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Which experience to work on?

Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/14/20 6:48 AM
Hi folks,

I'm wondering where to focus my practice. I have different levels of access to a couple of different modes of experience, and both seem to have pros and cons. I'd appreciate some advice from folks who've been there.


Experience 1:

Simply by remembering to notice it, I can see clearly that every aspect of experience is a projection of the mind and thus has the same nature. (By this I don't mean that the external world doesn't exist or that everything is only in my imagination, but simply that every experience I have is a projection/fabrication of my mind. I take no stance on the metaphysics of 'deep reality'.)

Seeing the world in this way, non-duality makes sense to me. On one hand there's all this different stuff - different expressions of mind, Buddha nature, awake awareness, whatever you want to call it - but on the other hand it all has the same nature and is not fundamentally separate.

I can also feel a sense of 'perfection' about experience when viewed through this lens, which I think is related to dropping habitual egoic preferences. Things are still pleasant or unpleasant, but there's a sense that things are perfect, and even somehow enjoyable, just the way they are, even when unpleasant.

I've been dipping into this experience on retreat for at least four years now, and it's now at the point where I can access it off retreat on demand. There's a certain amount of intentionality involved and I often still have a subtle sense of a self going on, although the sensations that make up that sense of self are just as much Buddha nature as everything else.

This feels like a good place to be. Living in that 'spontaneously perfect' sense, things don't bother me the way they used to. Sometimes I fall out of it in the face of something especially captivating or difficult, though, so there's still work to do on stabilising the experience.

Thus, one obvious option is to work on this perspective until it becomes my new default, as opposed to something that I have to remember to incline towards. That sounds like it would be a good place to be, and is perhaps also building a foundation for the second experience - I'm not sure about this bit, though.


Experience 2:

I've been experimenting lately with inclining gently toward the silence between/around/behind thoughts and resting there. When I do this, I sometimes - not consistently - end up in a different experience. Since it's largely wordless it's harder to describe, but I'll have a go.

It feels as though reality is a bit like a sheet of fabric, and usually the fabric is bunched up in the middle in a fist - that's 'me'. Then sometimes the fist lets go and the fabric smooths itself out, and there's no 'me' at all, just the universe doing its thing.

At this point, reality simply plays out. I wouldn't necessarily say that there's a strong sense of feeling 'perfect' because there isn't the usual narrative stuff going on - it isn't like there's a 'me knowing that my experience is perfect'. There's just the experience itself - the visual field, the auditory field, physical sensations. It's very much a functional, responsive place, where what needs to get done gets done, responses tend to come from a compassionate place and so on, but it's also much much simpler and more direct/unmediated than experience 1 above.

In a nutshell, it is what it is, and that's it - no need for any more, like '...and it's perfect just the way it is'. Just: 'it is what it is'.

Despite lacking the more obviously enjoyable quality of being in an experience in which everything is known to be perfect, this second experience, feels more peaceful, more natural, and (to be honest) more like 'it'. It feels, well, further along the path.

But it's also harder to access. I can't get there consistently yet - sometimes that fist won't quite unclench and I don't know why.

This second experience feels more 'advanced' (that's a bit of a horrible term but I can't do better right now). I've been probing my intuition to see whether to focus on improving the stability and duration of experience 1 or whether to focus on getting more consistent access to experience 2. But I can see advantages to both approaches, so I'm uncertain how to proceed.


Your thoughts are welcome.


I'd also like to take a moment to say thanks to this community. You've helped me profoundly over the course of this crazy journey so far. This is a wonderful resource, and I'm very grateful for it.


Best wishes,
Matt

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/14/20 6:05 PM as a reply to Matt.
Hi,
Maybe have you considered there is no right way for experience to be and experience is neither one way nor another but is rather just experience however it presents itself?

Expereience may be perceived one way at one moment,that is "it". And another moment, it is perceived another way, and that too is "it".

In the seeing, there is just the seen. In the hearing, there is just the heard. I the feeling, there is just the felt. In perceiving experience one way, there is just experience being experienced that way. In perceiving experience another way, there is just experience being experienced in another way.

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/14/20 2:23 PM as a reply to David Matte.
Hi David,

Thanks for your reply!

I hear you. From one perspective, whatever is happening right now is precisely what is happening right now, and is neither 'right experience' nor 'wrong experience' - setting up hierarchies of experience is a mistake from this perspective.

From another perspective, however, it matters very much to me how I act in the world, both for my own sake and the sake of others around me, and thus cultivating particular ways of being in the world as an expedient seems useful to me.

I commonly find myself in a mode of experience wherein habitual ego-driven patterns hold a lot of sway over my behaviour. I react as though the self were some ultimately real thing needing to be defended, despite having seen with utter clarity that this is not the case, and having had numerous experiences in which this supposedly 'real' sense of self was entirely absent. To put it more concisely, I have a lot of bad habits that result in behaviour which is unhelpful and potentially harmful for me and those around me. I have experimented with simply accepting these habits and patterns, but they persist and continue to cause harm.

Both of the experiences I describe in my original post are ways of being in which these potentially harmful patterns of reactivity are noticeably diminished. In experience 1 they're much weaker, but there's still a sense of a 'me' in the picture which colours my perceptions to some extent and thereby influences my choices. In experience 2 that sense of me is very much more subtle - it seems to be gone entirely, but I've read enough warnings about people getting mistaken on this point that I don't want to claim too much too soon. In any case, in experience 2 those unhelpful reactive patterns seem to be temporarily in abeyance, at least until my mind wanders and I drop out of the experience, or something happens which triggers a pattern strong enough to kick me directly out of it (e.g. a severe physical threat).

So, whilst totally accepting your point that every 'now' is exactly 'it' (how could it be any other way?), I also believe that there is value in cultivating modes of experience in which I'm less likely to act out long-held unhelpful patterns, and so my question still stands.

Best wishes,
Matt

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/14/20 4:53 PM as a reply to Matt.
Matt:

So, whilst totally accepting your point that every 'now' is exactly 'it' (how could it be any other way?), I also believe that there is value in cultivating modes of experience in which I'm less likely to act out long-held unhelpful patterns, and so my question still stands.

