Thursday, July 11, 2013

Excerpts From An Email Discussing Anattā

Excerpts from an e-mail I wrote to someone:

...You said that the quality of Awareness is unchanging and timeless. I was wondering whether you meant quality as simply like a taste, or as really a changeless, substantial context of contents like Brahman?

Here's another sharing from my experience. In my own practice, my view of Awareness (originally as something ultimate and changeless and independent) has been refined several times. First was the direct realization of Awareness in Feb '10... the experience was non-dual but the view was dualistic. After that realization, there was still this sense that Awareness is the background space or witnessing presence that is unaffected and unchanged behind all phenomena. Consciousness is seen like a formless container in and from which all phenomena arises and subsides. The (false, dualistic) view dualifies an originally non-dual experience. Later on since Aug 2010 I started to have very vivid glimpse and understanding of the non-dual nature of that Awareness... the sense of a Witness behind phenomena collapses into a seamless oneness where awareness and manifestation are indistinguishably One. However, there was still this lingering sense that the Awareness is an unchanging context, however, this time it is seen as 'merged' or as ever 'inseparable' from its changing contents. This Awareness is still seen as something ultimate and changeless. So basically I was becoming purified of the dualistic view but the 'inherent view of Awareness' is still there. During that time, sometimes there were experience of no-mind where the sense of hearer/seer/awareness-as-background-source is totally gone and there is only sound, only scenery, and that sound/scenery is precisely consciousness... however due to lack of clarity and a latent view (subconsciously held/uninvestigated position, assumption, framework) those experiences were passing peak experiences, as the wrong view prevents the direct knowledge despite clear vivid experience.

But in October 2010, by contemplating on Bahiya Sutta, 'in seeing just the seen, in hearing just the heard', the entire notion of Awareness as a standalone ultimate unaffected by change was suddenly seen through and dropped in what I call the "Realization of Anatta"... it's now seen that what we call 'Awareness', is simply and only self-luminous manifestation - what's seen, what's heard, what's sensed... all changing moment to moment. Even the 'formless presence' is just more manifestation/activity and not reified into something changeless like a context or source behind content. There's a sense of timelessness here, like every transient form is whole, complete and non-moving (there isn't a self as distinct from time so time isn't seen as passing by, i.e. Being-Time of Dogen)... but no sense of a substantially unchanged Awareness containing or even being inseparable from forms.

After Anatta there is no more subsuming to a background or context or source, i.e. subsuming 'sounds as arising in (or even 'as') the underlying consciousness therefore/while consciousness doesn't change' or as if consciousness is the 'source and substance of everything'... instead when we see sound-consciousness, there is no such thing as sound and sound-consciousness, that sound is the sound-consciousness. In Anatta realization it's seen that there isn't a hearer/seer or consciousness besides sound, scenery, etc... it's not the same as my previous substantialist non-dual view which is basically "hearer, hearing and heard are indistinguishably inseparable" (in this case there is still a substantial changeless Subject/Awareness that is nonetheless inseparable from experience). There is clear insight into no-agency and the conventional imputation of "awareness" or "subject"... At this point it is also understood that the realization of anatta is not simply a state of experience of no-mind where self/Self is totally forgotten. Anatta requires realization and clarity of view. Anatta is the realization that "always already, in seeing, (there is always) just the seen, no seer. In hearing, (there is always) just sound, no hearer." Anatta is a dharma seal, the nature of mind/phenomena, and not merely a stage of forgetting self/Subject like no-mind experience. But no-mind experience does become seamless/effortless after realization due to freedom from obscuration of false view.

In undergoing this purification of view, the luminous awareness of experience is never denied but no longer reified or clung to in a substantive manner, instead everything is just total exertion of one single activity. The sense of a "background" or "context" of 'awareness' too is simply a mental image of a previous foreground and non-dual activity reified into a context behind change.

