The Science of Enlightenment by Shinzen Young Book Notes & Review

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My Rating: 7/10 Find it On Amazon

My Bottom Line Thoughts

I really liked The Science of Enlightenment because it broke down the process of meditation and spirituality in a more scientific way.

If you’re someone who meditates or are interested in the topic then I’d recommend checking it out.

Once you grasp the core elements that Shinzen discusses in the book you can then check to see where you are on your journey and what aspects you need to refine and improve on.

I also like his view of a world where we are moving towards more peace and enlightenment slowly over time since this is usually how I tend to view things.

Below are the basic points he talks about in the book:

  • Mindfulness = concentration + sensory clarity + equanimity + time= insight & purification
  • Meditation consists of 2 parts: calming/concentration & clarifying
  • Main goal of meditation is to remove what gets in the way of purity
  • To clarify you break sensory experience down into body sensations, mental images & talk
  • You use your concentration on each of those components to see their deepest vibratory nature which results in insight and purification
  • When tangling of those sensory experiences occurs the intensity of suffering and self increases
  • Impermanence or flow is the basic energy matter of every sensory occurence and insight into this process reveals the source or no self
  • The stages of the spiritual progression go from everyday consciousness, to the subconscious, to the source
  • Sometimes people get lost in the subconscious (realm of power) or turn back but a sign of maturity is going straight down
  • Noting gone is a technique to get deeper insight into impermanence and realize the source at vanishing point

Summary Notes

Shinzen’s Journey

  • Shinzen has been meditating for 50 years and sees it as bittersweet but mainly sweet. It’s allowed him to enjoy and be with life more. He also is optimistic about the future and sees the possibility of more widespread enlightenment with the combination of scientific innovation and meditation combined
  • He calls the process the science of enlightenment because it is predictable with the guidance of qualified teachers
  • He defines enlightenment as a permanent shift in perspective that comes about through direct realization that there is no thing called self inside you
  • Meditation changes your relationship to sensory experience including thoughts and body sensations while allowing you to experience them in a clear unblocked way
  • When the sensory experience becomes clear and uninhibited it ceases to be a rigid thing that imprisons your identity
  • He believes enlightenment is real and that any normal person can achieve through systematic practice of meditation
  • He grew up a very sensitive kid with social anxiety who was smart but did horribly in school. He tested well enough to get into UCLA where he got interested in east Asian studies and studied Buddhism plus lived in Japan for a while
  • He had his first life-changing experience with oneness after smoking hash and eating a brownie with intense focus
  • These experiences fail to last because people who don’t meditate don’t have high levels of concentration power, they lack the sensory clarity to track how selfhood arises and passes in real time, and most people don’t have high levels of equanimity to allow sensory experience to well up without suppression and to pass away without identifying with it 
  • If some level of cultivated concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity precedes a spontaneous insight into oneness that insight can be maintained and when the old habitual self reemerges there need not be re identification with it
  • He was convinced that it was possible to experience physical and emotional pain in theory without suffering. His idols death convinced him to pursue that goal 

The Most Fundamental Skill (Meditation Basics)

  • People who experience a spontaneous state of extraordinary focus usually say it was the most meaningful event of their life and changed them forever. Situations of extreme stress or extreme calm and beauty can produce this state
  • Time slows down and your mind becomes peaceful, present, focused, unified 
  • This state is trainable. Systematic training in focus is called meditation
  • A person’s base level of concentration is the most valuable thing they have and improves everything else 
  • Meditation causes 2x the fulfillment and richness of living 

Physiological Effects of Meditation

  • Meditation changes breathing patterns allowing people to breathe more slowly and deeply due to reduction in oxygen hunger
  • It causes a decrease in electrical conductivity of the skin, when people are nervous the skin becomes more conductive
  • Most interesting change comes in brain wave patterns. We have 4 basic patterns:
    • 1. Delta- dreamless sleep
    • 2. Theta- state leading to sleep, vivid dreamlike images
    • 3. Alpha- being alert and relaxed 
    • 4. Beta- activity, normal state in daytime
  • Changes in alpha brain waves are most noticeable and alpha associated with being both alert and relaxed at same time
  • Growth in meditation allows alertness to get brighter and sharper while relaxation gets deeper and broader
  • Meditators have very high alpha brain wave activity even with eyes open
  • Another feature of meditation is the muscles will appear to be as relaxed as those of someone whos lying down asleep 
  • Meditation is capable of delivering happiness independent of conditions