Best wishes,
Matt


aloha matt,

   Very well said, brother. there is more to life than meditation, which is to say, we can't meditate all the time, we still have a life in which we interact with others and participate in the collective activities of humanity. As we find ourselves thrown into the midst of this maelstrom of action, how do we break out of the habit patterns of a lifetime and behave more in line with our ideals? It seems unhelpful to be told, "do not act."

   Nonetheless, it is non-action that is called for. In taoism, "wu wei" or non-doing. The practice is called, "wei wu wei" or, "doing non-doing." Refraining from interfering.

   This is the "no-dharma dharma" of zen. Nothing is self-directed or discriminated. There is "no dependence on words and letters." Just a "tacit understanding" and a general practice of doing the best you can for all sentient being.

terry



36. Q,: The Sixth Patriarch was illiterate. How is it that
he ws handed the robe that elevated hm to that office?
Elder Shen Hsiu {a rival candidate) occupied a position above
five hundred others and, as a teaching monk, he was able
to expound thirty-two volumes of sutras. Why did he not
receive the robe?

A: Because he still indulged in conceptual thought- in
a dharma of activity. To him 'as you practise, so shall you
attain' was a reality. So the Fifth Patriarch made the trans-
mission to Hui Neng {Wei Lang). At that very moment, the
latter attained a tacit understanding and received in silence
the profoundest thought of the Tathagata. That is why the
Dharma was transmitted to him. You do not see that the

FUNDAMENTAL DOCTRINE OF THE DHARMA IS THAT THERE ARE NO DHARMAS, YET THAT THIS DOCTRINE OF NO-DHARMA
IS IN ITSELF A DHARMA; AND NOW THAT THE NO-DHARMA DOCTRINE HAS BEEN TRANSMITTED, HOW CAN THE DOCTRINE OF THE DHARMA BE A DHARMA?1

Whoever understands the meaning of this deserves to be
called a monk, one skilled at 'Dharma-practice'. 


1 This passage has puzzled many a Chinese scholar. 1 am not sure thai this translation conveys the meaning very well, but at least 1 have simplified the wording by using ' doctrine' as well as 'dharrna'. In the original, the same word is used for both. A word-for-word translation would run something like this: 'Dharma original Dharma not Dharrna, not Dharma Dharma also Dharma, now transmit not Dharma Dharma, Dharma Dharma how-can be Dharma.'

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/15/20 3:32 AM as a reply to terry.
Because he still indulged in conceptual thought- in
a dharma of activity.

For sure, in the absence of buying into conceptual thought, there's no problem, no practice, no questions and no need for teachings. That's what I'm attempting to describe in 'experience 2', in fact - the condition of utter simplicity (costing not less than everything) which results when conceptual thought holds no sway.

But this isn't available to me at all times in all conditions. Hence the question. :-) Not to worry, it's all good.

Matt

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/16/20 11:53 AM as a reply to Matt.
Matt:
Because he still indulged in conceptual thought- in
a dharma of activity.

For sure, in the absence of buying into conceptual thought, there's no problem, no practice, no questions and no need for teachings. That's what I'm attempting to describe in 'experience 2', in fact - the condition of utter simplicity (costing not less than everything) which results when conceptual thought holds no sway.

But this isn't available to me at all times in all conditions. Hence the question. :-) Not to worry, it's all good.

Matt


    The availability of "this" has "no dependence on words and letters." If one does not avail oneself of "it," one is in one's own way. The act of discriminating - "buying in to conceptual thought" - does not in any way dissipate the original simplicity.

   The "cost" of "this" is "everything" - that is, your ego. 

   "This" is "practice."

terry




June 23, 2012
by Stephen Damon

This morning while reading Dogen’s Eihei Koroku, I came across a legendary account between Hui Neng, our sixth ancestor, and one of his disciples.  One day, Nanyue appeared before Hui Neng, who asked, “What is this that thus comes?” This is an unusual way of asking someone, “Who are you?” But Hui Neng wanted to ask who his visitor was without assuming some fixed “self” or “you.” By putting his question in the way that he did, he was asking his student to respond with the deepest part of himself.  Reading this story I realized that this is the question that I am in front of every time I take my seat in the morning. 

Nanyue was speechless, but the story says, he “never put this question aside” for eight years of intensive practice thereafter. Finally he returned to the sixth ancestor and responded, “To explain or demonstrate anything would miss the mark.”

The sixth ancestor asked whether, if so, there is practice and realization or not. Nanyue validated his eight years of study by responding, “It is not that there is no practice-realization, but only that it cannot be defiled.” The sixth ancestor affirmed that “this non-defilement” is exactly what all the buddhas and ancestors “protect and care for.”

The defilement that Hui Neng spoke about is the perspective that meditation practice is just a means, a step-by-step process of attaining enlightenment, viewed as an  abstraction separate from our activity and awareness. In Fukanzazengi,  Dogen says: The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment.  It is the koan realized; traps and snares can never reach it. For Dogen, Zazen is the enactment of buddha awareness and physical presence, rather than a practice of developing a perfected, formulated understanding.  As Robert Thurman, says “When we think of the goal of Buddhism as enlightenment, we think of it mainly as an attainment of some kind of higher understanding. But Buddhahood is a physical transformation as much as a mental transcendence.”  Enlightenment is in this body at this time.

In Bendowa,  Dogen says: In Buddha-dharma, practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner’s whole-hearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice. . . Since it is already the enlightenment of practice, enlightenment is endless; since it is the practice of enlightenment, practice is beginingless.

So, when we take our seats, either alone in our daily practice or with others during a formal meeting or retreat, we are simply doing the practice of the buddhas and ancestors. This practice is not to acquire something in some other time, or in another state of consciousness or being. It is actually a ritual enactment of enlightenment or realization right now.  And as such, it cannot be defiled.

