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January 22, 2024


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The question arises:

Is it possible to live without attributing meaning and value to what has no value and meaning of itself?

Is all attribution of meaning and value not part of an narrative?

Is declaring a narrative false, not an narrative in itself by which to live?

Is it possible to live without attributing meaning and value to what has no value and meaning of itself?

This is from Toliffson’s ‘OUTPOURINGS’: - an Interview with Amigo 2004: -
“Many people (in the movie of spiritual life) are waiting for an event - some explosive moment after which everything will be entirely different. But no event or experience is permanent. The whole phenomenal display is an ever-changing appearance with no solidity or substance.
What IS cannot be 'achieved' or 'realized' or 'practiced' or 'embodied' or anything else. There's nothing apart from it to realize or achieve it, and there is nothing that does not perfectly embody it. Every experience is equally sacred, equally true. Reality is what is, just as it is.
The whole search is a dream-play. It has no significance, no meaning, no purpose. That's the beauty of it. It's a momentary appearance, like the clouds, the trees, the shows on television, the beautiful sun-set, the dried leaves blowing down the street...”

Even when one is waiting (or has had) what Toliffson describes as ‘an event – some explosive moment’, even that is happening in the ‘here/now’ – it cannot be otherwise. Some of these event moments can be wonderful, even life-changing but alongside any experience is still this moment.
And yes, all there ever is, is the present moment happenings; until that is, thought steps in and weaves a story around them inviting (even insisting), that such thoughts describes the real world – and we’re caught on the merry-go-round again.

"Trying to be in any particular experiential state "all the time" is suffering. It doesn't work."

True, but as an indictment of religion it's at best only half right.

T's approach is something like saying "My teeth feel fine right now, so what's the point of brushing, flossing, or going to the dentist."

The polar opposite of that view might be "If I brush my teeth 2.5 hours a day, someday I'll have total positive teeth karma, and the Tooth Fairy will take me to Sahasra Dental Kanwhal."

I think the practical answer is somewhere in the middle. Religious practice of some kind is useful for managing one's mind and life. *

* That includes hard determinist approaches to deal with one's thoughts and emotions. In my book that too is a kind of religion.

Interesting post. Wise, ...I think?

Had just penned a comment, but then ended up deleting it. I think I'll try to digest this a bit more. Return to it later in the day.

Does anyone really understand what she's saying, exactly, in this excerpt? If yes, then I'd appreciate it if you would rephrase that briefly, simply and in your words.


What I (tentatively) think she's saying is: "Vipassana-style understanding of the ...flimsiness of thoughts, on an ongoing basis, leads to direct understanding of the fact that there's no self, and that is the end to spiritual seeking."

Is that about right? Or is she, in substance, saying something more than that, and beyond that?

Appreciative Reader, you've got it about right, though Tollifson is a bit more subtle and far-reaching. In a chapter I read today, she says about the pathless path: "Ultimately, it is about seeing that there is no 'self' here who is separate from the rest of the universe."

The implication of that is, as she says a few pages earlier: "You are not deliberately choosing to be the way you are in this moment and neither is anyone else. Everything happens by itself. You may begin to see that your thoughts are like secretions of the brain that arise unbidden, and that your impulses, urges and actions come out of life itself."

With that understanding comes an acceptance of all aspects of life necessarily being exactly how they actually are: "You may find that there is room in this vastness for the apparent defects and imperfections of life to be exactly as they are."

Compassion arises: "When we realize that we contain the whole universe, that we have the seeds of both Buddha and Hitler within us, that we are the whole show, then we begin to have a natural compassion for everyone and everything being exactly the way it is."

Change naturally happens, so this viewpoint doesn't imply passivity: "And yet, if we are hurting ourselves and others, there is a natural desire to find a way to stop. This desire is the movement of life itself... no one is in control of what remedies we are moved to try and what outcomes they seem to bring about. When we see how choiceless it all is, there is compassion for ourselves and others when it doesn't all go the way we think it should."

"When we realize that we contain the whole universe, that we have the seeds of both Buddha and Hitler within us, that we are the whole show, then we begin to have a natural compassion for everyone and everything being exactly the way it is."

How do we realize we "contain the whole universe"?

How do we realize we are the Buddha?

How do we realize we "have the seeds" (?) of Hitler?

This and all the rest of what she wrote is a philosophy of extreme idealism. Which can be comforting in a way, but it's blatantly contradictory.

If we can't escape the perception that we're making conscious moral choices -- and we can't -- then T''s philosophy is fairy dust. Better to take the Dalai Lama's words on the value of compassion without this fatalistic goo about how we're both Hitler and Buddha.

But we can't and don't and won't and never will live life that way. That makes it a meaningless and impractical philosophy.

