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The ways in which many Western spiritual types relate to the profound teachings of the nondual traditions is deeply problematic. There is a tendency to learn about some high spiritual truth, like no-self or emptiness, and apply it to their experience using habitual, unrefined attention; basically, their baseline delusional state. They find some truth in the teachings – such as looking for a self and not finding one – and then think they’re enlightened. What they don’t realize is that a lot of the time, the fact that the spiritual truth corresponds to the gross/physical realm of experience is purely coincidental.

The fact of the matter is enlightened beings (humans, for our purposes) do not primarily speak from the same frame of reference as those who are still spiritual sleep walkers. Metaphorically speaking, enlightened folks are awake because they’re learned to use their eye of wisdom, while most people simply use their eyes of their bodies and minds. While this may happen spontaneously is an extreme minority of the awakened, most develop this capacity through good, consistent practice.

Prior to awakening, we are so stuck in our habitual mode of perception – our deeply engrained preference for body and mind – that anything outside of what we consider ordinary receives terms such as “altered states.” It’s silly, even ironic, to consider the deluded state as non-altered. To conflate the illusory with the real; to affirm the shallow as deep; to uphold delusion in place of wisdom; these are the symptoms of the sickness beings are plagued with – and they (read: most of you) don’t even know it!

I’m not one for politics. However, came across a phrase used by some libertarians to express the sentiment of being a part of the thoughtful minority. They say, “Truth is treason in the empire of lies.” How much more does that apply to reality as a whole? Enlightened folks train their minds beyond the baseline deluded capacities of the majority, and they peer into the nature of experience with laser-like precision. Not only do they discover truths about reality in general, but also the cause and cure of suffering. And what do the deluded say? “Bollocks. Rubbish. They’ve just learned to have state experiences. It’s their brains playing tricks on them. It’s a misapplication of neural mechanisms which evolved for a different purpose altogether. Everybody knows there’s only material. Any reasonable, sensible person knows there’s nothing beyond basic human perception.”

To that I say: Bollocks. Rubbish.

The same is true of some practitioners who have difficulties developing their eye of wisdom. They’re not good at training their attention, and thus haven’t been able to see into reality the way many others claim to. In attempt to validate their practice and insights to others, such an under-developed individual will likely endorse an interpretation of nondual teachings that allows them to fit within their model of what it means to be enlightened.

I find this approach to be very disingenuous, most of the time. What these people are saying is, “One doesn’t have to access this or that state, or train their attention to this or that degree, in order to be enlightened. To teach people this is disempowering and cruel. People suffer when their told that they are not good enough, and that’s just wrong.” I suspect what they mean is something more like, “Look I’ve been working my ass off for decades. If anyone should have been able to train their attention to the superlative degree, it would be me. When you tell others they have to do that, it makes me feel inadequate. I don’t like that, and I don’t like you because you’re the one saying this to me.” I would prefer the latter, because it’s honest, at least.

Bottom line: To get enlightened, it’s not enough to hear a teaching and apply it to your habitual, deluded baseline perceptual condition. Training, for most people, is absolutely required. Don’t think that you’re one of the special 0.000000001% (or fewer!) who can receiving a Dzogchen pointing-out instruction and realize full enlightenment without any practice.

Also, don’t sell yourself short. There are lots of valid ways to open and train the eye of wisdom. They have stood the test of time. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to pick one – seriously, just one – and follow the instructions, patiently and persistently, until you experience the appropriate stages that follow. This takes a lot of time. You’re not likely to master a practice in one month, or even one year. Do not deviate until you meet at least the minimum requirements of mastery, as outlined in whatever tradition you follow. This isn’t about dogma or religion. It’s just like learning a sport, or a musical instrument. If you don’t practice, and don’t follow the sequence, your form will be sloppy and you will not likely perform at the level you aspire to.

As Daniel Ingram once said, “[Don’t] settle for the chips and salsa, when [you] can get the big burrito.”