The Meditative State

  • There are a lot of misconceptions with meditation
    • People think that there is a single meditative state
    • Can only be done sitting cross legged on floor in quiet room
  • As experience grows you get to a point where you are so present that there is a kind of merging of the inside and outside and it becomes a spiritually transformative experience. You begin to get an insight into the nature of oneness. You begin to break through one of the most fundamental illusions of separateness of the outside and inside
  • As your meditation gets deeper you’re able to achieve more and more profound states of concentration and tranquility. As it gets broader, you can maintain those states throughout challenging activities of life. When depth and breadth pass a certain critical point, you find yourself living an enlightened life

Misconceptions About Concentration

  • Concentration can be narrow or broad
  • Four subskills of concentration
    1. Learning how to restrict attention to small sensory events
    2. Learning how to evenly cover large sensory events
    3. Learning how to sustain concentration on one thing for an extended period of time
    4. Learning how to taste a momentary state of concentration with whatever randomly calls attention
  • Noting is currently one of the most popular approaches to mindfulness in east and west

Is Meditation Self Centered?

  • When he thinks of meditation he thinks of someone in the gym having a good sweaty workout. If you do physical workout with regularity, you elevate the base level of body strength. If you do meditation with regularity, you elevate the base level of your focus strength
  • Virtually every moment of everyone’s life is self centered
  • People’s experience with life involves a sequence of moments of identification with self
  • Meditation equips you with the skills to break that identification
  • Long term effect of meditation is the opposite of self centeredness
  • Meditation is something that a person does for themselves but it’s something that a person does to make the world a better place and to be of service to others

Meditation for Ourselves

  • Ultimate goal of meditation is to achieve happiness independent of conditions
  • Happiness independent of conditions occurs whenever we have complete sensory experience
  • To have complete experience means to experience something in a state of extraordinary concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity
  • Any event when experienced completely becomes extraordinary and paradoxical: its richness is maximal but its somethingness is minimal
  • The ultimate state of meditation dawns when we start to have moments of complete experience during the day. Inside a complete experience, time, space, self, and world are enfolded into the still point. Creation and the source of creation are united
  • The thinking mind and the feeling body become a prison within which most people spend their lives and meditation makes it possible to transcend that limit
  • You free your mind body by having a complete experience of your mind body

Meditation for Others 

  • As you personally become happier and more fulfilled the people close to you reap the benefits of that and you care for others more
  • When you experience another person completely they are no longer other. You go from I-It paradigm to an I-Thou paradigm
  • Most people who stay the course with meditation will have to face challenges- wandering mind, sleepiness, confusion, physical discomfort, emotional intensity. These experiences imbue you with a poignant sense of the reality and ubiquity of suffering

Meditation Helps the World

  • Most people don’t maintain a continuous mindful relationship with their subjective thoughts and feelings, so most people do not have the ability to experience anger, fear, sadness, shame, and confusion without suffering
  • A salient feature of suffering is that it distorts behavior
  • The delicate act of human interaction is frequently subject to the distorting influences of subliminal suffering
  • Because of this suffering without awareness, our objective responses to objective situations are often less than optimal and sometimes horribly distorted
  • When interactions that are unpleasantly charged are not experienced completely in the moment they are not metabolized. They leave behind stuck energy and mental patterns which is a remnant suffering that haunts the cellar of our own mind
  • This cycle destroys a relationship here, a career there, lead to war, rampage, repressive dictatorship 
  • This is the basic pattern of human suffering on this planet and its because people do not understand how to experience pain completely without suffering and pushing it down
  • Meditation allows us to experience pain without suffering and pleasure without neediness
Suffering Cycle
  • There is a fundamental way for anyone to become part of the solution to suffering on this planet which is to snip the cycle of suffering and distortion
  • This cycle has the name law of karma and meditation makes it possible to break the cycle of karma
  • Sometimes we think that compelling goals in the world just demand action and call for bypassing meditation and clarity ….direct action is good but it alone is not necessarily the optimal way to approach the goal
  • Pain that doesn’t turn into bother ceases to drive us but continues to motivate us
  • Pleasure that brings fulfillment ceases to drive us but continues to motivate us
  • Actions that are motivated by pleasure and pain but not driven by suffering and frustration tend to be more skillful actions
  • Meditation reverses the deep vicious cycle that is responsible for so much misery 

