a leaf in the early-morning sunshine; the sunrise strikes the transparent dew-drop with its warming rays, highlighting the flawless correctness of the tear-drop shape with its bellied form. One is left almost breathless with wonder at the immaculate simplicity so exemplified ... and everyone I have spoken with has experienced this impeccable purity and perfection in some way or another at varying stages in their life... ...‘Where you say ‘the outside world’ again you are speaking of the reality which the identity within creates ... in actuality one does not perceive the world ‘by our senses’ as one is the senses. The whole point of actualism is the direct experience of actuality: as this flesh and blood body only what one is (what not ‘who’) is these eyes seeing, these ears hearing, this tongue tasting, this skin touching and this nose smelling – and no separative identity (no ‘I’/ ‘me’) means no separation – whereas ‘I’/ ‘me’, a psychological/ psychic entity, am inside the body busily creating an inner world and an outer world and looking out through ‘my’ eyes upon ‘my’ outer world as if looking out through a window, listening to ‘my’ outer world through ‘my’ ears as if they were microphones, tasting ‘my’ outer world through ‘my’ tongue, touching ‘my’ outer world through ‘my’ skin and smelling ‘my’ outer world through ‘my’ nose ... plus adding all kinds of emotional/ psychological baggage to what is otherwise the bare sensory experience of the flesh and blood body. That identity (‘I’/ ‘me’) is forever cut-off from the actual ... from the world as-it-is.” “Everything and everyone has a lustre, a brilliance, a vividness, an intensity and a marvellous, wondrous vitality that makes everything alive and sparkling ... even the very earth beneath one’s feet. The rocks, the concrete buildings, a piece of paper ... literally everything is as if it were alive.”, “this actual world (the sensate world) which is the world of this body and that body and every body; the world of the mountains and the streams; the world of the trees and the flowers; the world of the clouds in the sky by day and the stars in the firmament by night and so on and so on ad infinitum” “This physical universe exists in its own right”, “Only this, the actual world, genuinely exists.

Soh Wei Yu: John Tan previously went through a phase post-anatta where everything was very physical similar to Actual Freedom (AF).

John Tan has undergone a phase initially after his realization of anatta where he became very “physical”.

Also John Tan told me a few times many years ago when I met him privately that he has gone through the Actual Freedom phase by his own practice without having read about actual freedom. That is, during his earlier years in anatta, he has gone through a phase where everything is very physical, and there was a sense that he was no different from cats and dogs and trees, physically. It even led to a sense of despair or existential angst. Interestingly, I later found out that AF Richard has also went through a period of existential angst in his earlier years after attaining AF, but I am not sure if it is the same thing. However, Richard often talks about the cats, dogs, trees, carrots being of the same stuff as his [physical] existence as the body only (not exact words but something like that), which was similar to how John Tan described that period for him.

Personally I don't recall having been stuck in that condition (extremely physical and existential angst), or even if I had it was not for long, perhaps due to the aid of right view (emptiness + dependent origination). My guess is that (and John Tan would agree) not everyone will go through sidetracks like AF Richard or U.G. Krishnamurti after anatta. E.g. Kyle's insight of anatta was followed shortly with realization of emptiness due to the help of right view.

Soh Wei Yu: Importance of deconstructing any notions of physicality that can occur post-anatta due to intense luminosity.

After initial breakthrough of seeing through and dissolving the self/Self, the physical flesh and blood body and universe can seem solid, tangible and truly existing. It is possible to remedy this by penetrating the construct of ‘physical’ and ‘mind-body’ into the bare sensations that make up the moment of experience. Even the term ‘sensation’ can become another construct, so be careful of that. A useful way of contemplating experientially/vipassanically would be to deconstruct the physical world and the mind and body into the sensory qualities of the five elements in direct experience. This leads to deconstruction of physical + mind-body drop. But even this is not yet the realization of Emptiness [Thusness Stage 6].

John Tan: Even after anatta realization one may end up reifying external reality.