I just came across this excerpt from Bertrand Russell’s essay, Mysticism and Logic. It provides an exceptional example of delusion masquerading as intelligence:

“From a scientific point of view, we can make no distinction between the man who eats little and sees heaven and the man who drinks much and sees snakes. Each is in an abnormal physical condition, and therefore has abnormal perceptions. Normal perceptions, since they have to be useful in the struggle for life, must have some correspondence with fact; but in abnormal perceptions there is no reason to expect such correspondence, and their testimony, therefore, cannot outweigh that of normal perception.”

Let’s break it down, shall we?

“From a scientific point of view” – I’d like to know what he means by “scientific.” I would guess he is referring to empirical science, which takes as its object of study those perceptions that arise directly from the five senses. If so, then…

“we can make no distinction between the man who eats little and sees heaven and the man who drinks much and sees snakes.” – This is what happens when you think of everything in quantitative terms. Hallucinating and mystical visions are qualitatively different, which Russell would know if he put in the effort to have a mystical experience. (Just to be clearly, experiencing a heavenly vision is not the same as awakening.) When there is no qualitative hierarchy that clearly differentiates pre and post, both are seen as just non (Wilber’s “pre/trans fallacy). This is clear to enlightened folks. We know the difference between pre-egoic, egoic, and trans-egoic. Anyone who is operating from the perspective of ego will look at trans-egoic states as simply non-egoic, and lump them into the same category as pre-egoic. Russell is doing just that.

“Each is in an abnormal physical condition, and therefore has abnormal perceptions.” – There he goes again with lumping all abnormal (read: non-normal) physical conditions, along with their associated perceptions, into the same category; which are, of course, categorically “lower” than “normal” perceptions…

“Normal perceptions, since they have to be useful in the struggle for life, must have some correspondence with fact; but in abnormal perceptions there is no reason to expect such correspondence” – Once again, Russell makes a covert value judgment, preferring those perceptions which aid in the survival of the organism in its physical and vital form. And really, who can blame him? This is all he knows!* And although rooted in common sense, the assumption that all normal perceptions must have some correspondence with fact is not easy to support. The arrogance of this position is astounding.

“but in abnormal perceptions there is no reason to expect such correspondence, and their testimony, therefore, cannot outweigh that of normal perception.” – Oh, but it can – for those who have mastered the territory. This is analogous to saying that astronomical evidence collected using a telescope cannot outweigh normal perception, because telescopic perception serves no survival value. That’s what spiritual practice does – it calibrates your instrument; your eye of wisdom. For the enlightened, the testimony of the eye of wisdom far outweighs that of “normal” perception.

*I’m aware he is dead, but I don’t like writing in the past tense.


Waking up entails first realizing you are asleep, or at least questioning whether or not you understand the way things are. You suspect that there is more to this life than the status quo of mundane human habit patterning and cycling. At this point you have a base-level gut feeling that things may not be what they seem, and that you just need to figure it out.

The process of waking up that follows is best explained as a process of disintegration followed by a process of reintegration.

Disintegration is necessary because up until the point of setting out on a path to awakening you feel an intuitive sense of being a separate being in a world which is simultaneously familiar and foreign to you. This sense of separateness becomes utterly unbearable. Going about your life in the usual way, in attempt to fulfill the longings themed around the common sense ambitions of status quo humanity, seems pointless. You feel dreadfully unfulfilled as a result.

Thus, your inquiry into the nature of Reality begins. Whether inquiry is prescribed to you by a teacher or guru or whether it arises spontaneously from the depths of your dread makes no difference. You want to know who you are, what you are, or even more basically – if you are. You want to know if there is an actual purpose to your life, a reason for living. And this procedure of inquiry begins to necessarily dismantle whatever sense of security you once had in your old ways of thinking and being in the world. You begin the process of disintegration – the picking apart and scattering around of all you thought you were and all you believed to be true. None of it holds up, and you feel a mess.

There is a point at which the disintegration process reaches a kind of critical mass, at which point it escalates beyond the point of no return – at least no return in the old sense, in which you could just turn around and forget you ever started on the journey in the first place. But if you’ve reached the point of no return, your awakening is almost guaranteed in this lifetime (barring you don’t physically die before the process is complete).

