philosophic inquiry into life and meaning

...if truth were not for man the desire for truth would not be as a burning unrest in his heart...

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Erik Knud-Hansen October 17th & 18th 2008 Notes transcribed from talks, program from


The Dharma of Non-Duality
A program of meditation and inquiry for awakening insight and compassion drawn from the Buddhist and Taoist traditions



Updated 1/11/2009 with comments by Erik

Notes in quotations are word for word, everything else is paraphrased or something written down about the topic not necessarily what was said. Notes in brackets [  ] are additions not said during the talk. Notes in bold are comments by Erik.


Friday Night: The Nature of Non-Duality: Beyond the Appearances of Self and Other-Than-Self


We should practice the usefulness of being useless (referring to sitting still and fostering more stillness of being in general...not allowing the desiring mind to chase after what is inherently unsatisfying).


Is there a way to look at the doing mind? The mind that organizes itself around itself?



Mind moves matter there is the doing mind and there is an observing mind. Erik gave an example of walking and how it takes intention (of the mind) to move the legs (the matter). And a different faculty of mind (consciousness) to know what is happening.


Very important: Make a project to see it clearly. See what clearly? These 2 different faculties.


Mind watching the watching mind. Have an inquiring mind. What is your mind? What is this?


When you see it clearly then change will happen all by itself.


What is the nature of seeing? Could say knowing...clearly conscious of.


We are a process Duality is that which supports the sense of a separate self. My point of view.


We make it familiar so we dont have to pay attention (until someone doesnt follow the rules).


See youre self as the river, the river Mississippi is only that in name, it is different every moment.


If its all a process it takes the self importance out of it. That the key, the final last thing to go, the sense of separate self.


We give importance to things and make ourselves important. This is part of identification, whether positively or negatively it's still a drag on the mind.


Can the sense of being an observer of the seeing be the same? (Making that important) Yes, but as a practice it assists in the right direction of non-attachment, dis-identification.


Instead of clutching at the sense of self theres something more important about dissolving yourself


Death could happen any time/way.


Not an observer observing, but observing the observer.


Intuition: knowledge of the heart what the heart knows before the mind comes and messes it up This refers to intuitive wisdom, insightthe meaning of Vipassana.


Saturday: Awakening Conscious Awareness: The Practice of Meditation and Inquiry in the World of Everyday Life


The truth of the life we lead is the same for every one of us and all of the life on the planet.


Relative world = doing world


Hopefully it will be something you realizeso basic, so intrinsic to our own being you realize you already know that anyway.


Erik described his past and about being very practical. He wanted to know the nature of mind and who he is. Buddha was his first teacher and he appreciated the very simple teachings of the Buddha. Also he mentioned Taoism having the same aim but it may be a bit more ephemeral in nature but also aimed at the same goal.


The real picture is so subtle it eluded human efforts for a long time and is still subtle that it eludes human efforts.


From confusion/delusion/uncertainty/doubt/fear/hopes to life simple practice but things keep happening that are difficult to deal with at times.


If someone doesnt suffer much in early life and leads a life of good karma, theyre not necessarily a blessed human birth but it is also a numbness or jadedness they still will later have to deal with the human body which has pain, disease, sickness, and death. Death could be sudden or with more notice that we have to contemplate (prolonged terminal illness).


We dont need to be caught up in inner demons. They, too, are unreal, illusions of a conditioned mind.


Erik gave the example of fear of reoccurring dreams/habits etc as a way to understand those fears coming from past conditioning. They may not be conscious in memory. We should understand their nature, all are mutually self-conditioned mind states. Thoughts, emotions, etc have no power over us, until we give in to them by distracting/amusing/entertaining/addictions/grasping. Get the picture of how I am doing this. This is, in fact, the whole of practice...but not the right spirit it is also compassion, as the right wisdom will naturally lead to a more open heart...non-reactive to personal concerns, more willing to be with pain and suffering of self and others in an open-hearted way.


