November 15, 2014

Supporting the Supporters

One of the distinctive features of my approach is to make thought tangible by analyzing it into visual and auditory components. Students often report that this taxonomy has given them a powerful new way to break identification with the thinking process. It also sets the stage for an intuitive trimodal model for the sensory self. One can observe in real time how visual thought, auditory thought, and the emotional body interact to create the personal identity of the moment. I look upon this as a streamlined version of the Buddha’s core insight regarding the “Five Aggregates.”

But this innovation, which is the workhorse of my day-to-day guidance of students, was not discovered by me. In fact, it was suggested by a student many, many years ago. That student has now matured into a powerful and influential teacher in his own right. His name is Peter Marks, and he is revolutionizing the training of frontline mental health workers in Eastern Canada—teaching healthcare workers how to deconstruct their stresses in terms of “Feel-Image-Talk.”

Check out his latest book. It’s inspiring.

Shinzen and Peter, April 5th 2014, Octopus Garden Yoga Centre, Toronto
Photo courtesy of Har-Prakash Khalsa

August 13, 2014

Last week I got my brain scanned at this lab. It's part of a research project being conducted by an old friend of mine, Jud Brewer. Jud is in the center behind me, with Dae Houlihan on the right, and Remko Van Lutterveld on the left.

I love this stuff.

August 11, 2014

Who Meditates?

I received the following comment on one of my previous blogposts and wanted to respond to it with an independent posting.

“If there is no self in All Rest…then who is seeing and noting?”

It raises an extremely interesting and deep question around which there seems to be an enormous amount of confusion. I'd like to make a few observations that may be helpful.

I give a standard power point presentation that outlines my hope for how science and mindfulness could cross-fertilize with each other to the dramatic benefit of humanity. In that presentation, I mention an interesting quote by Albert Einstein. Here are the relevant slides.

So Einstein said: “True human worth equals the magnitude and direction of liberation from self.” What’s revealing about this quote is that Einstein, having been trained in mathematics, is thinking of the endeavor of transcending self as a vector-valued function rather than a scalar-valued function. Translated into ordinary English, that means that in fact “No Self” is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Put another way, there are various sizes and flavors of experience that might be described as No Self.

One flavor of No Self would be a spontaneous deactivation of inner See-Hear-Feel activity (See Chapter 1 of my manual).

Another flavor of No Self comes about when the mind-body elements get disentangled (See The Five Khandhas paradigm of early Buddhism).

Yet another flavor of No Self comes about when we dis-identify with the Content of mind and body and re-identify with the Flow (See Chapter 4 of my manual) and Contour of mind and body.

Yet another flavor of No Self comes about when we can detect the continuous goneness of every experience and, furthermore, identify with the Goneness and disidentify with the mind and body.

As to the central point in your question, which, if I paraphrase, boils down to

“If there is no self, who is meditating?”

The quick answer is “the habit of meditating is meditating,” just like the habit of driving the car can drive the car even when you have no conscious perception of a driver.

For more details see the following videos (with thanks to Har-Prakash Khalsa):

July 17, 2014

Observing vs. Developing

Observing vs Developing

You may be familiar with the work of Charles Tart, the person primarily responsible for popularizing the phrase “altered states”. Charley and I have been friends for a very long time and frequently exchange emails. Here’s a recent example.

Date Composed: April 30, 2014
Dear Shinzen,                          

Reading how mindfulness was done by Ledi Sayadaw within the scaffold of the Abhidhamma was very interesting.  It’s clear from psychological and neurological research that “perception” is not just taking a camera-doesn’t-lie photo, it’s a cognitive act, a construction. Automated, too fast, usually, for people to distinguish the jump from, to use the Tibetan frame, sixth consciousness to seventh consciousness.

This makes me appreciate your reframing even more.  To “label” (implicitly or explicitly) an observation that something in the quality of my experience has changed as “impermanence” makes me feel sophisticated and Buddhist, but that’s really jumping a long way from direct observation, “bare attention” to theory, interpretation.  Whereas labeling it more directly as in your approach, with more direct words like “increase” or “decrease” or “gone” is sticking close to the data, to switch to scientific phrasing, without forcing the data into a theoretical framework.

