Attentional Nonduality with a Visual Object (“Luminosity”)

 

Jenny

Since you got stream entry, has your perceptual experience of, say, a distant cloud changed? Yes or No. If yes, how so?

Vasily

That question is so fundamentally hard to answer. Okay, let me go look at a cloud real quickly.

Okay, it’s super cloudy, but I got the general gist. So there’s this feeling I get: “Oh, wow, I’m really here, and I was here before but not quite and now here’s this sky, and it’s really here and vivid. It feels like there’s another dimension to it that wasn’t perceived earlier, like I saw the cloud (sky) but didn’t really see it.”

This has been happening with all five sense doors over the past couple months. It is like meaning and dimensionality have just begun oozing out of everything. I’m like, “How have I been missing this this whole time?”

Is that useful?

Jenny

Maybe. Let’s stick with vision for now.

Vasily

There’s more color and brightness to things, like high-definition.

Jenny

You remember all the talks we had with Daniel in the DhU about luminosity?

Vasily

Kind of.

Jenny

The brightness, the vividness, the higher definition . . . those are like secondary effects of luminosity and are truly visual. So it is good that you are noticing all that and can articulate that. This part is easy to articulate. The primary effect of luminosity, on the other hand, is a bitch to describe even when one has it and makes a living off using words.

Andrew

You know, things are just like, right there!

Jenny

Yeah, hahaha. Vasily, in regular dualistic perception, the object viewed is solid, discrete, and over there. And you are over here, and your awareness over here processes the sight experience such that the object is over there, unto itself, separate.

Vasily

Yeah, see,  that’s what’s the hard part about that question. It now feels natural for the space to feel unified. It doesn’t feel as much like I’m looking at the sky as that there just is this colored expansion of space and the colors change and the forms change
but things are really the same, if that makes sense. There’s also something to do with creation. Everything’s being created at once. And it is flowy somehow. That’s harder to explain, but I can go into it if you think it’s relevant.

Jenny

Luminosity happens while looking at an object happens. But the primary effect, as opposed to the secondary effects of clarity, high definition, and color saturation you mentioned, isn’t actually visual. It concerns the “consciousness” part of eye-consciousness.

Vasily

Right.

Jenny

So, in terms of separate Subject and separate Object . . . you say they are unified and in some sense the spatial demarcation of Subject/Object and the extension aspects differ from what they were before luminosity dawned. Yet the experience, you say, is somehow still “flowy.” 

Vasily

Like I flow into the sky/cloud . . . in some way.

Jenny

Specifically, “you” flow out into all this, and the “all this” oozes forth, as well. So the “flowy” aspect of the experience is because, in one sense, there is still an over here and an over there and they are “conversant” with each other dynamically, as it were?

Vasily

Well, not quite. Maybe there’s some part of that is like that. Yeah, there’s an over here and over there, but they really aren’t that different. They’re merely at different spatial locations, and that’s what I was getting at.

Jenny

Good.

Vasily

There’s this kind of “just space” that’s colored. There’s something underneath it.

Jenny

Underneath “just space”? And what is that? What seems to be underneath it?

Vasily

Awareness. Like something underneath the whole experience is immovable, un-understandable, consistent, and comforting.

Jenny

Alive.

Vasily

“Alive” is what I mean by the “creation” aspect: how these solid things seem to be simultaneous creation somehow. I’m still trying to get a better sense of that, however. All of that isn’t 100% finalized for me.

Jenny

So, just to summarize thus far—this attentional experience of an object is nondual, in one sense, because, although there is a dynamically fluid interchange of you with yon object, and hence an over there and over here, there is also one unified field that is vast, still, and pervaded by awareness.

Vasily

Yeah. Exactly.

Jenny

When I was first experiencing luminosity, I thought that my mind was fused with the distant cloud I gazed on outside my office window. It was as though my mind were over there with, in, or even as the cloud. But weeks and weeks later . . .

Vasily

Yeah, but I can see how the outflowing isn’t really positive, because that’s still implying mind over here going into over there.

Jenny

Yes, “flow” might seem to be still implying the unidirectionality of what in Dzogchen is called moving mind, which is the mind that clings to or pushes away objects (via the Three Poisons).

Weeks later, it seemed to me that “awareness” was impersonal, was with/in/as the cloud itself. As is ubiquitously parroted in the prag community, “The cloud is aware where it is.”