Mysticism in World Culture

  • He noticed and met a roman catholic priest Father Bill at a zen retreat who shocked him by sitting down in perfect lotus posture and entering samadhi
  • Father bill spent his life as a missionary in Japan and also wrote the Zen of Christianity
  • He explained that a rich tradition of concentrative meditation had existed for centuries in the christian west
  • Father Bill’s personal library in Tokyo opened his eyes even further because there were books on meditation and mysticism from many different cultures 
  • The same techniques for attaining high states of concentration were central to all religious traditions

Three Types of Spiritual Experience

  1. Spirituality of thought
  2. Spirituality of feeling 
  3. Mysticism
  • Mysticism is different because it involves the cultivation of high concentration
  • The science of enlightenment doesn’t belong to any particular religion or culture or period rather it belongs to humanity as a whole and helps us to connect our basic humanness

Meditative Traditions in Abrahamic Religions

  • According to catholic church there are 2 kinds of prayer
    • 1.  Discursive prayer: creating words and images in the mind and feelings in the body about God
    • 2. Prayer of quiet: go into a deep peace and high concentration without words- the christian term for samadhi 
  • Within jewish tradition the term for high state of concentration is Kavanah
  • In Islamic tradition the main way of cultivating high concentration is by chanting and dancing, and the people who practice are called Sufis
  • In Taoism, high concentration is called Shouyi 
  • Taoism masters developed an elaborate physical process for this:
    • 1. Jing or essence is transmuted into energy
    • 2. Qi or energy then transmuted to
    • 3. Shen or spirit
  • Essence is any distilled sensory experience that is concentrated fully on
  • The essence of a given sensory category is achieved when there’s only that flavor and it pervades your entire being
  • We’re afraid of a single sensory essence pervading our entire being for a significant period of time because we think that we will be overwhelmed
  • We need not fear because very quickly essence transmutes into energy (qi) and energy transmutes into spirit (shen)
  • What the buddhists call impermanence the Taoists view as an energy flowing in patterns  or neidan which is internal alchemy
  • In India, Patanjali’s system for cultivating high concentration is Raja Yoga
  • In yoga, the growth of concentration (described in Yoga Sutras) progresses from simple focus exercises (dharana) to states of continuous concentration ( dhyana) and finally to oneness with the unborn source (samadhi) 
  • Buddhists traditionally divide the levels of concentration into eight stages four dhyanas and four arupyas
  • Many buddhists regard concentration as good but not sufficient for deep insight where they contrast concentration/calming practices with clarity/observing practices 
  • In shamanism they had ceremonies, sweat lodges, and dances which build concentration
  • Shamans probably experienced more states of Samadhi with a simpler lifestyle 
  • In secular contexts like sports, musicians, artists, drivers, dancers they also spontaneously enter very high states of concentration
  • Surveying mystical experiences across traditions we are struck by two facts: 
    • 1. Despite enormous cultural differences mystics describe their experiences in rather similar ways 
    • 2. These descriptions sound counterintuitive and paradoxical to the average person

Calming and Clarifying

Meditation has 2 sides to the coin:

1. Calming and concentration

2. Clarifying (technically known as vipassana)

  • One way to think about meditation is a dialectical interplay between calming-concentrating aspect (samatha) and the clarifying dissecting aspect (vipassana)
  • The more concentrated we become the more we experience physical and mental calming

Common Meditation Traps

Sometimes people can get caught in a good place with meditation where their practice is pleasant and useful but it’s not delivering the life-changing results they should expect.

There are 2 main traps:

1. Mistaking the map for the journey (thinking about and debating paths plus intellectualizing)

2. Getting caught in a good place (path leads to nice feeling and you stay there)

  • Tranquility that fails to mature into insight is a classic example and this happens because there is too much emphasis on calming and not enough clarifying
  • Buddha discovered an entirely new attentional skill which was used to get deep insight into yourself and enlightenment
  • This discovery was clarifying and untangling which fosters insight into fundamental issues – the nature of self, the nature of suffering, the nature of oneness
  • Buddha realized that while there was no suffering in the deep absorbed state it returned when he came out and it hadn’t engendered a fundamental shift in his being
  • He realized that the cultivation of concentration and calm was not an end in itself and he discovered how to microscopically investigate in real time the nature of sensory experience
  • This lead to an understanding that would permanently uproot the source of suffering not merely suspend it due to an altered state
  • This is called sensory clarity and it is the essence of mindfulness meditation