A teacher of mine once said, “There is no such thing as bad Zazen.” At first, I didn’t believe him.  Surely, all the chaos of my monkey mind and the restlessness of my body were not good Zazen.  Surely, this was not enlightenment.  To be honest, I still find myself saying “good” or “bad” when describing my experience during an all-day sitting, but when I do, something inside me knows that the truth is deeper than that.  Something in me knows that “being” is neither good nor bad, it just is. When I go further I ask what, exactly, is Zazen?  Is it seeing what is arising? Is it the struggle to keep returning to myself? Or is it achieving a deep sense of calm?  I would say that Zazen is all this, and more. It is an ongoing practice that is constantly changing and adapting to the conditions of our lives.  It is enlightened activity.  As Dogen says,  Buddhas keep on becoming buddhas.

The next time you take your seat, you might try asking yourself, what is this that thus comes , and see how your body/mind responds without any expectations.  And please know that no matter what happens on your pillow you will not be able to defile the practice of the buddhas and ancestors.  No matter how much you take away from infinity, it is still infinite.

Bows,

Stephen

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/14/20 2:38 PM as a reply to Matt.
Matt:
Hi folks,

I'm wondering where to focus my practice. I have different levels of access to a couple of different modes of experience, and both seem to have pros and cons. I'd appreciate some advice from folks who've been there.


Experience 1:

Simply by remembering to notice it, I can see clearly that every aspect of experience is a projection of the mind and thus has the same nature. (By this I don't mean that the external world doesn't exist or that everything is only in my imagination, but simply that every experience I have is a projection/fabrication of my mind. I take no stance on the metaphysics of 'deep reality'.)

Seeing the world in this way, non-duality makes sense to me. On one hand there's all this different stuff - different expressions of mind, Buddha nature, awake awareness, whatever you want to call it - but on the other hand it all has the same nature and is not fundamentally separate.

I can also feel a sense of 'perfection' about experience when viewed through this lens, which I think is related to dropping habitual egoic preferences. Things are still pleasant or unpleasant, but there's a sense that things are perfect, and even somehow enjoyable, just the way they are, even when unpleasant.

I've been dipping into this experience on retreat for at least four years now, and it's now at the point where I can access it off retreat on demand. There's a certain amount of intentionality involved and I often still have a subtle sense of a self going on, although the sensations that make up that sense of self are just as much Buddha nature as everything else.

This feels like a good place to be. Living in that 'spontaneously perfect' sense, things don't bother me the way they used to. Sometimes I fall out of it in the face of something especially captivating or difficult, though, so there's still work to do on stabilising the experience.

Thus, one obvious option is to work on this perspective until it becomes my new default, as opposed to something that I have to remember to incline towards. That sounds like it would be a good place to be, and is perhaps also building a foundation for the second experience - I'm not sure about this bit, though.


Experience 2:

I've been experimenting lately with inclining gently toward the silence between/around/behind thoughts and resting there. When I do this, I sometimes - not consistently - end up in a different experience. Since it's largely wordless it's harder to describe, but I'll have a go.

It feels as though reality is a bit like a sheet of fabric, and usually the fabric is bunched up in the middle in a fist - that's 'me'. Then sometimes the fist lets go and the fabric smooths itself out, and there's no 'me' at all, just the universe doing its thing.

At this point, reality simply plays out. I wouldn't necessarily say that there's a strong sense of feeling 'perfect' because there isn't the usual narrative stuff going on - it isn't like there's a 'me knowing that my experience is perfect'. There's just the experience itself - the visual field, the auditory field, physical sensations. It's very much a functional, responsive place, where what needs to get done gets done, responses tend to come from a compassionate place and so on, but it's also much much simpler and more direct/unmediated than experience 1 above.

In a nutshell, it is what it is, and that's it - no need for any more, like '...and it's perfect just the way it is'. Just: 'it is what it is'.

Despite lacking the more obviously enjoyable quality of being in an experience in which everything is known to be perfect, this second experience, feels more peaceful, more natural, and (to be honest) more like 'it'. It feels, well, further along the path.

But it's also harder to access. I can't get there consistently yet - sometimes that fist won't quite unclench and I don't know why.

This second experience feels more 'advanced' (that's a bit of a horrible term but I can't do better right now). I've been probing my intuition to see whether to focus on improving the stability and duration of experience 1 or whether to focus on getting more consistent access to experience 2. But I can see advantages to both approaches, so I'm uncertain how to proceed.


Your thoughts are welcome.


I'd also like to take a moment to say thanks to this community. You've helped me profoundly over the course of this crazy journey so far. This is a wonderful resource, and I'm very grateful for it.


Best wishes,
Matt


aloha matt,

   Don't experience; just sit.

terry

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/14/20 11:46 PM as a reply to Matt.
Would there be a problem with working with both? Your post reminds be a bit of Chapter 15 of Seeing That Frees. Your first way sounds much like his second way, though your second way and his first way may be different. I can imagine Burbea saying, practice moving between both and noticing the difference. 

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/15/20 3:00 AM as a reply to Martin.
Hi Martin,

Working with both is what I'm doing right now. When I'm able to let go enough for the second experience to arise, that's what I do, because it seems to be the most functionally useful experience available to me. When that's unavailable, I lean toward the first, because at least it has the benefit of reducing the tendency toward unskilful activity (plus it's nice :-)). The core of my question is really around whether this is a useful way to approach it, or whether it would be better/more efficient/something else to focus on stabilising one first and then move on to the other. Pehaps this is unanswerable, or simply a matter of taste.

I agree that the second approach described in STF chapter 15 lines up with what I was calling 'experience 1'. My experience 2 seems to be something else - the utter simplicity of it reminds me of the Bahiya sutta (in seeing, just seeing, and so forth).

Actually where I'm coming from with this thread is also in line with what Burbea discusses at the end of his book - knowing that perception is malleable and fabricated, we can then choose to fabricate in ways which are helpful or appropriate in some way. It also seems to me to be in line with the Tibetan developmental model - introduction to a view, stabilisation of that view, eventual maturity.

