Peter Fenner Coaching Fri, 13 Nov 2015 02:06:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Will this practice make me happier? Thu, 16 Jan 2014 10:45:17 +0000 A question that is very often posed to me is, “How will doing your practice change me?” “Will I be more effective?” “Will I suffer less?” People would love to hear that their lives will be richer, more harmonious, and that they will be better able to deal with challenging situations. It’s tempting for people to project that such changes will happen. People in Radiant Mind and similar programs often offer personal accounts about how they feel more peace and openness through engaging in the nondual perspective. They report how their relationships and communications improve, and their fears and anxiety decrease. This is really beautiful.

However, the truth is that from a nondual perspective, we can’t promise anything. There are two reasons for this. First, the focus of our work is on nondual awareness. If we give attention to what’s happening at the conditioned level—feeling better, etc.—this throws us into time and casualty. And this attention doesn’t create an entry point into nondual awareness. In fact, it distracts us from the unbounded panorama of pure awareness.

Second, we can’t know how the infusion of nondual awareness within a mindstream will influence someone’s evolutionary path. Even here, in saying that nondual awareness influences how we think, feel and perceive, I am telling a story. I am moving away from the language of the unconditioned where there’s nothing to say, nothing to describe, where the nondual can’t influence anything because it isn’t a force or power or energy. It is nothing.

Wonderful things do happen when we engage with the nondual awareness. People experience super-deep, super-smooth and totally effortless sessions of natural meditation. They are able to feel totally complete, even blissful, in the midst of illness, irresolution or environmental threats. My approach is to acknowledge these as wonderful “side effects,” but not dwell on them. They don’t become a focus of the process. In fact, these types of effects arise more consistently and comprehensively when we don’t give them any attention.

People often attribute these changes to what we are doing together. It can be tempting to agree and to interpret positive change to the space we are sharing. I listen to these reports with pure listening. I don’t reject them or accept them. I’ll say that’s great, but I don’t make a link between Radiant Mind and the positive changes that are happening.

It is a trap to attribute such changes to spending more time in nondual awareness. We then begin to assess the effectiveness of abiding in the nondual in terms of changes that are happening at the conditioned level. But the unconditioned isn’t ongoingly revealed and presenced when we are anticipating and tracking changes at the conditioned level. When we anticipate and track changes, we are no longer engaged in resting in unconditioned awareness.

Another reason I don’t make promises that people’s lives will improve is that I don’t know what will happen for someone, tomorrow, next week or next year. While I’m sure that nondual awareness only serves people positively, it’s impossible to know what’s up ahead, in a someone’s life. We can’t know what those challenges will be. Someone’s life may move from being peaceful and easy to becoming demanding and stressful overnight. This happens all the time. Everyday thousands of people are facing the challenges of broken relationships, welcoming a newborn child into their family, and dealing with the news of a terminal illness. The stresses involved in some of these experiences can last for months or years. Engaging in nonduality doesn’t provide insurance against relationship problems, financial loss, illness or death.

All we can confidently say is that the more time we spend in nondual awareness, the better we will be able to handle life’s challenges, no matter what they are. Once we’ve experienced unconditioned awareness, this healing experience percolates through the layers of our conditioning. There is a natural and effortless process, which is different for each complex being, and it happens in its own time. At times, this de-conditioning can happen quickly, and then we might regress and find ourselves confronting something that has been deeply held within our conditioning. At other times, de-conditioning happens slowly and steadily. The entire process may take more than a lifetime. It is unlikely that we will reside permanently in unconditioned awareness in this lifetime. We have no concern for this. We can simply let this wondrous process unfold in the inevitable way that it will.
Peter Fenner, Ph.D.

Peter is a leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom worldwide. He is a pioneer in the development of nondual therapy and creator of the 9-month Radiant Mind Course® ( and the 10-month Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training ( He was a celibate monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 9 years and has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of Mahayana Buddhism. He teaches in North America, Europe, Israel and Australia. His books include Radiant Mind: Awakening Unconditional Awareness (2007); The Edge of Certainty: Dilemmas on the Buddhist Path (2002); and The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy (ed. with John Prendergast and Sheila Krystal, 2003).

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Radiant Mind, centerless being Thu, 16 Jan 2014 10:42:20 +0000 An interview of Peter Fenner by Leo Drioli and Enza Vita from InnerSelf

You spent 9 years as a Buddhist monk, how was that and why did you decide to become a lay teacher?

I became a monk when I was 26 because I needed the security of an ethical commitment. Within Buddhism it is generally thought that one can reach a state of freedom (nirvana) more quickly if you are a monk or a nun. The idea is that you create more positive karma, and potentially more negative karma too, if you are ordained. My adolescence, until around 23 years of age, was very confusing and quite experimental. I felt a need to charge up my positive karma and I didn’t want to waste time. Becoming a monk was an imperative for me. The first years were very helpful and creative. I developed some confidence in my path and spiritual practice. At the same time I was also doing my Ph.D. After about 5 years my ordination seemed to become stale. Even though I kept my vows I felt like a clandestine monk. Many people didn’t know I was a celibate monk. When I started teaching philosophy at the university I kept my private life more hidden. After 9 years as a monk I gave back my ordination to the Tibetan abbot who ordained me.

Have you always been a spiritual seeker? And what made you that?

Yes, I first felt something different was living inside me when I was 4 or 5. I was quite reflective at that age and have always been since. There was no specific experience that made me become like that. I had spiritual experiences when I was around 7 and 8. Spiritual seeking, per se! I would say it began around 14 years when I avidly read the Christian mystics.

You teach two main courses, Radiant Mind Course and Natural Awakening Training. How did these trainings develop and what can people attending expect to receive from them?

I’ve been a teacher in some capacity since I was 25, beginning as a tutor in Asian philosophy. I didn’t decide to become a lay teacher. I started teaching experientially, first in Australia and then overseas, because I felt I had something to offer that was deeper than a merely intellectual grasp of Asian philosophy. I wanted to share the transformative potential of Buddhism. In 1984 I started offering workshops that explored therapeutic applications of Buddhist wisdom. Around 2000 people started asking me if I could create a program that would support their spiritual development in between the bi-annual workshops I offered in the USA and Europe. In response to these requests, I created the 9 month Radiant Mind Course. About 5 years ago several people who had completed the Radiant Mind Course ask if I could create another program that would teach them how to offer the same style of transmission that I have developed. Shortly after, I created the 10 month Natural Awakening Training which is a more advanced course for therapists, coaches, and teachers.

Both the Radiant Mind Course and the Natural Awakening Training come from the same Mahayana lineage going back to the Perfect Wisdom or Prajnaparamita tradition. The foundations are identical. The differences are that Radiant Mind is for the direct benefit of the people participating in the course. It supports people in integrating nondual awareness into their daily lives. They join a great learning community, learn how to be more spacious, and discover how to rest in awareness, at workshops, at home, and with others. Participants work together throughout the course by doing nondual meditation in person and over the phone. The Advanced Training is more like a professional training. It trains people in how to offer the nondual dimension to other people in a variety of settings. I lift the curtain and show people how to facilitate nondual work. People can then bring this into their professional as well as personal lives.

What is the difference between your approach and traditional nondual teachings such as Advaita in Hinduism and Dzogchen in Buddhism?

My approach has been shaped by my immersion in different nondual traditions in Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism and a need to really taste the reality that these traditions talk about. I wasn’t concerned about the words they used such as selflessness and pure awareness. I was concerned with discovering this reality for myself. Nonduality is the cornerstone and foundation for everything we do in Radiant Mind. Ideally we do nothing more, and nothing less, than what is needed to abide in nondual awareness. This is the basic principle. My own approach works at the “results level.” That means we discover (or rediscover) pure awareness. When we are here, we see what we have done to arrive in this place. We have engaged in quiet, respectful dialogue, and looked for the self, awareness, and suffering with the wisdom eye of nondual inquiry, and found ourselves unable to locate them. We then rest in the state of profound yet potent tranquility, deep inside and within beautiful relationships with others. In order to abide in Radiant Mind we also need to take care of our lives at the conditioned level. If we totally ignore the needs of our body, our material circumstances and our relationship responsibilities, we create a mass of confusion and level of self-preoccupation that, at some point, makes it impossible to rest in the carefree space of pure awareness. Radiant Mind lays out some simple principles and guideposts for living our lives so that the connection with the nondual becomes easier and more automatic.

What is it that informs and inspires the nondual approach to awakening?

The nondual approach is inspired by the direct experience that we don’t need to do any more work to be free. When we see how simple it is to be here, no effort is needed. We see clearly that suffering isn’t possible here. The words “suffering,” “discomfort,” “agony,” and “torment” no longer hold meaning. The experiences we have struggled to avoid can’t happen when we are no longer looking for things to be different. In fact, in this space we can’t find any suffering. Nothing is happening that we want to displace.

What is the aim of nondual teaching?

Nondual teachings present the possibility of going beyond suffering without needing to change the conditions of our life. The nondual perspective shows how we can be free with things “just as they are.” Most psychological systems and spiritual paths offer people conditional forms of freedom. We need to change our inner and outer worlds in order to be free. Actually, we try to change reality so that it conforms to our preferences. Any sense of freedom that arises is conditional and very fragile. Nondual awareness offers us the possibility of being completely free while being conditioned within our body-mind and life’s circumstances.

In Radiant Mind you talk about being “complete” and being “incomplete.” Can you describe the difference between the two?