Analyzing Sensory Experience


  1. Emotional type body sensations 
  2. Mental images
  3. Mental talk activity or thoughts
  • Any perception of self involves these components
  • 8 basic states (4 x 2) 
    • 3 possible single occurrences (mental image, mental talk, body emotion)
    • 3 paired possibilities (any two at same time)
    • 2 extreme possibilities (all 3 active or inactive at same time)
  • Basic composition is remarkably simple if we model it as three binary variables producing a total of 8 basic states
  • Three single occurrences
    • 1. Mental image only
    • 2. Mental talk only
    • 3. Body emotion only
  • Three paired occurrences
    • 1. Mental image and mental talk
    • 2. Mental image and body emotion
    • 3. Mental talk and body emotion
  • Two extremes
    • 1. All three active at same time
    • 2. All three restful at same time
  • When all 3 elements activate strongly the “I am a separate thing” perspective is very intense
  • If the system goes offline then your separate sense of self vanishes
  • Something that vanishes and reappears cannot be thought of as an abiding entity
  • If anything abides it’s the nothing from which sensory phenomena arise and to which they return

Sorting Our Inner World:

  • We constantly sort and analyze in the physical external world like with business however practically no one makes use of this powerful technique for cleaning up their inner world
  • This can be called the divide and conquer strategy of vipassana
  • What gets conquered is suffering and the distorted behavior that comes from suffering
  • Vipassana means to see or break things apart and see

Process of Vipassana:

1. First break things apart

2. Then soak awareness into those components until you see their deepest nature which is vibrations of space

3. Insights are revealed when you do enough breaking apart and seeing through

  • The medicine is to remember that the main goal in meditation is not to get to certain good states but rather to eliminate what gets in the way of those good states
  • As a result of having teased apart experience and clarified it over time the blissful restful absorbed states will arise automatically for you because you will have worked through the underlying blockages

Insight and Purification

  • He helped one of his students go through the dying process
  • He told Gino that he was facing 5 distinct types of challenging body sensations
    • 1. Pain of the tumor
    • 2. Sensation of exhaustion because he couldn’t sleep well
    • 3. Nausea 
    • 4. Irritability and fear on emotional side
  • He told him not to lose track of these sensations whichever one or combination of them was arising be precise about where they are in the body note the primary location and where it spreads
  • Keep infusing each one of these qualities with concentration, clarity, equanimity, and allow them to get intense or mild to shift and spread to expand out and contract in whatever they wish and this would reduce his suffering
  • He started to identify each of the different flavors of sensation with the purification of the psychological and spiritual blockages acquired from his previously badass lifestyle and he felt that various intense sensations were cleaning out specific negative things he had done and the bad ways he had treated people

Breaking Things Down

An experience is much easier to understand, manage, and gain insight if we break it down into simpler components

Main Components:

Thinking Mind (internal conversation thoughts and mental images)

  • Image activity and talk activity as independent components of thought vector
  • Observe image vs talk

The Feeling Body

  • Physical type body sensations and emotional type body sensations
  • Most common emotions are anger, fear, sadness, embarrassment, impatience, disgust, interest, joy, love, gratitude, humor, smile
  • If want to be happy independent of conditions you’ll need to learn how to have complete experience of each basic type of body emotion
  • Experience x with so much concentration, clarity, equanimity, that there is no time to coagulate x or yourself into a thing instead you become an integrated flow of energy 
  • Learning how to have a complete experience with discomfort sets us free and a complete experience of pleasure deeply fulfills
  • The three components (mental image, mental talk, emotional body sensation) often occur simultaneously
  • If we don’t have the skill of keeping track of the components you get the tangling together of the feeling body and the thinking mind

What Happens When Tangling Occurs:

The result of tangling can bring about two undesirable consequences: quantitative and qualitative

1. Illusory intensification of experience (quantitative)

  • Makes suffering much worse
  • 10 units suffering mind and 10 in body = 20 normal experience
  • If dont keep track the 10 units will cross multiply to =100 
  • Exacerbated suffering will distort our response to the situation leading to even more suffering which is the cycle of samsara in buddhism

2. Qualitative thingness of self

  • Tangling imparts an illusory quality of thingness
  • If you can untangle the illusory quality goes away

Basic Model

  • Can take any experience and be focused, precise, and allowing with it
  • Catalyzes a process of insight and purification- speeds up psycho spiritual evolution
  • Whether they know it or not all human beings are involved in the path to enlightenment by virtue of daily living
  • Nature or grace or spirit is constantly pulling us toward the enlightened state
  • The main difference between a practitioner and any other person is the speed at which they are intentionally moving on the path

