What leads one to the realization that there is truly only one sense, not the five as we normally understand our experiences: hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell?

One way that this realization arises is out of the process of “turning one’s hearing around,” which is both a deconstruction of the subtle structuring of experience that is normally overlooked, and ultimately a direct meditative experience (imperience).

Even though we may intellectually understand the ‘emptiness’ of thoughts and other sense perceptions — that they arise without any intrinsic self-reality or necessarily true reference to any actual thing, person, or event — and although we may also have direct non-conceptual states of meditative absorption, what is still present is the perspective inherent in experience, even if there is no hypostatized, or actual, observer or knower involved. This is the normal perspective that we all have, because it is our familiar way of experiencing things, which I have spoken of at length in this book.

So, in hearing something that is arising impersonally, we still understand it to be “heard,” even if we know that it is not heard in a dualistic sense. But instead of taking that perspective, turn it around: “you,” which is that perspective even when it is stripped of all the concretions of ego and identity, is still a false structure. “You” are confusing, through a subtle structuring of direct experience, what is actually happening. “You” are doing this because you understand hearing to be structured as a perception, therefore encompassing something external that is perceived and the perception of it.

But sound — properly understood — is a mental phenomena called a perception; however, rather than being caused by external conditions, this mental phenomena arises in response to the physical motions of the ear caused by externally-arising vibrations, nerve impulses and neural activity in the brain that are the perceptual correlates of the activation of the hearing faculty that encompasses the ears and brain, and the nervous system connections between them.

Sound, then, is a manifesting phenomenon that is empty of any intrinsic self-nature — like everything that manifests is. You neither create it, nor hear it in a dualistic sense.

Instead, sound is experienced because all that manifesting activity is the process of knowing. This knowing is not self-centered as personal knowledge, nor is it ‘facts’ or conceptual ideas, as those come later in the process. Instead, sound is recognized immediately as it informs— in other words, sound is not mediated by anything, but is recognized as it manifests as the perceptual correlates of the activation of the hearing faculty.

All the problems of shared knowledge are absent in this paradigm of Responsive Naturing, because there is no person; but a perspective still exists because that occurs at the level of experience. Or to put it more accurately, experience is always perspectival. By default — absent significant mind-training — what is experienced is limited to one’s sæculum; but even with significant mind-training, a subtle perspective still structures one’s experience in such a way that we become confused by it.

This is the reason that we fall so easily into a dualistic understanding of reality — and why it is so hard to climb out of that understanding. It is only when we ‘break the mirror’ of the abstraction we call ‘awareness’ that we are truly free of this subtle perspective.

But which way, truly, should the perspective be pointing? From an illusory “you” that, lacking an intrinsic self-nature, isn’t real at all, toward a “sound” that is just as illusory? Or should that perspective be immanent within the activity of informing the manifestation?

That former perspective is our normal perspective. When we realize that there is no ‘me’ ‘here’ we easily forget to realign our more fundamental understanding of how perceiving and experiencing work, leaving this subtle error to trip us up, and leading to a proliferation of identified types of perceptions and senses.

Once you have the insight that there has been that subtle misunderstanding of the experience of hearing sound, every time you experience sound, you can note the error and correct yourself to understand ‘sound’ as just a mental phenomenon arising in mind, and by that I mean being selflessly natured in response to the activation of the hearing faculty. Done with some dedication, suddenly you will experience it directly, without effort, because that is how it truly is. This is called ‘turning one’s hearing around’.

And once you have this direct experience you will understand that all of the senses are like this, and they will all collapse into the only sense there truly is — responsive naturing, which is the process of knowing. It’s easiest to do this with hearing “unstruck sound,” because the overpowering attraction of a source, like a tree falling in a forest, is absent with “unstruck sound” which has no source in what is manifested. That is, it is unconditioned.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།

Question: It is difficult to comprehend that sound isn’t dependent on a source. How can this be?

