Some excerpts of postings about Bahiya Sutta by AlexWeith (who is a lay Soto Zen teacher/priest who recently realized anatta) from http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/thread/4765011/A+Zen+exploration+of+the+Bahiya+Sutta?offset=0&maxResults=20

Thusness told me that he thinks all these are very well written, which I fully agree. 


"In the seen, there is only the seen, in the heard, there is only the heard, in the sensed, there is only the sensed,
in the cognized, there is only the cognized. Thus you should see that indeed there is no thing here;
this, Bahiya, is how you should train yourself. Since, Bahiya, there is for you
in the seen, only the seen, in the heard, only the heard, in the sensed, only the sensed,
in the cognized, only the cognized, and you see that there is no thing here,
you will therefore see that indeed there is no thing there. As you see that there is no thing there,
you will see that you are therefore located neither in the world of this,
nor in the world of that, nor in any place betwixt the two.
This alone is the end of suffering.” (Ud. 1.10)


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There is no end to the process of awakening, but in Zen Buddhism there are steps and strategies. These introductory posts will explain my position, what I discovered so far, and how it unfolds.

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

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

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


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So what has been puzzling me what the sense of presence, the sense of being and its relation with the sense that things around me manifest their presence. Over the months I realized that if this beingness seems to be located as the center of our being, it is actually the flavor of all things.

Reading the blog "Awakening to Reality" that has become my main source of inspiration, I realized that this presence felt as the presence of 'what is' is the *luminosity* that the Mahamudra teachings are talking about. Gradually, feeling my own sense of being has become feeling the beingness of all things, leading to a deeper non-dual realization that gradually colapsed the sense of a Primoridal Awareness, True Self, or Bright Mirror into what is present here and now.

The conclusion is that all phenomena are in themself empty and luminous, ungraspable and self-aware, ever changing and alive. The conclusion is also that there is nothing beyond that; no permanent pure potential beyond phenomena, no true self that would be the source and substance of phenomena and above all no primordial awareness or Consciousness that would contain the five aggregates.

The whole universe is contained and expressed in a the "cypress tree in the court", simply because in the absence of a super Self in the background, the cypress tree brightly present in this very moment is the absolute reality made manifest in its suchness (tathata). Most Zen koans point to this realization, together with Hui-neng poem "Fundamentally no wisdom-tree exists, Nor the stand of a mirror bright. Since all is empty from the beginning, Where can the dust alight".

Surprizingly this deconstruction leads to a deeper level of non-duality. Huang-po's "One Mind' is starting to become Mazu's "No Mind, no Buddha".


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Hi Adam,

Chinul's student was obviously a novice, while Kashyapa was obviously a very advanced disciple who had already realized the unconditioned and unborn (Pali. ajati) essence of the mind (insight into no-self), but went further to realize tathata (or suchness), namely that when no-self is truly realized, there is no more grasping at any reified essence, unborn, unconditioned, Mind is Buddha, Self, no-self, non-dual awareness, etc.

For Kashyapa there was therefore "no Buddha, no Mind". Just that. A flower turning. The blink of eye. A smile. Pure. Luminous. Empty. Perfect.

In traditional Southern Ch'an, the teaching method was sudden, namely similar to the direct pointing introduction to Mahamudra or Dzogchen. This was more like Ramana Maharishi's direct path. Instead of disembedding from sensations, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, etc. peeling the onion until nothing remains through vipassana, one would go strait to the source of hearing and seeing to eventually realize there "there is hearing, no hearer", "there is seeing, no seer". But it still unfolds into finer and finer insights, from "I cannot find anything there!" to "who could have thought that the mind is the source of the myriad things!" (Huineng, Ming edition of the Liu Zu Tan Jing) - [Not yet Mahakashyapa's realization however].

The sudden teachings are therefore sudden in the sense that there is no gradual step-by-step training where one starts with samatha and switches to vipassana to go through 16 stages of insights, cycles, etc. Instead, one is directly introduced to the heart of the matter. Yet it unfolds from an inditial glimpse to the same sudden enlightenment (MCTB 4th path, catching the ox), which must be followed by gradual cultivation to polish the view and remove the remaining fetters.
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Practically speaking this means:

1). becoming aware of one's sense of existence and focusing on it until it starts to feel as if the only reality is this pure presence-awareness containing everything;

2). shifting this sense of being-existence-presence-awareness to apprehend the beingness of all things, until everything starts to feel bright, luminous, present and alive. At this stage, there is no more "self" and "other", nor is there any subtle duality between primordial awareness and phenomena arising and passing away within it. There is only "seeing seeing the seen" without a seer, nor solid material objects behind the seen.

This does not mean that there is absolutely no Primordial Awareness, Self or One Mind. This would be an extreme position rejected by the Buddha. This explains why the Buddha remained silent when asked about the existence of a Self. Answering "Yes" would mean that there is an eternal abiding inherent essence beyond phenomena (eternalism), while answering "No" would lead to nihilism, the other extreme view. The Buddha's way is the middle way, between these two extremes. There is a self, but this self is an conventional concept to describe something that appears to be and is experienced as such, but it not an abiding ultimate reality.

There is a Mind, but this Mind is empty [of an abiding essence]. This Mind is the *non-abiding mind* of the Diamond Sutra. Therefore, *Mind* is *No Mind*.
 


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This also means that the first step is to disembed from impermanent phenomena until the only thing that feels real is this all pervading uncreated all pervading awareness that feels like the source and substance of phenomena. Holding on to it after this realization can hower become a subtle form of grasping diguised as letting go.

The second step is therefore to realize that this brightness, awakeness or luminosity is there very nature of phenomena and then only does the duality between the True Self and the appearences arising and passing within the Self dissolve, revealing the suchness of what is.

The next step that I found very practical is to push the process of deconstruction a step further, realizing that all that is experienced is one of the six consciousness. In other words, there is neither a super Awareness beyond phenomena, not solid material objects, but only six streams of sensory experiences. The seen, the heard, the sensed, the tasted, the smelled and the cognized (including thoughts, emotions, and subtle thougths like absorbtion states, jhanas).

At this point it is not difficult to see how relevent the Bahiya Sutta can become.






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@beoman & @giragirasol:

Yes, when we realize that there is no super Awareness beyond consciousnes and become mindful of
consciousness as it manifests at the 6 doors of the senses, we also realize that everything that we can ever experience is contained within one of these 6 streams of consciousness, including the 4 other aggregates that are known through the agregate of consciousness and the arupa jhanas that are in reality very subtle non-conceptual mind-states of the cognizing-consciousness.

Arriving at this point, we can start to investigate the 5 aggregate as well as the sense of self.

If we start with the aggregate of form (the physical body), we realize that our direct experience of the body is nothing more than stream of images (seeing legs, arms, a nose), the other senses and above all sensations. Exploring these sensations we realize that there is an impermanent stream of sensations that more of less matches the images of the body. However, the stream of seeing-consciousness is always distinct from the stream of sensing-consciousness. One never sees a sensation, but an unpleasant sensations can match the sight of a wounder arm. These stream are therfore seem as independent, yet totally interdependent. A sound, can trigger a thought that can trigger a sensations, that can trigger the images of a hand moving. Altogether, these 6 impermanent every changing streams of consciousness create the illusion of a solid substancial body. The same method applies to the other aggregates.

 




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When it comes to the investiation of the sense of self, we must first realize that, even after what some have called technical 4th path, and even if we know that what we are is not any of the 5 aggregates, we still have a sense of self, a sense of existence. The sense "I am" has not been overcome yet.

This issue is discussed in the Khemaka Sutta.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.089.than.html

In this text, Ven. Dasaka meets the Arhant Khemaka and tells him that "there is nothing I assume to be self or belonging to self, and yet I am not an arahant. With regard to these five clinging-aggregates, 'I am' has not been overcome, although I don't assume that 'I am this." (...) ""Friends, it's not that I say 'I am form,' nor do I say 'I am something other than form.' It's not that I say, 'I am feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness,' nor do I say, 'I am something other than consciousness.' With regard to these five clinging-aggregates, 'I am' has not been overcome, although I don't assume that 'I am this.'"

The Arhat answers saying "friends, even though a noble disciple has abandoned the five lower fetters, he still has with regard to the five clinging-aggregates a lingering residual 'I am' conceit, an 'I am' desire, an 'I am' obsession."

Abendoning the five lower fetters means being an Anagami. Here the Arhant says that that even Anagami may still have a residual sense of self that he calls, the 'I am' conceit, an 'I am' desire, an 'I am' obsession."