Fundamental theorem of mindfulness = concentration + sensory clarity + equanimity + time= insight & purification


  • Basic premise of mindfulness meditation is that consistently infusing qualities of concentration, clarity, equanimity into ordinary experiences over time causes a fundamental shift in our paradigm
  • This is the reason it’s sometimes called insight meditation


  • We store influences from the past in the subconscious, those influences inappropriately affect our behavior and perception in the present and our job is to somehow remove those distorting influences
  • Often referred to as samskaras in india 
  • Located deep in the subconscious 
  • In buddhist, hindu, abrahamic traditions the process of becoming free of those limiting forces is referred to as purification (vishuddhi sanskrit or catharsis in greek)
  • You sense that the limitations of the past are being metabolized and a brighter future is being created because of the way you’re experiencing a certain something in the present
  • 3 impurities that cause this are: craving, aversion, unconsciousness
  • Our pure consciousness gets mucked up and that leads to suffering
  • Buddhism sees the impurities as admixture christianity as sin
  • From a buddhist perspective that old material gets worked through by pouring clarity and equanimity into the experience of the moment
  • This clarity and equanimity percolates down into the subconscious and rewires us at the most fundamental levels without us even knowing

4 paradigms purification

  1. Christian
    1. Blockage that separates self from source is sin
    2. Radical removal viewed largely as grace and personal effort
  2. Buddhism
    1. Blockages seen as muck or secondary
    2. Radical removal viewed as feasible with effort but emphasize letting go of effort to let consciousness (impermanence) do work
  3. Psychological 
    1. Dredging up specific biographical material to aid in repairing aspects of personality
  4. Rheological
    1. Views purification as sensory circuits learning how not to interfere with themselves
    2. Reducing self conflict, inappropriate holding, fixation


  • Complete pain causes rather little suffering and doesnt turn into aversion
  • Complete pleasure brings lasting satisfaction and doesnt turn into neediness
  • Complete experience of confusion creates a basis for spiritual intuition 
  • Complete experience of desire is desireless
  • Complete experience of boredom is endlessly fascinating
  • Ordinary experience, when greeted with concentration, clarity, equanimity catalyzes a process of insight and purification which culminates in the ability to have complete experiences whenever you want

The Many Faces of Impermanence

  • The buddha said that human suffering is caused by grasping or desiring things that don’t last
  • One way we suffer is when we pin our happiness on things that won’t last such as wealth, health, reputation, relationships, appearance, family, children 
  • Go ahead and pin some of our happiness on things that won’t last but be sure to allocate time for exploring the dimension of happiness that does last
  • Even our sense of self is not permanent. When we feel safe under our covers the sense of self diminishes. If we walk into a room full of judgemental strangers and everyone stares at you your sense of self grows larger. Later as you grow more comfortable in the room the amplitude of the self wave subsides a bit.
  • It’s not that we don’t have a self, rather it’s that the self we do have is not a thing. It is an impermanent fluctuating activity
  • Things viewed with patient and deep equanimity or with the precision of a microscope that seem solid are in fact a dance of energy. This holds true for all our experiences, from the most ordinary to the most absurd. We may say that a certain sensation seems very solid, a certain thought seems very gripping. We look at the wall and it seems unchanging and rigid. However, if we can look patiently enough and precisely enough then our moment by moment sensory experience is an effortless flow of impermanence.
  • Impermanence can turbocharge our spiritual growth if we look carefully enough at it

Three Aspects of Impermanence:

One way to look at impermanence is in terms of 3 aspects: trivial, harsh, blissful

1. Trivial: this is when you experience something like an itch, lose focus, and then realize later it went away. This is based on a lack of continuous concentration. A deeper appreciation comes with continuous concentration.

2. Harsh: when you bring more continuous concentration to something sometimes it will be unpleasant as it constantly changes. For example, with pain it might feel like a twisting stabbing sensation as it changes. The same results with pleasure.

3. Blissful: eventually concentration and equanimity skills mature to the point where your experience is continuous and smooth. The impermanence becomes fluid and you accept the harsher kinds of impermanence so they quickly break up into gentler kinds of energy flow. It starts to comfort you and becomes like a massage.

