Integrating View and Experience
I like something about the Liberation Unleashed and the former Ruthless Truth approach to realization: it aims to investigate and realize the truth of no-self in the most direct straight-forward manner by investigating and challenging the existence of ‘you’. A rather similar form inquiry into no-self is personally what led to my realization into no-self, however, I was not liberated by the guides in Liberation Unleashed or from Ruthless Truth. My insight into anatta, or no-self, arose when I was contemplating on the Buddha’s teaching to Bahiya (Bahiya Sutta), but that is another story. My background is more towards Buddhism (I formally took refuge in the triple gems of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha under Venerable Shen Kai of Ren Cheng Buddhism when I was 2 years old), even though I did not restrict my studies alone to Buddhism. I have also learnt a lot from John, who is better known online by the nickname ‘Thusness’.
Although I do like the LU (Liberation Unleashed) and the old RT (Ruthless Truth) approach in investigating the delusion of a ‘self’, I also see many questions continue to linger in those who have been “liberated”. Is there any more to see? Why does someone else seem to realize something different, and talk very different things? Did they experience something different? Deep clarity on the degrees of self/Self and the different insights that unfold are not commonly expressed and it is not only a problem in LU but is rather pervasive in the spiritual community. Lots of sincere seekers and teachers offering their experience and insights can be found, but few people are able to have a very clear “big picture” of it all. And this is where perhaps my sharing may hopefully become a helpful pointer.
Firstly, one should recognize that there exists different degrees of self/Self to be seen through, and there are different types of realizations that are being taught or emphasized by different teachers. Yes, there is not only one kind of enlightenment (as you may have suspected), there are many ‘levels’ of insight (though not always unfolding in the same linear pattern for everyone). There are many faces of self/Self, for example having merely experienced non-doership does not mean one has realized non-duality or no agency.
What I have noticed about people in the LU community is that people are speaking from different kinds of insights, and many may confuse one insight with another. (Note that what I am saying next has no hierarchy or order of importance or a fixed linear way of how it will ‘unfold’ for each person, and each insight is valuable in and of itself): Merely having an experience of impersonality whereby the sense of a personal self or doer is deconstructed into the experience of ‘being lived impersonally by the universe’ is different from the direct realization of our luminous essence, or the Presence-Existence-Consciousness as Self (the I AM realization), which is different from experiencing a state of oblivion prior to the arising of beingness or consciousness (also often reified into an absolute or ultimate subject), which is different from non-dual realization that there never was a subject-object, Witness-witnessed/observer-observed split in which there is no longer even the sense that there is anything other than the non-dual display of awareness (such that it is no longer I AM the background Awareness in which objects arise from and subside to, as there is no more ‘objects’ other than display of Awareness experiencing itself – One Mind), but even this is different from the realization that there is no agent – there is no watcher, no background that could either be separate from or be inseparable with manifestation. A deeper insight may then arise on the empty nature of everything – from non-dual awarenesss, self/Self, the ‘objects’ or ‘phenomena’, all are understood to be mere imputation (just like the word ‘weather’ is a mere imputation on a conglomerate of everchanging phenomena), thereby everything is thoroughly deconstructed into shimmering appearances. The sense of an agent, self/Self, or source, is replaced by the direct experience of the process of dependent origination. Each insight or seeing is a form of further deconstruction and is linked to a deeper experience of freedom and release.
The deeper the insights arise and sink into our psyche replacing our deeply rooted latent tendencies related to ignorance, the deeper the freedom we experience, because all bondage and suffering arise from uninvestigated constructs/views/ignorance, which leads to obsession, attachment and craving after perceived solid objects which ‘I’ then ‘possess’ as ‘mine’ (which, due to impermanence, sooner or later gets lost – leading to suffering), or more subtly the craving, identification and attachment to a mind, body, personality, doership, self, Self, agency, presence, nothingness, or even non-dual awareness.
Eventually we will come to directly experience the release from all afflictions, grasping and sufferings. When insight into anatta arises, one deconstructs self/Self in gross and subtle forms – even non-dual presence is seen as empty of any self/Self and deconstructed to its self-less, arising and passing sensations, or the constituents of the five aggregates (skandhas in Buddhist terminology) – herein experience is still implicitly non-dual (not because it is a non-dual absolute that is ‘one with’ sensations, but that there is no subject to begin with that could be separate from or be inseparable from these transient, passing self-luminous sensations), it is seamless and without effort or grasping and is automatically self-released – whatever manifests is empty of anything that could be pinned down or grasped – what manifests is fully experienced but self-released on the spot (not by dissociation or effort). When the true nature of phenomena is deeply realized and actualized, disenchantment, dispassion, a natural release from all grasping and craving occurs, and as a result – freedom from suffering. The Buddha teaches that the end of craving is the end of suffering, as craving is the cause of suffering. The eight-fold path to awakening and liberation (from craving, from suffering) starts with right view (the forerunner)… up to right mindfulness and right concentration.
