Enlightenment, Realization, Insight, Wisdom


[Second part of my ‘Mystical Materials’, a 62 page selection of quotes I’ve gathered from 2500 years ago to today, this time on ‘Enlightenment’. Again, the people quoted are mystics, poets, scientists, Zen masters, East and West. Wasn’t going to continue after the first post on the ‘Self Illusion’, as a blog does not seem to be the ideal place to place such radical, confronting notions (needing as they do more space, breath and touch, like most poems, i.e. more than the usual online skimming and instant ‘like/don’t like’ conditioned reactions). However, a comment by my friend James in Melbourne on the last post has motivated me to do so. Perhaps just try browsing the quotes till one or two resonate strongly with you, and then stick to them? Dunno, they all resonate with me. Shot of sun on water taken on south coast.]

Realization, Enlightenment, Insight, Wisdom

[Enlightenment that can be described is not enlightenment. It is dying to the self-illusion and understanding ‘You’ already are ‘enlightened’, are ineffable, unborn/undying, wide open ‘Emptiness’. For you to ‘seek or attain enlightenment’ is a self-contradiction for there is no ‘you’ that can seek or attain, nothing to be liberated, nothing to be attained. This liberation is not a thing or event or experience that happens or belongs to someone and thus can be ‘had’ and described. It is not ‘achieved’ by any technique whatsoever. Some call it insight: ‘letting go’, being original ‘emptiness’ or ‘witnessing awareness’, direct, choiceless seeing (not judging or thinking-analysing) how mind-self-world functions, constructs, identifies, attaches, grasps, flees. It is not a flight from the world but a complete opening to it. The world and enlightenment, samsara and nirvana, are one. ‘The speechless full moon comes out now.’]

Gautama Buddha (from the Diamond Sutra and S. Batchelor, Living with the Devil, 2004, pp. 6-8)

Through the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment I acquired not even the least thing; wherefore it is called ‘Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.’

Furthermore, Subhuti, This is altogether everywhere, without differentiation or degree; wherefore it is called ‘Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.’ It is straightly attained by freedom from separate personal selfhood and by cultivating all kinds of goodness. Subhuti, although we speak of ‘goodness’, the Tathagata declares that there is no goodness; such is merely a name.


At the heart of Buddha’s awakening lies a counterintuitive recognition of human experience as radically transient, unreliable, and contingent. By paying sustained, unsentimental attention to life as it unfolded within and around him, Siddartha Gotama (the historical Buddha) realized that no essential self either underpinned or stood back and viewed the integrated display of colours, shapes, sounds, sensations, thoughts, and feelings that arise and vanish in each moment of consciousness. This startling insight shook him to the core of what he felt himself to be. The instinctive conviction of being an unchanging, isolated ‘I’ collapsed. Life was just a dazzlingly tentative array of contingent processes, playing themselves out in complex sequences of causes and effects but with no discernible beginning and no divine power mysteriously directing them to a preordained end.

Gotama found this revelation of a selfless and Godless reality to be deeply liberating. He was freed from the self-centred compulsions and fears that had trapped him in seemingly endless cycles of boredom and anguish. He referred to this freedom as ‘nirvana’ – literally a ‘blowing out’ of the ‘fires’ of such existential discontent. Elsewhere, he spoke of this as ‘emptiness’: an open space where the idea of being an isolated and permanent self is no longer able to ensnare one. This emptiness is ‘the abode of a great person’, where one can encounter and respond to the world from a selfless but caring perspective. […] rather than an absence of meaning and value, emptiness is an absence of what limits and confines one’s capacity to realize what human life can potentially become. […] Emptiness is not something sacred in which to believe. It is an emptying: a letting go of the fixations and compulsions that lock one into a tight cell of self that seems to exist in detached isolation from the turbulent flux of life.

Vimalakirti Sutra (c. 100 CE, Mahayana Buddhist)

There is no body in which enlightenment is to be realized, and no mind by which enlightenment is to be realized.

