Fallacy of Nothingness, Emptiness Teaching – Part 39


Previous discussion reconciled God's Will and individual's free will. The next question was inevitable considering it's wide-spread status. It's to do with notion that existence is a void, empty-ness, nothing-ness.

Disclaimer: We understand these terms are mainly rooted in Buddhism, thus article isn't necessarily directed towards such schools. Because the student didn't mention their source. Either way, teacher will challenge them from standpoint of Advaita Vedanta…

Student posits, “You says reality is One, devoid of attributes, Brahman. Meaning it's nothingness, a void, emptiness!

” If the final Reality is a void, a nothing… how will you explain the fact of existence of yourself and the world?

If you and the world do not exist, then neither can emptiness… since there would be no one to declare, “Truth is emptiness, nothingness“.

The logic of cause and effect demands an effect must reflect it's cause.

Something cannot emanate from a void.

Emptiness cannot create a universe.

If a mango tree cannot sprout from the seed of a tamarind… how can a world of things, world of known and unknown… be created from nothing?

It will negate all existence.

If Truth is a void (meaning we too are just emptiness) — then how will we ever known we are nothing, since we do not exist?

We enter the path of knowledge in search of ending our grief… leading us to inquire into reality of our being of who and what we are.

As we look into ourselves, we find we are complete, content… with no further want or need… no desire to change or transform when we are happy.

Further delving into this state of mind, we find there is no division, no split between the wanting me and the wanted object.

Subject and object are one.

It is the same oneness when we hear an amusing anecdote… we laugh unreservedly, letting ourselves go.

In this case, there is no thought of the self-judging individual.

For the moment, he or she is forgotten.

Joy that is our intrinsic nature bursts forth as uninhibited laughter.

A feeling of joy, of fullness so wonderful and pleasing that we long to extend the emotion.

The start of an endless search… a life of constant becoming… seeking an eternal bliss, a never-ending feeling of happiness.

Finally care worn and exhausted from our hopeless quest, we are forced to seek solace and rest.

Now begins a new search for spiritual paths and teachers.

When the same teachers tells us things like:

“You are emptiness.

There is no existent self.

Emptiness is the truth.

As is the path, so is the goal (the means, the end).

Practice is the key to the perfection you seek.

You have nothing to hold onto except the regimen of discipline.”

Can a rational person truly accept these types of notions… without dissatisfaction in their counsel?

Such advice's would negate your entire search… because prior to your seeking, you have already experienced a sense of being whole.

But the teaching now negates your very experience… the basis of your turning into a genuine seeking.

You cannot accept the words. It goes against all reasoning since you will definitely question the reason for the teaching.

You will ask naturally, “How did creation emanate from nothing? What is the basis for such a conclusion?

If nothingness is the truth, then the dependent-reality (mithya) would become absolutely real.

Mithya is a relative term requiring an Absolute to give the word a meaning.

Without an Absolute, where is the question of dependent-real?

If Absolute reality is a void, then mithya creation would become real.

In which case, you'd be bound to this world since reality cannot change. In which case, there's no liberation.

With further contemplation you will have to ask, “Who is aware of the nothing? Who or what makes the emptiness known? What is its basis?“.

Because every postulate and idea derives existence form a conscious source, a conscious being.

Eventually in despair, you will have to turn to Without a Second (non-duality)… where the sacred books declare with reasoning, “The Truth is One, non-dual Limitless Existence Consciousness“.

This and this alone will end your search. “


The student insists on the notion that Emptiness teaching is CORRECT, “In creation, everything is empty of its self. Be it an object, emotion or person. Without innate existence, they are empty of a self.

For instance, what is a chair? Is it the seat, backrest, legs or the wood from which it's made? If we remove the parts, there would be no chair. If we remove the wood, obviously there can be no chair. A chair then has no real existence.

Contradictory as it may sound — chair is made of non-chair parts, as are all things and beings. Because they are made of non-that-particular-object.

There is nothing called a chair. Just name, form and function put together for the moment… acquiring quality of chair-ness. It has no intrinsic being.

THIS EXPLANATION is what we mean by 'emptiness'.

Emptiness has neither dualities nor cause-and-effect. Neither opposites, nor subject-object-divisions.

Emptinesss is the essence of the creation, of our being.”

“Does emptiness exist OR is it empty of existence?

Since you say that everything is emptiness, “Emptiness IS“.

Emptiness obviously has an existence.

Being existent, what does it rest on? What supports the emptiness? What makes it known?

As explained before, we know that existence implies an already existent conscious being.

There can be no other answer.

Emptiness must rest on Consciousness.

You declare everything is empty of its self because it is made up of non-that-object. Further, you said “Emptiness is absence of forms-and-names. It's without subject-or-object, without pairs-of-opposites“.

But at the same time, what keeps remaining no matter what you declare empty? Although you don't use the exact word, what else can be left but the Absolute?

Once you have the Absolute, every aspect of creation would be mithya (dependent-real)… depending on Limitless Consciousness to give it an existence.

When you say the world is nothingness, a void… it cannot be different from mithya. Because it too depends on presence of a conscious being.

If you persist in your thesis that world is an illusion, empty of existence, truth of creation is emptiness… we must ask you, What is the nature of emptiness? What is aware of the emptiness?“.

What will be your response? ”


The student continues, “How is your dependent reality different from declaring the world an illusion? You negate earthly existence, stating there is only one real Limitless Consciousness.”

” The term dependent-real or mithyā has been explained before. It does not negate existence of the world at all.

It is an empirical reality, subject to change, within time and space.

It has form-name and purpose.

We can use it for transaction to serve our various ends.

Body, mind, objects, people… in short, the entire creation… come under this category of dependent-reality… depending on Limitless Consciousness.

There is no question of negation or illusion.

We understand the reality of the world as mithya (dependent-real)… in relation to the Absolute Limitless Existence Consciousness. “


Further Read:


In next conversation, student wants to compare mystical experiences with self-knowledge. Validity of knowledge is doubted.”


  1. Hi Andre.
    There is so much in this article that I would love to study it in class!
    I believe you have proved the case conclusively from the standpoint of irrefutable logic.
    As you point out, if emptiness is the final reality then there could be no one to point out the existence of this emptiness.
    With reference to the Buddhist article on emptiness, they give a more nuanced view for sure.
    This Nat Han even seems to allude to an implied reality beyond emptiness.
    But if you analyse what is said, it still has no ontological status.
    They cannot establish the existence of something out of nothing.
    What they are achieving is a very valuable insight into how to live according to dharma.
    What they don’t achieve is an explanation of the cause of that dharma.
    The Buddhist is caught by the same dilemma that afflicts nihilism.
    You either accept an unreal universe, which flies in the face of both experience and common sense, or you are caught in the obviously flawed logic of infinite regression, a chain of interdependent causal events that have no cause.
    So much more could be said here.
    Great article!

    1. Definitions and spiritual concepts (which instigate such questions as of student) become further evident upon study of Indian Philosophy (in my opinion an education every knowledge admirer should go through in a lifetime): https://www.amazon.com.au/gp/product/B07DCWQDH3

      It basically lists and compares:

      Cārvāka, Jainism, Buddhism, Sankhya, Vishisthadvaita, Yoga (Patanjali), Purva-Mimamsa, Advaita Vedanta

  2. Point 2.
    The students arguments and objections are intelligent and lucid explanations of many of the viewpoints adopted in the yogic world.
    I think that we all need to be careful we don’t unconsciously adopt a ‘wilful unseeing’ due to past teachings, practices and experiences.
    The urge to ‘defend the faith’ is natural and in many respects laudable, but the arguments of Advaita Vedanta need to be met on their own terms.
    When they are, I think an intelligent seeker must eventually conclude that they are non negatable.
    There is so much to learn from the exchange between you and your commendable student and I am thankful to the same for putting these positions so clearly and fearlessly.

  3. Andre and Robert:

    Very grateful for your exchange and this website. Will go to the Amazon link for the book on Indian philosophy. Am presently studying with three wonderful teachers of Advaita. One of them is a student of Raphael, a founder of the Asram Vidya Order. He was an Italian who died last year. His student has a sangha in New York City that I recently joined. He has written several books on the pathway of non-duality.

  4. A nicely written article indeed. But Emptiness is not nothingness, it is not nihilism, and it is not Void. Early Christianism missionaries who translated some of these texts were purposely trying to nullify or degrade these non-dual teachings. Emptiness is simply the recognition that everything is dependant on something else. No thing, not nothing, exists independently in and of itself.

    1. Per my research (source: “Introduction to Indian Philosophy” by Satischandra Chatterjee), another factor that contributed to confusion is within Buddhism (as “Emptiness” is a central teaching there). Buddhism itself didn’t necessarily create the error, but non-discerning followers.

      And this happens in any school even today.

      How so? Many follower of Buddhism assume there’s only 1 version of Buddhism. Where in fact it’s split into different schools (which don’t agree with each other on certain views).

      Mādhaymika, Yogācāra, Sutrāntika and Viabhāṣika > further divided into 2 major branches: Hānayāna & Mahāyāna.

      Thus a simple seeker, not knowing any better, will mix in notions from different schools.

      So I’m less inclined to think that teachings were “purposefully” nullified. Because just to be involved in philosophy, already assumes a mature/moral/caring enough mind to NOT intentionally discredit anyone’s hard-work.

      But rather innocently mixed up due to such large volume of information to keep in mind.

      Even you/I can relate to this. We innocently make mistakes as it’s impossible to keep track of everything. Thus we see constant error-correction in field of religion/philosophy.

  5. I like your comment on the different schools Mādhaymika, Yogācāra, Sutrāntika and Viabhāṣika. One can see the different schools not as competitive ideas but rather steps on the way to higher and more profound understanding. As is “one mind” to “Mind only” progression of thought.

    Constant error correction is a great idea, but how does this work when one’s religion comes into conflict with one’s philosophy. Quite a few religions vehemently oppose competitive ideas and resist change or even translation of texts. Christianism is no stranger to this phenomenon.

    Have you noticed that I use Christianism rather often? Just ask if Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism are the best names for these religions. Perhaps the science of mind would be much more accurate, Adhyatma Vidya?

    1. ==========
      Constant error correction is a great idea, but how does this work when one’s religion comes into conflict with one’s philosophy.

      A mind goes through stages as it matures through the years.

      Per Vedas, the order or maturity goes like this…

      STAGE 1: God is worshipped (unknowingly) in form of selfish desires. Early teen years. However continues for most till death. Only my family matters. No sense of “other-ness”.

      STAGE 2: God is worshiped as personal deity. This is stage of Religions. My God VS. Your God. Jesus VS. Allah. My god is superior, yours is inferior. Etc.

      STAGE 3: Person starts to be suspicious towards their “personal God”. They start asking questions, like: How can God be isolated to a single man/woman? Is it a He or a She? How can omnipresent (everywhere) be contained into a single God?

      STAGE 4: God is worshipped as entire universe. As any object. Cockroach, tree, nature. This is why in Hinduism, there’s so many Gods, as the culture understands, “One God is appearing as all countless deities (with whom different personalities can relate).

      It’s a shame Western World mainly has Jesus (a single personality) to relate to. Hinduism sorted this issue out (as it understands different personalities prefer to relate to different types of deities. Hence large assortment like: shiva, vishnu, krishna, parvati, sarasvati, durga, brahma, sita, rama, …)

      STAGE 5: Essence of God and “I” are not different. This is highest stage of understanding.

      SUMMARY: Religion is (mostly; although not entirely as can’t classify anything as an absolute) Stage 2. One needs to ideally move on to later stages to continue growth.

  6. I know this an older post, but do you have time to answer a question about the Buddhist teachings of Emptiness and No-Self, that reject the existence of the Atman?

    1. Of course, what can I answer?

      Some background meanwhile…


      Question is about buddhist concept of Emptiness (Śūnyatā) and No-Self (Anātman).

      The Buddhist view posits that what we consider the self or ātmā is actually a collection of transient components known as skandhas, which include consciousness. The flow of consciousness (vijñāna-skandha) is seen as momentary flickers, leading to the conclusion that there is no ever-present self, but only a succession of momentary existences.


      – Nature of Ātmā: The Vedantic tradition does not accept the notion that ātmā is momentary or that it is equivalent to the changing vṛttis (thought-forms) of the mind. The ātmā is considered unchanging and not subject to the momentary existence proposed by the Buddhist view.

      – Existence of Ātmā: Negating all specific attributes from an entity does not necessarily render it non-existent or śūnyam. While the absence of specific attributes can be acknowledged, it does not equate to the absence of the Awareness. If Awareness (atma) was non-existent, then who will be left to know there’s “emptiness”.

      – Ātmā and Attributes: In Vedanta, the ātmā is understood to be attribute-free (nirguṇa) but not non-existent (śūnya). The distinction is crucial in that Vedanta does not deny the existence of the ātmā but rather affirms its reality beyond attributes.

      – Continuity of Experience: The Vedantic argument also includes the experience of continuity in one’s existence, which cannot be accounted for by a series of momentary consciousnesses. This sense of continuity is an indication of the constant presence of ātmā.

