Posted by: Soh

Joel Agee
is an author of a few books and you can read one of his articles in

Thusness and I think Joel Agee's recent writings are especially well written and clear. He had a breakthrough insight into anatta last year.


Joel Agee
I posted this on another list. Jackson suggested I post it here:

Here are two sentences from one of the oldest Dzogchen texts, The All-Creating Monarch (Kunjed Gyalpo) quoted in Longchenpa's Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding (Richard Barron's translation):

“Seek the location of the heart essence through phenomena that derive from it
and come to appreciate it through the skillful means of not conceptualizing in any way whatsoever.
Since the heart essence occurs naturally, dharmakaya is not elsewhere.”

Coming across these lines had a vividly awakening effect on me.
Like · · Unfollow Post · September 2, 2012 at 1:29pm

    Dannon Flynn, Steven Monaco, Neony Karby and 6 others like this.

Joel Agee Simple but profound and ongoing: a deconstruction of an unconscious habit of locating awareness anywhere else than in the moment-to-moment transient phenomena. Whoosh! No observer, no witness. No location!
September 2, 2012 at 1:44pm · Unlike · 10

David Vardy No location but 'here' in the heart....
September 2, 2012 at 1:46pm via mobile · Like · 2
Chris Collins You're finding a deepening clarity in transcient phenomena ? Can you explain any more ?
September 2, 2012 at 1:48pm via mobile · Like
Joel Agee David: Yes, definitely. And your putting "here" in quotes feels accurate, because that too is unfindable.
September 2, 2012 at 1:50pm · Like · 2
Joel Agee Chris, I'm not sure I can explain exactly. There's a frequent and delightful experience of being "confirmed" by sounds and sights, especially sounds. Greater appreciation of what shows up from moment to moment, a kind of energy of being available for anything. More spontaneous ease in action and speech and thought. But in a way this is all secondary. The recognition of awareness is unobstructed. Sometimes it seems to be obscured by thoughts and feelings, and then it's obvious that those too are the clarity and the emptiness. RIght now there's joy in seeing and saying this.
September 2, 2012 at 2:01pm · Like · 10
Joel Agee David: By "that too is unfindable" I meant the "here" in which the heart is alive.
September 2, 2012 at 2:07pm · Like · 1
David Vardy Joel. Is there a sense of here being 'all front, no back'?
September 2, 2012 at 2:40pm via mobile · Like
Joel Agee No. No front and no back. Omnipresent betters describes it. But where is that?
September 2, 2012 at 2:41pm · Like · 3
Joel Agee "back here" as a default location of awareness is no longer being held. That seems to eliminate "in front" as the field of observation. I'm not "observing" much. Everything happens, including movement, thought, speech. And now sleep. Good night, if night is your time now!
September 2, 2012 at 2:52pm · Like · 8

Joel Agee I feel great fondness for Douglas Harding and his teaching but find it limited and limiting at this point. The experiments set up an Advaita-like duality between "No-self/empty awareness/First Person here" and "phenomena there." The wonderful writing describes Awareness as a vast container in which everything takes place. Always this subtle dualism.
September 3, 2012 at 5:43am · Like · 1

Joel Agee Chris, I think you’re missing part of the point in what Soh is talking about. Some concepts are held to be self-evident, so we never question or even notice them. For instance, in my case until recently, the view that awareness was a) something, and b) somewhere. "Intellectually" I knew better, but in my unconscious organically based felt sense, that was an unquestioned reality until those words in the Kunjed Gyalpo jarred me out of that dream. So it’s not "just words," because words and concepts shape our experience when they are invested with belief. This is true even of simple figures of speech. What Jackson just wrote suggests, for instance, that Douglas’s term “Seeing” is itself misleading if left unexamined.
September 4, 2012 at 12:09am · Unlike · 4
Joel Agee Even the words in the Kunjed Gyalpo are not to be "believed". They just direct the attention to something that is not contained in the words.
September 4, 2012 at 12:12am · Like · 2
Chris Collins I agree, but when clear, there is no such possibity of a belief clouding anything. When the truth is known, beliefs are rendered irrelivent. I don't miss his point as i said, prior to nondual clarity there are many misconceptions.
September 4, 2012 at 12:13am · Like · 1
Joel Agee I know what you mean. And I know what nondual clarity is. That's how I know what you mean. Nevertheless, there is no underestimating the tenacity of unconscious bonds. That's what Vipassana is good for. It's not heavy-duty intellectual labor. It's noticing, and then looking more closely.
September 4, 2012 at 12:19am · Unlike · 3

