Dual, Non-Dual–Comments on “The Dao Bums”

Konocti deep sunsetA friend of mine wrote to say that the things I said in brief in my last post could have used expansion, that I was in fact too brief.

That post was a comment I made on the forum site “The Dao Bums”, on a thread entitled “Differences between dualism and non-dualism”.  What exactly is represented by “dualism” and “non-dualism” is debated on the forum site, and descriptions of the personal experience of the participants are made in the hope that they might shed light on the topic.

The expansion of what I said in brief in the last post is partly there on the thread in the prior and subsequent comments.  I have compiled my comments here.


May 4th, 2022

I’ve come to believe that it’s a lot like the movies.  A certain number of frames a second, and there’s an illusion of continuity on the screen.  I believe the elements of mindfulness have a rhythm, and most of the teachers we have and have had in the modern era are masters of that rhythm.  That doesn’t say that these teachers have mastered the cessation of (volition in) feeling and perceiving, the experience associated with Gautama’s enlightenment.

I assume the cessation of (volition in) action of the body (and in particular, “the cessation of in-breathing and out-breathing”) is likely to be the cessation Gautama referred to in the fifteenth of his elements of mindfulness.  I would say that once the stretch associated with the mind that moves is established, once the mind that moves establishes an overall stretch, it’s possible to drop into the cessation of action of the body on a regular basis.

I should maybe have added, “And everybody does, it’s just that not everybody recognizes it as such.”


May 6th

Last night I thought of an odd connection, between Gautama’s description of the fourth meditative state (in which “in-breathing and out-breathing” ceases) and a case from “The Blue Cliff Record”, the “Record” being the collection of sayings published by Ch’an teacher Yuanwu in China.  Here’s Gautama’s description of the feeling of the fourth meditative state:

Again, a (person), putting away ease… enters and abides in the fourth musing; seated, (one) suffuses (one’s) body with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind. … just as a (person) might sit with (their) head swathed in a clean cloth; even so (one) sits suffusing (their) body with purity…

(AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19)

And here’s the case:

Yun Yen asked Tao Wu, “What does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion use so many hands and eyes for?”

Wu said, “It’s like somebody reaching back groping for a pillow in the middle of the night.”

Yen said, “I understand.”

Wu said, “How do you understand it?”

Yen said, “All over the body are hands and eyes.”

Wu said, “You have said quite a bit there, but you’ve only said eighty percent of it.”

Yen said, “What do you say, Elder Brother?”

Wu said, “Throughout the body are hands and eyes.”

(“The Blue Cliff Record”, Yuanwu, tr. Cleary & Cleary, Shambala p. 489)

I wrote about the case, some years ago:

Proprioception for me involves that shift in the sense of the location of awareness, and the ability to feel throughout my body. That is why there are hands and eyes all over the body; proprioception moves the location of awareness, so that equalibrioception continues to occur with the experience of the feeling of the part in the whole. A continuity with a sensation like the cessation of activity in falling asleep can ensue through relaxation in the activity of breath.

The influence of the eyes on the location of self-awareness is strong, and frequently I feel the awareness I identify as “self” to be behind my eyes, in my head.  An openness to the other senses involved in that sense of location, particularly proprioception, and a surrender of action of the body in the movement of breath, can yield a feeling that the mind is moving.  Not just the object of attention, but the location of self-awareness is moving, throughout the body.

Gautama described the feeling of the fourth meditative state as “pureness by the purity of mind, not one particle of the body that is not pervaded by the purity of mind”—the realization of a freedom of the mind to move throughout the body as though in open space is “hands and eyes, throughout the body”.


May 7th

Gautama described the power of concentration by saying:

Making self-surrender the object of thought, one lays hold of concentration, one lays hold of one-pointedness of mind.

(SN V 200, Pali Text Society V 176)

He taught that volition in action ceases in the states of concentration, first with regard to speech, then with regard to deed, and finally with regard to perceiving and feeling.