      – Buddha’s Teachings: Buddha did not explicitly discuss Brahman, which is central to Hindu thought (from which entire Buddhism is based). Therefore Vedanta does not consider Buddha’s teachings as a source of knowledge on Reality.

      – Concept of Mokṣa: Buddhists acknowledge the concept of rebirth and mokṣa (liberation), although they define mokṣa as realizing the non-existence of ātmā, which differs from the Vedantic view of realizing the true nature of ātmā.

  7. Namaste

    Hello, Andre
    I have been studying Advaita Vedanta for a couple years now, and only recently have started to grasp the profound wisdom it teaches. Recently, however I came across the arguments of some very erudite Buddhists online that have left me disturbed and questioning the truth of Brahman/Self.
    Because you are a great teacher, who is very knowledgeable about Vedanta, to dispel my doubts and lead my back onto the right path, I would be very grateful if you could give your opinion on some of the Buddhist critiques of Brahman/Self that I will quote below.

    All the quoted posts can be found at awakeningtoreality.com

    The people whose writings I will be quoting are obviously very knowledgeable, dedicated spiritualists, and I have respect their devotion to their philosophy. However, the problem is that they are claiming to have turned many people away from the Advaitic perspective to embrace the Emptiness teachings as the highest ideal.

    Buddhists often state that one of Buddhism’s most basic tenets is that there is no Atman or Self. Of course, different books and traditions qualify this tenet in different ways. Some say that, no, there is no self, but yes there is the moral principle of karma operating beyond death (Theravada, Mahayana); others say, no, there is no separate self, but yes there is an underlying oneness or identity with the interdependent dance of all things (Dzogchen). Whatever the qualifications, though, anyone who reads these books must assume that somewhere or other, the Buddha concluded there is No Self/Anatman.

    One argument the Buddhists employ against the existence of Atman is that the idea of Self is just a mental abstraction that the impermanent mind clings to out of fear of annihilation after death and must eventually be discarded to attain freedom from suffering.

    ’We should carefully heed the two reasons that the Buddha does not declare, ‘’There is no self’’: not because he recognizes a transcendent self of some kind (as some interpreters allege), or because he is concerned only with delineating ‘’a strategy of perception’’ devoid of ontological implications (as others hold), but (i) because such a mode of expression was used by the annihilationists, and the Buddha wanted to avoid aligning his teaching with theirs; and (ii) because he wished to avoid causing confusion in those already attached to the idea of self. The Buddha declares that ‘all phenomena are nonself’’ (sabbe dhamma anatta), which means that if one seeks a self anywhere one will not find one. Since ‘’all phenomena’’ includes both the conditioned and the unconditioned, this precludes an utterly transcendent, ineffable self.”
    According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding, reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of me and mine, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, illwill, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities and problems. It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations. In short, to this view can be traced all the evil in the world. Two ideas are psychologically deep-rooted in man: self-protection and selfpreservation. For self-protection man has created God, on whom he depends for his own protection, safety and security, just as a child depends on its parent. For self-preservation man has conceived the idea of an immortal Soul or Atman, which will live eternally. In his ignorance, weakness, fear, and desire, man needs these two things to console himself. Hence he clings to them deeply and fanatically.The Buddha’s teaching does not support this ignorance, weakness, fear, and desire, but aims at making man enlightened by removing and destroying them, striking at their very root. According to Buddhism, our ideas of God and Soul are false and empty. Though highly developed as theories, they are all the same extremely subtle mental projections, garbed in an intricate metaphysical and philosophical phraseology. These ideas are so deep-rooted in man, and so near and dear to him, that he does not wish to hear, nor does he want to understand, any teaching against them.

    Even awareness itself is to be discarded as a series of transitory momentary phenomena with no divine essence to be found.

    “Likewise, our own awakening mind is nothing but the space of appearances, the field of phenomenological activity, the luminous flux of experience. So, mind is imputed or added conceptually onto the mere field of sensate experience. So, during the spiritual process, the personal identity travels through different positions. We first identity as the “seer”, pure awareness – the stage of I AM. Later, we identify as the “seeing”, the mere process of knowingness – the stage of ONE MIND. Finally, we rest uncontrivedly as the mere presence of the “seen” – the stage of ANATTA. Very naturally, after dissolving “seer” and “seeing”, the “seen” is actually not an object “seen”, as there is no subject performing the act of “seeing”, nor is there any principle or process of seeing. The “seen” refers only to the undoubtful presence of luminous activity, beyond the categories of subject/object, internal/external, physical/mental, subjective/objective, self/other, etc.
    Mutual Dependency of Knower & Known First, one has to acknowledge that knower and known are mutually dependent. If awareness (the knower) was independent of appearances (the known), no perception, experience or knowledge could arise. A knower of a truly independent status is not a knower, since it is deprived the characteristics that establish it as a knower – namely, the known appearances. Conversely, a known that is truly independent of a knower is deprived of the principle that establishes it as an object known – namely the knowing awareness.
    This is a case of ‘sameness or otherness’ analysis. Is awareness other than the appearances? If it is, two problems arise: like stated, no experience can arise, since awareness is left without content, due to its independence; moreover, there is nothing establishing awareness as a knowing principle, since, in an independent and formless state, awareness does not actually know anything. When analyzing the relationship between the self and the aggregates (like in Chandrakirti’s sevenfold reasoning), one realizes that the notion of a self is imputed on the presence of the aggregates. It is understood that such a self, if ultimately existing, cannot be either the same or different from the aggregates (which are actually the only two possible options). If the self is the same as the aggregates, it must be many, instead of one, and it must be impermanent and dependent on conditions (which refutes it being an ultimately existing entity). If it is different, it makes no sense to refer to the aggregates as ‘mine’ or ‘I’, since they are inherently other and separate; and since the aggregates comprise the whole of experience, such a self [separate from the aggregates] is nothing but an imaginary entity.
    The same analysis can be performed on awareness or mind itself. Is awareness the same as, or different from, the appearances? If it is the same, then awareness must be multiple and not a singular entity – which contradicts the [somewhat spiritual] conviction that awareness has a unitary essence; or the appearances must be one – which contradicts every possible observation. If awareness is different from the appearances, one falls into the absurd consequence of having known appearances arising without a knowing principle; and a knowing principle that actually knows no appearance whatsoever.
    It should be stated that a truly formless awareness equals absolute nothingness, since it is even devoid of its own knowing potential, lest it would know such potential and not be truly formless. Such nothingness equals non-existence and would entail that out of sheer nothingness something could arise, overthrowing all notions of causality. When analyzing the aggregates, one finds that ultimately no self exists – the self arises only as mere name, a conceptual construct imposed on the aggregates. Likewise, when analyzing appearances, one finds that ultimately no awareness exists – awareness exists only as mere name, a conceptual construct imposed on the presence of luminous activities. As the self was analyzed and seen as ‘merely labeled’, in the same manner the aggregates themselves are analyzed and seen as ‘merely labeled’, arising in dependence on a designating consciousness. Consciousness designates objects into existence; likewise, due to the presence of objects, consciousness itself is designated into existence.

    As awareness was analyzed and seen as ‘merely labeled’, in the same manner appearances themselves are analyzed and seen as ‘merely labeled’, arising in dependence on designating conceptual activity. Like the Buddha stated, Name-and-Form depends on Consciousness; Consciousness too depends on Name-and-Form. Appearances depend on awareness which itself depends on appearances. Thus it is seen that both terms – awareness and appearances – are designated on dependence upon sheer luminous activities.

    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. Before proceeding any further, 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’. On the first stanza The two most obvious experiences from this initial glimpse of the first stanza is the lack of doer-ship and the direct insight of the absence of an agent. These 2 experiences are key for my phase 5 of the 7 phases of insights. 1. The lack of doer-ship that links and co-ordinates experiences. Without the ‘I’ that links, phenomena (thoughts, sound, feelings and so on and so forth) appear bubble-like, floating and manifesting freely, spontaneously and boundlessly. With the absence of the doer-ship 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 no-doership, interdependence and interconnectedness, luminosity and non-dual presence. 2. The direct insight of the absence of an agent. In this case, 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.” Because this is the key insight and a step that cannot afford to be wrong along the path of liberation, I cannot help but with some disrespectful tone say, For those masters that taught, “Let thoughts arise and subside, See the background mirror as perfect and be unaffected.” With all due respect, they have just “blah” something nice but deluded. Rather, See that there is no one behind thoughts.

    This article is particularly disturbing. In it we can see how a former scholar of Advaita Vedanta, Greg Goode, who wrote books about the Direct Path in the tradition of Sri Atmanananda has become beguiled with the concept of Emptiness as taught by Nagarjuna in the Madhyamika to abandon Vedantic belief in the Self

    “I was reading a sloka in Nagarjuna’s treatise about the “prior entity,” and I had been meditating on “emptiness is form” intensely for a year. These two threads came together in a big flash. In a flash, I grokked the emptiness of awareness as per Madhyamika. This realization is quite different from the Advaitic oneness-style realization. It carries one out to the “ten-thousand things” in a wonderful, light and free and kaleidoscopic, playful insubstantial clarity and immediacy. No veils, no holding back. No substance or essence anywhere, but love and directness and intimacy everywhere… Anything can be denied. And is. There is one prominent Advaita teacher that I like who likes to say “You can’t deny that you are the awareness that is hearing these words right now.” This kind of gapless continuity, so prized in Advaita, is readily denied in other approaches to experience: you. can’t. deny. that. you. are. the. awareness. hearing. these. words. right. now. I remember feeling during one retreat, just how many ways that this could be denied. From a different model of time and experience, there are gaps and fissures all over the place, even in that sentence (hence. the. dots). Each moment is divided within itself, carrying traces of past and future (retention and protention). The first “you”-moment and the second “you”-moment are not necessarily experienced by the same entity. Each “I” is different. Entitification itself is felt as autoimmune, as divided within itself, and any “gaplessness” is nothing more than a paste-job. Not saying one of these is right and the other wrong. Just pointing out how something so undeniable can readily be denied!
    Awareness and Emptiness. Many people, myself at times as well, have thought that Advaitic, atman-style awareness and emptiness are the same thing. When I began to study Nagarjuna, I was reading through a lens colored by the Advaita teachings. You know how they go, Awareness is the Self and very nature of me. The psychophysical components are certainly not me. I remain the same through the coming and going and changing of the components. At that time, I had had trouble understanding 50% of the key line in the Heart Sutra, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” I got the “form is emptiness” part. But I couldn’t grok the “emptiness is form” part. Thinking that Advaitic Awareness=emptiness, I was used to thinking that Awareness IS, whether universes arise or not. How can Awareness equal its contents? And if it did, why even call it global Awareness? The contents could speak for themselves,” I was thinking. Also, many Advaitic-style teachings proceed by refuting the phenomena (thoughts, feelings and sensations) but retaining THAT to which they arise. That was the type of teaching I was used to, and it colored my approach to Madhyamika. So it was very easy to read the Buddhist notion of “emptiness” in this same way. But it began to get a little puzzling. In my readings of Prasangika Madhyamika (which never mentions a global awareness), they never say that anywhere that emptiness=awareness. Nevertheless, I was supplying this equivalence for myself, making the mental substitution of one highest path’s highest term with another’s. As I continued, there seem less and less evidence that Madhyamika was doing this, but I didn’t encounter anything that knocked the idea away. It got more and more puzzling for me. And then one day I read this from Nagarjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. Sloka IX:4, about the “prior entity,” or a subject or owner or substrate for what is seen and heard. (translations from the Garfield edition). “If it can abide Without the seen, etc., Then, without a doubt, They can abide without it.” Then it dawned on me! The independence (and hence the dependence) that Buddhism is talking about is two-way, not just one-way. If A is logically independent from B, then B is logically independent from A. If you can have a self that doesn’t depend on things seen, then you can have things seen that do not depend on a self. So, for Nagarjuna, can you really have a self that is truly bilaterally independent from what is seen? No, because of his next sloka, IX:10: “Someone is disclosed by something. Something is disclosed by someone. Without something how can someone exist? Without someone how can something exist?” With these two verses, I finally understood the two-way dependence that Buddhism was talking about. And both halves of that important line in the Heart Sutra finally made sense!!”