Joel Agee I was just going to add that I don't believe in God.
December 6, 2012 at 9:29am · Like
Joel Agee "I Am" is one of the names of God. I don't believe in that either. There is a great joyful doubt that works like a centrifuge whirling away concepts. I love that self-generating energy of clearing in the mental realm.
December 6, 2012 at 9:33am · Like

Joel Agee The ocean-and-waves distinction collapses when awareness recognizes itself as identical with experience. The ocean is the waves.
December 7, 2012 at 3:12am · Like · 1
Joel Agee Even to say "awareness recognizes itself as experience" or "awareness appears as experience" juggles two separate terms. At any moment there's just "this."
December 7, 2012 at 3:20am · Like · 4

Joel Agee Jackson, I find it impossible to believe any formulation that takes the form "I am x." Even "I am" doesn't withstand scrutiny.
December 21, 2012 at 4:41am · Unlike · 4

Joel Agee I will try to describe what it is that rings true for me in Thusness’s words. I don’t have a theoretical preference for the early Buddhist teachings over the later ones, including Dzogchen. In fact I know very little about the Pali Canon. My approach isn’t conceptual or theoretical at all. I look directly into the nature of my own consciousness in silent, objectless sitting meditation – shikantaza if you will. Whatever doesn’t meet the test of direct experience holds no lasting interest for me.

Until fairly recently, the metaphor of the mirror and its reflections seemed a fitting image of my contemplative experience: that there is an unchanging, ever-present, imperturbable awareness that is the absolute ground and the very substance of phenomena, and that while this motionless, contentless awareness-presence is inseparable from the ceaseless coming and going of appearances, it also transcends everything that shows up, remaining untouched, unstained, absolute and indestructible.

A couple of years ago I discovered Soh’s blog, Awakening to Reality, and in it Soh’s account of his exploration of the Bahiya Sutta and the Zen Priest Alex Weith’s report on his realization of Anatta through practical application of the Bahiya Sutta. I saw then that Anatta was not fully realized in my experience. The illusory nature of a separate unchanging personal self had been seen through, but an unconscious identification with “Awareness” or “rigpa” had taken its place.

Since then, an unstoppable deconstruction of that impersonal background identity has been happening in my contemplation and in my daily life. There is still a noticeable attachment to the memory of that subtle Home Base. It shows up as a tendency to "lean back" from the unpredictable brilliance and dynamism of the moment into a static, subtly blissful background presence. But there is no longer a belief in an Awareness that is anything other than, or greater than, or deeper than, THIS sound, THIS smile or stirring of emotion, THIS glance of light. There is no Mirror that is not the reflections.

So the shift in my experience and practice is not a preference for one teaching over another. It’s an ongoing realization that direct contact with the grain and texture of moment-by-moment experience is what Dogen meant by “being awakened by the ten thousand things.”
January 2 at 3:20am · Unlike · 6

Joel Agee Jackson, it's true that seeking ends with the recognition of rigpa. There is nowhere further to go, and there's no deeper truth to ferret out. I agree it is an immediate insight, not a gradual acquisition of understanding. And yes, it involves no self-belief. But what doesn't necessarily end and often passes unnoticed is the unconscious habit of locating oneself in a kind of pseudo-rigpa that subtly separates "awareness" from "phenomena." That persists, or maybe more accurately, it recurs when the crystal clarity of rigpa is intermittent, not stable. That was my experience, and I have observed this tendency in others. That is why I have found the instructions of the Bahiya Sutta helpful.
January 2 at 6:29am · Like · 2

Joel Agee Yes, it does help. "Thought-free rigpa" doesn't mean the cessation of thought, only the cessation of Namtok. Otherwise it would not be possible to speak or write in the natural state.
February 21 at 2:47am · Like · 1
Joel Agee The translation of Namtok as "thought" is misleading.
February 21 at 2:54am · Like · 2

Joel Agee Jackson, of course daydreaming is a species of "thought", but not all thought is Namtog. It's misleading to say, as Tulku Urgyen's translator does and as you suggest, that "there is no thought during the state of rigpa." If that were the case, no one could speak or write in the state of rigpa. Longchenpa couldn't have written his books.
February 21 at 11:22am · Like

Joel Agee I appreciate the distinction between Namtog and "sherab and yeshe." My disagreement has to do with the "no thought" formulation in the OP and in your subsequent post, where you wrote: "During the nondistraction of Rigpa, no thought can begin."