We self-sabotage what is good and useful. It can be as simple as (this could be a dangerous expression), not so much an idea, not so much to get the right idea more like a right view.


It disempowers the negative (self-interested impulses), pulls the rug out from under them. See them as illusory. Unless we take them to be real and react to them as blessings and curses. The deepest tragedy can provide the deepest awakening. The deepest blessing could numb us to life. We dont know.


Ill lay out a picture on how to explore this today. Questions are ok as they come up. Not only could it be wise to bring it up for yourself to see more clearly, but also for others. I havent heard one that wasnt useful for someone else. It isnt personal it is impersonal. Whats personal about fear? Everyone has fear and everyone can see it more clearly.


Governments can manipulate entire populations by manipulating fear and greed. Then theyre hooked.


The more you see it and the nature of it its amazing how many people cannot see truth and how many people are willing to follow the pied-piper down the road.


We are really alone and I didnt ask for this, it happened. The older they get the more they realize how alone they are. Im not going to get my needs met is an oppressive mind state you dont know youre taking on these core beliefs. Its a reaction from the mind of a freaked out 3-4 year old. Im not worthy, Im not good enough. Its all about I/me.


The goal is to reveal the nature of the sense of self. So revelation can gradually build to see so this sense of separate self as an illusion. Everyone feels this is true (the illusion is real), so how can it be otherwise? Mass belief, even in the false, is more believable.


Everything we use to organize the sense of the world is from the dualistic place.


Even the most exulted Qs How do I become one with God? A. By leaving I out of it.
Its not easy.


Thats the overall aim to try to comprehend, to see clearly.


Spiritual powers come into play here. (Erik mentioned later these are only side effects and not goals themselves).


We need to empower faith. Faith allows for a lot of movement in the unknown. Its not hope. Hope is the flip side of fear (other side of the coin). Hope represents the future, something I want in the future. Example of drinking a cup of tea in the now, youre not hoping for a cup of tea. Hope is a projection. Hope/fear are the same. Faith is about aligning yourself in the present in a way the results are I dont know. [Ed. This may be similar to Richard Roses Ultimate Betweenness]


Its scary to go silent because of all the stuff going on in the mind (not feeling the inner life because you dont trust it, avoiding the feelings inside). Many people go external so they dont have to feel it. Going silent is the most scary thing imaginable.


Faith conceptually is knowing that it's totally safe to go inside even if the feeling is scary. Its safe to go totally into fear (mental construction). We dont die of looking at it but by not looking at it. The thought is if I take a look at sadness, Ill die of grief but this doesnt happen.


[This is similar to the concept of don Juan/Castaneda stalking or hunting fear. Also similar to the old French proverb "one often meets his destiny on the road he chooses to avoid it.]


"When we dont do something out fear we empower the fear".


The same is true for habits/addictions: the fear says if I dont indulge Ill fall apart. We have to ask ourselves: Is this true or the voice of fear speaking and am I willing to find out?


It can be like a bubble bursting. You can laugh at yourself.


Dont buy into guilt. How bad I am. The past is gone.


A habit of mind constructs its reality out of its own habits. Insecurity feels horrible.


Relationships can fool you.


How to deal with it with skill.


Suffering and the cause of suffering.


What am I leaning to/on? For and against events of life.


We're leaning for balance on something that we think is more stable for us.


"All suffering has a root cause and there is a way of "sensing ourselves"..."


4 fundamental aspects of being a human being in a certain order and power to order and strategy for awakening and moving from suffering to the end of suffering.


1) Bodily life/Physical life material elements/sensations


2) Feeling life (pleasant painful and neither pleasant nor painful)


3) Mental life (story we tell ourselves)


4) Consciousness


2) We have a certain range of mindfulness a spectrum of feeling


A felt sense of sadness/gladness and all the other emotions and feelings. This is not a fixed thing I'm trying to paint a picture, for you to look into your own experience. How is it true for you?


3) Imagings and thoughts, a story about it


Those are two different things -- How is talking about it different than the feeling itself?


