Venerable Ajahn Amaro -
A few days ago I was having a chat with Rinpoche and was expressing to him how profound the similarities are between what I have been hearing him say here and my own training in the Thai forest tradition. In fact I have to admit that the other day I suddenly realized that I've been practicing in a fashion somewhat akin to dzogchen  for about the last ten years. So, apart from sitting with my eyes closed, the practice I have been doing for at least the latter half of my monastic life, since about 1987, has been close to the practice that Rinpoche has been guiding here. If I had eyebrows, I would raise them a little bit.
Fundamentally we all have the same teacher: the Dharma comes from the Buddha and is rooted in our own nature. So this convergence shouldn't be that surprising. In fact, I was telling Rinpoche that, particularly during the first few days here, listening to him was like listening to my own teacher, Ajahn Sumedho, with a weird robe on. Even down to the same phrases, let alone the same principles. Also, I must admit that the Tibetan teachings are much better on the fine anatomy of the details and particularities of View. Within the tradition that I come from, it is much more down to the eloquence and inspiration in the moment of that particular teacher. In other words, there is a lot of inconsistency in the ways that things are expressed. So I have learned a great deal from the very structured and well-patterned nature of the teachings that Rinpoche has been putting forth.
Rinpoche asked that I talk this evening about Ajahn Chah's view of the View. There are many similarities so I'll try to cover these as fully as possible, and also try to provide other angles or reflections from the Theravada tradition that have some bearing upon the same issues that we have been exploring.
“The faster you hurry, the slower you go…”
One very striking thing from the start of this retreat is how Rinpoche has been telling us (mostly the vipassana people  ), to stop meditating. He has been saying, "Stop, stop it! I can see you’re meditating aren't you? Stop it. Put it down." This is very similar in spirit to my experience with Ajahn Sumedho’s teachings.
When Ajahn Sumedho first started to offer this kind of teaching, to talk in this way, it would mostly be during the monastic retreat. Every winter we have a two- or three-month long retreat. For the first number of years, when the community was being established, he encouraged everyone to commit themselves to practice, to put a lot of energy forth. This spirit culminated in the winter retreat of 1986 when we were all getting up at 3:00 in the morning, staying up until the last sitting at 11:00 at night, while engaging in a full schedule all day, every day. It was a real “crack the whip, meditate or die” type of retreat — "knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out" Dharma. Some of the community were actually breaking the ice and diving at 3:00 in the morning into the swimming pool (now a fishpond) to freshen up for the first sitting of the morning. So there was that kind of a mood. I thought we were having a great time.
The next year Ajahn Sumedho was making noises before the winter retreat that he hadn't really liked the results of this approach. He thought that people were fixated on the meditation practice as an end in itself and that more was being seen as intrinsically better. I was listening to this and thinking, “Interesting, interesting, though of course he's not talking about me. Perish the thought.”
By this time I had begun to realize that I had become something of a fanatical monk. You might think this is an oxymoron but it is by no means impossible, I tell you. I mean fanatical in the sense that I was trying to do everything 120%. I would get up super-early in the morning and do all sorts of ascetic practices, all kinds of special pujas and suchlike things. I wasn't even lying down. I didn't lie down to sleep for about three years at this time. Finally I realized I had far too many things going.
I was chuckling to myself when Rinpoche was talking about being busy with the meditation. During that time, I realized my life was jammed full. I was so busy and fussy. I couldn't even eat; I couldn't even walk across the courtyard without it being a THING. Finally I realized, “Why am I doing this? This life is supposed to be lived for peace, for realization, for freedom, and my day is all clogged up.”
I should have got the clue during the previous winter retreat. I used to sit flat on the floor, the use of a zafu being a sign of weakness in my eyes. Well, one of the nuns was getting so fed up watching me fall asleep during every sitting that she came up to me and asked,
"Could I offer you a cushion, Ajahn?"
"Thank you very much, I don't need it."
She replied, "I think you do…."
I went to Ajahn Sumedho and said, "I've decided to give up all my ascetic practices. I'm just going to follow the ordinary routine and do everything absolutely normally." It was the first time I ever saw him get excited. "At last!" was his response. I thought he was going to say, "Oh well, if you must." But he was waiting for me to get the point that it wasn't the amount of stuff that you do, the hours that you put in on the cushion, the number of mantras that you recite, or how strictly you keep all the rules. It was then that I began to realize that there were a lot of things in his teaching about non-striving that he had been saying for many years.