We are complete when there is no impulse to change what is happening in the moment, or any need to maintain the state we are in. We are also complete in the sense that there is nowhere further to go. We are no longer on a path, seeking. In my work I also talk about being complete in our actions in the world. By this I mean that we learn to function in a way that we don’t leave traces behind us. We do what is here to be done, and don’t do what doesn’t need doing. This way we don’t need to process the past. Our way of being is clean and tidy. We don’t produce feelings of guilt and resentment. We don’t need to go back and fix things up because we have been careless or lazy. We do what needs to be done in order to be open to the present moment, rather than being thrown, without any control, into replaying the past, or excessively processing the future.

You teach how to hold a conversation about “nothing” as part of “deconstructing fixations.” This may sound pointless to many people but can you explain why and how to talk about “nothing” … and can you do it right now?

Of course we can do that right now. I simply start by talking about “this” and clarify that when I say “this” I’m not talking about the visual sensations taken in by your eyes, any ambient sounds, anything you are sensing in your body, or what you may be thinking in this moment. The “this” I am talking about isn’t a thing. It’s not an object of thought. I can’t think about “it” because there is nothing to thinking about. I can’t talk about “it” because there is nothing to talk about! That’s what I’m talking about! I am talking but there is no subject, nothing I am talking about. This is contentless communication. I do this when I’m teaching as a way of opening into the unconditioned dimensions. I use words to go beyond the mind.

For many people, our natural state is unrealized and a complete mystery … totally oblivious to its reality, they suffer through their lives in ignorance … can the Radiant Mind teachings make a difference in their lives?

I wouldn’t put people in a box thinking that they are unrealized, because this can make our shared, primordial state into something solid. We think that some people are realized and that others are not. I don’t see myself as being different from other people. I don’t have more insight than others. I wouldn’t say that people who haven’t recognized “this” are living in ignorance. It’s too heavy a label. But I do acknowledge that some people recognize the unconditioned dimension, and others haven’t yet seen this. The Radiant Mind teachings show people the unconditioned dimension, the ground of being, as it were. The course helps people to integrate this recognition into their lives so they can rest more consistently in the space of imperturbable awareness.

In your book Radiant Mind you say that “conventional psycho-spiritual paths assume that the release of intense emotions involves work and effort, deep cognitive insight, cathartic release, or some combination of these. Such paths are built on the principles of discipline and transformation: we change our behavior, purify our minds, and transform our perceptions”. Do these paths have a place for those seeking complete liberation?

Nothing is needed to be free, but often it’s not simple to be that “no thing” – to recognize and rest in the ground of being. We feel we need to change our conditioning and get rid of memories from the past, bad habits or dysfunctional patterns we’ve inherited from our parents. It’s easy to think that we are impure and need to go through a process of mental and emotional cleansing before we can recognize pure awareness. If we can’t see in the moment that awareness is by its nature pure, we might need to do some type of work in order to get here. But once we are here we see that “this” is “acausal.” It isn’t a product of anything, any type of process of practice. We see, as is often pointed out in Zen, that we didn’t need to do what we thought we needed to do, but we wouldn’t have seen this without doing what we didn’t need to do.

What is the best thing one can do to help someone who is locked into a mind state that’s causing them harm … I have a friend that recently tried to kill himself. He’d been on his chosen path for many years but found himself in a very dark place, and couldn’t see any other way out.

The best thing we can ever do is abide in our natural state as open awareness, available and receiving everything and everyone exactly as they are. From here we see that other people are parts of our self. It’s possible that your friend’s behavior threatened your own integrity, your own need to be helpful, and fundamentally your need for self-preservation. If we feel threatened we contract, maybe into our minds or our explanations, and we can’t be fully open to others. The opportunity is to deepen the presencing of awareness to the point that we can receive and creatively embrace everyone, beyond any need for personal protection, because we are awareness itself, which can’t be hurt or harmed. We may not be there, but it is great to see the scope ahead for our development.

What are the main obstacles to experiencing unconditional awareness, our true nature?

There are no obstacles to presencing our true nature as unconditioned awareness because nothing can get in the way of “this.” Primordial awareness isn’t a phenomenon, it’s not a belief system, it’s not a particular feeling, and it’s not an experience, as such. Nothing can obscure “this” because there is nothing to be obscured. However, it’s also easy not to recognize the unconditioned dimension of reality because it is invisible; it’s not a sensory or mental reality. It goes beyond all dualistic notions, including labels of “being” and “not being.” It is paradoxical. It’s completely different from our conditioned experience which changes moment to moment. On the other hand, it’s inseparable from each distinct moment because it doesn’t exist apart from everything else.

What is your definition of enlightenment and what is it that gets enlightened?

I rarely use the word enlightenment because it carries a lot of fanciful projections for some people. I prefer words like our ultimate state, centerless awareness, natural freedom, or the ground of being. Once people know what these words refer to we can talk about this state as “just this,” or “this.” Then things are really simply. This is how Buddhism often talks about enlightenment, as “just this.” All of these terms refer to the state in which there is no suffering of any kind. In this state suffering simply isn’t possible. We have no reference for this experience. What is more radical is that we can’t even say what isn’t happening. In this state we’re unconditionally free because we don’t need anything to change or stay the same. This can sound dull if people haven’t tasted it firsthand. But in reality, it’s a state that’s highly potent. It can change in its expression from the deepest stillness to dynamic joyful interchange in a few seconds. In this space we are free because nothing needs to change in order to be at this point where we are beyond dualistic notions of better and worse. As to how achieve this state, on the one hand no one does because there is no experiencer. But this is the same for all experience. If we look for the experiencer we can’t find one. I can’t find the person answering this question. And I’m sure if you look for who is reading these words right now, you won’t find the being who’s experiencing this. You can’t say where the impressions of the words you are reading are being received. Still, there is a me writing this, in Seattle at the moment, and there is a you reading this.

What would you say is the most important requirement for someone to practice nonduality? In particular, does one need to be of any particular faith or spiritual mindset?

There is no single most important requirement to practice nonduality. Nothing needs to happen before we arrive here, in nondual awareness. There is no practice actually. There is nothing more to do because nothing is missing. However, we create a predisposition to resting here, in nondual awareness, whenever there is an opportunity, such as there is right now. This recognition of our constant base state as awareness is essential. The deepening and integration of this realization takes time. It takes whatever time it takes. We can’t rush the process. If we try to speed up the process it only creates resistance and delay. In order to be here in this way we need to live our lives so that these types of opportunities come to the foreground. If we are stressed-out, consistently overwhelmed, in constant pain or emotional turmoil, or hold very rigid beliefs, then it’s difficult to look at the nature of awareness itself. We are wrapped up in our experience and can’t see beyond them into the boundless space of the mind itself. Immersion in the field, perhaps through being part of an informal, nondual community, can also be a great asset.

How would you introduce these teachings to someone who may be relatively new to spirituality?

Mainly through the idea of taking a break from our usual, pressured way of living life. We always have things to do, projects to complete, and responsibilities to assume and fulfill. We rarely give ourselves the opportunity to do nothing, to accomplish nothing for a given amount of time. We are all on a path of some sort and we are all looking to arrive at the end of the path, the place where no more work needs to be done. This includes giving our mind a break from needing to understand. I often open up a workshop by saying, “We could spend a lot of time on the path during this workshop – we will anyway, thinking there is something to do and something to understand. The other option is to be at the end right from the beginning. This way we spend more time being together in the free-form play of pure awareness. So let’s do that. I am sure we can do that for 5 minutes.” We do it for 5 minutes, and then it extends to 20 minutes, just like that. We get to spend a few days together enjoying the different manifestations of abiding in pure awareness. We enjoy moments of incredibly deep stillness where thoughts just dissolve in on themselves before they form, leaving us surfing the tip of huge samadhi wave of imperturbable serenity. We play at the edges of silence and we watch as stillness morphs into dynamic dialogues where we dance in the delightful paradoxes that emerge at the boundary between thought and the unconditioned.

Do you see, as some other teachers do, that this is an extraordinary time, a time when ordinary people are waking up?

It is quite wonderful how many people in the modern world, on all continents, are realizing how we all share the same basic ground of being as expressions of an awareness that goes beyond all divisions and borders – the personal, national, political and religious. Many more people are ready for these super simple pointing-out teachings that reveal the nature of consciousness itself. It is wonderful to come together with people all over the world on a teleconference calls or videoconference calls and share an identical space together, knowing that all boundaries and differences are somewhat incidental.

Have you discovered who or what you are?

The process of discovering who we are at the level of being a human living in time is a never-ending process. We might discover a little bit over the decades of our life, but I think we are infinitely complex. Each one of us is like a universe. If you are asking if I have discovered that I can’t find an “I” then yes, I come by that and rest in it from time to time. Isn’t that paradox delightful: I can’t find myself!

Is the realization constant and lasting? And if yes, what was it that turned it all around for you?

The realisation of being a centerless universe isn’t constant. It matures and deepens over time.

And if there’s one thing you would say to our readers today to assist them in seeking Truth, what would that be?

Just that it is extremely simple to be really satisfied. All we need to do is to connect with this moment – yes, this moment right now – and see that we don’t need anything more than what is happening right now. Whatever we think we will need in the future may or may not happen. But right now we don’t need it. We are complete. And, in fact, every moment takes care of itself, and us, in this way.



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Radical intimacy Thu, 16 Jan 2014 10:24:43 +0000 In Radiant Mind and other courses I offer I prefer to talk about “intimacy” rather than “love.” This gives us a fresh opportunity to invent what we mean by the word “ love.” Rather than saying a lot about “love” and potentially debase with word, the idea of “intimacy” can be approached more openly. I feel that the word intimacy works better than the word compassion, because compassion is often understood in a dualistic and hierarchal way. We can give something to someone, something that they need. Compassion can be expressed by seeing what another needs and working to fulfill that need. Intimacy isn’t like that. Intimacy gives us the opportunity to totally enter a situation openly in whatever shape it takes. It allows us to be aware and completely engaged with others no matter what is happening.