1) Body heat cold tangible element it is present now easy to ground yourself


2) Subtler than body even confusion has a feeling to it


3) Me the character in the story


4) Just knowing this direct sensation or quality "the observer to it"


Its, you get skilled to observing stuff in your body then mindfulness I am aware of it can be just observing it.


These four fundamental aspects can be a valuable analytical contemplation.


When caught by grief etc just to observe it stops throwing fuel on the fire. Observation breaks the chain of conditioning.


It arises again and again if I dont want it to. Thats its nature; if you dont want to experience youll be in bondage to it. The inherent stickiness of aversion.


When you lose your fear you wont notice it. Won't make an issue of it....the object of fear loses the importance you've endowed it with...this is the process of liberation.


See the feeling as separate from the story and the feeling as separate from the body.


Its best to start with the body then move to more subtle object.


Q. about animals (are they like this too with these 4 aspects?)


A. Are you asking me if a dog has Buddha nature? (laughter) Animals are the same but they have less of a mental life, less of a story around their life less than humans. [animals have a greater physical bodily life too with greater sense perception] That is, some animals are more acute in some senses, but by nature they will be more self-deluded.


How different are we from a horse? We have 4 appendages (arms + legs) We're less like insects though


Are we separate from it? That's the non-dual view. If we believe completely the dualistic view, if we believe we're incomplete then there is a process that gets us from here to there. The Absolute is already here and now.


Erik has participants engage in a standing/moving meditation at this point. This is mind moving matter. Movement is needed to oxidize (breath) the body. Move slowly and consciously, awake in the body. Pay attention to breathing. See skeleton in your body. Move unintentionally, whatever feels like it needs moving, move it. Then consciously move, stretch and watch the intention behind the movement. Be in a good comfortable posture.


Pay attention to pain. You could be disciplined to not move and put the attention where the pain is and see the mind (moving to or from what it likes/dislikes).


The side-effect of being conscious of body could be closer to body's pains and make them more comfortable (spacious). This is opposite to the normal habit to turn away from the pain and try to get away from it.


Awakening must happen from the inside out. Go quiet inside and sense the quality of that. Not trying to not have that pain, but just attend to and listen to it. Make a movement there and then release. This is a "different strategy than what the mind usually has." This can be done all times of the day - cooking at stove, reading, watching TV, washing dishes, anything.


Feel into the body first, and then start doing (those activities of normal daily life). Pause before acting. The side effect is less stress/less disassociation in the mind and body which was previously neglected but more aware now. Holistic includes the body. Integrating (that's what yoga means) making whole the fragmented parts of life. We're all here washing dishes, taking a poop, doing what I'm doing.


This has to awaken from the inside out because its grounded... Yoga's skillfulness varies on how tuned in your practice is. Stretching and so forth -- integration of consciousness.


The more we empty our self of the sense of separate self the more it frees us. We sense ourselves as a container of sorts, a held process. Holding states, held feeling life, held life, -- jus unhold it. Faith comes in it feels good but it is the right direction from bounded to unbound unconditioned state. Whatever arises its free to arise and free to pass.


Free to see it as a changing process. The more space the free-er it is.


Erik talked about Qi Gong and Tai Chi, they allow more oxygen or energy flow, allowing life to go by its own accord.


Releasing of control is like Thy will be done (rather than my will be done).


If I feel bound up it's not coming from outside of ourselves.


The basic fundamental fear is of letting go.


Faith = just let go and not know what it is. What will happen, a step into the truth of not knowing.


Faith AND wisdom balance each other, move one and other moves.


Wisdom says it's only a mind state, what's gonna happen?


It's not only about what I think is gonna happen.


[It was getting cold for some of the participants and the windows were closed to stop the chilly breeze]


Erik told about how the Tibetans up in the mountains can keep warm with nothing but a robe (tummo, inner energy keeps them warm).


Erik mentioned he could have also called his talks Awakening Conscious Awareness or Freedom to Be.


