Posted by: Soh
By 'self-release', I'm not talking about a 'self' that is experiencing its own 'release'. On a conventional level we can talk about that -- for example, a Buddha or an arahant is one who experiences his own release. But at the same time a Buddha or an arahant already realizes that there is in fact no actually existing self behind anything. So what is release in that case? It is really just the release of clinging, of the sense of self, of mental afflictions (passion, aggression, delusion), and all thoughts, perceptions, experiences are released on the spot through lack of reification. Therefore it should be noted that 'self-release' is used here in that sense, not in the sense that there is a 'you' becoming liberated. Also because I do not represent Dzogchen teachings, but merely my own experience, I try to avoid using the term ‘self-liberation’.

This 'release' is actually felt in every cell of the body so to speak - for example, having walked 24km or 72km with a 20kg load on one's back and finally putting it down (perhaps only people who went through army like me knows how that feels but anyway...), what release! Just because there is no self doesn't deny the experience of release (even though that too is empty), it just means there is no self who is experiencing or doing the release.

Now, just like the example above, the Dharma as taught by the Buddha is meant for release, but in this case the release of the mind. In the MN30, the Culasaropama Sutta, The Buddha states: "So this holy life, brahmin, does not have gain, honour, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of virtue for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakeable deliverance of mind that is the goal of this holy life, it heartwood, and its end." Ven. Thanissaro translates 'deliverance of mind' as 'awareness-release'.

The big question then is, how does mind releases?

As a method of practice, many teachings/teachers teaches us to just let thoughts and perceptions come and go without grasping them. As a practice that is OK -- but that is not the fundamental, definitive path of releasing thoughts and perceptions, and the sense of self. Usually, because of our strong dualistic tendencies, at the beginning it would be impossible not to fall into a situation where we feel ourselves to be the perceiver of our thoughts, and so the practice here is still somewhat dissociative - there is someone who can watch thoughts come and go or let go of thoughts or remain unaffected by them. When we become 'aware' or 'mindful', we feel ourselves to be on the alert as the aware watcher. But all these are really just forms of clinging in disguise of letting go. There is dualistic action involved - either I try to dissociate or get rid of thoughts - which is a subtler form of dualistic aggression appearing as 'letting go', or I grab onto them, which is a form of craving, or I remain as some unattached observer unaffected by thoughts or ignoring the comings and goings of thoughts, which is a form of dualistic ignorance and is also by definition 'dissociation'.

But it is ok for one's practice to be dualistic at first, because there is no way we can be 'non-dual' at the beginning of our practice. Telling someone about emptiness and nondual at the beginning of one's path may help direct one towards wisdom at least on an intellectual level, but not so much experientially, because karmic propensities are strong. So at first we have no choice but to practice dualistically. No choice because our karmic propensities which manifest this dualistic situation is driven by afflictive dependencies and ignorance, and is not a matter of free will - like anything really, everything manifests dependently and not through agency or control.

However, although one may practice mindfulness this way, if at the same time we have the right pointers and right view -- no-self, emptiness, D.O., and through one's own contemplations, eventually when the conditions ripen we will experience a breakthrough into the definitive path of release. Otherwise, if we merely have a practice but lack the right view, even when we awaken to a non-conceptual direct taste of Presence or Aware-clarity, it is often moulded into an Eternal Witness or an ultimate source and substratum expressing itself in all forms, which are subtler forms of 'spiritual bondage' or sense of self, which is not the definitive sort of awakening or liberation in Buddhadharma. This is why in Buddhadharma, the Buddha says that Right View is the forerunner of the noble eightfold path, it is in some ways even more important than all the other practices.

The definitive path of release starts with the realization that a seer, perceiver, controller or even a seeing, awareness etc has never existed as a self residing as the background of perception. Then one sees the true face of awareness has always been just manifestation empty of being some hidden unmanifest hidden ghostly unchanging independent self existing in and of itself, that in seeing theres just the seen without seer, there is no consciousness or seeing besides manifestation, perception naturally reveals itself in a nondual, self-luminous, direct fashion via the release of a center/agent vantagepoint. The imputation of a self or subject or inherent awareness dissolves into direct taste of transient manifestation. One can have peak experiences of no mind even before realization of anatta as an always already so dharma seal, but it will not be effortless and perpetual until after realization. Practice turns from dissociation with thoughts and perception to endless opening and letting sound/sight/etc 'kill you', and this is bliss.

Then after anatta we look at the thought itself or sensation or sound and realize that like a reflection that dependently originates in fact never arose, never came into existence. Then presence/reflection is experienced as illusory uncreated and deathless via its lack of inherency. Then thought self releases as there is no chaining and no identity that succeeds from moment to moment. Everything self liberates from tasting all phenomena as unborn.