It was about that time during the winter retreat that Ajahn Sumedho began to stress the awareness of what we call “the becoming tendency.” In Pali the word for this is bhava, and in the Tibetan tradition they seem to use the word in the same way. This word describes the desire to become something. You do this to get that. It’s that kind of busy-ness and doing-ness — taking hold of the method, the practices, the rules, and the mechanics of it. As Rinpoche was saying, "You need the manure and the water and the sunlight." It is as though the soil is full of manure and water but the seed is still in the bag in the potting shed. We've forgotten the seed. But if we are lugging the manure, we really feel like we are doing something. “I'm really working hard at my practice here.” Meanwhile there’s the teacher standing by the seed bag saying...[gestures as if pointing at a sack in the corner].
From that time on, Ajahn Sumedho began to emphasize the same principle: “Stop meditating.” Particularly at the beginning of the retreat, he would talk repeatedly about being enlightened, rather than becoming enlightened. “It is not about doing something now to become enlightened in the future. This is totally wrong. This kind of thinking is bound up with self and time. Be awake now; be enlightened to the present moment.” As Rinpoche has been imparting to us, it's not a matter of finding Rigpa  as an object, or doing something now to get Rigpa in the future, but actually being Rigpa. As soon as we start to say, "Hey, look, I got it" or "How can I extend this," or as soon as we start to do something with it, at that moment the mind has taken hold of that thought and has left Rigpa — unless that thought is witnessed as just another transparent formation within the space of Rigpa. So this teaching has had very strong echoes within me as well.
Ajahn Sumedho himself was not always so clear on this kind of point. He would often tell the story about his own obsessions with being a meditator. Ajahn Chah's method was to emphasize formal meditation practice to quite a great extent. But also he was extremely keen on not making the formal meditation distinct from the rest of life. He would talk about the maintenance of a continuity of practice whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down and whether one was doing formal practice, eating, using the restroom, or working. The point was always to sustain a continuity of Awareness. If our peace lies on the meditation mat, then when we leave the mat, we leave our peace behind.
Ajahn Chah was once given a piece of forested land on a hilltop in his home province. The very generous supporter who had donated it said to him, "If you can find a way to make a road up to the top of the mountain, then I will build the monastery up there for you." Always up for a challenge of this nature, Ajahn Chah spent a week or two on the mountain and found a pathway up. He then moved the entire monastic community out there to make the road.
Ajahn Sumedho was a newly-arrived monk. He had been there a year or two by this time and was a very serious meditator. He spent two or three days breaking rocks in the sun, shifting barrows of rubble around, and working with the rest of the community. He was getting hot, sweaty, and cranky. Everyone would sit down to meditate at the end of the day after a 12-hour shift and be reeling. He thought, "This is useless. My meditation has fallen apart completely. This is not helping the holy life at all."
He said to Ajahn Chah with great seriousness, "I'm finding that all the work we are doing is harmful to my meditation. I really think it would be much better for me if I didn't take part in it. I need just to sit in one of the huts and get on with my practice. That would be very helpful for me, and it’s what I think would be for the best."
Ajahn Chah said, "Okay Sumedho. Yes, you can do that. But I’d better inform the Sangha so that everyone knows what's happening." He was really wicked in this way.
They had a Sangha meeting, and he said, "I want to make an announcement to everybody. Now, I know that we have all come up here to make this road. And I know that we are all breaking rocks and carrying gravel. I know this is important work for us to do, but the work of meditation is also very important. Tan Sumedho has asked me if he can practice meditation while we build the road, and I have told him that this is absolutely all right. I do not want any of you to think any critical thoughts. It is absolutely all right. He can stay in his hut and meditate, and we'll all build the road."
Ajahn Chah himself was out there from dawn until dusk. When he wasn't working, he was receiving guests and teaching as well. So he was really cranking it out. Ajahn Sumedho then stayed in his hut for about two days. He felt pretty bad on the first day and even worse on the second day. By the third day, he couldn't stand it any longer. His feelings were so tortured. So he joined the rock-breakers, pitched himself into it, and really gave himself to the work.
Ajahn Chah, of course, looked on with a foot-wide grin, "You enjoying the work, Sumedho?"
"Yes, Luang Por.” 
"Isn't it strange that your mind is happier now in the heat and the dust than it was in the hut when you were meditating?"
"Yes, Luang Por.”
Ajahn Sumedho was creating a false division of what meditation is and isn't. But actually, if we give our hearts to whatever we are doing, without our personal agendas or our preferences taking over, then whether its pain, heat, dust, hard work or whether it is being alone on your mountain top, the space of Rigpa is the same.