First emptying of self/Self does not necessarily lead to illusion-like experience of reality. It does however allows experience to become vivid, luminous, direct and non-dual… ...First emptying may also lead a practitioner to be attached to an 'objective' world or turns physical. The 'dualistic' tendency will resurface after a period of few months so it is advisable to monitor one's progress for a few months (link

Is your experience now more physical or like awareness become like a gust of wind or reflection, or holographic?

John Tan: Illusionariness in terms of external reality is a natural progression after anatta realization as long as someone has right view.

André, to me anatta is a very specific and definite phase of seeing through the background self/Self quite thoroughly at least in the waking state but there is a tendency that experience can somehow turn very "physical, sense-based and causal" for me.

Every experience is direct, gapless, non-dual, non-conceptual and radiance even total exertion is present, just not empty. Almost equivalent to Actual Freedom as narrated by Richard. In fact I find Richard's description very much my version of arahat 🤣.

For Kyle, due to his view in emptiness, the experiential insight of anatta not only pierce through the self/Self but also triggered the arising insight of emptiness. However this may not be true (imo) in most cases if one's view isn't firmly established. For me when I first encountered the chariot analogy, there is an immediate and intuitive recognition that it is referring to anatta but I am unable to grasp the essence of the phrase "emptiness and non-arisen" there and then.

In other words, in addition to self immolation, a specific insight must arise, it is the prajna that clearly sees through the referent is empty and non-arisen. So anatta I would say is about severing the self/Self whereas phase 6 is the blossoming of this specific insight. Extending this insight from self to phenomena, from conventions to magical appearances is then a natural progression.

(b) Disease of Non-Conceptuality: 

John Tan: There are different tiers of non-conceptuality.

I think it is still too early to say that insight of anatta has arisen. There seem to be a mixing up and a lack of clarity of the following experiences that resulted from contemplating on the topic of no-self:

1. Resting in non-conceptuality
2. Resting as an ultimate Subject or
3. Resting as mere flow of phenomenality

In Case 1 practitioners see ‘The seen is neither subjective nor objective.... it just IS....’ In terms of experience, practitioners will feel Universe, Life. However this is not anatta but rather the result of stripping off (deconstructing) identity and personality. When this mode of non-conceptual perception is taken to be ultimate, the terms “What is”, “Isness”, “Thusness” are often taken to mean simply resting in non-conceptuality and not adding to or subtracting anything from the ‘raw manifestation’. There is a side effect to such an experience. Although in non-conceptuality, non-dual is most vivid and clear, practitioners may wrongly conclude that ‘concepts’ are the problem because the presence of ‘concepts’ divides and prevent the non-dual experience. This seems logical and reasonable only to a mind that is deeply root in a subject/object dichotomy. Very quickly ‘non-conceptuality’ becomes an object of practice. The process of objectification is the result of the tendency in action perpetually repeating itself taking different forms like an endless loop. This can continue to the extent that a practitioner can even ‘fear’ to establish concepts without knowing it. They are immobilized by trying to prevent the formation of views and concepts. When we see ‘suffering just IS’, we must be very careful not to fall into the ‘disease’ of non-conceptuality.

In Case 2 it is usual that practitioners will continue to personify, reify and extrapolate a metaphysical essence in a very subtle way, almost unknowingly. This is because despite the non-dual realization, understanding is still orientated from a view that is based on subject-object dichotomy. As such it is hard to detect this tendency and practitioners continue their journey of building their understanding of ‘No-Self based on Self’.

For Case 3 practitioners, they are in a better position to appreciate the doctrine of anatta. When insight of Anatta arises, all experiences become implicitly non-dual. But the insight is not simply about seeing through separateness; it is about the thorough ending of reification so that there is an instant recognition that the ‘agent’ is extra, in actual experience it does not exist. It is an immediate realization that experiential reality has always been so and the existence of a center, a base, a ground, a source has always been assumed. This is different from 'deconstructing of identity and personality' which is related to non-conceptuality but 'actual' seeing of the non-existence of agent in transient phenomena.