Since our minds are expert at (subtly) altering perceptions to fit beliefs, I think it’s wiser to not confuse observation and theorizing.

It’s not that clean a distinction, of course, as sometimes having a theoretical/descriptive system to fit observations into makes you more sensitive, but it can lead to distortion.  My personal observation, e.g., that the inner talk and imagery of my mind is constantly changing is an observation.  Declaring that “impermanence” is a fundamental property of the universe, on the other hand, is a big, big jump….
Anyway, thanks for what I’m calling the “cleanness” of your approach! 

Hi Charley,
If there’s a cleanness to my approach, you can take some credit for that. Dialogues with people like you have helped me clarify many issues. I used to buy the claim that mindful practice involves nothing more than observing “just what is.” Of course, it’s true that as discrimination and detection skills grow, one starts to be aware of important things that were always there but were unnoticed previously. On the other hand, the techniques themselves may influence the form experience takes. That influence can be at a gross level or a subtle level. 
Let’s start with gross impact. The gross level is what you refer to in your email. It’s characteristic of some people who work within the Mahasi tradition. They explicitly ask the student to experience the Three Marks of Existence – anicca, dukkha, anatta – in each sensory phenomenon that they note. Personally I would not encourage people to intentionally try to do that. It’s not that I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with doing so. In fact I think it’s a fine strategy that often works. The only reason I don’t encourage it is that I don’t want to set students up for failure, i.e., if they can’t perceive the Marks, then it fortifies the “I am less than” belief that so many people have. However I do sensitize people to the fact that a given sensory event may either be stable or changing, but I do that in a way wherein there is no implied preference for one possibility verses the other. And I do have students try to see that Suffering = Discomfort x Resistance. Finally, I do point out to students that if they happen to notice an “All Rest” moment within the inner system of See-Hear-Feel, that there won’t be a self there. In my way of thinking, sensitizing to the possibility of something is different from asking a person to find that thing. 
Now let’s discuss the subtle impact.
The subtle way that mindfulness techniques might alter experience is that they can create positive feedback loops. For example, flow is usually a more pleasant way of experiencing the senses than is solid—and usually more efficient to boot! So naturally, the more you focus on flow, the more flowing the senses become. It happens automatically, natural selection at work on a small time scale.
In my current way of looking at mindfulness, I see neither the gross levels of impact nor the subtle ones to be in the slightest problematic. Mindfulness has a dual nature. On one hand, it’s a little bit like science where you observe what is with awareness extending tools. On the other hand, it’s also like going to the gym, where you intentionally alter the fabric of your being—but in a way that’s both natural and in the service of life. At the gym, muscle is broken down then grows back stronger. On the cushion, self is broken down then grows back cleaner.
As far as “seeing what’s really there” goes, one might distinguish three levels of claim with regards to what meditation does. The strongest claim is that meditation reveals important things about the objective nature of the real world. A somewhat more modest claim is that meditation reveals important things about the nature of consciousness and does nothing else. (By the way, for me consciousness ≡ sensory experience.) The weakest claim is that meditation reveals certain things about the nature of sensory experience but also alters sensory experience in a way that is conducive to human happiness. Historically, the great majority of contemplative masters make the strongest claim. Personally I think it’s intellectually safer to make the weakest claim. (Even the weak claim is highly non-trivial!) However, I would not in the slightest be surprised if the strongest claim turns out to be valid. Only time will tell. As Francis Darwin said, glory in science belongs not to the person who first states something true and important but rather to the person who first proves it! 
Once again, I have you to thank for sharpening up my thinking around these issues.
All the best, Shinzen 

July 8, 2014

Savoir Faire

A recent piece of research pointed out how difficult it is for most people to be alone without distractions for even short periods of time. It reminded me of a famous quote from the philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal:
"[...]tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne pas savoir demeurer en repos dans une chambre."
"All human problems come from a single thing—we don’t know how to just stay in a room."
The way I look at it, the main reason that people can’t just stay in a room is that they don’t know how to find fulfillment and safety in just what is. Mindfulness provides a systematic way to achieve that and, if Pascal is correct, solves many if not most of our problems. It’s the ultimate savoir faire.