As such, having the right view is important. We often fail to realize that all our grasping and problems have their basis in ignorance, in uninvestigated constructs and views, which continues to persist even if we have the direct realization of our non-conceptual luminous essence. Freedom is therefore not just about having a direct non-conceptual or non-dual experience (in fact non-conceptual, non-dual consciousness itself may become an object of grasping and identification as a result of ignorance and wrong views), it is also about having the right view, right understanding of no-self, dependent origination and emptiness, and then contemplation/investigating accordingly so that the right view is directly realized and experienced in real-time. Any notion or sense of a truly existing source, awareness, objects, self, mind, body, etc are all thereby liberated or transcended into a single moment of suchness – just this breathe, this scent, this sight, lucidly experienced yet nothing real, nothing truly ‘existing’ or ‘solid’ – rather they are empty and illusory, and are self-releasing. It is only through deep insight into the empty nature that we can experience true release, true liberation (from all holdings, emotional afflictions, suffering, etc), and not just a blissful, non-conceptual and non-dual luminous state of experience. Then at one point all the insights are ‘integrated’ into a single moment of manifestation which is spontaneously perfected – already self-luminous, impersonal, non-dual, agentless, empty, as the total exertion of the universe (of causes and conditions).
This may all seem a little complicated, but it is only complicated before it is being experienced. When direct realization arise, it is all seen directly – much like someone tasting water will know directly for himself whether it is warm or cold. But it is true that before direct gnosis, one often has to undergo a confusing period of challenging our views and investigating the nature of reality. But I urge people not to stop their contemplation/investigation prematurely after having some insight or experiences, as it would be a pity. If you have gone through the LU or RT process of investigating and challenging the view of self, you will know that at times such process can be a little (or very) frustrating. Many people are drawn to simplicity and simply being “naked in awareness” as the mind is often in a state of confusion, therefore one prefers resting the torrent of mental concepts in the non-conceptual state of Being as a solution to all our confusions. While being naked in awareness is also a good practice, the non-conceptual direct experience must be balanced with the right view otherwise we will fall into what Thusness calls the “disease of non-conceptuality”. In such case, one is fervently attached to being bare and non-conceptual, one may even fear going into concepts, but by neglecting the part about having right view, direct insight and deconstructing our latent views, this will prevent us from having a deeper realization into emptiness. It will prevent us from progressing, it will prevent a deeper purification of view, a deeper freedom, a deeper release. Eventually when deep insight arises, we are no longer trapped in concepts nor seek after a non-conceptual state as a solution to our confusions, which originate from ignorance and false views. It is not ‘thoughts’ as such that are the problem, it is rather the wrong views, the ignorance, that causes a warped view of self and reality. Thoughts in and of itself need not be a problem and is also a self-luminous, ownerless, transient and empty display of buddha-nature or the nature of mind, just as any other sights or sounds – rather, ignorant and false constructs (of duality and inherency) are the source of our problems, attachments and confusion.
Despite it not being as simple as one may prefer it to be, I must say every ‘effort’ on the path of wisdom is well worth it (eventually through the arising of prajna wisdom, it does become a completely effortless, pathless and seamless freedom). As Thusness said,
“…there exist a predictable relationship between the ‘mental object to be de-constructed’ and ‘the experiences and realizations’… As a general guideline,
1. If you de-construct the subjective pole, you will be led to the experience of No-Mind.
2. If you de-construct the objective pole, you will be led to the experience of One-Mind.
3. If you go through a process of de-constructing prepositional phrases like “in/out” “inside/outside” “into/onto,” “within/without” “here/there”, you will dissolve the illusionary nature of locality and time.
4. If you simply go through the process of self-enquiry by disassociation and elimination without clearly understanding the non-inherent and dependent originated nature of phenomena, you will be led to the experience of “I AMness”.
Lastly, not to talk too much about self-liberation or the natural state, it can sound extremely misleading… …We have to understand that to even come to this realization of the “Simplicity of What Is”, a practitioner will need to undergo a painstaking process of de-constructing the mental constructs. We must be deeply aware of the ‘blinding spell’ in order to understand consciousness…”
The author lives in Singapore and publishes on his blog “Awakening to Reality“.