Posted by: Soh
Yet another well-written Non-Duality model by Dharma Dan in relations to the four paths. In contrast to the previously posted one, The Non-Duality Models of Enlightenment by Dharma Dan, this one is an older model and uses more 'Mahayana' terminologies and way of expression.
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This model is based upon the phrase in the Heart Sutra “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” To my knowledge, this model is not found in quite this presentation anywhere other than here, nor has it ever been related to the Four Path model of the Theravada in the way that follows. The inspiration for using this phrase comes from a wonderful chapter in Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism called “Shunyata.”

I present this somewhat novel model here because it focuses on real insight directly and treats any emotional benefits of this as side effects. Further, there are often too many cycles of insight before arahatship, making the four path model troublesome. This phenomena of too many cycles (which I will sometimes call “paths” with a lowercase “p”) between each of the Four Paths gets worse as one works towards final awakening. As Bill Hamilton put it, and I have learned the hard way, “The arahat fractal is vast.”

This model does not reinforce fascination with content, nor with life denying ideals or limited emotional range models in the way that the traditional Four Path Model often does. It does not tempt one to count paths. It keeps the focus on precise inquiry into the truth and one’s experience of it or lack thereof.

This model basically says that enlightenment is about direct insight that progressively reveals something different in the relationship to the field of experience and gradually allows things in it to be held in their proper proportion. However, as to the specific implications of this increased clarity and more realistic perspective as regards behavior or how emotions manifest, all bets are off.

We will begin with the obvious statement that “form is form.” By form, I mean all mental and physical phenomena, i.e. the world of sensations as we know it. Saying that “form is form” is like saying that “sensations are sensations” or “experience is experience.” There is nothing all that profound about this understanding, and all living creatures know this. This is the state of understanding before stream entry. It is valid within its scope, and this should not be forgotten. The laws of the world are the laws of the world, and these must be acknowledged and respected, as must the beings that live in that world.

By clearly investigating form, one eventually comes to the understanding of the stream enterer, that “emptiness is emptiness.” Unlike those that are unenlightened, one who has attained first path, that of stream entry, has directly understood in some completely inexplicable way what is meant by “emptiness” in terms of the non-experience of “ultimate reality” that results from entering Fruition through one of the Three Doors. However, while the stream enterer may have some intellectual clues about the “relationship” between emptiness and form due to the ways the Three Doors present, they have no obvious direct experience of it when experiencing almost all sensations. Correlations between this model and the Four Path model begin to break down during the middle two Paths.

Thus, the meanings of interdependence, dependent arising and particularly non-duality will still be somewhat mysterious to them, though in some intuitive way they will have a deeper understanding of these than someone who is unenlightened. Second path is a step higher in terms of the Four Path map, but it brings no huge improvements in the understanding of these things from the point of view of this model. The phenomenal world still generally seems perniciously “dual” for both those of the first two paths. At both first and second path, Nirvana is largely seen as something beyond all of this, an inconceivable discontinuity. However, it seems to have little to do with most of the sensations of the world except that it is “found” in the attainment of Fruition beyond experience and the sensate universe. It can be frustrating that the refuge seems to be found largely outside the universe in some non-experience, and there is a growing sense that true freedom must somehow be found in the world however it manifests. Precise inquiry into the true nature of sensations continues as before.

The next understanding that comes is that “form is emptiness.” This might be thought of as the understanding of those of third path, as the attainment of this understanding does some serious damage to the illusion of a separate watcher or self, i.e. to the illusion of duality. However, it is very appropriate here to reiterate the truth of the joke being made by the phrase “Twelfth Path.” There may be a lot of cycles of insight and fascinating stuff that goes on between stream entry and the dawning of the understanding that “form is emptiness.” In exactly the same way, there may also be many new levels at which this may be understood before the work is fully done. Thus, counting paths doesn’t work well when using this model beyond first path.

