The case for bare awareness?


Now that is just so coincidentally weird. I happened on this as well and was listening to MN121 for the first time yesterday as it evolved the meditation of oneness from village, through wilderness, earth, dimension of infinite space and beyond. It struck me how those first four stages exactly framed my life learning to rock climb with gravity as my only teacher. Leaving Zen, I sought the wild places of the earth to step ever upwards towards infinite space. The fact that MN121 continues on and on was somewhat mind blowing in implication of possibility given the experiential truth of the first four steps.

And what is the truth learned after two decades of rock climbing?

Just let go.


I’m reminded of my first vipassana retreat (many moons ago). Probably around a week in I had a very strong experience of khanika samadhi: it felt like the earth had suddenly opened up beneath me and I was in free-fall; the world was rushing past and there was nothing to hold on to. It was quite terrifying!
When the hour was up I quickly sought out the teacher and related my experience.
He laughed and said: “the great thing about free-fall is you can never hit the bottom”.

So, “just let go” and “know you wont go splat!” :slight_smile:


The quandary for rock climbers was letting go knowing that you might very well go splat. That was the meditation on fear and dread. Those were my charnel ground meditations. Just letting go in peaceful meditation is wonderful. And yet there is more to be done…

Tanouye Tenshin Roshi once gave a Dhamma talk that went something like this:

Did you know that insurance statistics reveal that for deaths in car accidents with both front seats occupied the passenger dies more often than the driver?
As you live your life and drive your car, could you, woud you be able to choose otherwise?
Would you choose to save your passenger?

And that was a question I could not let go of. Will my bare awareness kill others?


It seems it is quite widespread!

Empty Is the World

Then the Venerable Ānanda approached the Blessed One … and said to him: “Venerable sir, it is said, ‘Empty is the world, empty is the world.’ In what way, venerable sir, is it said, ‘Empty is the world’?”

“It is, Ānanda, because it is empty of self and of what belongs to self that it is said, ‘Empty is the world.’ And what is empty of self and of what belongs to self? The eye, Ānanda, is empty of self and of what belongs to self. Forms are empty of self and of what belongs to self. Eye-consciousness is empty of self and of what belongs to self. Eye-contact is empty of self and of what belongs to self…. Whatever feeling arises with mind-contact as condition—whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant—that too is empty of self and of what belongs to self. SuttaCentral


It depends by what is meant by ‘formless jhana’.

Formless attainments (or commentarially called ‘arupa jhana’) arise after giving rise to the form (Rupa) jhana. It is not called formless because its peaceful and there are no forms visible.

Formless jhana was practiced by the Buddha’s original teachers Alarakalama and Uddakaramaputta. but Nibbana was not to be had, and the Buddha looked elsewhere. This highlights the importance of insight along with deep samadhi of the jhanas, when we consider the teachings as a whole.


Understood, not just peaceful without perceiving the presence of form’s, this fathom-long body or the perception of other forms - small or large.

Formless in the sense of infinitely expansive, edgeless, no limiting end point. Before the perception of formless states there are the jhanic states where this perception of limitless expansion is not present.

With regard to insight:

“Insight will be needed to achieve each of these stages, that is insight into
the meaning of (‘letting go’). The further one develops these stages, the more profound will be the
insight, and if you reach as far as Jhana then it will change your whole understanding. As it were,
Insight dances around Jhana and Jhana dances around Insight. This is the Path to Nibbana, the
Lord Buddha said, ‘for one who indulges in Jhana, four results are to be expected: Stream-Winner,
Once-Returner, NonReturner or Arahant’ (Pasadika Sutta, Digha Nikaya).” - Ajahn Brahm


"For those who are misled to conceive of all this as ‘just Samatha practice’ without regard
to Insight (Vipassana), please know that this is neither Vipassana nor Samatha. It is called’
Bhavana “the method taught by the Lord Buddha …” - Ajahn Brahm

There is nothing mystifying in what I am trying to say in all of this. It’s simple, bare awareness, reaction-free attention is synonymous with ‘letting go’ - relinquishment. ‘Bare’ means, any extraneous unneeded mental activity is absent. When no embellishment, no exaggeration, no clinging, no identification takes place there is bare awareness.

When this is uninterrupted anything that is not necessary which comes into the field of attention is allowed to cease without interference. There is no adding to, no prejudice in bare awareness. No energy is invested in the continuity of being/becoming, the phenomenal display appears, loses its momentum and, vanishes, leaving the last vestiges of experience the subtle formless states - they manifest and vanish - and, when they cease, ???