    After beginning to study the emptiness teachings, the most dramatic and earth-shattering thing I realized the emptiness of was awareness, consciousness. It came as an upside-down, inside-out BOOM, since I had been inquiring into this very point for a whole year. It happened while I was meditating on Nagarjuna’s Treatise. Specifically verse IX:4, from “Examination of the Prior Entity.” If it can abide Without the seen, etc., Then, without a doubt, They can abide without it. I saw that a certain parity and bilateral symmetry is involved. If awareness can exist without its objects, then without a doubt, they can exist without awareness. True enough. Then there is a hidden line or two: BUT – the objects CAN’T exist without awareness. Therefore, awareness can’t exist without them. This was big for me. ……… I’m not sure what you mean by “itch,” but I can tell you that when I began to study the Mulamadhyamakakarika (MMK), I wanted to let it speak for itself. I didn’t want to bring to it any presumptions that I picked up from other teachings, such as that all reality depends on an aware ground of being. This was my intention from the beginning, and it took me a while to detect those assumptions in myself as I proceeded with my study. The text of the MMK itself actually helped dissolve those assumptions from my study and practice of Madhyamika. It’s pretty clear that in the MMK there is no support for an aware ground of being. About verses 8 and 9. they are dialectical arguments against the notion of an independent self that is the basis and unifying substance of all experience. As dialectical arguments, they examine consequences that would follow if there were really such an independent self. And they find that the consequences are absurd, or that they go against the independent-self idea. Confronting these absurd consequences frees us from assenting to the independent-self doctrine. Verses 8 and 9 are instances of the same/different argument schema. Those who believe in existence usually assert that if A and B exist, then they must be the same as each other, or different from each other. Verse 8 examines the absurd consequences of stating that the seer and hearer and feeler are the same. It looks at what would happen if there were a self that is the hearer and seer and feeler (which is what the independent-self doctrine asserts). If there were such a self, it would contravene the insights from Verses 4-6, which argue that the seer depends on the seen just like the seen depends on the seer. In our experience, seeing and hearing and feeling happen at different times, sometimes apart, sometimes together. If there WERE such a self, the very same self that hears and sees, Verse 8 is arguing that the self would have to exist PRIOR to hearing and PRIOR to seeing. Verse 9 examines the absurd consequences of stating that the seer and hearer and feeler are different. It argues that in this case, there would be multiple independent selves, one for seeing, one for hearing, and one for feeling. This obviously contradicts the main point of the independent self doctrine, which is that there is just ONE entity which does all the seeing and hearing. Nagarjuna’s strategy here is to show that assuming an independent entity prior to experience makes no sense at all. This is because it makes no sense if the seer equals the hearer, and it makes no sense if the seer does not equal the hearer. Therefore, it makes no sense! And it keeps on going, getting more and more radical. Verse 11 – here the MMK uses the conclusion about the absurdity of the independent seer to refute the inherent existence of independent modes of perception. In Verse 12, the MMK says that having seen all this, we are freed from conceptions and assertions of existence and non-existence

    An argument is made that because there is the appearance of multiplicity with awareness, awareness cannot be universal like it is taught in Advaita Vedanta.

    Impermanence & Multiplicity
    Awareness, being inseparable from the appearances, is nothing but appearances themselves. What else could it actually be? This inseparability of awareness and appearances reveals two characteristics that when ascribed to awareness actually show its merely conventional and nominal nature. First, awareness must collapse or dissolve at every moment as to give rise to the new appearances. Awareness is not reflecting an external reality, since that would entail its independence and the absurd consequences previously stated. Thus, awareness is morphing and shape-shifting into the arising appearances, leaving no changeless remainder – or no section of itself as an immutable essence. This reveals the utter impermanence of awareness, as it changes moment by moment. It has no temporal identity.

    However, one could see the utter impermanence of awareness but still, somehow, see it as ‘one awareness’ that changes, ‘this awareness’, a ‘singular awareness’, a ‘unitary awareness’, a ‘unified awareness’, etc. Like a sphere of knowingness, a holographic display of luminosity still retaining some unitary identity or coherence, distinguishing it from ‘another’ instance of ‘luminous activity’. Yet, what makes this knowing transience ‘one awareness’? Like the singular label ‘table’ is placed upon several objects, conceptually forcing them into a singular entity, so too the presence of innumerable instances of luminosity are conceptually forced into the making of a singular entity called ‘mind’ or ‘awareness’.

    Let’s imagine that an apple and a banana are placed upon a table. What makes the appearances of red, yellow and brown part of one mind? We have clearly different appearances arising. What validates our conceptual subsuming them into one single substance or experiencer? How could a truly ‘singular, unified awareness’ give rise to such manifold appearances

    The banana suddenly vanishes. If it was an inherent part of the present mind, the entire mind would collapse in its absence. If it does not collapse, it reveals that the whole field of appearances is not dependent on its specific instances. However, since there is no ‘field’ of appearances independent of the appearances themselves, we are left with mere appearances that, despite being interdependent, are isolated instances of luminous activity. This reveals awareness’ lack of unitary, or spatial, identity. Now, if what we have is a display of transient appearances, the sum of which is devoid of any intrinsic identity, what is the label ‘awareness’ or ‘mind’ actually pointing to? Like the notion of a self and the aggregates, awareness is a label placed upon a multiplicity of appearances that are all, collectively or individually, not awareness. Neither inside the display of appearances, nor outside of it, is any awareness ever found.

    There is no individual awareness, no collective awareness and no universal awareness. One only ever finds (such knowledge is nothing but an arising appearance) the display of luminous activities. Brahman is the world. Nirvana and Samsara are nothing but expressions of Buddha nature, which is nothing but the inseparability of emptiness and appearances.

    Here an argument is made that there is no ‘Doer’ or controller of action. Only momentary sensations have any value as objects of concentration. Which in my opinion would conclude there is no free will and cause the law of Karma to be irrelevant.

    I walk down the stairs. Very naturally, I feel like I am the same person or entity that was present at the top of the staircase, even after reaching the bottom. I feel like some nucleous, core or essense has remained unchanged throughout that activity of moving. However, there is no entity outside or independent of the very activity of moving – the “mover” is nothing but the movement itself. But if the movement, due to its very functioning, is of the nature of change and fluxing, then no entity can actually remain the same. How could movement take place if, within it, some type of “mover” was to remain unchanged and permanent? Total dissolution happens at every moment of experience – a totally coordinated reconfiguration of phenomenological data. Yet, all that gets dissolved is the fixed conceptual categories that reified transient activities into static objects and independent entities. Actually, nothing real is dissolved because nothing seen as solid is actually real. All that is ever present is the luminous flux of activity. ***
    As sensations disintegrate, so does the awareness that arose as them. As thoughts disintegrate, so does the awareness that arose as them. As perceptions disintegrate, so does the awareness that arose as them. As body, mind and world disintegrate, so does the awareness that arose as them. That’s the nature of non-dual luminosity – the perfect unity of emptiness and appearances. Only this is utter freedom. I’m pointing to something rather simple. Awareness, if we posit such a principle, arises as appearances. There can be no separation or distinction between awareness and appearances, otherwise no knowledge of experience would arise.
    So, if appearances dissolve, the awareness that gave rise to them (as them) must dissolve – not into nothingness, but into the next appearance. You look at the sky – awareness arises as blueness. Then you look at the trees – awareness arises as greenness. The instance of “awareness-as-blueness” dissolves or disintegrates into the next instance of “awareness-as-greenness”. So, I’m not advocating shying away from reality into a state of nothingness, but the opposite. When the idea of a fixed and changeless entity, experiencer or awareness is seen through, by realizing the utter transience of it, one has no option but to “become” the field of experience, the whole of reality, fully interpenetrating with all. There is no “I” left, not even awareness as a fixed principle or essence, but only the luminous display of transient phenomena. I’m actually questioning the ultimate existence of mind/awareness. Conventionally we can say that mind exists. Ultimately, however, mind must be nothing but a label for just another instance of reality itself. The question then becomes, what is reality? When reality is seen as groundless, empty and unsubstantial, all labels lose their power in an ultimate sense. An indescribable luminosity, intimately known as being empty, is all that arises. ***
    If all is consciousness, consciousness is not other than appearances themselves. And if it is the multiplicity of appearances themselves, there is actually no mind that is established as some unitary and permanent entity or principle. There is no intrinsic link between the mind arising as red apple here and as green pear there. There is actually no mind, it is merely conceptually designated in dependence on the appearances. It’s like saying that ‘all is mind’ removes the solidity of appearing objects; and saying that there is ‘no mind’ removes the identity of the apparent subject. Like a pendulum swinging between the poles of objectivity and subjectivity, emptying both of what are merely conceptual fermentations, leaving appearances as intrinsically neither this (subject) nor that (objects), self-liberated at the spot. ***
    Awareness cannot be independent or separate from the appearances it knows. If it was, there could be no connection between knowing and known – and thus no experience could arise. All perception must be non-dual, despite having [conceptually] implicit in its functioning a subject and an object. But if awareness is not separate or independent from the appearances that are known, it must be as transient and fluxing as the very appearances that are known. There is no sensible way in which one single thing (in this case the [conceptual] union of awareness and appearances) can have a split nature or a contradictory way of being. These being the case – that no awareness exists outside of the arising appearances; and that awareness is thus of a transient nature, – it follows that all there ever exists is the self-knowing, self-luminous appearances, free of an observing or knowing subject beyond themselves, meaning that awareness, mind or any knowing principle are merely beliefs imputed on the flow of naturally luminous appearances. It follows that we are not experiencing an external reality (naive realism), nor a mental representation (scientific materialism), nor even modulations of our own awareness (most non-dual traditions).
    There is actually no experiencer, no witness, no observer, no center or core, no knower – and no awareness (as awareness is always posited as “that which knows”). Let’s allow that to sink in. This is one of the most powerful insights available to us. What this means is that there isn’t even perception going on. There is no one perceiving anything. The dualistic idea of perception itself is merely conceptually constructed and imputed onto pure manifest activity. What appears is reality as it is – as real, authentic and direct as it gets. Luminosity arises naturally and dependently, empty of any duality of knowing and known, mind and matter, inside and outside, subject and object, etc. [Curiously, if one had to choose between the reality of either subject or object, the presence of the “objective world” would be far more undeniable than that of any subjective entity.] Further investigation must happen as to deeply understand the unestablished, empty and merely transient nature of what appears. This will help clarify the answer to “what is this?”. However, the main question of all spiritual traditions, “who/what am I?”, is answered when reality is understood as being without any observer, experiencer or entity of any kind and thus free of knowingness itself (and its ideas of “distorted” or “undistorted” perception). ***
    If one refutes the self, one does not refute the mind or awareness, since those can exist beyond a personal self. If one refutes the mind, one does not refute awareness, since the latter is believed to transcend the former. It’s only by refuting awareness itself that one fully liberates the luminous display from the taints of subjectivity and identity.