Vasily

Ya.

Jenny

However, the overarching truth is that both statements are simultaneously true: Your mind is at the cloud, yet the cloud is always already “processed” into being—without your subjective Perceiver manipulation’s being required.

Vasily

Right. Which is really what I’m trying to get at: Any feeling of nonduality is just another perception, because this awareness is already awakened.

Jenny

Very good, Vasily. Well put. That’s really key to next getting to rigpa, which is a whole higher order of magnitude, so to speak, beyond luminosity.

When you gaze on an object, there is a sense of two fluid streams intermingling. Nevertheless, because awareness is omnipervasive, there is paradoxically a sense of stillness and constancy, meaning some “ground” that is no entity yet is emphatically not impermanence.

Vasily

Yeah. Which is why it feels like the consciousness sensations around my head are kind of flowing into this vast immovable thing, but not flowing into it, because they’re already part of it, just another vibration, wave, color, whatever.

Does that make sense?

Jenny

Yes. That sounds like Emptiness, which isn’t an entity, as nonetheless known as “one taste” or “one flavor” pervading all diversity of experience equally.

So your experience of your cloud is of bidirectional flow, interchange without clear origin on one side, and at the same time vast stillness because always already nakedly aware. Awareness has no arising, no passing, no contour, no edge, no inside, no outside. Realizing this, you are no longer funneling “out there” into “in here” in order to project “out there” into existence so you can take separate credit for its separate thingness. The default setting is about the ego structure’s need to remain the controller. 

Vasily

Yeah, that sounds right. I’m like 90% there, I think.

I’m also trying to notice (and this is more so about emptiness) how all thoughts / perceptions, even subtle ones of me needing to do anything, are empty, are just part of this luminous field.

Jenny

Yeah, okay on thoughts. I tend to address cognitive thoughts last, long after straightforward sense perception. Do you know why?

Vasily

Why?

Jenny

Because nearly everyone in the various Pragmatic Dharma communities has no more than MCTB second path, even when they think they have fourth path, and why? Because they are fixated on the nonduality of “thought” and cannot describe any change in relatively immediate feeling, seeing, or hearing. If you question them, they will say strange things, like that their perception hasn’t changed but their relationship to their perception has changed. To me and others I know, this “change” sounds merely conceptual and psychological rather than a true unbinding of sensory misperception at its root.

Thought is therefore a dangerous category to become preoccupied with first, because it can so easily stray off into mere conceptualization of nonduality instead of experiential nonduality. I believe this is why Daniel tended to overstate that “sensations” were everything: He was trying to correct for this reification of what we are talking about here.

Addressing “thoughts,” we quickly will get into the weeds and get lost and get stuck.

I’ve spent untold hours with my good friend DW because his map treats thoughts like any other sense door in this respect. But he does know and agree that the Pragmatic folk are fooling themselves in exactly this way.

So . . . this is all very complicated and requires we enter into long discussions about Mahamudra and Dzogchen. All we are doing tonight, though, is dealing with Vasily and luminosity. Put thoughts aside for now on this talk.

Let me say just in passing that “thoughts” are not things even in the most superficial samsaric regard. They have no weight, extension, color, size, or other aspect of space. So dealing with thoughts as if they reside in a space, or relate to space, is a categorical error from the outset. The reintroduction of “thoughts” into the vast luminous field has to be addressed with practices concerning time and impermanence, rather than space, which means we have to get into Mahamudra/Dzogchen. Tonight all I have time/energy for is luminosity. It is 3 a.m., after all.

It sounds to me like you have luminosity. This happened a few months ago?

Vasily

I feel like I’ve had this for a while. Just the visual high-definition aspect has been getting more obvious over past few months. Actually maybe I got something at a 1-day Dzogchen retreat a couple of months ago.

Jenny

This is why I wish you all would keep journals, at least for the sake of the unwashed masses who want to  awaken.

Vasily

That retreat did begin opening up some new territory.

Jenny

What did KD teach on that retreat?

Andrew

Thanks for the reminder. Need to restart my journal now that practice is moving again.

Vasily

Just classic Dzogchen stuff.

Jenny

Such as . . . ?

Vasily

Everything is light. Visualize hums burning up the entire field. We did that special Dzogchen breathing for mixing blue and red in each side of the lungs/breathing.

