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.

Ways to Stop Sidetracking Buddhahood

Get a Highly Qualified One-on-One Teacher

In this past Thursday’s intense talk with my teacher, I gained more understanding of the variety of ways nonduality, in the domain of perception, can manifest in a given student. Catching the ways someone can go off too far in one direction requires a teacher with extensive knowledge of the tradition, extensive exposure to all kinds of student personalities and contexts, and true talent for teaching. I’m blessed to have such a teacher. You cannot go further with just books, maps, and dharma friends. The path becomes extremely individualized at this point, and navigation is a delicate undertaking.

Get Over the Delusion That You Are “Done”

At this point on the path, after one has slipped out of the suffering of individual consciousness and the tyranny of attention (as opposed to awareness, rigpa), one can easily believe one is fully awakened. The seeking has stopped, after all. If this is you, then the first point is to understand that you are not done. For example, MCTB fourth path attainment is not done. There is still far to go. The good news is that this next leg of the journey requires none of the striving and suffering that the earlier phases did. The true agent of awakening has been recognized, so all one has to “do” is be open and undistracted. You might practice just 15 minutes in the morning, a very simple sit, and then take that into your day. Awareness beyond individual consciousness will to the rest. But see my next subsection – on getting out of your own way.

Let Go of Maps, States, Stages, Siddhis, and Highly Artificial Techniques

This being the truth, why do some with MCTB fourth path not go further? Well, there are plenty of ways to get sidetracked from the natural state: 

  • If you keep micro-mapping every state, experience, stage – sidetrack.
  • If you start cultivating siddhis – sidetrack.
  • If you start employing “techniques” to gain lucidity in dreams – sidetrack.
  • If you chase after visionary experiences – sidetrack.
  • If you meditate with artificial means, as in jhana practice or even liveliness-of-rigpa practice – possible sidetrack

Accept That the Natural State Is All You Need

Artificial meditative activities and map mongering disrupt rather than stabilize the natural state. Keep to the Prime Directive: Ride the natural state to enlightenment, which is buddhahood.

There are three phases students go through with regard to Dzogchen:

  1. First experiencing the natural state,
  2. Coming to believe that the natural state is all that is needed, and
  3. Stabilizing the natural state so that it is the way of life every moment.

Get Out of Your Head and under the Feminine

What you need to do, after the subject perspective of individual consciousness has dropped away for good, which is where Dzogchen begins, is stabilize rigpa, the crystal clarity aspect of nonduality. But it is easy to overshoot fruition precisely by trying too hard from within your head.  If you are living in your head still, as many very masculine partly awakened practitioners do, you are likely to get stuck and stay stuck until you begin relating to your body and emotions, until you drop down out of your successfully dissociated head and into embodiment. Maybe this is why, traditionally, it is said that women are at an advantage for fully awakening.

More on the fruits of this talk in a few subsequent posts.

Current Meditation Prescription

  1. Bathed and lighted candles.
  2. Set motivation.
  3. Called in the retinue across the three times for power, protection, support, and guidance.
  4. Visualized Padmasambavla and let dissolve into light.
  5. Light let down through crown to heart center and out in all directions.
  6. Dropped into automatic emptiness.
  7. Set up simple, fresh, and contented.
  8. Meditated on Lion’s Gaze.
  9. Eased completely off “meditation.”
  10. Looked around the room to practice “liveliness.”
  11. Released into back chasm of throat chakra.
  12. Released into opening center of brain, like a flower.
  13. Inclined gently to opening each center and holding it open.
  14. Introduced the breath as movement through the field of the open centers.

The chakras are taken as mother, as ground, and released into. Tonight there was not a noticeable jump in intensity until liveliness (10) and especially releasing into the brain center as ground (12). Liveliness was very vivid, very high-def colors. But those chakras–wow, I could feel the release, and when the energy flows up and down between them, that synergy most powerfully opens of each of them. 

My second chakra, the sweetness, is very intensely open and seems to send fuel up to the rest. Third chakra is still very open, and a huge layer of former stress went when that work was done over the past few months.

I find the throat chakra difficult. I’ll need to keep practicing and figure out what the hangup is here.

I had some tense situations come up while at work today, but I could so quickly release all with the slightest sensitivity and intention that I really had to remark to myself tonight how much emotional maturing and liberation has come to me in just the past three months. 

The post-awakening deepening is still accelerating. 

Awake Awareness to Open Ground

Part 1

This entry is Part 1 of two parts on my now moving along an axis of attainment once again after eight months of integrating the gains of Mahamudra awake awareness (AA) into an increasingly pared-down human life.