In hind sight, the best response to having reached the point of no return would be to simply let go and allow the fall to take place. It would be best to just give up and let the process finish you off. But hardly anyone does this. 99% of the time, people will fight tooth and nail to conjure up an old familiar sense of self. You will almost certainly to put tremendous energy in propping up the lie just to try to feel a sense of being secure or grounded, even though you know deep in your bones that this is not your destiny. The driving force of this resistance is none other than fear – primal, pure and condensed.

Fear is never overcome through force of aggression, for aggression is the expression of fear in its most basic form. The only antidote to fear is courage. Contrary to what you may believe about courage, its expression is not emotionless or stone cold. The expression of courage, in its most basic form, is surrender. But again, this surrender is probably not what comes to mind when you first think of it. You probably see a frightened soldier hiding behind a mound of dirt, bullets whizzing by, raising and waiving a white flag. But that’s not the kind of surrender that positions you for awakening. The type of surrender that is the expression of true courage is a willingness to experience whatever comes, eyes wide open, unflinching. When the activity of aggression as the expression of fear is finally realized to be pointless, corresponding to feelings of utter exhaustion, one may – if they are so fortunate – choose to turn and face their difficulties head-on. No shields. No anesthetic. And this is precisely the right move to make. This is what allows the disintegration process to complete itself.

This is not the end of the pain, but it is the end of the old way of relating to it. In your mind you know there is no guarantee of success. There’s no way to know for sure whether you will awaken today, or 12 years from now. But in either case you know that the necessary response is the same. There’s only one option left: courage, surrender, willingness to experience whatever comes. During this final stretch (although you may not even know it is the final stretch) there will be times of peril and times of peace. Sometimes you will feel as though you can get through anything this world (i.e. your mind) throws at you, and other times you wish you never would have undertaken this path in the first place. But you walk on. There’s no going back. The moments of peace along the way provide just enough nourishment to sustain you as you travel straight into the unknown. You can’t see more than two feet in front of you at any given moment, but you are becoming acclimatized to the uncertainty. Your tolerance for ambiguity and mystery is steadily rising. Things are getting better.

The full disintegration comes when you least expect it. No willful act can bring it about. There can be no intention at this point. I’m dead serious about this. Neither can there be intention of non-intention, for even THAT gets in the way. You must simply keep going, welcoming everything that comes on its own terms, until you literally forget that your path has an end point…

And then it happens.

The way it happens, the experience of it, is not the same for everyone, and so there really isn’t any reason for me to describe any particular experience in detail. But when it happens you will know. What can be said about the final disintegration is that it is a dying before death. You will die that day, but you won’t be dead. And having died, you will no longer fear death – at least not for your own sake. When you disintegrate you see that there was never a separate you in the first place. Your complete dissolution doesn’t hinder the Universe, for you understand quite clearly that whatever dissolves and reappears can be nothing other than the same THAT which is both the source and essence of everything. You realize the essential non-duality of the All, and that there is nothing other than the All. In losing everything, everything is gained. In realizing that you are nothing, you comprehend that you are everything, and that there is no in-between. At this point you are no longer sleeping. The eyes of wisdom are flung wide  open. You wake up.

But (of course you knew there had to be a “but.” There’s always a “but.”), the completeness of disintegration is not the end of your journey. This is perhaps the most common misunderstanding on the path of awakening. The finality of disintegration is not to be denied, so the newly awakened is not deluded. And yet, there is a tendency of the newly awakened to try to take up residence in the All, to plant their feet in the Abyss, as though their personality could be an adequate expression of the ineffable Reality they realized they are. When the sense of separateness is disintegrated and Reality is apprehended, there tends to be an ever-so-subtle contraction of the remaining tendency toward identification, which is just enough to delude the individual into thinking, “I am the All.” When you first awaken, this will likely occur. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, as it is almost entirely unavoidable. Few, if any, have traversed the path of awakening and not fallen victim to this subtle duality that remains after the disintegration process.