Q. Freedom to be what?


A. "I don't know"


Erik used to give 5 day retreats with day ones topic about the body, day twos topic about feelings etc.


He then told about the monks in Thailand that they would sit with dead corpses and contemplate that this too will happen to me this body as a way to get in touch with this body.


Q. About ghosts: Does a belief in them make them real?


A. In your view yes, but an immaterial being cant hit you very hard.


Q. Whats the opposite of waking up in the body?


A. It is not paying attention to it. It is being oblivious to it. Or being a slave to it which is not being oblivious to it but being bound by it.


Q. A participant commented on noticing a theme to Eriks teaching: that the contraction and relaxing analogy (release the holding) follows for all of the aspects/worlds (body life, feeling life, mental life, consciousness life)


Relaxing and expanding


And they're [those 4 aspects] not happening separately from each other.


Contracting from a feeling I have because we all lie as human beings. If we want to see we have to look really closely to see it even if painful in body there is a mental volition to hold on to it. The body doesnt hold by itself.


Nerves contract in the body only if the brain tells it to. The mind drives it.


If you arm is in a cast that immobilization is good but the arm needs the message before to let go once the cast is removed so it can move once again.


Example: if holding your jaw a lot habitually just stop holding it.


Just doesnt happen -- protect teeth clench more very consciously stronger holding -- then let go -- thats emptying opening that consciously/gently play with that tell nerves its ok do it consciously.


The wrong direction is self oriented. The unwholesome self oriented state is far away from the whole. This is what the wholely life is really about.


Releasing myself to the wholesome state of other than self including yourself not excluding yourself. Sometimes very giving people have something theyre compensating for on the inside. Why do you feel needy? Neediness is your bodys and hearts wants. It wants you there not somewhere else.


Its from the inside out that would be wholesome. I am not separate myself from the whole.


The only hindrance is own ability to not see that.


Be patient if it seems like a deep habit. We wouldnt be born human if it werent a deep habit.


Sense it from the inside out. Then when youre generous you wont feel like you need something back.


Its not at the expense of yourself.


2) Feeling life: The short version is just pleasant and painful. Two ends on the range of feeling. But actually, in Theravadan Buddhist literature, there are three kinds of feeling: Pleasant, Painful, and neither pleasant nor painful.


Erik teaches pleasant and unpleasant as a shortened version but explained there is a longer version which is the neither painful nor pleasant feeling.


Neutral is almost right but its not neutral. Its just not a strong feeling either way it is still within the spectrum of feelings. It just not a strong ordinary feeling -- lots of ignorance and delusion there (because we dont pay attention to it).


Thats why comfort is not a goal or advisable if one is trying to awaken.


Dont try to make yourself uncomfortable but dont space out.


What we take in with the 5 senses isnt strong enough to get our attention pay attention to that.


The range goes from pleasant to very pleasant to really happily blissful and beyond delusion is being lost or oblivious or just not knowing.


Its not the feelings that are the problem, its what do I do with them thats the problem.


Both pleasant and painful - its the meaning we give to it. If we want to we can change it. If we dont feed it (the feeling) it will die out including our own egos.


There can be sudden a-ha moments. If you see it you cant sustain it. It takes energy, it is work.


You have to listen to yourself your talking to yourself getting into an unpleasant state -- were like a child we dont know what to do with it.


Carlos Castaneda petty tyrant everyone is free to be who they are. Its my problem.


[The mind makes all problems but that isnt to say Im responsible for creating that problem. It came from conditioning but I must admit it is a problem and deal with it in a wholesome manner.]


My one intention is emptiness. I cant be manipulated if Im empty, only if I resist.


What comes before the more grosser levels of gripping?


We have to more (so to speak) more conscious. My intention is to see this more clearly.


Its an act of compassion to engage in with the right intention.


Resistance is the fundamental basis of all life.


Take what you see and apply it to the separate sense of self.


Why do you protect yourself?