Answer: There are two ways that the mental phenomenon of sound can arise: as sympathetic resonances in the mind based upon manifest conditions, which is what I just described above, and as autogenous resonances in the mind, which are what I call inner spontaneous sound. The same applies to the ‘other’ senses as well. For example, there is vision based upon manifest conditions — that which we normally construe as vision, and there is autogenous vision that is used in advanced meditation techniques and which are also called ‘spiritual visions’.

I use the word “resonance” so as not to confuse what I am speaking of with normal “sounds” that we understand we hear in a dualistic sense. But note that the word “autogenous” is being used, not because its meaning is accurate, but because, properly understood, it’s meaning can be clearly intuited. Once one clarifies their understanding, the “auto-“ prefix is seen not as indicating a relation to an entity, but to the “essence of self-less naturing,” i.e., “emptiness.”

Since there aren’t any intrinsic self-natures, everything that arises does so spontaneously and uncaused — yet they are constrained by conditions and possibilities. I experience a self-less naturing, and mindfully do not infer a cause or source of that naturing as most do, because that is intellect trying to impose rational dualistic order on our understanding. Thus, for me, there is nothing to be understood apart from this naturing, and that necessarily includes the understanding that there is no entity such as a “nature” that is naturing.

In all cases, this naturing is the event-horizon between the intelligible — all that we experience, and which can be puzzled out, to make sense of — and that which is beyond the intelligible. And of what is beyond the intelligible, there is nothing that can truthfully be said, although interpretive explanations abound in religious and spiritual traditions. But the fact that the naturing itself, as well as what is natured, is intelligible, at least in some respects, provides a hook into a more subtle understanding. By this I mean, for example, that we can note that what manifests is coherent — things go together and endure in some way over time — so we can say something like: “this naturing, while spontaneous and uncaused, is conditioned by what has already manifested.”

First, this naturing is viscerally known. It’s not a knowing of something, and it’s not a knowing by someone, it’s just an awake/aware naturing, so while ultimately empty of selfhood, it is also ultimately pregnant with the possibility of visceral presence. If this was not the case, then nothing would or could be known, given that what manifests has no intrinsic self-nature, and reality is an “inside” without an “outside,” so there are no other forces, causes, actors, etc. at play here.

But in our experience, it is noted that what arises is somehow coherent with what is already the case. At least, that is how intellect orders experience. I understand our idea of “time” to be just such an ordering placed upon what appears in the eternal (i.e. timeless) Now, in which there is no time, so no past, no future, no present — only presence.

I have noted that the coherence is not the result of causality, but of conditioned freedom, thus, what arises is coherent with the range of possibility opened up by what is manifest Now, but it is not caused directly by it — how could that be, since there is no “it” and no separation, nor “self-causality,” and thus without such bounds, there can be surprise, novelty, range, synchronicities, and awesome serendipity, etc.

So, “sound,” properly speaking, arises only in the naturing (called “mind” within spiritual traditions) based upon manifest conditions. Sound is thought of as a kind of vibration, but the time and space that vibration requires are also impositions of order by intellect upon this naturing — they are our way of conceptually explaining experience, ordering it, and showing where we have cut things up with our distinguishing thoughts.

What we are trying to do with such orderings is explain what is beyond the event horizon of self-less naturing. But given that we cannot truly succeed, what would happen if we just step back and don’t impose an intellectual order? What, then, would sound be? It can only be the visceral (known) presencing of this self-less naturing, and specifically one kind of presencing that our intellect distinguishes from all other kinds (the concept of “kinds” itself shows this to be the result of intellection). Vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell, and thinking are all just subtle structures of distinctions that intellect imposes on self-less naturing. And light, sound, tastes, kinds of physical touching, and smells, as well as thoughts, are all just distinctions that the ordering intellect imposes upon what selfless naturing is manifesting, in this case pointing to the content of the distinguished experiences.

Thus, what is manifest is intelligible in this way. We can, through habit of thought, whether self-developed or learned, make all these distinctions and order all the conditions and coherency in such a way that we build this whole edifice of a world of separate things somehow interacting together through causal relations. And we do this without intent, thoughtlessly! These habits are the very structuring that we have become so accustomed to, and which lead us astray.