    Here again in the doctrine of Conditioned Genesis/Dependent Origination? we have the claim that because all pheneomena are interconnected in cause and effect therefore there can be no Self or Absolute essence. I cannot understand this theory because existence itself must have a cause or source.
    The same result is arrived at through the doctrine of Conditioned Genesis which is the synthetical method, and according to this nothing in the world is absolute. Everything is conditioned, relative, and interdependent. This is the Buddhist theory of relativity. Before we go into the question of Anatta proper, it is useful to have a brief idea of the Conditioned Genesis. The principle of this doctrine is given in a short formula of four lines: When this is, that is (Imasmim sati idam hoti); This arising, that arises (Imassuppada idam uppajjati); When this is not that is not (Imasmim asati idam na hoti); This ceasing, that ceases (Imassa nirodha idam nirujjhati). On this principle of conditionality, relativity and interdependence, the whole existence and continuity of life and its cessation, are explained in a detailed formula which is called paticca-samuppada ‘Conditioned Genesis, consisting of twelve factors: 1. Through ignorance are conditioned volitional actions or karma-formations ( Avijjapaccuya samkhara). 2. Through volitional action is conditioned consciousness (Samkharapaccaya vinnanam). 3. Through consciousness are conditioned mental and physical phenomena (Vinnanapaccaya Through mental and physical physical phenomena are conditioned the six faculties (ie, five fhysical sense-organs and mind) (Namarupарассаца salayatanam). 5. Through the six faculties is conditioned (sensorial and mental) contact (Salayatanapaccaya phasso). 6. Through (sensorial and mental) contact is conditioned sensation (phassapaccaya vedana). 7. Through sensation is conditioned desire, thirst’ (Vedanapaccaya tanha). 8. Through desire (‘thirst) is conditioned clinging (Tanhapaccaya upadaman). bhavol. 9. Through clinging is conditioned the process of becoming (Upadanapacaya 10. Through the process of becoming is conditioned birth (Bhavapaccaya jati). 11. Through birth are conditioned (12) decay, death, lamentaion, pain, etc. (Jatipaccaya jaramaranam…). This is how life arises, exists and continues. If we take this formula in its reverseorder we come to the cessation of the process: Through the complete cessation of ignorance, volitional activities or karmaformations cease; through the cessation; through the cessation of volitional activities, consciousness ceases… through the cessation of birth, decay, death, sorrow, etc, cease. It should be clearly remembered that each of these factors is conditioned (paticcasamuppanna) as well as conditioning (paticcasamuppada). Therefore they are all relative, interdependent and interconnected, and nothing is absolute or independent; hence no first cause is accepted by Buddhism as we have seen earlier. Conditioned Genesis should be considered as a circle, and not as a chain.
    According to the Theravada teaching, that there is no self either in the individual (pudgala) or in dhammas. The Mahayana Buddhist philosophy maintains exactly the same position, without the slightest difference, on this point, putting emphasis on dharma-nairatmya as well as on pudgala-nairatmya. In the Alagaddupama-sutta of the Majjhima-nikaya, addressing his disciples, the Buddha said: O bhikkhus, accept a soul-theory (Attavada) in the acceptance of which there would not arise grief, lamentation, suffering, distress and tribulation. But, do you see, O bhikkhus, such a soul-theory in the acceptance of which there would not arise grief, lamentation, suffering, distress and tribulation? Certainly not, Sir. Good, O bhikkhus. I, too, O bhikkhus, do not see a soul-theory, in the acceptance of which there would not arise grief, lamentation, suffering, distress and tribulation.
    If there had been any soul-theory which the Buddha had accepted, he would certainly have explained it here, because he asked the bhikkhus to accept that soul-theory which did not produce suffering. But in the Buddha’s view, there is no such soul-theory, and any soul-theory, whatever it may be, however subtle and sublime, is false and imaginary, creating all kind of problems, producing in its train grief, lamentation, suffering, distress, tribulation and trouble. Continuing the discourse the Buddha said in the same sutta: O bhikkhus, when neither self nor anything pertaining to self can truly and really be found, this speculative view: The universe is that Atman (Soul); I shall be that after death, permanent, abiding, everlasting, unchanging, and I shall exist as such for eternity” – is it not wholly and completely foolish? Here the Buddha explicitly states that an Atman, or Soul, or Self, is nowhere to be found in reality, and it is foolish to believe that there is such a thing.
    the Buddha says that it is better for a man to take his physical body as self rather than mind, thought, or consciousness, because the former seems to be more solid than the later, because mind, thought, or consciousness(citta, mano, vinnana) changes constantly day and night even faster than the body(kaya). It is the vague feeling I AM that creates the idea of self which has no corresponding reality, and to see this truth is to realize Nirvana, which is not very easy. In the Samyrtta-nikaya there is an enlightening conversation on this point between a bhikkhu named Khemaka and a group of bhikkhus. These bhikkhus ask Khemaka whether he sees in the Five Aggregates any self or anything pertaining to a self. Khemaka replies No. Then the bhikkhus say that, if so, he should be an Arahant free from all impurities. But Khemaka confesses that though he does not find in the Five Aggregates a self, or anything pertaining to a self, I am not an Arahant free from all impurities. O friends, with regard to the Five Aggregates of Attachment, I have a feeling I AM’, but I do not clearly see This is I AM Then Khemaka explains that what he calls IAM is neither matter, sensation, perception, mental formations, nor consciousness, nor anything without them. But he has the feeling I AM with regard to the Five Aggregates, though he could not see clearly This is 1 AM. He says it is like the smell of a flower: it is neither the smell of the petals, nor of the colour, nor of the pollen, but the smell of the flower.
    Khemaka further explains that even a person who has attained the early stages of realization still retains this feeling I AM. But later on, when he progresses further, this feeling of 1 AM altogether disappear, just as the chemical smell of a freshly washed cloth disappears after a time when it is kept in a box. This discussion was so useful and enlightening to them that at the end of it, the text says, all of them, including Khemaka himself, became Arahants free from form all impurities, thus finally getting rid of I AM. According to the Buddha’s teaching, it is as wrong to hold the opinion to havve no self (which is the annihilationist theory) as to hold the opinion I have self (which is the eternalist theory), because both are fetters, both arising out of the false idea I AM’. The correct position with regard to the question of Anatta is not to take hold of any opinions or views, but to try to see things objectively as they are without mental projections, to see that what we call T, or being, is only a combination of physical and mental aggregates, which are working together interdependently in flux of momentary change within the law of cause and effect, and that there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging and eternal in the whole of existence. Here naturally a question arises: If there is no Atman or Self, who gets the results of karma (actions)? No one can answer this question better than the Buddha himself. When this question was raised by a bhikkhu the Buddha said: I have taught you, O bhikkhus, to see conditionality everywhere in all things.es that there is no self.
    In one passage (D 15) the Buddha discusses our types of self view, only to reject all four: views that the self is (a) finite and possessed of form; (b) finite and formless; (c) infinite and possessed of form; and (d) infinite and formless. Since views that identify the self with an animating force suffusing the cosmos would come under (d), and views that recommend identifying with the cosmos as a whole would come under (c), the Buddha would reject them as well. In another passage (S XXXV 90), he says that the act of identifying with the All is a conceit that would not even occur, to an Awakened person. Thus the term ‘self’ here would cover any sense of identifying or finding oneness with anything at all, because the act of identifying is a form of clinging, and thus a cause of suffering.
    ‘All phenomena are not-self’ when one sees with discernment and grows disenchanted with stress, this is the path to purity. (Dh 279)
    Once one has reached the end of the path, one must let go even of the truths that have served one well along the path if one is to gain liberation.
    This the Tathagata discerns. And he discerns that these standpoints, thus seized, thus held to, lead to such and such a destination, to such and such a state in the world beyond. And he discerns what surpasses this. And yet he does not hold to that act of discerning. And as he is not holding to it, Unbinding is experienced right within… (and) through lack of clinging—he is released. (D1)
    In letting go in this way, one abandons all phenomena and any possible statement that could be made about them. Once the meditator has done this, no words—not even the perceptions of being, not being, self or not-self—can apply.
    Upasiva: “One who has reached the end: does he not exist, or is he for eternity free from affliction? Please, sage, declare this to me as this phenomenon has been known by you.”
    The Buddha: “One who has reached the end has no criterion by which anyone would say that—it does not exist for. When all phenomena are put aside all means of speaking are put aside as well.” (SN V 6)

    1. ===========
      One key point the Buddhists make is that the idea of Self is just a mental abstraction born out of fear, and must be discarded to attain freedom. They argue that even awareness itself is just a series of transient, momentary phenomena, with no underlying essence or permanence. What do you make of this view? How does it compare to the Advaitic understanding of awareness as the true, unchanging nature of the self?

      Self is not a mental abstraction. Self is the self-revealing “I” which can’t ever get negated. It lights up the minds joy, it equally lights up the minds fear. It has nothing to do with joy nor fear.

      Further to say “Awareness is just a transient phenomena”, shows the entire school of thought hasn’t understood what is meant by Awareness. It’s not mental phenomena, but self-evident “I am, I am, I am”.

      I have to be told the simplest of things, such as “1 + 1 = 2”. I need to learn that. Once upon a time, it was hard. But nobody needs to be taught, “I am”. Everyone knows “I exist” (another way of saying “I am”). You don’t need to be taught that you are.

      Advaita is showing, this self-revealing existent “I am”, is atma, the non-negatable entity, Consciousness.

      Another significant Buddhist argument is that because awareness is inseparable from appearances, and the appearances are impermanent, awareness cannot be the universal, non-dual essence taught in Advaita. The doctrines of Conditioned Genesis and Dependent Origination seem to negate the possibility of an absolute, independent Self. How would you respond to this line of reasoning?

      In nirvikalpa-samadhi, when world and relative-self called “Andrew” (meditator) disappears, what is left? I (atma).

      Think about it. Just the fact that you are motivated to attain nirvikalpa samadhi, or nirvana, or moksha, implies something will be left. What is left? I am (self), devoid of appearances of my relative self (anatma, the person called “Andrew”).

      Otherwise, who would pursue nirvana/moksha, knowing “I” will go out of existence. Nobody wants to go out of existence.

      It seems some schools are mixing up the relative self (anatma), for the absolute self (atma).

      Advaita agrees that relative self (anatma) is appearance and temporary. But absolute self is not an appearance.

      The Buddhists also reject the notion of any permanent witness or observer, claiming there is no true experiencer behind the flow of experience. They see this as undermining the core Advaitic beliefs. I’m really struggling to reconcile this with my understanding of the self. What are your thoughts on this?

      Simple logic: There is only change in the world. For changes to be reported, there has to be a non-changing substratum (a permanent conscious being in whose presence all changes take place).

      EG: When you’re in the train, you can only tell the train is moving in reference to the non-moving ground, when looking outside the windows.

      Additionally, the Buddhists argue that even awareness or consciousness itself is merely a conceptual label, with no ultimate reality behind it. This seems to go even further than negating the self, by questioning the very foundation of subjective experience. How do you make sense of this from an Advaitic perspective?

      Before mental concept of “I am” comes, who is here? I am. While mental concept of “I am” is presented in the mind, who is here? I am. After mental concept of “I am” goes away, who is still here? I am.

      Lastly, the Buddhist emphasis on the complete absence of any sort of self or essence, even at the most fundamental level, is really shaking my confidence in the Advaitic view. I would greatly appreciate your guidance in helping me work through these challenges and maintain the clarity I’ve found in Vedanta.

      If there is no self or essence, then what is the motivation for liberation? What are we attaining? Nothing? How attractive is it to seek “nothing, emptiness”?

      I will correct this from standpoint of Advaita: I am nothing, empty (which is what Buddhism says), yet I am full (what Buddhism is yet to understand).

      In other words: I am formless or nirguna (what Buddhism refers to as nothingness/emptiness), and all forms (saguna) are nothing but myself. This is understood at the Tattva Bodha course: https://www.yesvedanta.com/tattva-bodha-discourses/

  8. Part 2:

    In this article they make another effort to refute a Advaitin Swami’s attempt to defend the True Self.