Plotinus (204-270 CE, The Enneads VI/9, in E. O’Brien, The Essential Plotinus, pp. 82-83, 87, and V/3)

Do not let yourself be distracted by anything exterior, for The One is not in some one place, depriving all the rest of its presence. […] It is impossible for a soul, impressed with something else, to conceive of The One so long as such an impression occupies its attention. […] So must the soul […] be stripped of all forms if it would be filled and fired by the supreme without any hindrance from within itself. Having thus freed itself of all externals, the soul must turn totally inward; not allowing itself to be wrested back towards the outer, it must forget everything, the subjective first and, finally, the objective. It must not even know that it is itself that is applying itself to contemplation of The One. […]

Therefore is it so very difficult to describe this vision, for how can we represent as different from us what seemed, while we were contemplating it, not other than ourselves but perfect at-oneness with us? […]

The vision, in any case, did not imply duality; the man who saw was identical with what he saw. Hence he did not ‘see’ it but rather was ‘oned’ with it. […] In that state he had attained unity, nothing within him or without effecting diversity. When he had made his ascent, there was within him no disturbance, no anger, emotion, desire, reason, or thought. Actually, he was no longer himself; but swept away and filled with the divine, he was still, solitary, and at rest, not turning to this side or that or even towards himself. He was utter rest, having, so to say, become rest itself. […]
But how is this to be accomplished?

Cut away everything.

Hui-Neng (638-713 CE, Chan master, from The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch or Liu-tsu t’an-ching)

Learned Audience, the Wisdom of Enlightenment is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realise it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and guidance of enlightened ones before we can know our Essence of Mind. You should know that so far as Buddha-nature is concerned, there is no difference between an enlightened man and an ignorant one. What makes the difference is that one realises it, while the other is ignorant of it. […]

To know our mind is to obtain liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain Samadhi (Bliss) of Prajna (Insight), which is ‘thoughtlessness’. What is ‘thoughtlessness’? ‘Thoughtlessness’ is to see and to know all dharmas [things] with a mind free from attachment. When in use it pervades everywhere, and yet it sticks nowhere. [..] But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.

Learned Audience, it has been the tradition of our school to take ‘idea-lessness’ as our object, ‘non-objectivity’ as our basis, and ‘non-attachment’ as our fundamental principle. ‘Non-objectivity’ means not to be absorbed by objects when in contact with objects. ‘Idea-lessness’ means not to be carried away by any particular idea in the exercise of the mental faculty. ‘Non-attachment’ is the characteristic of our Essence of Mind. All things good or bad, beautiful or ugly, should be treated as void.

Ma-tsu (Jap. Baso, d. 788 CE, Chan master)

A monk asked: ‘Why do you teach that Mind is no other than Buddha?’
Ma-tsu answered: ‘In order to make a child stop its crying’.
‘When the crying is stopped, what would you say?’
‘Neither Mind nor Buddha’.
‘What teaching would you give to him who is not in these two groups?’
‘I will say, It is not something.’
‘If you unexpectedly interview a person who is in it, what would you do?’
‘I will let him realize the great Tao.’

Baizhang Hui Hai (720-814 CE, Chan master, from the Path to Sudden Attainment and The Tsung Ching Record)

When your mind moves, do not follow it up and it will cut itself off from motion. When your mind rests on something, do not follow it up either and it will cut itself off from that on which it rests. That is the non-abiding mind or the mind which dwells in no abiding place. […] If you clearly realise for yourself that your mind does not abide anywhere whatsoever, that is called clearly perceiving your real mind. It is also called clearly perceiving reality. Only the mind which abides nowhere is the mind of a Buddha. It can also be described as a mind set free, the Bodhi-mind or birthless mind. Another name for this is Voidness of the nature of phenomena. […]

You should know that setting forth the principle of deliverance in its entirety amounts only to this – when things happen, make no response: keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever; keep them for ever still as the Void and utterly pure, and thereby attain spontaneous deliverance. Oh do not seek for empty fame, mouthing forth talk of the Absolute with minds like those of apes! […]

Our Nature, which is intrinsically pure, does not rely on any practice in order to achieve its own state. Only the arrogant claim that there are practice and realization. The real void is without obstruction and its function is, under all circumstances, inexhaustible. It is without beginning or end.

Huangbo Xiyun (d. 850 CE, Chan master, from the Chün Chou Record)

But whether they transcend conceptual thought by a longer or a shorter way, the result is a state of BEING; there is not pious practising and no action of realising. That there is nothing which can be attained is not idle talk, it is the truth. [..] This state of being admits of no degrees […] So if you students of the Way [Tao] are mistaken about your own real Mind, not recognising that it is Buddha, you will consequently look for him elsewhere, indulging in various achievements and practices and expecting to attain realisation by such graduated practices. But, even after aeons of diligent searching, you will not be able to attain the Way.