At this point in my practice I'm really not very interested in 'more' or 'deeper' insight, so much as finding ways to make the practice useful in my daily life. (Perhaps I should have posted this thread in the Sila forum. :-))

Cheers,
Matt

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/15/20 12:23 PM as a reply to Matt.
Matt:
At this point in my practice I'm really not very interested in 'more' or 'deeper' insight, so much as finding ways to make the practice useful in my daily life. (Perhaps I should have posted this thread in the Sila forum. :-))

Cheers,
Matt


   Mo bettah make the daily life useful in your practice.

t

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/15/20 1:16 PM as a reply to terry.
Touché. :-)

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/16/20 12:23 PM as a reply to Matt.
Matt:
Touché. :-)


en garde

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/19/20 5:17 AM as a reply to terry.
Matt:

This was where Greg Goode's The Direct Path really helped me, despite my resistance to his constant pushing in the direction of awareness as the metaphysical building block of the universe.


I bought it the first time you mentioned it emoticon

Do you have any thoughts on which to read first, Greg or Rob Burbea Matt?


thank again for all the detail. much appreciated

PS
Sent you a PM, feel free to ignore if you don't want to chat off board. I won't mind at all emoticon

~BTG

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/19/20 2:11 PM as a reply to Bagpuss The Gnome.
Nice! :-)

Both are good. I'd say Greg's more focused on non-duality/awareness (but therefore has correspondingly more experiments looking at more aspects of it) whereas Rob's book is more of a tour-de-force of all things emptiness. If you're particularly looking to work the non-duality angle right now, Greg's book is probably worth a look. Both are really good though, and both reward repeated readings - with STF especially, you can see clear progress when you read it a second and third time and each time get further into the book before it stops making sense. :-)

I'll reply to the PM in a bit - bizarrely, despite the lockdown, I'm busier than ever at the moment! I'll get there though.

Matt

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/15/20 4:56 AM as a reply to Matt.
Hi Matt, 
my apologies for jumping in just to ask a question emoticon
Do you remember how experience #1 unfolded to where it is currently? It sounds very much like where my current experience seems to be headed. 
thanks, and best of luck with it!

~BTG

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/15/20 8:41 AM as a reply to Bagpuss The Gnome.
Sure. Some of this started happening spontaneously on retreats over the years but I also worked in a deliberate way at several points, which seemed to help. Correlation is not causation, but, y'know... My point is that these are just my memories of things I did along the way which seemed to help - follow this advice at your own risk. :-)


There are a couple of ingredients which I think developed in parallel for a while and then eventually came together - the non-duality and the perfection. I'll see what I can remember about each. There's also a really nice description of this and a bunch of related experiences in chapter 15 of Rob Burbea's book Seeing That Frees, per Martin's comment above, so that's also well worth checking out as a source of further clues and perspectives.


Non-duality: the approach I took seems a bit roundabout now that I try to write it down, but hey, it worked. :-)

Step 1: Becoming aware of awareness itself. Prior to 2016 my practice was very much about the three characteristics (especially anicca) and deconstructing experience. Then, on a month-long retreat, I hit something that was very strange at the time - a sense of something which wasn't coming and going in my experience like absolutely everything else. (As a bit of background, in 2013 I had a massive insight into anicca, after which my sensory experience became strongly characterised by vibration, so finding something which didn't seem to be rapidly coming and going was extremely unusual at the time.) My teacher on that retreat suggested that what I'd hit upon was awareness becoming aware of itself. Unfortunately, although he'd done some practice along those lines himself, he didn't teach that way, so it took a while (and a book by Greg Goode, The Direct Path) to make further progress.

Step 2: Learning to rest in awareness. During a 2017 retreat I found that I could 'sit back' and view the totality of awareness all at once. The model I had at the time was that awareness is like a container in which experiences come and go. (This is discussed in STF chapter 15.) I found that I was able to focus on the 'container' as opposed to the comings and goings, which resulted in a very peaceful abiding.

Step 3: Noticing the pleasant quality of resting in awareness. Sometime before this 2017 retreat I'd listened to Daniel and Tarin talking about Actual Freedom, and had been struck by Tarin's comment that there's a kind of inherently pleasant quality to simply being aware. So, since I was spending a lot of time focusing on awareness, I started tuning in to enjoying the peaceful abiding in awareness. This made it super-easy to rest here, so I spent several days like this, and eventually had a massive insight into anatta which was pretty cool at the time.

Step 4: The flip: awareness and its contents are not separate. Prior to this point, I'd encountered many teachings along the lines of 'awareness and its contents are not really separate', so I had a sense that there was something slightly 'false' about my 'awareness as container' experience, but at the same time it was enjoyable and useful and seemed like it was worth pursuing. After I'd been enjoying the pleasantness of resting in awareness for a few days, I decided to introduce the idea that 'awareness' and 'contents' were actually two sides of the same coin as opposed to two different beasts. At this point, the 'pleasantness of awareness' flipped, and became a kind of boundless love directed toward everything that was being experienced 'in' awareness. Suddenly all the stuff people said about the boundless quality of metta made sense to me, after years of getting nowhere whatsoever with repeating 'may you be well' and all that. One of the interesting things about this was that, although this wasn't entirely non-dual per se (I'd flipped attention from 'awareness' to 'contents thereof', and things still seemed very separate and distinct), the universal nature of the love had a way of 'tying it all together', so that all the diversity was somehow held together in this same quality of love.

Step 5: Developing a dimmer switch for the universal love. Strange as it sounds, I didn't do a whole lot with this experience after the 2017 retreat. I planned to carry on once I got home, but then the rest of 2017 was a massively busy year for me at work, and practice fell by the wayside until late in the year when I started doing meditation teacher training. It was a residential week at a big house in the country, and we were doing a lot of practice in addition to learning to teach, and I decided to dig out the 'universal love' experience again. Previously it was a pretty binary thing - it was on or off, I was 'doing it' or not. During that week I found a way of bringing a little bit of it into my experience, or a lot. I'm not sure if this is particularly significant, except to say that I invested time in exploring the experience and gaining some degree of control over it, which I think was a useful thing to do. Daniel talks a lot about learning to re-attain experiences in MCTB, and that's generally served me well.