This purification of view (not that I gained a new view that I hold onto conceptually, but more like a seeing and dissolving of an old delusion) leads to a complete release of effort and struggle and attachment in trying to 'abide in' something Ultimate that I deemed as a context, changeless, ultimate etc... instead there is a natural non-dual opening and release as the transience, the manifestation. After this I also understood the clear difference between the non-dual traditions of Advaita Vedanta/Kashmir Shaivism and Buddhism. I'm not a sectarian person and I have a lot of appreciation for Advaita (it has helped me in the past) but later come to clarity from experience that there are indeed some crucial differences, with Advaita/KS leaning towards an eternalistic/substantialist kind of view that is reprimanded by Buddha (in particular the 4th case of partial-eternalism in Brahmajali Sutta), therefore I distinguish between "substantialist non-dual or one mind" and "insubstantial non-dual of anatta". I am however a little disappointed that many teachers even in Buddhism (not pointing at you here, but what I've seen over many years in many traditions) are unable to distinguish these views, however I am very confident that teachers like Dogen are extremely clear about it.

On the other hand, the quality of luminosity (not distinct from each and every manifestation be it form or formless) has never been lost, so it is not the case that I am suggesting a nihilistic view. Most of the Advaita-leaning teachers say that everything is Awareness but Awareness is not (synonymous with) everything. But I see 'Awareness' as simply a label or imputation collating the everything (the six senses) like weather is a label collating the everchanging clouds and rain etc... or just like heat is to fire and wetness is to water or sweetness is to sugar, the taste or characteristic is always similar but never been apart from manifestation... just like you can't talk about wetness apart from water there is no way of talking about Awareness other than as manifestation... or nature of mind apart from mind or a mind apart from all mental activities... awareness never had an independent/changeless existence other than mere manifestation in all its diversity and uniqueness. Then there is no more leaving 'traces' of even an 'Absolute' or attempting to reference back and hold on to a 'familiar state of consciousness that persists unchanged'. But it is also my experience and many others that there is usually a deep unwillingness to let go of the ultimate initially... so there is usually a period of painstaking process of challenging, confronting, and deconstructing one's mental constructs before the magical and blinding spell or veil (obscuring that "manifestation before you in its completeness") of our deep conditionings/ignorance is lifted, after which, everything is indeed simple, natural and effortless without confusion of false view (nor is there a need to remind or think conceptually of "right view" "anatta" "no-self" etc, even though I may write and express it in words when necessary). Many however prefer to attempt to only rest in non-conceptual simplicity and awareness right from the beginning without confronting their delusions... but that, in my experience, has not been very fruitful and liberating, even though non-conceptual presence and awareness is definitely essential to one's practice as well, delusions always persist through states of non-conceptuality, as a friend Kyle Dixon posted in my facebook dharma group "Dharma Connection" before:

"The process of eradicating avidyā (ignorance) is conceived… not as a mere stopping of thought, but as the active realization of the opposite of what ignorance misconceives. Avidyā is not a mere absence of knowledge, but a specific misconception, and it must be removed by realization of its opposite. In this vein, Tsongkhapa says that one cannot get rid of the misconception of 'inherent existence' merely by stopping conceptuality any more than one can get rid of the idea that there is a demon in a darkened cave merely by trying not to think about it. Just as one must hold a lamp and see that there is no demon there, so the illumination of wisdom is needed to clear away the darkness of ignorance."
Napper, Elizabeth, 2003, p. 103"

There's another Soto Zen teacher who shared the same appreciation of the Bahiya Sutta and spoke about his awakening to Anatta:

Also, I like what Dogen has said about this (I've posted this in my blog too) regarding the Advaitic "Senika" view:

From Bendowa

Question Ten:

Some have said: Do not concern yourself about birth-and-death. There is a way to promptly rid yourself of birth-and-death. It is by grasping the reason for the eternal immutability of the 'mind-nature.' The gist of it is this: although once the body is born it proceeds inevitably to death, the mind-nature never perishes. Once you can realize that the mind-nature, which does not transmigrate in birth-and-death, exists in your own body, you make it your fundamental nature. Hence the body, being only a temporary form, dies here and is reborn there without end, yet the mind is immutable, unchanging throughout past, present, and future. To know this is to be free from birth-and-death. By realizing this truth, you put a final end to the transmigratory cycle in which you have been turning. When your body dies, you enter the ocean of the original nature. When you return to your origin in this ocean, you become endowed with the wondrous virtue of the Buddha-patriarchs. But even if you are able to grasp this in your present life, because your present physical existence embodies erroneous karma from prior lives, you are not the same as the sages.