  • Even though we think we are being tortured with the harsher kinds of impermanence we have to be willing to go with it. If it wants to pound, let it pound. If it wants to twist, let it twist. Crush, let it crush. Through this some of the gross resistance to the flow of impermanence gets broken down. At some point you will experience the gentler soft massage aspects of impermanence.
  • Impermanence can be thought of as a kind of energy that has been activated within you that helps you along with meditation and strong energy flows

Main Forms of Positive Impermanence:

The main forms of flow or positive impermanence are: undulatory flow, vibratory flow, expansion-contraction flow

1. Undulatory flow: continuous wavy movement like a jellyfish or lava lamp over your whole body

2. Vibratory flow: like champagne bubbles or sparks of electricity. If you have experienced runners high or weight lifting “pump” you have contacted this.

3. Expansion-contraction flow: inward and outward movement, stretching and squeezing forces, effortless pulling out and collapsing in. This underlies all other flavors of flow. 

  • All three flavors of flow are often present at the same time
  • When you let impermanence work on you, the energy in its waves and vibrations softens the substance of consciousness, works out knots in your soul, and breaks up coagulated places in all your senses: visual, auditory, somatic. 
  • The ability to taste this purification from the flow of impermanence is a sign of maturity
  • When you feel pain or soreness or an itch if we can simply observe it more and more we start to get a taste of purification and we aren’t afraid to do this with more intense sensations
  • The goal of meditation is to gain insight to know that spirit energy is simply what happens to ordinary experience when it is greeted with extraordinary attention.
  • Conversely, the materiality of objects, the somethingness of self, and rigidity of space and time are simply what happens to spirit when it encounters the nebulosity and viscosity of the untrained human nervous system
  • We must watch how ordinary experience becomes waves of impermanence over and over before we really believe that all ordinary experience is impermanent. Eventually it sinks in: every statue dances.
  • We have to make clear distinctions between mental experience and somatic experience so that when these two arise together they don’t tangle and cross multiply
    • We learn to break mental experience into mental image and mental talk and somatic experience into emotional flavors and physical flavors. These are empowering distinctions
  • After enlightenment self and world still arise as solid objects a lot of the time, but the enlightened person now knows that they appear to be solid only because he or she is not paying close attention right now

The Realm of Power

He describes the spiritual journey as a burrow down into experience towards its source with three layers:

1. Everyday Consciousness (Top Layer)

2. The Subconscious (Middle Layer)

3. The Source (Bottom Layer)

Spiritual Progression Towards Source
  • There’s nothing wrong with everyday consciousness but the problem occurs when this is the only level of experience available to someone
  • To have this complementary perspective, we must come into direct contact with the third level of consciousness, the source
  • You can call the source anything you want like God but this is as long as you actually experience it
  • One way to describe the spiritual path is as a journey from ordinary surface experience to the ground state, the source of all states, both ordinary and altered. The vehicle we ride, that carries us from the surface down through intermediate layers of consciousness is that of concentration, clarity, and equanimity
  • According to Buddhism it is conditionings that prevent our ordinary consciousness from directly contacting nirvana or the source so the journey is more a clearing away of blockages

The Subconscious or Intermediate Layer

  • One view of the intermediate realm is it is the area where the blockages and powers lie
  • Often this is a layer where people experience both hellish and celestial things
  • It’s important to remember that no matter how intense, bizarre, or powerful an experience may be, it can only come up as some combination of physical sensation in the body, emotional sensation in the body, mental image activity, and internal talk
  • Whatever the experience may be it’s how we relate to them that matters 
  • A spiritually mature person treats events encountered on the path from surface to source in exactly the same way: greeting them with concentration, clarity, and equanimity 
  • A spiritually immature person develops cravings and aversions with respect to these phenomena. They fear certain types of experiences and desire others
  • If someone experiences some bizarre or odd occurrences in the form of mental images, thoughts, or body sensations you simply need to apply the standard mindfulness procedure to them. Don’t try to ignore, suppress, or take messages from them
  • At some point a figure ground reversal will take place. It’s not that you become convinced that the hallucinations are real, rather you understand how conventional reality is in some ways a hallucination

Relating to the Realm of Power

There are three ways someone relates to things in this realm:

  1. Freak Out: Someone encounters unusual phenomena and gets frightened and tries to get their head above water. It’s so uncomfortable you never want to repeat it again and stay on normal land for the rest of your life. You turn down, start to move towards the source, get freaked out, and turn around to get back to normalcy.
  1. Diversion: You turn towards the source but get caught in phenomena of the intermediate realm because it’s interesting or enticing. You spend time traveling horizontally instead of vertically. This is “new age” territory or spiritual materialism. These powers are not a bad thing because they signal you are getting deep but you need to get to the source before using them to help people. 
  1. Plumb Line: No matter what arises you greet it with concentration, clarity, and equanimity and keep heading straight down to the source. If you experience frightening or painful things you bring mindfulness to them. Same with pleasure.  