Step 6: Reality is representational. Back in my Greg Goode period I'd bumped into the Advaita notion that 'everything is made of awareness', and to be honest I hadn't liked it much. It seemed too metaphysical, too philosophical, too far removed from what we can actually know directly. But at a certain point I started deliberately exploring teachings that I didn't like much, to see if there was actually anything useful there after all and it was just a language barrier or a fixed view getting in my way. Then I read The Ego Tunnel by Thomas Metzinger, which has a really great exploration of the nature of our subjective experience, and in the months that followed it gradually started to make sense. Finally, on a long retreat in 2019, I realised the truth of the idea that everything we experience is the product of our minds' attempts to make sense of what's going on. There are no 'colours' in the world - as far as we can see from physics there's just electromagnetic radiation at various frequencies - but this physical form has certain sense organs and the mind associated with it has a way of interpreting the data that it's capable of receiving and then presenting that interpreted data in the form of a conscious experience in which we 'see colours'. (Colour is the usual explanation - actually, bizarrely, the one that really did it for me was realising that there are no scents or odours in the world either.) At this point I realised that 100% of what we experience is 'mental representation'; hence, everything has the 'same nature' (the 'nature of mind'), and I get why someone might express that as 'everything is made of awareness', although I probably wouldn't say it quite that way myself, just due to personal taste. Although this all sounds very wordy and possibly like the product of over-thinking, it was a direct experiential realisation which opened up the possibility of seeing everything, with no exception, as being of ultimately the same nature. I then spent a lot of time practising adopting this view, and can now call it up pretty much immediately, just by remembering to do so - it's 'obvious' to me.

Step 7: Integrating the perfection. I'll say more about the perfection below, but basically I think the 'perfection' is a matter of temporarily letting go of one's preferences about how things should be. At some point on that 2019 retreat - where I'd just read a book by Guo Gu which talked at length about seeing the world through the lens of preferences - it occurred to me to see if I could call up the sense of perfection at will - which I'd never been able to before. I found that I could, and that it was very very much easier to do so when I first activated the 'universal love' of step 5 above (because of the 'smoothing out' quality of that love). After I had the 'step 6' realisation and started working with that too, all of these threads came together quite nicely. I tend to switch the whole lot on together now. (A bit of experimentation suggests that I can access the 'one nature', 'universal love' and 'perfection' experiences separately, but the whole package together is a lot more fun.)


The 'perfection'. I haven't said anything about this yet because I didn't put anything like as much effort into it. I think now that it's an experience I've been having since I was a kid. Sitting in the back of my parents' car on long drives, staring out of the window, the world would take on a kind of 'beautiful' quality irrespective of what I was looking at - a beautiful sunset or a derelict industrial building. It didn't happen so much as an adult, but I started stumbling into it when I started doing long retreats. Every now and again everything would become perfect, the world would look beautiful no matter what was going on, and generally experience became a lot simpler and more direct as well. But I never really tried to do anything with it until that retreat in 2019, when all I did was wonder 'Hey, now that I have this pleasant experience of love infusing every element of this diverse reality, all of which shares a fundamentally common nature, I wonder if I can find that sense that everything is perfect too?' (Except a lot less wordy than that! It was more like, as I was abiding in the non-dual thing, the notion of perfection popped up, and then it manifested in my experience. Again, I spent a lot of time practising calling it up during that retreat, and as a result I seem to have 'kept' the ability off retreat.)


Hope some of this is useful...

Matt

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/15/20 4:36 PM as a reply to Matt.
Your reply to BTG is so nice to read. 

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/16/20 5:22 AM as a reply to Matt.
Hi Matt, thanks so much for your detailed reply. It must have taken ages to write all that. Really appreciated.

Matt:

There are a couple of ingredients which I think developed in parallel for a while and then eventually came together - the non-duality and the perfection. I'll see what I can remember about each. There's also a really nice description of this and a bunch of related experiences in chapter 15 of Rob Burbea's book Seeing That Frees, per Martin's comment above, so that's also well worth checking out as a source of further clues and perspectives.


I had the good fortune to have Rob as my teacher for a couple of weeks while he was writing that book whist on a 2 week personal at Gaia House. I bought it as soon as it published but quickly gave it up as none of it seemed relevant to me. I just went to try and get it on Kindle only to discover I already had it and went straight to chapter 15 last night. Wow, that youldn’t possibly be any more relevant at this time, thanks.

Up to this next bit we seem to have followed a very similar path Matt. I first noticed I could “not think”, which in retrospect totally missed the bigger point of being able to move to full awareness sometime after my first A&P experience.

Matt:

Step 3: Noticing the pleasant quality of resting in awareness. Sometime before this 2017 retreat I'd listened to Daniel and Tarin talking about Actual Freedom, and had been struck by Tarin's comment that there's a kind of inherently pleasant quality to simply being aware. So, since I was spending a lot of time focusing on awareness, I started tuning in to enjoying the peaceful abiding in awareness. This made it super-easy to rest here, so I spent several days like this, and eventually had a massive insight into anatta which was pretty cool at the time.


I tried that this morning. Often I can feel pleasure if I just incline to it in daily life so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find that realising that the awareness that surrounds and pervades also has a pleasant aspect. Kind of like a very dilute 2nd Jhana. I was getting lost in thought a bit as I walked around the park, and I put this down to being somewhere in the DN as I had my familiar head tension going on at the same time but when I tuned into that pleasant aspect it was a hell of a lot easier and the head tension went away after 10 or 15mins.

Matt:

Step 4: The flip: awareness and its contents are not separate. Prior to this point, I'd encountered many teachings along the lines of 'awareness and its contents are not really separate', so I had a sense that there was something slightly 'false' about my 'awareness as container' experience, but at the same time it was enjoyable and useful and seemed like it was worth pursuing. After I'd been enjoying the pleasantness of resting in awareness for a few days, I decided to introduce the idea that 'awareness' and 'contents' were actually two sides of the same coin as opposed to two different beasts. At this point, the 'pleasantness of awareness' flipped, and became a kind of boundless love directed toward everything that was being experienced 'in' awareness. Suddenly all the stuff people said about the boundless quality of metta made sense to me, after years of getting nowhere whatsoever with repeating 'may you be well' and all that. One of the interesting things about this was that, although this wasn't entirely non-dual per se (I'd flipped attention from 'awareness' to 'contents thereof', and things still seemed very separate and distinct), the universal nature of the love had a way of 'tying it all together', so that all the diversity was somehow held together in this same quality of love.