Homage to the thus gone, completely gone, nowhere to be found! :heart_eyes:


In my reading, there is a shift between the first three sections of the Satipatthana Sutta, which talk about just observing (relatively “bare”), and the last section, which is much more active, and seems to be about figuring out how to be rid of the hindrances, develop the factors of enlightenment, and so on.


Hmm. As I read MN10, it still is about observation, not active scrubbing away of defilements. Where does the “much more active” come in for you?


We reflect on the teachings, participate in Dhamma discussion, listen to the elders, the findings of our Dhamma-mittas, and we discover, we learn from daily life.

Daily life includes our periods of stillness and investigation/observation. We could say this is all a process of active engagement. Particularly, if we insist that there is a ‘somebody’ who is ‘doing’ all this daily living.

There is ‘action’ (kamma) taking place - intentions and what follows - but there is no ‘doer’ of actions. Bare awareness, just seeing, hearing … thinking - without a thinker - reveals the fact that there is no ‘doer’, no central locus of experience, no need to take anything personally.

“When this exists, that is; due to the arising of this, that arises.
When this doesn’t exist, that is not; due to the cessation of this, that ceases. That is: Ignorance is a condition for choices. Choices are a condition for consciousness. …” - SN12.37

In the Vissudhimagga it states there is the path but no traveller on it can be found. There are no footprints on the other shore.

There is no contradiction in all this, no either/or! We have many examples of active engagement in the Dhamma in service, in the expressions of kindness and generosity. All of this can take place in an atmosphere of reaction-free attention, bare awareness, relinquishment, letting go.

It’s only when we equate bare awareness with a state of passivity, as if it leads to inactivity, indifference, inertia, that confusion arises.

Bahiya woke up - on the spot - not by endlessly ruminating on the literal meaning of the words, the sentences, spoken to him by the Blessed-One. He did hear what was said and what it meant - in theory.

Bahiya also saw - directly - where the teaching was pointing. He saw ‘barely’ - without fabrication - with immediacy, the Dhamma which liberates. It’s not a matter of time - plain and simple. We can think it over till the cows come home - they may decide to stay in the field?

In Ajahn Chah’s simile of the still forest pool* we have a teaching on bare awareness. Without reacting the meditator simply observes what comes and goes at the pool. Rare exotic and very shy creatures - formless jhanas - eventually make an appearance and then dissappear.

The meditator simply attends to all this coming and going and then, what happens when the meditator gets up - takes another posture? Standing, walking, moving about, engaged in every form of activity, resting, in order to stay alive until the body drops?

What happens when daily life takes a different form? Ajahn Chah didn’t say we should start reacting to everything that happens, practice bare awareness on the cushion and elsewhere resume ‘business as usual’?

What happens to the meditator, ‘the one who knows’ if reaction-free attention is sustained and unbroken?

From the Bahiya Sutta: “When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of dissatisfaction (dukkha).”



The first three sections have statements that seem to be “just watching” :

It’s when a mendicant knows mind with greed as ‘mind with greed,’ and mind without greed as ‘mind without greed.’

The fourth has the meditator figuring out how to deal with it:

It’s when a mendicant who has sensual desire in them understands: ‘I have sensual desire in me.’ When they don’t have sensual desire in them, they understand: ‘I don’t have sensual desire in me.’ They understand how sensual desire arises; how, when it’s already arisen, it’s given up; and how, once it’s given up, it doesn’t arise again in the future.


This is interesting, we understand in the ordinary way that craving is present in daily life. It’s obvious, we experience the consequences of it, a state of lack and/or tension, stress, being ill at ease.

Something is not quite right, missing and, craving triggers seeking. The attempt to escape, nullify, get rid of wanting this, that and, the other. There is an endless proliferation of craving. An endless thirst that we try to quench.

Instead of merely attending to the flow of experience - with bare awareness - there is the pursuit of particular kinds of experience, the struggle to be free of the unwanted and, a lack of real interest in everything else.

Truly ‘seeing’ that craving is not present is not something that we just think about. Being without craving is not being sated. It’s not like: I have eaten enough and, I don’t want anymore - no after-dinner mint! That’s not being free of the ongoing influence of craving. It’s a temporary respite, there is the continuity of craving.

When we see clearly there is an ease of being. Change does not stress us out, whatever the situation there is an ability to learn from it. We can clearly see the process of change without taking it personally.

There is pain and pleasure but an awakened being does not take it personally. Pain and pleasure is just natural but there is no sufferer, no enjoyer.