The Buddha is Awareness
Ajahn Chah’s teachings also parallel the dzogchen teachings regarding the nature of the Buddha. When you come right down to it, Awareness is not a thing. Nevertheless, it can be said to be an attribute of the fundamental nature of mind. Ajahn Chah would refer to that Awareness, that knowing nature of mind, as Buddha. “This is the true Buddha, The One Who Knows [Poo Roo in Thai].” The customary way of talking about Awareness for both Ajahn Chah and other masters of the forest tradition would be to use the term Buddha in this way — the aware, awake quality of our own mind. This is the Buddha. He would say things like, “The Buddha who passed into Parinibbana 2,500 years ago is not the Buddha who is a refuge.” (He also liked to shock people.) They think they have a heretic in front of them. “How can that Buddha be a refuge? He is gone. Gone...really gone. That's no refuge. A refuge is a safe place. So how can this great being who lived 2,500 years ago provide safety? When you think about him, it makes you feel good? But this feeling on its own is not so secure....” A pleasant sentiment, an inspiring feeling is easily disturbed. When there is a resting in that Knowing, then nothing can touch the heart — this makes that Buddha, that Buddha Nature a refuge. It is invulnerable. What happens to the body, emotions, and perceptions is secondary because there is that Knowing. That Knowing is beyond the reach of the phenomenal world, so that is the true refuge. Whether we experience pleasure or pain, success or failure, praise or criticism, that Knowing, the awakened nature, the Knowing nature of the mind is utterly undisturbed, undisturbable, incorruptible. Like a mirror unembellished or untainted by the images it reflects, it cannot be touched by any sense perception, any thought, any emotion, any mood, any feeling. It’s of a transcendent order. Exactly as Rinpoche has been saying, “There is not one hair tip of involvement of the mind objects in Awareness, in the Nature of Mind itself.” That is why Awareness is a refuge; Awareness is the very heart of our nature.
“Has anybody seen my eyes?”
Another familiar theme of Ajahn Chah’s teaching is very similar to what Rinpoche has been talking about as the experience of looking for Rigpa with the conditioned mind — as it is also phrased in the verses of the Third Zen Patriarch: "To seek Mind with the discriminating mind is the greatest of all mistakes." Ajahn Chah would use the expression: “You are riding your horse to go and look for your horse.” We are riding along saying, "Has anyone seen my horse? Anyone see my horse?” Everyone is looking as us strangely, so we ride over to the next village, "Anyone seen my horse? Anyone seen my horse?"
Another example that Rinpoche was using concerned the elephant — following the elephant's footprints when the elephant is actually back at home in the stable. Ajahn Sumedho uses the image of the act of looking for our eyes: the very organ with which we see is doing the seeing, yet we go out searching, "Has anyone seen my eyes? I can't see my eyes anywhere. They must be around here somewhere but I can't find them."
We can't see our eyes, but we can see. This means that Awareness cannot be an object. But there can be Awareness. Within the tradition of the forest masters, and Ajahn Chah in particular, they would use this expression very often: being the Knowing. It is rather like being Rigpa. In that state, there is the mind knowing its own nature — Dharma knowing its own nature. That's all. As soon as we try to make an object of that, then a dualistic structure has been created, a subject here looking at an object there. There is resolution only when that duality is completely let go of, when we relinquish that “looking for” and the heart just abides in Knowing. But our habit is to think, "I'm just not looking hard enough. I haven't found it yet. My eyes must be here somewhere. After all, I can see. I need to try harder, then I would find them."
Have you ever been in one of those interviews where you go in to describe your meditation, what your practice has been like, and the teacher looks at you and says, "More effort is necessary." You think, “But I'm dancing as fast as I can!” It’s true that we need to put effort in, but we can do it in the wrong way. The type of effort we are exploring in this retreat refers explicitly to being more clear and doing less. This quality of relaxing is really crucial not only with the dzogchen teaching but also within my own experience of Theravadan monastic practice.
It’s an interesting and ironic point that this relaxation is necessarily built on top of a vast array of preparatory practices. Within the Tibetan ngondro training, one performs 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 visualizations, 100,000 mantras, and then years of study, keeping all the sila and so on. Similarly, within the Theravadan tradition, we have the sila: the practices of virtue for lay people, and for the monastic community there is the training in Vinaya discipline. We also do a lot of chanting and devotional practice, plus a huge amount of training in meditation practices such as mindfulness of breathing, vipassana, and so forth. Then there’s the practice of living in community. One of the elder monks once referred to communal monastic training as being the practice of 100,000 frustrations — we don't qualify until we've had our hundred thousandth. So there is an enormous amount of preparatory work that is required to make the relaxation effective.
