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

“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)

“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

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 completely alone. Enlightenment comes down to a decision, made in an instant of thought, to let go of the self. 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.”

But in order for this to happen one must go through a process of purgation of every last attachment and aversion: this includes attachment to existence and aversion to existence.

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 already releasing, see Letting go of the ego. Releasing never stops until enlightenment. You must go through all of your memories, good and bad, and let go of them. You may think there is nothing wrong with holding on to a pleasurable memory, but it was only pleasurable because it brought a momentary release from pain. Only mortals experience pain and the momentary relief we call pleasure, and you are not a mortal.

You have dreams to help you. Everything you dream comes from the ego, and your dreams tell you 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. Again, you are not a mortal who longs to attain anything — you lack nothing. Read about the way Lester Levenson experiences the world and view it in the same way: The world seen through the eyes of a master.

Viviktadharma: There is nothing out there but you

The process of purgation is nearly complete when the world seems dreamlike — mayopama. You have already had realizations that people and things aren’t real — but they aren’t unreal either. The initial euphoria or joy may have subsided as you became accustomed to being free of anxiety and sorrow (see Buddhist Meditation: “The fourth jhana similarly lacks happiness, and possesses just one-pointedness and equanimity”). Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote: “There is no joy but calm!” (The Lotos-Eaters)

From this point on you must focus only on what you really are — Self — and forget your ego-self. Lester Levenson said, “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.”

You begin your journey by asking your “higher Self” for help. Gradually you experience a shift in perspective and you see your ego-self in the third person and yourself as Self. 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.” All of the masters are you.

Sever 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)

Skillful means

  1. Go into seclusion and become nobody in this world. Close and delete social media accounts. Do not tell anyone that you have had an awakening because nobody will believe you. Lester Levenson said, “Self-realization is the temporary separation of a being 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. “While a great compassionate heart is always the most powerful driving force throughout his spiritual progress, he may not attain to a higher stage unless his heart transcends dualism and his behaviour leaves no taint of discrimination.” (Suzuki, 1929, p.223)
  3. Keep your mind on the source of creation, and off of the created. 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).
  4. Do nothing: you must attain the ‘actionless state’ or the state of ‘non-doing’, and this is not the time to learn a new skill. As Lester Levenson said, “If there’s effort, there’s ego.” Meister Eckhart said, “There is no outward work so perfect, but it hinders the inner life.”  In everyday activities, be detached and mindful. “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 self and other. Meditate on “I alone am.” Whenever you say “I” think of yourself as everything.
  6. Do not allow yourself to contemplate teaching or helping others. God does not go around meddling in people’s lives: only mortals do that. To see anything as less than perfect is to see the world through the eyes of a mortal self, which you are not.
  7. Practice acceptance: “What was, was; what is, is; what will be, will be.”
  8. Meditate on ‘I’, on bliss, eternity, perfection, and fullness or completeness.

Renounce the renouncer

Release your desire for enlightenment: you lack nothing. All sentient beings are you. The sages and masters are you, wearing different costumes, or robes, as Lin-chi said. One more sage in the world will not change it; one less ignorant being in the world will not affect it in the least. You have all of eternity, so there is no hurry.

The Vedas declare that the ignorant man who allows himself to make the slightest distinction between the individual soul and the Supreme Self is in peril. Where there is duality by virtue of ignorance, one sees all things as distinct from the Self. When everything is seen as the Self, then there is not even an atom other than the Self. — Adi Shankara (translated by Yogananda)

* * *

Hung-Jen, the 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)

Hermann Hesse:

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.

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)

Lester Levenson:

Q: What’s the technique for cutting through all that, for getting right to that state where you have that total awareness?
Lester: Pose the question “Who and what am I?” and wait for the answer to present itself. The thinking mind can never give the answer, because all thought is of limitation. So, in quietness and meditation pose the questions: “Who am I?” “What am I?” When other thoughts come up, strike them down. If you can’t, ask “To whom are these thoughts?” Well, these thoughts are to me. Well then, who am I?” and you’re right back on the track of “Who am I?” Continue this until you get the answer to the question “Who and what am I?” regardless of how long it takes.

