Working Essay v. 0.2

Special thanks to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Chaphur Rinpoche, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Judith Blackstone, Loch Kelly, Dan Brown, Jeffery Martin, Shinzen Young, Kenneth Folk, and countless other dharma friends..


This essay focuses on the mechanisms of awakening. Once we determine what the mechanisms are for awakening to our true nature, we can then focus our attention on method. In this investigation, I’ll draw from the non-dual contemplative traditions that have had the greatest success in producing realized individuals namely Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, and Contemplative Christianity.

The creation of pharmaceutical insulin started with establishing the molecular structure of DNA in 1953 by Watson and Crick, guided by the X-Ray diffraction data from Rosalind Franklin. Later on, the discovery of recombinant DNA was used to engineer pharmaceutical insulin.

In a similar vain, we’ll first establish the phenomenological makeup of awakening. What is it? Can it be described in words? What is an agreed upon definition by those who have self-realized? This requires us to have an understanding of self. Secondly, we’ll examine the mechanisms of action. From there, we will examine methods for deliberately cultivating self-realization.

In computational neuroscience the goal is to explain in computational terms how the brain generates behaviors. 1)T. Sejnowski Computational neuroscience uses different models to explain brain behavior. These models can be broken down into 1. Descriptive(What) 2. Mechanistic(How) 3. Interpretative(Why). I’ll use a similar approach here, applied to self-realization, in determining:

  1. What is awakening? (What)
  2. How does the an individual wake up? What are the mechanics that lead to an awakening? (How)
  3. Why does awakening happen? (Why)
  4. What are the adaptive advantages?


We grow up in the world thinking that we are a separate individual with a background history. Cartesian dualism has led us to believe that we are a fixed entity that exists separate from the objects in the world. It leads us to believe that we are a fixed entity located behind our eyes and that there is a separate “other” out there that is separate from this “me”.

Separation Confusion (No Self)

The central insight of self-realization is that the self doesn’t inherently exist. We can’t find an inherently existing self anywhere; in our thoughts, body, senses, etc. When we look all we find is an appearance of a self by way of thoughts and our senses. This insight into no-self is not a peak experience but rather a paradigm shift. 2)Shinzen Young, 2014 in-person conversation San Francisco A fundamental shift in identity occurs.


Non-Essentialism (Emptiness)

The insight of the inherent non-existence of phenomena is fundamental to awakening.

Imagine for a second that you are in a virtual reality environment. The virtual objects in the virtual room have no solidity. A popular theory is currently circulating Silicon Valley called the “simulated mind”3) theory by Nick Bostrom. According to this theory, our everyday reality is a computer simulation.

Thomas Metzinger4)Phone Call July 2016 has his own theory about how we view reality through an “ego tunnel”.

How We Know Things (Nature of Mind)



Developmental Theory

What about the people who wake up spontaneously? Depressed People?

Why do awakenings happen following the loss a loved one, trauma, chapter breaks in our lives?


Clarity –


Non-Essentialism/Emptiness –








Contemplative Maps

Zen Ox Herding Photos5)

Early Buddhist 16 Stages of Insight6)


Absolute and Relative Truths

Newtonian physics and Quantum physics analogy. Epistemology.



How We “Self”

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 9.02.59 AM

Split brain experiments by Michael Gazziniga suggested that the conscious self overexaggerates the amount of influence it has over it’s behavior. The left hemisphere is capable to backwards-rationalizing verbal solutions.7)

Conscious activity of brain in subliminal coin experiment. 8)


Right brain, is about the literal truth. Left brain fills things in if it fits the story. Left brain focuses on the overall plot line. It also tells the story of ourselves to the world. Split brain experiment.


Optic nerve, brain fills in the rest of the blindspot with visual information.

“The purpose of the nervous system is to organize chaos” 9)Wolinsky, 2014.


The brain receive on the order of >7billion bytes of information. It can only process ~2,000 bytes of mental/sensory information. That means that less than 0.00003% of the information is being processed at any given time. All the non-conscious material is omitted and this process happens automatically.

The drishti-srishti-vada doctrine in Advaita Vedanta 10) says that the sensate world only exists if there is an “I” there to perceive it.

The illusion of a permanent entity is caused the illusion of continuity.  The illusion of continuity is caused by memory. We view the “self” as a continuously existing entity, but it only exists in memory/thought. When we look for it in our direct experience, we cannot find it other than in thought.




Non-essentialism is another word for the the


Benjamin Libet studies.

Commentary: You didn’t pick your neurophysiology. The brain has a curious habit of backwards rationalizing events to fit a story that is congruent with a time-based separate self, like in the Gazzinga studies. The feeling of a solid separate “I” only arises after the action has occurred. Everything that one experiences happened in past time.