Compromise Scenario: This is when someone spends some time going horizontally but slowly makes their way down over time to the source it just takes them longer because they want to explore some of this realm.

  • As a general rule, the more vertical the more mature
  • The range of angles between pure power tripping and pure purification represents the spectrum of classical shamanism
  • Don Juan says that there are some people who have power but they can’t see. There are some people who can see, but they don’t have power. And there are some people who can both see and have power.
  • For true union with God you must go beyond that light and into the darkness
  • Use the phenomena you experience in the realm of power as platforms to reach and unlock the flow of source
  • Break up the experiences into body sensation, mental image, and internal talk, then break those up into waves of impermanence and then watch where the waves go when they cease. When directing attention to the place where things go when they cease, you are directing attention towards the source where all things arise.

The Real No Self

  • The buddha taught there is no thing inside us called a self
  • At the broadest scale, we tend to identify with any and all mind-body experience: I am my mental image, mental talk, body sensation. At the narrowest scale, we tend to identify strongly with self-referential mental image, mental talk, and body sensation. These are images associated with our appearance, mental talk about how cool or uncool you are, and sensations associated with being praised or blamed
  • When we are unable to keep awareness with mental image, talk, and body emotion they tangle together. Then we get a perception of self as a separate, vulnerable particle, rather than as an interactive, uninhibited wave of personality
  • The self as a particle is a kind of illusion because when thought and feeling become untangled we get a very different perception of what self is
  • Self is really a verb which is the activity of the personality that arises effortlessly from the nothingness moment by moment also referred to as fluid self or true self
  • Just because the sense of self as a thing goes away does not for a moment imply that the activity of personality goes away. Enlightened people who constantly talk about no self often have strong, charismatic personalities. This is a logical consequence of the experience of no self. It happens because the sense of self as something material has gone away and all the energy that was bound up in that is now freed up for fluid expression of personality 
  • When someone has seen beyond the illusion of the limited self, a huge amount of energy is freed up for the expression of personality 
  • What causes self consciousness to be uncomfortable? It is the holding on to or interfering with the natural flow of self-referential thoughts and feelings- a kind of viscosity within inner see-hear-feel activity. The self as wave cannot flow smoothly 

Don’t Fight It

  • He developed an aversion to the natural arising of self. If he was chanting and would lose himself he felt it was good. If he felt his self arising during chanting that was bad. This belief tormented him for a long time.
  • When self arises let it arise. Don’t resist it. But do try to bring clarity and equanimity to it because you are going to learn as much from the eruption of self as you learn from the cessation of self. The quicker and louder you can say yes to each new arising of self, the deeper and clearer will be the no self state that inevitably follows
  • In the place of frustration and agitation get on board with nature’s program. Totally let the see-hear-feel self arise and be willing to go back to square one. Your job is to clarify during the process

The Power of Gone

  • Noting gone is the technique he would pick as the quickest path to enlightenment
  • Practicing just note gone is pretty straightforward: whenever a sensory experience suddenly disappears, make a note of that fact and clearly acknowledge when you detect the transition point between all of it being present and at least some of it no longer being present
  • If you start worrying that nothing is ending or changing, note each time that thought ends
  • Each arising somewhere causes a passing somewhere else
  • So gone does not imply gone for good or that every single part of what you were observing disappears. It means that all or part of something suddenly subsides. It doesn’t even have to subside all the way it may just diminish
  • To pour the whole bucket of your awareness on each arising-saying “yes” loudly in response to nature’s “yes”. The ability to do those two things at the very instant when something arises could be described as saying “yes” quickly. 
  • The more quickly and completely you affirm each arising, the deeper and clearer will be your experience of its passing
  • The thing that vanishes might be quite ordinary and banal, but its moment of vanishing points to something extraordinary and deep- the source of consciousness
  • As you become more sensitive to noting gone you may come to a place where you note it so frequently that goneness becomes an object of high concentration
  • When this happens self and world become fleeting figures and gone becomes the abiding ground. This will have a huge impact on how you relate to aging and death


