After the first awakening: Reaching the other shore

大道無門      The Great Way is gateless,
千差有路      Approached by a thousand ways
透得此關      Once past this checkpoint
乾坤獨歩      You stride through the universe
– The Gateless Gate (a collection of koans)

“From now on it is not necessary for you to study the Buddha-doctrine and to investigate to the limit the ancient and modern cases. It’s just a matter of eating when hungry and sleeping when tired.” – Gaofeng Yung

“Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds;
when he finds, he will become troubled;
when he becomes troubled, he will be astonished;
and he will rule over the All.” – Gospel of Thomas (Lambdin)

“He who seeks will not give up until he finds;
and having found, he will marvel;
and having marveled, he will reign;
and having reigned, he will rest.” – Gospel of the Hebrews

“Don’t read the sutras, practice meditation; don’t sweep the floor, practice meditation; don’t plant the tea seeds, practice meditation; don’t ride a horse, practice meditation.” – The Priest of Shinju-an

A man cannot attain to this birth except by withdrawing his senses from all things. And that requires a mighty effort to drive back the powers of the soul and inhibit their functioning. This must be done with force; without force it cannot be done. As Christ said, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent seize it.” (Matt. 11 : 12 ) – Meister Eckhart, Sermon Three (Walshe)

When thus the Bodhisattva, discarding all effortful works (sarvdbhogavigata), attains to the effortless state of consciousness, he enters upon the eighth stage known as Acala, the Immovable. – Suzuki (1929, p. 225)


There are as many paths to enlightenment as there are seekers; each one must travel his or her own path, depending on no one. Enlightenment comes down to a decision, made in an instant of thought, to let go of the self. This only possible after one has let go of all attachments to the world. As Lester Levenson said, “When the ego is zero, God is all.” Madame Guyon said, “The less there is of the self, the more there is of God.” Meister Eckhart said, “You must know, too, that to be empty of all creatures is to be full of God, and to be full of all creatures is to be empty of God.”

We must school ourselves in abandoning till we keep nothing back. All turbulence and unrest comes from self-will, whether we know it or not. We should place ourselves with all we have in a pure renunciation of will and desire, into the good and precious will of God, together with everything that we may will or desire in any form. – Meister Eckhart (Vol. III, p. 48)

If you are not releasing, see Letting go of the ego and Letting go of the mind. One must continue to let go of the ego until complete enlightenment is achieved. If you take notice of any person or event, if you recollect any person or event, there is an ego-attachment that you need to let go of.

Dreams tell us about deeply buried feelings and desires. Begin releasing immediately when you wake up from a dream. If you have a dream of enlightenment, release the ego-desire for enlightenment.

The process of purgation is nearly complete when the world seems dreamlike— mayopama.  You have already had realizations that people and things don’t exist, but they aren’t nonexistent either: meditatively you are entering the form realm. The initial euphoria you felt when you had your awakening may have subsided: “The fourth jhana similarly lacks happiness, and possesses just one-pointedness and equanimity” (Buddhist Meditation). Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote, “There is no joy but calm!” (The Lotos-Eaters)

Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is something low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. – Ralph Waldo Emerson (Self-Reliance).

Identity with what you are

“There’s neither a higher self nor a lower self. There’s only you, identifying with your limitless being or identifying with your limited being.” – Lester Levenson

From this point on you must focus only on achieving identity with what you really are—the one Self—and forget about all people and all things.  You may have begun your journey by asking your “higher Self” for help’; gradually your perspective should shift, so that you are that Self. You should begin to see your ego-self as no more than a series of repetitious thoughts, like an old record album playing the same old songs. You should start to identify with an “I” which encompasses everyone and everything. As Huang-Po said, “When you come to have a realization in one thought it is no other than this: that you are from the start the Buddha himself and no other.”

And yet, although innumerable beings have thus been led to Nirvana, not one being has been led to Nirvana.” And why? If in a Bodhisattva there should arise knowledge of a being, he could not be called a Bodhisattva. And why? He is not to be called a Bodhisattva in whom arises knowledge of a self, nor in whom arises knowledge of a being or knowledge of a living soul or knowledge of a man. – The Diamond Sutra

Detach yourself from all things in order to find all things

Sometimes I say, if the soul is to know God, she must forget herself and lose herself: for if she were aware of herself, she would not be aware of God: but she finds herself again in God. By the act of knowing God, she knows herself and in Him all things from which she has severed herself. To the extent that she has abandoned them, she knows herself totally. If I am truly to know goodness, I must know it there where it is goodness in itself, not where goodness is divided. If I am truly to know being, I must know it where being subsists in itself, undivided: that is, in God. There she knows total being. As I have perchance said before, all humanity does not exist in one man, for a single man is not all men. But there the soul knows all humanity and all things at their highest, for she knows in accordance with being. – Meister Eckhart (Walshe, Vol. II, p. 168)