There is the loss of a burden, an ability to just stay with whatever is arising without being pushed or pulled by a mind that is ‘driven’ by craving and the dissatisfaction it generates. It’s immediate, felt, obvious, lived.

True understanding of the ending of craving - knowledge and vision - isn’t just the thought that I don’t want anything in particular at the moment and, the difficulty, the pattern keeps on repeating itself.


Dear Mat, in the teachings, when it comes to the Aryans, at what stage is the craving for sensual pleasures finished with for good - in jhana it’s not there?


At the non-reterner stage.

“Mendicants, there are ten fetters. What ten? The five lower fetters and the five higher fetters. What are the five lower fetters? Identity view, doubt, misapprehension of precepts and observances, sensual desire, and ill will. These are the five lower fetters. SuttaCentral


Just watching can lead to an experience of nibbana if watching with Right view. Faith–> effort–> Mindfulness–>Samadhi–> Wisdom the five faculties will play itself out. However this doesn’t completely remove defilements if it leads to stream entry, but temporarily stop them from arising.

Exactly. The word of the Buddha developed right view in his mind. The first step of the Noble Eightfold path was developed, and he had developed right speech, action, livelihood and possibly right effort (latent tendencies might still be present to a small degree) on his own. The two causes for Right view is the hearing the dhamma from another (paratogoso) and then contemplating it and ‘making it one’s own’ (yonisomanasikara).

This is first hinted at the beginning of the sutta

keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. MN10

It’s important to reduce the hindrances to some level to even begin the satipatthana practice.

Then the Dhammanupassana seems to describe the mastery over the hindrances. Samadhi practice (adhicitta) is completed at the non-returner state, the five hindrances are mostly overcome and many defilements have fallen away, leaving the mind in a purified state.

‘I have sensual desire in me.’ When they don’t have sensual desire in them, they understand: ‘I don’t have sensual desire in me.’ They understand how sensual desire arises; how, when it’s already arisen, it’s given up; and how, once it’s given up, it doesn’t arise again in the future. SuttaCentral


But how many conditions are there, your reverence, for bringing right understanding into existence?” “There are two conditions, your reverence, for bringing right understanding into existence: the utterance of another (person) and wise attention. MN43

  1. Is stream entry/Can stream entry be defined as nibbana?
  2. Is there a recognised difference between seeing nibbana and achieving nibbana?


Your question jolted my memory of a rather interesting phrase in DN33 that distinguishes three faculties:

the faculty of understanding that one’s enlightenment is imminent, the faculty of enlightenment, and the faculty of one who is enlightened.

It’s very interesting that the Buddha said this and that he did not say teacher. The implication is that if one wisely attends to absolutely anybody speaking these words, one might find oneself pointed to the noble path. Empirically, teachers have higher batting ratios. In this way, the Buddha has arranged for right understanding to cross gulfs of unenlightened to spark again in future generations. :open_mouth:

Per SN12.23, that would be with Freedom.
Per DN33 that would be Right Freedom.

asekkhā sammāvimutti


Nibbana is cessation. To reach cessation the full Noble eightfold path as well as Right insight and Right Release must be concurrently developed fully. But as it happens while the defilements are suppressed it doesn’t go all the way to Arahanthood. Cessation does happen when entering the stream:

These are the four factors of stream-entry with which he is endowed.

“And which is the noble method that he has rightly seen &; rightly ferreted out through discernment?..

“Now from the remainderless fading &; cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&;-form. From the cessation of name-&;-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging &; death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, &; despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress &; suffering. SuttaCentral

When a noble disciple has clearly seen with right wisdom this dependent origination and these dependently originated phenomena as they are, it’s impossible for them to turn back to the past, thinking: ‘Did I exist in the past? Did I not exist in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? After being what, what did I become in the past?’ Or to turn forward to the future, thinking: ‘Will I exist in the future? Will I not exist in the future? What will I be in the future? How will I be in the future? After being what, what will I become in the future?’ Or to be undecided about the present, thinking: ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? This sentient being—where did it come from? And where will it go?’ Why is that? Because that noble disciple has clearly seen with right wisdom this dependent origination and these dependently originated phenomena as they are.”SuttaCentral

The insight of a stream-enterer into the truths of causality on the one hand, and of the Deathless on the other, is accurate as far as it goes, but it does not equal the intensity of the insight of the arahant —Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Cessation of what, exactly? Do you mean cessation of the taints, or cessation of DO?


Cessation of the DO.

If DO ceases there’s no further place for taints to manifest.