Wow, same here with the “may you be well” stuff. I just can’t do metta practice of any kind and I have really really tried. Something in my childhood and teenage years actively blocking displays of emotion and rejecting others emotions I think. I’d really like to experience that emoticon
I think you would enjoy this podcast interview with Dan Brown, he talks a lot about holding views as well as the love thing. I can’t remember all the details but it’s right up your street if you’ve not already heard it:

https://deconstructingyourself.com/awakening-and-the-path-of-liberation-with-dan-brown.html

Also Matt, I’m guessing you’re familiar with Loch Kelly? You might find his stuff a little simplistic at first but as you delve into it you’ll find it’s quite amazing how he has taken some of the most difficult to understand concepts of non-duality / Mahamudra and made them really very accessible. I’m currently on a six week online course with him and it’s pretty bloody good. Hi book “Effortless Mindfulness” is really worth checking out if you have not done so already.

You don’t mention Mahamudra at all in your post. It seems unlikely you’re not on top of that but if you’re not then Loch’s stuff is a great place to start. I’ve got maybe 4 or 5 books on the topic, none of which I have managed to even get a third of the way through because the authors seem far more interested in splitting hairs over the Tibetan translations and the etymology of every single sodding syllable than providing anything even resembling clear instruction hah!

Steps 4 onward seem to be where you’re way out ahead of me Matt. I hope someone with more experience chimes in on your original question soon. I’ve bookmarked this post anyway, because really it’s pure gold. Thanks so much for posting it emoticon

~BTG

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/16/20 12:13 PM as a reply to Bagpuss The Gnome.
Bagpuss The Gnome:
Hi Matt, thanks so much for your detailed reply. It must have taken ages to write all that. Really appreciated.

Matt:

There are a couple of ingredients which I think developed in parallel for a while and then eventually came together - the non-duality and the perfection. I'll see what I can remember about each. There's also a really nice description of this and a bunch of related experiences in chapter 15 of Rob Burbea's book Seeing That Frees, per Martin's comment above, so that's also well worth checking out as a source of further clues and perspectives.


I had the good fortune to have Rob as my teacher for a couple of weeks while he was writing that book whist on a 2 week personal at Gaia House. I bought it as soon as it published but quickly gave it up as none of it seemed relevant to me. I just went to try and get it on Kindle only to discover I already had it and went straight to chapter 15 last night. Wow, that youldn’t possibly be any more relevant at this time, thanks.

Up to this next bit we seem to have followed a very similar path Matt. I first noticed I could “not think”, which in retrospect totally missed the bigger point of being able to move to full awareness sometime after my first A&P experience.

Matt:

Step 3: Noticing the pleasant quality of resting in awareness. Sometime before this 2017 retreat I'd listened to Daniel and Tarin talking about Actual Freedom, and had been struck by Tarin's comment that there's a kind of inherently pleasant quality to simply being aware. So, since I was spending a lot of time focusing on awareness, I started tuning in to enjoying the peaceful abiding in awareness. This made it super-easy to rest here, so I spent several days like this, and eventually had a massive insight into anatta which was pretty cool at the time.


I tried that this morning. Often I can feel pleasure if I just incline to it in daily life so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find that realising that the awareness that surrounds and pervades also has a pleasant aspect. Kind of like a very dilute 2nd Jhana. I was getting lost in thought a bit as I walked around the park, and I put this down to being somewhere in the DN as I had my familiar head tension going on at the same time but when I tuned into that pleasant aspect it was a hell of a lot easier and the head tension went away after 10 or 15mins.

Matt:

Step 4: The flip: awareness and its contents are not separate. Prior to this point, I'd encountered many teachings along the lines of 'awareness and its contents are not really separate', so I had a sense that there was something slightly 'false' about my 'awareness as container' experience, but at the same time it was enjoyable and useful and seemed like it was worth pursuing. After I'd been enjoying the pleasantness of resting in awareness for a few days, I decided to introduce the idea that 'awareness' and 'contents' were actually two sides of the same coin as opposed to two different beasts. At this point, the 'pleasantness of awareness' flipped, and became a kind of boundless love directed toward everything that was being experienced 'in' awareness. Suddenly all the stuff people said about the boundless quality of metta made sense to me, after years of getting nowhere whatsoever with repeating 'may you be well' and all that. One of the interesting things about this was that, although this wasn't entirely non-dual per se (I'd flipped attention from 'awareness' to 'contents thereof', and things still seemed very separate and distinct), the universal nature of the love had a way of 'tying it all together', so that all the diversity was somehow held together in this same quality of love.

Wow, same here with the “may you be well” stuff. I just can’t do metta practice of any kind and I have really really tried. Something in my childhood and teenage years actively blocking displays of emotion and rejecting others emotions I think. I’d really like to experience that emoticon
I think you would enjoy this podcast interview with Dan Brown, he talks a lot about holding views as well as the love thing. I can’t remember all the details but it’s right up your street if you’ve not already heard it:

https://deconstructingyourself.com/awakening-and-the-path-of-liberation-with-dan-brown.html

Also Matt, I’m guessing you’re familiar with Loch Kelly? You might find his stuff a little simplistic at first but as you delve into it you’ll find it’s quite amazing how he has taken some of the most difficult to understand concepts of non-duality / Mahamudra and made them really very accessible. I’m currently on a six week online course with him and it’s pretty bloody good. Hi book “Effortless Mindfulness” is really worth checking out if you have not done so already.

You don’t mention Mahamudra at all in your post. It seems unlikely you’re not on top of that but if you’re not then Loch’s stuff is a great place to start. I’ve got maybe 4 or 5 books on the topic, none of which I have managed to even get a third of the way through because the authors seem far more interested in splitting hairs over the Tibetan translations and the etymology of every single sodding syllable than providing anything even resembling clear instruction hah!