Jenny

Oh boy! That sounds like some tantra. Is he in Nyingma?

Vasily

But also some pointing-out meditation, like how Dzogchen true nature is right here.

DW

Delete the self, just hang in the quietness of the foreground of the mind; then you might see the things that are still noisy. Noise . . . that is where it’s still at if you can tune into that.

Andrew

The ocean is sometimes still, sometimes stormy.

DW

The complete silence of the foreground of the mind leads to opening the background that is awareness.

Jenny

Except that awareness (rigpa, we are now talking about) has no foreground/background or other edge.

Andrew

Using the same practice used to examine individual waves teaches you nothing about the whole ocean.

DW

Well, to me, awareness is hard to open because my heart chakra is noisy.

Jenny

The answer to your heart trouble is relational tantra. And add this mantra: “I release all martyr energies.”

Vasily

But isn’t heart chakra noise just part of it all? Or am I oversimplifying things?

Andrew

No.

Jenny

Vasily, no. Simple is good. Some of us cannot manage an uncomplicated version of simple, apparently. Samsara is self-generated confusion.

DW

So when I can quiet my heart, open it, then I can tune into my thought frequency. Then, quieting that, I can open the background of the mind that is awareness.

Vasily

Why not just cut right to it?

DW

Well, I have a recipe. That is limited.

Andrew

Can’t follow directions.

DW

But without a clue, you’re lost.

Andrew

Open mind. Follow teacher’s pointing-out without trying to second guess or decode it.

DWI’m not willing to do tantra. So I’m doing it the hard way.

Jenny

DW, repeat after me: “I release all martyr energies.”

I’m serious. That’s your mantra.

DW

If my heart were fixed, it would be easy.

Jenny

I release all martyr energies.

Andrew

Two paths. (1) Fix heart: the way to do that is tantra. (2) Direct path: follow the teacher’s pointing out without question.

Take your choice.

DW

OK, Jenny . . . “I release all martyr energies.”

Jenny

You know exactly what I mean. You are indulging in the perverse pleasure of punishing yourself.

You deserve to awaken. You deserve a long happy life full of love.

Now, Vasily, my dear. . . .

DW

“I release all martyr energies.”

“I release all martyr energies.”

“I release all martyr energies.”

“I release all martyr energies.”

I’m cool with it.

Vasily

Okay, Jenny, please continue. I don’t want to keep you too late.

Jenny

Vasily, when you and I got stream entry at around the same time and met, what was and still is super interesting to me is that you said, and I felt myself, that SE brought with it a persistent feeling of j4.j5, the felt boundless space aspect, in everyday life.

Now, most practitioners apparently don’t get that “package deal” at stream entry.

My hypothesis is that people who get the spaciousness early, at SE as defined by MCTB, will move very quickly to fourth path attainment when exposed to decent instructions.

So, although we cannot be sure about others’ attainments, I am convinced that you and I had similar SE outcomes. And I’m inclined to believe you now, somehow, have gotten luminosity. This impression is not just because of your words, but also because of another level on which I’m feeling into you.

So what I would advise you to do next is this:

Get some conceptual/intellectual understanding of basic Dzogchen terminology—chiefly, rigpa, kunzhi, and tsal. I recommend starting with Tenzin Wangyal’s book The Wonders of the Natural Mind.

Then read the post about luminosity versus rigpa. Learn, conceptually, the difference between luminosity and rigpa from that.

Note that Mahamudra is essentially identical to Dzogchen’s first of two paths: Trekchöd. So do your damnedest to scrape together the dough and time to sit a weeklong Mahamudra retreat next summer. Mahamudra has more structure to it than Dzogchen Trekchöd. So it will be more “pragmatic” in flavor. It is very, very precise and structured.

Now, then, during another talk, we can address taking the mind perspective as opposed to the event perspective. That’s step 1 for you. If you have luminosity, you actually already know what this is. But what I want to see is whether the mind perspective is stable, or whether you can flip back and forth. The answer to that will suggest Step 2.

I love you all. Good night.

Three Nondualities and Their Consequences

Some of the terms used in this post were introduced in an earlier post several weeks ago.