As to how this sense 'I am' is experienced, the Arhant asks: "then how would he describe it if he were describing it correctly?"

And the monk replies, "as the scent of the flower: That's how he would describe it if he were describing it correctly." he sense of self is like the scent of the flower. It is the flavor of being.

In order to get rid of this residual sense of self and become an Arahat, the sage explains:

"As he keeps focusing on the arising & passing away of these five clinging-aggregates, the lingering residual 'I am' conceit, 'I am' desire, 'I am' obsession is fully obliterated. Just like a cloth, dirty & stained: Its owners give it over to a washerman, who scrubs it with salt earth or lye or cow-dung and then rinses it in clear water. Now even though the cloth is clean & spotless, it still has a lingering residual scent of salt earth or lye or cow-dung. The washerman gives it to the owners, the owners put it away in a scent-infused wicker hamper, and its lingering residual scent of salt earth, lye, or cow-dung is fully obliterated".

This means observing the arising and passing away of the 5 aggregates until "the lingering residual 'I am' conceit, 'I am' desire, 'I am' obsession is fully obliterated".
 





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Practically speaking, the above mentioned method works in the same way. One can either split each of the 5 aggregates into 6 streams of consciousness, to see how the sense of "a body" (aggregate of form) arises when all senses working together create the illusion of substantiality, pretty much like the images track and the sounds tracks of a movie that together create the illusion of reality. Using the same method we can also see how the illusion of a solid body dissolves when we look deeply and see that what we had assumed to be a body is nothing more than an illusion created by 6 impermanent, separate-yet-interdependent streams of consciousness.

We can also investigate the sense of self as such.

In the seen, only the seen. We first realize that we cannot know the objects seen as such, but only the seen (shapes, colors, textures, etc.). We also realize that there is no separate entity that sees. There is seeing, but no seer. Seeing is seeing. Same with the other streams of sense consciousness.

Then, what I do is to look for a sense of self, and see whether it is more assocated to one of these 6 streams of consciousness. It is generally associated with a physical sensation around the solar plexus or gut, and is therefore related to the stream of sensing-consciousness. When this is seen for what it is, the sense of self drops. There is nothing beside the spontanious functioning of the senses.

Here the purpose is not to lock and make permanent a special state of consciousness, but only to gain deeper and deeper insights into Anatta and Shunyata until we become absolutely unable to make anything into "me" or "mine".
 



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@giragirasol - and yes the results experienced during meditation when we stop investigating and let go of clinging that what has been seen as an illusion does match the traditional description of Rigpa. It first come for a brief moment, until it eventually becomes the only game in town. This is no surpize, since the Dzogchen teachings are basically about seeing the fruit (of mainstream Buddhism) as its ground (view) and the path (practice).

But here one should clearly mention that there is absolutely no inherently existing "Awareness" that is felt as existing separately from "phenomena arising witghin awareness", which would be Advaita Vedanta and maybe Kashmir Shaivism, but not Dzogchen. The Dalai Lama was very clear about that and insisted on the fact that Dzogchen can lead people astay if they lack a clear understanding of no-self, emptiness, co-dependent origination, interdependence, etc., recommending the in-depth study of Longchenpa with a solid background rooted in Tsongkapa's Lam Rim or other similar treaties.

 


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With respect to the Zen 10 ox-herding pictures this above deals with "ox forgotten, man remains" (no more super-Awareness, One Mind beyond the 18 dhatus, 6 senses) and then "ox and man forgotten" when the lingering "sense I am" that used to apprehend the aggregate of consciousnes as the One Mind is also extinguished. This is not the only interpretation, but it does match Zen master Sheng-yen's commentaries.
 


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And of course, mindfulness of the mind/6 sense doors/citta, being totally one with the seen, the heard, etc. is at the heart of Zen practice.

Ultimately, meditation practice is always "allowing everything to be as it is". However can only let go of what we see as an illusion. As an exemple disembedding from thoughts, sensations and perceptions allows us see them as mere reflexions. It then becomes easier to let go of thougths, sensations and perceptions. However, the same practice will also crystalize the sense of a witness untouched by phenomena that gradually evolves into a super non-dual Awareness seen as the source and substance of phenomena. Without further investigation, letting go is letting go thoughts, sensations and perceptions, but unknowingly also holding on to the Witness, Awareness or some other illusory inherent self hanging somewhere in the background. It is only when we investigate and look deeply into this awareness that we become able to let go of clinging to what looked like the Absolute leading to a deeper non-dual realization from the Awareness vs reflections-within-awareness duality.
 
 


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@jhsaintonge - hi, it's pretty much on topic actually. On May 12, 2011, I was doing the laundry after struggling for days on the fundamental koan "if you knew that you couldn't do anything to gain elightenment, then what do you do?" Suddenly, everything felt dreamlike, everything namely may life, the universe, several past lives, everything felt like a dream, something that never happened, something illusory arising from a great void, a creative nothingness, unborn, uncreated, beyond birth and death, beyond time, non existing yet source and substance of all things; me, awareness, consciousness was seen as being nothing more than its projection that would then get identified with its projected dreamlike appearences to create the illusion of a real life in a real world. As a result of this event, everything felt perfect, whole and complete for weeks. And something did shift permanently.

Now what is that? Advaita Vedanta Jnanis told me you are That". You are a jnani. Zen masters said, "you have seen the ox", the essence of the Mind. Reading Christian mystics, it is clear that this event is seeing God as the Ground of Being, the unmanifest source of all things. Nothing wrong with the experience. It is great, awesome, and enlightening in the sense that it opened the an abiding non-dual state that some call technical 4th path.

But then, iis this the Buddha's awakening? Not so sure. Because although this event does validate the teachings of Neoplantonism, Advaita Vedanta, Christian mysticsm, there is no real insight into "Co-dependent origination" and most as the other things that set the Buddha's teachings apart from other great Indian spiritual traditions.
 



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There remains a duality between "That" and phenomena. "That" feels like an impersonal uncreated clean mirror in the background that reflect phenomena, yet remains untouched. As a matter of fact that is the Self that Raman Maharishi talked about. That is the Arma (or Atta in Pali).

On a later stage, we realize that "That" can self-contract or on the contrary expend. It is like zooming in an out. In reality, it never changes, but gets more or less identified with phenomena. Attending to this pure presence-awareness, it naturally grows and overpowers phenomena to the point where everything is seen as appearences reflected within it. Yet "That" is the Self.

The problem is not the Self, but what we make out of it. Grasping at it tends to create a subtle duality, since we can become more or less identified with its dreamlike projections. There is Awareness vs phenomena arising within awareness. Awarenees is IT. Phenomena arising within it are Maya, illusions. We must cease identification with, or disembed from illusory (empty, impermanent, not-the-self) phenomena. This is precisely what great Advaita Jnanis did, like Ramana Maharishi who meditated for years in a cave after his awakening.

The problem is that the more we disembed as this stage, the more we grasp at this pure non-dual Awareness, Absolute or Self and fail to realize what the Buddha realized under the Bodhi Tree.

My conviction is that in order to realize No-Self (Anatta), the Buddha has realized the Self. He was already an accomplished yogi, a master in his own right. But he still wasn't satisfied, because it wasn't yet the end of suffering. Why, because as long as there remains any tiny sense of "me" or "mine" either in relation with body and mind, or with a Self, primordial awareness, Consciousness, Brahman, the One Mind, God, etc. there will be suffering.
 




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My guess is that the Buddha first realized the Self and then started deconstructing it. He took this non-dual awareness and thought, "how can I be sure that this will not perish with the body?", "isn't awareness nothing more than something that arises as the result of sense contact"; "can awareness or consciousness exist beyond the 5 aggregates?", "what is the sense of self, being, existence?", "how does it arise?", "why is it still there after self-realization?", "why is it still there in the highest arupa jhanas?", "how can it be extinguished without dying?"

Then one day, Gautama awakened to impermanence, co-dependent origination, no-Atma (antta), emptiness, suchness, etc. and knew that, "this is the end of suffering", "the holy life has been lived, there is no more coming and going, etc.".

I am far from that, but I am starting to realize that the Buddha did go beyond what everybody saw (and still seem to see -even Buddhists- as enlightenment, awakening or self-realization. Something that implies the realization of the Self, but goes further.






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So what is this pure, unborn, empty, timeless and nondual Awareness? As I see it now, it is just the non-arising, unsupported, empty and self-luminous nature of what is that the mind grasps and imagines to be an essential sustancial inherhent ultimate reality beyond phenomena. Seeing a white ox on a while empty field covered with snow (common Zen simile for the experience of the One Mind), the mind assumes that there is a pure "Whiteness" beyond all white objects.