When we abide in unconditioned awareness we take care of others in the same way we take care of ourselves because there is no difference between ourselves and others. While we don’t feel people’s pain and suffering, or joy and elation in exactly the same way that they do, we deeply participate in their feelings, because we come together in the field of undivided awareness. Other peoples’ thoughts and feelings aren’t arising with the immediacy and with the clarity with which we experience our own thoughts and feelings. It’s more like a shadowing, more opaque, yet whatever is happening for others is effectively part of our own experience. Even though we don’t know what other people are thinking, and while physical pain is very personal, when we rest in nondual awareness, we somehow sense the general structure of people’s throughts—their confusion, worry or clarity. And we relate to their pain as though it was our own.

From within undivided awareness we are just a clearing—a centerless space—through which a universe moves. I am me, not because there is a unique me somewhere in here, but because the space I am reveals a unique and distinctive universe. Even though it seems I’m at the center of this, I’m not in here, and there is no center. This means that everyone who enters into the clearing that I am is as intimately related to me as my thoughts and bodily feelings. There’s no difference.

In the nondual state there is no inside or outside. There is no me in here who exists separate from everything else. It’s impossible to locate where I stop and you begin. There is no point where I stop and you begin. There’s just this, which is everything. This is real intimacy. From within the nondual experience we don’t invite into, or exclude, anything. There’s no one home who is capable of doing this!

Everything is already here. We don’t push anything away, and we don’t hold onto anything. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the structure of our relationships takes the same form with everyone. The people with whom we live, work and practice have a central role in our lives. Nonetheless, there is nothing artificial or contrived about our relationships.

In the nondual realm, intimacy isn’t a particular set of feelings, such as feeling really close or connected to someone, or feeling deeply committed or concerned about someone else’s wellbeing. Nondual intimacy doesn’t carve out a particular relationship with one, or a few other people. Nondual intimacy is all encompassing and all embracing. Nothing is excluded. Everything in our known universe is touched with equal sensitivity and compassion. It’s the experience of total interpenetration of our being to the point where the no one who we are expands to include everything.

I invite you to explore the idea of being a “centerless clearing.” I find that it’s an extremely powerful way of being in the world.


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“If I had the time, I’d be like the Buddha!” Thu, 16 Jan 2014 08:08:57 +0000 One of the common things I hear from people when I’m running a workshop is that, “This space is great, but my life is so busy. I just don’t have the time to rest and be present to “what is.” I’ve got the meals to prepare, emails to do, phone calls with family and friends, making a living! All I really want is to spend my life in this space, but I have all these other commitments that I can’t walk away from. What can I do? How can I respond to the demands of life and still cultivate the connection to nondual awareness?”

I respond to this plea in different ways. First, I will point out that the “doing nothing” that’s happening in a workshop or on a teleconference call can’t be compared with inactivity. I may say, “It’s true that in Timeless Wisdom workshops we aren’t playing sport, surfing the internet, engrossed in a movie, negotiating airport security, or visiting our parents, but the “this” we are doing—that’s happening here—is ultimately unrelated to being still, or inaction. At the very least we can see how, right now, it’s possible to abide in awareness—and talk, listen, make notes, stand up, sit down, and move around.

It’s true that, as beginners, it’s easier for us to enter awareness when the environment is simple, stable and undemanding. But, it’s also important not to make a connection and think that “this”—being here—is doing nothing. We aren’t doing nothing in the way we typically use that phrase. We aren’t sitting around aimlessly, watching things go by. We are resting in a pristine state of being: a state where we could rest, fully aware, without a flicker of boredom or distress, for eternity. This is completely different from “hanging around, letting time pass by, doing nothing, until something comes along.”

In fact, I question the belief that we really want to spend more time resting in awareness? I think that, if we really wanted to spend more time “here”, somehow we’d figure out how to do it. The Buddha worked it out—how to be permanently free—as have hundreds of thousands of other sages. What’s clear is that there is a fundamental change in priorities. For the Buddha, the priority wasn’t having a roof over his head, or knowing where his next meal was coming from. Something completely different was going on. So different that he didn’t need a roof over his head, money in his pocket, or fallible human company. It’s easy to say, “Ah, but he could renounce all those things because he was enlightened.” But this is a cop out. For the Buddha, the only thing was abiding in liberating awareness, needing nothing, rejecting nothing, and letting his life unfold with no concern or preoccupation about tomorrow, or the next minute. His power and influence as the founder of a new religion came precisely from his capacity to encounter everything that came his way: scorching heat, drenching rain, an empty stomach, ridicule, unrestrained adoration, assassination attempts, numerous smear campaigns, without any of these producing the slightest mental or emotional disturbance. Such was the power of his unconditioned love and nondual wisdom.

If the same priority was alive in us, we wouldn’t be who we are. It’s very simple; we’d be a completely different person, someone so different from who we are, we couldn’t even recognize ourselves. We would see a clone of our body, but the speech, functioning, gait, comportment, lifestyle, network of friends and colleagues and career (if we could still call it that) would be completely different: like someone from a different planet. For a start, we wouldn’t be saying, “I don’t have enough time to rest in awareness. My life is too busy. I have too many other commitments.”

There is nothing to be gained in thinking, “I don’t have enough time for this work.” We rest in awareness for us long as we can. If we could do more of “this” we would. I have no doubt about this.

I invite you to be honest and realistic about how you are with this. Complaining about our time being limited and committed, and wishing it were otherwise–that there wasn’t so much to do, there weren’t so many responsibilities–merely fosters conflict. No one ever entered (or re-entered) this state by thinking, “I wish I could do more of this.” Unless, of course, in thinking like this we see that there is no “this” to want more of! No one has ever entered buddhamind wishing that their life was different. In this work we embrace what is, aware of our deepest longings and our present choices, acknowledging where we are with love and understanding.

The Bhagavad-Gita speaks about the practice of desireless action (nishkama-karma). When time is available, we sense that there’s nothing we need to do, and so we do exactly that. We find a quiet place and abide in unconditioned awareness. In the rush of getting things done we may forget the possibility of being “here,” but not entirely. Unconditioned awareness is always here, silently in the background, needing and expecting nothing but somehow drawing us into it. Knowing that the ever-present possibility can shine through at any moment, we grow in our capacity to find the time for abiding. We remember how sweet, peaceful, spacious and free this space is, and we receive it as the sourceless gift of the universe. We find a few minutes each day, and each week, to rest in nondual awareness, and we plan ahead for a retreat so we can dwell more deeply and uninterruptedly in timeless presence.

Copyright © Peter Fenner, 2012


Peter Fenner, Ph.D. is a spiritual leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom. Pioneer in the development of nondual therapy, he created the Radiant Mind Course® and the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training. Peter runs courses, trainings, retreats and satsang telecalls and offers individual coaching sessions. His students and clients include Buddhist psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, Zen masters, Sufi masters, Vipassana and Mindfulness teachers, Yoga teachers, psychiatrists, medical doctors, hospice workers, students of Tibetan Buddhism, followers of Advaita, artists and spiritual seekers worldwide.

Peter was a celibate monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 9 years and has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of Mahayana Buddhism. Over a period of 40 years Peter Fenner has distilled the essence of traditions like Zen, Dzogchen and the Buddhist Middle Way, and adapted them to suit creatively our post-modern culture. He is the Director of Education of Timeless Wisdom.

The Radiant Mind Course ( is taught in North America, Australia, and Europe, as well as the Natural Awakening Training, ( Peter also offers retreats on 5 continents.  He has presented his work at leading universities and institutions including Columbia, Stanford, CIIS and Naropa.

Peter Fenner has written extensively on Buddhist nondual traditions. His books and CDs include:

Stay in touch with Peter Fenner


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The ultimate goal of all striving Thu, 16 Jan 2014 07:30:26 +0000 Buddhism captured my attention over 40 years ago when I was a university student. The idea that our needs and preferences are the source of our suffering made immediate sense at an intellectual level. Having what we don’t want, and not having what we do want, is the recipe for all our pain, upset and dissatisfaction. If we can free ourselves from the ‘need’ for things to be different, or to stay the same, we have discovered a state of unconditional freedom. This is what is meant by the term ‘nirvana.’ It is the state where nothing needs to be different.

We make huge demands on the environment

It seems we are relatively incapable of ‘just being with ourselves,’ simply sitting and being with ‘what is.’ Instead we need to be entertained, amused, distracted or unconscious. The external resources that are required to keep us just marginally content are quite phenomenal. We spend enormous amounts of money on our appearance: wearing the right clothes, trying to look young and attractive. In some weird way we expect to be in optimum health, right up until the moment of our death!

The alternative is to discover how we already have everything that’s needed to be fulfilled in the most comprehensive way possible. There are hundreds of thousands of great spiritual masters throughout the ages that have shown us that this is possible. There are sages who lived in ‘great bliss’ in severe environments without any heating or air-conditioning, without the latest gadgets, and without the security of knowing that quality medical care was close at hand.

The ultimate benchmark that these sages offer us is the possibility of making the journey through aging and dying without losing a connection with the supernal bliss of unconditioned awareness. For these sages, death itself was a non-event. As the 16th Karmapa of Tibet said on his deathbed in 1981, ‘nothing happens.’”