We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome. We are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for in our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being. – Herman Hesse

Skillful means

  1. Become nobody in this world. The craving for love and approval is the single greatest hindrance to enlightenment, followed by the craving for control. Lester said, “Self-realization is the temporary separation from the world, only to become more closely and more intimately united with it by becoming one with it.”
  2. Detachment is key to to Self-realization. This is achieved by letting go of all attachments with their feelings of want, fear, anger and grief, and finally, by observing the voice in your head as if it were a voice overheard from another room.
  3. Seek all of your happiness within; keep your attention focused within, on the source of creation, and off of the created, which is without. A Japanese master named Kanzan was said to have walked the entire length of the Great Eastern Road twenty times without once looking up to notice Mount Fuji as he passed beneath it (Wild Ivy, p. 25). Meditate on “All dharmas are unworthy of attachment.”
  4. Do nothing. Read “Lester Levenson: Be Not the Doer.”
    “Homeward is the Tao’s course, Effortlessness is the Tao’s force.” (The Tao Te Ching)
  5. Always practice non-dual thinking: there is no person, no thing, no event out there that is not you. The highest state is to experience everything and everyone as “I”. “There is nothing out there but your own consciousness” (Lester Levenson, Love is absolutely necessary).
  6. Do not contemplate teaching. This is a great hindrance to liberation.
  7. Cultivate self-confidence by letting go of self-doubt. (The Perfection of Faith)

Renounce the renouncer

Let go of your desire for enlightenment. All beings are you. The sages and masters are all you, wearing different costumes, or robes. Just as your life and death have no effect on the world, your attainment of enlightenment will have no effect whatsoever on the world.

Lin-chi asks over and over, “What is it that you lack?” Another way to put it is: “Who is it that has a feeling of lacking?” The feeling of lacking, of wanting, is the ego, and it must be let go of.

The last thing one lets go of is the mind itself (see Letting go of the mind). As thoughts arise, observe them as if they were voices from another room which do not concern you. Who is speaking? Where do these thoughts arise from? Be mindful that there is no self from which they can arise. Thoughts are only repetitive patterns, or habits, formed over many lifetimes. They are not you.

* * *

Hung-Jen, Fifth Ch’an Patriarch:

When doing sitting after realization, the impression is like that of being located on a solitary, tall mountain in the midst of a vast field. You are sitting on exposed ground at the top of the mountain and gazing off into the distance on all four sides. It is limitless. When doing sitting, completely let go of body and mind to fill up the world and abide in the Buddha realm The pure Dharma-body is limitless; the impression is also like this. (Broughton, p. 110)

Meister Eckhart:

I have read many writings of pagan masters, and of the prophets, and of the Old and New Testaments, and have sought earnestly and with all diligence to discover which is the best and highest virtue whereby a man may chiefly and most firmly join himself to God, and whereby a man may become by grace what God is by nature, and whereby a may come closest to his image when he was in God, wherein there was no difference between him and God, before God made creatures. After a thorough study of these writings I find, as well as my reason can testify or perceive, that only pure detachment surpasses all things, for all virtues have some regard to creatures, but detachment is free of all creatures. (Vol. III, “On Detachment“)

“As long as the least of creatures absorbs your attention, you will see nothing of God, however small that creature may be. . . . The soul must step beyond or leap past creatures if it is to know God.” (“Into the Godhead”)

“What is the poverty of the inner man? That lies in three things. The first is utter detachment from all creatures, in time and in eternity. The second is determined humility of the inner and outer man. The third is a diligent devotion and a continual raising of the mind to God.” (Vol. III, p. 140)


[A]t all times test to see whether you have lost it or have not lost it [the Tao]. This is the true practice of the sages of the past and of today. Tzu Ssu has said: “Do not deviate from the Tao even to the smallest degree. What can be deviated from cannot be called the Tao.” In the Li-jen chapter of the Analects we read: “In moments of haste he cleaves to it [the virtue of the Tao]; in seasons of danger he cleaves to it.” This teaches that not for a moment must one lose it. This Tao may be called the True Tao of the Doctrine of the Mean. . . . Placing the essential between the two states, the active and the passive, and being in a position to be able to move in any direction, with the true principle of pure, undiluted, undistracted meditation before your eyes, attain a state of mind in which, even though surrounded by crowds of people, it is as if you were alone in a field extending tens of thousands of miles. You must from time to time reach that state of understanding described by old P’ang, in which you are “with both your ears deaf; with both your eyes blind.” This is known as the time when the true great doubt stands before your very eyes. And if at this time you struggle forward without losing any ground, it will be as though a sheet of ice has cracked, as though a tower of jade has fallen, and you will experience a great feeling of joy that for forty years you have never seen or felt before. (Orategama)