In his description of his own experience of the cessation of volition in perceiving and feeling, Gautama stated he was left with “only this degree of disturbance, that is to say the six sensory fields that, conditioned by life, are grounded on this body itself.”  He didn’t aim to eliminate all disturbance, just to quiesce the exercise of volition, and the suffering associated with that exercise.

The exercise of volition can’t be dispensed with by the exercise of volition.  Gautama claimed that volition ceased in a particular progression of concentrations, which he described.  He said that the ascendance from one state of concentration to the next was attained through “lack of desire, by means of lack of desire.”  He spoke of persons who bragged about their concentration and their attainments, and he said with regard to each concentration, “for whatever (one) imagines it to be, it is otherwise”.

“Making self-surrender the object of thought”, I think that’s particularly about surrendering action that comes out of the identification of a self.

I abbreviate Gautama’s way of living for myself this way:

Appreciate the action of the body, and relax. Appreciate the action of the senses, and calm down. Appreciate the action of the mind, and open up. Appreciate the action of consciousness, and let go.

(from my For A Friend)

As to how that becomes the cessation of volition in action:

With an even stretch throughout the body, the location where consciousness takes place can become the source of action of the body.


Like falling off a log, whilst on my way to sawing logs.


May 8th

“Whoever has followed this conversation to this point but hasn’t yet realized their true nature — ‘all you have to do is turn around and look at your face before you were born!’” (dwai)

Interesting mix of Zen aphorisms.

Therefore, …take the backward step of turning the light and shining it back.  Of themselves body and mind will drop away, and your original face will appear.

(Eihei Dogen, “Fukan zazengi” Tenpuku version, tr. Carl Bielefeldt, “Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation”, p 176)

I can find references to “your face before your parents were born”, but they’re more recent than the references to “original face”.

Can I suggest that turning the light and shining it back means turning awareness to the location of awareness itself, to a physical sense of location in space associated with awareness?

When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point.

(“Genjo Koan”, Dogen; tr. Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi.)

Dual when there’s an object of awareness outside of awareness.  Non-dual when awareness moves and sensory contact is incorporated in the location, from one moment to the next.


May 15th

“So my sights are set lower, I look forward to this ungrasped thought state being permanent one day.”—Bindi

My sites are set very low.

Something I did a year ago now has me sitting burmese posture, not more than 25 minutes, usually.  I think it’s something in the lower spine, referred to my legs and knees.

I am forced to discover more closely the relationship between flexion and extension in the lower spine and activity in the abdominals, and to constantly remind myself to relax the appropriate abdominals, calm the flexion and extension, and look for the free location of awareness that can carry on.

But I find it.  I have to, about twenty minutes in.  “Lack of desire; by means of lack of desire.”  I have faith that I’m experiencing a miracle, action without action, when a freedom in the location of awareness carries on.

If I need to open out, I rely on what I’ve taught myself.  There is an overall stretch in any posture or carriage, and the freedom in the location of awareness sets up the stretch even when I don’t realize it directly (while the stretch sets up the freedom in the location of awareness).

Twice a day and odd moments in between is better than before.  I don’t feel I can ask for too much.

I’m not talented, but I teach myself with a little help from my friends.


May 16th

“Emptiness points to the absence, or non-interference of self in experience.  … Space is not empty, space is a metaphor for the non-grasping and unbounded aspect of the mind’s essence.”—Steve, 15May

“Self doesn’t interfere in experience?”—Ralis, 15May

With cessation, “self” doesn’t act.  The agency associated with self, action based on the exercise of will, ceases:

…I say that determinate thought is action. When one determines, one acts by deed, word, or thought.

(AN III 415, Pali Text Society Vol III pg 294)

And what… is the ceasing of action? That ceasing of action by body, speech, and mind, by which one contacts freedom,–that is called ‘the ceasing of action’.

(SN IV 145, Pali Text Society IV pg 85)

There’s a particular experience connected with the breath and a freedom of self-awareness to move:

You must strive with all your might to bite through here and cut off conditioned habits of mind. Be like a person who has died the great death: after your breath is cut off, then you come back to life. Only then do you realize that it is as open as empty space. Only then do you reach the point where your feet are walking on the ground of reality.

