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Note: the term sunyata here is being used from the Mahayana context.

Not too long ago, I asked this question about concentration and openness where I suggested that concentration was a hindrance to my practice. I received an answer which informed my intuitive understanding by @Andrei Volkov, in which he recommended a book called The Relaxed Mind by Dza Kilung Rinpoche. This changed my practice and opened up a new discernment concerning space, time and consciousness - essentially the aggregates and their ever subtle perceptions. It also led me to the Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa who also adopts this same openness method.

Thus, shifting my practice to openness (as opposed to strict focus on a single object) I've been noticing a different kind of "not-there-ness". To put this another way: the perception of body as it is normally known is no longer there, but I am still able to function perfectly fine - actually better in terms of how worldly things normally affect me.

It's most noticeable when sitting with people and when they are talking to me. There's a part of my mind that thinks, "who is this person talking to?" because, even though they are looking at me, it is like they are speaking into empty space, like they are in the room by themselves.

Please be clear: what I have described above is NOT the negation of suffering which should become clearer from the following.

I'm not able to reference the aggregates as they usually operate, but I discern that there is the perception of "not-there-ness" which presents as an extremely fine notion of space. However, that space-perception seems to have a definitive location situated where the body was previously and conventionally seen as solid matter giving rise to some sort of here-ness, and thus it's opposite: there-ness.

The form aggregate has taken another blow, but the feeling/perception aggregate has just dropped into a more refined level and thus is still able to create clinging to the idea of "space-body" because space-body has a very subtle pleasantness. In Theravada this might be known as arūpa-rāga: craving for immaterial existence thus perpetuating the consciousness aggregate in its entirety. It took me a while to see this, and I could only see it by opening my practice from where I was able to gain situational understanding or a bigger picture.

Here in these regions, it seems the motions of samsara cleverly uses indirect methods to sustain the samsaric body. I guess it can only operate at its current level of awareness, and if that level of awareness is largely formless then its movements should naturally reflect the subtleties of formlessness. Therefore, from a Mahayana perspective, I cannot see this as form is emptiness and emptiness is form. I cannot see this as sunyata. However, it may offer promise, but in ways that are now counter-intuitive.

My question is a little obscure, but I think it has some relevance:

  • Having studied sutta after sutta and read various works of the masters, I'm making a reasoned observation that the enlightened mind knows it is liberated, that it knows sunyata, but to what extent is that knowing not of the self such that one can know sunyata? There always appears to be a claimant to the ever emerging subtleties of emptiness rendering the idea of ending suffering a fallacy.

After nearly five years of intensive lay practice I'm getting quite tired of it all and find myself practising less and less. Although this is more helpful than a hindrance.

NOTE: I'm not sure if the term space-body is associated with any school. I've just used it spontaneously and completely impromptu. If it does have such an association, it may not share the same conceptual understanding with regard to the context of this question.

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Your understanding is standing in the way of your progress.

In “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form” for example, the word “emptiness” has two different referents. The first one points to the direct meditative insight of the emptiness of all manifested form. The second refers to your understanding that the insight provokes. It is the discriminating mind getting in the way, extruding the direct meditative experience through your conceptual understanding, so to speak.

Please note that I am not saying that the normal understanding of that expression showing an equivalence between form and emptiness is wrong. I am pointing out that there is a subtler meaning at the juncture you’ve reached.

In addition, [the instructions] on clarifying doubt and subduing hinderances are as follows. While maintaining the continuity of the great, indwelling fundamental nature, if one thinks that the nature of this awareness is empty, the one ascribing emptiness to this is the intellect, which has a focal point. The way the meditative concentration with a focal point does not produce Buddhahood is as stated in the “Perfected Skill of the Lion” tantra: “The meaning of the nature of phenomena cannot be seen through meditation with concentration. The samādhi of one’s own appearances eludes the direction of concentration. Free from elaboration, the nature of phenomena is equal to the limits of space. All mental considerations are devoid of conceptual fixation with objects. The dharmakāya Buddha free from the four extremes, such as existing or not, is one's own awareness.” (“The Yeshe Lama,” by Jigme Lingpa, translated by Lama Chönam and Sangye Khandro, 2008, page 57)

To which I will add: ... in leaving behind the idea of independent inherent natures in all things, we must not lose sight of the fact that reality is nondual, and thus, the appearances are not something separate and apart from the naturing and its essential cognitive role, i.e., knowing is the activity of manifesting, not understanding what is manifested.