Genetics and Conditioning

Your genes were passed down to you. 11)



Mind/Body illusion. We imagine ourselves to be a time-bound thought based separate entity.

There are also specific areas in our body where we localize as the center of our “I” feeling. Three such locations are between the temples in the head midway between the front and back; the right side of the chest about 4 inches away from the sternum; and just below the navel.  Tantric traditions such as Kashmir Shaivism and Vajryana Buddhism work on these locations in the body to break up fixations to those locations.



Coherence – (Entityness) the self exists even though sense perceptions and thoughts vary

(D3 Visualization)

Continuity – Time. Memories.

Ownership – Owning the body, space. Body + Mind.

Agency/Freewill/Doership/Authorship – What we call “I” actually occurs after an action occurs. We backwards rationalize to make the story consistent.



Combination of 1. mental images 2. mental talk 3. emotional body.

In Buddhism they have the 5 aggregates.




We see one but not another at the same time. We either see the white square or the 4 circles with a quarter removed.



Causality – 


Illusion of separateness. Interdependent origination.



Presence-awareness is non-conceptual awareness. This is also called “rigpa” in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.




Reactivity is another word for suffering. Nonattachment to thoughts and perceptions. When one meditates, the Default Mode Network quiets down. The DMN is often associated with mind wandering.

Meditative techniques such as mindfulness aim at having a non-attached appraisal of emotions, thoughts, and other aspects of experience.


Nonconceptual perception. Ex: if you turn the corner on a hike and see a mountain lion, there is an instant knowing, that is prior to the conception that it is a mountain. The visceral reaction in the body is a startle response.


  1. Metacognitive Awareness(Insight): Metacognitive awareness is able to recognize the view.
  2. Non-dual Awareness
  3. Dereification
  4. Clarity

Schools of Awakening

Rangtong: emphasis on freedom from duality, emptiness, empty of itself.

Shentong: Rich with luminosity, and bliss. (Tantric schools)



  1. Divide and Conquer – Noting ex. Early Buddhist practices
  2. Nurture positive – Involves extreme absorption. ex. Vajryana Deity Yoga
  3. Nonmeditation – ex. Zen’s “Just Sitting”
  4. Self Inquiry –  ex. Advaita Vedanta’s Atma Vichara, Rinzai Zen Koans, “Cloud of Unknowing”, Direct Pointing
  5. Embodied Awareness – Tibetan and East Asian Somatic meditation. Some forms of Taoism



Deconstructing ‘Self’


In insight meditation, the meditator deconstructs thoughts, perceptions, feelings, sensations, experiences, states, and objects in the world. In noting practices derived from early Buddhism, one is taught to deconstruct the thoughts, perceptions, and sensations in order to

Body – Sensation + Mental Image/Talk





Deconstructing ‘Other’

It isn’t enough to realize the non-entityness of self, complete awakening




Examples: Mantra recitation from Transcendental Meditation. OM meditation in Tibetan Buddhism.

Mantra meditation was popularized in the West through the Transcendental Meditation movement. A person is given a mantra.

Deity Yoga

Examples: Sherap Chamma practice of Bon Buddhism. Chenrezig deity yoga from Vajryana/Mahayana Buddhism. Six Yogas of Naropa. Rosary meditation Catholicism.


“Deity” in the Buddhist traditions does not refer to a god, but rather an enlightened being. Using chanting, visualization, and mantra recitation, the visualizes themselves as that actual deity.


The individual self-image is transformed into that of the deity’s. When the deity is visualized, it is seen as an appearance which is inseparable from presence-awareness. Practiced diligently, it gives the practitioner the experience of nonduality. By merging with self-identity with the diety image, the practitioner cuts through the illusion of separateness. The separate “I” belief is abandoned.


The visualization practice is meant to break the mental habit of thinking that reality and self are solid and separate. The targeted diety is then viewed as a nondual pair. Self-identification of the body-mind is dissolved.



Examples include “just sitting” practices of Soto Zen. The non-meditation methods such as “just sitting” in the Zen tradition.



Examples include Atma Vichara from Advaita Vedanta and Tsongkapa’s Emptiness of Self meditations in Tibetan Buddhism. In this approach, one enquires into the mental representation of self.



Examples: Pith Instructions in Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Douglas Harding’s Headless Way.



Examples: Vajrayana Buddhism, Tantric Hinduism



Sticking Points

State-Addiction (nonthought, clarity, bliss).

State chasing. Comparing personal experience to ideals.


750w/d * 60d ->50w book

References   [ + ]

1. T. Sejnowski
2. Shinzen Young, 2014 in-person conversation San Francisco
4. Phone Call July 2016
9. Wolinsky, 2014
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