Why? Because when the mind is not yet freed from ignorance, it needs to hold on to some kind of stable reference point, reifying its unconditioned and nonabiding nature realized in a moment of total surrender into seeing the eternal Source and substance of all things.

As I am starting to see it now, there is no clean mirror behind the images reflected in the mirror.The mirror cannot be separated from its reflected images. The reflected images are the mirror. Reality is like a lucid dream, but there is no dreamer, nor dreamed reality beyond the dream. There is just an timeless flow of dream images dreaming themselves within the dream. In dreaming, only the dream / in seeing, only the seen / in hearing, only the heard.







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Padmasambhava's take on the same subject (where we see that Dzogchen and Vajrayana do not contract Pali Buddhism):

"The mind that observes is also devoid of an ego or self-entity.
It is neither seen as something different from the aggregates
Nor as identical with these five aggregates.
If the first were true, there would exist some other substance.

This is not the case, so were the second true,
That would contradict a permanent self, since the aggregates are impermanent.
Therefore, based on the five aggregates,
The self is a mere imputation based on the power of the ego-clinging.

As to that which imputes, the past thought has vanished and is nonexistent.
The future thought has not occurred, and the present thought does not withstand scrutiny."


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The suggestions that I have received were to acquire 'right view'. The mind needs to acquire some form of conceptual model that allows it to accept the possibility of its own non-abiding ungraspable empty nature. Right view is therefore required to facilitate the shift of perspective from "I am Awareness, everything is in me" to "nothing whatsoever is me or mine, all dharmas are empty".

A good start would be Walpola Rahula's classic "What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada". It can be completed by "The Way to Buddhahood: Instructions from a Modern Chinese Master" by Ven. Yin-shun. A great autoritative summary of the Mahayana path. Then, based on a solid understanding of the core insights of Buddhism, Dakpo Tashi Namgyal's "Clarifying the Natural State" (if still in print, or anything from the same great 16th century yogi) will be the best introduction to the Mahamudra and indirectly to the the sem-de series of Dzogchen.

The logical progression is therefore:

- Advaita Vedanta
- Pali Buddhism
- Mahayana Buddhism
- Mahamudra, Dzogchen

If we skip Pali and Mahayana Buddhism and jump directly to Mahamudra or Dzogchen, the risk is to interpret Mahamudra or Dzogchen as a Buddhist version of pop-neo-advaita, equating emptiness and rigpa with awareness.

This is very common nowadays and some Western lamas seem to encourage this trend to water-down the Dzogchen teachings, as always in order to appeal to a larger public. Business is business.



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The great thing about Buddhism is that is never goes beyond our direct experience.

In our direct experience, "the seen" does not imply the existence of solid objects out there that are the objects of what is seen. They may or may may not exist, but our direct experience is only "in seeing, only the seen".

In our direct experience, "the seen" does not imply the existence of a subject (an entity located in our brain looking through our eyes) or an impersonal unmanifest eternal witness (the Self, Awareness). In our direct experience there is only "the seen", without anybody seeing.

The dream is just a metaphor. "The seen" is itself: not existing, not non-existing, nor both existing and non-existing ;-)




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Mahamudra is often defined as the union of emptiness and clarity. In Zen we call it the inseparability of the empty essence and luminous function of the mind.

What does it mean exacty and how is it related to practice.

As I see it, the practice of what Kenneth called 1st and 2nd gear (noting vipassana and self-inquiry) allows us to witness the impermanent nature or phenomena that are gradually seen as being dreamlike, impermanent and ungraspable. As a result, we disembed from our identification to phenomena and wake up to our existence as pure awareness, first as the silent witness untouched by thoughts, then as an impersonal presence-awareness somehow detached from phenomena (3rd path) and finally as a non-dual awareness [that is not a thing] that includes phenomena and manifests as phenomena (4th path).

Through this process, the witness crystalizes the *clarity* aspect of what is, while phenomena manifest the *emptiness* aspect of what is. When the separation is complete, empty phenomedna are seen as dreamlike apprearences within pure clarity apprehended as non-dual awareness.

In the Direct Mode (3rd gear?) some have noticed that phenomena become more alive, luminous, clear, in a way hyper-real, while the sense of an observing witness tends to dissolve.



Why? Because at this stage the direct mode shifts the our attention for the witnessing position beyond or behind phenomena towards phenomena and objects on the foreground. As a result phenomena (the seen, the heard, etc.) become more clear, alive, actual and hyper-real revealing its *clarity* aspect, while the sense of self, the witness, the observer or the sense of existing as a pure impersonal univolved awareness dissolves and fades away, revealing the *emptiness* aspect.

In both cases, *emptiness* and *clarity* are present but are somehow divided into two opposites sides:

a). The subject is the only reality: the all pervading witnessing non-dual awareness (clarity) on one side, and empty impermanent phenomena reflected within awareness on the other (emptiness), or

b.) The objects are the only reality in the absence of a knower: the "actual" world bright clear and luminous out there (clarity) and no self, witness or presence on the other side (emptiness).

Both states are valid point of views as long as we understand that everything is both *empty* and *luminous*. Then there is no opposion or conflict between cycling mode and direct mode, this or that. Gaining freedom from fixed views we gradually realize the union of emptiness and clarity.

Zen master Linji (Jap. Rinzai) illustrates a). and b). as the 1st and 2nd of his Four Positions:

1). Remove the objects, not the man (non-dual awareness that is both the source and substance of all things)
2). Remove the man, not the objects (no sense of self or agency, all that remains is the functioning of the six senses)
3). Remove both man and objects (emptiness of both self and phenomena)
4). Remove neither man, nor objects (traceless enlightenment beyond enlightenment)




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What is nibbana?

"If we wish to go by the Buddha's words, there is an easy principle that the Buddha taught to a disciple named Bahiya. "O Bahiya, whenever you see a form, let there be just the seeing; whenever you hear a sound, let there be just the hearing; when you smell an odor, let there be just the smelling (...) When you practice like this, there will be no self, no "I". When there is no self, there will be no running that way and no coming this way and no stopping anywhere. Self does not exist. That is the end of dukkha. That itself is nibbana". Whenever life is like that, it's nibbana. If it's lasting, then it is lasting nibanna; if it is temporary, then it is temporary nibanna. In other words, there is just one principle to live by".

- Buddhdassa Bhikkhu, 'Heartwood of the bodhi Tree'


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Hello Zyklops,

I know that it sounds strange and counter-intuitive. To bring it back to the reality of our direct experience of things as they are, let me try answer with the following questions:

- Have you noticed that no sunlight ever enters into the mind, nor even into the brain?

- Have you noticed that even in dreams, while sleeping in a dark room with our eyes closed, we experience bright vivid dreams?

- Have you noticed that when the sense of self fades away, everything becomes more vivid, bright and luminous?

- Have you noticed that when I am aware of something, this "I" is itself a thought and/or a feeling?

- Have you noticed that althought our sense of existence seems to imply the existence of a knower located somewhere behind the eyes, the sense of existence-presence-being is only the actualization of an ungoing impermanent flow of phenomena [coming into being], including what we had assumed to be the subject of all experiences?

When the self/Self is seen as an illusion, awareness is also revealed as a quality of phenomena. In other words, there is no Awareness out there aware of phenomena. Phenomena are themselves self-aware, empty and luminous.

This is also what Dogen means by "to study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away" (Genjokoan).



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The notion of a 'primordial awareness', 'knowingness' or 'buddha-nature', seem to find its origin in the 'tathatagarbha' (Buddha's embryo) described in the Lankavatara sutra that soon became very popular in China, Korea, Japan and Tibet, in relation with Yogachara (Vijnanavada, mind-only) Buddhism that strongly influenced the Zen (that used to be called the Lanka school), Mahamudra (also called the 'Mind Seal') and Dzogchen traditions.

Scholars agree to find its root in the Anguttara Nikaya, where the Buddha talks about the 'luminous mind' ('pabhassara citta' in Pali):

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements".

As mentioned above -at least as far I am concerned- there is nothing wrong with it, provided that we clearly understand that the Buddha did not talk about a permanent unconditioned entity untouched by phenomena. There is a "luminous is the mind" and "the triple world is mind-only" (Avatamsaka sutra), yet this mind is empty [of an abiding essence]. This mind is a more like a stream of interdependent luminous phenomena, a flow of seeing, hearing, sensing, thinking, etc.





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Just for the sake of clarification, I would like to make it clear that I never said that "these luminous self-perceiving phenomena which are craving-free and nondual are the Ultimate", if there could still be any ambiguity about that.