17. If your mind values one thing, it will surely despise another. If your mind affirms anything, it must negate something. If your mind takes one thing to be good, then other things are bad. If your mind has more affection for one person, it despises others. The mind does not abide in forms, nor does it abide in formlessness. It does not abide in abiding, nor does it abide in non-abiding. If your mind abides anywhere, it cannot avoid being bound. If your mind functions anywhere, that is bondage. If your mind values things (dharmas), things will bind you. If your mind values one thing, other things are inferior. When you try to grasp the meaning of the sutras and treatises you should not value understanding. If there are parts that you understand, then your mind is attached to something. If the mind is attached to anything, that is bondage. The sutra says: “It is not through inferior, average or superior things that one attains Nirvana.” Even though the mind has entered delusion, do not push delusion away. Instead, when something arises from the mind, rely on the Teaching to gaze at the place from which it arises. If the mind discriminates, rely on the Teaching to gaze at the place of the discrimination. Whether greed, anger or ignorance arise, rely on the Teaching to gaze at the place from which they arise. To see that there is no place from which these can arise is to cultivate the Way. If there is anything arising from the mind, then investigate it, and relying on the Teaching, clean house! (Bodhidharma’s Method For Quieting the Mind)

21. Question: What is transcending the limits of the norms?

Answer: The spontaneously peaceful mind does not realize the understanding of the Mahayana or the Hinayana, does not raise the mind of enlightenment, even to the point of not wishing for the omniscience of a buddha, does not honor the person who is accomplished in samadhi, does not disdain the person who is attached and craving; he does not even wish for enlightenment. If one does not grasp for understanding and does not seek wisdom, he will avoid the delusions and confusions of the Dharma masters and meditation masters. If one can preserve mind and erect will, entertain no wish to be a worthy or a sage, not seek liberation, fear neither the cycle of birth and death nor the hells, and with no-mind directly perform his duties, then for the first time he will bring to perfection a dull mind of norms. If one is to witness all the transformations of the worthies and sages due to their supernormal powers through hundreds of thousands of eons without the arising of envy, then one should avoid the deceptions and delusions of others.

Another question: How does one produce the mind that transcends the limits of the norms?

Answer: When you do not produce the mind of the ordinary man, arhat or bodhisattva, and do not even produce a buddha-mind or any mind at all, then for the first time you can be said to have transcended the limits of the norms. If you desire that no mind at all should arise, that no understanding or delusion should arise, then for the first time you can be said to have transcended everything. (Bodhidharma’s Method of Quieting the Mind)

Madame Guyon:

The soul, being turned in the direction of God, has a great facility for remaining converted to Him. The longer it is converted, the nearer it approaches to God and attaches itself to Him; and the nearer it approaches to God, the more it becomes necessarily drawn from the creature, which is opposed to God. But this cannot be done by a violent effort of the creature; all that it can do is to remain turned in the direction of God in a perpetual adherence.

God has an attracting virtue, which draws the soul more strongly towards Himself; and in attracting it, He purifies it.

We should be indifferent to all things, whether mundane or spiritual, for the body or the soul; leaving the past in forgetfulness, the future to providence, and giving the present to God.

The Lankavatara Sutra:

These and others, Mahamati, are the deep-seated attachments cherished by the ignorant and simple-minded to their discriminations. Tenaciously attaching themselves to these, the ignorant and simple-minded go on ever discriminating like the silk-worms who, with their own thread of discrimination and attachment, envelop not only themselves but others and are entranced with the thread; and thus they are ever tenaciously attached to the notions of existence and non-existence. Mahamati, here there are no traces of deep-seated attachment or detachment. All things are to be seen as abiding in oneness (viviktadharma) where there is no evolving of discrimination. Mahamati, the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva should have his abode where he can see all things from the viewpoint of oneness. (Suzuki, 1932, p. 162)

Meister Eckhart:

When I preach, I usually speak of detachment and say that a man should be empty of self and all things; and secondly, that he should be re-formed in the simple [undifferentiated] good that God is; and thirdly, that he should consider the great aristocracy which God has set up in the soul, such that by means of it man may wonderfully attain to God; and fourthly, of the purity of the divine nature. (Treatises introducing The Talks of Instruction, Blakney, p. 1)

Huang-Po’s Sermon (Huangbo)

This Mind is the Source, the Buddha absolutely pure in its nature, and is present in every one of us. All sentient beings, however mean and degraded, are not in this particular respect different from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas—they are all of one substance. Only because of their false imaginings (parikalpita) and false discriminations do sentient beings create their karma and reap its result, while their Buddha-essence itself is not affected by it. The Essence is empty and allows everything to pass through. It is quiet and at rest; it is illuminating; it is peaceful and productive of bliss.