In this way, I like to think of that relaxation as a type of overdrive. We use the fifth gear — the same speed but less revs. Until I told Ajahn Sumedho that I had given up my ascetic practices, I was in fourth gear and racing. There was always a pushing, a “take it to the limit” attitude. What was really revealing, particularly during that retreat in 1987, was that when I dropped back one notch and was not quite so fanatical about the rules and doing everything perfectly the whole time (the irony being that I was still fulfilling 99.9% of my spiritual duties and practices and all the things that I was used to doing) — that one little element of relaxation actually allowed the whole thing to be consummated. Simply because I stopped the stress, stopped pushing it. We can relax without switching off and consequently we can enjoy the fruits of the work that has been done. In many respects that is what we mean by letting go of becoming and learning just to be.
Another very important aspect of the View is its correspondence with the experience of cessation, nirodha. I would say the experience of Rigpa is synonymous with the experience of dukkha–nirodha, where suffering has ceased, where there is no experience of dukkha.
What happens, however, is that we are so used to letting go of things, we are so used to working with things, that when the mind becomes spacious and empty, we're quite lost. “Oh! What do I do now?” We are so used to doing something with the mind, that when it is suddenly — whoom — open, clear, spacious, we don't know how to leave that alone. Because our conditioning tells us, “I am supposed to be doing something. I am meditating. I am progressing on the Path.” When that space appears, we don't know what to do with it or we just overlook it. It is as if each of us were a thief who thinks, “Well, there is not much to take here so I should just keep going.” This is a very common experience: when we let go of something, dukkha ceases, but we ignore that fact and go looking for the next thing instead. We don't, as the expression goes, “taste the nectar,” the juice of Rigpa. We just zoom through the juice bar. We keep going because it looks like there is nothing here. It looks kind of boring: no lust or fear or other issues to deal with. We think, “I'll be being irresponsible if I'm not dealing with my issues. Quick, let’s go and find something to deal with.” Out of the best of intentions, we fail to taste the juice that’s right there. We just keep going to find some other work to do.
However, when grasping ceases, that is the experience of Ultimate Truth. When Ananda and another monk had been debating about the nature of the Deathless state, they decided to consult the Buddha. They prepared themselves for one of those long, expansive explanations to the question: "What is the nature of Deathlessness?" However, the Buddha simply said, "The cessation of grasping is Deathlessness." That's it. When the grasping stops, there is Rigpa, there is Deathlessness — the ending of suffering — dukkha-nirodha.
Ironically, right in the Four Noble Truths themselves, the Buddha’s very first teaching, he spoke directly to this problem. For each of the Four Truths, there is a way in which they are to be handled. The First Noble Truth, that of dukkha, dissatisfaction, “is to be apprehended.” We need to recognize, “This is dukkha. This is not Rigpa. This is ma-rigpa (un-awareness), and therefore unsatisfactory.”
The Second Noble Truth, the cause of dukkha, is self-centered desire, craving. It “is to be let go of, relinquished, abandoned.”
The Fourth Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path, “is to be cultivated and developed.”
But what is interesting, especially in this context, is that the Third Noble Truth, dukkha-nirodha, the ending of dukkha, “is to be realized.” So, when the dukkha stops, notice it. Notice: “Oh! Everything is suddenly okay.” That is when we go into overdrive.
“Ah hah” — tasting the nectar of Rigpa — “aaaah, this is all right.”
In a way we were correct with our first impression, because it is no-thing. It is not a thing. But that doesn't mean to say that there is nothing or no quality there. It is actually the experience of Ultimate Truth, if we allow the heart to fully taste it. So this is also an element of Dharma that is greatly stressed within the tradition I am familiar with — that conscious realization of the ending of dukkha, the conscious realizing of emptiness, the space of the mind.
Maybe the most significant of things that has come up during this week, and one of the points that Ajahn Chah liked to stress most strongly, is the question of “non-abiding.” Even during the brief time (two years) that I was in Thailand, Ajahn Chah spoke on this over and over again — and on the relationship between conventional and Ultimate Reality, and the establishment of Right View around that. The issue of non-abiding was something that he tried to convey as the essence of the Path, but it is a very subtle point.