The answer is the unlimited Self. The only way It becomes obvious is when the mind stills almost completely. The only obstacles to immediate full realization here and now are the thoughts, everyone of which is limited. Eliminate those thoughts and you’ll see this infinite Being that you always were and are and always will be. (1993, “Realization”)

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 solitude (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 solitude. (Suzuki, 1932, p. 162)

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 validity of true meditation, continuous and without interruption. (Orategama)

Gaofeng Yuan (1238-1295):

My koan of the previous day — “Who is it that hauls this corpse around” — I suddenly smashed it. The culmination was that I was frightened out of my senses, but after the cutting off I was restored to life. It went beyond laying down the pole with its 120-pound load. After that I was asked by Preceptor Xueyan, “Every day in your many activities are you able to maintain the superior man?” I answered, “I am able to do so. He also asked, “While asleep and dreaming are you able to maintain the superior man?” I answered, “I am able to do so.” He also asked, “At the point of dreamless sleep, where is the superior man?” At that point I had no words with which to answer, no logic that I could express. Preceptor enjoined me, “From now on it is not necessary for you to study the buddhadharma and to investigate to the limit the ancient and modern koans; it’s just a matter of eating when hungry and sleeping when tired. The moment you’ve awakened from sleep,  rouse your energies and then keep your eye on the cue: “While I am asleep, in the end just what place is it that my superior man attains ease and becomes still?” (Broughton, p. 95)

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 on 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)


Adi Shankara (788-820): (see Pranayama and Raja Yoga)

100. Now, for the attainment of the aforesaid (knowledge), I shall expound the fifteen steps by the help of which one should practice profound meditation at all times.

101. The Atman that is absolute existence and knowledge cannot be realized without constant practice. So one seeking after knowledge should long meditate upon Brahman for the attainment of the desired goal.

102-103. The steps, in order, are described as follows: the control of the senses, the control of the mind, renunciation, silence, space, time, posture, the restraining root (Mulabandha), the equipoise of the body, the firmness of vision, the control of the vital forces, the withdrawal of the mind, concentration, self-contemplation and complete absorption.

104. The restraint of all the senses by means of such knowledge as “All this is Brahman” is rightly called Yama, which should be practiced again and again.

105. The continuous flow of only one kind of thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts, is called Niyama, which is verily the supreme bliss and is regularly practiced by the wise.

106. The abandonment of the illusory universe by perceiving it as the all-conscious Atman is the real renunciation honored by the great, since it is of the nature of immediate liberation.

107. The wise should always be one with that silence from which words, together with the mind, turn back without reaching it, but which is attainable by the Yogins.

108-109. Who can describe That from which words turn away? Or if the phenomenal world were to be described, even that is beyond words. This, to give an alternate definition, may also be termed silence known among the sages as present from the beginning. The observance of silence by restraining speech, on the other hand, is ordained by the teachers of Brahman for the ignorant.

110. That solitude is known as space, wherein the universe does not exist in the beginning, end or middle, but whereby the universe is pervaded at all times.

111. The non-dual that is bliss indivisible is denoted by the word ‘time’, since it brings into existence, in the twinkling of an eye, all beings from Brahman downwards.

112. One should know as true posture (Asana) that in which the meditation on Brahman flows spontaneously and unceasingly, and not any other that destroys one’s happiness (i.e., meditate in a way that works and don’t practice uncomfortable postures).

113. That which is well known as the origin of all beings and the support of the whole universe, which is immutable and in which the enlightened are completely merged, that alone is known as Siddhasana (eternal Brahman).

114. That which is the root of all existence and on which the restraint of the mind is based is called the restraining root (Mulabandha), which should always be adopted since it is fit for Raja-yogins.