    Refuting Substantialist View of Nondual Consciousness
    It has come to my attention that this vide | Swami Sarvapriyananda” is circulating around in the internet and forums and is very popular. I appreciate Swami’s attempts at comparisons but do not agree that Candrakirti’s analysis leaves non-dual consciousness as the final irreducible reality, undeconstructed. Basically in summary, Swami Sarvapriyananda suggests that the sevenfold analysis deconstructs a separate eternal Self, like the Witness or Atman of the dualist Samkhya schools, but leaves the nondual Brahman of the nondualist Advaita schools untouched, and the analogy he gave is that consciousness and forms are like gold and necklace, they are nondual and not a separate witness. I have huge respect for Advaita Vedanta and other schools of Hinduism be it dualist or nondualist, as well as other mystical traditions based on an ultimate Self or Nondual Consciousness found in various and all religions. But the Buddhist emphasis is on the three dharma seals of Impermanence, Suffering, No-Self. And Emptiness and Dependent Origination. Therefore we need to emphasize the distinctions in terms of experiential realisations as well, and as Archaya Mahayogi Shridhar Rana Rinpoche said, “I must reiterate that this difference in both the system is very important to fully understand both the systems properly and is not meant to demean either system.” –
    As the book ‘What the Buddha Taught’ by Walpola Rahula quoted two great Buddhist scriptural teachings on this matter: It must be repeated here that according to Buddhist philosophy there is no permanent, unchanging spirit which can be considered ‘Self’, or ‘Soul”, or ‘Ego’, as opposed to matter, and that consciousness (vinnana) should not be taken as ‘spirit’ in opposition to matter. This point has to be particularly emphasized, because a wrong notion that consciousness is a sort of Self or Soul that continues as a permanent substance through life, has persisted from the earliest time to the present day. One of the Buddha’s own disciples, Sati by name, held that the Master taught: ‘It is the same consciousness that transmigrates and wanders about.’ The Buddha asked him what he meant by ‘consciousness’. Sati’s reply is classical: ‘It is that which expresses, which feels, which experiences the results of good and bad deeds here and there’. ‘To whomever, you stupid one’, remonstrated the Master, ‘have you heard me expounding the doctrine in this manner? Haven’t I in many ways explained consciousness as arising out of conditions: that there is no arising of consciousness without conditions.’ Then the Buddha went on to explain consciousness in detail: “Conciousness is named according to whatever condition through which it arises: on account of the eye and visible forms arises a consciousness, and it is called visual consciousness; on account of the ear and sounds arises a consciousness, and it is called auditory consciousness; on account of the nose and odours arises a consciousness, and it is called olfactory consciousness; on account of the tongue and tastes arises a consciousness, and it is called gustatory consciousness; on account of the body and tangible objects arises a consciousness, and it is called tactile consciousness; on account of the mind and mind-objects (ideas and thoughts) arises a consciousness, and it is called mental consciousness.’ Then the Buddha explained it further by an illustration: A fire is named according to the material on account of which it burns. A fire may burn on account of wood, and it is called woodfire. It may bum on account of straw, and then it is called strawfire. So consciousness is named according to the condition through which it arises. Dwelling on this point, Buddhaghosa, the great commentator, explains: ‘. . . a fire that burns on account of wood burns only when there is a supply, but dies down in that very place when it (the supply) is no longer there, because then the condition has changed, but (the fire) does not cross over to splinters, etc., and become a splinter-fire and so on; even so the consciousness that arises on account of the eye and visible forms arises in that gate of sense organ (i.e., in the eye), only when there is the condition of the eye, visible forms, light and attention, but ceases then and there when it (the condition) is no more there, because then the condition has changed, but (the consciousness) does not cross over to the ear, etc., and become auditory consciousness and so on . . .’ The Buddha declared in unequivocal terms that consciousness depends on matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, and that it cannot exist independently of them. He says: ‘Consciousness may exist having matter as its means (rupupayam) matter as its object (rupdrammanam) matter as its support (rupapatittham) and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop; or consciousness may exist having sensation as its means … or perception as its means … or mental formations as its means, mental formations as its object, mental formations as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop. ‘Were a man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, he would be speaking of something that does not exist.’“
    Bodhidharma likewise taught: Seeing with insight, form is not simply form, because form depends on mind. And, mind is not simply mind, because mind depends on form. Mind and form create and negate each other. … Mind and the world are opposites, appearances arise where they meet. When your mind does not stir inside, the world does not arise outside. When the world and the mind are both transparent, this is the true insight.” It is actually very simple to understand. You know the word ‘weather’? It’s not a thing in itself, right? It’s just a label for the everchanging patterns of clouds forming and departing, wind blowing, sun shining, rain falling, so on and so forth, a myriad and conglomerate of everchanging dependently originating factors on display. Now, the correct way is to realise ‘Awareness’ is no other than weather, it is just a word for the seen, the heard, the sensed, everything reveals itself as Pure Presence and yes at death the formless clear light Presence or if you tune into that aspect, it is just another manifestation, another sense door that is no more special. ‘Awareness’ just like ‘weather’ is a dependent designation, it is a mere designation that has no intrinsic existence of its own. The wrong way of viewing it is as if ‘Weather’ is a container existing in and of itself, in which the rain and wind comes and goes but Weather is some sort of unchanging background which modulates as rain and wind. That is pure delusion, there is no such thing, such a ‘weather’ is purely a mentally fabricated construct with no real existence at all upon investigation. Likewise, ‘Awareness’ does not exist as something unchanging and persists while modulating from one state to another, it is not like ‘firewood’ that ‘changes into ashes’. Firewood is firewood, ashes is ashes. Dogen said: “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 myriad things with a confused body and mind you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self. Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again. Yet, do not suppose that the ash is future and the firewood past. You should understand that firewood abides in the phenomenal expression of firewood, which fully includes past and future and is independent of past and future. Ash abides in the phenomenal expression of ash, which fully includes future and past. Just as firewood does not become firewood again after it is ash, you do not return to birth after death.” (Note that Dogen and Buddhists do not reject rebirth, but does not posit an unchanging soul undergoing rebirth, see Rebirth Without Soul Soh: when one realise that awareness and manifestation is not of a relationship between an inherently existing substance and its appearance.. but rather is like water and wetness or like ‘lightning’ and ‘flash’ (– there never was a lightning besides flash nor as an agent of flash, no agent or noun is required to initiate verbs.. but just words for the same happening.. then one goes into anatta insight those with essence view thinks something is turning into another thing, like universal consciousness is transforming into this and that and changing.. anatta insight sees through the inherent view and sees only dependently originating dharmas, each momentary instance is disjoint or delinked although interdependent with all other dharmas. it is not the case of something transforming into another. …… …So, if this so-called “self-illuminating nondual consciousness” asserted by the Cittamātrins is understood to be a consciousness that is the ultimate of all dualistic consciousnesses, and it is merely that its subject and object are inexpressible, and if such a consciousness is understood to be truly existent and not intrinsically empty, then it is something that has to be refuted. If, on the other hand, that consciousness is understood to be unborn from the very beginning (i.e. empty), to be directly experienced by reflexive awareness, and to be self-illuminating gnosis without subject or object, it is something to be established.
    Both the Madhyamaka and Mantrayāna have to accept this… …… The cognizer perceives the cognizable; Without the cognizable there is no cognition; Therefore why do you not admit That neither object nor subject exists [at all]? The mind is but a mere name; Apart from it’s name it exists as nothing; So view consciousness as a mere name; Name too has no intrinsic nature. Either within or likewise without, Or somewhere in between the two, The conquerors have never found the mind; So the mind has the nature of an illusion. The distinctions of colors and shapes, Or that of object and subject, Of male, female and the neuter – The mind has no such fixed forms. In brief the Buddhas have never seen Nor will they ever see [such a mind]; So how can they see it as intrinsic nature That which is devoid of intrinsic nature? “Entity” is a conceptualization; Absence of conceptualization is emptiness; Where conceptualization occurs, How can there be emptiness? The mind in terms of perceived and perceiver, This the Tathagatas have never seen; Where there is the perceived and perceiver, There is no enlightenment. Devoid of characteristics and origination, Devoid of substantiative reality and transcending speech, Space, awakening mind and enlightenment Posses the characteristics of non-duality. – Nagarjuna …. Once the insight of No-Self is stabilized, you just freely point to any point on the surface of the sphere — all points are a center, hence there is no ‘the’ center. ‘The’ center does not exist: all points are a center. When you say ‘the center’, you are marking a point and claim that it is the only point that has the characteristic of a ‘center’. The intensity of the pure beingness is itself a manifestation. It is needless to divide into inner and outer as there will also come a point where high intensity of clarity will be experienced for all sensations. So not to let the ‘intensity’ create the layering of inner and outer. Now, when we do not know what is a sphere, we do not know that all the points are the same. So when a person first experiences non-duality with the propensities still in action, we cannot fully experience the mind/body dissolution and the experience isn’t clear. Nevertheless we are still careful of our experience and we try to be non-dual. But when the realisation is clear and sank deep into our inmost consciousness, it is really effortless. Not because it is a routine but because there is nothing needed to be done, just allowing expanse of consciousness naturally. ————–
    An Elaboration on Emptiness Like a red flower that is so vivid, clear and right in front of an observer, the “redness” only appears to “belong” to the flower, it is in actuality not so. Vision of red does not arise in all animal species (dogs cannot perceive colours) nor is the “redness” an attribute of the mind. If given a “quantum eyesight” to look into the atomic structure, there is similarly no attribute “redness” anywhere found, only almost complete space/void with no perceivable shapes and forms. Whatever appearances are dependently arisen, and hence is empty of any inherent existence or fixed attributes, shapes, form, or “redness” — merely luminous yet empty, mere Appearances without inherent/objective existence. What gives rise to the differences of colours and experiences in each of us? Dependent arising… hence empty of inherent existence. This is the nature of all phenomena. As you’ve seen, there is no ‘The Flowerness’ seen by a dog, an insect or us, or beings from other realms (which really may have a completely different mode of perception). ‘’The Flowerness’ is an illusion that does not stay even for a moment, merely an aggregate of causes and conditions. Analogous to the example of ‘flowerness’, there is no ‘selfness’ serving as a background witnessing either — pristine awareness is not the witnessing background. Rather, the entire whole of the moment of manifestation is our pristine awareness; lucidly clear, yet empty of inherent existence. This is the way of ‘seeing’ the one as many, the observer and the observed are one and the same. This is also the meaning of formlessness and attributelessness of our nature. Because the karmic propensity of perceiving subject/object duality is so strong, pristine awareness is quickly attributed to ‘I’, Atman, the ultimate Subject, Witness, background, eternal, formless, odorless, colorless, thoughtless and void of any attributes, and we unknowingly objectified these attributes into an ‘entity’ and make it an eternal background or an emptiness void. It ‘dualifies’ form from formlessness and attempts to separate from itself. This is not ‘I’, ‘I’ am the changeless and perfect stillness behind the transients appearances. When this is done, it prevents us from experiencing the color, texture, fabric and manifesting nature of awareness. Suddenly thoughts are being grouped into another category and disowned. Therefore ‘impersonality’ appears cold and lifeless. But this is not the case for a non-dual practitioner in Buddhism. For him/her, the ‘formlessness and attribute-less’ is vividly alive, full of colors and sounds. ‘Formlessness’ is not understood apart from ‘Forms’ – the ‘form of formlessness’, the texture and fabric of awareness. They are one and the same. In actual case, thoughts think and sound hears. The observer has always been the observed. No watcher needed, the process itself knows and rolls as Venerable

    Finally, the state of Anatta is described as employing and then eventually transcending the I AM Awareness of Advaita to ascend to a higher state, where all experience both mental and physical is described as manifesting as luminous and free of all duality. What do you make of this?

    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.