Ajahn Chah gave a very significant teaching to Ajahn Sumedho on this point. During the summer of 1981, after Ajahn Sumedho had been in England for a couple of years, a letter arrived from Thailand. Ajahn Chah could write, but he hardly ever wrote anything, and he never wrote letters. It began, "Well, Ajahn Sumedho, you are not going to believe this but Luang Por wanted to write you a letter and asked me to take his dictation, so here we are."
Ajahn Chah said, "Whenever you have feelings of love or hate for anything whatsoever, these will be your aides and partners in building parami [the spiritual virtues]. The Buddha-dharma is not to be found in moving forwards or backwards, nor in standing still. This, Sumedho, is your place of non-abiding."
(It still gives me goose bumps).
His health collapsed a few weeks after he sent this, in September of 1981. He had a stroke and became unable to speak, walk, or move — it was his ‘final instructions’ to his disciple.
Ajahn Chah would use this kind of statement in exactly the same fashion that Rinpoche has been questioning people. It is a very good method: pressing people to see how they respond. Even when someone gets the “right” answer, that isn’t necessarily enough: "But that's what you said five minutes ago Rinpoche."
“So what? I want to know what you know, not just hear you repeat what I said.”
Ajahn Chah would often press people with this question: "If you can't go forwards, and you can't go backwards, and you can't stand still, where do you go?" He’d have this look like a cobra. Occasionally you'd get past that one: “Go to the side?”
“Nope, can't go to the side either.”
He would push you, and you would try to come up with different answers. The cleverer you got, the more he would make you squirm: “No, no, no, no, no!”
He would press it because as long as we are conceiving reality in terms of self and time, as a “me” who is some place and can go some other place, then we are not realizing that going forwards, going backwards, and standing still are all entirely dependent upon the relative truths of self and time. The only way out of the conundrum is to let go of self and to let go of time and, furthermore, to let go of place. In that abandonment of self, time, and space, all questions are resolved.
This principle is also contained within the ancient Theravada teachings. It isn't just Ajahn Chah's own insight or the legacy of some stray Nyingmapa lama who wandered over the mountains and fetched up in North-east Thailand a hundred years ago. Right in the Pali Canon the Buddha points directly to this.
In the Udana (the collection of ”Inspired Utterances” of the Buddha), he says:
There is that sphere of being where there is no earth, no water, no fire, nor wind; no experience of infinity of space, of infinity of consciousness, of no-thingness, or even of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; in that sphere there is neither this world nor another world, neither moon nor sun; this sphere of being I call neither a coming nor a going nor a staying still, neither a dying nor a reappearance; it has no basis, no evolution, and no support: it is the end of suffering. (Ud. 8.1)
Rigpa is the direct Knowing of this.
Similarly, when a wanderer named Bahiya stopped the Buddha on the street in Rajagaha, he said, "Venerable Sir, you are the Samana Gotama. Your Dharma is famous throughout the land. Please teach me that I may understand the Truth."
The Buddha replied, "We're on our alms-round, Bahiya. This is not the right time."
“Life is uncertain, Venerable Sir. We never know when we are going to die, please teach me the Dharma."
This dialogue repeats itself three times. Three times over the Buddha says the same thing, and Bahiya responds in the same way. Finally the Buddha says, "When a Tathagata is pressed three times then he has to answer. Listen carefully Bahiya and attend to what I say:
” In the seen there is only the seen,
in the heard, there is only the heard,
in the sensed there is only the sensed,
in the cognized there is only the cognized.
Thus you should see that
indeed there is no thing here;
this, Bahiya, is how you should train yourself.
Since, Bahiya, there is for you
in the seen, only the seen,
in the heard, only the heard,
in the sensed only the sensed,
in the cognized only the cognized,
and you see that there is no thing here,
you will therefore see that
indeed there is no thing there.
As you see that there is no thing there,
You will see that
you are therefore located neither in the world of this,
nor in the world of that,
nor in any place
betwixt the two.
This alone is the end of suffering.” (Ud. 1.10)
Upon hearing these words, Bahiya was immediately enlightened. Moments later, he was killed by a runaway cow. So he was right: life is uncertain. Later Bahiya was awarded the title of "The disciple who understood the teaching most quickly."