Steps 4 onward seem to be where you’re way out ahead of me Matt. I hope someone with more experience chimes in on your original question soon. I’ve bookmarked this post anyway, because really it’s pure gold. Thanks so much for posting it emoticon

~BTG


aloha btg,

   As for experience, "beginner's mind is the Way." Ditch your experience, return to the source.

terry




tao te ching, trans mitchell


3.

If you overesteem great men, 
people become powerless. 
If you overvalue possessions, 
people begin to steal.

The Master leads 
by emptying people's minds 
and filling their cores, 
by weakening their ambition 
and toughening their resolve. 
He helps people lose everything 
they know, everything they desire, 
and creates confusion 
in those who think that they know.

Practice not-doing, 
and everything will fall into place. 

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/17/20 1:36 AM as a reply to Bagpuss The Gnome.
Bagpuss The Gnome:
Hi Matt, thanks so much for your detailed reply. It must have taken ages to write all that. Really appreciated.


You're very welcome - it was fun to write. :-)


Bagpuss The Gnome:
Often I can feel pleasure if I just incline to it in daily life so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find that realising that the awareness that surrounds and pervades also has a pleasant aspect. Kind of like a very dilute 2nd Jhana.


Nice! For me I made the association with the contentment of the 3rd jhana, but we're clearly talking about the same thing. As mentioned, I found it very helpful and illuminating simply to abide here for extended stretches of time.


Bagpuss The Gnome:
Wow, same here with the “may you be well” stuff. I just can’t do metta practice of any kind and I have really really tried. Something in my childhood and teenage years actively blocking displays of emotion and rejecting others emotions I think. I’d really like to experience that emoticon


It'll come. Not only did the traditional metta phrases never work for me, but it was never really something that I was especially interested in. Even so, it started happening all by itself over time. Now I really value it, and either it's changed me in profound ways or the uncovering of metta has been part of a more general profound change, however you want to frame it.


Bagpuss The Gnome:
I think you would enjoy this podcast interview with Dan Brown


Oh yeah, I'm a big fan of Deconstructing Yourself. :-) I had to sit on my hands for a while to avoid going out and buying a bunch of Dan's books after hearing that podcast. The only thing that stopped me is a sense that buying into another massive, complex system is exactly the wrong move for me right now because it feeds my hungry brain at the expense of direct experience, and it's too easy to read books and feel like I'm getting somewhere rather than actually practising.


Bagpuss The Gnome:
Also Matt, I’m guessing you’re familiar with Loch Kelly? [...] I’m currently on a six week online course with him and it’s pretty bloody good. Hi book “Effortless Mindfulness” is really worth checking out if you have not done so already.


Yup, that's a good book. :-) We evidently have very similar tastes, so thanks for the tip about his course.


Bagpuss The Gnome:
You don’t mention Mahamudra at all in your post.


I've had some encounters with Mahamudra but I wouldn't say I've studied it in a particularly formal way - it's a thread in the tapestry. Most of my retreat time has been in the Zen and early Buddhist traditions. I do have Traleg Kyabgon's book Mind At Ease, which I found to be very clear and helpful, although more in terms of confirming things I'd already experienced than opening up anything new for me at the time I read it. I also tried a couple of Reggie Ray's courses (Mahamudra for the Modern World and another one I can't remember) but they didn't click with me at the time. Ditto for Dzogchen - some encounters but they've been more like glancing blows. (I was due to go on retreat with Tsoknyi Rinpoche earlier this year but unfortunately Covid intervened.)


Bagpuss The Gnome:
I’ve got maybe 4 or 5 books on the topic, none of which I have managed to even get a third of the way through because the authors seem far more interested in splitting hairs over the Tibetan translations and the etymology of every single sodding syllable than providing anything even resembling clear instruction hah!


See previous comment re: not wanting to get into another massive complex system right now! :-)


Bagpuss The Gnome:
Steps 4 onward seem to be where you’re way out ahead of me Matt.


This was where Greg Goode's The Direct Path really helped me, despite my resistance to his constant pushing in the direction of awareness as the metaphysical building block of the universe.

If you haven't read it, the book has a whole pile of practical 'experiments', starting with the sense doors and moving towards progressively more abstract reifications. The general formula goes something like this.

Consider your visual perception. By which I mean, look at stuff around you. Ordinarily, when we think about the process of sight, we might identify several components to what's going on. The traditional early Buddhist analysis breaks it down into three: a sense organ (the eye, in this case), a sense object (the thing you're looking at), and the associated sense organ consciousness (eye consciousness in this case), i.e. the faculty of being able to see. (I'm blind in one eye, so it might be fair to say that only one of my eyes has 'eye consciousness'. On the right side, I have an eye but no eye consciousness, so there's no seeing on that side.)

So far so good, and it all seems to make sense. But what do you actually experience directly?

First, do you actually experience the eye in this process? Assuming there's no physical problem with the eye (e.g. cataracts), can you actually 'see' the eye? What does it look like? Or is there simply the visual field 'out there'?

Then we can look at the sense consciousness. Can you actually see 'seeing'? Again, what does it look like? It feels like seeing must be happening because you can't deny the visual experience you're having right now, but what is 'seeing' distinct from what is seen? Can you find 'seeing' when there are no sense objects to 'be seen'?

On the other hand, can you perceive the sense object without the sense consciousness? Apart from 'seeing' - that is, without the visual field that results from your eye-consciousness - how could sense objects represent themselves to you? What would it even mean to have a visual experience without seeing?

So although it might seem as though 'seeing' and 'what is seen' are two distinct things, they're more like two sides of the same coin - one without the other doesn't make any sense in direct experience, no matter what your analytical mind might think about it.

If you do this for all six sense doors, then you can look at this idea of 'awareness' and 'the contents of awareness'. You might find that the idea of 'awareness as a container' can be seen simply as the collection of the six 'sense consciousnesses', and correspondingly the 'contents of awareness' as the six collections of 'sense objects', at which point if you've established an experiential view of the indivisibility of each of the sense consciousnesses from the sense objects, the extra step to the indivisibility of awareness and its contents isn't much of a step at all. Alternatively, if you feel that there's more to 'awareness' than the six sense consciousnesses, investigate that!