Present moment awareness gives us everything we need

We can make our own experiment right now. Here we are. How do we discover, first-hand, the very same reality that allowed the sages of the past and present to remain unperturbed in the face of the very same experiences that throw us into confusion, obsession, anger or fear? How do we remain unperturbed and tranquil in the face of the inevitable challenges that arise in life: changes in our fortune, our health, the loss of loved ones and ultimately the loss of everything we know at our death?

The remarkable news is that nothing is needed in order to make this discovery. We don’t need ‘more time,’ to be somewhere else, or receive a superior teaching. All that’s required is to see that “in the moment” we have everything that’s needed to be fulfilled. In this moment we don’t need anything more. We don’t need more money, a different body, a different partner—not in this very instant.

This moment gives us everything we need. That’s the magic of the moment. We don’t need to be entertained, right now—enough is happening. We don’t need a flashy car—we’re not in it! In this moment, we don’t need a different standard of living, or a better return on our investments—we are clothed, fed and comfortable. We have everything we need, in order to rest with ‘what is.’

The beauty of this moment is that it’s effortless and uncontrived. The magic of this moment is that it’s ungraspable and ineffable. We can’t hold onto any particular moment. We can’t say what ‘this’ moment is. It leaves without a trace or history. We can’t think about ‘this’ because there is nothing to think about. This is exactly what the sages mean when they say that ‘this’—the ultimate reality—is indescribable.

And now we can also see that if we are ‘here’ at the moment of our death, we have no fear. If we were to remain in this state, our death would be uneventful. The process of dying is nothing more than a continual letting go of everything at the conditioned level: our body, our friends, our possessions, our memories—in fact, the entire known world. At our death we say goodbye forever, to everything that we know and we never return. If we are here—resting in unconditioned awareness—everything can drop away with no grasping or attachment.”

If you look at it, everything we do is ultimately aimed at being here. Even if this recognition only lasts for a few moments, in these moments the work is done. We’re abiding in the ultimate state. We’re resting in the state that’s the ultimate goal of all human endeavours in every field. From conducting wars, to entering into relationship, to trying to make a billion dollars, whatever it is, it is all aimed at being here. And here we are at that point, at least in this moment. There is nowhere further to go. And what’s so incredible is that it’s not even an accomplishment.


Peter Fenner, Ph.D.

Peter is a leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom worldwide. He is a pioneer in the development of nondual therapy and creator of the 9-month Radiant Mind Course® ( and the 10-month Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training ( He was a celibate monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 9 years and has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of Mahayana Buddhism. He teaches in North America, Europe, Israel, India, Australia and New Zealand. His books include Radiant Mind: Awakening Unconditional Awareness (2007); The Edge of Certainty: Dilemmas on the Buddhist Path (2002); and The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy (ed. with John Prendergast and Sheila Krystal, 2003).


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Revealing Nondual Awareness Thu, 16 Jan 2014 02:00:59 +0000 The Progressive Presencing of Co-emergent Wisdom [1]

Peter Fenner, Ph.D.
Copyright © Peter Fenner, 2011


In this article I’d like to layout the way in which I introduce people to nondual awareness, particularly in terms of how I initially differentiate the nondual state from our empirical experience.  There are different ways in which I invite people to “leap into” nondual awareness, as it were.  Having made that leap, I then dissolve the dualistic construction that the nondual can be different from our everyday experience.  If people then reduce the nondual to the flux of their conditioned experience, which often happens, I redistinguish the nondual as a space that is radically different from anything we can possibly “experience.”  I cycle through a process of collapsing the difference, redistinguishing the nondual, dissolving the difference again, until there is a more consistent presencing of the nondual within the context of our embodied, everyday life—our thought-world, feelings, relationships and activities.

I’ve arrived at this process by seeing what seems to work best “on the spot” in terms of introducing people to the basic state of nondual awareness, while being open, receptive and responsive to whatever arises in the inner and outer environments.

I’ll explain what’s behind some of the moves I make as we progress through this article.  I should say at the outset that most of the work I do is with groups from 10 – 100 people.  When I work with a group I work with the material that people bring up individually.  But I do so in a way that’s intended to keep everyone fully engaged. When I’m interacting with someone, I do so in a way that doesn’t place other participants in the role of being mere witnesses or passive observers of a journey that is happening for someone else. I privilege neither the individual nor the group.

I also work one-on-one as a supervisor for coaches, therapists and facilitators who are working with the nondual dimension.  I do this mainly by telephone.  The process I’ll describe in this article also applies to individual work, especially when it’s clearly focused on the recognition of, and familiarization with, nondual awareness. The process I describe shouldn’t be viewed as a roadmap.  While I hope it makes pedagogical sense, it shouldn’t be viewed a series of steps that are systematically followed.  The actual process is organic, free-form and dynamic.

Is the nondual an experience, state or space?

Before beginning I’d like to say just a few words about my use of the term “nondual awareness.”  There is some discussion these days about the best term through which point to the nondual state.  What we are looking for is a term that doesn’t let us create differentiations.  This is why many people object to talking about the nondual experience.  There are many different types of experiences and also in an experience there are objects that are experienced and a seeming experiencer.  So experience isn’t the ideal term.  This leads some people to prefer the phrase “nondual state.”  But this isn’t perfect either because there are different types of states and the nondual state is neither the same as, nor different from other states.

Another possibility is to talk about the “nondual space.”  This has some merit because at one level we can’t differentiate one space from another space.   There is nothing in space itself to let us do this.  Also, there is a connection with the conditioned.  We talk about the workshop space, or the space we are in.   In general, in this article I’ll use the term “nondual awareness” because it is in quite common usage.  I’ll also often use the term “this,” without spelling this out further.[2] When I use the term “nondual awareness” it like a code word for the basic or primordial state, what is also called ka dag or alpha purity (Longchenpa: 1998, 2001a, 2001b, 2006), or just the “A state.” When people are in the know—when they can directly recognize this state—it’s sufficient to use “just this.”   A phrase like “nondual awareness” is no longer necessary.[3]

Distinguishing the nondual: entering a different paradigm

I usually begin by presenting nondual awareness as being completely different from the mind that compares, differentiates and makes contrasts. I say that we will be giving our attention to the nature of awareness itself, in contrast to the “objects of awareness”—thoughts, feelings and sensations.  If we weren’t aware we couldn’t be aware of our thoughts, my words, or this room.  We are exploring “That which is aware, not what we are aware of.”  I point out that if we “knew” what awareness was, it would be an “object of our awareness”, not awareness itself.

I present “abiding as awareness” as something that is radically different from our usual mode of being in which “we are someone who is engaged with the world.”  I point to nondual awareness by saying that, unlike our conditioned experience, it can’t be known, isn’t a thing, etc.   Nondual awareness is indivisible, it is unconstructed, in contrast to conditioned experience which is composed of different elements; the different sense fields, feelings, and thoughts.[4]  This is important because we can return to the idea that “our experiences are constructed”; built out of different elements, when we begin to deconstruct limiting identifications.

When I begin a presentation I often say something like:

This evening we are here to explore contentlessness.  It’s easy to explore content, to get involved in ideas, viewpoints and opinions.  But, my invitation for us this evening is to explore—no, actually to access—a dimension of reality that’s been very well known to sages in the East and West, but which is relatively inaccessible in our modern, busy, highly distracting lives.  What I say “explore” it’s not really an exploration, because there is nothing to discover or reveal!

This dimension of reality has been called, “objectless awareness,” “centerless awareness,” “the mind itself,” buddhamind,” and so on.  This state is acausal—without a cause—or unproduced. We don’t need anything more than what we already have in order to be “here”. There is nothing we need to know or do.  This is effortless.[5] Nothing could be simpler.  Nothing needs to change in order to be here—resting in nondual awareness.

Our conditioned experience unfolds in time—it is always changing. We can touch, feel, sense, and think about it.  Nondual awareness, on the other hand, doesn’t have any of these characteristics.  It’s not a “thing”.  We can’t see it, we can’t even think about it because there is nothing to think about. Nondual awareness is completely unrelated to you and me as different embodied minds.  It’s unrelated to the circumstances of our lives or the condition of our bodies and minds.  We are born and we will die.  We have gender, age, race, etc.  Nondual awareness has none of these.  It is ahistorical, transpersonal and transcultural.

I make this radical departure from our usual way of “being someone in time and space” because (1) people come to me specifically for the nondual, and (2) nondual awareness is far less accessible to most people than our ordinary, everyday world of effort, struggles, thwarted ambitions and periodic accomplishments.  People have no difficulties accessing their conditioned existence.  It confronts us! Also, for people who have little or no idea of what this state is, it can be useful to initially present “this” as something completely different from what we “know.” When people are immersed in their conditioned minds, they need eased, or ejected, out of their identification with the contents of awareness, in order to recognize the nondual.

In the language of Buddhist hermeneutics this presentation of nondual awareness “as different from the contents of awareness” is provisional.[6]  It isn’t the most refined way of languaging the nondual.  When I present it in this way, I’m aware that we are en route to a more refined presencing of the nondual.  This way of distinguishing the nondual is a skillful process (upaya).  It isn’t the “truth.”  I know there is further to go. The language of “not this, not that (neti neti) is a pedagogical device that can be used to reveal a dimension of reality that is inaccessible to most people because it is invisible and nondual, i.e. beyond the categories of being and non-being.

Diagram One shows how I draw a line between awareness and the contents awareness.  It also lists some of the common names used in different traditions to identify the same state that I am calling nondual awareness in this article.