These methods cannot be compared to the sudden elimination of conceptual thought, the certain knowledge that there is nothing at all which has absolute existence, nothing on which to lay hold, nothing on which to rely, nothing in which to abide, nothing subjective or objective. It is by preventing the rise of conceptual thought that you will realise Bodhi; and when you do, you will just be realising the Buddha who has always existed in your own Mind! […] There is only one reality, neither to be realised nor attained. To say ‘I am able to realise something’ or ‘I am able to attain something’ is to place yourself among the arrogant. […] Therefore the Buddha said: ‘I truly obtained nothing from Enlightenment.’ […]

If you would only rid yourselves of the concepts of ‘ordinary’ and ‘Enlightened’, you would find that there is no other Buddha than the Buddha in your own Mind. […] You people go on misunderstanding; you hold to concepts such as ‘ordinary’ and ‘Enlightened’, directing your thoughts outwards where they gallop about like horses!

Nan-ch’üan (748-834, Chan master, in Wu-Men Kuan/Mumonkan 19)

Chao-chou is said to have had his awakening after the following incident with master Nan-ch’üan:
Chao-chou: ‘What is the Tao?
Nan-ch’üan: ‘Your ordinary [natural] mind is the Tao.’
‘How can one return into accord with it?’
‘By intending to accord you immediately deviate.’
‘But without intention, how can one know the Tao?’
‘The Tao belongs neither to knowing nor to not knowing. Knowing is false understanding; not knowing is blind ignorance. If you really understand the Tao beyond doubt, it’s like the empty sky. How can this be discussed at the level of affirmation and negation?

Wu-Men’s verse on the above (13th century):

Spring comes with flowers, autumn with the moon,
Summer with breeze, winter with snow.
When idle concerns don’t hang in your mind,
That is your best season.

Lin-chi I-Hsüan (d. 867, Chan master)

When it’s time to get dressed, put on your clothes. When you must walk, walk. When you must sit, then sit. Don’t have a single thought in your mind about seeking for Buddahood.[…] To seek the Buddha and to seek the Dharma [true teaching, Law] is at once to make karma which leads to hells. To seek (to be) Bodhisattvas [compassionate forms of enlightened Buddhas] is also making karma, and likewise studying the sutras and commentaries. […] What Dharma do you say must be realized, and what Tao cultivated? What do you lack in the way you are functioning right now? What will you add to where you are?

Han Shan (Tang Dynasty, 9th century CE poet)

I took a walk. Suddenly I stood still, filled with the realization that I had no body or mind. All I could see was one great illuminating Whole – omnipresent, perfect, lucid, and serene. It was like an all-embracing mirror from which the mountains and rivers of the earth were projected…I felt clear and transparent.

Wu-Men (Jap. Mumon, 1183-1260, Chan Master)

Because it is so very clear
It takes so long to realise.
If you just know that flame is fire,
You’ll find your rice has long been cooked.

Zenrin poem

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Dogen (1200-1253, Japanese Soto Zen master)

To study the Way [Tao/Zen] is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.

Mind and body dropped off! Dropped off! Dropped off! This state must be experienced by all; it is like piling fruit into a basket without a bottom, it is like pouring water into a bowl with a hole in it.

Hakuin (1685-1768, Japanese Rinzai Zen master)

Not knowing how near the Truth is, people seek it far away – what a pity!
They are like him who, in the midst of water,
Cries in thirst so imploringly […]
For those who, reflecting within themselves,
Testify to the truth of Self-nature,
To the truth that Self-nature is no-nature,
They have really gone beyond the ken of sophistry […]
Abiding with the not-particular which is in the particulars,
Whether going or returning, they remain for ever unmoved;
Taking hold of the not-thought which lies in thoughts,
In every act of theirs they hear the voice of truth.
How boundless the sky of Samadhi [bliss, enlightenment] unfettered! […]
This very earth is the Lotus Land of Purity,
And this body is the body of the Buddha.