All right, to continue my discussion of some of what I learned Thursday while talking with my teacher and then reflecting on my own awakenings – there are three ways nonduality can be experienced, three “levels” of nonduality, as it were. The first two are unbalanced but good doorways into the real thing; the third is the real thing, the natural state

The next three sections take each level of nondual in turn.

Partial Nonduality as Clarity (Infant)

A practitioner can experience lucid awareness as “no more out-there-ness.” However, he or she may still have no sense of the totality, of open ground, or Mother. He or she has failed to seal the totality of what arises as empty and therefore has not yet opened up experience of the vast, unbounded expanse. 

Awareness that is nondual with one object at a time, what in the Dharma Underground we used to call luminosity, causes, as secondary effects, visual high-definition and color saturation. The main effect, though, is that one’s awareness is reflected off one object at a time. It is therefore, technically, attentional nonduality rather than true awareness. Although luminosity is more than just a temporary nondual experience, and although it is normally preceded by a permanent felt sense of spaciousness, it nonetheless is not as open as true rigpa

The lesser openness is because the practitioner has not yet realized the emptiness of his or her very consciousness. Specifically, the practitioner has not yet realized that awareness does not arise, does not pass away, and has no findable entity-ness in the present.

Awareness has to be realized as unfindable in the present, yet always already illuminating the totality. It has to be discerned as not subject to impermanence, as timeless. Opening the true rigpa removes one’s own consciousness from obscuring view of the Mother, the vast expanse. With rigpa, the subject’s awareness shines off not just an object, but off the entire field, which, like awareness, is empty.

Luminosity, the attentional form of the clarity aspect of rigpa, is not actual light: It is as though you can “see” the awareness of a visual object continuously emanating from the object’s side. The practitioner directly knows, just as clearly as he or she sees the object, that the knowing is with the object, and that knowing over there is not separate from this knowing it to be such over here. The “sides” interpenetrate, yet awareness never moves. This description approximates the experience, but words find all sorts of ways to fail. To me, luminosity is the most difficult phenomenon to describe, to even conceptualize, yet it is a dramatic attainment.

This attainment came on suddenly in February 2015 upon my reading an email Daniel M. Ingram wrote me about how the mark of existence known as suffering can just vanish, an experience which you can read about in my prequel journal, Dharma by Dark Night, whenever I get caught up with transferring my Dharma Underground entries. 

The consequences of rigpa’s not being united with realization of the Mother are, among perhaps other things, that (1) the subject won’t actually drop out for good, and (2) one will mistakenly think enlightenment has been attained when it certainly has not. I made this classic mistake myself. 

With respect to the first consequence, the experience of attentional nonduality is like “two oceans mingling” because the clod-like Subject and Object have seemingly dissolved into each other; however, at a metalevel there is still a Subject who is having this wondrous nondual experience of the two oceans mingling. And this is because the practitioner, at the fundamental level of perception, is still grasping, still running identification processes. The permanent dropping away of the perceiving Subject is the end of fundamental suffering, dhukka;

Even true Rigpa is not by itself this dropping away permanently of the Subject, not quite. 

Although beyond the scope of this entry, it is worth my mentioning, I think, that ending of dhukka, correction of misperception, imperfectly stabilized natural state, is not enlightenment. It is not enough. It is not embodiment of the gains. It is not ultimate compassion and therefore, by my contemplation, not wisdom. Many, many practitioners stop here. It feels so “done,” after all.

For example, I have had more than sufficient interaction with Dan Ingram to believe with zero doubt that he has opened this level of mind. He calls this level of realization arahatship; he claims, at least publicly, that this means he has taken awakening “as far as it can go.” This is error. Many in the Pragmatic Dharma community err similarly. This happens mainly because they remain hyper-masculine practitioners. They do not make the shift to knowing precisely what to not do next. They have not surrendered to the whole. Instead of meditating with diligence in the same old vein, they need to make a decision.

Partial Nonduality as Emptiness (Mother)

Alternatively, and in my experience even at the same time as the first nonduality, is a nonduality that consists of a sense of pervasive spaciousness, silence, and stillness that can subtly seem like some kind of container of experience, or a “superspace” as Ingram calls it. This is a calming and deeply healing nonduality. It actually began for me upon stream entry, August 8, 2014, when my bodily sense of dwelling in a “core” move beyond me and into the space around me permanently.