June 23, 2014

The Grateful Dead
I’ll be turning 70 in just 2 months—yipes! And I’m definitely noticing a gradual change in the tenor of my life. In former decades, it was all about births and weddings and exciting possibilities. Now it seems to be about funerals and hospital visits and wondering when my first major health crisis will hit. If this sounds like a bummer, it should. But actually, it’s not such a big problem because I have a practice.

The mind and body eventually deteriorate but apparently one’s practice just continues to grow ever stronger and clearer. My mind seems to be declining in a linear fashion, whereas “my mindful” seems to be growing exponentially.

For me, that practice provides direct contact with the forces of life (Expansion) and death (Contraction). There are two sides to this:

Formless Doing
(Expansion and Contraction gush out and gather in simultaneously)
Formless Rest
(Expansion and Contraction mutually cancel out into Gone). 

Being formless, these experiences are a kind of death but a good kind of death…a death in the service of life.

Goethe (following in the tradition of Heraclitus) describes it in his Holy Longing poem:
Sagt es niemand, nur den Weisen,
Weil die Menge gleich verhöhnet:
Das Lebendge will ich preisen,
Das nach Flammentod sich sehnet.
                     . . .
Keine Ferne macht dich schwierig,
Kommst geflogen und gebannt,
Und zuletzt, des Lichts begierig,
Bist du, Schmetterling, verbrannt. 
Und solang du das nicht hast,
Dieses: Stirb und werde!
Bist du nur ein trüber Gast
Auf der dunklen Erde. 
Tell it to no one but the wise
For most will mock it right away
The truly living do I prize
Those who long in flame to die.
                   . . .
Distance cannot slow your flight
Spellbound through the air you're borne
Til at last mad for the light
You are a butterfly, then…gone. 
And until you know of this:
How to grow through death
You're just another troubled guest
On the gloomy earth. 
Once you know of this, it very much changes how you think about your own physical death. I recently found myself summarizing this change with the laconic (and perhaps to some enigmatic) sentence:

The more dead you are in life, 
the more alive you’ll be after death. 

(Understanding that dead here refers to the enlivening death you experience when you melt in the formless Fountain of Youth.).

These phrases translate nicely into Chinese (read the right column first):

Looks a bit like something you might see in the neiye.

May 19, 2014

An Outline of Practice

UPDATE! Based on people’s comments and my own further ruminations, I somewhat revised and substantially extended the article described and linked to in this post. You can find the revised version here.

May 15, 2014

Duration Training

By Alec Perkins from Hoboken, USA (Mile 25.5, NYC Marathon  Uploaded by victorgrigas) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Two questions I frequently get asked are:

  • Is there a way to speed up my growth in mindfulness?
  • How can I maintain the deep place I get to during retreats after I return to daily life?

My standard answer for both of these questions is to suggest that people utilize what I call the Three Accelerators: Trigger Practice, Duration Training, and Challenge Sequences. The Three Accelerators have the effect of “pushing the envelope” of one’s practice.

I’ve described Trigger Practice in this blogpost and Challenge Sequences in this blogpost. I’d like to complete the triad by writing about Duration Training here.

Duration Training refers to learning how to maintain “practice in stillness” for longer and longer periods of time. By practice in stillness I mean formal practice where you don’t move much or at all. One traditional form of Duration Training is known as adhiṭṭhāna (strong determination sitting [which I talk about here] or “breaking through a posture”). In adhiṭṭhāna, you decide to sit for a period of time (1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours, a day, a week…) with little or no voluntary movement. If you’ve never tried this, it may sound daunting if not impossible. But remember you can gradually work your way up to this sort of thing.