Desire to Return to Some Effort in the Practice

When I last met with my teacher, before the recent embodiment retreat, I brought forward with some new, almost accusatory emphasis my feeling odd that I’m not “progressing.” I told him that I felt I was in some kind of holding pen. 

It was kind of stupid for me to be saying so, because I had agreed with him after attainment of Mahamudra AA in July 2015 that it would be a good idea for me to integrate the gains with my everyday life, to pull my energies back down to earth, and to sort my chief psychological issue, which is my codependent relationships with alcoholics and other emotionally shut off men who represent my father. As a practitioner, I had driven myself hard for a year, after all, my hair having been on fire for awakening since the Arising and Passing Away Event of summer 2013 and even more so since stream entry (or whatever one wants to insist on calling or not calling it) on August 8, 2014. I also had spent more than 800 hours working on MCTB2 with Daniel Ingram and roosting with some intensity in that turbulent relationship and those much healthier other relationships of the Dharma Underground. I had sacrificed my health, sleep, exercise, family time, most entertainment, and contact with my nondharma friends and extended family. 

It was time, after AA, to unravel that yearlong knot, the most driven and transformative year of my life, and return to the basics of being an ordinary human being. And, actually, although I parted ways with Daniel this past October (almost 6 months ago now), I’m only now beginning to get even my sleep and work schedules normalized. Next is exercise, enjoyment of nature, creative writing, and homemaking. I’ve pared down my relationships, my commitments, and my urge to make a new dharma community happen. As my wise teacher said, I needed to stop running and feel my losses, as well as my gains.

Liberation of a Terror-Stricken and Numbed Out Third Chakra

I once read that, even as inside every schizoid and numb man resides a hysteric, inside every hysterical woman there is a split-off and numbed outcropping of self.

Nearly “by accident,” as if there were such a thing as accidents, I discovered a teaching and practice on the third chakra and gravitated to it nightly for months. I found it easy, from awakened awareness, to release into that otherwise tense and numb center in the body. Sheer terror was stored there I discovered. From meditation on that center, I experienced first that it pulsed and thumped like a second heart. Weeks later it began to rotate and open out as I simply sat and rested awakened awareness into it. You see, at this point on the path, I am awake, but now awakening has to do its work. Practice is much simpler and more refined because the agent of it has been recognized as not Jenny. I rest in the natural state, and it does the work.

I had conversed with my teacher about my insights into the patterns of psychosomatic reactivity there in the solar plexus, that third chakra. The dispute with Daniel had given me plenty of opportunity to observe that even my own righteous aggression frightened me. The terror and nausea from the pain Daniel caused me, and the pain of my anger back at him, ballooned upward from the solar plexus and spread as a wave of heat-flush over my chest and shoulders, and then down my back. A simple email from him or his lawyer would do this to me, even though my mind was free, still, and expansive and the emotion moved through quickly and evaporated

Polarization of the Victim and the Perpetrator

My teacher talked with me about how the victim and the perpetrator are bound together –a holdout duality. I have been so identified with being a victim, since I was a baby and underwent many surgeries in addition to living in a violent alcoholic household, that even my own fierceness makes me feel victimized by it. Interestingly, this kind-hearted man, my teacher, told me, “The only way to undo that polarity is to be willing to be the perpetrator, for then the victim and the perpetrator will neutralize each other.” He didn’t mean that I should be a perpetrator in conduct, or not necessarily; he meant that awake awareness hadn’t had a chance to “practice” from within the very volatile and intense energies fueling terror and rage. I had to learn to relax into those instances in which my fierceness is called for.

Awake awareness, focused on that area of the body, unknotted that polarity. So some “untethered selfing process,” as DreamWalker calls subtle obscurations that remain after the subject drops out and the vast expanse of the field opens up, seems to have stopped, to have been liberated. I can see the threatening email come now and think “oh shit.” But there is absolutely no grab viscerally or emotionally, no balloon from the power center and no contraction at the heart center. 

Of course, the path is cyclical, so it may well be that, although third chakra seems to be open now, more is later to be discovered there. Work with the body as ground, as Mother, will continue. 

Part 2 will discuss some terminology and the way onward in practice.

I’m so glad you got a lot out of the embodiment retreat. He is a superb teacher: precise, big-hearted,  balanced–an exemplar of sanity.

Dwelling in the arms of the Mother is healing. Like you, I felt joy many times so deeply during the pointing-out narrative that I almost openly wept. 

