Nirvana Cannot Be Experienced

Experiences are what occur in the six sensory areas. Delusion is clinging to them, liberation is not clinging. It is called delusion, because experiences are already empty, without anything that could be clung to. Recognising the delusion of substantiality as unfounded means seeing that there is nothing to see, like when one assumes one's hat is very valuable but turns out to be worthless. Is that recognition an experience? Sounds like one, but isn't, because it means simply the end of an incorrect thought. And to make it a little bit more complicated (sky-flowers, dreams), even that incorrect thought of a self has never been anything else but empty. To take a different approach, experiences have always been pure and the end of delusion means arriving to what has always been there, so it's nothing new, but the original nature of phenomena. So it is not an experience in the sense of something that occurs, also because something occurring is ordinarily conceived as an independent object one can hold on to, while the whole point is that such occurrences have never existed in the first place.

"What is ignorance? Good sons, all sentient beings fall into various inverted views without beginning. Just like a disoriented person who confuses the four directions, they mistakenly take the Four Elements as the attributes of their bodies and the conditioned shadows of the Six Objects as the attributes of their mind. It is just like when our eyes are diseased and we see flowers in the sky, or a second moon. Good sons, the sky actually has no flowers—they are the false attachment of the diseased person. And because of this false attachment, not only are we confused about the self-nature of the sky; we are also mixed up about the place where real flowers come from. From this there is the falsely existent transmigration through life and death. Therefore it is called "ignorance."
Good sons, this 'ignorance' actually lacks substance. It is like a man who is dreaming. At the time of the dream, there is no non-existence. But when he awakens he finds that there is nothing for him to hold on to. Similarly, when the sky-flowers disappear from the sky, you cannot say that there is a definite point of their disappearance. Why? Because there is no point from which they arose. All sentient beings falsely perceive arising and ceasing within the unarisen. Therefore they say that there is 'transmigration through life-and-death.' "

(The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, ch 1)


Why Practise without Gain?

Why practise if there's nothing to attain?

There is nothing to attain means that all states, all thoughts, all feelings, all experiences exist for less then a moment, that no matter what, everything is extremely transitory. Not seeing that, falling into ideological and emotional identities is when one falsely assumes there is something to gain and something to lose. Furthermore, it's not enough to know that there is nothing to attain, one has to overcome the habit of seeing in terms of gain and loss, hence the practice that takes the ultimate realisation as its view.


Form, Emptiness, Zazen

Form, the first aggregate, stands for physical experiences, the body. What is called the body is actually a concept of the body, and not any real thing. If you look at your present experience, do you find the body anywhere? Since there is no body found, it is absent, it is empty. Because it is empty, there is nothing to be attached to, nothing to grasp. When you do not grasp the body, the body is dropped. Same with the other four aggregates that constitute the mind, hence mind is dropped. Body and mind dropped is zazen.


Practical Excerpts from the Surangama Samadhi Sutra

Attainment and Not Abiding
(Surangama Samadhi Sutra, BDK ed, p 32)

"Resolute Mind asked, "Have you, sir, attained the Surangama Samadhi?"
The Indra king replied, "Could the characteristics of 'attain' and 'not attain' exist within this samadhi?"
Resolute Mind said, "No."
The Indra king said, "Good youth, you should understand that when a Bodhisattva practices this samadhi, there is nothing that is attained in any of the dharmas."
Resolute Mind said, "Since your understanding is like this, you must have already attained the Surangama Samadhi."
The king said, "Good youth, I do not perceive that the dharmas have any place of residence. He who has no residence in all the dharmas has attained the Surangama Samadhi. Good youth, to reside in this samadhi is to be completely without residence in all the dharmas. If one is without residence, then one is without grasping."

Buddha is an Ordinary Fellow
(p 40-41)

"To be able to penetrate [the fact] that there is no difference between the dharmas of ordinary people and the dharmas of the Buddha is called cultivation. But in fact, there is neither conjoining nor dispersing in these dharmas. Good youth, this is because there is no characteristic of birthlessness in all collocations of dharmas, because there is no characteristic of disintegration in all collocations of dharmas, because all collocations of dharmas have the characteristic of emptiness, and because there is no characteristic of acceptance in all collocations of dharmas."

Who Has Bound You?
(p 49-50)

"Thus it is that all ordinary persons, in their discriminative thinking, mistakenly grasp at characteristics, making themselves bound. Their bonds exist because they think actively and theorize argumentatively; their bonds exist because they see, hear, perceive, and know. Here there actually is no being bound and emancipated. Why? Because the dharmas are without bonds and are fundamentally emancipated, and because the dharmas are without emancipation and are fundamentally without bonds, [therefore the dharmas] permanently possess the characteristic of emancipation, and [therefore sentient beings are permanently] without stupidity."

The Realm of Mara is the Realm of the Buddha
(p 59)

"Mara's realm is suchlike, just as the realm of the Buddhas is suchlike. The Suchness of Mara's realm and the Suchness of the realm of the Buddhas are identical and not separate, and we will not transcend this Suchness. The characteristics of Mara's realm are the characteristics of the realm of the Buddhas. The dharmas of Mara's realm and the dharmas of the realm of the Buddhas are identical and not separate, and we will not leave or escape this characteristic of the dharmas. Mara's realm is without any fixed dharmas that can be manifested; likewise is the realm of the Buddhas without any fixed dharmas that can be manifested. Mara's realm and the realm of the Buddhas are not different and not separate, and we will not leave or escape this characteristic of the dharmas. Therefore, you should understand that all the dharmas are indeterminate."