All of a sudden you find your mind and body wiped out of existence. This is what is known as letting go your hold. As you regain your breath it is like drinking water and knowing it is cold. It is joy inexpressible.

Rumi (or Jelaluddin Balkhi, Sufi master and poet, 1207-1273)

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

Behead yourself! Dissolve
Your whole body into vision.
Become seeing, seeing, seeing!

Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
And be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.
The speechless full moon
comes out now.

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327, German Sermons 16, 18, 22, 24 and The Talks of Instruction)

If my eye is to perceive colour, it must be free of all colours. If I see the colour blue or white, then the seeing of my eye, which perceives the colour, is exactly the same as what it sees, as what is seen by the eye. The eye with which I see God is exactly the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowledge and one love.

That person who is thus rooted in God’s love must be dead to themselves and to all created things so that they are no more concerned with themselves than they are with someone who is over a thousand miles away. Such a person remains in likeness and in unity and is always the same. No unlikeness enters them. This person must have abandoned themselves and the whole world.


Nothing that knowledge can grasp or desire can want, is God. Where knowledge and desire end, there is darkness, and there God shines. […] There is in the soul a power which finds all things equally pleasing. In fact, the very worst and the very best thing are exactly the same for this power, which receives everything from a position above the here and now. […] If only the soul remained within, she would find all things present there. There is a power in the soul, which is not merely a power but is rather being, and not just being, but rather something that liberates from being. […] Now know this: all our perfection and all our blessedness depends upon our breaking through, passing beyond all createdness, all temporality and all being and entering into the ground that is without ground.


[…] For there is another kind of poverty, which is internal, and which is referred to by Our Lord when he says: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ Now, I ask you to be poor enough to understand what it is that I am saying to you, for I declare by Eternal Wisdom that if you do not yourself become the same as that Wisdom of which we wish to speak, then my words will mean nothing to you. […]
We can improve on this by saying that a poor person is someone who desires nothing, knows nothing and possesses nothing. […] If we are to have true poverty, then we must be so free of our own created will as we were before we were created. I tell you by the eternal truth that as long as you have the will to perform God’s will, and a desire for eternity and for God, you are not yet poor. They alone are poor who will nothing and desire nothing.


For what is familiar to you is in truth your enemy. […] Therefore a master says: if someone is to perform an inner work, they must draw in all their powers as if in the corner of their soul, hiding from all images and forms, and then they shall be able to act. They must thus enter a forgetfulness and an unknowing. Where this word is to be heard, there must be stillness and silence. We cannot serve this word better than with stillness and silence; there it can be heard and properly understood, and there we are in a state of unknowing.


Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, then take leave of yourself. This is the best way of all.

Kabir (15th century CE, poet, weaver, from The Kabir Book, 1977, version by Robert Bly)

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travellers on the river road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or resting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.

St John of the Cross (1542-1591, in R.M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, 1901, p. 127)

I stood enraptured in ecstasy, beside myself, and in my every sense no sense remained. My spirit was endowed with understanding, understanding nought, all science transcending. The higher I ascended the less I understood. It is the dark cloud illumining the night. Therefore he who understands knows nothing, ever all science transcending. He who really ascends so high annihilates himself, and all his previous knowledge seems ever less and less; his knowledge so increases that he knows nothing, all science transcending.

Jacob Böhme (1575-1624, cobbler, sage, in R.M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 153-156)

If you behold your own self and the outer world, and what is taking place therein, you will find that you, with regard to your external being, are that external world.

Not I, the I that I am, know these things: But God knows them in me. […] I am not come to this meaning, or to this work and knowledge through my own reason, or through my own will and purpose; neither have I sought this knowledge, not so much as know anything concerning it.
The scholar said to his master: ‘How may I come to the supersensual life, that I may see God and hear him speak?’ His master said: ‘When you can throw yourself but for a moment into that where no creature dwells, then you hear what God does speak. Scholar: ‘Is that near at hand or far off?’

Master: ‘It is in you, and if you can for a while cease from all your thinking and willing, you shall hear unspeakable words of God.’

Scholar: ‘How can I hear when I stand still from thinking and willing?’

Master: ‘When you stand still from the thinking and willing of self, the eternal hearing, seeing and speaking will be revealed to you, and so God hears and sees through you. Your own hearing, willing and seeing does hinder you so you do not see or hear God.’

