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Doubt gets a bad rap in most of the spiritual teachings teachings I’ve come across. It’s so often viewed as some kind of stumbling block that is to be removed one’s path, so they don’t trip over it. Instead of doubt, seekers are told to cultivate faith (i.e. confidence, trust) in the teachings or their teacher. Doubt is seen as an opposite to faith, as though you can either express one or the other in any given moment. You either have faith or you have doubt, and to have the latter is to be set up for failure from the beginning. Among communities of faith, expression of doubt is often taboo. Sure, it’s OK to express doubt for a brief period, but it’s expected to be cleared up through prayer or by receiving advice from elders who know better. Faith is the higher virtue, end of story.

The problem is that this faith/doubt dichotomy puts the intelligent seeker in a wicked double-bind. By intelligent I don’t mean genius. I’m referring to ordinary levels of adult intelligence. And this means that for many adults, perhaps upwards of 50% of them, have matured to a point in their human lives where doubt is the expression of higher developmental processes than what is required for doubt to arise in the first place. Was it not doubt that made the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil attractive to our mythical first human beings? Was the serpent not other than that voice inside each one of us that is unsatisfied with anything but knowledge acquired by testing things for ourselves? Giving in to this voice is seen as the root cause of our lives gone-askew, and it is our inheritance, our original sin. Thank God for that sin, for you can’t travel a path if you stay in the garden.

The great misnomer here is that doubt could somehow be removed and replaced with faith, like uprooting a weed and replacing it with a food-producing plant. Some people think this is possible, and some even claim to have done it. Perhaps they have. But in suppressing the expression of doubt (since I sincerely doubt anything has actually been removed), the source energy of doubt is also suppressed. This energy is a tremendous resource that goes untapped for so many people, because they either don’t no about it or don’t believe in the possibility of it. The confusion lies in what I said earlier about doubt and faith being misconstrued as opposites. This isn’t so. Faith and doubt are not expressions of the same energy. The flip-side of doubt is not faith, but rather clarity. We could also call it discernment, or even wisdom. And to which coin do doubt and clarity make up the heads and tails? I’ve been speaking of it already… intelligence.

This is not the kind of intelligence that comes from memorization of facts, the “book smart” variety. It’s the intelligence that is capable of seeing things clearly and accurately as they are. It is the primordial intelligence of the source. It is before ego, before identification of any kind. Therefore, it is selfless, belonging to no one and everyone alike.  I have never known one single awakened person who did not have access to this resource, and who didn’t gain that access through allowing doubt to remain on their path. It is by working with doubt – exploring it, using it, testing it, allowing it – that one discovers how to use this same energy to give rise to clarity and understanding at the deepest levels available to humankind.

I said already that doubt is often mistaken to be the enemy, even the flip-side, of faith. But, in my view, faith and doubt do not arise from the same basic energy, so  so they are not really opposites. I bring this up to point out that faith is not the enemy of doubt, even thought that’s how it seems sometimes. One can simultaneously express great faith and great doubt for this very reason. There’s something more sneaky, more clever, more cunning, to watch out for on the path, which is the expression that attempts to suppress or deny the basic source energies as they are, and thereby distorting their expressions into the forms we call “hindrances.” It can be none other than fear.

But what is fear, really? Much like doubt and clarity, whose source is primordial intelligence, fear also has a source and an alternate expression. For, what is fear other than the fundamental expression of “No”? The opposite of fear is often said to be love, and that is true in some ways. But the word love doesn’t really do this expression justice. If fear is the fundamental “No,” it is that which we are able to close ourselves off from experience. If the fundamental “Yes” is that which we express as openness to experience, this “Yes” is a more basic form of trust; and therefore, faith. Faith is that which says “Yes” to what arises, and fear is what says “No.” And the root energy of both is choice.