On the contrary, I said that what I used to take for an eternal, empty, uncreated, nondual, primordial awareness, source and substance of all things, turned out to be nothing more than the luminous nature of phenomena, themselves empty and ungraspable, somehow crystallized in a very subtle witnessing position. The whole topic of this thread is the deconstruction of this Primordial Awareness, One Mind, Cognizing Emptiness, Self, Atman, Luminous Mind, Tathagatgabha, or whatever we may call it,

As shocking as it may seem, the Buddha was very clear to say that this pure impersonal objectless nondual awareness (that Vedantists called Atma in Sanskrit, Atta in Pali) is still the aggregate of consciousness and that consciousness, as pure and luminous as it can be, does not stand beyond the aggregates.

"Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'" (Anatta-lakkhana Sutta).


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What I realized also is that authoritative self-realized students of direct students of both Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj called me a 'Jnani', inviting me to give satsangs and write books, while I had not yet understood the simplest core principles of Buddhism. I realized also that the vast majority of Buddhist teachers, East and West, never went beyond the same initial insights (that Adhyashanti calls "an abiding awakening"), confusing the Atma with the ego, assuming that transcending the ego or self-center (ahamkara in Sanskrit) was identical to what the Buddha had called Anatta (Non-Atma).

It would seem therefore that the Buddha had realized the Self at a certain stage of his acetic years (it is not that difficult after all) and was not yet satisfied. As paradoxical as it may seem, his "divide and conquer strategy" aimed at a systematic deconstruction of the Self (Atma, Atta), reduced to -and divided into- what he then called the five aggregates of clinging and the six sense-spheres, does lead to further and deeper insights into the nature of reality. As far as I can tell, this makes me a Buddhist, not because I find Buddhism cool and trendy, but because I am unable to find other teachings and traditions that provide a complete set of tools and strategies aimed at unlocking these ultimate mysteries, even if mystics from various traditions did stumble on the same stages and insights often unknowingly.


.............

Thanks, sure. I especially like the "In lhatong—in terms of the Four Naljors—one is not naming what arises; one is not separate from what arises. One becomes completely identified with that which arises".

This is how the practice these days. There is seeing, hearing, thinking, sensing, tasting and smelling, but obviously no seer, hearer, senser, etc. out there trying to dis-embed from the seen, the heard... If it seem that someone or something is investigating, seeing, practicing, it soon appears that this sense of a doer, an observer or even this abstract and impersonal sense of being is just thinking, feeling, sensing.

.............

As a matter of far, I am not familiar with noting vipassana. What I do is to hold on the 'sense of being' or 'sense of presence'.

This presence that first felt like "I am presence-awareness" now turns into the direct apprehension of the beingness, presence or actuality of seeing, hearing, sensing, etc. in the absence of a subject, knower, self or non-dual awareness-super-Self.

The sense of being (or feeling of existence) is not anymore the sense of my being as a sentient being or even as pure non-dual awareness, but is simply experienced as the beingness of 'what is' manifesting its presence.
 

 For more, see the original link


The Buddha teaches:

These four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four?
There is the case of the individual who has attained internal tranquility of awareness, but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment. There is... the individual who has attained insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, but not internal tranquility of awareness. There is... the individual who has attained neither internal tranquility of awareness nor insight into phenomena through heightened discernment. And there is... the individual who has attained both internal tranquility of awareness & insight into phenomena through heightened discernment.

The individual who has attained internal tranquility of awareness, but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, should approach an individual who has attained insight into phenomena through heightened discernment... and ask him: 'How should fabrications be regarded? How should they be investigated? How should they be seen with insight?' The other will answer in line with what he has seen & experienced: 'Fabrications should be regarded in this way... investigated in this way... seen in this way with insight.' Then eventually he [the first] will become one who has attained both internal tranquility of awareness & insight into phenomena through heightened discernment.

As for the individual who has attained insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, but not internal tranquility of awareness, he should approach an individual who has attained internal tranquility of awareness... and ask him, 'How should the mind be steadied? How should it be made to settle down? How should it be unified? How should it be concentrated?' The other will answer in line with what he has seen & experienced: 'The mind should be steadied in this way... made to settle down in this way... unified in this way... concentrated in this way.' Then eventually he [the first] will become one who has attained both internal tranquility of awareness & insight into phenomena through heightened discernment.

As for the individual who has attained neither internal tranquility of awareness nor insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, he should approach an individual who has attained both internal tranquility of awareness & insight into phenomena through heightened discernment... and ask him, 'How should the mind be steadied? How should it be made to settle down? How should it be unified? How should it be concentrated? How should fabrications be regarded? How should they be investigated? How should they be seen with insight?' The other will answer in line with what he has seen & experienced: 'The mind should be steadied in this way... made to settle down in this way... unified in this way... concentrated in this way. Fabrications should be regarded in this way... investigated in this way... seen in this way with insight.' Then eventually he [the first] will become one who has attained both internal tranquility of awareness & insight into phenomena through heightened discernment.

As for the individual who has attained both internal tranquility of awareness & insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, his duty is to make an effort in establishing ('tuning') those very same skillful qualities to a higher degree for the ending of the effluents*.


*Effluents: Mental effluent, pollutant, or fermentation. Four qualities — sensuality (sensual attachments/cravings and aversion), views (false views pertaining to self and other related extreme views), craving for becoming, and ignorance — that "flow out" of the mind and create the flood of the round of death and rebirth.
 

AN 2.32 Vijjābhāgiyā Sutta:
When calm is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And what is the benefit of a developed mind? Passion is abandoned.

When clear seeing is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And what is the benefit of developed discernment? Ignorance is abandoned.

Defiled by passion, the mind is not released. Defiled by ignorance, discernment does not develop. Thus, monks, from the fading away of passion there is liberation of mind (cetovimutti). From the fading away of ignorance there is liberation through discernment (paññāvimutti).

...

Here's a related conversation between Thusness and I about five years ago:

Session Start: Saturday, August 26, 2006

Update: Sorry, conversation removed from blog by request of Thusness.

.............

p.s. interesting note from Loppon Namdrol:

"In the early period of Budddhism, there were two yānas, śamatha yāna and vipaśyāna yāna; beginners went to Śariputra to training in vipaśyāna for stream entry; then they would go train in śamatha with Maudgalyana for further progress.

Lance Cousins wrote a very interesting article about this."

(Samatha = tranquility meditation, Vipasyana = insight meditation, stream entry = first out of four stages of awakening culminating in liberation)
Updated conversations with Thusness between 2004 to first half of 2011, in zip file.

Sorry, Thusness told me to take it off the blog and he does not want to give the impression of being a teacher. 

As this Buddhist term Anatta gets mentioned quite often in this blog, I think it is worth some clarifications.

Did the Buddha teach No Self? There are articles which states that the Buddha did not teach No Self, but Not-Self (Anatta). Indeed, the term Anatta refers to non-self. Why non-self and not no-self? I think to term it non-self brings the point that Anatta merely rejects the view of an existent self, but does not assert non-existence of self, which is another equally erroneous extreme. Actually I have no problems with calling it No Self at all - as long as it is not taken to mean that a self becomes non-existent (rather, it should mean that no existent self within or apart from the five aggregates could be established to begin with, that could become non-existent, both or neither).

Cooran (moderator of Dhammawheel) pointed out that a note to Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of this sutta is worth considering:

‘’We should carefully heed the two reasons that the Buddha does not declare, ‘’There is no self’’: not because he recognizes a transcendent self of some kind (as some interpreters allege), or because he is concerned only with delineating ‘’a strategy of perception’’ devoid of ontological implications (as others hold), but (i) because such a mode of expression was used by the annihilationists, and the Buddha wanted to avoid aligning his teaching with theirs; and (ii) because he wished to avoid causing confusion in those already attached to the idea of self. The Buddha declares that ‘all phenomena are nonself’’ (sabbe dhamma anatta), which means that if one seeks a self anywhere one will not find one. Since ‘’all phenomena’’ includes both the conditioned and the unconditioned, this precludes an utterly transcendent, ineffable self."


(Part of Note 385 on Page 1457 of The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya by Bhikkhu Bodhi).)


While it is true that Anatta is more like 'non-self' than 'non-existence of self', I do not agree with some of the articles' assertions that the question of the existence of self is simply a question to be put aside as something irrelevant to liberation. Although it is true that the four extremes are rejected by Buddha, it is not so much because it is 'unrelated to liberation', rather it is more like 'all the extremes views are false and relate to self-view in one form or another, and hence prevents liberation' and as such, all such false assertions/views must be abandoned through insight and realization in order for there to be liberation. Those articles, while explaining the rejection of the four extremes, fail to elucidate the realization of Anatta and the freedom from views (i.e. self-view) that result from such realization.