When you have within yourself a deep insight into this you immediately realize that all that you need is there in perfection, in abundance, and nothing at all is wanting in you. You may have most earnestly and diligently disciplined yourself for aeons and passed through all the stages of bodhisattvahood, but when you come to have a realization in one thought it is no other than this: that you are from the start the Buddha himself and no other. The realization has not added anything to you beyond this truth. When you look back and survey all of the disciplinary measures you have gone through, you only find that they have been no more than so many idle doings in a dream. Therefore, it is told by the Tathagata that he had attained nothing when he had enlightenment, and that if he had really attained anything, Buddha Dipankara would never have testified to it. (Suzuki, 1935, p. 81) (


For penetrating to the depths of one’s own true self-nature, and for attaining a vitality valid on all occasions, nothing can surpass meditation in the midst of activity. The Zen Master Ta-hui has said that meditation in the midst of activity is immeasurably superior to the quietistic approach. Po-shan has said that if one does not attain to this meditation within activity, one’s practice is like trying to cross a mountain ridge as narrow as a sheep’s skull with a hundred-and-twenty pounds load on one’s back.

This is why Myōchō has said:

Watch the horses competing at the Kamo racegrounds;
Back and forth they run—yet this is sitting in meditation.

The Priest of Shinju-an has explained it in this way: “Don’t read the sutras, practice meditation; don’t sweep the floor, practice meditation; don’t plant the tea seeds, practice meditation; don’t ride a horse, practice meditation.” This is the attitude of the men of old to true Zen study.

In the middle ages when the Zen Sect flourished, samurai and high officials whose minds were dedicated to the true meditation would, when they had a day off from their official duties, mount their horses and, accompanied by seven or eight robust soldiers, gallop about places crowded with people. Their purpose was to test the quality and validity of their meditation in the midst of activity.

In the past Ninagawa Shinuemon gained a great awakening while involved in a fight. Ota Dokan composed poems while held down by an opponent on the field of battle. My old teacher Shoju, at a time when his village was beset by an enormous pack of wolves, sat for seven nights in different graveyards. Although the wolves were sniffing at his neck and ears, he did this to test the power of true meditation, continuous and without interruption. (Orategama)

“How Bizarre,” OMC (Otara Millionaire’s Club), 1996

Chan Master Dahui Gao of Jingshan

Even if you don’t obtain thorough awakening in the present life, when this life comes to an end, you certainly won’t be at the mercy of bad karma. When you raise your head in a future birth, you will certainly be within prajna. It will be ready-made enjoyment. This has already been determined—it’s nothing you should be worried about. (Broughton, 1999, p. 76)

* * *

Blakney, Raymond B. (1941). Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation. New York: Harper & Row. (Internet Archive)

Broughton, Jeffrey L. (1999). The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen. University of California Press.

Broughton, Jeffrey L. (2015). The Chan Whip Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Conze, Edward (1975). The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. University of California Press. (download)

Erich Fromm, D. T. Suzuki, et al. (1960). Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Guyon, J. M. B. de La Mot. (1875). A Short Method of Prayer. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle.

Yampolsky, Philip B. (1971). The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings. New York: Columbia University Press. (

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. (keys-to-the-ultimate-freedom) ISBN 0-915721-03-1

Levenson, Lester (1998). The Ultimate Truth. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1949). Essays in Zen Buddhism (First Series). New York: Grove Press.

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1953). Essays in Zen Buddhism (Second Series). London: Rider and Company.

Suzuki, D. T. (1988). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers (first published in 1929).

Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text (Based upon the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo, 1923). London. (

Suzuki, D. T. (1957). Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. London and New York: Routledge Classics.

Suzuki, D. T. (1935). Manual of Zen Buddhism.

Waddell, Norman (2001). Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin. Shambhala Publications.

M. O’C. Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons & Treatises Volume I. UK, Element Books Limited.

M. O’C. Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons & Treatises Volume III. UK, Element Books Limited.

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