That said, the concept of Nirvana now seems to generally apply to the phenomenal world as well as the attainment of Fruition, though there is still something clouding the waters. Those of third path will have a direct understanding of what is meant by non-duality, the “intrinsic luminosity” of phenomena and of “interdependence” that is far more direct and clear than the somewhat intuitive understanding of those of first and second path. This holds up quite well until they get into another progress cycle.

The primary benefit of attaining third path is that when the mind stops laboring under the gross aspects of the illusion of a dualistic split (of a subject and an object, an observer and the observed) the mind does not produce nearly so much noise related to fundamental attraction (trying to get to the other side of the imagined split when the other side seems pleasant) and fundamental aversion (trying to get away from the other side of the imagined split when the other side seems unpleasant).

Since it is not producing so much useless noise based upon the illusion of duality, this reveals very significant levels of fundamental peace, balance and clarity. It is a bit like the increased performance of a computer that results from stopping useless processes that were running in the background. Thus, we begin to see some hints of the tenuous relationship between the non-duality models and the limited emotional range models. The weird thing is that the more one pays attention, the more the emotional range seems to grow.

A person of third path, that is, an anagami or “never returner”, (however many insight cycles it took to “get there” and assuming this point can be clearly defined, which is dubious) has eliminated or overcome “fundamental attraction” and “fundamental aversion” (in non-duality terms) to ordinary phenomena. This is because, when experiencing most sensations, particularly when not in meditative states of high clarity, the sense of a separate self or duality may seem to be largely absent or often exceedingly subtle to those of third path. They simply no longer make this false imputation from most sensations. This is a radical shift in understanding, and is one of the reasons why going from second path to third path is often found to be much more difficult than going from first path to second path. It requires great deal of trust in reality as well as a fairly new realm of understanding. Paths that emphasize “surrender to the will of God” might well have an easier time with this transition. Simply emphasizing the Third Characteristic, that all things simply happen on their own, works just as well.

Those of “third path” do have gaps in their understanding, and there is still a largely subtle process of the mind creating artificial dualities that may become more obvious during moments of high clarity. There is still a subtle but illusory sense that there is a peaceful and clear “this” or separate self that is not being perturbed most of the time by “that,” i.e. the world.

Ironically, the benefits of this level of understanding and the subtlety of the remaining illusion of duality can be the primary impediments to further progress. The mind of those of third path may attach to (try to solidify and then pretend it is self, the property of a self, or created by a self) such things as panoramic perspectives, mental silence, peace, clarity, the sometimes seemingly complete sense of non-duality, and that sort of thing. It is still trying to section off a part of reality as separate, realized and in control, and at these higher levels of awakening can do so in increasingly sophisticated and seductive ways. It becomes progressively harder to see what needs more work and easier to rationalize gaps in understanding once they are seen. On the other hand, there are few new tricks left that the process of creating the illusion of duality can throw at an anagami, and what is left to do is basically a question of learning the same old lessons again and again for a new set of subtle sensations and qualities of experience. Clear investigation of the sensations that make up reality is still highly recommended, as always. Did I mention that the large number of full, new and complete progress cycles from this stage to the next might surprise you? I hope so.

Finally, arahats understand that “emptiness is form.” Nirvana is found in samsara, in the midst of the phenomenal world, as well as in the attainment of Fruition beyond the phenomenal world. This is what is meant by removing the “last veil of unknowing.” They understand that it is form that is empty, that some illusory sense of a split off peacefulness or island of imperturbability was never true or realistic refuge. All of these phenomena are already empty and always have been. This is the great cosmic punch line: all of this transience turns out to have been it all along. Not only was form empty, but emptiness was actually form. The split is gone.
3 Responses
  1. Says:

    Uhm, what is exactly "a cycle" for D. Ingram or in Theravada tradition? I dont know the concept...

  2. Wei Yu Says:

    It means cycling through Daniel's or Mahasi Sayadaw's progress of insight. For more information you'll have to read his book:;jsessionid=724101A9433ABCC269CB73F7CA399CE0?p_r_p_185834411_title=MCTB

  3. Says:

    Ok, thank you again.

    I found a brief summary:,d.d2k&cad=rja