"Those who fail to grasp this truth are destined to turn forever in the cycle of birth-and-death. What is necessary, then, is simply to know without delay the meaning of the mind-nature's immutability. What can you expect to gain from idling your entire life away in purposeless sitting?"

What do you think of this statement? Is it essentially in accord with the Way of the Buddhas and patriarchs?

Answer 10:

You have just expounded the view of the Senika heresy. It is certainly not the Buddha Dharma.

According to this heresy, there is in the body a spiritual intelligence. As occasions arise this intelligence readily discriminates likes and dislikes and pros and cons, feels pain and irritation, and experiences suffering and pleasure - it is all owing to this spiritual intelligence. But when the body perishes, this spiritual intelligence separates from the body and is reborn in another place. While it seems to perish here, it has life elsewhere, and thus is immutable and imperishable. Such is the standpoint of the Senika heresy.

But to learn this view and try to pass it off as the Buddha Dharma is more foolish than clutching a piece of broken roof tile supposing it to be a golden jewel. Nothing could compare with such a foolish, lamentable delusion. Hui-chung of the T'ang dynasty warned strongly against it. Is it not senseless to take this false view - that the mind abides and the form perishes - and equate it to the wondrous Dharma of the Buddhas; to think, while thus creating the fundamental cause of birth-and-death, that you are freed from birth-and-death? How deplorable! Just know it for a false, non-Buddhist view, and do not lend a ear to it.

I am compelled by the nature of the matter, and more by a sense of compassion, to try to deliver you from this false view. You must know that the Buddha Dharma preaches as a matter of course that body and mind are one and the same, that the essence and the form are not two. This is understood both in India and in China, so there can be no doubt about it. Need I add that the Buddhist doctrine of immutability teaches that all things are immutable, without any differentiation between body and mind. The Buddhist teaching of mutability states that all things are mutable, without any differentiation between essence and form. In view of this, how can anyone state that the body perishes and the mind abides? It would be contrary to the true Dharma.

Beyond this, you must also come to fully realize that birth-and-death is in and of itself nirvana. Buddhism never speaks of nirvana apart from birth-and-death. Indeed, when someone thinks that the mind, apart from the body, is immutable, not only does he mistake it for Buddha-wisdom, which is free from birth-and-death, but the very mind that makes such a discrimination is not immutable, is in fact even then turning in birth-and-death. A hopeless situation, is it not?

You should ponder this deeply: since the Buddha Dharma has always maintained the oneness of body and mind, why, if the body is born and perishes, would the mind alone, separated from the body, not be born and die as well? If at one time body and mind were one, and at another time not one, the preaching of the Buddha would be empty and untrue. Moreover, in thinking that birth-and-death is something we should turn from, you make the mistake of rejecting the Buddha Dharma itself. You must guard against such thinking.

Understand that what Buddhists call the Buddhist doctrine of the mind-nature, the great and universal aspect encompassing all phenomena, embraces the entire universe, without differentiating between essence and form, or concerning itself with birth or death. There is nothing - enlightenment and nirvana included - that is not the mind-nature. All dharmas, the "myriad forms dense and close" of the universe - are alike in being this one Mind. All are included without exception. All those dharmas, which serves as "gates" or entrances to the Way, are the same as one Mind. For a Buddhist to preach that there is no disparity between these dharma-gates indicates that he understands the mind-nature.

In this one Dharma [one Mind], how could there be any differentiate between body and mind, any separation of birth-and-death and nirvana? We are all originally children of the Buddha, we should not listen to madmen who spout non-Buddhist views.