This principle of non-abiding is incredibly frustrating to the conceptual/thinking mind because the conceptual mind has built such an edifice of ”me” around here, around there, around the past, around present, around future, around you, and around this and that. It is tied up with the phenomenal, dualistic world. In order to discover the place of non?abiding, we have to see that identification. We have to see what's happening. Then we need to find the way to let go. The first part — seeing the identification — is mainly what we need to do. We don't realize that we are identified. It seems the most normal thing. “I am Joe Schmoe — I was born in this place. This is my age, and this is who I am.” It seems so reasonable. But when we identify with that, there is no freedom. When we believe these attributes to be an absolute truth, then there is no freedom. It is a matter of recognizing how absolutely we take this identity to be true and real. It’s like tasting the sense of self and feeling how gritty that is and how real it seems to be. In recognizing the feeling of it, we are able to know, “This is just a feeling.” The feelings of ”I-ness” and ”my-ness”(ahamkara and mamamkara in Pali) are as transparent as any other feelings.
Not made of that
In the Theravada tradition, we're very familiar with the three characteristics of existence — anicca, dukkha, anatta (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, selflessness). These are the ”chapter one, page one” Buddhism. But the Theravadans also talk about another three characteristics of existence, at a more refined level: suññata, tathata, and atammayata. Suññata is emptiness, which is talked about a lot. That expression, suññata, derives from saying “NO” to the phenomenal world. It’s like saying, "I'm not going to believe in this. This is not entirely real." Tathata means suchness. It has a very similar quality to suññata but derives from a “YES.” There is nothing, yet there is something. The quality of suchness is like the texture of Ultimate Reality. Suññata and tathata — emptiness and suchness — the Teachings talk in those ways. But this other quality, atammayata, is little known.
In Theravada, atammayata has been referred to as the ultimate concept. It literally means ”not made of that” but it can be rendered in many different ways, giving it a variety of subtle shades of meaning. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bhikkhu Ñanamoli (in their translation of the MAJJHIMA NIKAYA) render it as ”non-identification” — picking up on the ”subject” side of the equation. Others have translated it as “non-fashioning” or “unconcoctability” — thus hinting more at the ”object” element of it. Either way, it refers primarily to the quality of Awareness prior to, or without, a subject/object duality.
The origins of this term seem to lie in a theory of sense perception of ancient India, in which the grasping hand supplies the dominant analogy. The hand takes the shape of what it apprehends. The process of vision is explained as the eye sending out some kind of ray which then takes the shape of what we see and comes back with it. Similarly with thought: mental energy conforms to its object (e.g. a thought) and then returns to the subject. This idea is encapsulated in the term tan-mayata, “consisting of that:” the mental energy of the experiencer becoming consubstantial with the thing being realized.
The opposite quality, atammayata, refers to a state where the mind’s energy does not ”go out” to the object and occupy it. It neither makes an objective ”thing” or a subjective ”observer” knowing it. Hence ”non-identification” refers to the subjective aspect, and ”non-fabrication” to the objective.
The way emptiness has been talked about during this retreat has made it very clear that this is a characteristic of Ultimate Reality. But also, when we talk about emptiness or about suchness, in that usage of those words there can still be a sense of an agent (a subject) which is a this looking at a that and the that is empty. Or the that is such, thus. What the word atammayata is attempting to convey is an ending of ”that-ness” — a complete abandonment of the idea that there can be anything other than Mind Essence. Atammayata is the realization that, in truth, there cannot be anything other than Ultimate Reality. There is no that. In letting go of that, then the whole relative, subject/object world, even at its subtlest level is dissolved. It is broken apart.
I particularly like this word because of the message it conveys. It may seem very obscure, but sometimes the most abstruse and subtle tools can bring about the most radical changes of heart. Among its other qualities, this concept deeply addresses that sense of always wondering: “What is that over there?” That hint that something over there might be a little more interesting, a little bit more real than what is here. Even the subtlest sense of overlooking this to get to that, not being content with this and wanting to become that, is an error. Atammayata is that quality in us which knows, "There is no that. There is only this." Thereby even ”this-ness” becomes meaningless. Atammayata helps us to break the subtlest habits of restlessness as well as stilling the reverberations of the root duality of subject and object. That abandonment brings the heart to a realization of a complete spaciousness and fulfillment, a wholeness. The apparent dualities of this and that, subject and object, are known as essentially meaningless.
One way that we can use this on a practical level is a technique that Ajahn Sumedho has often suggested: thinking the mind is in the body, we say, "my mind” [points at his head] or “my mind” [points at his chest], right? “It's all in my mind." Actually we've got it the wrong way round because our body is in our mind, right? What do we know about our body? We can see it. We can hear it. We can smell it. We can touch it.
Where does sight happen? Where does seeing happen? In the mind. Where does touch happen? Where do we experience touch? In our mind. Where do we experience smelling? Where does that happen? In the mind.