Confusing as it may seem, choice is built into the fabric of reality. Yes and No are not unlike wisdom and ignorance, yin and yang, expansion and contraction, nirvana and samsara. This doesn’t jibe well with the philosophy that says because there is no self, there is no real choice or agency. But to think that choice requires an inherently existing self is ignorance. And the more one taps into the source, realizing the primordial intelligence, the more all of this becomes clear. It’s a matter of learning when to say Yes and when to say No on this path. Our confusion leads us to say Yes when saying No would be more beneficial, and vice versa. And this is when doubt becomes particularly useful, for it’s expression says, “Am I saying Yes to this when saying No would be better?” Doubt raises the important questions, leading to skillful experimentation. And this experimentation refines doubt into clarity, which then guides us to taste and see the results of our Yes and our No when applied to life as it shows up for us. Really, there can be no real inquiry without doubt.

So often people say No to doubt when saying Yes will take them further. But you can say Yes when your mind, body, and emotions say No. Feelings often lag behind the decisions of the higher regulating centers; that is, you don’t have to wait until you feel like doing something to do it. All of these energies are expressed in your body, your use of speech, your thoughts, and your actions (that is, expressions as a bodies of No, feelings of No, thoughts of No, actions of No). They need not all be aligned at first. It just takes one step with one of these to give a Yes instead of a No, and that can turn your whole life upside down… or rather, right-side up.

If you doubt any of this, that’s wonderful. Explore it. Use it. Trying saying Yes to doubt if No is getting you nowhere.


How does an awakened person describe the indescribable?

Easy. They don’t.

Nothing an awakened person says should be taken as truth, at least not in any absolute sort of way.

When I talk about the source, I do so as a pointer. Do I really mean that the source is itself the uncaused-cause, like some kind of singularity from which objects spew forth and return?… maybe. (Wouldn’t you love to know.)

… but even if I was, that’s not the point (or should I say, not the pointer). When I, like any other awakened person out there, provides you with an analogy for awakening, beware of any comfortable feeling that comes along with the thought, “Oh, I get it!” Awakening is not like solving a mathematical equation. It’s not a piece of knowledge you can carry around in your head, and reveal any time someone asks you about it.

The teachings of the awakened are used to influence the student’s state of mind. It’s much more like helping someone tune an instrument than helping them dig a whole or climb over a fence. What we say comes at others at a certain frequency or pitch, which results in either consonance or dissonance in the minds of those who listen. Both are used to guide you in a particular direction – one that will lead you closer to the state of mind that is ripe for awakening. When the fruit is truly ripe, it drops from the branch. That’s what it’s like to awaken.

You can’t figure it you. You never will. But you can listen, and you can practice.

But, for god’s sake, don’t spend time getting good at describing something you don’t yet understand. You might be able to fool yourself and some others who are not awake, but you’ll never fool the awakened. Not a chance.

The source – the knowing nature – is not a self. It is not a self because for it to be a self it would have to be able to possess something, anything, as “mine.” There can be no “me” without “mine.”

Talking about the knowing nature as though it is pure or impure is beside the point. The source is not unlike an innocent bystander which is co-opted through a great confusion that leads to the generation of suffering. Suffering is not uncaused. It is not intrinsic to reality.

Thoughts are powerfully deceptive. They form images which are known via the source, and which confuse themselves as the source. The thoughts think they are the ones who know. And from here it all goes downhill. Confusing that which knows and lasts with that which is incapable of knowing in and of itself, which is also that which is in constant change – birth, aging, illness, and death – they delude themselves into thinking there is a continuity of self from moment to moment of conditioned arising. All this is possible because of the knowing nature and its neutral, unbiased position.

It is the mind’s ability to fabricate that is both its damnation and salvation. When it remains ignorant of its own power, life is hell. When its wakes up to its own power, it can be turned against itself. It can realize all of the pain and suffering it causes itself; how futile the self-preservation-mode really is.

And as the mind becomes less infatuated with itself, it comes to see that the knowing nature need not be subject to this madness. It has been used for suffering when it has the potential to be the home of radical freedom. It is both the means and the end of awakening.

If you want to know a way to figure this out quickly, learn to deceive yourself intentionally! Imagine something you want, and notice how your mind and body respond. Picture something terrible, something you would never want to see happen, and observe what happens to the quality of experience. Then notice how no matter how long you try to sustain either scenario, each will die.