“Duration Training” generalizes the practice of adhiṭṭhāna by allowing more leeway for customization. With regard to postures, you can do it sitting on floor, sitting in chair, standing in place, holding a yoga posture, or even lying down. With regard to voluntary motion, the options range from absolutely no voluntary motion at all (not even re-straightening your spine) to allowing for small posture adjustments to allowing for moving just enough to relieve pain or even briefly using the washroom.

For most types of duration training, pain and other types of physical discomfort eventually become a major issue. I’ve spoken extensively on how to work with physical discomfort here, here, here, and here.

If you’re doing duration training in a lying down posture, there may be no physical discomfort but sleepiness and the temptation to move the body in small ways can become issues. If you’re able to avoid sleepiness and willing to keep the body perfectly still, you can do lying down Duration Training for very long periods of time (say, 6-8 hours) with relative ease. The lying down version of Duration Training may seem like cheating relative to the seated or standing version but it can take you quite deep and has a bit of a tradition. Lying down was the posture of choice for meditation in certain schools of Greek philosophy. The technical name for this was incubate.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when doing any form of Duration Training.
  • Do nothing that would objectively damage the body (if you’re limping for an hour after a sit, that’s a sign you should have allowed yourself some microadjustments or utilized some other posture).
  • You don’t have to push the duration envelope during every sit (or even most sits) but it’s good  to do so (at least occasionally). In other words, don’t never sit past your current comfort point.
  • The goal is to gradually work through all physical, mental, and emotional challenges that might arise as you extend a practice period, i.e., to reach the point where you could (in theory!) maintain the stillness posture indefinitely. (Don’t freak out! You’ve got years, decades, to gradually learn how that's done.)
Duration training is based on a freeing perspective about how to achieve unconditional happiness. The assignment: “Find happiness independent of conditions!” is a daunting one. Where does one start? What direction do you turn towards in order to make that journey? It’s difficult to get a tangible sense of how to go about getting unconditional happiness. On the other hand, the assignment: “gradually deconstruct all sources of unhappiness!” is tangible. You can do that through experiencing each source of unhappiness so fully that it literally becomes clarified, i.e., transparent and insubstantial. As pain, confusion, fear, and such, become transparent, the light of unconditional happiness, which was always there, can now shine through.

Recently at my retreats, we started designating a 4-hour block in the afternoon for (optional!) Duration Training. Surprisingly, it’s turned out to be quite popular. For years we’ve offered the option to sit part or all of the night. Such extracurricular sitting is called yaza (夜坐) in Japanese Zen monasteries (ya 夜= night; za 坐 = zazen = sitting practice). I wanted to have an analagous term for the duration training option, so I coined a Japanese neologism yūza (yū 雄= heroic; za 坐 = sit).

May 11, 2014

How To Be Comfortable With Everyone

It’s very common for people on a meditative or spiritual path to develop a kind of sensitivity to the poison and pain of others. Sometimes it’s formulated with the phrase “I pick up all this negativity.” Sometimes it’s formulated with the phrase “People drain my energy.” A closely related perception runs something like this: “Now that I've developed some spiritual maturity, I find it difficult to relate to old friends/family/ordinary people; they so cluelessly cause themselves unneeded suffering; I no longer have much in common with them.”