    How can an experiencer (an independent and separate entity) actually experience anything? Without the conceptual notion of an experiencer (subject), appearances are relieved of their role as experiences (objects). There are no objects, just appearances whose nature is devoid of any subjectivity or objectivity. Sheer clarity – empty of intrinsic subjectivity or objectivity – is a marvelous thing to behold… Such a view releases experience of the limitations of subjective clinging and the sufferings of objective craving/aversion. It dissolves the inherent self, simultaneously installing non-duality / non-separation. It’s the Great Equalizer! *** The ocean IS as transient as the waves. The ocean is a conceptual overlay placed onto mere flowing water – which is also conceptually constructed. Water evaporates, rain falls, ocean reconfigurates. There is no permanent ocean outside of our static concept about it. Of course, the ocean/wave metaphor has limitations. The ocean has borders – the continents surrounding it, – which in a way makes it look more self-enclosed in a fixed identity. Now imagine that the whole of existence is a mere ocean. All there is, is fluxing water everywhere, no land to be found. Does it still make sense to talk about an ocean? The idea of the ‘whole’ is actually imputed on the particular instances of flowing water – or ungraspable wet liquidity. It is only a whole from the perspective of someone looking from some higher vantage point. But if the ocean is the entirety of reality there is no higher vantage point. So what is it that posits a ‘whole”? Can we feel how cozy, attractive and comfortable the idea of a whole is?
    Awareness is like the mere flowing water, the fluxing and impermanent substance of reality. But then it’s not different from saying that awareness is the mere luminosity of appearances or experience, not a separate knower, not an independent essence that stands on its own. Thoughts shine freely in open experience. Awareness, not being external or separate, is itself only the thoughts, not a witness. Awareness being itself only the thoughts, their mere substance, it is the mere shine of appearances, transiently rising and falling with them. This is much more freeing than seeing awareness as remaining untouched before, during and after appearances. Nothing sees. There is no seeing. What does seeing actually mean? That an entity sees something? That would be duality. That a mind morphs with the shape of some appearance? In that sense, the very morphing mind is reality itself, not a representation of something else. How is that considered seeing if it does not re-present something else? Why not call it a mere morphing mind – transient luminous activity? The seen cannot see, nor can the seer see, nor can the seeing see. Luminous activity alone is. Can we feel ourselves into the subtlety of this? Utter freedom exploding as merely ‘this’, beyond any possible duality of entities or natures (seen vs. seeing). How can a non-dual reality have a dual nature – transient appearances arising and falling in changeless awareness? This is the result of our very innate pull towards the position of the observer, the experiencer, the witness, the I am, the self. This prevents complete freedom, complete lack of identity springing from the insight into the utter transiency of everything. The only essence things have is their lack of essence, or, more clearly, the lack of there being things to begin with. __ Things are not actually self-known. They are intrinsically luminous, or self-shining. No knowingness is required. and ultimately, no individual things exist. Individuality is produced by conceptual thought. __ Non-dual awareness can have many different readings. What is being proposed is one that dispenses with the notion of awareness itself.
    Awareness is seen as nothing more than the luminosity intrinsic to the flow of appearances. Why the term awareness then (with all its identitary affiliations and limitations)? How can something infinite, appearing as myriad forms, be ‘one’ thing? What makes the awareness arising as the particle in the west universe the same as the awareness arising as the particle in east universe? The fact that the same substance pervades the whole universe doesn’t make that substance an essence in the sense of being unchanging or ever-present or transcendent of the things it substantializes. ___ < Conceptuality is none other than luminosity itself. Luminous activities building on top of luminous activities give rise to the sense of something existing beyond mere empty luminosity. Empty luminosity is a mere occurrence, lying beyond the limits of existence or non-existence, subjectivity or objectivity, self or other. Since it is beyond names, it is beyond characteristics. With the arising of names, comes the arising of characteristics and thus phenomena. The nature of luminosity is mere empty appearance. It appears because it is empty; it is empty because it appears. *** One moves from the small self into the big self, first as the unchanging witnessing awareness, later as the non-dual fluxing principle that is all of reality. At this stage there is no world independent of the observer, since the observer is the world. Finally, the idea of any kind of observer drops off, along with the belief in some knowing principle that always implies some duality, separation or distinction. All that is left is the naturally present luminous reality, free of being either object or subject. (However, the deconstruction of the subject side is far more important than the object. The presence of the luminous appearances is undeniable, while the presence of some knowing principle or witnessing awareness is clearly imputed onto experience. So the object is far more undeniable that the subject. Moreover, the temptation of imputing some identity onto the subject is far greater than onto the object – despite the fact that all the characteristics imputed onto the subject are actually objective…) *** Reality is empty of who (any personal identity – a truly existing self), what (any phenomenal identity – a truly existing phenomenon), where (any spatial identity – a truly existing space), when (any temporal identity – a truly existing time), why (any symbolic identity – a truly existing purpose or meaning), how (any final way of being – a truly existing emptiness). Reality transcends all ontological extremes. ***
    There is only dependent designation, only relative truth, mere colective consensus, conventional reality. Empty luminosity, as a ground, is itself mentally designated, having as its basis of designation appearances themselves. No appearances? No luminosity and no emptiness then. Like it is stated in the Heart Sutra, "Emptiness is not other than form[s]". The groundlessness of reality as mere convention goes full circle. All there is to reality is convention and agreed upon, relative labels. Like Dzongsar Khyentse Rimpoche says, both ultimate and relative truths are relative truths. The ultimate truth is that of the exclusive existence of conventional and fabricated reality. *** The knowing, in a way, owns what is known. Always seems to install a duality between knower and known. That's the problem with positing a knowing principle like mind or awareness. Moreover, knowing always seems to pressupose some kind of center, where the knowing ensues from. To drop this sense of knower, observer, experiencer, or even awareness or mind itself, is such a release, like being gutted out of some visceral ailment. There is an evident and clearly manifest luminosity that is free from subjectivity and objectivity, from being mind or matter, from being here or there, from being self or other. It's pure existence, unsubstantial but manifestly clear, empty but naturally present. __
    People who talk about awareness being like this or that make it into a thing, like they had seen it or experienced it in some way, which would make awareness an object, and not the subject. What is being shown is the absurd consequences of taking awareness to be either one with appearances or independent of the appearances. If awareness is separate from appearances, it's irrelevant to us creatures of the appearing world; if awareness is one with the appearances, it's nonsense to picture it as any type of self-sustained subjectivity, fixed identity or permanent principle. There is no experience of awareness coming and going, because there is no experience of awareness [that which knows] at all. All there is is the self-shining realm of unsubstantial, transient appearances. 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.” – John Tan, 2020 "awareness [seen as] other than what appears is alaya." – John Tan (alaya as still a subtle state of ignorance) First is what exactly is the ‘background’? Actually it doesn’t exist. It is only an image of a ‘non-dual’ experience that is already gone. The dualistic mind fabricates a ‘background’ due to the poverty of its dualistic and inherent thinking mechanism. It ‘cannot’ understand or function without something to hold on to. That experience of the ‘I’ is a complete, non-dual foreground experience. When the background subject is understood as an illusion, all transience phenomena reveal themselves as Presence. It is like naturally 'vipassanic' throughout. From the hissing sound of PC, to the vibration of the moving MRT train, to the sensation when the feet touches the ground, all these experiences are crystal clear, no less “I AM” than “I AM”. The Presence is still fully present, nothing is denied. -:) So the “I AM” is just like any other experiences when the subject-object split is gone. No different from an arising sound. It only becomes a static background as an afterthought when our dualistic and inherent tendencies are in action. The first 'I-ness' stage of experiencing awareness face to face is like a point on a sphere which you called it the center. You marked it. Then later you realized that when you marked other points on the surface of a sphere, they have the same characteristics. This is the initial experience of non-dual. Once the insight of No-Self is stabilized, you just freely point to any point on the surface of the sphere — all points are a center, hence there is no 'the' center. 'The' center does not exist: all points are a center.
    After then practice move from 'concentrative' to 'effortlessness'. That said, after this initial non-dual insight, 'background' will still surface occasionally for another few years due to latent tendencies… 86. RE: Is there an absolute reality? [Skarda 4 of 4] To be more exact, the so called 'background' consciousness is that pristine happening. There is no a 'background' and a 'pristine happening'. During the initial phase of non-dual, there is still habitual attempt to 'fix' this imaginary split that does not exist. It matures when we realized that anatta is a seal, not a stage; in hearing, always only sounds; in seeing always only colors, shapes and forms; in thinking, always only thoughts. Always and already so. -:) Many non-dualists after the intuitive insight of the Absolute hold tightly to the Absolute. This is like attaching to a point on the surface of a sphere and calling it 'the one and only center'. Even for those Advaitins that have clear experiential insight of no-self (no object-subject split), an experience similar to that of anatta (First emptying of subject) are not spared from these tendencies. They continue to sink back to a Source. It is natural to reference back to the Source when we have not sufficiently dissolved the latent disposition but it must be correctly understood for what it is. Is this necessary and how could we rest in the Source when we cannot even locate its whereabout? Where is that resting place? Why sink back? Isn't that another illusion of the mind? The 'Background' is just a thought moment to recall or an attempt to reconfirm the Source. How is this necessary? Can we even be a thought moment apart? The tendency to grasp, to solidify experience into a 'center' is a habitual tendency of the mind at work. It is just a karmic tendency. Realize It!
    But lets talk about a) substantialist/essentialist non-duality in summary: Such a person may have realized that their consciousness was never divided from manifestations, that all manifestations are none other than consciousness itself. However the karmic (deep conditioning) tendency to conceive of consciousness as an inherently existing, unchanging source and substratum of phenomena, remains — except consciousness is now seen to be undivided from its manifestation, so one subsumes everything to be modulations of Pure Consciousness. One sees that all phenomena are merely Consciousness displaying itself in various forms. Yet one does not equate the forms with consciousness — the forms are like passing light shows displayed on an unchanging screen/mirror, while the projections and reflections pass through inseparably from the base of the mirror without subject/object division, the underlying basis of consciousness remains unchanged. Hinduism can get as far to this point.
    No-Self in terms of what I call realization of Anatta But then there is where one realizes that not only is it the case that all forms are merely modulations of consciousness, in actual fact 'Awareness' or 'Consciousness' is truly and only Everything — in other words, there is no 'Awareness' or 'Consciousness' besides the very luminous manifestation of the aggregates, whatever is seen, heard, sensed, touched, cognized, smelled… Anatta is not merely a freeing of personality sort of experience; rather, there is an insight into the complete lack of a self/agent, a doer, a thinker, a watcher, etc, cannot be found apart from the moment to moment flow of manifestation. Non-duality is thoroughly seen to be always already so: here is effortlessness in the non-dual and one realizes that in seeing there is always just scenery (no seer or even seeing besides the colors) and in hearing, always just sounds (never a hearer or even a hearing besides the sounds). A very important point here is that Anatta/No-Self is a Dharma Seal, it is the nature of Reality all the time — and not merely as a state free from personality, ego or the ‘small self’ or a stage to attain. This means that it does not depend on the level of achievement of a practitioner to experience anatta but Reality has always been Anatta and what is important here is the intuitive insight into it as the nature, characteristic, of phenomenon (dharma seal). To illustrate further due to the importance of this seal, I would like to borrow a quote from the Bahiya Sutta ‘in the seeing, there is just the seen, no seer’, ‘in the hearing, there is just the heard, no hearer’… If a practitioner were to feel that he has gone beyond the experiences from ‘I hear sound’ to a stage of ‘becoming sound’ or takes that ‘there is just mere sound’, then this experience is again distorted. For in actual case, there is and always is only sound when hearing; never was there a hearer to begin with. Nothing attained for it is always so. This is the main difference between a momentary peak experience (lasting minutes or at most an hour) of non-duality, and a permanent quantum shift of perception that makes that peak experience become a permanent mode of perception. This is the seal of no-self and can be realized and experienced in all moments; not just a mere concept. In summary, after the realization of anatta of b), and even a), non-dual no longer becomes a passing peak experience that comes and goes, as the entire paradigm of consciousness, knot of perception, mental proliferation — the continuous activity of projecting a 'self' or 'subject/object dichotomy' is severed at a more fundamental level as the delusional framework through which one perceives the world is undermined. What I can say is that for me personally, for the past 9+ years after realizing anatta, I have not experienced the slightest sense of subject/object duality or agency at all, not even the slightest trace. That is gone for good and is not merely a peak experience here.
    This must be realized as a dharma seal. 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'. Therefore, I think it is important to stress on anatta as a realisation of dharma seal, which is to say, in seeing just the seen, never has there been a seer. This is not a stage where the sense of a seer dissolve into just the seen, as this can just be a stage without the prajna wisdom that pierces and sees through the construct of an internal reference point of a perceiver/inherently existing perceiving, as fundamentally illusory and empty 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).
    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.” 3) Are you aware of the seven factors of awakening taught by the Buddha? They are mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, stability of mind, and equanimity. This is how we should cultivate in our practice and also gauge where our practice is at. These are the factors to be cultivated, that leads to awakening and liberation. This However all these people described above are not just experiencing a 'passive experience of non-doership' — yet their sense of self is completely dissolved. What's the difference? They're not just 'passively watching things unfold on its own'. Far from merely watching things float by with passive disinterest from behind as some sort of dissociated watcher… They are totally focused, totally in the zone, totally engaged with their whole being/body-mind and their intentions in their action, till the gap between actor and action, doer and deed, observer and observed is refined till none, into that very activity itself. It is like the dissolution of subject/object not just in passively experiencing a sound without hearer or sight without seer, but also in that very full engagement of action without a separate actor. That is true non-action, which is not literally passive inactivity but non-dual action, action without the sense of self, or one's whole being is the action. It is total engagement in action without sense of self, not only without the sense of a doer, but also without the sense of being a passive watcher. As I said earlier, once realization of anatta arises, non-duality becomes the natural state and is realised to be always already the case. Initially after insight one may still be prone to experiencing non-duality in a state of passivity — just relaxing and letting the sensory experiences and events just arise in a non-dual state, experiencing no-self in a state of passivity like just enjoying the scenery to the point of completely forgetting the self in the vivid brilliance or luminosity of the scenery, the sounds, the sensations and aromas, etc — this time it is effortless and natural, without entry or exit — for one realizes that in seeing, seeing is just colors without seer, and hearing is just sounds without hearer. And yet mature insight into anatta also allows us the path to completely and gaplessly engage in actions to the point of dissolving all sense of self in that activity. The last stage of the ten oxherding pictures of Zen is called 'entering the marketplace'. The experience of total action/non-action/non-dual action is basically sort of like being in the zone as mentioned above, but the importance is realizing and actualizing this as a natural state in all activities, and that is only possible after realising anatta. After realising anatta (and not just non-doership), it is very natural and effortless to completely engage in activity to the point of leaving no trace of self and fully actualizing your true nature as that very activity.
    This is heavily emphasized in Zen, but even basic Theravada teachings can get you there if understood well. This non-dual action eventually matures into total exertion, which is emphasized in certain teachings like Soto Zen and Zen Master Dogen. Total exertion is like when you are eating, the whole universe is eating. When you walk, the whole sky and mountains walks with you. At this point, in every mundane experience and activity, you experience the infinitude of the universe exerting as that activity. Thusness: "[Total] Exertion is after the realization of seamless interdependence, the practitioner feels the universe giving its best to make this moment possible Like a river flowing into the ocean, the self dissolves into nothingness. When a practitioner becomes thoroughly clear about the illusionary nature of the 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. Even in the moment of subsiding (death), the yogi is thoroughly authenticated with that reality; experiencing the ‘Real’ as clear as it can be. We cannot lose that AMness; rather all things can only dissolve and re-emerges from it. The AMness has not moved, there is no coming and going. 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. Just that there is no 'insight' into its emptiness nature. Nothing stays and nothing to hold on to. What is real, is pristine and flows, what stays is illusion. The sinking back to a background or Source is due to being blinded by strong karmic propensities of a 'Self'. It is a layer of ‘bond’ that prevents us from ‘seeing’ something…it is very subtle, very thin, very fine…it goes almost undetected. What this ‘bond’ does is it prevents us from ‘seeing’ what “WITNESS” really is and makes us constantly fall back to the Witness, to the Source, to the Center. Every moment we want to sink back to Witness, to the Center, to this Beingness, this is an illusion. It is habitual and almost hypnotic. 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 All along manifestation alone is. The one hand claps Everything IS! The key also lies in 'You' but it is to "see" that there is no 'You' instead. It is to 'see' that there is never any do-er standing in the midst of phenomenal arising. There is just mere happening due to emptiness nature, never an 'I' doing anything. When the 'I' subsides, symbols, labels and the entire layer of conceptual realm goes with it. What is left without a 'doer' is a mere happening. And seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling and not only that, everything appears as purely spontaneous manifestation. A whole Presence of the manifold. Up to a certain stage after insight of non-duality, there is a hurdle. Somehow the practitioner cannot really "breakthrough" the spontaneity of non-duality. This is because of the latent deep 'view' cannot sync with non-dual experience.
    Hence, the realisation/insight into the Viewless View of Emptiness is necessary. (more on Emptiness later) Over the years I have refined the term “naturalness” into “spontaneously arise due to conditions”. When condition is, Presence Is. Not bounded within a space-time continuum. It helps to dissolve the centricity. Since appearance is all there is and appearance is really the source, what gives rise to the diversities of appearances? “Sweetness” of sugar isn’t the “blueness” color of the sky. Same applies to “AMness”… all are equally pure, no one state is purer than the other, only condition differs. Conditions are factors that give appearances their ‘forms’. In Buddhism, pristine awareness and conditions are inseparable. The 'bond' is greatly loosened after "no mirror reflecting". From blinking your eyes, raising a hand…jumps…flowers, 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. Smile During the process of transition from 'Witness' to 'no Witness' some experience the manifestation as itself being intelligence, some experience it as immense vitality, some experience it as tremendous clarity and some, all 3 qualities explode into one single moment. Even then the 'bond' is far from being completely eliminated, we know how subtle it can be 😉 . The principle of conditionality might help if you face problem in future (I know how a person feel after the experience of non-duality, they don't like 'religion'… 🙂 Just simply 4 sentences). When there is this, that is. With the arising of this, that arises. When this is not, neither is that. With the cessation of this, that ceases. In Buddhism, there is no eternality, only timeless continuity (timeless as in vividness in present moment but change and continue like a wave pattern). There is no changing thing, only change. 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. (See The Spell of Karmic Propensities) 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. … "A person in utter sincerity will realize that whenever he attempts to step out of Isness (although he can't), there is complete confusion. In truth, he cannot know anything in reality. If we haven’t had enough confusion and fear, Isness will not be fully appreciated. “I am not thoughts, I am not feelings, I am not forms, I am not all these, I am the Ultimate Eternal Witness.” is the ultimate identification. The transients that we shunt away are the very Presence we are seeking; it is a matter of living in Beingness or living in constant identification. Beingness flows and identification stays. Identification is any attempt to return to Oneness without knowing its nature is already non-dual. “I AM” is not knowing. I AM is Being. Being thoughts, Being feelings, Being Forms…There is no separate I from start. Either there is no you or you are all."