Scholar: ‘Wherewithal shall I hear and see God, being he is above nature and creature?’

Master: ‘When you are quiet or silent, then you are that which God was before nature and creature, and whereof he made your nature and creature. Then you hear and see with that wherewith God saw and heard in you before your own willing, seeing and hearing began.’ […]

Bankei (1622-93, Japanese Zen master)

A layman asked, ‘I appreciate very much your instruction about the Unborn [fusho: the mind which does not arise or appear in the realm of symbolic knowledge], but by force of habit second thoughts keep tending to arise, and being confused by them it is difficult to be in perfect accord with the Unborn. How am I to trust in it entirely?

Bankei said: ‘If you make an attempt to stop the second thoughts which arise, then the mind which does the stopping and the mind which is stopped become divided, and there is no occasion for peace of mind. So it is best for you simply to believe that originally there is no (possibility of control by) second thoughts. Yet because of karmic affinity, through what you see and what you hear these thoughts arise and vanish temporarily, but are without substance. […]

Brushing off thoughts which arise is just like washing off blood with blood. We remain impure because of being washed with blood, even when the blood that was first there has gone – and if we continue in this way the impurity never departs. This is from ignorance of the mind’s unborn, unvanishing, and unconfused nature. If we take second thoughts for an effective reality, we keep going on and on around the wheel of birth-and-death. You should realize that such thought is just temporary mental construction, and not try to hold or to reject it. Let it alone just as it occurs and just as it ceases. It is like an image reflected in a mirror. The mirror is clear and reflects anything which comes before it, and yet no image sticks to the mirror. The Buddha mind (i.e. the real, unborn mind) is ten thousand times more clear than a mirror, and more inexpressibly marvellous. In its light all such thoughts vanish without trace.’

Edward Carpenter (in The Labour Prophet 1894, quoted in R.M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, 1901, pp. 204-206)

I became for some time overwhelmingly conscious of the disclosure within me of a region transcending in some sense the ordinary bounds of personality, in the light of which region my own idiosyncrasies of character – defects, accomplishments, limitations, or what not – appeared of no importance whatsoever – an absolute freedom from mortality, accompanied by an indescribable calm and joy.

I also immediately saw, or felt, that this region of self existing in me existed equally (though not always equally consciously) in others. In regard to it the mere diversities of temperament which ordinarily distinguish and divide people dropped away and became indifferent, and a field was opened in which all might meet, in which all are truly equal.[…]

All I can say is that there seems to be a vision possible to man, as from some more universal standpoint free from the obscurity and localism which specially connect themselves with the passing clouds of desire, fear, and all ordinary thought and emotion; in that sense another and separate faculty; and as vision always means a sense of light, so here is a sense of inward light, unconnected of course with the mortal eye, but bringing to the eye of the mind the impression that it sees, and by means of the medium which washes, as it were, the interior surfaces of all objects and things and persons – how can I express it? And yet this is most defective, for the sense is a sense that one is those objects and things and persons that one perceives (and the whole universe) – a sense in which sight and touch and hearing are all fused in identity. […]

And now with regard to the ‘I’ which occurs so freely in this book. […] What or who in the main is the ‘I’ spoken of? To this question I must also frankly own that I can give no answer. I do not know. That the word is not used in the dramatic sense is all I can say. The ‘I’ is myself, as well as I could find words to express myself; but what that self is, and what its limits may be – and therefore what the self of any other person is and what its limits may be ‒ I cannot tell.

T.S. Eliot (from ‘East Coker’ and ‘Little Gidding’, in Four Quartets, 1943 and from ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, 1919)

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. […]

Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well […]


What happens [in poetry writing] is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. […] And emotions he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. […] Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.

Seamus Heaney (Irish poet, 1994)

The command which is unspoken but deep in the mystery of poetry is to somehow abdicate from audience, from self-promotion or self-alignment, and to go towards the subject, to give yourself over and disappear.

R.H. Blyth (Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, 1942, p. 224)

The servant has given the dog a bone. He comes into the room carrying it. He is blind and deaf to everything else, his world is the size and shape and colour and taste of the bone. I sit and look at the dog, and for a few moments there is nothing between me and the dog and the bone, nothing separating, nothing joining us. You could, as the phrase goes, knock me down with a feather, or rather, you could knock me down with a club, burn me in fire or drown me in water, because I am not there at all.