Regarding such sentiments, there are several things to keep in mind. First: They represent a temporary stage that the practitioner eventually grows out of. Second: When you do grow out of it, it’s replaced by its exact opposite: the more clueless and messed up people are, the more you enjoy being around them. You can make the transition from that temporary stage to its opposite by realizing this:
When we’re around other people, we pick up on where they’re at. If they’re in a bad place, we pick up on that. One might refer to that as exogenous discomfort. It's discomfort whose origin (genesis) is from the outside (exo), i.e., you’re feeling uncomfortable because of what is going on in someone else. The term exogenous contrasts with the term endogenous. Endogenous discomfort is discomfort due to our own stuff. The main point to remember is that the discomfort, endogenous or exogenous, typically comes up as some combination of mental image, mental talk, and emotional body sensation. To the extent that one can experience that sensory arising completely, to that extent it does not cause suffering. It doesn't matter one wit whether the source of suffering is exogenous or endogenous or some combination of both. By “experience it completely” I simply mean experience it mindfully, i.e., experience it in a state of concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity.
When the discomfort is endogenous and you experience it very mindfully, it doesn’t cause much suffering, it “tastes” like you’re being purified. When the discomfort is exogenous and you experience it very mindfully, not only does it not cause suffering, but it tastes like you and the other person both are being purified. In other words, how your consciousness processes another’s pain subtly teaches that person’s consciousness to do the same. The other person may not be aware that’s happening, but you’re aware of it. You’re aware that you are nourishing that person, and that subtly nurtures you. That’s why you eventually come to enjoy being around clueless messed up people. Paraphrasing the Blues Brothers, you’re “on a secret mission from God.” You walk through life like a giant air filter picking up the psychospheric pollution and automatically processing it, extracting from it energy and then radiating that energy as positivity. You know your job and you love it: recycling the karmic trash.

Collecte des déchets à Paris
By Kevin B

Needless to say, it may take a while to work up to this, but everyone on a path should aspire to this perspective.

This situation contrasts in an interesting way with the goals of psychology. In certain therapeutic approaches, the goal is to get the client to the point where they can distinguish “what’s me” from “what’s them.” In contemplative-based spirituality, the goal is to get to the point where you no longer care about that distinction!

April 25, 2014

The Dharma Wheel -- A New Translation

For New Years 2012, I posted my poem entitled "The Dharma Wheel." I recently came up with a new translation that rhymes in English.

March 12, 2014

Vivat Marcus Aurelius!

I recently received an interesting letter from a student of one of my facilitators, through which I discovered that there’s a modern movement to revive the stoic philosophy of classical antiquity. I think this is absolutely fascinating. Below you’ll find his letter and my response.

I've been practicing the Basic Mindfulness system regularly under Chris's guidance for quite some time now and I can't thank you both enough for the changes it's made in my life. 
I'm also a member of several online stoic communities and I blog regularly on the topic. I recently wrote a blog post for my fellow stoics showing how mindful awareness skills can be helpful in living a virtuous life. Your comments or suggestions would be most appreciated.
Many Thanks,

Hi Ben,
This is really cool. I had no idea that there were modern stoics. Obviously, you're right on. Metaphorically speaking, if stoicism represents a certain "software", then mindful awareness practices are the optimal hardware platform on which to run it.
In fact, I sometimes like to play a "counterfactual history" game with myself. What if Buddhist contemplative adepts from India had been able to dialog with the early European Stoics, providing them with systematic techniques for potentiating the actual practice of their conceptual ideals? In this version of history, Stoicism (and other schools of Greek thinking that emphasized eudaimonia) might have become so immediately efficacious that the vast majority of people adopted them. This, in turn, might have radically altered the course of Western and, therefore, world history, allowing for a continuous evolution of the "Greek miracle." The scientific revolution that erupted in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries might have occurred in the 7th or 8th century, and the cross-fertilization of science and meditation practice, which may happen in this and the next century, might have occurred in the 9th or 10th century. Thus, what ended up being the dark ages might have been the greatest period of advance in human history, and we would be privileged to be living 1000 years after that!
All the best,

February 19, 2014

Breath Focus: Advanced Perspectives on a Basic Practice

I’m known as one of the few Buddhist teachers that does not start people out with breath focus. It’s not that I have anything against breath focus, though. In fact, last Saturday I gave a one-day retreat devoted exclusively to that topic. The workshop was at Gil Fronsdal’s Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California.