  9. Part 3

    In this confusing post the Tibetan School of Buddhism, Dzogchen is said to be superior to Advaita Vedanta. To me it appears Tzogchen is attempting to integrate facets of Hindu teachings of Atman with Emptiness?

    The type of “non-duality” that is rejected is a substantialist non-duality like that found in Advaita Vedanta, which asserts a singular, transpersonal nature that is solely valid. Dzogchen rejects this view (i) because it is substantialist and eternalist, and (ii) because relatively we do experience ontic dualities in the form of conventional juxtapositions. Moreover, the “non-dual” view of Dzogchen is emptiness free from extremes. This is how the Cuckoo of Vidyā can state ”The nature of diversity is non-dual,” because while refraining from negating a diverse array of discrete conventional entities, we understand that each discrete entity, being empty, is free from the dual extremes of existence and non-existence, hence “non-dual.”
    Thus the rang bzhin aspect of our nature appears as a diversity while being completely and totally inseparable from ka dag, or original purity, which is the Dzogchen treatment of emptiness free from extremes. As such, Dzogchen champions a “non-dual duality,” or a “dualistic non-duality,” as Malcolm says, “take your pick.” “In Ati, the pristine consciousness — subsumed by the consciousness that apprehends primordial liberation and the abiding basis as ultimate — is inseparable in all buddhas and sentient beings as a mere consciousness. Since the ultimate pervades them without any nature at all, it is contained within each individual consciousness.” Excerpt From: Ācārya Malcolm Smith. “Buddhahood in This Life: The Great Commentary by Vimalamitra”.
    A “transpersonal” jñāna would be a single, universal instance of jñāna that is shared by all sentient beings. Instead jñāna is a generic characteristic like the heat of fire or the wetness of water, indentical in expression in each unique conventional instance but since the mind it represents the nature of is personal, belonging to a discrete entity, we do not say that there is a single, transpersonal, universal jñāna as an entity itself that is collectively shared. If the ultimate has no nature then why label it ‘pristine consciousness that pervades’? It “pervades” consciousnesses in the same way wetness, as an identical quality, pervades each and every instance of water. Ultimately there are no minds, no sentient beings etc., but conventionally we say there are discrete instances. When we negate entities from the stand point if the way things really are, we don’t then assert that there is a single extant purusa that is established in their place. jñāna is a property of the individual. If you have a mind then you have jñāna., ultimately there is nothing at all. This is the meaning of the exhaustion of dharmatā at the end of the Dzogchen path. Since all dharmas are realized to be non-arisen, their dharmatā or nature likewise cannot be said to remain. Jñāna [ye shes] is after all simply the dharmatā or nature of our mind. Our citta dharmatā or cittatā [sems nyid]. Nevertheless, at the time of the result there are still appearances that manifest as the non-dual expressions of one’s own primordial state. The exhaustion of dharmatā does not actually mean everything disappears into some blank void. It just means we are totally liberated from everything, even jñāna. We are liberated because there is nothing at all? Ultimately no dharmas at all, no conditioned phenomena. And in classic buddhadharmic fashion, Dzogchen considers that a dharmatā, a “nature,” is the nature of an apparently conditioned entity, a dharmin. Upon realizing the nature [dharmatā] of the dharmin, the dharmin is recognized to have never arisen in the first place, it cannot be found anywhere. That absence of arising is the dharmatā to be realized. And so we do not then state that the dharmatā as such continues to be a dharmatā. With the exhaustion of the dharmin, dharmatā is also exhausted because the objective to be realized in relation to the dharmin has been realized, and the absence of arising is now known. This is a non-reductive system. Nothing is actually reifed as being established at the end of the path. Just an array of illusory appearances.
    In the context of dzogchen a ground-of-being is indeed posited, however for dzogchen the ground of being (and non-being, both & neither) is only ignorance (avidyā). This idea that phenomena only arise due to our habitual tendencies of grasping and clinging is a very important aspect of Buddhism which separates it from the Vedantic traditions. Traditions such as Advaita Vedanta and the like which posit a transcendental ground-of-being from which phenomena (as expressions of that ground) arise and subside. This is not the model that Buddhism employs, nor is it the model that dzogchen uses.”…The ground of samsara and nirvana is the ālaya (ignorance), the beginning and the end of confusion and realization….” The term ālaya is a Sanskrit term which translates to kun gzhi in Tibetan, meaning ‘all-ground’ or the ‘ground of all’, ‘universal ground’ etc… So the notion of a ‘ground of being’ is put in perspective. Dzogchen does not posit a ground of being apart from the discursive elaborations of ignorance and imputation. When one’s condition is purified of ignorance it is known that reality is non-arisen and unborn… emptiness. Hence the key term in the first translation Jackson cited: ‘unoriginated’. The translation of ālaya (kun gzhi) as ‘ground of being’ is a viable option for translation, though in truth the ālaya is the ground of all 4 extremes (being, non-being, both and neither), leaving it at ‘ground of being’ (without context) again appears to be advocating for a Brahman-type source of phenomena which is not the case in the least. ( All conditioned phenomena are a product of ignorance, according to Dzogchen view, and so therefore, everything is not real. The basis of that ignorance is the basis, which is also not established as real. In Dzogchen, everything is unreal, from top to bottom. The basis, in Dzogchen, is described as being “empty not established in any way at all”. If the basis is not real, then whatever arises from that basis is not real.
    In Dzoghen, dependent origination begins from the non-recognition of the state of the basis, when this happens, one enters into grasping self and other, and then the chain of dependent origination begins.” ~ http://www.atikosha.org/2010/11/rigpa-ii.ht “I put together a brief overview, composed of some entries I’ve written before that are tethered together with new writing. It is a lot, but hopefully it sort of paints a picture of the differences between these two views: In Dzogchen we are working with our own mind, and our mind is personal, it is our own as opposed to someone else’s. My mind is not your mind, and vice versa. And each of our mind’s has its own noetic capacity, or “awareness”, which are distinct and separate. This model is quite different from Advaita Vedanta, for example, which proposes a single transpersonal awareness. So whereas the awareness of Vedanta is a global and all-encompassing, ontological principle, the species of awareness proposed by Dzogchen (and other Buddhist tenet systems in general) is relegated to an individuated mind-continuum. And this is the major difference. Advaita is saying there is a single, ontological continuum that subsumes all minds, collectively, and all phenomena. This is like saying that all fires have the very same continuum of heat, akin to a singular field of heat that alone exists and extends through every instance of fire. That is why their model is “transpersonal”, because their ultimate is not expressed in distinct minds, but rather every instance of allegedly personal consciousness is actually part of a single overarching continuum. However that is not the Buddhist view works. In Buddhism, each mind has its own nature. Each and every nature is the same in that they share the same generic characteristic, but those natures are not the “same” as in a single, all-encompassing, ontological field. They are simply identical in that they all share the same characteristic. Just two candles are not actually sharing the same heat that extends through space between them. The candle flames simply share a characteristic of “heat”, yet each instance of heat is distinct and separate, belonging to the specific flame in question. This is the same for the nature of our mind. Differences like this used to confuse me and I didn’t really understand how Dzogchen could eventually get to a free and liberating place while founding its praxis on what appeared to be a limited view of individual minds and so on. But interestingly enough it does in fact allow for that apparent separation to collapse or fall away, it just does it in a different manner than Advaita does. One of the most vital principles to understand in this respect is one that is a prominent tenet of Mahayana, and that is the “two-truths”, which are (i) relative truth (and also conventional truth), and (ii) ultimate truth.
    These ideas that are found in Madhyamaka and so on will be important to understand when approaching Dzogchen. Why are they important? Because in Buddhism and Dzogpachenpo minds are not held to be real, they are merely conventional, and this is very important to understand, because this conventional status is what allows for one’s mind to be unique and distinct, while at the same time ultimately being devoid of subtantiality. Conventional truth is essentially going to be the world of plain old everyday things. We can say that “conventions” in the context we are concerned with here is the working idea of a person, place, thing, etc. Other examples of conventions that Greg Goode has pointed out before are “Gestures, customs, ethics, esthetic tastes, norms and standards, rules, laws, fashion, language as a whole. Teachings and traditions, etc.” But in general a conventional “truth” is going to be defined as “something can be tacitly accepted as long as it is not critically investigated, that is characterized by arising and decay, and that has causal effectivity.” Or at least that is how an Indian scholar named Śāntarakṣita defines “conventional truth”. I find it to be an apt definition. So in that way conventional truth is going to be something (even everyday things) that appear to function smoothly, but if closely investigated will be revealed as false (and Buddhism does say that everything is ultimately false, so to speak). Conventional truth is then contrasted with “ultimate truth”, which is the emptiness of a given convention. So a car is a convention, and the emptiness of the car is the ultimate truth of the car. The cat is a convention, and the emptiness of the cat is the ultimate truth of the cat. Conventional truth is also a subdivision of what is called “relative truth”, and relative truth is the way things appear to a mind that confuses things to be real. When we perceive a person, place or thing and mistake those things to be truly real, having originated (birth) at a certain point in time, and susceptible to decay or destruction (death), this is relative truth. Now, you may have heard that Dzogchen does not employ the two-truths model, and it is true Dzogchen does not. But a general understanding of relative and ultimate truth is important because in Dzogchen, relative truth becomes what is called “ma rig pa” or “ignorance”, and ultimate truth becomes what is called “rig pa” or “knowledge”.Why are rigpa and marigpa important? This dichotomy is really carries the entire view of Dzogchen, and this goes back to the idea of relative and ultimate truths.
    As noted above, we have our own mind, and we take our mind to be truly established and real, we believe our mind to belong to us, an existent entity, and therefore we also believe that our mind exists as well (which means it can cease to exist). In Dzogchen and Buddhism in general, this notion that our mind is truly substantial and conditioned (capable of existing and not-existing) is called “ignorance” or “marigpa”. The perception of a real and enduring entity that abides in time and exists separately from an objective universe that is truly established is held to be delusion. And because it is delusion, Dzogchen states that this is not the way things really are. The true nature of our mind is that it is unborn, primordial, free from the extremes of existence and non-existence, unsullied and perfect. However we do not recognize this, and because we don’t recognize this we mistake our minds to be a subjective cognitive capacity that is the foundation for a conditioned entity that was born and will eventually die, and this is the root of suffering. That misconception of a conditioned mind that acts as the foundation for a truly existent, individual entity is “marigpa”, and the point of Dzogchen, is to recognize the true nature of that mind. When we recognize the nature of our mind, then we are no longer ignorant of the way things really are, and instead we have a direct, experiential knowledge of “the way things really are”. That knowledge is called “rig pa”. As a general term in Tibetan, rig pa means “knowing”, “intelligence” etc. However in the context of Dzogchen, rig pa is the opposite of “ma rig pa” which is “ignorance”, specifically an ignorance of our nature. So as the opposite of “ignorance”, rig pa means something like knowledge, a knowledge of your nature. However it is not an intellectual or conceptual knowledge, but rather an experiential knowledge. For example, if you have tasted chocolate then you have a direct knowledge of its experiential nature, the flavor of sweetness or bitterness etc., you know that taste and would be able to identify it again even if you were blindfolded and it was placed in your mouth, you have a knowledge of that taste. So rig pa is an experiential knowledge like that, it is a direct knowledge of the nature of your mind. Rig pa is synonymous with “shes rab” which in Sanskrit is prajñā.