Awakening to Reality: A Zen Exploration of the Bahiya Sutta
What a surprise, to find my picture and recent journal entries on your brilliant blog. You (An Eternal Now) and Thusness/PasserBy have been a great source of inspiration. Thanks again for sharing all this with us.Warm regards,-Alex
Unlike ·  · Follow Post · Share · April 25 at 12:24am near Brisbane, Queensland
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You, Stian Gudmundsen Høiland, Piotr Ludwiński, Joel Agee and 4 others like this.

Joel Agee: Dogen: "Need I add that the Buddhist doctrine of immutability teaches that all things are immutable, without any differentiation between body and mind. The Buddhist teaching of mutability states that all things are mutable, without any differentiation between essence and form." What does this mean, in particular the first sentence?
April 25 at 5:40am · Like · 1

Soh: Dogen: "Being-time" means that time is being; that is, "Time is existence, existence is time." The shape of a Buddha-statue is time.... Every thing, every being in this entire world is time.... Do not think of time as merely flying by; do not only study the fleeting aspect of time. If time is really flying away, there would be a separation between time and ourselves. If you think that time is just a passing phenomenon, you will never understand being-time.[21]"

The Mahaayaana Deconstruction of Time
But in order for time to be a container, there must be a contained -- something ...
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April 25 at 5:42am · Like · 2 · Remove Preview

Soh: Some note I wrote in facebook:

Time is just a construct like self. The notion that it takes time for me to walk from point A to B, which implies distance, space and time, deconstructs when we realize there is no atemporal abiding entity or self that is the traveller (this implies I am a truly existing atemporal self that is separate from time/the stream of transient phenomenality, which is not the case). In fact there is not even 'traveling' or 'movement' when Point A is only point A or being-time-A, point B is only point B being-time-B, each instant is whole and complete - there is nothing subjective or objective that is separate from each time-instant that abides and travels from A to B. Where time is being and being is time (things do not occur 'in' or 'pass through' time - they ARE time, as everything is irremediably temporal), there is Only being-time which is the sun and the moon and the stars, wherein there is neither an atemporal object passing through time nor an atemporal subject witnessing or passing through the passage of time and space from one point to another, and neither is it the case of one thing becoming another thing (winter is winter, spring is spring, winter does not turn into spring). Each instance of sight, sound, etc, is an entire and whole being-time independent of past and future (it occupies or IS a unique manifestation-position), yet inclusive of all causes and conditions spanning all time-space in a single moment that transcends the structures of time-object-self dichotomy. Each instant is a happening without movement. Time stops in the midst of temporality but Not by transcending to some unmoved backdrop.

Time is just a construct like self.... [Cut of web site preview]
By: Soh
April 25 at 5:53am · Like · Remove Preview

Joel Rosenblum: So there is a universal One Mind?
April 25 at 6:28pm · Like

Soh: Dogen's one Mind is not universal.

Dogen explains that although Buddhas and ancestors actualize various kinds of enlightenment (e.g. original, acquired, initial, etc.), there is more to Buddhas and ancestors than that. The “body” that the Buddha spoke of as consisting of the “integrated form” of myriad dharmas should not be hastily regarded as a “single unified form” (of undifferentiated oneness). According to Dogen, this “oceanic-body” does not contain the myriad forms, nor is it made up of myriad forms – it is the myriad forms themselves. The same instruction is provided at the beginning of Shobogenzo, Gabyo (pictured rice-cakes) where, he asserts that, “as all Buddhas are enlightenment” (sho, or honsho), so too, “all dharmas are enlightenment” which he says does not mean they are simply “one” nature or mind. On that line from Gabyo, Hee-Jin Kim comments:

All Buddhas and all things cannot be reduced to a static entity or principle symbolized as one mind, one nature, or the like. This guards against views that devaluate the unique, irreplaceable individuality of a single dharma.
Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.257

Awakening to Reality: "A" is "not-A", "not A" is "A"
This is a great post. It captures where I am at in my practice at the moment. I ... [Cut off web site preview]
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April 25 at 8:06pm · Like · 1 · Remove Preview

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