You can read about the program below and listen to it for free here:

Breath Focus: Advanced Perspectives on a Basic Practice

Breath focus is sometimes considered an elementary starter practice. But with a proper understanding, it can lead all the way to Enlightenment. On the other hand, it can sometimes become a dead end; it calms but fails to bring deep insight and purification even after many years of practice. The purpose of this workshop is to compare and contrast different approaches to breath practice within Buddhism, unpack the mechanisms by which breath practice confers its benefits and describe how attending to the breath can be optimized and directed towards liberation.
Topics covered will include:
  • A clear conceptual model for how breath works as a focus
  • A chance to sample several distinct forms of breath focus
  • A chance to discuss your experiences around breath with a senior teacher
  • Suggestions on how to avoid dead ends
  • How breath practice fits into the broader framework of mindfulness
Preparation instructions that registered students received:
Please read from my article “What is Mindfulness?” the following sections pp. 4-46 (and feel free to read more of the article if you’d like):
  • Section I. Some Useful Distinctions
  • Section II. Noting: A Representative Practice
  • Section III. Towards A Definition of Mindful Awareness

February 14, 2014

Nachas and Mudita

In Yiddish it’s called nachas—the vicarious pleasure that one gets from the successes of people one feels connected to. As one’s sense of connectedness broadens, it evolves into what is called mudita in Pali –rejoicing in the (spiritual) successes of everyone and anyone.

I’m getting both nachas and mudita from some recent developments for one of my facilitators Maria Myoshin Gonzalez.

Check out her doings at Harvard Business School here, and see below regarding the release of her new Mindful Leadership app.

Argonauta Consulting Inc.

February 7, 2014
Dear Shinzen,

It gives me great pleasure to let you know that the Mindful Leadership App is now available.  It has been a while in the making as it is fairly large with 12 Categories and 73 Guided Meditations. It was a wonderful project and I had great fun doing the recording.  It is intended to complement Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness Transforming Yourself and Inspiring Others and offer you guided meditations for the techniques described in the book and much, much more!
My intention was to create Guided Meditations that over the years of coaching and teaching, people have found to be most beneficial.  They naturally fell into 12 Categories.  There is something for everyone, including Managing Stress; Managing Migraines; Flying with Ease; Micro-Meditations (which are done in 2-3 minutes throughout the day), as well as, Mindfulness in Action Strategies / Tips.  There is also a Mindful Music Category for Teens and anyone who enjoys music; Exercising Mindfully  and Mindful Golf for those who wish to improve and more fully enjoy their game.
As you may know, my aspiration is to spread Mindful Leadership, globally, so that as many people as possible are able to benefit from Mindfulness, personally and professionally.  The Mindful Leadership App is one key way of making this a reality.  Consequently, if you enjoy the App, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with anyone and everyone you think might benefit and be interested.
I hope you experience as much pleasure in listening to the recordings as I experienced in creating them.
Below are the links to Apple and Google Play where you will find the Mindful Leadership App.  The App is for Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as, Android smart phones and tablets.
May you enjoy many Mindful moments.

With best wishes,
Maria Gonzalez
Argonauta Strategic Alliances Consulting Inc.
2 St. Clair Avenue East, Suite 800
Toronto, Canada   M4T 2T5

February 8, 2014

Ars Gratia Vitae

Artist Har-Prakash Khalsa--one of my senior facilitators and creator of the Expand-Contract Youtube Channel--currently has a really cool art exhibition aptly entitled "Turn Towards, Turn Away" at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario through March 23, 2014.

You can see some of the pieces, his artist statement, and a video of the talk he gave at the opening night of the exhibition on his new art website here: 

February 5, 2014

Dealing With Anxiety: Part II

My Basic Mindfulness System was specifically designed to conveniently serve as an adjunct to psychotherapy. My hypothesis is that therapy will be deeper, easier, faster (and, therefore, cheaper) if mindfulness is brought into the picture.

There are two models for this. In the first model, a therapist outsources the acquisition of attentional skills. In other words, the therapist “prescribes” a mindfulness training program so that, when the client comes for therapy sessions, they will be able to enter a state of heightened concentration, clarity, and equanimity. In the second model, the therapist combines both functions: they do therapy but they also directly train the client in mindfulness skills. We might characterize the first model as “outsourcing” and the second model as “wearing two hats.”