As I paraphrased Thusness many years ago, “On the most direct path, there is no one to let go and no-thing to be let go of and hence no 'how to let go'. Reality is 'letting go' at all moments. There is only what arises and subsides (self-liberates) every moment according to conditions, luminous-empty phenomena roll on with no one at the center that can seek nor distant himself (since there is no 'self') from the self-knowing transience.” This direct path of self-release via non-action is only suitable for those actualizing twofold emptiness in all perceptions, otherwise it becomes the path of self-deluded slackers wallowing in deluded thoughts thinking it is liberation, the worst possible path. This is where Longchenpa warned, “In Ati these days, conceited elephants [claim] the mass of discursive concepts is awakened mind (bodhicitta); this confusion is a dimension of complete darkness, a hindrance to the meaning of the natural great perfection.” I might add that this problem is not limited to ‘Dzogchen’ or ‘Ati’ practitioners.

Contrary to what the way it is often taught, what I and Thusness have experienced is that the key to release is not via resting in a state of naked Awareness/clarity. Nor is it by subsuming object into subject or subject into object, one may experience non-division of subject and object in this way but it is not the same as releasing the reification of inherency of subject and inherency of object through emptiness and non-subsuming. Therefore when we talk about the non-duality of subject and object, we should be mindful that there is a difference between non-division and noninherency of those poles, they are different insights and have different impacts in one's experience.

Clarity/manifestation self liberates through discerning empty nature otherwise one resorts to dissociation and attempting to abide in a deemed purest state due to view of inherency. Worse still some book I read mistook self liberation as residing as an unaffected background of awareness while waves of thoughts arise and subside back to the sea. That is bondage in disguise of liberation. In truth anatta liberates background (releases the sense of a self residing as the background of experience) and twofold emptiness liberates foreground (even our non-conceptual pure sensory experiences, and all other experiences). Otherwise what liberation is there?

Another thing I should add is that the insight into the 2nd stanza of Anatta will lead a practitioner to direct apprehension of non-dual luminosity as 'mere scenery, mere scent, mere ...' all the actual stuff of the moment presenting in all its vividness and aliveness. However if one merely skews towards this aspect of anatta, the practice will be to ground in the Here/Now, in the vivid non-dual luminosity of things without any sense of self. But this is still not the same as what Thusness and I call experiencing the self-release of the natural state.

As Thusness asked me in 2011, "Now, experiencing no-mind through focused attention is different from experiencing no-mind in a disjoint and unsupported manner. What is the difference?" I replied, "Focus attention still has some level of effort because there is a need to sustain the ground... no mind in a disjoint and unsupported manner is just constant opening and releasing without effort and without ground." Thusness replied, "well said..." After integrating the first stanza of anatta, groundlessness and emptiness/corelessness of all phenomena, the practice is no longer trying to hold on to or sustain anything, instead there is an effortless integration into the natural state -- all phenomena self-appearing without arising through dependent origination, and releasing on its own accord without a trace. This is why luminosity is blissful but does not liberate, emptiness does, however they they should be integrated.

Actually this is really just a beginning, not to be mistaken as some sort of pseudo-finality in one's practice. And I have merely summarized very shortly what is actually much more subtle. When we say "emptiness that releases"... we should not just limit our application of emptiness just to self, or to a particular aspect of phenomena. When we apply the deconstruction and emptiness to mind-body, we experience the release of mind-body drop. When we further apply emptiness and realize groundlessness or emptiness of a here/now, the here/now is released and the disjoint and releasing aspect becomes more apparent.
In fact, we can apply emptiness too all areas of life, for example, even in economics. As Thusness just wrote,

"Money is dependent on its parts -- coins and paper and in the broader definition of money, visas and cheques.
Money is dependent on relations when extending beyond national boundaries in exchanges rates and interest rates. Money is dependent on time, the time value of money. Money is dependent on its functionality as medium of exchange, purge of this functionality; it is just paper can serve as a “pretty paper boat”. Therefore money is empty!"


"Here is the essential meaning of resolution in openness:
Coming from nowhere, abiding nowhere and going nowhere,
External events, unoriginated visions in empty space, are ineffable;
Internal events, arising and releasing simultaneously,
Like a bird's flight-path in the sky, are inscrutable."


Question: “Thank you. Please could you explain further the non-arising of perception? What is meant by "never came to existence"?”

My reply: “We think that things we see are somehow created or comes into existence. But if we look into a mirror, is the reflection of a person implying that something or someone is created or born in the mirror? No, it is a dependently originated reflection, and what dependently originates is a momentary reflection without any core, substance, and has never arisen, will never abide (like a water-moon does not mean a moon is currently 'abiding' inside the water), will never cease. Appearances are unborn.

A monkey looking into the water may try to catch the moon inside the water. But in actual case it is a phantasm. For example when you walk across a pool of water, it seems like the reflection of the moon is 'following you'. The reflection therefore is a total exertion along with your movement and all other dependencies, and are fundamentally empty. This means it never resided in a single place in the first place, nor is there even an 'it'. A D.O. reflection never arises, never abides, never ceases.”
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