It is here when the recognition of the necessity of reintegration becomes paramount to any genuine and complete teaching on awakening. But this begs the question, what could possibly be the source of the remaining identity-delusion? What allows the self-contraction to remain in this subtle form? You traversed the treacherous path of disintegration, whereby you faced your fears and ended the activities of aggression and replaced them with courage and surrender once and for all!… or did you?

If you know anyone who has awakened and fallen into the, “I am the All,” trap (which, like I said, happens to nearly all of those who awaken), you’ll pick up on some of the dismissive ways they respond to “worldly” concerns. They may appear calm and collected most of the time, and make statements about how they just don’t get why everyone is so upset about the economy, or their sick grandmother, or their tooth pain. Don’t they see that it’s all an illusion? Isn’t it just easier to realize it’s all a game, a drama, a production on the Universal scale, and then to just sit back and watch, unattached? When you occupy this point of view, it feels like you’re invincible. No one can touch you because “you” don’t exist – only “You” exists, which includes you and you and you.

The funny thing is that this position cannot be sustained forever. Your newly inflated ego will become increasingly frustrated with others for not recognizing the Truth. You wish they would just leave you alone, or that they would just snap out of their delusion so they would stop bothering you. And it’s here that, if you’re lucky, you’ll notice that you are once again resisting life as it shows up for you. You are expressing an unwillingness to experience whatever comes, which is the expression of that same cause which put you through so much misery in the first place… Fear. You thought you had rid yourself of fear, which is what allowed you to take on this new Universal point of view as, “I am the All.” But a seed of fear remained, and now it has grown into another obstacle that must be dealt with in order to reach a truly complete and unshakable awakening.

It is only natural for you to think that if this subtle fear-based duality remains, this calls for further disintegration. You will likely opt for attempting to go through more of the same. This makes sense. But, the path of awakening is such that it doesn’t have to make sense. You must accept that the process of disintegration has truly come to an end (because it has), and that there is only one way to finish the job. That is, embarking on the path of reintegration.

To travel the path of reintegration you must allow yourself to care. You have to find your raw, unconditioned tenderness and vulnerability and refuse to cover it over. You must allow life to touch you. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this is the most necessarily activity at this stage. In allowing yourself to care as a human being cares, you directly face your fears pertaining to going back into a life that resembles what you thought you had escaped from. But there is no escape. There never was.

So, while the path of disintegration was the path of, “Not this, not that. None of this,” the path of reintegration is, “This, and this too. All of this.” You must return to your body, to your human relationships, to your job, your spouse or significant other, your kids, your neighbors, your daily chores and responsibilities, and you must do so with fully engaged presence. It will hurt at times, and it will be pleasurable at times. You must learn to let go into pleasure as well as pain. You must allow yourself to get attached, to have an opinion, to have wants and needs. In doing so, you will be scared that you are simply putting on the same old chains that bound you to a life full of suffering and despair, which you set out to escape from in the first place. But you will not know the difference between where you started and where you will find yourself again until you walk the path.

The funny thing about reintegration is that it doesn’t stop. The process becomes more stable, in that you learn to settle into the flow of life, and your existence is experienced as the expression of both the Universal and the personal, eating together, playing together, sleeping together. It doesn’t ever truly end because there is no where you can fix a position in this Reality. There is only opening, and presence, and participation. And that’s why you hear the most profound teachings describing the most seemingly mundane experiences as being undeniable expressions of awakening. Ryokan:

If someone asks what is the mark of enlightenment or illusion,
I cannot say…….wealth and honor are nothing but dust,
As the evening rain falls I sit in my hermitage
And stretch out both feet in answer.