  • There is one possible negative effect from working with vanishing and no self which is in extreme cases it may be so intense that it creates disorientation, terror, paralysis, hopelessness ect
  • This is sometimes referred to as the dark night of the soul
  • It doesn’t happen often but there are three interventions which you need to remember in order to transform the situation from problematic to blissful:
    • 1. Accentuate the good parts of the dark night even though they may seem very subtle in relation to the bad
    • 2. Negate the negative parts of the dark night by deconstructing them through noting with mindful awareness. Notice which parts are image, talk, sensation and untangle
    • 3. Try to affirm positive emotions, behaviors, and cognitions in a sustained systematic way. Construct a new habitual self based on lovingkindness and think positive thoughts.
  • In most cases all three of these interventions must be practices and maintained for however long it takes to get through the dark night
  • The end result will be a depth of joy and freedom beyond your wildest dreams
  • Gone may also lead to contact with a state of primordial chaotic body emotion where each vanishing is like a little death. When you come back it’s like being born again. You come back as an infant with an infant body full of freaked out body emotion
  • Not everyone has to go through this experience but quite a few people have to experience some amount of disorientation and fear before they get to primordial order
  • As hard as it is when you find yourself being blown away and crushed, flooded and decentered, it can be helpful to know that these forces are in fact your parents in disguise. It is god, not the devil that is tearing you apart and you can trust it
  • This awkward intermediate zone is a stage some people pass through where the old coping mechanisms (tightening and turning away) is in the process of being shed, but the new coping mechanism (open up and turn toward) is not yet strong enough to provide abiding safety and fulfillment 
  • This allows you to work through this and it’s purgatorial. As an adult you can love it to death, know it to death, and it unties the deepest knots in your soul

Return to the Source

  • How can you come to experience the source or answer beyond conceptual thought?
  •  In the Rinzai school of zen one typically does this through sustained equanimity with the confused state induced by an unanswerable question: What is the sound of one hand? What is mu? 
  • Questions like these are called Koans. Koans can be used for various purposes but initially they’re often used to stymie the conceptual mind. This induces a state of don’t know. Learn to abide comfortably in that don’t know long enough, and a new way of knowing will arise. This new way of knowing is called intuitive wisdom or prajna
  • Another way is to note gone and experience it with great clarity. The nooo that is neither yes or no which transcends all duality is present in each ordinary vanishing but it might take a while to appreciate that fact
  • He once hear a zen master say “a good doctor can cure your disease, but only a great doctor can show you that you were never sick”
  • An experience of overwhelm or decentering with a lot of mental thoughts and body sensations creates a sequence of micro-gones where the space of self collapses moment by moment
  • Nature is constantly pointing us towards freedom; we just need to look at things in a different way. Bring concentration, clarity, and equanimity to your experience and do that consistently for a long time. At some point you will notice an ordering principle that’s so primordial that it can never be disordered
  • No matter how uncomfortable your body may get, how confused or negative your mind might become, that discomfort is always surrounded by an effortless spontaneity. Once you notice this you realize that you never needed to train, search, or improve. But paradoxically, it may require considerable training before you’re able to notice this and noticing should give you an optimal place to improve yourself
  • Give yourself to that pushing out and pulling in. Don’t be afraid to let it tear you apart. Don’t worry. It may kill you as a noun, but it will give you life as a verb. You become the doing of you, the activity called you

Breaking Down the Process to Zero or Source

In mindfulness, the complexity of sensory experience is reduced through progressively deeper unifications. 

  1. No matter how big, complex, or overwhelming experiences may be we learn to break them down into the simplicity of six senses (inner and outer visual, auditory, somatic experience)
  2. Next you further simplify senses by experiencing them in terms of impermanence or flow. There are various flavors of impermanence but they all have expansion and contraction so you reduce everything down to those two
  3. If you look carefully you’ll realize that any arising entails both and at the point of vanishing those two doings merge into the one nothing which is zero or source
  • You realize that no matter what sorts of things arise between the two hands of God, they are always directly touched by those two hands. The two doings are a kind of umbilical cord that connect the ten trillion somethings of the world with the one nothing that is the source of the world.
  • For a liberated person that umbilical cord is never totally severed
  • There is further subtlety about zero. You never actually experience zero. In the actual moment of cancellation there is no self to know the source. There is no experience there; it is nirodha or extinction 
  • As enlightenment deepens you become clearer and clearer about what happens just before time, space, self, and world arise, and you come to a clearer and clearer realization that you are what happens just before time, space, self, world arise
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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.