Brian, thanks for that confirmation, and those further excerpts. That finally ties everything in place.

Absolutely, that’s …very wise. Probably the last word in spirituality, even.


Some observations. (I’m breaking them up, to help me think through this clearly.)

1. That’s the message the Buddha himself taught. Like exactly.

2. Without a doubt, the understanding she’s referring to is experiential, not intellectual. That’s exactly what’s taught in Theravada, that’s the “realization” of Vipassana. As taught in that tradition, and as discussed by Tollifson as well, it’s not intellectualization internalized, but realization directly “seen”, experienced.

3. Given #2, definitely I’m not there yet. As far as Tollifson herself, I don’t know if she’s speaking simply of what she’s understood the teachings to be saying, or if she speaks of her own direct first-hand experience. Those words don’t make that clear. If elsewhere she’s spelled this out, then maybe you could point that out.

4. Given #2, what she’s teaching (which is what the Buddha himself taught) is kind of an extravagant claim. I mean the claim that one can actually see through the thoughts and directly apprehend that they’re just there, our thoughts, devoid of self.

5. I suppose one can reject that claim pending objective evidence in science. (Evidence not that there's no self, but evidence that one can apprehend directly whether or not one has a self, evidence that the final realizations claimed in Theravada are based in fact.) Or one can provisionally take it as an aspirational thing. Speaking for myself, I (continue to) choose the latter. With emphasis on the “provisionally”.

6. Just because the Buddha taught direct experiential understanding, and just because Tollifson also “teaches” it, doesn’t mean that’s the only way to go. I believe the particular urgency in the Buddha’s message owed to a belief in rebirth, which is something I suppose everyone took as a given in that time and place. Today we know we die when we die, regardless of whether, during our life, we’ve managed to directly apprehend no-self. So that if we rest content with merely an intellectual understanding of this idea, then, even though it won’t free us from the existential suffering of life quite as thoroughly as direct experiential realization would, but nevertheless this quasi-Buddhistic intellectual solution to the problem of life may be good enough for most of us. We needn’t necessarily put in the time and energy and effort that is usually necessary to arrive at that experiential realization. (Although like I said, and speaking for myself, I choose to continue to invest that effort, for now at any rate.)


Thanks again, Brian, first for presenting us with Tollifson’s work, and also for helping us (or helping me, at any rate) to arrive at the crux, the essence, of her overall message.

(Basis what I’ve said here in this comment, if you think I’ve got any of this wrong, or if you find yourself disagreeing with how I’m seeing all of this, then do please let me know!)

Interesting posts Brian and Georg thanks for sharing your experiences.
Given Brian has spent quite a lot of previous time positing that there is no free-will and there is no such thing as an enduring self I want to revisit the question I raised in a recent previous post. It’s been prompted by Jim’s (hi there Jim) recent re-sharing of his Sant Mat experiences.
Clearly Brian’s current take on things is captured in the writings of Joan Tollifson: there is no ‘self’; if there really isn’t a self then there can’t really be any free will as someone needs to think they have it. Reality is what’s happening in the present moment and is free from thinking that needs to grasp/capture/label it..
As Joan T writes:
“But what we know beyond doubt is not actually any kind of mental formulation such as “no self, no free will” - it is something much less tangible. That experiential absence of a chooser or a thinker, that undivided boundlessness that was revealed, that is not something that we can grasp in the same way that we can grasp our coffee cup. That boundlessness is not an object” (source - Beyond Belief in Joan T’s Outpourings).
So my point (and pardon my ignorance, and/or am I missing something?) is that this take on reality syncs much more with my own current view of things as it seems SO MUCH SIMPLER than what’s said in the likes of Sant Mat. And yet Jim is here sharing his own experience of seeing the Master’s radiant form and being totally convinced it (RSSB) is the real deal.It’s my view that if there is ‘someone’ having an experience of sound and light then this is like an aspect of consciousness interacting with itself and is essentially a dualism. Non-duality as per Tollifson does not have this state of separation and as she says in the current post from Brian - thoughts become ‘transparent’ enough for one to realise the unicity underpinning them. Here the thinker/chooser/experiencer is recognised/seen through as thought and the identifying is dropped.
Surely this is ‘dying while living?’ How does opening the ‘third eye’ relate to Tollifson’s boundlessness? Is this all part of the same game (both Sant Mat and Here/now/awareness/ presence) or as I said previously are we looking at two quite different approaches possibly with different ends? One non-dual, the other about ‘devotional separation?’(if the lover was not separated there could be no pining and btw this is not about Norwegian parrots).
So are the two ultimately about the same thing? I’m beginning to think they’re not. Does it matter?
What do you guys reckon?

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