Then I re-collect myself, my eternal life is over and this life continues as before. I look up at the blue sky. I look and look until my very soul is without form and void, until my soul itself is blue and the sky colourless. One last example from Chinese poetry, the best translation (Waley’s) of the best poem in the world:

Swiftly the years, beyond recall,
Solemn the stillness of this fair morning.
I will clothe myself in spring-clothing,
And visit the slopes of the Eastern Hill.
By the mountain stream a mist hovers,
Hovers a moment, then scatters.
There comes a wind blowing from the south
That brushes the fields of new corn.

Sokei-an Sasaki (Zen Notes, New York 1954, quoted in A. Watts, The Way of Zen, p. 142)

One day I wiped out all the notions from my mind. I gave up all desire. I discarded all the words with which I thought and stayed in quietude. I felt a little queer – as if I were being carried into something, or as if I were touching some power unknown to me…and Ztt! I entered. I lost the boundary of my physical body. I had my skin, of course, but I felt I was standing in the centre of the cosmos. I spoke, but my words had lost their meaning, I saw people coming towards me, but all were the same man. All were myself! I had never known this world. I had believed that I was created, but now I must change my opinion: I was never created; I was the cosmos; no individual Mr Sasaki existed.

Walpola Rahula (What the Buddha Taught, 1959, pp. 37, 42]

Nirvana is definitely no annihilation of self, because there is no self to annihilate. If at all, it is the annihilation of the illusion, of the false idea of self.

There is another popular question: If there is no Self, no Atman, who realizes Nirvana? Before we go on to Nirvana, let us ask the question: Who thinks now, if there is no Self? We have seen earlier that it is the thought that thinks, that there is no thinker behind the thought. In the same way, it is wisdom (panna/prajna), realization, that realizes. There is no other self behind the realization.

D.E. Harding (On Having No Head, 1961, pp. 5-7)

The best day of my life – my rebirthday, so to speak – was when I found I had no head. […] I mean it in all seriousness: I have no head.

It was eighteen years ago, when I was thirty-three, that I made the discovery. Though it certainly came out of the blue, it did so in response to an urgent enquiry; I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? […] What actually happened [one day while viewing the Himalayas] was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking.

A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouser legs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in – absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been, was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything – room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snow peaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

It was all, quite literally, quite breathtaking. I seemed to stop breathing altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsupported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of ‘me’, unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.

Yet in spite of the magical and uncanny quality of this vision, it was no dream, no esoteric revelation. Quite the reverse: it felt like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming. It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind. It was the revelation, at long last, of the perfectly obvious. It was a lucid moment in a confused life-history. It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see. It was naked, uncritical attention to what had all along been staring me in the face – my utter facelessness. In short, it was all perfectly simple and plain and straightforward, beyond argument, thought, and words. There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.

Alan Watts (Beyond Theology, 1964, p. )

The final meaning of negative theology, of knowing God by unknowing, of the abandonment of idols both sensible and conceptual, is that ultimate faith is not in or upon anything at all. It is complete letting go. Not only is it beyond theology; it is also beyond atheism and nihilism. Such letting go cannot be attained. It cannot be acquired or developed through perseverance and exercises, except insofar as such efforts prove the impossibility of acquiring it. Letting go comes only through desperation. When you know that it is beyond you – beyond your powers of action and beyond your powers of relaxation. When you give up every last trick and device for getting it, including this ‘giving up’ as something that one might do, say, at ten o’clock tonight. That you cannot by any means do it – that IS it! That is the mighty self-abandonment which gives birth to the stars.

Wei Wu Wei (Terence Gray, Posthumous Pieces, 1968, p. 158 and The Tenth Man 1966)

It is not sufficient to eschew practice: it is necessary also to eschew non-practice. Both forms of practice are incompatible with liberation, for liberation means liberation from a practiser.

As long as there is a ‘you’ doing or not-doing,
thinking or not-thinking,
‘meditating’ or ‘not-meditating’
you are no closer to home
than the day you were born.

Having found no self that is not other,
The seeker must find that there is no other that is not self,
So that in the absence of both other and self,
There may be known the perfect peace,
Of the presence of absolute absence.