Everything that we know about our body, now and at any time in our life, has all been known through the agency of our mind. We have never known anything about our body except through our mind. So our entire life, ever since we were an infant or before, everything we have ever known about our body and the world has happened in our mind. So, where is our body?
It doesn't mean to say there isn't a world, but what we can say is that the experience of the body, the experience of the world, happens within our mind. It doesn't happen anywhere else. It’s all happening here. In that here-ness, the world’s externality, its separateness has ceased.
We may also use the word cessation, nirodha here. Along with its more familiar rendition, the word also means ”to hold in check,” so it can mean that the separateness has ceased. When we realize that we hold the whole world within us, its otherness has been checked, has ended. We are thus better able to recognize its true nature.
This is an interesting little meditation tool that we can use anytime. It is a very useful device because it is true. Whenever we apply it, it flips the world inside out because we are able to see that this body is a set of perceptions. The world is a set of perceptions. It doesn't negate our functioning freely within it, but it puts it all into context: “It's all happening within the space of Rigpa. It's all happening within the space of the Knowing mind.” In holding it in this way, we suddenly find our body, the mind, and the world all arrive at a resolution — a strange realization of perfection. It all happens here.
One of the other methods that Ajahn Chah would use for himself in sustaining the View, Right View, would be reflective inquiry. He would depict it almost as if he were having a dialogue with himself. Reflective inquiry is the deliberate use of verbal thought to investigate the Teachings, as well as particular attachments, fears, hopes, and especially the feeling of identification itself.
We should not overlook the use of conceptual thought. Oftentimes thinking gets painted as the big villain in meditation circles: “Yeah, my mind.…If only I could stop thinking, I’d be happy.” But actually, the thinking mind can be the most wonderful of helpers when it is used in the right way, particularly when investigating the feeling of selfhood. We can use reflective inquiry. When we are experiencing, seeing, or doing something, ask a question like: "What is it that’s aware of this feeling?" "Who owns this moment?" "What is it that knows Rigpa?" However we want to phrase it.
The deliberate use of reflective thought or inquiry in this way, when picked up and then focused, can reveal a set of assumptions, habits, and compulsions that we have set in motion but have remained unconscious of. This can be very helpful and can yield great insight. So, some of you might find this kind of inquiry a useful method.
What we find is that, regardless of whether it is a pleasant or a painful experience, whether profane or sublime, or whatever, when we ask, "What is it that knows this? What is aware of this moment? Who is it that feels pain? Who is it that is having this fantasy? Who is it that is wondering about supper?" — then, at that moment, a gap opens up. Rinpoche quoted Milarepa as saying (roughly), “When the flow of discursive thinking is broken, the doorway to liberation opens up.” In exactly the same way, when we pose that kind of question, it is like an awl being worked into a knotted tangle of identification and prying open a gap. It breaks the habit, the pattern of discursive thinking. When we ask “who?” or “what?” then for a moment the thinking mind trips over its own feet. It fumbles. In that space, before it can piece together an identity or an answer, there is timeless peace and freedom. Through that peaceful space, the innate quality of mind, Mind Essence, can appear.
Fear of freedom
The last thing that I thought I might bring up concerns the realization of emptiness, selflessness, and the blissful quality that can happen when the heart lets go of the sense of ”I.” It is true that the Buddha said that the letting go of the sense of ”I” is the supreme happiness (e.g. at Ud. 2.1 & 4.1). But over the years we have become very fond of this character, haven't we? It is like an old friend. It can be a pain in the neck, like most old friends, but it is so familiar to us. As Ajahn Chah once said, "It is like having a dear friend whom you’ve known your whole life, who you’ve done everything together with all these years, then the Buddha comes along and says that you and your friend have got to break up." There’s some heartbreak there.
So sometimes what happens when we let go of that sense of self, is that we experience freedom — there is freedom and peace or bliss — and to the heart itself there is delight, but the ego is suffering bereavement. To the sense of self, there is loss. There is a feeling of diminution, lack.
What can easily happen then is that we experience space and openness and deeply enjoy that for a moment, then comes the desperation. The ego habits kick in and want to engage with something because to the ego, undefined being is death. To the sense of self, ”being,” is always defined in terms of being some thing. But the practice and teachings point out very clearly that what we're talking about here is undefined being. An Awareness: edgeless, colorless, infinite, omnipresent — you name it. It is Knowing, period. To the ego, when being is undefined in this way, it seems like death. And death is the worst thing. The egoic habits will kick in and search for something to fill up that space. Anything will do: “Quick, give me a problem, a meditation practice — that’s legal! — or some kind of memory, a hope, a responsibility I haven't fulfilled yet.…Something to feel guilty about. Anything.”