What do I do? We own it those protecting behaviors. Erik gave an example of the boss and head of household being overbearing because of the sense of insecurity. Crisis mode is fear, etc. Taking full responsibility for self and being. Its me who puts them into their mercy through something I want out of this. Its a matter of waking up to see what I am doing in this.


Q. Is all suffering the fault of the sufferer?


A. No. Not necessarily. Theres no fault or blame, but for a child they have no way out, so not all suffering is the fault of the sufferer. (Past conditioning) We cant change anothers condition only our own condition.


What does changing your own condition mean?


Q. About someone else procrastinating (not doing taxes)


A. Where is the dilemma felt in the body? Soften back the eyes; soften all the way in the belly. Watch the breathing release any holding in the breath. Really communicate with the other person ask them are you willing if not now then later? Its good to label and name the patterns in yourself because you can see it better and recognize that.


Right effort from the Buddhist and eight fold path. Discriminate between wholesome and unwholesome action. Stop unwholesome action. Doing good and not doing bad is ok wholesome on the relative level.


Q. What discriminates the discrimination?


A. We have body life and feeling life. When a sense base meets a sense object of the world theres a felt quality from that contact. Volitional action out of feeling creates karma from a separate sense of self. There is also the mental life which is the story supporting the character the separate sense of self. Mental formation. There is a DNA memory too which is a kind of volition and there are other intentions to be this or that. Thoughts are mental formations images and dreams too. Some say the brain is the sixth sense which sees mental formations. Consciousness is the subtlest element of the four -- it is simply knowing it. Its like if we were in a room of beautiful art and the room was dark we wouldnt even be aware of it -- until we turn on a light and -- oh! Consciousness is like that light. We wont see it if theres consciousness seeing (or hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, mind consciousness). Whats in this room we can know as the room. Mental formations = contents. Consciousness = container. Thats an individual consciousness (the room). This room has light but it's coming from the sun. There is window light, door light etc. Just as there is eye consciousness, nose consciousness etc. Six kinds for six senses. Concentration is neutral (can be used for good or bad).


Describing 4 kinds of mental formations.


1) Fear


2) Moral Dread (veto power) "having a conscious about it"


3) Moral Shame example of picking a fruit from a tree without it being freely offered first and realizing it wasn't the right thing to do and being happy you noticed that and won't do it again.


4) Guilt mind calls itself bad -- opposes itself, weight is contracted, constricted being, unwholesome


Buddha said that if one has only these two: moral dread and moral shame, if one has just those two factors 80% of our problems would disappear.


Life is not in the head; its in the heart. Not really in the heart but in the blood.


The break in the chain is to not react after feeling. Feeling (experience) is inevitable but reaction is not. See it as a mental habit (not self, not you). Just be present and let the feeling life arise.


Q. What is wise action?


A. Wise action is not reaction. Reaction is the path of least resistance the groove of habits. Wise action is being present more aware and recognizing. Its a moment thats interrupted -- you wake up to it.


"What does it take to stop and listen to your heart?"


Inspire the faith of what actually works.


If youre shaking in uncertainty thats ok, but get out of uncertainty.


Its truer to the being of our selves.


Im here according to my conditioning its enough, etc. I dont think like a Cambodian; we have our own world of thoughts and images which we say is me unique to I, me, mine. Consciousness takes less of a contraction. Consciousness is all there originally was and is.


The brain wasnt created to comprehend universal consciousness it was for duality


Clear comprehension inspires faith.


Erik told of a story about the Dali lama and memory loss. [I forgot what the story was about ;) ]


About words: If they effectively point at something that our selves comprehend it pulls the rug out from doubt and inspires faith. Faith and wisdom work together. Act beyond your known and wisdom increases (understanding becomes greater) moving towards intuitive wisdom which guides you to the Ultimate.


There are some great books about wisdom but dont assume all the great wisdom is written. Book wisdom is second hand knowledge not firsthand. Firsthand knowledge is firsthand.


Intuitive wisdom must be activated from the inside.