I especially loved this weekend how he would have us be as the Mother gazing into the eyes of her infant, and then have us be the infant gazing into the eyes of the Mother. And then listening for our child, listening for the coo of our Mother. And holding–enveloping and enveloped.

In 1995, after 20 hours of labor, I gazed deeply into the bright, alert eyes of my son. A mother never forgets looking into her child’s eyes for the first time. It will likely be one of the last images that comes to mind as I die. During this weekend retreat, the mother-infant archetype, floating up from the depths of meditation, shattered something in me, some last withholding. I understood. I saw with the heart. I understood.

The open, boundary-less ground of everything is Mother–vast, silent, still. Rigpa is the infant, the individual’s knowing the Mother. Infant awareness is of Mother awareness because Mother awareness encompasses infant awareness. This union is not homogeneous, but relational–a theme defining the Mahayana traditions.

Logocentricity versus Metaphoricity as Method

I suspect that many men, or analytical types, have a harder time than women and creative types in responding to the metaphoricity that is so much a part of the instructional method in Indo-Tibetan pointing-out and other teachings. For example, on the very male-dominated Dharma Overground (DhO), I can’t imagine that this sort of Madonna metaphor would go over well. There is on the DhO an emphasis on the following:

  •  Linear rationality
  •  Charting, diagramming, and mapping “territory”
  •  Hierarchical construction of binary signs
  •  Doing, achieving, and attaining
  •  Measuring results
  •  Comparing attainment with others’ attainments 
  •  Counting with numbers ascending “levels” of states and stages
  •  Debating (logos) on dharma theory (logic)
  •  Reduction of emotions to fine-grained, merely observable “sensations”

The point I’m making here is that all that “doing” and competing is stuck in a masculinist perspective that is anathema–actually the obstruction–that prevents opening to the View, awareness.

Metaphoricity is appealing to creative imagination, to the most foundational relational archetype in the World: Mother-child. That relationship is not about drawing the lines of measurement and quantifiable hierarchy; it is about a nondual inseparable relationship of the particular to the whole, and the whole to the particular. And it is personal, interpersonal.

Now, if the relationship were chiefly erotic instead of maternal, then you can bet that the male principle would be figured as dominant, somehow, in the binary signifier male/female.

JC once said to me that a tantric merging with the feminine that is only erotic is essentially adolescent, inadequate. Full surrender is merging with the Mother. I suspect that merging with the Mother, giving oneself over to her, is not a topic that would go over well on most public forums, the DhO in particular. 

The Trouble with Treating Emotions as an “It”

I want to say something about this bullet point from above, “reducing emotions to fine-grained, merely observable ‘sensations.“

This is important. Under MCTB (1 and 2), practitioners are bound to get stuck. Why? Well, because they bypass the second-person relational way of meditating on an "object” in favor of a third-person perspective that reduces experience to an “it.” JC sometimes touches on this point. He did so again this weekend.

If you are seeing your emotions arise as “empty,” that’s great; however, seeing them as empty is normally not enough to change the pattern of painful habitual reactions on the relative level.

Likewise, if you are “vipassanizing” your emotions into “vibratory” sensations, then you are bypassing the very human reality of what you are experiencing. You are making your emotions an “it” that you can transcend and gaze down on objectively. This bypassing is otherwise known as dissociation.

Many technical meditators can get quite far on unbalanced, domineering, masculinist practice. However, they tend to take their attainments and use them to split off and deny intimacy hunger and emotions in general. Until such practitioners bring practice back to the level of direct second-person relationship, then they will be split at their own core.

So it is not enough to see that the bodily sensations of suffering are a gazillion transient pixelated sensations that one can “observe”; one has to acknowledge and embody experience as something one relates to as equivalent, as face-to-face, as human life itself. Only then will the deepest emotional scars and patterns be metabolized and the life made fully human and whole.

The Mother holds us, wants us, patiently awaits our growth and recognition. Awakened awareness seeks us. When we are completely cognizant of her as the true agent of our awakening, as the automaticity that quashes seeking, then the infant (rigpa) is stabilized at full flaring intensity. 

Mother is the feminine principle; rigpa, the infant, is the male. The nondual inseparable union is most of the way to full enlightenment. It is the automatic reflexivity of awareness released into the unobstructed natural state. Although the infant lucidity is the male principle, it remains super-interesting, as well as most instructive, that its manifestation requires that he rest. Where does he rest? In the arms of the Mother.

Mother is the ground, matter, and agent, and she wants to find us. Awakening, in other words, is inevitable, as we rest in the natural state.