Certainly for myself, I have experienced this many times. In that spaciousness, it is like having a hungry dog at the door, trying this door, that door, the window: “C’mon, lemme in, lemme in.” The hungry dog wants to know, ”When is that guy gonna pay attention to me? He's been sitting there for hours like some goddamn Buddha. Doesn't he know I'm hungry out here? Doesn't he know it’s cold and wet? Doesn't he care about me!?”
“All sankharas are impermanent. All dharmas are such and empty. There is no other.…” [makes forlorn, hungry dog noises].
These experiences have been some of the most telling points of my own spiritual practice, and explorations — where there is such a rabid, hungering to be. I am sure you have experienced this. Anything will do — anything in order just to be something: a failure, a success, a messiah, a blight upon the world, a mass murderer. “Just let me be something, please, God, Buddha, anybody.”
To which Buddha wisdom just responds, “No.”
It takes incredible resources and strength to be able to say “No” because the pleading of the egoic habits becomes phenomenally intense, visceral. We can find the body actually shaking and our legs twitching to run: “Get me out of this place.” Our feet start moving to get to the door because that urge is so strong.
What we are doing at this point is getting right at the root of being. We are pointing the light of wisdom right at the very root of separate existence. That root is a tough one. It takes a lot of work to get to that and to cut through it. So we should expect a great deal of friction and difficulty in engaging in this kind of work. That kind of hankering does arise. Don't be intimidated by it.
In leaving that urge alone, there is a kind of grief, a feeling of bereavement. There’s a little being that just died there. The heart feels a wave of loss. Stay with that and let it pass through. The feeling that “Something is going to be lost if I don’t follow this urge” is the message of desire. Whether it’s a subtle little flicker of restlessness, or it’s a grand declaration, “I am going to be deeply diminished if I don’t follow this!” — that’s the message.
There is a wonderful line in a poem by Rumi where he says, “When were you ever made less by dying?”  Let that surge of the ego be born, and let it die. Lo and behold, not only is the heart not diminished, if we rouse the strength to let go of that, the heart is actually more radiant and alive than ever before. There’s a spaciousness, a contentment, an ease that is not attainable through grasping or identifying with any attribute of life whatsoever.
No matter how realistic, no matter how genuine the problems, the responsibilities, the passions, the experiences seem to be, we don't have to be that. There is no identity that we have to be. Nothing whatsoever should be grasped at.
The words of a Vajra Song of the First Tsoknyi Rinpoche:
Don’t wander, don’t wander, place mindfulness on guard;
Along the road of distraction, Mara lies in ambush.
Mara is the mind, clinging to like and dislike,
So look into the essence of this magic, free from dualistic fixation.
Realize that your mind is unfabricated alpha purity;
There is no buddha elsewhere, look at your own face;
There is nothing else to search for, rest in your own place;
Non-meditation is spontaneous perfection so capture the royal seat. 
These lines remind me of one last story about Ajahn Chah. Through the early years of his life as a monk with Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho was full of inspiration and could find no flaw in his teacher. As time went by and the glamour wore off somewhat, more and more cracks started to be seen in Ajahn Chah’s perfection. After some time Ajahn Sumedho could not hold back any longer and decided to broach these criticisms with the Master. Even though such face-to-face criticism is much avoided in Thai society, Ajahn Sumedho was an all-American boy and decided to talk straight.
He went to Ajahn Chah and asked permission to recount his grievances, to which Ajahn Chah listened carefully and receptively. When Ajahn Sumedho reached the end of his litany of complaints, Ajahn Chah paused for a few moments and then said:
Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m not perfect, Sumedho, otherwise you might be looking for the Buddha somewhere outside your own mind.
 Dzogchen is Tibetan for “great perfection,” its equivalent in Sanskrit is “maha-ati” which can also be translated as “great peak” or “summit.”
 Nearly two-thirds of the retreat participants were long-term practitioners of vipassana meditation.
 Rigpa is Tibetan for “non-dual awareness” also known as “the View.” Its equivalent in Sanskrit is “jñana,” and in Pali, “ñana” (“transcendent knowing” or “knowledge”).
 Luang Por means “Venerable Father” in Thai.
 Translated by Jonathan Star.
 Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang and Tony Duff, reproduced with the permission of Tsoknyi Rinpoche III.