Wisdom is Skillful Means
(p 77)

"Mind of Name, if a Bodhisattva is able to contemplate the dharmas as empty and unobstructed, with each moment of thought completely extinguished and transcending like and dislike, this is to cultivate this samadhi. Also, Mind of Name, one cannot study this samadhi by one approach alone. Why? In accordance with the activities [samskara] of the minds and mental attributes [citta-caitta] of sentient beings, this samadhi has various practices. In accordance with the sensory realms [ayatana] of the minds and mental attributes of sentient beings, this samadhi has various realms. In accordance with the entryways of the senses of sentient beings, this samadhi has various entryways. In accordance with the names and forms of sentient beings, Bodhisattvas who have attained this samadhi also manifest a variety of names and forms. To be able to understand thus is to cultivate this samadhi. In accordance with all the names and forms and physical characteristics of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas who have attained this samadhi also manifest a variety of names and forms and physical characteristics. To be able to understand thus is to cultivate this samadhi. In accordance with [their] vision of all the Buddha lands, Bodhisattvas are also able to create such lands. This is to cultivate this samadhi."



Shikantaza has a couple of versions. There are those who teach it as a body-centred practice, where the posture is the most important. There are those who teach it as a concentration practice where one focuses on the breath and the abdomen. There are those who teach it as practice-enlightenment where there is neither grasping nor releasing of appearances. And there are likely a dozen other forms as well.

If you focus on the body/breath, keep your attention there. If your practice is enlightenment, you have nothing to do with thoughts, they leave on their own anyway.

There is actually a simple logic at work here. If you concentrate on breath/body, you don't meddle with thoughts and other sensory inputs, but let them come and go. If you are stable in your recognition that there is nothing to grasp, you have left behind the intention to fixate on anything, in other words, dropped body and mind.

Sometimes there are thoughts, sometimes there are no thoughts. To favour one or the other is falling into the extremes of existence and annihilation. That's why the practice is neither-thinking / no-thought - if a thought comes, OK; if no thought comes, OK.

There are the ideas to do something and not to do something. It is of course quite normal, but then one should be clear about how to do that properly, and that means learning the Dharma. If you want to go with the ideal form of zazen, there is nothing to do at all, no state to accomplish, and no experience to get rid of. As you sit you have to immediately recognise that all the six types of appearances are such, there is nothing to improve or decrease, and there is no one to do or know anything either.

Just sitting does not mean sitting still. It means not conceptualising sitting. You cannot sit still anyway, unless you're a corpse.

The practice is the experience confirming that all things (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily feelings, thoughts) are such, that is, they appear and disappear on their own. There is no one controlling or perceiving them, as they are all dependently originated ephemeral, illusory instances of experience. That is why there is nothing at all that can be grasped, as attachment itself is a conceptual fabrication of a subject grasping an object, while if you actually look at the experience itself there are no subjects nor objects.


Unfolding Jhanas

As I see it, the rupa jhanas have a specific object on what one rests the mind on, and only with the arupa jhanas one changes from specific object to a "non-object", like infinite space.

As for the progression of jhanas, it moves from holding a specific object of focus, through the enjoyment of the peace coming from one pointedness, until one arrives at an unmoving mind. So the first jhana is about returning again and again to the object, the second and third about the pleasure of the stable mind, and the fourth is just the stable mind. The formless absorptions are about abandoning the experiences as identities. So, here is my model.

Access Concentration

I don't use this category. Here could be mentioned the usual requirements to begin meditation.

First Jhana

Vitakka and vicara are present to establish the mind repeatedly on the object, and this is the primary element to work with, while the others are supporting factors. Piti is the joy of resting, like when one can lie down after a tiring walk. Sukha is the contentment of peace, like when one is finished with a task and there's nothing more to do. Ekaggata is the one pointedness of attention, the quality of being focused internally on the body and mind.

Second Jhana

With the mind further withdrawn and stabilised, there is no need to remind oneself of the object of attention, and one is absorbed in the joy of rest, with contentment and one pointedness in the background.

Third Jhana

When the more intensive joy is let go as well, one rests content within the seclusion of internally focused mind.

Fourth Jhana

The feeling of contentment with peaceful abiding abandoned, there is just the one pointed mind that is unmoved by appearances.

Infinite space

With the mind that is stable in peace there is no need to hold any sensory objects, thus the senses go unfocused and they rest open and unmoved.

Infinite Consciousness

The attention moves from the lack of objects to the lack of senses, hence consciousness itself is unbound and uniform.

Infinite Nothingness

Without object to focus on, or a specific state of mind to maintain, one comes to the experience that there is nothing at all.

Neither Perception nor Non-Perception

But holding that there is nothing is still something perceived, one realises that experiencing itself is unreliable, and abandons that as well.


Emptiness, transcendence, God

Emptiness means simply that all the experiences of the six areas - whatever is seen, heard, smelt, tasted, touched, thought - are without an abiding, independent nature, that phenomena are not something that one can identify with, call a self. It is not some sort of transcendent experience or realm, and such an interpretation is a mistake. Therefore ideas about God are just ideas, and there is no place for it in Buddhism. Enlightenment is awakening to the lack of any substance in appearances and of any substratum beyond them. When there is no essence imagined, then there is no basis for grasping at or abiding in anything, and without grasping or abiding there is no dissatisfaction and delusion. To conceive emptiness, the absence of substance, as a distinct reality, is just another form of self-identity.