But there are manifestations for which there are no conditions, such as a source for a particular kind of sound that we can experience. We can distinguish these sounds into kinds, but cannot relate them to any conditions that, such as a tree falling, open the possibility of these sounds arising, so they can be called “unconditioned,” or “unstruck”. And in our normal, sleepy way of being, we don’t even notice them, but in deep meditation we can. And when experienced in meditation, they are called “nimittas,” or “meditation signs,” also “siddhis,” and “charismata,” among other names.

When they are experienced, and clearly so as unconditioned sound, they can be referred to as the “resonances of selfless naturing” as well as all the other names from different traditions that I gave earlier. I call them “autogenous resonances.”

We tend to screen these out of our awareness (i.e. we do not turn our attention to them even when they become apparent), or we immediately think, upon hearing them, that we are ill and run to a doctor for drugs or therapy to make them go away. But being that they are unconditioned, there is no intelligible link between them and current conditions in or around us, and so the intellect can’t jump in and say “over there, over there! that’s where they are coming from” thus imposing a subtle conceptual structuring, and even a dualistic perspective, on what we are experiencing. Thus these are the easiest way to see through the dichotomization of our experiences into kinds of phenomena perceived by kinds of senses, collapsing it all into just self-less naturing, which we habitually call “mind.”

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།

Question: What is this word, “conditioned,” referring to? Does this refer to deterministic causality that is a central tenet of modern Science? If not, doesn’t this go against what Buddha taught: that all that arises does so contingently, which is referred to as “dependent origination” in Buddhism?

Answer: No, this doesn’t go against what Buddha taught. It’s comes out of a subtle point about the truth of Dependent Origination — which is that while what arises originates in dependence upon conditions, this truth is not itself dependent upon anything. Dependent Origination holds independent of conditions — there is no contingency upon which it is or is not the case that all that arises does so in dependence upon conditions. I refer to this in my own systematic understanding as Coherent Continuity: that which arise does so in a manner in which what is currently actual continues to manifest according to its ontogenetic potential.

And what I am saying reflects a more wholistic understanding than Dependent Origination when it is emphasized out of the context of Emptiness. Dependent Origination and Emptiness are not two truths, they are two perspectives upon nondual reality. On its own, Dependent Origination could be just a codification of the conceptual idea of Deterministic Causality, and that is how it is often misunderstood, given the tendency to speak about “causes and conditions” as if they are they same thing.

What I am speaking of as non-conditioned is useful for seeing that sound arises solely as mental phenomena, and this insight originates as an imperience attained during a state of meditative absorption, and is not the result of speculative intellection. I am presenting this explanation to overcome the absence of a direct experience of it, pointing others to the possibility of using unconditioned sound as a meditation support, and its superiority as a support.

So, what is non-conditioned is the naturing itself… this processual unfolding is unborn, timeless, and unending. There is no condition that allows it to be, or not be. What is conditioned is the contingent arising of the coherent continuation of manifestation, which is called Dependent Origination in the context of two or more entangled things, but which is more properly seen as coherency.

That which is unconditioned can also be found in the spontaneous freedom of naturing — because conditions don’t cause anything to arise, they are merely the condition of the possibilities present in each context (dependent origin), so that what arises is not specifically caused, because the naturing is not conditional; but is dependent upon the conditions that made it possible for the particular possibilities to arise.

Thus, the unconditioned sounds that I speak of arise as the resonance of this naturing in the same fashion as the universal ether, the Akasha, is conventionally understood to be both the medium for vibrational movement (sound), as well as, more subtly, nothing other than the vibrational movement. Thus, self-less naturing — “dharmata” in Buddhism — can be directly experienced as a resonance that is unconditioned. This unconditioned resonance is the naturing of what manifests, thus we can turn towards the naturing in its bare essence as resonance empty of a causes and conditions — the non-conceptual emptiness of all that manifests — or toward the formal, structured experience of all that manifests. This is inner spontaneous sounds’ importance as a meditational support, and the origin of its power to heal and transform.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
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