Furthermore, "Not-self" is not just a "strategy of letting go" or "strategy of perception devoid of any ontological implications" as certain articles may state or simply, but rather it is a truth, and there must be experiential realization of this truth. The Buddha constantly talks about discerning the three characteristics as an insight into dharmas, that is to "
discern, as it actually is" all dharmas as inconstant, unsatisfactory, and non-self. In Bhaddhekaratta Sutta, in reference to anatta, instructs a practitioner "that which is present he discerns — With insight as and when it comes". If not-self is merely treated as a strategy, what has it got to do with insight and clear discernment into the way things actually are? After realizing the truth, there is naturally letting go of I-making, but it is not due to 'taking not-self as a strategy to dissociate with things'. That would be far away from realizing the essence of anatta as described in Vajira Sutta (excerpt quoted below).
To understand what this realization of anatta entails, it is important to first understand what exactly is this self-view we are dealing with, the self-view that is relinquished permanently upon realization. The view of a self means believing or holding the view that there is an independent, unchanging, self-entity that persists from one moment to the next and one lifetime to another, and is the agent, controller or experiencer of stuff in life. "Self" thus has the quality of permanency, independence, separateness (separate from the flow of experiences), and agenthood (being the controller, perceiver, experiencer of things). If there is any such thing, it could qualify as Self. However, the realization of Anatta is that there is no such Self. It is the realization as I wrote in my commentary on Bahiya Sutta, the realization that in seeing, there is no three things: the Seer, that is doing the seeing of the seen. (Seer seeing seen) Instead, in the seeing, there is JUST the scene - that pure, vivid experience of scenery. That's it. No experiencer apart from the experience. This realization that "seer seeing seen" is a false view or perception of reality relinquishes the notion of a self or agent, but it does not establish a conceptual position such as "the self does not exist" because non-existence only pertains to an existent going into non-existence. This realization is not a new conceptual view to be held on to, but a complete freedom from self-view. In seeing JUST the seen, and all notions pertaining to existence or non-existence of self doesn't apply there.

As I see it, without abandoning ALL views of the existence (and likewise, the non-existence, etc) of the self, we cannot gain liberation (or in fact even stream entry, which requires the abandoning of the view of self). 

However, to call it not-self or non-self also leans itself to possible misinterpretation which I shall discuss later: such as treating 'not-self' as a form of dissociative practice.

If we look into the Buddha's discourses, the Buddha rejected views pertaining not only to the existence of self, but also the non-existence of self, the both existence and non-existence of self, and the neither existence nor non-existence of self. These four extreme positions are utterly rejected by the Buddha.

In reality, both self and dharma is neither existent nor non-existent (nor both, nor neither): since self and dharma has never arisen to begin with, cannot be established to begin with, cannot be pinned down to begin with, therefore self and dharma cannot go into non-existence, or be both and neither.

Here, the Buddha clarifies:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.086.wlsh.html 
 
"Well then, Anuraadha, do you equate the Tathaagata with his body,[3]... feelings,... perceptions,... mental formations,... consciousness?"[4]
"No indeed, Lord."
"Do you consider he has no body,... feelings,... perceptions,... mental formations,... consciousness?"
"No indeed, Lord."
"Then, Anuraadha, since in this very life the Tathaagata is not to be regarded as really and truly existing, is it proper for you to declare of him: 'Friends, he who is a Tathaagata... can be described otherwise than in these four ways...'?"[5]
"No indeed, Lord."
"Good, good, Anuraadha. As before, so now I proclaim just suffering and the ceasing of suffering."

And all the great Buddhist masters from the past have said the same things with regards to what Buddha said above:

As Chandrakirti states:

"A chariot is not asserted to be other than its parts,
Nor non-other. It also does not possess them.
It is not in the parts, nor are the parts in it.
It is not the mere collection [of its parts], nor is it their shape.
[The self and the aggregates are] similar."

And Padmasambhava states:

"The mind that observes is also devoid of an ego or self-entity.
It is neither seen as something different from the aggregates
Nor as identical with these five aggregates.
If the first were true, there would exist some other substance.

This is not the case, so were the second true,
That would contradict a permanent self, since the aggregates are impermanent.
Therefore, based on the five aggregates,
The self is a mere imputation based on the power of the ego-clinging.

As to that which imputes, the past thought has vanished and is nonexistent.
The future thought has not occurred, and the present thought does not withstand scrutiny."

And Nagarjuna states:

“The Tathagata is not the aggregates; nor is he other
than the aggregates.
The aggregates are not in him nor is he in them.
The Tathagata does not possess the aggregates.
What Tathagata is there?”

And the Vajira Sutta states:

Then the bhikkhuni Vajira, having understood, "This is Mara the Evil One," replied to him in verses: "Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view? This is a heap of sheer constructions: Here no being is found. Just as, with an assemblage of parts, The word 'chariot' is used, So, when the aggregates are present, There's the convention 'a being.' It's only suffering that comes to be, Suffering that stands and falls away. Nothing but suffering comes to be, Nothing but suffering ceases."

Notice that the Buddha said that you cannot find the self of the Tathagatha inside nor apart from the five skandhas (aggregations):
there is no Tathagata to be pinned down as a form-based or a formless Truth or Reality. This means that the so called 'self' actually cannot be found, located or pinned down as a reality just as the word 'weather' cannot be found or located as something inherently (independently, unchangingly) existing (apart or within the conglomerate of everchanging phenomena such as clouds, lightning, wind, rain, etc) - the label 'self' is merely a convention for the five skandhas or the body-mind aggregates, which is a process of self-luminous (having the quality of luminous clarity, knowing, cognizance) but empty phenomenality, in which no truly existing 'self' can be found within nor apart from them.

And if we cannot pin down an entity called 'self' to begin with, how can we assert the non-existence of a self: which means that an existent 'self' annihilates or goes into non-existence? To assert non-existence, you must have a base, an existent entity to begin with, that could become non-existent. If the convention 'self' is baseless to begin with, then existence, non-existence, both and neither become untenable positions.

So as you can see, the whole point of Anatta is to reject the view and notion of an existent self, without thereby asserting the non-existence of self. I would like to borrow Loppon Namdrol's quotations on this regard:

"The great 11th Nyingma scholar Rongzom points out that only Madhyamaka accepts that its critical methodology "harms itself", meaning that Madhyamaka uses non-affirming negations to reject the positions of opponents, but does not resort to affirming negations to support a position of its own. Since Madhyamaka, as Buddhapalita states "does not propose the non-existence of existents, but instead rejects claims for the existence of existents", there is no true Madhyamaka position since there is no existent found about which a Madhyamaka position could be formulated; likewise there is no false Madhyamaka position since there is no existent found about which a Madhyamaka position could be rejected."
As I have said since long ago (with regards to the emptiness of self in persons): in seeing always JUST the seen without a seer, in hearing always JUST the heard without the hearer - as what the Buddha taught in the Bahiya Sutta that led to my realization, explained here. So, no (existent) self - but also no no self. The main point is that in seeing JUST the seen (no self, no no self or whatever)! I am not asserting non-existence or any new positions to cling to, I am simply rejecting the false, misconceived, learnt view that there is an agent, a self, that stands behind the activity of seeing, hearing, thinking, etc. For in order for me to assert non-existence, there must be some base in which I can assert its non-existence, but such a base or entity cannot be found, and when the emptiness of an inherently existent self is realized, the four extreme positions cannot be established.

The liberation of the view of an agent, a self that stands behind experience as an agent that controls, or perceives, phenomena - due to the realization that such a view is utterly unfounded in the reality of 'in seeing always just the seen', liberates you from self-view without proposing any further positions to be held on to (such as the non-existence of self). 

I often say that the insight into Anatta and Shunyata is not a conceptual position I cling to, but a realization and wisdom that when actualized in daily experience, is indeed a non-conceptual freedom and wonder.

Only when we see Anatta as a realization (not merely a technique to dissociate, but a realization into a dharma seal, a characteristic of phenomenon or truth) which liberates us from false views about reality, instead of something to support a position of our own, will we be able to gain liberation. It is not also not merely an experience whereby the sense of self dissolves which is temporary and is in fact rather common - but a permanent abandonment of a false view seen to be false through realization, leading to a stable non-retrogressing experience of the freedom from self-view in direct experience of 'in seeing just the seen, in hearing just the heard', etc.