I’ve spent hundreds of hours with my teacher and others in this state, completely released and relaxed. Sometimes there were long periods of silence, sometimes there was speech and laughter. It made no difference. In the natural state, there is no reliance on thought, so there’s complete sovereignty with regard to thought. There is no need for thought to be either present or absent.

Here’s a banal example. You’re in rigpa, doing nothing, with nothing to think about. The telephone rings. You answer the call. In the exchange with the caller, thoughts are stirred, and let’s say a plan is made for getting together. Then you hang up. All the while, “undistracted nonmeditation” has remained undistracted.

Thought can begin at any time, and it’s not a problem.
February 22 at 2:38am · Like · 2

Joel Agee I asked because your method seems to establish something that is "like this" and "not like that." It's probably not possible to avoid doing this through the medium of language. The act of differentiation establishes difference, obviously, and with it identity -- in this case the identity of "ever present clear light." This identity, like any other identity, is precisely established by way of a contextualizing framework. Something truly unestablished, in the sense you give to the word, would have to be unnameable, wouldn't it?
April 22 at 1:41pm · Like · 3
Joel Agee I'm not arguing with what you are pointing to but with the language and apparatus of the pointing. For instance the imagined crystal sphere in place of one's skull, and also the mirror. Calling these images metaphors doesn't remove the suggestion that our nature is an unchanging truly existing immaterial Something -- in short a reification.
April 22 at 2:16pm · Like · 2

Joel Agee The "knower" who "exists continuously" can be a misleading formulation. This knowing is not an entity, and doesn't exist in the way objects seem to exist. The recognition shows it to be unfindable. Peter Fenner put it this way: "It exists by not existing. That is how it exists."
May 2 at 1:34am · Like · 1

Joel Agee "The knowing of the unfindability of the knowing is the 'knowing.'" In other words, there is no knower.
May 2 at 2:13am · Like

Joel Agee Wendy, I'm criticizing the imprecise language in the quote about a "knower" who "exists continuously", not the effortless knowingness. I'm not at all puzzled by that.
May 2 at 2:19am · Like

Joel Agee Good question. What is it that is ongoing? -- I seem to be allergic to nouns in this context. Even "knowingness" suggests an enduring unchanging substance.
May 2 at 5:57am · Like · 2

Joel Agee Jackson, I do practice Zazen regularly.
May 8 at 6:16am · Like · 1

Joel Agee "Wherever you look is then like looking into a mirror.." Up to that sentence, everything in the OP corresponds with my experience. But no one is looking into anything. In a metaphoric sense, I could say it's like BEING a mirror in which transient images appear -- the mirror being the perfectly clear openness of the view -- but this still suggests an abiding unchanging Subject that exists independently from the appearances. I can find no such being, except as a supposition or an idea.
August 22 at 3:19am · Edited · Unlike · 3

Jackson Peterson What is aware of that belief as it arises? The seeking is just an experience arising in awareness. The sense of being a "seeker" is just arising in awareness. There is no person or entity that is "you", you are impersonal awareness.
August 28 at 3:23am via mobile · Like · 4
Joel Agee Jackson, I see this differently. Maybe it's only the language you use that makes it seem different. I don't find an ever-present awareness that observes anything, or that experiences thoughts, etc. Seeing, hearing, smelling, etc. happen spontaneously on their own. Attention is an afterthought. A moment ago some leaves in a flower box outside my window were quivering in a breeze. The immediacy of that movement -- or of any occurrence in the micro-instant of its arising -- is all the awareness and presence there is.
August 28 at 3:35am · Like

Joel Agee Jackson, I find much wisdom, guidance, and inspiration in Buddhism, but I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist, mainly because I don’t know enough about it, and because I have not taken refuge in the three jewels. Nor would I know how to locate myself on a map defined by the polarities of “secular” and “religious.”