The nondual isn’t a subtle affective experience or meditational state

I also distinguish nondual awareness in a clear and precise way when people confuse this state with different types of subtlety conditioned experiences.  For example, people often think that nondual awareness is a state of bliss, or serenity or love.  These experiences can accompany the presencing of the nondual, but they aren’t nondual awareness itself.  They are conditioned experiences.  This is clear because they come and go in the conventional sense.[7]  They are refined experiences that arise as epiphenomena when people’s reactive responses settle down and the habitual need to understand and interpret slows down.  These experiences can be, in fact often are, confused with the nondual.

H.H. Dudjum Jigdral Yeshe Dorje (1904-1987) of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism is  clear about the potential distraction that such a confusion can cause when he writes:

Now while you are on the path, it will happen that this [rig pa = pure awareness] will become mixed with some form of the three temporary experiences–bliss, clarity, and no thought–so when that does happen rest without a whisker of the hope and fear that believes in and grasps at these as special attainments and just that will cut the possibility of the experience turning into a sidetrack.[8]

A significant focus in group facilitation is to ensure that people receive nondual awareness cleanly and purely.  This need is compounded these days because the terms nonduality and nondual awareness are being used quite loosely.  They are often used to refer to states that still have some content and structure to them.  If there is any association between feeling peaceful, clear or accepting, and nonduality, this isn’t nondual awareness.

There is often a lot of scope to purify an experience so it really becomes nondual, and stays that way.  A lot of the work in nondual transmission is “cleaning work.”   People can enter the nondual, but over time it can become sullied.  People begin to identify with the pleasant feelings, sensations and authenticity that naturally enter the nondual field.  Many people have a strong need to attribute some basic qualities to nondual awareness, for example, that is a state of profound intimacy, unconditional love, sourceless bliss or imperturbable serenity.

To assess the purity of a state of nondual awareness, we look for the existence of structures within the state. The structures I’m referring to are ideas, beliefs, feelings, interpretations, and reference points. An ordinary, conditioned state is densely structured. With increasing familiarity with nondual awareness, we also experience more lightly structured states of awareness. Structures still exist, but there is an overall sense of more immediacy and less interpretation. The structures become more and more transparent.

It’s as if there is a spectrum of states that have a progressively lighter structure along the way to a clean presencing of nondual awareness. The states that we experience can become increasingly pure or structure-free. Ultimately in the state of nondual or centerless awareness there is no structure; so it cannot be described as being positive or negative, ordinary or sublime, useful or useless, as nothing or something.  Unlike conditioned states of mind, nondual awareness cannot be lost or gained, because there is nothing to arise or disappear.

Foundations, bridges and resting places

When people enter a nondual workshop space they quite quickly feel that something different is happening.  As a facilitator I have nothing to communicate from my side.  My job is simply to clear away all the obstructions (viewpoints, ideas, fears, unmet expectations, etc.) as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. There are no themes, topics or any subject matter I wish to share.  This becomes obvious quite quickly.  Sometimes I ease people through the transition that’s happening by saying:

We are entering a different paradigm with this work.  The main way it’s different from our normal paradigm is that there’s nothing to understand and nothing you need to be doing.  I’m not asking anything from you.  There is no pressure here at all.  There is no need for you to be here.  We aren’t going anywhere.  I’m not looking for something to be happening.  “This” isn’t a happening.  A need brought you here.  But now that you’re here you don’t need that need.  In fact, we are exploring what it’s like to not to need anything: to be free of the need to learn, understand, gain resources, and so on.  We’re discovering how to be totally complete with things exactly as they are.

If this is too much I may go back a little bit and simply present our time together as an opportunity to give ourselves a break from trying to change things, fix things up, even if we only do this for a few minutes.  For a few minutes we give ourselves permission to accomplish nothing!  When I make this offer, many people will say, “Wow, what a relief. There’s no pressure.  That feels really great.”  After a few minutes this can even mature into great bliss.

I create a foundation for inquiry by bringing people into the present moment and slowing down their thinking by giving them nothing to think about.  This creates an atmosphere of ease and tranquility.[9]   This is a foundation upon which it’s possible to inquire into the reality of “this” as awareness and not be able to find anything that lies behind the term.  Nondual awareness is revealed through the unfindability form of inquiry that is integral to Advaita (Katz: 2007, Maharshi: 1988, 1989) and Mahayana (Nagarjuna: 2005, Chandrakirti, 2005).

If people still can’t connect with this radical presentation of the nondual we can always go back and talk about it as a state of effortless being, total equanimity, a space that’s free of attachment and aversion, and which connects us with ourselves in a totally natural and uncontrived way.  We can, in fact, use the epiphenomena that arise, such as feelings of deep peace, acceptance, love and connectness as resting places en route to presencing nondual awareness.

Starting at the end: working at the result level

Another way I help people to leap into the unconditioned dimension is by explaining that we will be working at the “result level.”  This means that the result (abiding as awareness) is the path.  In other words, we begin with the baseline position is that nothing is wrong or missing. Everything is complete just as it is. Everyone is complete. There are no problems, nothing to work out, no work to be done.  In the midst of everything that’s happening, “nothing is happening at the same time.”

I am quite up front in presenting this possibility.  Sometimes I’ll start a workshop by saying; “Well, let’s just start at the end. Let’s just skip straight ahead.  Let’s not waste time time.  Our objective in being here is to arrive at the end of the path; to find what we are looking for in terms of discovering deep contentment, beyond which there is nowhere further to go.” I introduce this possibility in a light way.  It’s a suggestion, but I’m absolutely serious about it at the same time.  I don’t want to waste people’s time.  If I’m being asked to think, I’m looking for traction in terms of how to take people beyond the mind.

The suggestion that we can begin a workshop at the place we might hope to be at the end, without needing to do any intermediate work, immediately throws people into inquiry. Some people will protest internally, or out loud, “But I’m here to learn how to get this. There is work to be done. It can’t be that simple!” Others will be enticed by the idea, but genuinely feel incomplete.  People start to play with the idea that “nothing is wrong or missing.”

We can see how this applies right now.  You might be reading this article hoping to gain some insights or additional resources for your work as a coach, therapist or facilitator.  It’s possible for me to be writing this thinking that I have some wisdom that could help you, that I need to explain my process clearly, and so on.  Yet, if we connect with primordial awareness in this moment, that is all that’s needed, now and at any time in the future.  If we are “here” we don’t need anything more, and this is what is communicated to those around us—friends, clients, partners and colleagues.  “This” becomes the fuel, the essence, of your work as a facilitator or therapist.

If you are “here” I don’t need to write anything more.  You have all the resources you could possibily need in terms of sharing nondual awareness with others.  Nondual awareness will come through you naturally and automatically.  You won’t be able to stop it!  You will activate this recognition in others through the way you listen without judgment, through the quality of your silence, through the way you don’t condition the space, through the precision of your questions and love that is shared because you don’t need anything for yourself (Fenner: 2003, 2006, 2007).

By introducing the possibility that we can be “here” in the ultimate way, without needing to do any psychological processing or make any corrections or additions to our intellectual understanding of the path and goal, we set a benchmark, as it were.  The benchmark we establish doesn’t preclude the processing of emotions or deepening our understanding of who we are.  But, it lets us see how easily we fall into the habit of thinking we need to do more work before we can truly rest and abide in our natural state.  With this benchmark in place we can easily see how we habitually create work for ourselves.  When someone says, “Yes, that sounds great, but, first I need to ….” they are (re-)creating a path.  They are effectively saying that something needs to happen before they can be complete.  Once we’ve shown people this pattern, we can continue to point it out, each time it occurs.  This is how we “take the result as the path.”

Undoing the path

Another way I introduce the idea of working at the result level is by pointing out that for as long as we are “on the path” we can’t be at the destination.  So the work we will be doing consists of dissolving the path. In a sense we are always on a path, moving (forwards or backwards), resting for a while, or just waiting for something to happen. When we’re on a path we are sometimes entertained, having fun, feeling a sense of accomplishment because we are making progress. But often we feel there is a gap between where we are and where we’d like to be. In the spiritual arena we are on an explicit path. Often it is well laid out with stages or levels. People enter nondual work because they are on a path.

Working at the result level involves undoing the path. It consists of identifying and taking away the reference points on which a path is constructed in someone’s mind. When there is no path, there is no goal, just pure awareness. Nondual inquiry dismantles the path, and keeps dismantling it whenever it begins to reconstruct through the habit of believing that things could be different from what they are. Sometimes the path begins to be reconstructed through the simple thought, “Now what?” We notice such moves and take them away. “There is no what. There is just this.”

We are talking about “This”!

Often I initiate inquiry through an explore of “this.”  I dispense with terms like “nondual awareness” about which people can have different ideas.  I begin by saying, “What we are sharing together is ‘this’.” This is particularly effective in phone work because there is no shared “this” at the visual level.  If we don’t elaborate on what “this” is, or say, “’This,’ right now, in this second,” the “this” must be something different than our physical environment.  It’s not clear what “this” is referring to, and that is the intention.  We’ve made a break within the stream of conditioned experience and we can use this lack of clarity to distinguish the unconditioned.

The powerful thing about inquiring into “this” is that is gives us a lot of freedom in how we move. We can use the word “this” to point to this as “contentless awareness,” or as the undifferentiable co-arising of contentlessness and everything that is arising in the moment.[10]

For example, in relationship to this moment right now, when I say I am talking about “this,” I’m not talking about what you are reading right now. I am not talking about your awareness of your computer screen, or printed words on a piece of paper in front of you.  When I say I’m talking about “this,” I’m pointing to awareness itself which has no content or location.  We can’t even say “this” is here, because we don’t know what it is that we would be saying is here, or not here.  We can’t say that “this” is or is not, because we don’t know what it is that we would be saying exists or does not exist.