The Buddha says,

"Bhikkkhus, as purified and bright as this view is, if you covet, cherish, treasure and take pride in it, do you understand this Dhamma as comparable to a raft, taught for the purpose of giving up [i.e. crossing over] and not for the purpose of grasping?" "No, venerable sir." "Bhikkhus, as purified and bright as this view is, if you do not covet, cherish, treasure and take pride in it, would you then know this Dhamma as comparable to a raft, taught for the purpose of giving up [i.e. crossing over] and not for the purpose of grasping?" "Yes, venerable sir."

As you can see, the raft of the Buddha works as merely a non-affirming negation that frees us from ALL views whatsoever.


Dependent Origination is too a raft; it is like the stick that stirs the fire and is eventually consumed by fire without leaving any trace. 

Loppon Namdrol have said elsewhere:

"In other words, right view is the beginning of the noble path. It is certainly the case that dependent origination is "correct view"; when one analyzes a bit deeper, one discovers that in the case "view" means being free from views. The teaching of dependent origination is what permits this freedom from views."

The teaching of Anatta (as I define it as the emptiness of self in persons), and the teaching of Dependent Origination (which further leads to the realization of the emptiness of self in all phenomena) are simply rafts that lead to some fundamental insight that burns away our false views and perception about reality.

Only when we are able to liberate ourselves from such false perceptions, can we stop clinging to self, and phenomena, and as a result end our afflictions, attachments, and sufferings.

No amount of trying to force ourselves to stop suffering or attachments is ever going to work, if fundamentally we hold self and phenomena to have graspable, inherent existence, that is subject to birth and death, etc. If we hold on to things as 'I', as 'mine', as objects that are real and hence conducive for grasping, craving and so on, we are never going to be liberated. Only when we give up (through insight) our attachments to the sense of 'I', to the sense of things as 'mine', to the sense that there are 'things' (by realizing them to be completely illusory and empty), will we then be able to experience what liberation is.

Having said all these, I should also mention the pitfalls of calling Anatta not-self or non-self.

The problem with calling Anatta not-self or non-self, is not so much the term itself, but that people generally think of not-self as implying a practice of dissociation. This means there is still I, here, trying to dissociate from 'other objects' as 'not-self'. As a result, I still cling dearly to the sense of 'I', or maybe a very subtle grasping (which can occur at the I AM level or even the substantial non-dual level to a subtler degree) to Knowing or Awareness as the true self beyond all objects.

So the point is: I can dissociate from all objects as 'not-self', but still cling to an ultimate non-objective Subject/Self. Therefore such a form of dissociation is never going to get us to understand what Anatta is all about. And this is also not what the Buddha set out contemplation of Anatta to be.

Why do I say so? Because the Buddha's method of contemplating on Anatta is not like the Advaita Vedanta technique of self-inquiry, contemplating on Anatta is very different from the practice of 'neti neti'. The practice of 'neti neti' is done in order to reject the not-self in order to find or discover the Self. To put it in Namdrol's terms, the Advaita technique resorts to affirming negations to support a position of its own. Why? The not-self of Advaita is established only in contrast with the True Self.

The contemplation of neti neti, or dissociation, the separation of the witness from the witnessed, Self from not-self and so on, is done to 'support' a position of a true Self. So with regards to the phenomenal world of everchanging things, I reject as not me and mine, for I am the ultimate Witness that is perceiving all these.

This is the false View no. 4 described in Sabbasava Sutta: "...As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress." - the commentary of 'Middle Length Discourses' book explains, "of these six views, the first two represent the simple antinomy of eternalism and annihilationism; the view that ‘no self exists for me’ is not the non-self doctrine of the Buddha, but the materialist view that identifies the individual with the body and thus holds that there is no personal continuity beyond death. The next three views may be understood to arise out of the philosophically more sophisticated observation that experience has a built-in reflexive structure that allows for self-consciousness, the capacity of the mind to become cognizant of itself, its contents, and the body with which it is inter-connected. Engaged in a search for his 'true nature,' the untaught ordinary person will identify self either with both aspects of the experience (view 3), or with the observer alone (view 4), or with the observed alone (view 5). The last  view is a full-blown version of eternalism in which all reservations have been discarded."

The Buddha's contemplation of Anatta however, is not done with any of such views. The Buddha was very adamant throughout his teachings that the purpose of contemplating the three characteristic of phenomenon, namely: impermanence, dissatisfactoriness, and non-self are done not to discover some ultimate reality, but rather to result in knowledge and vision of things as they are (as being empty of self) which leads to dispassion and ultimately cessation (nirvana) of suffering and afflictions. The result of contemplating as such results in the realization of Anatta.

As we can see, contemplating, and realizing the three characteristic has the effect of letting go of all attachments. It does not in any way strengthen the subject-object dichotomy, the sense of an observer apart from the observed. Contemplating non-self in the Buddha's sense does NOT mean dissociation, it does not mean seperating the observing self from the observed objects: it simply means contemplating non-self in the midst of directly experiencing pure sensations as they are, resulting in the insight into Anatta, and hence relinquishing ALL sense of self with regards to all sensations, including even the sense of an observer.

To support my claims I will discuss one of the most popular technique the Buddha said could lead to the attainment of Anagamihood and Arahantship in as little as 7 days and at most 7 years (of course you must be seriously practicing it with a background of right view and understanding, otherwise you can't possibly have right mindfulness to begin with, which is why not everyone who meditates become enlightened so quickly), which is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness found in the Satipatthana Sutta (which I highly recommend everyone to read) which is according to Wikipedia the most popular Buddhist text. In that technique, one is mindful/aware of every sensation. You may think ‘oh this is probably some typical Witnessing technique found even in common self-help books to dissociate from all forms and experiences in order to transcend to the formless Self or Watcher’, BUT notice that the Watcher is nowhere mentioned in the sutta (and any other Pali sutta for that matter) and more importantly: the Buddha’s repeated expression in the sutta of "observing the body in the body," "observing the feelings in the feelings," "observing the mind in the mind," "observing the objects of mind in the objects of mind." Why are the words, body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind repeated? Why ‘observe the … IN THE ….’? It means you are living and experiencing IN and AS the sensations, and not observing the sensations in and as an observer/watcher and the sensations are not meant to be disassociated from in order to get to an ultimate reality or transcendental Self! 

The Buddha's method of contemplating anatta therefore is for practitioners to have direct experience and contemplation of pure sensations as in Bahiya Sutta, 'in seeing just the seen, in hearing just the heard'* WITHOUT the filtering of the conceptual mind, the false sense or conception of a self, or the passions and afflictions that causes all manners of craving and aversions for the sensations, so that insight and realization can arise, so that true liberation and abandonment can take place, and it is only in this context that contemplating anatta can be understood. And this is the insight meditation taught by Buddha himself, which, at least in the Pali canon, is considered as the most direct path to liberation (however note that the term 'direct path' is used differently by me in my e-book).

*Bahiya Sutta said, "Then, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress."

Udana Sutta says, "Now, a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — who has regard for nobles ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma — does not assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He does not assume feeling to be the self... does not assume perception to be the self ... does not assume fabrications to be the self... He does not assume consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness.", "He discerns, as it actually is, not-self form as 'not-self form' ... not-self feeling as 'not-self feeling' ... not-self perception as 'not-self perception' ... not-self fabrications as 'not-self fabrications' ... not-self consciousness as 'not-self consciousness."

A lot of people think contemplating not-self means dissociation or on first impression it may seem like a different set of instructions from Bahiya Sutta but actually it is exactly the same as Bahiya Sutta. Many people think of not-self as meaning "does not assume form to be the self" (which means there could still be a person or witness dissociating himself from form), yet anatta is not only that, since it negates also “the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form” (no possibility of a witness or awareness which contains or observes form - form is just form without any referent of self - whether it is a self seen to be inside my body, or my body inside me as if I am a container-like awareness!), in other words, exactly as per Bahiya Sutta, “Then, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen... only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress."
 
The Buddha also specifically rejected the notion of Self as infinite and formless (prevalent for those who hold the 'Ground of Being'/all-encompassing container of phenomena sort of Self-view) in Maha-nidana Sutta: 
"The one who, when delineating a self, delineates it as formless and infinite, either delineates it as formless and infinite in the present, or of such a nature that it will [naturally] become formless and infinite [in the future/after death], or he believes that 'Although it is not yet that way, I will convert it into being that way.' This being the case, it is proper to say that a fixed view of a self formless and infinite obsesses him."