    Why is recognition of the nature of mind important? And why does it not entail the recognition of an ontological and unconditioned absolute like Advaita Vedanta? This sort of gets into the whole “cause and condition” side of this equation, where the perception of real entities (persons, places, things, etc.) is caused by a certain type of ignorance. And that being the case, the very cognition of real entities (or what is called “conditioned phenomena” such as an internal, personal self, or external, impersonal objects) quite literally arises because of that ignorance and is therefore fundamentally no different than that ignorance. And in this sense, when one realizes that said apparently real entities are actually empty of inherency, that realization or epiphany is really just a cessation of cause [ignorance] for the arising of the perception of those entities. Meaning; it is simply a cessation of ignorance. In that way there is either the presence of ignorance, and the results of ignorance, or the cessation of ignorance and the results of that cessation, but an underlying, substantial nature (like we would find in Vedanta) is not part of that process. So in Dzogchen for example, it is said that there is one basis [which is essentially the emptiness of phenomena] and two paths: (i) ignorance [marigpa] of that emptiness, and (ii) knowledge [rigpa] of that emptiness. Those two paths lead in opposite directions, one (marigpa) leading to suffering and samsara, and the second (rigpa) leads to liberation and nirvana. And both are based on either the recognition, or non-recognition that phenomena are empty and lack substantiality. The “nature” of phenomena, as in their “ultimate” nature is simply that they are non-arisen and thus unconditioned. This means that so-called “ultimate truth” is nothing more than a name that is attributed to the cessation of cause for the arising of the misconception of conditioned entities. It is not some “thing” or “principle” that is “of itself” or “indivisible” like in Advaita Vedanta.
    This is why the Mahāyāna goes to great lengths to show how emptiness is also empty, and this is why emptiness and dependent origination are called “profound”. Emptiness is empty, because if the conditioned was not established to begin with, then the so-called unconditioned is simply a designation that is implemented conventionally from the standpoint of the relative to demonstrate that the conditioned is actually a misconception. Entities that are misconceptions have never actually arisen, as they are merely figments of ignorance. And so when ignorance ceases, the misperception of conditioned entities also ceases, and thus one recognizes that those so-called conditioned entities were unreal from the very beginning. That realization of non-arising is precisely a recognition of the ultimate nature of those alleged entities that are cognized from the standpoint of the relative. Since those conditioned entities are not established, their “unconditioned” nature is simply pointing to the potentiality to recognize that they are unreal, and in this way, the so-called “ultimate” is nothing more than the cessation of the misconception of conditioned, relative entities. This means that said ultimate is not something real in-and-of-itself. For example: if we were to see a mirage in the desert that looked like water and were ignorant of the fact that the appearance (of water) is merely a mirage, we may mistakenly think that water to be real. Someone who knows it is a mirage may say, “no, the ultimate nature of that water is that it is an illusion, it is a mirage and isn’t real.” And so we would then know (at least inferentially) that the water is merely an insubstantial appearance. When we directly discover that “ultimate mirage nature” then we too will directly and experientially know that the water is “essenceless”. But initially, for the sake of communicating that essenceless nature, one may state that there is an “essential nature” which is not being recognized so that others know not to take the appearance at face value, as something real.

    The Vedantin view is different in that it says the mirage would have an actual essence, that is truly established, and that said essence is all-encompassing, and your true identity. It is a vastly different view. This means the assumptions behind phenomena not being different than their unconditioned nature in Advaita is that all phenomena are actually in truth, perversions of an established unconditioned existent, and that essence is truly substantiated, real, and singular. Not to mention that it is transpersonal. This is directly in conflict with Dzogchen and other Buddhist systems. In Dzogchen, dharmas or conditioned entities are byproducts of afflicted action, primarily the action of grasping which is predicated upon ignorance. This means that conditioned entities are byproducts of delusion, and their apparent existence is maintained by clinging and habitual karmic tendencies. When that ignorance is severed, and karmic propensities are exhausted, the individual simply recognizes that phenomena have never arisen in the first place. But, this means that the so-called “unconditioned” nature of that phenomena is not real, because this would mean that figments of ignorance somehow possess a substantial essence. This is impossible, because something that has never been real to begin with cannot possess a real essence or unconditioned nature. So this means that realization in Dzogchen and in Buddhism is simply a cessation, and specifically a cessation of cause for the arising of affliction. The delusion of conditioned entities arises with ignorance, and the cessation of ignorance means that one recognzes that conditioned entities never arose in the first place, which for the sake of communication is described as recognizing that the “conditioned” is in fact “unconditioned”. But that “unconditioned” nature is only valid in relation to the initial ignorance that mistook appearances to be “conditioned”, it is not something that exists by itself like it does in Advaita.

    This is why adepts such as Nāgārjuna state: “Since arising, abiding and perishing are not established, the conditioned is not established; since the conditioned is never established, how can the unconditioned be established?” To add, the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-śāstra states: “Outside of the saṃskṛtas [conditioned dharmas], there are no asaṃskṛta [unconditioned dharmas], and the true nature [bhūtalakṣaṇa] of the saṃskṛta is exactly asaṃskṛta. The saṃskṛtas being empty, etc. the asaṃskṛtas themselves are also empty, for the two things are not different. Besides, some people, hearing about the defects of the saṃskṛtadharmas, become attached [abhiniveśante] to the asaṃskṛtadharmas and, as a result of this attachment, develop fetters.” Going on to say that the person who rejects the saṃskṛtas is attached to the asaṃskṛtas by attributing to them the characteristics of non-production [anutpāda], and by the very fact of this attachment those asaṃskṛtas are immediately transformed into saṃskṛtas. Which, as I have pointed out before; is equivalent to the act of turning dharmatā (the unconditioned nature of phenomena) into a dharmin (a conditioned phenomenon) by considering it to be a separate, existent, unconditioned, free-standing nature. It should instead be understood that the very non-arising of conditioned dharmas [saṃskṛtadharmas] is the unconditioned [saṃskṛta] dharmatā. It is an epistemic realization which dispels ignorance by severing the causes and conditions for invalid cognition… not an ontological essence that exists on its own (that is what Vedanta teaches).” Kyle wrote quite well, you better save it again. The conventional truth however can be explained with more vivid examples as in how it provides functional validity in daily usage but when those referents referred by the conventions when investigated with ultimate analysis are realized to be empty. The problem is the mind is so hypnotized that even if you read a thousand times about how conventions when sought and investigated are empty, the mind just can’t understand and is unable to break-through. Next one must differentiate correctly the difference between realizing the NATURE of mind and phenomena as empty and non-arising and having direct experiential taste of phenomena itself. It is not just a direct non-dual and non-conceptual experience of mind and phenomena. The former is about realizing whatever (phenomenon) that appears to arise has never truly arisen other than a confused mind ascribing true existence to an appearing mirage and trapping itself in the extremes of samsaric existence. As for the latter, you will almost end up having a substantial view that all phenomena originate from Awareness and is Awareness. Awareness is primordial and non-dual. Lastly, in my opinion, over-emphasis of the nature of mind/phenomena can still lead one to err towards the ultimate. To understand emptiness and non-arising, we must understand from the view of dependent arising. That is, emphasis should not be just about the nature of mind and phenomena as empty and non-arising but rather in realizing whatever dependently originates (dependent arising) is empty and non-arising (does not originate, abide and cease but only mistaken to be so) then we will not neglect causes and conditions and the conventional.

    1. ====================
      Buddhism’s Dzogchen tradition sees itself as superior to the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. Dzogchen rejects Advaita’s view of a singular, transpersonal “non-duality”, arguing that it is substantialist and eternalist. Instead, Dzogchen proposes a “non-dual duality” where diversity arises from a ground of emptiness.

      Advaita same the same thing in a different language: Diversity (saguna) arises from ground of emptiness (nirguna). In Advaita language: There is one reality, called Brahman. Brahman enjoys capacity to manifest diversity through it’s power. Thus whatever is manifest, is essentially an appearance of Brahman, has no existence apart from Brahman, and is Brahman.

      In Dzogchen, there is no single, universal “pristine consciousness” shared by all beings. Rather, individual minds have their own distinct yet identical natures, like the heat of fire is shared by different flames. Ultimately, there are no real, inherently existing minds or beings.

      They’re in contradiction. They claim non-dual nature, yet follow up with “distinct yet identical natures.”

      Non-dual means, one appearing as many. One consciousness, taking on different forms. Form of bird, form of your brain cell, form of your thought, emotion. But also of my thought, emotion.

      What is consciousness? That which lights up the appearances which are constantly in flux.

      Dzogchen sees the “ground of being” not as a transcendental absolute, but as ignorance (avidya). Phenomena arise due to habitual tendencies of grasping, not from an underlying metaphysical ground. The true nature of reality is emptiness.

      This is too abstract to comment. “Ground of being” is not something Advaita mentions. It’s a term coined within Dzogchen.

      Realization is the recognition that conditioned phenomena have never truly arisen in the first place.

      Exactly same view of Advaita.

      For Dzogchen, the “unconditioned” is not some substantial, eternal essence. It’s simply the lack of the conditions that create the illusion of conditioned phenomena.

      In presence of consciousness , I come to know of conditions, or lack of conditions.

      Simple logic: In order to tell “conditioned” and “unconditioned”, implies a presence of a being who is neither conditioned nor unconditioned. If consciousness (self) were unconditioned, then it couldn’t reveal conditioned phenomena. And if consciousness (self) were conditioned with some attribute like blue, then it couldn’t reveal absence of conditions (such as not-blue).

      Therefore consciousness is a reality which is neither Conditioned or unconditioned.

  10. Part 4

    And here they claim that all phenomena arises spontaneously without any underlying essence or divine will to set it in motion. This seems illogical to me because everything must have a cause for it to exist. Something cannot come from nothing. Yet the Buddhists claim to find enlightenment in denying the Absolute essence.

    However ever since incorporating the teaching of dependent origination into non-dual presence, over the years it has become more ‘accessible’ but never has this been understood as a ground state. There seems to be a predictable relationship of seeing interdependent arising and emptiness on the experience of non-dual presence. A week ago, the clear experience of Maha dawned and became quite effortless and at the same time there is a direct realization that it is also a natural state. In Sunyata, Maha is natural and must be fully factored into the path of experiencing whatever arises. Nevertheless Maha as a ground state requires the maturing of non-dual experience; we cannot feel entirely as the interconnectedness of everything coming spontaneously into being as this moment of vivid manifestation with a divided mind. The universe is this arising thought. The universe is this arising sound. Just this magnificent arising!
    On Spontaneous Perfection
    Lastly, when these 2 experiences inter-permeate, what is really needed is simply to experience whatever arises openly and unreservedly. It may sound simple but do not underestimate this simple path; even aeon lives of practices cannot touch the depth of its profundity. In fact all the subsections — “On Stanza One”, “On Stanza Two”, “On Emptiness”, there is already certain emphasis of the natural way. With regards to the natural way, I must say that spontaneous presence and experiencing whatever arises openly, unreservedly and fearlessly is not the ‘path’ of any tradition or religion — Be it Zen, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Advaita, Taoism or Buddhism. That said, the natural and spontaneous way is often misrepresented. It should not be taken to mean that there is no need to do anything or practice is unnecessary. Rather it is the deepest insight of a practitioner that after cycles and cycles of refining his insights on the aspect of anatta, emptiness and dependent origination, he suddenly realized that anatta is a seal and non-dual luminosity and emptiness have always been ‘the ground’ of all experiences. Practice then shift from ‘concentrative’ to ‘effortless’ mode and for this it requires the complete pervading of non-dual and emptiness insights into our entire being like how “dualistic and inherent views” has invaded consciousness. In any case, care must be taken not to make our empty and luminous nature into a metaphysical essence. I will end with a comment I wrote in another blog Luminous Emptiness as it summarizes pretty well what I have written. 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 pristine-ness” 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 ‘selfness’ yet unknowingly grasped ‘nowness’ and ‘hereness’. 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 anyway 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! PS: We should not treat the insight of emptiness as ‘higher’ than that of non-dual luminosity. It is just different insights dawning due to differing conditions. To some practitioners, the insight of our empty nature comes before non-dual luminosity. Additionally, we have to understand the relationship between non-doership and total exertion — allowing the totality of the situations to exert itself. Seen from one side of the coin, it is complete “effortlessness” of radiance, and seen from another side, it is the exertion of the totality of conditions.
    In the ultimate sense, there do not even exist such things as mental states, i.e. stationary things. Feeling, perception, consciousness, etc., are in reality mere passing processes of feeling, perceiving, becoming conscious, etc., within which and outside of which no separate or permanent entity lies hidden. Thus a real understanding of the Buddha’s doctrine of kamma and rebirth is possible only to one who has caught a glimpse of the egoless nature, or //anattata//, and of the conditionality, or //idappaccayata//, of all phenomena of existence.
    Here the Buddhists claim that Karma has no divine cause but merely carries on in a mechanistic way?

    Everywhere, in all the realms of existence, the noble disciple sees only mental and corporeal phenomena kept going through the concatenation of causes and effects. No producer of the volitional act or kamma does he see apart from the kamma, no recipient of the kamma-result apart from the result. And he is well aware that wise men are using merely conventional language, when, with regard to a kammical act, they speak of a doer, or with regard to a kamma-result, they speak of the recipient of the result. No doer of the deeds is found, No one who ever reaps their fruits; Empty phenomena roll on: This only is the correct view. And while the deeds and their results Roll on and on, conditioned all, There is no first beginning found, Just as it is with seed and tree. … No god, no Brahma, can be called The maker of this wheel of life: Empty phenomena roll on, Dependent on conditions all. In the //Milindapanha// the King asks Nagasena: “What is it, Venerable Sir, that will be reborn?” “A psycho-physical combination (//nama-rupa//), O King.” “But how, Venerable Sir? Is it the same psycho-physical combination as this present one?” “No, O King. But the present psycho-physical combination produces kammically wholesome and unwholesome volitional activities, and through such kamma a new psycho-physical combination will be born.”

  11. Thank you very much for your responses, Andre. I understand the articles I quoted were a lot to read through. Your explanations have been insightful and illuminating.

    Thanks to your help, I feel like I have a much better understanding of the nature of Atma from the Vedantic perspective.

    I will be sure to read the book you recommended as well.

    Take care


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