The metaphor of the mirror and the reflections is tricky. The mirror is empty cognizance itself. For a while I had an idea of there being a subtle sort of awareness-mirror that existed separately from the reflections, and that was self-shining in their absence. Now I find that it’s more the other way around. Appearances are self-illuminating. The reflections are the mirror.

I am strongly attracted to Dogen’s teaching, though I can’t say I’ve plumbed more than the surface of it. I like his radical this-worldliness: “The transience is the Buddha nature.”

I understand your intention in the OP of distinguishing rigpa from the field of perception. But your language suggests that they are separate. Only a separate something could “observe” and “experience” feelings, thoughts, sensations, etc.

You seem to have a quasi-theistic concept of the Buddha as a transcendent cosmic intelligence that for some reason indulges in a daydream of manifestation. I don’t reject such a notion on dogmatic Buddhist grounds, but I don’t find it plausible or appealing.

To me, the universe of happenings is a daydream only when it is perceived dualistically. When rigpa is evident, everything is rigpa. The dream itself appears in the light of eternity. The religious dimension you are pointing to shows up for me in the particulars of momentary experience. I feel no need for a Beyond.
August 28 at 11:41pm · Edited · Like · 2

Joel Agee Jackson, I don’t hold a metaphysical position, at east not one I’m aware of. I’m impressed by the evidence for rebirth or reincarnation, and I’ve had personal experiences that lead me to believe that most people I’m close to are old acquaintances from previous lifetimes. I don’t know how to account for this.

Shikantaza has been my main contemplative practice for a long time. I’ve never come across the special instructions you mention in Dogen’s writing, or heard of them from teachers in his lineage. Can you direct me to these sources?
August 29 at 2:45pm · Like · 1

Joel Agee We evidently have different conceptions of shikantaza. My understanding is the one Dogen taught: “Enlightenment and practice are the same.” Shikantaza is not a means to an end but the practice of the end. It begins at the result level. It is not a method to attain enlightenment. It has nothing to do with chakras. There’s no "end experience" in shikantaza.
Yesterday at 12:32am · Edited · Like

Joel Agee Jackson, that’s a really good phenomenological description of a kensho experience. To me, shikantaza is not about experiences and breakthroughs, though they do happen. It’s just sitting in the depth of no-mind. The depth and extent of that is really indescribable.

I agree that shikantaza is a practice of no practice, very similar in that way to Dzogchen. But I wouldn't introduce terms like the Indo-Tibetan chakra system and the Dzogchen Clear Light and the transparent empty knowingness of rigpa into a description of shikantaza.
Yesterday at 2:25am · Edited · Like

Joel Agee He was talking about Satori, which is what you described. Zazen in Dogen's tradition is not about satori. It's just sitting.
Yesterday at 4:13am · Like

Joel Agee You keep insisting that shikantaza is a method for producing an amazing effect. That’s not the purpose of shikantaza. Harada Roshi would have served you better if he had told you not to make such a big deal of these kinds of experiences.

Sitting like a boulder is stupid. Sitting in awakeness with nowhere to go and nothing to achieve is something else.

I like what Oshaku Okumura, one of the foremost exponents of Dogen’s teachings, said when he was asked about Satori: “Satori is nothing but being aware of, or being alert in, whatever activity you are doing right now, right here. Any activity is not a step, means, or preparation for other things, but rather should be done for its own sake, being accomplished in each moment.”

I think we’ve come full circle. We have different interests in this matter. Let’s just leave it at that.
Yesterday at 6:00am · Like

Joel Agee Dominic, I agree with you. The tension between stillness and movement, contemplation and action, and also between spirit and body, is artificial and unnecessary.
Yesterday at 9:32am · Like · 1

Joel Agee I should have said "conflict" or "opposition" instead of "tension." I do think we're both saying the same thing.
Yesterday at 10:07am · Like · 1
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2 Responses
  1. Bob Says:

    What do you think about something like Soto Zen style non-doing practice? Could you maybe write an article about it? Comparing doing vs. not-doing. pros, cons, experiences, realizations and maybe you have some quotes from Thusness.

    Not easy to understand how practicing enlightenment relates with the "doing" approach. Zen and Dzogchen are always about non-conceptuality, but Thusness and you see it differently, right?

  2. Bob Says:

    Wow, thank you very much Soh. The practice of total non-conceputality on the one hand and the discernment of right view/DO, as two necessary wings. Never saw it that way.