(Yuanwu, “Zen Letters”, translated by Cleary & Cleary, pg 84)

My take:

Yuanwu made a connection between “biting through here” and the ability to “cut off conditioned habits of mind”, where to “cut off conditioned habits of mind” meant to cease any voluntary activity of thought or direction of the body, just as though one were letting go of life itself. Yuanwu stated that as a matter of course, such a cessation of habitual activity results in a feeling that the activity of breath in the body has been cut off, and causes a person to come to their senses as though returned to life from the dead. Returned to one’s senses, the location of awareness shifts in three-dimensional space without restriction, as in empty space; activity in the body is engendered by virtue of the location of awareness and the nerve impulses generated by ligaments and fascia as they stretch in response to the relaxed necessity of breath, without volition.

(Letting Go in Action: the Practice of Zazen)


May 16th

“what do we do with this life?  What do we do with the tasks presented to us, with our thoughts and emotions, with our relationships to others?”–Apech

What I discovered, after years of trying to act solely without the exercise of will, was that my heart-felt belief will give rise to action.  If I truly believe I need to do something, I can hold myself to the place where I am (that takes in everything) and breathe, and action will follow.  A form of auto-hypnotic suggestion, perhaps.

I can’t remain in the cessation of action of the body, but when it really matters, cessation seems to override my will anyway.

I get lost in thoughts about the tasks presented to me, about emotions, about relationships.  My thinking gives rise to action.  I try to be careful about what I believe, and I have faith now that my actions, to the extent that I am able, are from the heart.

Gautama speaks of mindfulness of a particular thought, of joy in thought, of composing thought, and of detaching from thought.  I think that’s the natural rhythm.

I’m ok with a rhythm of elements that “if cultivated and made much of, is something peaceful and choice, something perfect in itself, and a pleasant way of living too” (SN V 320-322, Pali Text Society SN V pg 285).  Cessation of habit or volition in inhalation and exhalation is just one of the elements, I get that now.

I’m ‘way late to the game, but happy to feel a play of things.


May 26th

If you’re studying seated meditation, meditation is not sitting still.

(“Lancet of Seated Meditation”, Dogen, quote attributed to Great Master Hung-tao of Yueh shan, tr. Carl Bielefeldt “Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation”, 1st Ed.)

Seated meditation is not holding still:

… what about the strange sensation that your body is doing things of its own accord?

(The Medical Power of Hypnosis, BBC)


May 26th

I attended a few of Kobun Chino Otogawa’s lectures in the ’70’s, at the Santa Cruz Zen Center.  In the ’80’s, I heard him say this at the close of a talk at the SF Zen Center:

You know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around.

I think there was a kind of admonishment in this, letting the folks in his audience (many of whom were residents at SF Zen Center) know that zazen is not really about holding still.  It’s about discovering action of the body that takes place without “determinate thought”, without habit or volition.  And that action can sometimes get up and walk around.

It’s impossible to teach the meaning of sitting. You won’t believe it. Not because I say something wrong, but until you experience it and confirm it by yourself, you cannot believe it.

(Kobun, “Embracing Mind”, edited by Cosgrove & Hall, pg 48)

But despite decades of research on its therapeutic value and a growing understanding of its mechanism in the brain, the uptake of clinical hypnosis has been remarkably slow. Much of that is down to the common misconception that hypnosis is little more than a stage magician’s trick.

(“The Medical Power of Hypnosis” by Martha Henriques, 19th May 2022 BBC, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220519-does-hypnosis-work)

I played with hypnosis a bit in high school.  I think the zazen that gets up and walks around is a function of the senses wrapped up in the location of self-awareness with any given movement of breath, but there is a cessation of volitive activity (without necessarily a cessation of action) much like hypnosis.

The mystery is that sometimes the action of zazen is coincident with things that are happening on the other side of town, or maybe with things that haven’t happened yet.  Discovering that this was so made me want to stick with the action of zazen all the time, but as I understand it now the place where that action comes from is more naturally just touched on in the rhythm of mindfulness.  Set up regularly in seated meditation, then touched on at intervals in the course of daily life.










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