The very fact that we can’t say what it is that we talking about means that we are talking about the nondual.  If we “knew” what we were talking about, it wouldn’t be the nondual.  It would be something we could know or not know.  By the way, the language I am using now is definitive, because there is nothing to misinterpret: there is nothing to get right or wrong.

Paradox and nonduality

You will notice that in order to talk about “this” we have been compelled to move beyond the language of negation and into the structure of paradoxes (Fenner: 2007). The paradox right now is that the words that I am writing and that you are reading are unrelated to nondual awareness.  They are just symbolic images that have a semantic reference appearing on a screen or paper.  Yet, these words allow us to be right here, presencing the nondual as a state that is totally inexpressible because it has no characteristics.  In fact, we can’t even say that “this” has no characteristics because we don’t know what it is that we are characterizing in this way!

At this point unstructured, nondual awareness ceases to be something different from our ordinary, everyday consciousness, because we simply don’t know what “it” is that we are saying is different (or the same for that matter).

The nondual is a totally transcending state, but at the same time it isn’t rarified, disembodied or in anyway disconnected from the rich and complex worlds in which we live. This becomes palpably clear when we are in this state: “it” is neither the same as the dualistic mind, nor in any way different from it.

Collapsing the distinction

To summarize, then, my approach is to distinguish the unconditioned as being radically different and keep doing this until someone says, “But it can’t be different. It’s right here.”  I then bring this realization into the foreground.  It cannot be different from this very moment because the unconditioned is not a thing. It’s inseparable and indistinguishable from the conditioned experience.  In Buddhism this is called co-emergent wisdom (sahaja-jnana).

I then, move between these two, at times differentiating the unconditioned from the conditioned, and at other times collapsing the distinction, explaining that the distinction or identification of the two is only made by the thinking, dualistic mind.  When there is an over-identification with the conditioned—with thoughts and feelings—we re-distinguish the unconditioned. When the unconditioned is reified as something that is intrinsically different from our moment-by-moment embodied experience, I dissolve the possibility that they can be different.[11]  Diagram Two captures the indivisibility and lack of a boundary between the conditioned and unconditioned domains.

The progressive presencing of co-emergent wisdom

Diagram Three shows how the presencing of co-emergent wisdom can occur in time.  The horizontal straight line is a time axis moving from left to right.  It also represents the point where someone is resting in nondual awareness at the same time that we are thinking, perceiving, communicating, etc.  In this respect it is like the previous diagram. The positions and angles of incline and decline of the blue line show how people can move from presencing of the nondual in a way in which they are relatively disengaged with the complexities of life, towards a presencing in which the unconditioned and conditioned experience co-arise.

The notes I will make below are like a time-line summary of the process I have been describing above.

A.    This initial upward incline indicates how we move from a place where we are identified with conditioned experience—our feelings, fears, aspirations, beliefs, perceptions, and preferences—through to a clear recognition of nondual awareness as something that is pristine and unstructured.  In order to produce a clear recognition of that which hasn’t yet been seen, or which has been lost sight of, the nondual is distinguished as being contentless, a non-event, a clearing, without a center or periphery.  It is an absence (med pa).

The rate of the incline is significant here.  It indicates how quickly and definitively we reveal the nondual as a radically different reality.  As a facilitator, if you move too fast you lose people.  They get left behind.  The space and language in particular becomes too weird.  People become confused and disoriented to the point that they’d prefer to be somewhere else.  On the other hand, if you aren’t willing to leave some people behind: if you feel compelled to make sure that everyone makes it to the end of the journey, you might not even bring one person through to a clear recognition of nondual awareness.

B.    Here we rest or abide in nondual awareness for some time appreciating centerless awareness, with little active involvement in what’s happening within and outside of us.  The nondual may be being presenced while in a deeply interiorized state; a natural samadhi with very little happening in thought and feelings.  Whatever is arising liberates by itself (rang grol). Thoughts dissolve at the very instant they begin to form.  Or, the nondual may be being presenced with eyes and other senses fully open, receiving everyone and everything in the environment, but in a state of total equanimity that’s free of preferences and judgments. However, at some point one of three things can happen.

a.    People can begin to add qualities to awareness such as bliss, serenity, intimacy, etc. This is not to say that such feelings aren’t arising.  But people begin to think that awareness is a state of tranquility or interconnectedness.  There is a strong impulse to make the “nothing” into something.  If this happens we point out that these are conditioned experiences and not awareness itself, as a way of inviting people back into the nondual state.

b.    A second possibility is that a thought, memory, feelings, anticipation, etc. arises in awareness and distracts someone from continuing to abide in awareness itself.  In this case we create space around what’s happening.  We may invite the person to let things be as they are, without interference or judgment.  Or we might engage in an inquiry that dissolves the distraction by seeing that it (the distracting event) can’t be found when we look for it using the wisdom mind of nondual inquiry.  Or, we can point out that nothing can get in the way of nondual awareness.  As a “non thing” nothing can obstruct it.

c.    A third possibility is that people can reify nondual awareness as a reality in its own right.  They begin to think that nondual awareness is “nothing,” is “contentless,” is “unrelated to the personal,” etc.  We can sense this by listening to the way that people are listening to themselves when they talk about the nondual.  People acquire the via negativa language of nonduality and begin to listen to their own thinking and words as though they were really saying something when they are talking about the nondual.

C.    If and when the nondual becomes reified I point out that “this” can’t be different from everything that’s arising because the nondual isn’t a “thing” that can be the same or different from anything else.  When we say “this” is different, we don’t know what it is that we are saying is different, so we can’t say that “this” is different from the thoughts, feelings and appearances that are arising moment-by-moment. This is how I collapse the difference.  Usually, the idea that nondual awareness and the dualistic mind are different, collapses in an instant, like a deflating ballon.  For some time, I may let people think that contentless awareness and the objects of awareness are the same, even though they are neither the same nor different.

D.    Here we rest in the co-arising of emptiness and appearances.  If people start to think that there are two things that are actually co-arising we can point out that “this” goes beyond even notions of co-arising or union (lhan cig).  Clearly there aren’t two different things, so it’s impossible to talk about “union” or “inseparability.”

E.    While presencing the nondual in the context of being aware of our body and surroundings, at some point a thought, feeling or sensation arises that pulls us out of nondual awareness into an identification with the conditioned event that arises.  Typically people become involved in their thoughts (carried away by a story), caught by a sensation (a sound, image of a person, etc.), or overtaken by a feeling (a pain, some fear, excitement, and so on).  A conditioned event comes into the foreground, reactions of attraction and aversion come into play, until at some point we recall nondual awareness.  We think, “Ah yes, wow, I just become engrossed in worrying about my future!”

F.    How we move on at this point depends on how deeply we’ve become involved with a conditioned event and our familiarity with the primordial state.  If we’re very familiar with nondual awareness; if we’ve made the journey many times from begin caught up in a fear or worry through to being totally complete without any change in our conditioned circumstances, it might be as simple as thinking, “I’ve lost my connection to the nondual.  But what is it that I’ve lost.  Ah, yes!  I remember. It’s “this,” this thing that I can’t lose or hold onto.  Wow, that is simple.  Here I am back in the place where I can’t say what it is.  How wonderful!”  We retrace a journey we’ve made many times.  In fact, often the journey happens automatically.  It is like being in a dark basement, in the underground carpark, hitting the elevator button, and presto, within a few seconds we are in the lookout tower, enjoying our lives from a totally different perspective.  (This is why the incline back to the nondual is steeper here.)

If our clients or workshop participants are new to nondual work they may need some support in the form of unfindability inquiry that let’s them dismantle the construction that creates a feeling of lack and contraction.  We will help them identify a core construction in their narrative, for example, “I am worried that I won’t be able to retain this experience when I’m at home with my family.” We will inquiry into this construction.  We could look for the “I”, the “worry” or the “experience that will be lost” and not be able to find any of them.  We only need to “see through” one of these concepts for the entire construction to dissolve and allow for a re-presencing of the nondual.

G.    Over time we presence the nondual while retaining a more intimate involvement and connection with ever changing flow of conditioned experience.  Ever-present awareness begins to pervade our spiritual life, our work and relationships. Nevertheless, we are still prone to reify awareness, perhaps by creating some theory about how it relates to emotions, relationships, or psychotherapy, or politics.  Or, we might feel that the nondual is love or bliss, i.e. something that is conditioned and which can arise and dissipate.  So at some point we again see that nondual awareness isn’t a conditioned experience, but nor is it different from the experiences that are delivered to us through our mind and senses.

H.    Even though we may be quite familiar with nondual awareness and able to easily access this space in satsang, on a Dzogchen retreat, or with a nondual therapist, in most people’s lives events arise that effectively block access to our primordial state.  Perhaps our marriage starts to break apart, our children go off the rails, a parent suddenly needs fulltime care, our guru dies, or we become seriously ill.  Even for people who are very familiar with the nondual it’s easy to go on a family vacation for two weeks and the nondual takes leave as well!

I.    In these cases it is easy become engrossed in ourselves for weeks or even months.  We either forget about nondual awareness completely, or “know that it’s there” but are unable to taste the ease and freedom of nondual awareness even for a few seconds.  The journey could be short or long.  Perhaps we are identified with a thought for just a few seconds.  Or the journey might take several weeks.  The challenge in these times is to take the journey we are on.  We might think, “I know there is no one making this journey.  I know (intellectually) that there is no one who suffers.”  But still we ache and suffer.  If the gateways to the nondual all seem closed we take on board the first noble truth of the Buddha.  Yes, we suffer.  If we have needs and preferences then yes, we are bound to suffer.  “Clearly, what’s happening for me now isn’t what I want to be happening.  That’s the problem. That’s why I’m suffering.  And there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.”  So, we suffer.  We accept the inevitability that we will suffer for as long as we can’t accept things as they are.