Many people practice vipassana as a kind of dissociation, not understanding that anatta-contemplation as Buddha intended it actually leads to insight-discernment of anatta, not-self, which is not a form of dissociation or merely a rejection of 'form = self' but a rejection of the view of self pertaining to forms, feelings .... consciousness in all manners (including as happening to self, in self, or self in it, etc), including any self of a permanent, independent, separate nature, or of agency (perceiver, controller), such that there is "In reference to the seen, only the seen, no you in terms of that". It furthermore ends with, "this, just this, is the end of stress."


The Buddha is very clear that all sensations are without self in any form whatsoever - whether as an observer, or a container, or something inhabiting forms like a soul in a body. He rejected all kinds of self-view and taught that the direct path to liberation is the practice of mindfulness as taught in Mahasatipatthana sutta. His entire path of practice is in sync with his view and realization. He did not talk about Self nor about dissociation (he did talk about dispassion which is important but an entirely different matter however), he talked about the aggregates, the elements, the sensations and manifestation and their nature - empty of self, impermanent (dissolving, releasing, disjoint), unsatisfactory (ungraspable and passing - nothing is satisfying). He taught that by contemplating as such, you can gain insight, release, liberation.

So do not mistaken anatta with neti-neti. The neti-neti (not this, not that) of Advaita self-inquiry is a process of dissociation, i.e. to get to/realize the fundamental true self, one must dissociate from all thoughts and concepts as being 'not self'. What remains in the absence of conceptual thoughts is the true self. While in the absence of conceptual thoughts, arises a direct non-conceptual realization of a palpable and undeniable presence-existence-consciousness is discovered and feels as if one has touched the very core of one's existence itself, and this experience should not, and in fact cannot be denied, nonetheless the very framework of self-inquiry (Who am I? already presumes a purest identity) and the practice of dissociation based on the existing framework of duality and inherency... the realization, experience, framework and practice all come together to strengthen the existing framework of duality and inherency where it appears there is a true Self behind and transcending all phenomena as the transcendental witnessing consciousness. One then fails to understand, until further investigation, that this realization and experience while true, does not actually require the faulty framework that posits an inherent substantial reality. That the pure presence discovered is simply another manifestation that does not convey anything 'ultimate', 'independent', or 'permanent'... in fact all transience turns out to have the same taste and intensity of luminosity, and are all empty of self.

Anatta on the other hand is not a process of dissociation - it is first and foremost a dharma seal that is always and already so - always in seeing just the seen never a seer, never was there a self. Secondly, the way of contemplating anatta is not via dissociation but via contemplative *deconstruction*. In other words, contemplating on anatta or anatta as a truth doesn't set up opposites like true self vs not-self. There is no observer or Self that could dissociate from the observed. Instead, it is a process of deconstruction. Deconstruction means really challenging the idea of an inherent self, an inherent awareness, or a subject, by investigating experientially if it it holds up to reality. It deconstructs our idea of a 'seer-seeing-seen', or a 'self/Self' into its constituent components such that at the end, we realize that there is no agent, no self/Self, not even a super-Awareness transcending phenomena as an ultimate identity, but rather the very notion of 'self/Self' or 'Awareness' is being deconstructed into its impermanent constituents of experiences, (in seeing just the seen, in hearing just the heard, no seer/hearer) thus we realize that even what is known as 'Awareness' is also empty of any substantial self, being a mere convention for the flow of self-luminous phenomena. It is at this point where the Buddha says, "you can't pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life". He never said something like "the Tathagata is the truth and reality which is the pure consciousness transcending all forms" as his Advaita counterparts would put it.


Likewise, the dharma seal of Impermanence should also be understood likewise – as a seal rather than as a method of dissociation (many people are doing dissociation via impermanence instead of realizing impermanence as a seal, a truth). As Thusness pointed out years ago, there is a difference between realizing impermanence (the attainment of stream entry is described as the opening of the dhamma eye which realizes that "Whatever is subject to arising is all subject to cessation.") and using it as a method of dis-identification and dissociation. Realizing impermanence as a seal leads to the perception of the disjointed, bubble-like and self-releasing aspect of phenomena and no-self. As Thusness said years ago, “With the right view, reality itself is [seen as] impermanence, and it has to bring about a new understanding and and not enhance our dualistic and inherent tendencies. What is the use of teaching dis-identification and dissociation if the path leads to further inherent and dualistic thoughts?”

It is important to take note here that from I AM to One Mind to No Mind and Anatta (Also see: Experience, Realization, View, Practice and Fruition), the self-luminosity is still as intense and important - it is not denied at all. Anatta does not deny luminosity. We're not saying 'The Pure Consciousness of Advaita is bullshit', nothing of that sort! In fact, the realization of anatta makes this experience of non-dual luminosity all the more effortless and intense! Every transient experience is naturally luminosity-bliss in anatta. So Anatta does not deny anything but simply deconstructs the view of inherency and duality we form about it. In the same way the process of deconstructing the notion of a solid car with its own independent car-ness entity into its constituents (such as windows, engine, steering wheel, pedals, cooling system, etc etc) where no car-entity can be pinned down does not in any part of its inquiry ever deny the appearance/experience of what appears to be a car, but nonetheless the entire notion of a solid car gets deconstructed at the end yet the appearance is still as vivid as ever, in fact even 'clearer' because now there is no longer the layer of false notions obscuring the true face of it. As the old masters said, "Keep the experience, refine the view." One Awareness is deconstructed into the pure-consciousness of each of the six sense doors without a perceiving subject, pure-consciousness of sight and pure-consciousness of sound and the pure consciousness of non-conceptual thought (the "I AMness") are all of the same intensity, yet disconnected and radically different in manifestation and arising in different conditions, all equally pure and empty. Every arising is one whole and complete manifestation. Presence/Luminosity/Awareness is not denied, but simply realized to be empty of self or substantiality.

As a side-topic:

If there is no existent self, or a soul, how does it fit in with Buddhist doctrines like rebirth? Or even more simply (for those who don't believe in rebirth), how does feeling, sensing, perceiving happen, without an existent self?

The Buddha's answer to this is direct, simple, yet profound. He explains this through dependent origination:


"Who, O Lord, feels?"


"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he feels.' Had I said so, then the question 'Who feels?' would be appropriate. But since I did not speak thus, the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of feeling?' And to that the correct reply is: 'sense-impression is the condition of feeling; and feeling is the condition of craving.'"

The same would apply for rebirth, which actually is a term for the continuity of a causal/karmic process and not of a self-entity. 

Who is reborn is asked falsely, as the Buddha did not say 'he reborns'. The correct way to ask would be, 'What is the condition for birth?' And to that the correct reply is: 'with ignorance as condition i.e. false view and clinging to a self, birth arises'. The next birth is neither the same nor different from a previous birth in the same way that the flame of a newly lighted candle is neither same nor different from the previous candle, being merely a process of causal continuity instead of the passing on of an unchanging soul-entity.

As we can see, Dependent Origination only truly makes sense when we are not obscured by self-view. Before the realization of Anatta, D.O. can be grasped intellectually, but not fully actualized due to dualistic view, and therefore cannot be fully appreciated. Hence to realize D.O. we have to realize Anatta, then when everything becomes seen as causal processes, the insight into Shunyata (as in the secondfold emptiness, the emptiness of phenomena) can arise with further contemplations and pointers.

One last thing: although it is the case that all phenomena are empty of self, one must not go to the extreme by denying or rejecting conventional self or doer, which brings in the problem of rejecting karmic responsibilities and so forth. In one of the scriptures, the Buddha talked about self-doer -- basically the idea is that you get what you sow in terms of karmic cause and effect. Does this contradict the teaching of anatta? It does not.

What we have to understand here is that whenever the Buddha talks about self (in many places in the suttas), he is speaking about it purely as a conventional self. As Thusness told me in 2012, "To me [the matter] is just, is "Soh" an eternal being... that's all. No denial of Soh as a conventional self". There is no denial of a conventional self or doer, only an inherently existing, changeless self/agent/doer existing in and of itself.

For example in the Araham Sutta, the Buddha states,



[Deva:]
He who's an Arahant, his work achieved, Free from taints, in final body clad, That monk still might use such words as "I." Still perchance might say: "They call this mine." ... Would such a monk be prone to vain conceits?
[The Blessed One:]
Bonds are gone for him without conceits, All delusion's chains are cast aside: Truly wise, he's gone beyond such thoughts.[1] That monk still might use such words as "I," Still perchance might say: "They call this mine." Well aware of common worldly speech, He would speak conforming to such use.[2]


In the Potthapada Sutta, the Buddha is stated,


"In the same way, when there is a gross acquisition of a self... it's classified just as a gross acquisition of a self. When there is a mind-made acquisition of a self... When there is a formless acquisition of a self, it's not classified either as a gross acquisition of a self or as a mind-made acquisition of a self. It's classified just as a formless acquisition of a self.