115. Absorption in the uniform and ever-balanced Brahman causes the real balance and equipoise of the limbs and body (Dehasamya). Without this, mere straightening and stretching of the body like a dried-up tree is no equipoise at all. [Shankara redefines the physical practices of Asana and Pranayama (postures and breath suppression) so that the mind is cultivated instead. Hui-neng also redefined many practices by saying that their names meant something different–for example, that sitting was to be understood as ‘remaining undisturbed within’.]

116. Converting the ordinary vision into one of knowledge, one should view the world as Brahman itself. That is the noblest vision, and not that which is directed to the spot where the nose begins (in-between the eyebrows). [Once again re-orienting the focus of practice from the physical to the mental]

117. Or, one should direct one’s vision to That alone, where all distinction of seer, sight, and the seen ceases, and not to the spot where the nose begins.

118. The restraint of all changing states of the mind by regarding all mental states like the Chitta as Brahman alone, is called Pranayama. [Here Shankara redefines the practice of breath suppression to mean repression of changing mental states.]

119-120. The negation of the phenomenal world is known as Rechaka (breathing out), the thought, “I am verily Brahman”, is called Puraka (breathing in), and the steadiness of that thought thereafter is called Kumbhaka (holding the breath). This is the real course of Pranayama for the enlightened, whereas the ignorant only torture the nose (i.e., take ‘holding the breath’ figuratively, not literally).

121. The absorption of the mind in the Supreme Consciousness by realizing Atman in all objects is known as Pratyahara (withdrawal of the mind), which should be practiced by the seekers after liberation.

122. The steadiness of the mind through realization of Brahman wherever the mind goes, is known as the supreme Dharana (concentration).

123. Remaining independent of everything as a result of the unassailable thought, “I am verily Brahman,” is well known by the word Dhyana (meditation), and is productive of supreme bliss.

124. The complete forgetting of all thought by first making it immutable and then identifying it with Brahman is called Samadhi, known also as Prajna.

125. The aspirant should carefully practice this (meditation) that reveals his natural bliss until, being under his full control, it arises spontaneously in an instant whenever called into action.

126. Then he, the best among Yogis for having attained perfection, becomes free from all practices. The real nature of such a man never becomes an object of the mind or speech.

    127-128. While practicing Samadhi there appear unavoidably many obstacles, such as lack of inquiry, idleness, desire for sense-pleasure, sleep, dullness, distraction, tasting of joy, and the sense of blankness. One desiring the knowledge of Brahman should slowly get rid of these many obstacles.

129. While thinking of an object the mind identifies itself with that, and while thinking of a void it becomes blank, whereas by thinking of Brahman it attains to perfection. So one should constantly think of (Brahman to attain) perfection.

130. Those who give up this supremely purifying thought of Brahman live in vain and are on the same level with beasts.

131. Blessed indeed are those virtuous persons who at first have this consciousness of Brahman and then develop it more and more. They are respected everywhere.

132. Only those in whom this consciousness, being ever present, grows into maturity attain to the state of ever-present Brahman; and not others who merely deal with words.

133. Also those persons who are only clever in talking about Brahman but have no realization, who are very much attached to worldly pleasures, are born and die again and again in consequence of their ignorance.

134. The aspirants after Brahman should not remain a single moment without the thought of Brahman.

135. The nature of the cause inheres in the effect and not vice versa; so through reasoning it is found that in the absence of the effect, the cause as such also disappears.

136. Then that pure Reality which is beyond speech alone remains.

137. In this way alone there arises in the pure-minded a state of awareness, which is afterwards merged into Brahman.

138. One should first look for the cause by the negative method (emptiness) and then find it by the positive method (dharmas), as ever inherent in the effect.

139. One should verily see the cause in the effect, and then dismiss the effect altogether. What then remains, the sage himself becomes.

140. A person who meditates upon a thing with great assiduity and firm conviction, becomes that very thing.

141. The wise should always think with great care of the invisible, the visible and everything else as his own Self, which is Consciousness itself.

142. Having reduced the visible to the invisible, the wise one should think of the universe as one with Brahman. Thus alone will he abide in eternal felicity with mind full of consciousness and bliss.

* * *

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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.

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Suzuki, D. T. (1929). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1998.

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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