But we also know that our suffering is a conditioned experience.  Our preferences aren’t being met at the moment.  But everything changes.  At some point our suffering will dissolve.  We don’t know when.  But, for sure, it will change.  We might suffer more before we suffer less.  But the sun will shine in.  At some point we will feel better.  That is great, but it is also an opportunity to recognize that “feeling better” is still just a conditioned state.  We are still in the cycle of pleasure and pain.

J.    Often, all that’s needed here is a code word like “centerlessness” or “just this” and instantly we are back here, where nothing is missing and it’s impossible for things to be better, because we’re in a domain where ideas of better and worse make no sense at all.  The sheer vertical movement of this line shows how we can move from a point where we are identified with a conditioned aspect of experience back into full recognition of awareness itself, in an instance.  It does occur, in an instant, the moment we recognize that “this” is beyond presence and absence, and hence can never be lost or gained: the moment we see that the gateway to the nondual is always exactly we were are.

K.    Here we are presencing the nondual with an increasing inclusion of conditioned experience.

L.    Here we abide in the nondual, with our senses fully open and actively engaged with the world.  We are a clearing—a centerless space—through which our unique life-world moves.  Whether we are in deep meditative absorption or actively engaged with the world, we receive everything that arises without any glitches—without any movements of attachment or rejection.  All thoughts, feelings, colors and sensations arises as the play of contentless awareness—like paintings in the sky.

Copyright © Peter Fenner, 2011


[1] This paper is a significant expansion of material that was first prepared for the Manual of the 10 month Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training I offer in North America and Europe.  See  These notes are primarily for the benefit of therapists and facilitators who are familiar with Buddhist teachings. Back to [1]

[2] In this context the word “this” is the equivalent of “de nyid” in Tibetan: a term that means “just (nyid) this (de)”.  De nyid means thisness, not this as something in particular but “this” as “this” no matter who we are or what, or when “this” is happening. Back to [2]

[3] Some people object to the use of terms like “nondual,” “awareness” and “nondual awareness.” They correctly point out that “this” is not “nondual” in contast to the “dual”.  Also, “awareness” can’t be found or qualified so we can’t see “this” as awareness.  All this is true, and this is the precise meaning of these terms.   These terms have been used for thousands of years to point to the unfindability of the self, mind, awareness, ultimate reality, and so on.  It doesn’t make sense to reject the use of simple code words that have been used effectively for millennia.  This misses the critical recognition that there is nothing to reject!  The idea that a word—any word—could obscure “nothing” is itself misleading. We should heed Vimalakirti’s injunction to rely on the intention of whatever words are use to point to the nondual, and not on the specific words themselves.  See Robert Thurman. The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture. University Park: Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976. Back to [3]

[4] This is the exact meaning of the term samskrta in Buddhism.  Thoughts and empirical phenomena are samskrta-dharmas meaning they are composed, compounded, conditioned, or constructed. Back to [4]

[5] You may note that already I am talking about it as something that’s happening, not as a theoretical possibility.  This is where I am, and I am inviting people to join me “here.” Back to [5]

[6] In Buddhist hermeneutics, dharma transmissions are categorized as being either interpretable (neyartha) or definitive (nitartha).  I am using the distinction between definitive and interpretable teaching in my own way here, though it generally fits with the Prasangika Madhyamika understanding.  In fact, there is a great deal of disagreement between the Mahayana schools about “that which is definitive” and “that which is “interpretable.” (See Donald Lopez. Buddhist Hermeneutics. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993 and S. Thakchoe. The Two Truths Debate: Tsongkhapa and Gorampa on the Middle Way. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2007.)

An interpretable transmission has content and meaning.  It is also contextual meaning that it’s value depends on the state and circumstances of the person who hears it.  It is univocal. A definitive transmission is unequivocal.  It is valid throughout time and space because there is nothing to interpret.  The definitive transmission is the direct realization of nondual awareness.  The distinction between these two types of transmission is extremely useful, especially for anyone who is facilitating nondual work. Back to [6]

[7] In my understanding the neti neti level of discourse is not definitive because it is “saying something”.  The dualistic mind tries to grasp the nondual by thinking, “Ah!  I get it.  It is not a thing.  It is unconditioned, nondual, etc.”  This is still a position.  Something is being said, hence it is open to (mis-)interpretation.

The state of nondual awareness also comes and goes but not in the conventional sense, because there is nothing in it to come or go.  It does not happen in any conventional sense of the word.  It isn’t an event. Back to [7]

[8] Tony Duff. trs. Alchemy of Accomplishment. Kathmandu: Padma Karpo Translation Committee, 2008. Back to [8]

[9] Mahayana hermeneutics recognizes four levels or ranges (chatushkoti) in terms of how we describe reality.  Reality can be describes with positive attributes (is), negative attributes (is not), through contradictions (is and is not) and double negations (neither is nor is not).  I often use first level language when I first introduce the nondual, especially in describing workshops.  I then move into second level expressions when I’m working with people face-to-face or by phone.  At some point we progress into the third and fourth ranges (Fenner: 2010). Back to [9]

[10] The third way we could understand “this” is in terms of the time and conditioned location we are in, but this is already given and not relevant in terms of revealing the nondual. Back to [10]

[11] In terms of Buddhist nondualism the process I use combines aspects of the Dzogchen-Mahamudra approach to realizing nondual awareness (rig pa or sems nyid) and more classical Mahayana methods for realizing emptiness (stong pa nyid) or selflessness (bdag med).  In Dzogchen and Mahamudra the two levels of reality, the ultimate and the relative aren’t highly differentiated at the level of practice (Brown: 2006 and Tashi Namgyal: 2001). The practices of natural mediation and the meditation of non-meditation dissolve a boundary between the unconditioned and conditioned.  Co-emergent wisdom is realized from the outset.

In classical Sutra Mahayana, two levels of reality are distinguished philosophically and at the level of practice.  Within the Madhyamika, for example, practitioners focus on realizing what is called a space-like, or non-residual emptiness. This is an experience of emptiness in which the arising of relativities (thoughts, feelings and sensations) have been highly attenuated.  Yogis engaging in deconstructive inquiry while in a highly concentrated and highly internalized meditative state.  The post-meditative practice consists of infusing the results of their formal contemplations on selflessness into the structure of their daily lives.  For a traditional account of Madhyamika praxis see Jeffrey Hopkins. Meditation on Emptiness. Boston, Wisdom Publications, 1996.

In some respects the way I initially distinguish the nondual by disconnecting our attention from our conditioned experience, corresponds to the Sutra Mahayana approach.  When I collapse the distinction between the awareness and the appearance which arise in awareness, this corresponds more closely to the Dzogchen-Mahamudra approach.

To simplify this further we could say that in Dzogchen-Mahamudra, “this” points to both awareness and appearances.  In Madhyamika, we could say that “this” points to the ultimate, unconditioned dimension when we are systemically engaged in the deconstructive contemplations that define its form of vipashyana meditation.  When we are functioning in the social world “this” point to our empirical experience.  Over time to two blend and in both systems, Dzogchen-Mahamudra and Classical Mahayana, one realizes a co-emergent wisdom. Back to [11]


  • Brown, D. (2006). Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
  • Chandrakirti. (2005). Introduction to the Middle Way: Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara with Commentary by Ju Mipham. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
  • Duff, T. trs. (2008). Alchemy of Accomplishment. Kathmandu: Padma Karpo Translation Committee.
  • Fenner, P. (2011). “In Hot Pursuit of Egolessness”, Paradoxica: Journal of Nondual Psychology, Vol. 4.
  • Fenner, P. (2010). Nondual Teacher and Therapist Training. Palo Alto, California, Wisdom Editions.
  • Fenner, P. (2007). Radiant Mind: Awakening Unconditioned Awareness. Boulder: Colorado, Sounds True.
  • Fenner, P. (2007). Radiant Mind: Teachings and Practices for Awakening Unconditioned Awareness. (7 audio CD set) Boulder, Colorado, Sounds True.
  • Fenner, P. (2006). “Listening and Speaking from no-mind.” In Listening from the Heart of Silence (eds. John Prendergast and Ken Bradford), Paragon Press.
  • Fenner, P. (2003). “Nonduality and Therapy: Awakening the Unconditioned Mind.”  In The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy (eds. John Prendergast, Peter Fenner and Sheila Krystal), Paragon Press.
  • Hopkins, J. (1996). Meditation on Emptiness. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
  • Katz, J. (2007). One: Essential Writings on Nonduality. Sentient Publications.
  • Longchenpa. (2006). Radical Dzogchen: Old Man Basking in the Sun. Translation and Commentary of Longchen Rabjampa’s Treasury of Natural Perfection by Keith Dowman. Kathmandu, Nepal: Vajra Books.
  • Longchenpa. (1998). The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding. Junction City, California: Padma Publishing.
  • Longchenpa. (2001a). The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena, Junction City. California: Padma Publishing.
  • Longchenpa. (2001b). A Treasury Trove of Spiritual Transmission. Junction City, California: Padma Publishing.
  • Lopez, D. (1993). Buddhist Hermeneutics. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  • Maharshi, Ramana. (1988). The Spiritual Teaching of Ramana Maharshi, Boston: Shambhala.
  • Maharshi, Ramana. (1989). Be as You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.  Edited by David Godman. Penguin; Reissue edition.
  • Prendergast, J., Peter Fenner, and Sheila Krystal (eds.) Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom & Psychotherapy. St.Paul, MN: Paragon House Publishers, 2003.
  • Prendergast, John J. and Ken Bradford (eds.). Listening from the Heart of Silence. St.Paul, MN: Paragon House Publishes, 2007.
  • Nagarjuna. (2005). (Erik Hoogcarspel, trs.) The Central Philosophy: Basic Verses. Olive Press, Amsterdam.
  • Thakchoe, S. (2007). The Two Truths Debate: Tsongkhapa and Gorampa on the Middle Way. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
  • Tashi Namgyal, Dakpo. (2001) Clarifying the Natural State: A Principal Practice Guide for Mahamudra. Boudhanath, Nepal: Rangjung Yeshe.
  • Thurman, R. (1976). The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture. University Park: Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Thurman, R. (1984). Tsong Khapa’s Speech of Gold in the Essence of True Eloquence: Reason and Enlightenment in the Central Philosophy of Tibet. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Copyright © Peter Fenner, 2011