No state lasts forever. It takes too much energy. The mind gets bored and moves on to something else. When it does, pay attention to the way it happens! I thought arises, and the mind delights in the thought, and a new self is born. For example, when meditation becomes difficult, you may think, “Why am I meditating when it’s so painful. This meditation stuff doesn’t even work. I’m going to be happy just being myself and doing the things I like.” This thought let you off the hook. The burden of meditation relieved, you sigh with relief and go about your life, utterly deceived once again… That is, until life is seen for the mess of suffering it can be. Then you will think, “I’m going to meditate and get rid of this suffering!” Then the meditator is reborn, and the enthusiasm and delight return. How tricky, this mind!

When you bring this unconscious process out into the open air of conscious awareness, you can then learn to use it to your advantage. But maybe I’ll save the details for another post

The first step on this path of practice, which is simply a path to here, is recognizing the difference between the knowing nature and that which is known. This distinction won’t always matter. It’s not some absolute truth to cling to. It’s just a step in the right direction. It sucks the power out of illusion by turning it back on itself. This cannot, should not, be under-emphasized. I hope this point is quite clear. If you haven’t made this first step, you’re still stuck in the thorn bushes.

Take the first step.

If you think the source is simply the way your mind feels when you’re relaxed, you haven’t gone far enough.

If you think you’re enlightened because you’ve looked for your sense of self and found that there wasn’t one, you haven’t gone far enough.

If you think awakening is recognizing that thoughts are objects of consciousness just like sense media, you haven’t gone far enough.

If you think you’re awake because you had a dream-like vision that revealed some paradoxical mystery of the universe, you haven’t gone far enough.

If you’ve experienced a shift in consciousness due to pondering over some non-rational koan-like riddle, don’t stop. You probably haven’t gone far enough.

If you’ve learned to quiet your mind to the point where there are seldom any thoughts for hours or even days, keep going. You haven’t gone far enough.

If you’ve reached a state in your meditation where you seem utterly absent, and yet the world continues to manifest… sorry. You haven’t gone far enough.

If it feels as though your consciousness has exploded into shimmery Oneness with all of the cosmos, you probably haven’t gone far enough.

If you’ve reached a state where there are no objects of consciousness at all, so that all experience is simply a gossamer void – not far enough.

How will you know when you’ve gone far enough?

Believe me: you’ll know!

But, if you need more than that, I’ll say this…

So long as the source is confused with objects, duality remains. When the source is fully distinguish from objects, even the most subtle projections of the most subtle mind, only then is the non-duality of the source and objects truly and directly known. Every experience described above is likely to be a case of confusing the source with some object or another. Though, the varieties of which delusion may appear are legion.

You have to take it all the way. You’ve only gone far enough when you can’t go any further. You will quite literally fall off the edge of duality if you just keep going. Jed McKenna’s one-word instruction here is quite appropriate: Further. The path is not endless. Further gets you there.

When the desire to awaken first enters our hearts and becomes clear, the illusory self has the sense of embarking on a journey of discovery. This “I” is going to discover something wonderful, or become something magnificent. It has everything to do with “I” in the beginning. Ending “my” suffering. Fulfilling “my” desires.

We catch our first glimpse of the truth, and things immediately take a new turn. This thing I’m supposed to be chasing is actually intimately connected with me. In fact, it may be even more me than “I” am. But the “I” continues to hunt, to search, to track.

Much later, a feeling of “double-mindedness” may arise. Which am I? The truth or the expression? Am “I” the Self or the self? Still thinking that “I” am going to figure this out, the “I” presses on.

When awakening reaches its full expression, the whole paradigm is flipped upside down. It is not the small self – the “I” – which wakes up to the source, or God, or Brahman, or Emptiness, etc. Rather, the source wakes up unto itself via its own spontaneous, egoless, unplanned, unintentional activity. The fact that awakening happens at all is the most peculiar of truths, as there seems to be no way anyone or anything is directing the process. No one is up in the sky pushing buttons. The source expresses itself, and some particular facets of expression – who were previously deluded – somehow wake up to their source. The activity continues, but the expression takes on a whole new existence. And so the life of the awakened must commence, as it always has, in a completely spontaneous expression of Empty, selfless source activity.