Here practitioners will not only feel universe as in Case 1 but there is also an immediate experience of our birth right freedom because the agent is gone. It is important to notice that practitioners here do not mistake freedom as ‘no right or wrong and remaining in a state of primordial purity’ ; they are not immobilized by non-conceptuality but is able to clearly see the ‘arising and passing’ of phenomena as liberating as there is no permanent agent there to ‘hinder’ the seeing. That is, practitioner not only realize ‘what experience is’ but also begin to understand the ‘nature’ of experience.

To mature Case 3 realization, even direct experience of the absence of an agent will prove insufficient; there must also be a total new paradigm shift in terms of view; we must free ourselves from being bonded to the idea, the need, the urge and the tendency of analyzing, seeing and understanding our moment to moment of experiential reality from a source, an essence, a center, a location, an agent or a controller and rest entirely on anatta and Dependent Origination.

In my opinion, the blog that hosts the articles on “Who am I” and “Quietening the Inner Chatter” provide more in depth insights on non-duality, Anatta and Emptiness. The author demonstrates very deep clarity of ‘what experience is’ and the ‘nature (impermanent, empty and dependent originates according to supporting conditions)’ of experience.

Andre A. Pais: Clinging to non-conceptuality can hinder long-term spiritual progress.

For me, the idea that conceptuality is a trap is actually a trap itself that depletes the potential of spiritual practice. It entails throwing away a very valid dimension of experience - after all, thinking is part of reality as well. And since it is thinking that creates the illusion of duality, it is at the level of thought that illusions must be dismantled. At the level of "reality" there is nothing to be done.

"Observe and see" [which is the only instruction you say you follow,] is also doing something. A spiritual path without instructions is not a path. And from the moment there are instructions, all of them may be valid, depending on the practitioner.

The neo-Advaita has this characteristic of tending to be nihilistic in relation to the path and means of liberation. "There is no one, there is nothing that needs to be done." This reveals a profound misunderstanding concerning the nature of experience: Everything happens in experience, even without an agent to perform it - the spiritual path is no exception.

The simplicity of "not thinking" is a comfortable nest that prevents us from asking important and bothersome questions. There is "presence" in the act of observation, but that presence has to be investigated in order to make its nature known. Otherwise, we are substituting a belief - in the self - for another - in some immutable and eternal presence. Both ego and presence are obvious and undeniable for those who establish them.

Buddhism also dissolves all concepts, but only when they have already done their job of deconstructing all concepts. "Silencing" conceptuality too soon is to throw away the ladder (of analytical thinking) before we've used it to go beyond the wall (of conceptual ignorance).

John Tan: Focusing on view as well rather than only mere experience.

Dry non-conceptualities means PCE without insight and wisdom. Without insight of how the conceptual mind affect experiences and wisdom of the nature of mind and phenomena.

There is the experiences, the view and the realization. So practice is not just about experiences, one must realise clearly what the view anatta and emptiness is pointing to in real-time experiences. Essentially it is about understanding how reification from conceptualities confuse the mind leading to dualistic and inherent thoughts and the freedom from them into spontaneous perfection of natural condition.

John Tan: Concepts are necessary for ultimately realizing non-conceptual insights.

“First is no one behind, just fully and completely that “Color” -- the place where there is no heat or cold.  Just this as this, not this becoming that.  No remainder, no trace, non-conceptuality.

Second is although that “Color” is fully clear, vivid and amazing “real”, it is nothing substantial – Empty! -- This seeing involves concepts.

First is no one behind  -- no feeler, just fully and completely that “Sensation”.  No ownership, no center, no doership, non-dual. 

Next examine the entire whole of sensations.  The intensity and clarity of hardness, coldness, solidness...etc… The entire sense of “hereness” is just an impression.  An impression of dependently originated formation, nothing inherently “here” nothing substantial – Empty! -- This seeing involves concepts. 

Let conceptuality and non-conceptuality work as one. 

John Tan: Unhelpful to over-emphasize on mere experience. 

There are those that only emphasized on experience alone with no clear discernment.  A sincere practitioner should not fall into the disease of it.