It’s true that the process of reintegration following disintegration leads to the stabilization of a natural, ordinary awakened state. But there is a danger in disclosing this information, and there’s a clear reason why some traditions and teachers have elected to remain silent about it. The reason is simple. So simple, in fact, that I might suppose that it’s implied in the context without any further explanation. It’s too important to miss, however, and so there is a strong motivation to share it with anyone who may not be picking up on it, or perhaps just doesn’t want to believe in the truth of it. There’s something of a moral imperative of the awakened to shed light on the dubious errors in judgment made both by awakened individuals of less sophistication, skill, or care, and also of those who will have a difficulty beginning the journey on the right foot due to the confusion that arose due to hearing too much, too soon.

This trap, which is set at the very start of the path by teachers or authors of books (many of whom are well meaning, no doubt) is the idea that for the person who has yet to undergo a path of disintegration, there really is no path. The teacher might tell you, “You are already enlightened. There’s nothing to do. There’s nowhere to go. The path just leads to more seeking and suffering. The path is the problem. Avoid the path forever and you will be awake forever.” And that, my dear friends, is complete and utter bullshit.

Yes, Reality is the way it is. It has always been the way it is. The root cause of our errant perception of separateness is ignorance of the truth of Reality. But you can’t transform by simply hearing a description of what the end result is like, anymore than you can read the menu instead of eating the meal and feel that your hunger is truly satisfied. If you’re going to wake up, and to really apprehend just what it means to be integrated, whole, and ordinary in the most profound sense, you need to embark on the journey of disintegration first. You must die-before-death before you can be reborn for the last time. Only then will your human life realize the expression of the truth that this is how it has always been.

I’ll close this essay with Master Dogen, who sums up the entire path of awakening, including disintegration and reintegration, in the opening lines of his Genjo Koan:

As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, and birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings.

[Sam: Before you awaken, you are better off having a view like the one stated above.]

As the myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death.

[Sam: The culmination of the disintegration phase brings this into clear apprehension.]

The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas.

[Sam: We move from disintegration into reintegration, coming back the mundane, which is now also anything but.]

Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.

[Sam: In other words, the final result is not static. There is always engaged activity. There is always a choice.]

I sincerely hope this essay is helpful for those at all stages of the path. If anything, it may help you not to sabotage yourself along the way.

There are a lot more people claiming to be awakened then there used to be. Taken at face value, this is a good thing. People are practicing techniques that others have found particularly effective, and they are experiencing results of one kind or another. They are even really good at explaining what they’ve experienced using the key words and phrases that other enlightened people use (e.g. nondual, egolessness, oneness, etc.).

What interests me is what these people later report as they continue to practice. More often than not, someone who has already claimed to be fully awakened will experience something novel to them and say, “Wow, here’s this new thing I discovered. It must be available only to awakened people!” The descriptions of these new states or experiences usually sound an awful lot like the descriptions of kensho, or an initial glimpse of one’s true nature (the source). I hate to break it to these folks, but if you’re just now experiencing kensho for the first time, you’re not fully awakened. Far from it, actually.

This is why claiming awakening is tricky business. Most people get it wrong. Most people think they are awake because something that used to bother them doesn’t bother them anymore. They had questions, and the questions were answered in an experimental way, and now they think they’re Buddhas. Again, this just isn’t true.

There’s a reason why many Zen masters who, when a student first discloses their awakening, will suggest that they go live in the mountains for 10 years. It takes a great deal of time for the initial pinprick to completely deflate the balloon. Merely pricking the balloon may ensure your future enlightenment, but being inflated is not being awake.

There’s a simple reason why it’s difficult for the unawakened to comprehend what awakening is like. The reason is that they are using the contrived mind to conceptualize awakening, and awakening is inherently trans-conceptual.

How so? As I mentioned before in a post on suffering, and in another post after that, before we awaken we are identified with the movements of the contrived mind. It moves toward this, and it moves away from this, and it clouds itself to ignore this other thing. The mind divides experience up into this over here, and that over there. It’s the source of the perception that ‘I’ exist separately from ‘you.’ All of this delusional nonsense is conjured up in the contrived mind, and has no basis in reality.