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?

Map-based practice is all the rage in some online forums these days. The transition from no-maps to pro-maps practice was a reactionary move on the part of Westerners who were fed up with the dharma being co-mingled with humanistic psychotherapy — so much so, in fact, that they became indistinguishable. “There’s something else going on here!” they declare. “There are definable stages of awakening that have nothing to do with psychology, morality, or anything else! Hurrah! Hurrah!”

For the most part, I think they’re on to something. That is, until the maps and models that have been either resurrected or newly constructed take precedence over reality as it shows itself right NOW.

The biggest downside to the maps and models, in my opinion (whatever it’s worth), is that it sets up a set of conceptual expectations which the individual all of the student thinks they have to somehow reach. “At this stage, I should be able to *blank*, while at this stage *blank* should be clear,” etc. etc. The problem with this is that everyone seems to have a slightly different view of what the final stage is. Those whose view includes a final stages that isn’t so lofty tend to “get enlightened” quickly and where it around like a merit badge. Those whose view is quite lofty turn their noses up at those who think they’ve attained something special. The “Us vs. Them” mentality pops up very quickly, and who wants that?

The last thing I want is for someone to think they’re awake when they are not. There’s no way to put an end to this, but it’s certainly possible not to propagate a set of map-based beliefs and practice models that encourage delusional results.

If you’re going to use a map, use the simplest one available. My favorite is right out of the Zen tradition: “Sudden realization, gradual cultivation.” The purpose of practice to realize the truth of the source. We continue to practice in order to strip away the necessary conceptual baggage (e.g. bad habits) that get in the way of this realization becoming an abiding awakening. That’s all. No other stages are necessary. Forget the Bodhisattva Bhumis. Forget the Theravada Four Path Model. Don’t worry about moving from gross, to subtle, to causal, to Witnessing, to nondual. All of that stuff points in the general vicinity of the truth, but it does more harm than good to follow any of it too closely. Recognize the source. Relax into it. The realization will abide more and more over time, and eventually you will be awakened. No other stages, maps, or models are necessary.

“That which is not present in deep dreamless sleep is not real.” -Sri Ramana Maharshi

The profundity of the above quotation cannot be fully unpacked in a simple blog post. However, I would like to use the quote as a pointer for the subject of this post.

The path to awakening brings lots of interesting experiences, particularly in the realm of states of consciousness. It would appear that the human mind (and perhaps other non-human minds) are stratified or layered. Through concentration, it is possible to access a wide range of experiences. Some are blissful, some are dull. Some are in the realm of dreams, others of the void. Many states are rather enticing, which is why so many great sages (including Ramana Maharshi) have warned against getting too caught up in them.

So, when Ramana refers to “deep dreamless sleep,” he’s pointing to a state of consciousness. In traditional Vedanta philosophy, there are three primary states of consciousness: gross/waking, subtle/dreaming, and causal/deep dreamless sleep. We are warned that the states themselves are not “real,” due to their changing nature. These states come and go. And although the state of deep dreamless sleep feels like freedom, it isn’t. It isn’t freedom because there’s no way to stay there. Clinging to any state will keep one immersed in sticky, murky delusion.

That’s not to say that states of consciousness do not have a place on the path to awakening. Quite the contrary, actually. For, it is in accessing these states that we discover that which exists in them all; or rather, that which is the essence of them all. In Vedanta, they call this the turiya, or the fourth state, which isn’t really a state at all. Turiya is the Witness – the aspect of reality which cognizes experience of the three basic states. And really, the only way we can really recognize that which persists through all three basic states is to access them all consciously. That’s why we meditate. And the Witness just so happens to be the cognizant aspect of the source.