Thomas Merton (New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961, pp. 220-221, Zen and the Birds of Appetite, 1968, pp. 76-77, 87-88)

When the next step comes, you do not take the step, you do not know the transition, you do not fall into anything. You do not go anywhere, and so you do not know the way by which you got there or the way by which you come back afterwards. You are certainly not lost. You do not fly. There is no space, or there is all space: it makes no difference.

The next step is not a step. You are not transported from one degree to another. What happens is that the separate entity that is you apparently disappears and nothing seems to be left but a pure freedom indistinguishable from infinite Freedom, love identified with Love. Not two loves, one waiting for the other, striving for the other, seeking for the other, but Love Loving in Freedom.

Would you call this experience? I think you might say that this only becomes an experience in a man’s memory. Otherwise it seems wrong even to speak of it as something that happens. Because things that happen have to happen to some subject, and experiences have to be experienced by someone. But here the subject of any divided or limited or creature experience seems to have vanished. You are not you, you are fruition. If you like, you do not have an experience, you become Experience: but that is entirely different, because you no longer exist in such a way that you can reflect on yourself or see yourself having an experience, or judge what is going on, if it can be said that something is going on that is not eternal and unchanging and an activity so tremendous that it is infinitely still.

And here all adjectives fall to pieces. Words become stupid. Everything you say is misleading – unless you list every possible experience and say: ‘That is not what it is.’ ‘That is not what I am talking about.’ Metaphor has now become hopeless altogether. […] You can speak of ‘emptiness’ but that makes you think of floating around in space: and this is nothing spatial. What it is, is freedom. It is perfect love. […]


Hence it becomes overwhelmingly important for us to become detached from our everyday conception of ourselves as potential subjects for special and unique experiences, or as candidates for realization, attainment and fulfilment. In other words, this means that a spiritual guide worth his salt will conduct a ruthless campaign against all forms of delusion arising out of spiritual ambition and self-complacency which aim to establish the ego in spiritual glory. That is why a St. John of the Cross is so hostile to visions, ecstasies and all forms of ‘special experience.’ That is why the Zen Masters say: ‘If you meet the Buddha, kill him.’ […]

As the Buddhists say, Nirvana is found in the midst of the world around us, and the truth is not somewhere else. To be here and now where we are in our ‘suchness’ is to be in Nirvana, but unfortunately as long as we have ‘thirst’ or Tanha [egoic wanting, grasping, attachment] we falsify our own situation and cannot realize it as Nirvana. As long as we are inauthentic, as long as we block and obscure the presence of what truly is, we are in delusion and we are in pain. Were we capable of a moment of perfect authenticity, of complete openness, we would see at once that Nirvana and Samsara are the same. This, I submit, implies not flight from the world, […] but a real understanding of the value of the world.

R.D. Laing (The Bird of Paradise, 1967, p. 156)

The truth I am trying to grasp is the grasp that is trying to grasp it.
I have seen the Bird of Paradise, she has spread herself before me, and I shall never be the same again.
There is nothing to be afraid of. Nothing.
The Life I am trying to grasp is the me that is trying to grasp it.

Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, 1970, pp. 28, 114-115)

Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture [of zazen] is, itself, enlightenment. […]

So realization of the truth is salvation itself. We say ‘to realize’, but the realization of the truth is always near at hand. It is not after we practise zazen that we realize the truth; even before we practise zazen, realization is there. It is not after we understand the truth that we attain enlightenment. To realize the truth is to live – to exist here and now. So it is not a matter of understanding or of practice. It is an ultimate fact. […] Even before we practise it, enlightenment is there. [..] So there actually is no particular practice. […]

It is the readiness of the mind that is wisdom. So wisdom could be various philosophies and teachings, and various kinds of research and studies. But we should not become attached to some particular wisdom, such as that which was taught by Buddha. Wisdom is not something to learn. Wisdom is something that will come out of your mindfulness. So the point is to be ready for observing things, and to be ready for thinking. This is called emptiness of your mind. Emptiness is nothing but the practice of zazen.