"Citta, these are the world's designations, the world's expressions, the world's ways of speaking, the world's descriptions, with which the Tathagata expresses himself but without grasping to them." [10]

In the Dighanakha Sutta, the Buddha states, "A bhikkhu whose mind is liberated thus, Aggivessana, sides with none and disputes with none; he employs the speech currently used in the world without ahdering to it." 
However the Neo-Advaitins however would not be able to accept this as they are unable to distinguish the conventional and the ultimate, therefore they reject conventional self, karma, afflictions, path, cessation (nirvana) and so forth. Nagarjuna says, "The Buddha's teaching of the Dharma is based on two truths: a truth of worldly convention and an ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the distinction drawn between these two truths do not understand the Buddha's profound truth. Without a foundation in the conventional truth the significance of the ultimate cannot be taught. Without understanding the significance of the ultimate, liberation is not achieved."

For further elucidations on the two truths based on the Madhyamika teachings, see
Dependent Arising and the Emptiness of Emptiness: Why did Nagarjuana start with causation?

......


(Update: 2/11/2014)

Another quotation on how ‘infinite and formless Self’ is rejected by Buddha:
"For example, with the first misinterpretation — that the Buddha is denying the cosmic self found in the Upanishads — it turns out that the Upanishads contain many different views of the self, and the Buddha himself gives an analysis of those different kinds [§11]. He finds four main varieties. One is that the self has a form and is finite — for example, that your self is your conscious body and will end when the body dies. The second type is that the self has a form and is infinite — for example, the view that the self is equal to the cosmos. The third type is that the self is formless and finite. This is similar to the Christian idea of the soul: It doesn't have a shape, and its range is limited. The fourth view is that the self is formless and infinite — for example, the belief that the self is the infinite spirit or energy that animates the cosmos.

The Buddha says that each of these four varieties of self-theory comes in three different modes as to when and how the self is that way. One is that the self already is that way. Another is that the self naturally changes to be that way — for example, when you fall asleep or when you die. The third is that the self is changeable through the will. In other words, through meditation and other practices you can change the nature of your self — for example, from being finite to being infinite."

- Ven Thanissaro

….

Buddha:

§11. "To what extent, Ānanda, does one delineate when delineating a self? Either delineating a self possessed of form and finite, one delineates that 'My self is possessed of form and finite.' Or, delineating a self possessed of form and infinite, one delineates that 'My self is possessed of form and infinite.' Or, delineating a self formless and finite, one delineates that 'My self is formless and finite.' Or, delineating a self formless and infinite, one delineates that 'My self is formless and infinite.' "Now, the one who, when delineating a self, delineates it as possessed of form and finite, either delineates it as possessed of form and finite in the present, or of such a nature that it will become possessed of form and finite [when asleep/after death], or he believes that 'Although it is not yet that way, I will convert it into being that way.' This being the case, it is proper to say that a fixed view of a self possessed of form and finite obsesses him. [Similarly with each of the other views.] — DN 15

Someone asked:
1) My confusion here is - the sutta starts off by Buddha saying that whatever there is to be seen/heard/sensed etc., that the Buddha knows. Then he says when seeing what is to be seen, he doesn't construe a seen. What does that mean? What's the difference between seeing and knowing what is to be seen, yet not construing a seen? Clearly a difference between directly knowing a seen, and construing a seen. So if he doesn't even construe a seen, then of course he wouldn't construe a seer either. But not construing a seen apparently doesn't mean he doesn't know a seen, so not construing a seer also wouldn't necessarily mean he doesn't know a seer.
2) Since none the skhandas are Self, then even if there is a Self that is the Absolute, I'm not sure it would even make sense for that Self to be a "seer"/"cognizer" etc.

===
I replied:

1) If there is a knower, then Bahiya Sutta 'in the seen just the seen' with no 'you in reference to that' in any way (in here, there, in between) could not be realized.
2) If the skandhas are not Self, then the Advaita would say that the Self, the Absolute, is that which knows -- the unseen light which shines upon objects. All objects owe their temporal existence to the Uncaused Cause, the Great Light of Self. They are supported by Self, but Self is not supported by them.

Buddha would rejected all such notions of Self as 1) being equatable to the aggregates, 2) being completely separate from and impercipient of the aggregates, and 3) being completely separate from, yet being the Agent which feels or perceives the aggregates:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.15.0.than.html

(Buddha:)

Assumptions of a Self

"To what extent, Ananda, does one assume when assuming a self? Assuming feeling to be the self, one assumes that 'Feeling is my self' [or] 'Feeling is not my self: My self is oblivious [to feeling]' [or] 'Neither is feeling my self, nor is my self oblivious to feeling, but rather my self feels, in that my self is subject to feeling.'
"Now, one who says, 'Feeling is my self,' should be addressed as follows: 'There are these three feelings, my friend — feelings of pleasure, feelings of pain, and feelings of neither pleasure nor pain. Which of these three feelings do you assume to be the self?' At a moment when a feeling of pleasure is sensed, no feeling of pain or of neither pleasure nor pain is sensed. Only a feeling of pleasure is sensed at that moment. At a moment when a feeling of pain is sensed, no feeling of pleasure or of neither pleasure nor pain is sensed. Only a feeling of pain is sensed at that moment. At a moment when a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain is sensed, no feeling of pleasure or of pain is sensed. Only a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain is sensed at that moment.
"Now, a feeling of pleasure is inconstant, fabricated, dependent on conditions, subject to passing away, dissolution, fading, and cessation. A feeling of pain is inconstant, fabricated, dependent on conditions, subject to passing away, dissolution, fading, and cessation. A feeling of neither pleasure nor pain is inconstant, fabricated, dependent on conditions, subject to passing away, dissolution, fading, and cessation. Having sensed a feeling of pleasure as 'my self,' then with the cessation of one's very own feeling of pleasure, 'my self' has perished. Having sensed a feeling of pain as 'my self,' then with the cessation of one's very own feeling of pain, 'my self' has perished. Having sensed a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain as 'my self,' then with the cessation of one's very own feeling of neither pleasure nor pain, 'my self' has perished.
"Thus he assumes, assuming in the immediate present a self inconstant, entangled in pleasure and pain, subject to arising and passing away, he who says, 'Feeling is my self.' Thus in this manner, Ananda, one does not see fit to assume feeling to be the self.
"As for the person who says, 'Feeling is not the self: My self is oblivious [to feeling],' he should be addressed as follows: 'My friend, where nothing whatsoever is sensed (experienced) at all, would there be the thought, "I am"?'"
"No, lord."
"Thus in this manner, Ananda, one does not see fit to assume that 'Feeling is not my self: My self is oblivious [to feeling].'
"As for the person who says, 'Neither is feeling my self, nor is my self oblivious [to feeling], but rather my self feels, in that my self is subject to feeling,' he should be addressed as follows: 'My friend, should feelings altogether and every way stop without remainder, then with feeling completely not existing, owing to the cessation of feeling, would there be the thought, "I am"?'"
"No, lord."
"Thus in this manner, Ananda, one does not see fit to assume that 'Neither is feeling my self, nor is my self oblivious [to feeling], but rather my self feels, in that my self is subject to feeling.'
"Now, Ananda, in as far as a monk does not assume feeling to be the self, nor the self as oblivious, nor that 'My self feels, in that my self is subject to feeling,' then, not assuming in this way, he is not sustained by anything (does not cling to anything) in the world. Unsustained, he is not agitated. Unagitated, he is totally unbound right within. He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'
"If anyone were to say with regard to a monk whose mind is thus released that 'The Tathagata exists after death,' is his view, that would be mistaken; that 'The Tathagata does not exist after death'... that 'The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death'... that 'The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death' is his view, that would be mistaken. Why? Having directly known the extent of designation and the extent of the objects of designation, the extent of expression and the extent of the objects of expression, the extent of description and the extent of the objects of description, the extent of discernment and the extent of the objects of discernment, the extent to which the cycle revolves: Having directly known that, the monk is released. [To say that,] 'The monk released, having directly known that, does not see, does not know is his opinion,' that would be mistaken. [1]

-          DN 15.
...............



For further reading, see Thusness's article Realization and Experience and Non-Dual Experience from Different Perspectives