That's a pretty crude sketch, and Greg goes into all this in much more detail in the book, but hopefully this is a useful pointer nonetheless.


Bagpuss The Gnome:
I hope someone with more experience chimes in on your original question soon.


Thanks, although I think that ship may have sailed already. In retrospect, perhaps it was a mistake to include the remark about experience 2 feeling more like 'it' in the original post - it didn't feel quite right even as I was writing it but nothing better came up at the time. In the past I've found Dharma Overground to have a great many folks eager to discuss details of practice and experience in the spirit of Daniel Ingram's works, so it's been quite a surprise to be met almost exclusively with the 'there was always originally never anything to do' perspective. I have plenty of time for that perspective too, of course. But my Zen teacher likens it to the sails and the oars. There are times in practice when it's absolutely right to put up the sail and let the wind carry you along effortlessly. But there are also times when, if you don't break out the oars and start rowing, you'll never get out of the harbour.


Bagpuss The Gnome:
I’ve bookmarked this post anyway, because really it’s pure gold. Thanks so much for posting it emoticon


You're very welcome, I'm glad it's been useful!

Matt

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/19/20 2:04 PM as a reply to Matt.
Matt:
Hi folks,

I'm wondering where to focus my practice. I have different levels of access to a couple of different modes of experience, and both seem to have pros and cons. I'd appreciate some advice from folks who've been there.


Experience 1:

Simply by remembering to notice it, I can see clearly that every aspect of experience is a projection of the mind and thus has the same nature. (By this I don't mean that the external world doesn't exist or that everything is only in my imagination, but simply that every experience I have is a projection/fabrication of my mind. I take no stance on the metaphysics of 'deep reality'.)

Seeing the world in this way, non-duality makes sense to me. On one hand there's all this different stuff - different expressions of mind, Buddha nature, awake awareness, whatever you want to call it - but on the other hand it all has the same nature and is not fundamentally separate.

I can also feel a sense of 'perfection' about experience when viewed through this lens, which I think is related to dropping habitual egoic preferences. Things are still pleasant or unpleasant, but there's a sense that things are perfect, and even somehow enjoyable, just the way they are, even when unpleasant.

I've been dipping into this experience on retreat for at least four years now, and it's now at the point where I can access it off retreat on demand. There's a certain amount of intentionality involved and I often still have a subtle sense of a self going on, although the sensations that make up that sense of self are just as much Buddha nature as everything else.

This feels like a good place to be. Living in that 'spontaneously perfect' sense, things don't bother me the way they used to. Sometimes I fall out of it in the face of something especially captivating or difficult, though, so there's still work to do on stabilising the experience.

Thus, one obvious option is to work on this perspective until it becomes my new default, as opposed to something that I have to remember to incline towards. That sounds like it would be a good place to be, and is perhaps also building a foundation for the second experience - I'm not sure about this bit, though.


Experience 2:

I've been experimenting lately with inclining gently toward the silence between/around/behind thoughts and resting there. When I do this, I sometimes - not consistently - end up in a different experience. Since it's largely wordless it's harder to describe, but I'll have a go.

It feels as though reality is a bit like a sheet of fabric, and usually the fabric is bunched up in the middle in a fist - that's 'me'. Then sometimes the fist lets go and the fabric smooths itself out, and there's no 'me' at all, just the universe doing its thing.

At this point, reality simply plays out. I wouldn't necessarily say that there's a strong sense of feeling 'perfect' because there isn't the usual narrative stuff going on - it isn't like there's a 'me knowing that my experience is perfect'. There's just the experience itself - the visual field, the auditory field, physical sensations. It's very much a functional, responsive place, where what needs to get done gets done, responses tend to come from a compassionate place and so on, but it's also much much simpler and more direct/unmediated than experience 1 above.

In a nutshell, it is what it is, and that's it - no need for any more, like '...and it's perfect just the way it is'. Just: 'it is what it is'.

Despite lacking the more obviously enjoyable quality of being in an experience in which everything is known to be perfect, this second experience, feels more peaceful, more natural, and (to be honest) more like 'it'. It feels, well, further along the path.

But it's also harder to access. I can't get there consistently yet - sometimes that fist won't quite unclench and I don't know why.

This second experience feels more 'advanced' (that's a bit of a horrible term but I can't do better right now). I've been probing my intuition to see whether to focus on improving the stability and duration of experience 1 or whether to focus on getting more consistent access to experience 2. But I can see advantages to both approaches, so I'm uncertain how to proceed.


Your thoughts are welcome.


I'd also like to take a moment to say thanks to this community. You've helped me profoundly over the course of this crazy journey so far. This is a wonderful resource, and I'm very grateful for it.


Best wishes,
Matt

hi matt,

just my two cents, of course, possibly in inflated currency. But i'd say go with experience 2 as the focus of your practice now.

love, tim

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/19/20 2:11 PM as a reply to Tim Farrington.
Thanks Tim!

Matt

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/19/20 2:45 PM as a reply to Matt.
emoticon

love, tim

p.s. Go DhO class of 2011!

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/22/20 1:13 PM as a reply to Tim Farrington.
Tim Farrington:

p.s. Go DhO class of 2011!



When we've been on here 10yrs Tim, i wan't. a t-shirt at least...

RE: Which experience to work on?
Answer
6/22/20 9:48 PM as a reply to Bagpuss The Gnome.
Bagpuss The Gnome:
Tim Farrington:

p.s. Go DhO class of 2011!



When we've been on here 10yrs Tim, i wan't. a t-shirt at least...

shit, i've got the t-shirt business running on another thread somewhere, if you want in. Brandon started it with "Goenka is not the boss of me." I think Shargrol Of Course offered a couple ideas, but his were sort of incoherent and needed a t-shirt editor and possibly a script doctor. But hell yes, let's come up with a great line or two for the Class of 2011 tee.

How about: "Ten Year Night", with a nod to Lucy Kaplansky?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9Mo1U-s7TY



but i'm wide open to suggestions. That just the kind of open-minded spirit of the class of 2011! Go Dark Nights! (our sports teams)

love, tim