Waking up is about seeing this process clearly enough, by whatever means, in order to release one’s identification with the mind. At times this awakening results in a stilling of the movements of mind, but not in a lasting way. The mind does what it does, on its own. There’s no “I” or “you” in the mix, whatsoever. Seeing glimpses of reality as it really is results in longer glimpses, and then longer glimpses, until what used to be just a glimpse becomes an abiding experience.

When I endorse practice which lead to the recognition of the source, I do so knowing that realizing this new viewpoint results in decreased identification with the contrived mind. Ultimately, that’s the point – to see things as they really are. The results are beneficial enough for folks like me to dedicate our time to pointing out the way.

This is also why teachers like the mythical Jed McKenna teach techniques like spiritual autolysis, in which one simply tries to write something they know is true; something that can’t be refuted. In doing so, the futility of the contrived mind’s take on reality is exposed. This is not a practice I have engaged in to any significant degree. Though, I can say that keeping a record of my practice and reflecting on various insights was a major part of the awakening process.

Looking back through my journals, I can see the times when I thought I was 100% sure about something being true, only to completely change my mind not even a week later. Bringing awareness to this process helped me get out of my head.

So, why not put some of this into practice and see for yourself?

The number one question I get from people who hear that I’m awakened is, “Do you still suffer?” Of course, this questions is inspired by the First Noble Truth of the Buddha, which is dukkha. The word dukkha is almost always translated as suffering, which many truly awakened folks have found to be a bit misleading. For most people, it is nearly impossible to separate suffering from pain, anguish, the so-called “negative” emotions, etc. But any truly awakened person with a shred of personal integrity will tell you that they still feel pain, still experience negative emotions, and that anguish may still arise.

Still others try to translate dukkha as “unsatisfactoriness,” but that doesn’t really fit the bill, either. There are plenty of things that I find unsatisfactory, and my awakening doesn’t diminish in the slightest in light of this fact. What, then, is this suffering stuff all about?

It’s quite simple, actually. All we have to do is first look at what old Buddha said was the cause of suffering, and then describe the experience of the awakened and non-awakened individual.

The Buddha as depicted in the Pali suttas (the oldest teachings ascribed to the Buddha) describes the cause of suffering as “craving” in his Second Noble Truth. However, he later elaborates on this and says that the causes of suffering are greed, aversion, and delusion. These causes are generally seen as things that can be cleared away from the mind, thus relieving suffering. However, I think it’s more accurate to describe these processes as nothing more than the activities of the conditioned mind itself.

You see, human beings (and perhaps all other beings) generally mature into a state of identification with the conditioned mind. This mind is none other than the processes of grasping, averting, and ignoring, any and all experiences that arise to meet it (to use crude, unscientific language). When we are identified with these processes – when we understand them to comprise a single entity called “I” or “me” – we are bound to their movements. This is a rather turbulent state of affairs, don’t you think? Constantly moving towards, moving away, or blocking-out experience is quite the existential run-around. This state of affairs, as well as the corresponding cognitive friction, is what the Buddha meant – and any other awakened person means – when the word dukkha is used.

It is possible to concentrate on a single point of reference, and to fix the mind into a state of stability, which temporarily halts the state of affairs called dukkha. But, being temporary, the state will not last, and suffering will commence once more. This is why it’s not enough to calm the mind. One must leap clear of this mind all together. That is, one must awaken out of the mind, so that its movements are no trouble at all.

Imagine for a moment that someone has given you a soft clay figurine and said, “This is you.” Now, let’s say your cat comes along and takes a bite out of the figurine’s left arm. If you believe that you are this figurine, you’ll panic! You’ll scream! “No! You’ve injured my body! This just isn’t fair! I hate you, Fluffy!” But this is ridiculous, isn’t it? You know that you’re not a clay figurine. What’s even more ridiculous is that you believe that you are your mind.

That’s what this awakening business is all about. It’s not about stabilizing your conditioned mind – it’s about no longer identifying with it. Any technology of awakening you practice should have this dis-identification as its sole aim. See the mind for what it is, and then let go. Freeing yourself from the processes of the mind (NOT stopping or purifying them) is the end of dukkha.

Until next time,