Recognizing the Witness is not the end of the game. As I mentioned in a post on tracing back the radiance, recognizing the source is only the beginning. We must then trace it back. In so doing, the seeming separation between the Witness and the three states is seen through completely, and one eventually achieves Self-realization. Ramana called this awakened state of affairs turiyatita – that which beyond the fourth state, beyond the Witness.

Any way you look at it, awakening is not a state that you learn to hang out in. Recognize the essence of every state, trace it back, and awaken.

“[The Buddha element] is pure and yet has afflictions. [Enlightenment] was not afflicted and yet is purified. Qualities are totally indivisible [and yet unapparent]. [Activity] is spontaneous and yet without any thought.” ~ from the Uttara-Tantra-Shastra

I come across the following questions often…

“If you are already That which you seek…”
“If all is Brahman/God…”
“If there is nothing to gain in awakening…”
“If form is Emptiness and Emptiness is form…”
“If your truest nature is already primordially free, then…”

… why practice at all? Why look for what you already have? Why send out a search party for what was never lost?

At a certain point, these types of questions are important to ask. But often times, asking these types of questions is just another way of reasoning your way out of practicing, and thus, out of actually waking up.

J. Krishnamurti is famous for rejecting all forms of spiritual practice. He taught that, “any aiming at a ‘what should be’ involves a ‘directive’ away from ‘what is.'”* As usual, this makes sense, right? Unfortunately for Jiddu and his students, the truth doesn’t have to make sense.

The truth is often paradoxical or seemingly contradictory. Take, for example, the quote from the Uttara-Tantra-Shastra at the beginning of this post. How can the Buddha Element (i.e. the source) be pure, and yet be covered over by obstructions prior to awakening? Regardless of “how,” it is simply the case. You may be Buddha in essence, but you’re no Buddha unless this essence is actualized. And this is why practice is necessary. Whether or not there is a truth is of no consequence if it cannot be actualized, or expressed. There’s no use in believing that you’re already free if the opposite is most certainly the case. Practice is a means of clearing away the garbage that blocks recognition and expression of the truth.

Don’t fall into the no-practice trap. Practice, recognize, actualize. There is no other way.

*from Krishnamurti and Traditions of Unitive Mysticism by Alan Gullette

There is something formlessly created
Born before Heaven and Earth
So silent! So ethereal!
Independent and changeless
Circulating and ceaseless
It can be regarded as the mother of the world

I do not know its name
Identifying it, I call it “Tao”
Forced to describe it, I call it great

(Tao Te Ching, Ch. 25)

You may have noticed from the posts in the Practice Profiles series that I often write about what I refer to as the source. It’s difficult to write anything about the source aside from what has been written already. In fact, it’s difficult to saying anything at all about the source (hence the reason why I began this post with the selected passage of the Tao Te Ching).

The reason it’s difficult is because the source is not an object that can be grasped, nor is it an appearance that can be witnessed. Rather, the source is that which gives rise to every object or appearance, and also that which knows them. The cognizing quality of the source is what inspires some to refer to it as primordial awareness, or ground luminosity.

While the source is not an object, it is also not wholly other than any object that emerges from it. This “not-two-ness” is more eloquently articulated as nonduality (a term that anyone reading a blog about awakening may have heard once or twice before – maybe more).

The creative activity of the source is experienced as a spontaneous outflowing and inflowing; a flux of expansion and contraction. And the whole shebang happens in the space of awareness that exists prior to the assertion of will. In other words, it is completely and totally empty of self. (Buckle up, kids. There ain’t nobody in the driver’s seat.) Therefore, the source is none other than the ultimate emptiness.

In regards to liberation, the source is already free. It always has been, and always will be, free from any snares and entanglements. The implication here is that you (the real you) are already free, and always have been, and always will be. To recognize the source is to experience freedom. And when this recognition of the source is continuously abiding, the search is over. You have awakened out of the dream (i.e. nightmare) of separate, painful existence, and into the Truth.

I hope that I provided enough information to make clear what I mean by “the source” and what it has to do with awakening. For, while awakening has everything to do with the source, it really has nothing to do with you.