My former wife, Shelly Young, is a stellar example of the latter. She uses CBT, EMDR, and other methods combined with Basic Mindfulness techniques and really gets results! She has now decided to expand her outreach by offering mindfulness-based therapy via Skype and telephone counseling. Her main site is:

She has also developed a 4-session telephone conference group specifically targeting anxiety and panic, starting March 6. Check out details here and register here.

To appreciate the quality of her work, check out this video:

Dealing With Anxiety: Part I

A colleague of mine, Jeff Warren, has written an interesting article on the “nondual scene”. You can check it out here. This inspired me to organize some thoughts I’ve been kicking around for a while.

As a kid growing up in LA, I had the great privilege to attend both American public school and Japanese ethnic school. (Over a half a century later, the Japanese school I attended still exists; check it out here.) At Japanese School, I was a member of the Kendo club. My kendo senseis were incredible—mostly old-time Japanese military types—in a sense, modern-day samurai.

During a club event, someone gifted me a hachimaki (headband) with three very simple kanji calligraphed on it. I could read the kanji and understood what each meant individually. But I couldn’t figure out what they meant collectively. I queried several native Japanese speakers but no one was able to give me a decent explanation. The three characters were:

   入 meaning “enter.”
meaning “not.”
  meaning “two.”

Later in life, when I got involved in academic Buddhist studies, I finally found the locus classicus for the phrase. It appears in the Chinese translation of the Vimalakīrti Sutra. It’s an exhortation to “enter nonduality.” Within the context of sword fighting, that would mean to enter in a state where there’s no separation between you and your opponent.

To “enter nonduality” is equivalent to eliminating separation, but it’s hard to get a tangible sense of how one would go about eliminating separation for real. It’s easy enough to intellectually accept the notion of non-otherness or to be emotionally moved by it. But those ideas and emotions will pretty much evaporate as soon as “other” breaks into your house, or deeply betrays you, or harms a loved one. So how do we tangibly go about the endeavor of achieving industrial strength nondual awareness—the kind that doesn’t evaporate when things happen in the real world?

Here’s one idea.

Consider fear. When there’s separateness, there’s suffering due to fear. Is this true in reverse? Is it the case that when suffering due to fear goes away, so does separateness? Apparently so. And, conveniently, working through the sensory experience of fear is a very tangible endeavor—one brings concentration, clarity, and equanimity to the body sensations of fear until they break up into a flowing energy. In other words, when mindfulness passes a certain critical threshold, the fear “particle” reveals its wave nature. It is precisely at that point that separateness goes away, revealing the primordial oneness that was always there.

So working with the fear family of emotions (fear, anxiety, nervousness, angst, worry, phobia, etc.) represents a tangible way to go about the enterprise of achieving nondual awareness.  (For specifics, check out Chapter 1 The Way of Thoughts and Emotions in the manual and this video playlist on working with emotions from the Shinzen Interviews Youtube Channel. )

Now let’s look a little deeper. I think it’s useful to distinguish two levels of nondual awareness:

NONDUAL   l        versus       NONDUAL   II

Nondual I is the non-separateness of inside and outside I just described. It comes about when we experience oneness of Self and Scene. (In this context, Self means the inner world of Mental Image, Mental Talk, and Emotional Body Sensations. Scene means the outer world of Physical Sights, Physical Sounds, and Physical Body Sensations. See manual pp. 21-34.)

Nondual II comes about when one experiences the oneness of Self/Scene with their Source. The Self/Scene is the world of sensory form. The Source is Pure Consciousness devoid of form.

Above I described one possible way to make Nondual I a tangible enterprise. But how about Nondual II? How can we get to the state where Form and Emptiness are one? One way to make that endeavor tangible involves working with the “Two Doings”—Expansion and Contraction (see “What is Mindfulness?” pp. 40-46):
Each of the trillion somethings of daily life is directly touched by the Two Doings that mold it in real time. But those Two Doings continuously come from and return to the One Nothing. Thus, the Two Doings represent an unsevered umbilicus that connects the myriad momentary forms with the One Timeless Source.
To experience this connection consistently in daily life is to achieve Nondual II.

For more specifics, check out: