“Just let things happen without making any response and keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever; for they who can do this thereby enter nirvana.”
~Ta-chu Hui–hai, Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening
It is an extremely rare one indeed who, upon hearing the truth, is immediately able to drop all their accumulated stories of preference and separation, grasping and aversion, “me and mine”, and fully open their eyes to the real. This is why the old masters, the ones who themselves have awakened and are moreover fit to serve as authentic guides, typically recommend certain preliminary practices that bring one’s whole being into such an available condition that they are then prepared and ready to make the leap beyond the confines of duality and awaken to their own true identity, nature, and condition.
These recommendations include attending to the healing and balancing of the “food” body, the mental body, and the emotional body, for starters. It is also understood that, unless one has gotten straight with “the basics” first, it would be ridiculous to presume that one is capable of fully engaging a practice which requires the pristine concentrative skill and self-mastery (and not just for an hour on a cushion, but 24/7) that a teacher such as Dogen Zenji prescribes:“Do not think of good and bad. Do not care about right and wrong. Stop the driving movement of mind, will, and consciousness. Cease intellectual consideration through images, thoughts, and reflections.”
Just as an athlete might have outstanding potential, but nevertheless must rigorously practice to fulfill that potential, so too are we all born with the innate capacity to realize our prior nature as powerful immortal spiritual beings of the highest order, but few are willing to undertake the preparations necessary to fashion a diamond-pointed arrow of consolidated attention and intention, which can then be summoned to pierce through mind’s habitual overlay of delusions that obscure who and what we truly are.
Among the various time-tested recommendations in this regard, I would offer that the practice of “non-dwelling” is one of the most effective. It is one practice that can transcend any conceptual ideology, sectarian dogma, or religious bias and directly reveal our fundamental innocence. In the Madhupindika Sutta, Buddha alluded to it when he said: “If, with regard to the cause whereby the perceptions and categories of complication assail a person, there is nothing there to relish, welcome, or remain fastened to, then that is the end of the obsessions of passion, the obsessions of resistance, the obsessions of views, the obsessions of uncertainty, the obsessions of conceit, the obsessions of passion for becoming, and the obsessions of ignorance.”
Essentially, the practice of non-dwelling, or non-abiding, consists of a sustained refusal to grant reality to that which is not real, or to fixate attention on any of what changes, including one’s transient moods, hopes, desires, fears, memories, schemes, or regrets. In other words, it is refraining from clinging to any mental or emotional formations which would lead to the fabrication of a separate and enduring self-sense. In practice terms, it represents “non-meditation” in the sense of simply not indulging the urge to obscure effortless natural recognition (timeless awareness) with conceptual designations and fantasies of interpretation on perception.
Typically, we tend to blame external circumstances, people, and events for our sense of chronic dissatisfaction. However, a comprehensive investigation of the mechanism of our stress and suffering reveals that it is not external phenomena that are the source of our distress. Rather, it is our fixation on them that keeps us locked in a cycle of craving and aversion. Consequently, the natural remedy is to interrupt the chain of causation which leads to attachment, clinging, fixation.
The great sage Nisargadatta Maharaj pointed to it when he advised: “Refuse attention, let things come and go. Desires and thoughts are also things. Disregard them. Since immemorial time the dust of events was covering the clear mirror of your mind, so that only memories you could see. Brush off the dust before it has time to settle; this will lay bare the old layers until the true nature of your mind is discovered. It is all very simple and comparatively easy; be earnest and patient, that is all. Dispassion, detachment, freedom from desire and fear, from all self-concern, mere awareness — free from memory and expectation — this is the state of mind to which discovery can happen. After all, liberation is but the freedom to discover.”
The practice of non-dwelling cuts through the noise and reveals the potent silence of our own true nature. It is the antidote to hope and fear, grasping and avoidance. It is the essence of true compassion in action, because it frees attention from the self-obsession, rendering it available to life and relationship. It is the gift that never ceases giving. It depends on no religion or philosophy, answers to no messiah, master, or guru, and requires no initiation or special rituals or rites.
This practice, when applied with sincerity and consistency, gives the ego-mind (including the “spiritual” ego) no place to land. When starved for attention, the “me-story” begins to disintegrate, and what emerges in its place is free and clear attention, as well as our innate compassion and capacity for true recognition.
Again, Nisargadatta Maharaj put it succinctly when he suggested: “Leave your mind alone, that is all. Don’t go along with it. After all, there is no such thing as mind apart from thoughts which come and go obeying their own laws, not yours. They dominate you only because you are interested in them. It is exactly as Christ said ‘Resist not evil’. By resisting evil you merely strengthen it.”
In Zen practice, it is called “no-mind”, or non-abiding mind, which is the true spontaneous condition of one’s own mind when freed of all obscuration and distraction. In Tibetan Buddhist practice, the contemporary Dzogchen teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche depicts true meditation as “not dwelling in any way whatsoever, and yet totally present throughout everything.” In a nutshell, it is simply self-existing awareness itself.
Another great Dzogchen teacher, Dudjom Rinpoche, put it like this: “Whatever thoughts arise, let them arise. Do not follow after them and do not suppress them. If you ask “In that case, what should I do?” Whatever objective phenomena arise, whatever appears, do not grasp phenomena’s appearing aspect as you rest in a fresh state, like a small child looking inside a temple. When all phenomena are left as they are, their appearance is not modified, their color does not change, and their brilliance does not diminish. If you do not spoil phenomena with clinging and grasping thoughts, appearances and awareness will nakedly manifest as empty and luminous wisdom. Simple recognition of thoughts as they arise breaks their flow. Release thoughts within that recognition. When you remain in that state, arising thoughts will all be liberated equally within awareness.”
In the Christian mystical tradition, John of the Cross shared a similar insight when he wrote, “Beyond human knowledge and understanding, in order to come to union with the wisdom of God, the soul has to proceed rather by unknowing than by knowing. When thy mind dwells upon anything, thou art ceasing to cast thyself upon the All. This perfection consists in voiding and stripping and purifying the soul of every desire. In order to be free and void to that end, (the soul) must in no wise lay hold upon that which it receives, either spiritually or sensually, within itself.”
Essential to the practice of non-dwelling is surrender. That is, all of one’s most cherished beliefs, ideals, and self-images must be released, until there is nothing left to let go of. At that point, insight or recognition into one’s true nature may become spontaneously evident. As the contemporary Theravandin teacher Ajahn Amaro wrote, “The practice of nonabiding is the process of emptying out both the objective and the subjective domains, truly seeing that both the object and subject are intrinsically empty. If we can see that both the subjective and objective are empty, if there’s no real ‘in here’ or ‘out there’, where could the feeling of I-ness and me-ness and my-ness locate itself?”
Nevertheless, even after one experiences a first revelatory awakening to the truth of emptiness, as life-changing as it may be, there usually must follow a substantial period of integration, while all the various “bodies” are brought into full alignment with the truth realized in the initial glimpse. Remarkable mental clarity and insight alone are still not fully indicative of real liberation, as long as the chronic emotionally reactive contraction has not been dealt with sufficiently enough to awaken the heart of unconditional compassion.
If the resulting insight that arises from perseverance in non-dwelling mind is to be truly worth anything, then genuine compassion and humility will shine through in one’s life, filtering into every nook and cranny of one’s being. For that light to manifest, sincere effort is necessary, or as Suzuki Roshi noted, “You are all perfect the way you are, and you could use a little improvement.” Such effort involves consciously creating a life of impeccable integrity, in which every trace of greed, envy, hatred, pride, ignorance, and emotional/sexual contraction is seen through and transcended, and all relations harmonized.
By spending a little time each day refraining from following our thoughts around like a slave, and instead just observe them arise and dissolve without attaching to any of them, we would soon come to the direct recognition that we are not the person we had assumed ourselves to be. We are not our thoughts, and in fact we are a total mystery — undefinable and inconceivable. In reality each experience has its own experiencer. The sense of some continuous identity which we habitually cling to is actually based on bits of thoughts and memory. Upon thorough inspection, no real person can be established.
Indeed, what can be noticed, in the course of sincere inspection, is that both thought and thinker are empty. Moreover, such recognition does not require extraordinary feats of concentrative effort. As the wise adept Tulku Urgyen recommended:
“When a thought moves, simply recognise the thinker. The thinking then dissolves. No matter what the thought is about, the thinking and the thinker are empty. A thought in itself is not made of any concrete substance; it is simply an empty thought movement. By recognising the empty essence in a thought, it vanishes like a bubble in water. That is how to deal with any particular present thought at hand. Once you know how to let the present thought dissolve, any subsequent thought can be dealt with in exactly the same way, as simply another present thought. But if we get involved in the thought, thinking of what is being thought of, and continue it, then there is no end.
It is our thinking that propels us or forces us into further samsaric existence. As long as we get caught up in our own thinking, samsara doesn’t stop. On the other hand, any thought is an empty thought, in that it has no concrete substance to it whatsoever. It is very easy to no¬tice this, because the moment you recognise mind essence, the thought dissolves right there. The thought vanishes into your empty essence, into your basic nature which is emptiness. There is no remnant whatso¬ever. That is the only way to solve the problem. When recognising your essence, the thought is executed on the spot; it is totally obliterated.”
When we refrain from buying into the illusion of the personal package (due to the practices like non-dwelling), a more vivid and transparent reality spontaneously moves to the forefront, and if we allow it in, our relationships with each other and life itself will be dramatically changed. Our craziness will typically not yield much at first, but as it is consistently undermined by resort to direct recognition, it will gradually become obsolete, because we will have ceased to indulge it.
The good news is that this is all possible, people can and do awaken at the heart, and they do find liberation from the afflictive states of emotional contraction (in so far as such awakening is possible on a relatively low-level war planet such as this realm we are currently touring).
Does this constitute true “Enlightenment”? No, but it does represent a substantial deepening and clarification of vision, as well as an increasingly skillful embodiment of the conscious principle, thus enabling effective adaptation to successively more profound vibrational frequencies of Light.
“You don’t have to do anything with your mind, just let it naturally rest in it’s essential nature. Your own mind, unagitated, is reality. Meditate on this without distraction.
Know the Truth beyond all opposites. Thoughts are like bubbles that form and dissolve in clear water. Thoughts are not distinct from the absolute Reality, so relax, there is no need to be critical.
Whatever arises, whatever occurs, simply don’t cling to it, but immediately let it go. What you see, hear, and touch are your own mind. There is nothing but mind.
Mind transcends birth and death. The essence of mind is pure Consciousness that never leaves reality, even though it experiences the things of the senses. In the equanimity of the Absolute, there is nothing to renounce or attain.”