Practice is not just about the immediate appreciation of the no seer, just the scenery.  That would be just an experience of no-mind.  When asked, who ‘sees’, the practitioner may say no one sees but deep in him, it is the void boundless clarity that sees.  This certainly does not help and over emphasizing on the appreciation of mere experience will not go very far.  This “trace” must be overcome with earnest sincerity.  

If a practitioner can clearly see that “who sees” is a wrong question and rephrase it to what conditions give rise to this activity seeing, then that “trace” will be overcome completely in time to come.  For refining the view itself is the practice and the process of overcoming the “trace” completely.

Elizabeth Napper: Dissolving ignorance requires a realization of the truth rather than merely thought suppression.

 The process of eradicating avidyā (ignorance) is conceived… not as a mere stopping of thought, but as the active realization of the opposite of what ignorance misconceives. Avidyā is not a mere absence of knowledge, but a specific misconception, and it must be removed by realization of its opposite. In this vein, Tsongkhapa says that one cannot get rid of the misconception of 'inherent existence' merely by stopping conceptuality any more than one can get rid of the idea that there is a demon in a darkened cave merely by trying not to think about it. Just as one must hold a lamp and see that there is no demon there, so the illumination of wisdom is needed to clear away the darkness of ignorance.

John Tan: Stopping conceptualization doesn’t cure reification.

Without concepts, experience is naturally present and luminous is not exactly true imo.

We can stop conceptualization or even have many episodes of sustained non-conceptual non-dual or no mind experiences, still intellectual obscurations of seeing entities, entity possessing characteristics, cause and effect, agent and movement... etc continue to haunt us. Non-analytical cessation is temporary.

So the freedom from conceptualization cannot simply be a stopping of "conceptualization", a clear insight that sees through the emptiness of conventional constructs must arise.

Although the insight results in non-conceptuality, it also recognizes the cause of obstructedness is ignorance that obscures and blinds, not designations and constructs.

When contemplating DO (though conceptual), not only does the sense of self not arise, it replaces self view. Non-conceptual resting is too a means to an end. The end is not a non-conceptual luminous state but the complete uprooting of ignorance.

Therefore when Dogen rolls the boat in total exertion, there are concepts, designations and conventions but there is no sense of self, no sense of boundaries, no sense of obstructedness between the sky, the boat, the oar and the sea...all inter-penetrate beyond their conventional boundaries into the act of rolling.

Soh Wei Yu: Necessary to engage in investigation and challenge one’s views in order to realize non-substantialist insights vs clinging to non-conceptuality. 

The tendency to be nonconceptual is very ingrained not just after anatta, but even after I AM. It is a non conceptual and non-dual realization and taste of luminosity that is wonderful and blissful, but not necessarily liberating. But what happens after I AM? One always try to remain non conceptual, thoughtless, samadhi in pure beingness... while the views of duality and inherency of an ultimate Self, Source, Substratum remains uninvestigated and unchallenged. Insight into non dual and anatta does not arise until one actively engages in investigating one's views and concepts and penetrate further into the nature of reality.

Likewise, even after anatta, by getting stuck with PCE one does not investigate into dependent origination and emptiness, then all the uninvestigated views of inherency still remain in full force but are either unrecognised or taken as true (like AF) or merely suppressed in a nonconceptual state.

I used to think why the need to engage in conceptual conditionality etc.. prefer to rest in anatta non-conceptuality. Nowadays I know total exertion is triggered by contemplating on the conceptual conditional relations.. but its not an issue to me. More important is seeing dependent origination and then into total exertion and emptiness. Then one is liberated be it conceptual or non-conceptual. It's more important to experience release and taste of total exertion and emptiness be it in conceptual and nonconceptual.. rather than getting confused in conceptual and then seeking refuge in nonconceptual.

However, I believe total exertion can also remain a mere nonconceptual experience, in the sense of mere infinitude, taste of maha... this is the AF sort of total exertion but this fails to see the dependencies involved... and because one doesn't see dependencies one ends up in a very solid physical view of universe, everything is local, existing inherently in specific space time as objects and properties.

(c) Nihilism

Soh Wei Yu: Action doesn’t require an actor.

No-self/Anatta is not