Accomplishing this through a direct insight is the threshold of full enlightenment, and thus, this is the final step in the direct and universal path to enlightenment. However, the difficulty in this last step is that all mental formations must be left behind, all impulses to do anything whatever must be left behind, all perception and apperception must be left behind, so that all limitations are sublimated into absolute freedom.

In practice, this is a state in which there is just spaciousness. No thought of a meditator meditating, or of accomplishment, enlightenment, wisdom, perfection, nor anything else. No thoughts arise. Sensations are no longer attended to, not because one stops attending to them, but because that discriminating response is simply no longer functioning. If you turn your mind toward such a sensation, it will be actively apperceived as a sensation of a particular type, so the mind must rest as it is: spaciousness —but not just empty dead space. Instead, one reaches a stage where there is just clear lucidity, in the sense of reflexive knowing that we can also call clarity. This means our normal perspective evaporates. Time no longer passes. There is not even a need for the concept of "now." Just illumination without limit. Beyond this, there can be only poetry.

One final suggestion. Ok, a few... You have to stop looking for answers in texts, because that just provides conceptual understanding, and as I said, that is no longer helping you. You have to have faith (or trust, which is the same thing) in your path. Stop knowing what everything is in that limiting way and realize the necessarily true meaning of knowing. Perhaps look into where that “claimant” you mention is. You might be truly surprised.

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  • I agree with everything in your answer, and your last paragraph nailed it.
    – Max
    Mar 8 at 21:41
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Impermanence is unsatisfactory. Chasing impermanence leads to suffering. What then should be known as known?

To this point, the Venerable Sariputta teaches:

DN34:1.3.23: What two things should be produced?
DN34:1.3.24: Two knowledges:
DN34:1.3.25: knowledge of ending, and knowledge of non-arising.
DN34:1.3.27: What two things should be directly known?
DN34:1.3.28: Two elements:
DN34:1.3.29: the conditioned element and the unconditioned element.

The conditioned and unconditioned elements are known by their characteristics:

AN3.47:0.3: 47. Characteristics of the Conditioned
AN3.47:1.1: “Mendicants, conditioned phenomena have these three characteristics. AN3.47:1.2: What three?
AN3.47:1.3: Arising is evident, vanishing is evident, and change while persisting is evident.
AN3.47:1.4: These are the three characteristics of conditioned phenomena.”
AN3.47:2.0: Characteristics of the Unconditioned
AN3.47:2.1: “Unconditioned phenomena have these three characteristics.
AN3.47:2.2: What three?
AN3.47:2.3: No arising is evident, no vanishing is evident, and no change while persisting is evident.
AN3.47:2.4: These are the three characteristics of unconditioned phenomena.”

These characteristics guide the knowing.

Knowing is informed by perception. Perceiving the form of a cup, one perceives simultaneously the emptiness within. They are one and the same. By relinquishing form, emptiness necessarily grows as described in MN121:

MN121:12.5: There is only this that is not emptiness, namely that associated with the six sense fields dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’
MN121:12.6: And so they regard it as empty of what is not there, but as to what remains they understand that it is present.
MN121:12.7: That’s how emptiness is born in them—genuine, undistorted, and pure.
MN121:13.1: Whatever ascetics and brahmins enter and remain in the pure, ultimate, supreme emptiness—whether in the past, future, or present—all of them enter and remain in this same pure, ultimate, supreme emptiness.

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  • Are not the unconditioned and the conditioned reflections of each other? Where lies the knowing of that?
    – Max
    Mar 8 at 16:28
  • Thanks for the feedback. The element characteristics are now described above.
    – OyaMist
    Mar 8 at 17:34
  • Thanks for your valued input. In the unification of unconditioned and conditioned as described thus: Form is empty. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form is also not other than emptiness. Where lies the knowing there? Or have I gone too far?
    – Max
    Mar 8 at 18:32
  • Thanks for the additional question. MN121 may be of help here.
    – OyaMist
    Mar 8 at 19:27
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    Consider listening to MN121. That listening is in the moment and will require relinquishing the skittering of thoughts. Listen to Pali along with English. The restlessness of the mind becomes apparent and can, as a result, be relinquished. Relinquish to insight.
    – OyaMist
    Mar 8 at 23:32
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self is a thought

emptiness begins to be known by consciousness when the self thought is dissolved by openness samadhi

knowing emptiness is wisdom

consciousness knows emptiness with wisdom

Discernment & consciousness are conjoined, friend, not disjoined. It's not possible, having separated them one from the other, to delineate the difference between them. For what one discerns, that one cognizes. What one cognizes, that one discerns.

MN 43

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