Jiddu Krishnamurti (‘The Problems of Living’, p. 71, Questioning Krishnamurti, pp. 90-91 and ‘The Core of the Teaching’, 1980)

The important thing, therefore, is to be aware from moment to moment without accumulating the experience which awareness brings; because, the moment you accumulate, you are aware only according to that accumulation, according to that pattern, according to that experience. That is, your awareness is conditioned by your accumulation and therefore there is no longer observation but merely translation. Where there is translation, there is choice, and choice creates conflict; in conflict there can be no understanding. […] As I said, this passive awareness does not come through any form of discipline, through any practice. It is just to be aware, from moment to moment, of our thinking and feeling, not only when we are awake […] Reality is not a thing which is knowable by the mind, because the mind is the result of the known, of the past; therefore the mind must understand itself and its functioning, its truth, and only then is it possible for the unknown to be.


That is the whole question. To perceive the totality of this movement instantly. Then we can come to the point of perception: whether it is possible to perceive – it sounds a little odd, and perhaps a little crazy, but it is not – is it possible to perceive without all the movement of memory? To perceive something directly without the word, without the reaction, without the memories entering into perception?

David Bohm: That is a very big question because memory has constantly entered perception. It would raise the question of what is going to stop memory from entering perception?

K: Nothing can stop it. But if we see that the activity of memory is limited, in the very perception of that limitation we have moved out of it into another dimension. […] We have often discussed this, whether there is anything beyond thought. Not something holy, sacred – I am not talking about that. We are asking: is there an activity that is not touched by thought? We are saying there is. And that
activity is the highest form of intelligence. […]


When man becomes aware of the movement of his own thoughts, he will see the division between the thinker and thought, the observer and the observed, the experiencer and the experience. He will discover that this division is an illusion. Then only is there pure observation which is insight without any shadow of the past or of time. This timeless insight brings about a deep, radical mutation of mind.

J.P. Briggs and F. David Peat (Looking Glass Universe, 1984, p. 139)

When he [physicist David Bohm] talks about consciousness having ‘insight’ into the implicate order or any other order […], the word ‘insight’ is synonymous with a leap to the implicate level. The insight may quickly take an explicate form (a poem, a theory, a sigh), but Bohm wants to show us that explicate expressions (be they scientific theories, poems or sighs) do not eliminate the implicate. It is still there, behind everything, slipping steadily away from attempts to explicate it fixedly, like sand pulled out from beneath one’s feet by an undertow. Where does insight come from? Bohm would say from the holomovement (which is, after all, only an explicate idea of an implicate process). An insight is not Bohm’s insight or Heisenberg’s or Leonardo da Vinci’s. It is the movement of the whole expressing itself through explicate forms.

M. Conrad Hyers (Zen and the Comic Spirit, 1974, pp. 153, 155, 156-157)

[…] the sudden realisation of the point of a joke is directly analogous to the sudden realisation of enlightenment, as this is interpreted by [Chan masters] Hui-neng and Lin-chi. The point of the joke, or the humorousness in the antics of the clown, is something that is caught immediately and effortlessly, or it is not caught at all. […]. Like comic appreciation, spiritual awakening has a non sequitur character about it. It comes spontaneously and uncoerced by anything that might attempt to give it birth. Hence both the Taoist and Zen emphasis upon no-effort and no-striving (wu-wei) which is easily confused with the counsels of a do-nothing party, or the advice of advocates of a cheap and easy enlightenment. […]

The moment of comic awareness is not a matter of reflection upon some process. […] To participate in comic insight is to participate in the immediacy and spontaneity of the Now. It is not an argument going somewhere, but a procession brought to a sudden halt and plunged into the laughter of eternity. It is for this reason that humour and Zen are so suited to each other, and in their spheres of coincidence so inseparable. Getting the point of a joke, or seeing things in comic perspective, like getting the ‘point’ of Zen, is something that cannot be reached either in strictly rationalist or empiricist terms, while smiling or laughing is a sign that one has moved beyond a mere discursive comprehension to a genuine understanding.

Thus when Wen Chen-ching was asked, ‘Who is the Buddha?’ he laughed most heartily. The puzzled monk was taken aback: ‘I do not see why my question makes you laugh so.’ Wen replied, ‘I laugh at your attempt to get into the meaning by merely following the letter.’ Here the laughter of the master calls an abrupt halt to the false path being taken by the disciple, and invites him to a similar laughter with respect to the folly of his approach to the problem.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on January 20, 2016.

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