With this attainment, there will often seem to be no boundary between the centralized subject and space, but this attainment is relatively dull and somehow, somewhere still bound by ignorance (avidyā, ma rig pa) until rigpa and ground unite, until the Infant rests in the arms of the Mother. 

The consequence of settling for this level of nonduality alone is that one may posit “God” or something as transcendent or outside of direct experience, failing to integrate it with rigpa and tsal

A Theravadin pointer to the Mother/ground is the fifth jhana, Boundless Space, or the boundless aspect of the fourth jhana. I spent a year walking around in what felt like j4.5. Later, when I had opening of luminosity, I had the two prototype realizations (quasi rigpa and ground) running in parallel. 

I now understand that what happened at the Mahamudra retreat last July is that the two prior, parallel nondualities became nondual with each other. The result was that the center-subject born of perceptual seeking permanently dropped out. The sense of a subject has not a single time returned; however, the rigpa aspect of the natural state “wobbles” in intensity for me and has not yet seeped in to illuminate all dreams and sleep. 

True Nonduality: The Inseparable Union

The inseparable union of the Mother (ground) and Infant (rigpa) is the full measure of nonduality. This is the natural state, the end of views, beyond which there are no more views to attain and no more “deepening.” When this has been experienced it is called Unbounded Wholeness. When it is stable every single second of every single day and night, regardless of all circumstances, even physical torture, then Dzogchen’s “cutting-through” (trekchö) has been attained, which is also called the Ground. From the Ground the visionary experiences (tögal) arise and Buddha-training has begun.

Tsal (Energy)

Tsal is simply the manifestations in all their diversity, from matter to thought, all that arises and passes as an expression of unbounded wholeness.

The Trouble with Masculine Practitioners

Highly masculine practitioners will try to get (conquer) the real nonduality, the natural state, by holding rigpa alone as the View the whole fucking time, deliberately and often quite artificially. This burning-it-out approach can actually “work,” I’m told, but it can also reintroduce—however subtly—suffering in the form of striving and seeking, which are anathema to the natural state, as they are reification of the Subject. Conversely, the more familiar a practitioner already is with resting in the natural state, the more he or she will tend to criticize this kind of practice as feeling too artificial. 

That feeling of artificiality is certainly the case for me personally, but not many practitioners can just skip a series of standard “masculine” exercises like I am now; therefore, I reemphasize that this practice journal is just an example of one woman’s path. Understand that the further up the Path you go, the more individuated your living path becomes. So this journal is not a practice guide for anyone else, although I am in the planning stages of writing a pragmatic cross-tradition modern (western) practice manual. You may well need all the masculine exercises to stabilize rigpa; perhaps most do. 

When you enter the path of integration, when you engage buddha-training, or whenever you are unsure or “stuck,” it is crucial to have a qualified teacher who knows the maps, the territory, and many different kinds of students. There also needs to be trust, attunement, a heart connection.

Last Month’s Practice Prescription

My prescription last month was as follows:

  1. Sit in automatic emptiness with eyes open.
  2. Do Lion’s Gaze, which is an advanced Mahamudra exercise involving panoramic vision (taking in the whole visual field) and seeing all as mind only, awareness only, until rigpa flares strongly, effortlessly.
  3. Do Liveliness practice by easing off the meditation and allowing tsal to fully arise: visual objects, music, reading, throughts, emotions, or whatever.
  4. Close eyes and rest into the body as ground, as Mother, the idea being that now she will be fully illuminated by the Infant, rigpa.

Sweet-Spotting the Practice from the Mother Side

Now, during my talk with my teacher, it came out that I find Liveliness a very difficult and unpleasant practice to engage in, both on the cushion and off. My teacher said that, because it is artificial, it may be sending me back up into my head, which means the whole thing becomes intellectual, artificial, and dissociated from ground and body. So he told me the bit about how the more the natural state is integrated, the more unacceptably contrived such efforts will seem. 

So this month, I’m starting from the Mother side, the feminine principle. I’m practicing inclining ever so slightly toward increased sense of rigpa from within the Mother aspect. This is really simply intensification of the Mother. This means I practice on and off the cushion by resting into my body, staying grounded, and then “sweet-spotting it” from there, turning up rigpa from there very slightly, with only the very slightest inclination. Even this amount of doing is often unnecessary. The natural state is always already, after all.