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Teacher-Student Relationships Thu, 02 Jan 2014 19:26:26 +0000 Man: One of the things that has struck me during the course is how you say very little about the teacher-student relationship even though you’re teachers in your own right. You seem to work creatively in balancing any projections we might have towards you as “teachers”. This is refreshing as these days there seems to be a lot of confusion about the role of the guru-disciple relationship.

Peter: Yes, there is a lot of confusion. Many Westerners have invested a great deal of trust in Japanese, Tibetan and Indian teachers during the past twenty years or so. In these classic traditions the teacher is projected as being free of desire and personal ambition. Within this paradigm it is important for the student’s development to view the teacher as being fully enlightened. The student is expected to place unquestioned trust in their teacher and to see any defects as their own spiritual impurity.

My own involvement in Tibetan Buddhism was framed by this perspective. In my case I feel very fortunate because my relationship with my principle teacher, Lama Thubten Yeshe, was only positive. The unquestioned trust I placed in him was always rewarded with intense and valuable opportunities for spiritual growth. But I know that many people have become disillusioned though their relationships with spiritual masters.

Penny: While the guru-student relationship can be very creative and productive, in other instances it can be quite destructive. The undiscerning projection of perfection onto another individual can lead to disappointment, hurt and confusion. Many students who have been badly burned by the heat of their teacher’s desires are now speaking up. Others have become disillusioned by scandalous stories they’ve heard.

Right now we’re experiencing something of a backlash against the unquestioned trust some students have invested in their spiritual teachers. In some cases the pendulum has swung from trust to mistrust. When this happens people can view all teachers with reservation and suspicion, or down right contempt. Many people are now confined to the positions of trusting or mistrusting spiritual teachers.

Woman: You seem to keep clear of this paradigm.

Peter: We see a need to create a balance between dependence and independence. Whilst we acknowledge that we do play a significant role in the unfolding of this process – and the experiences that people enjoy – we don’t want people to become dependent on us, as this weakens their capacity to recreate a more spacious experience when they are by themselves. We open up a space, taking care to correct any projection that this is entirely dependent on us. Basically, we just try to be real. We let people see that the experiences that occur through our work are created in the interactions between us all. We acknowledge our role as facilitators without tripping out that we are indispensable. If we see that people are becoming co-dependent on us, we point out that this produces serious limitations to their spiritual growth.

Penny: In countries like Tibet the culture was based on a spiritual paradigm in which teacher- student relationships were central. Because of this there were assumptions about a teacher’s integrity and intention that could go unquestioned. In translating these classical traditions into the West, we have to be alert. This is a consumer culture. And being such, people can unconsciously try and consume spirituality in a way that is quite different from places like India and Tibet. We need to be discerning about our spiritual guides and teachers. We need to discover and cultivate relationships with teachers that are neither tainted by distance and suspicion, nor based on blind trust. In this work we consciously dissolve the boundaries between student and teacher without diminishing or ignoring their roles and importance. We do this by observing and feeding back the different identities that people project on us. From our own side we try to operate from a space in which we neither accept, nor reject the perceptions people have of us. We don’t reject the roles that people project on to us, but nor do we collude with those projections.

Peter: We invite participants to free themselves from a mind-set in which the only moves are to reject or accept the identities of “teacher” and “student”. We can become more discerning at an energetic level as to how we create dependence on an external source, or actively seek to maintain our independence. Together we can then enjoy an experience that transcends individual identities.

Woman: You move skillfully between the role of teacher and the role of non-teacher. Without you we have difficulty creating this space by ourselves, and yet when you are here you don’t slip into the usual role of teachers. I am intrigued.

Peter: This begs the question. Who is responsible for what you are experiencing right now?

Woman: I am.

Peter: Are you? Are you responsible for the words you hear me say right now?

Woman: Well no. You are.

Peter: Am I? I thought I was responding to your answers.

Woman: Then, I’m responsible for what you are saying.

Peter: Then what am I going to say next?

Woman:  I don’t know.


Peter: You see, it isn’t possible to say who exactly is responsible for what we are experiencing now. “Responsibility” is simply a concept that occurs in a conversation when we feel a need to assign credit or blame for what we are experiencing.

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Natural Meditation Thu, 02 Jan 2014 19:26:06 +0000

Because it is devoid of any innate substance, meditation does not exist. The act of meditation is not meditation. Because it is neither substance nor nothingness, meditation cannot be a conceivable reality. — Kalachakra Tantra

Peter: Those of you who have received teachings on the Tibetan Mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions are aware of a space that is talked about as “the meditation which is no meditation”. Essentially, what we are experiencing now is the space they’re talking about. We are in a contemplative space, yet there is nothing we are doing to create this. Meditation is occuring, without any action of “meditating”. In fact, it isn’t possible to “meditate” within this space because there is nothing we could achieve by doing this.


Man: Do you mean that this, right now, is meditation that is non-meditation?

Peter: Yes. You can imagine that if someone stepped into this room right now, they would very likely think that we are meditating in some way. They would easily sense the serenity and stillness in the room, and would conclude that we are in a state of meditative awareness, even though we are interacting. But, in reality we’re not meditating. This is happening, without us doing, or not doing, anything. This is just transpiring.


Woman: It feels like meditation is doing us, rather than us doing meditation.

Peter: Yes, traditions like Dzogchen and Mahamudra, talk about discovering ourselves in a contemplative state, rather than creating this state. There’s no decision to start to meditate. Instead, we find ourselves wherever we are-standing up, sitting down, interacting, reflecting, and so on.


You can also notice that it is impossible to do “more” of this, because we aren’t “doing” anything. Nor can we do less of this, because there isn’t any “it” that we’re doing.


Peter: Another reason this state or experience is called “non meditation”, is because there’s nothing to prolong and nothing to stop. We can’t be meditating because there is nothing to continue or discontinue. There is nothing to be disturbed or cultivated. It doesn’t make any difference if our eyes are open, or closed. Keeping our bodies still, or moving them, doesn’t influence the space we are in, because this space simply doesn’t exist. This is the paradox. We are quite clearly in a different space than where we usually are, yet it is impossible to say “where” we are. Beyond the obvious fact that we are in the room, we don’t seem to be anywhere.

Man: As you were talking, I have this very clear sense that I have always been in this state we are in now. There are times when I think that I’ve lost it, but this is just thinking that I’ve lost it.

Peter: In just the same way that thinking you have got it, or are in it, is just “thinking” that you are in it!


Woman: What about distractions? A few minutes ago I sort of left this state because I started to pay attention to a mosquito that was buzzing about.

Peter: What state? It seems that your attention was redirected, in just the same way that it is now redirected to this interaction.

Woman: So, I’m not clear. Are we in this state all the time?

Peter: What state are you talking about?

Woman:This state.

Peter:What state?


Woman: What about when we go to sleep. Does it stop then?

Peter: Nothing is happening, so how could this stop when we are asleep? In terms of this state, it makes no difference if we are asleep or awake.

Man: Or, even whether we are dead or alive.

Woman: I’m confused, you seem to be talking about something, and then you say it is nothing.

Peter: Yes. If you try to “think” about this, if you try to understand it, it is paradoxical – that’s simply the way it is.

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Why do I exist? Thu, 02 Jan 2014 19:25:11 +0000 Peter: It is probably safe to assume that you are here this evening because you believe there is some knowledge or insight you could gain, that will help the quality of your life, even though you are no doubt familiar with spiritual literature which says that understanding isn’t really going to help, in the long run. Even though we may have read about, and be attracted to, the experience spoken about in Zen and other traditions, as “no-mind”, “beginner’s mind”, or “non-conceptual wisdom”, we have a resistance to being in a state of “not knowing”. We seek the impossible. We want to “know” what the state of “not knowing” is. So rather than just feed our intellects this evening, on the assumption that this is useful, let us stand back from our assumptions and begin to explore the immediate consequences of the different directions in which we may move this evening.


So here we are with a block of time – about two hours. By definition you’re here because you take your psychological and spiritual search seriously. You paid money to be here. You also had to move your bodies from wherever you were earlier this evening, in order to be here. So we have two hours of free time, with no commitment, other than to use this as skillfully as possible in terms of our spiritual development. So how can we maximize this opportunity? What can we do that will allow you to feel that you have made real progress? We have no agenda. So what is the best thing that we can do?

Woman: To share.

Peter: To share what?


Peter: To simply say that we should share is very imprecise. I think we would all agree that some forms of sharing would be a waste of time in terms of the spiritual path. For example, we could share information about the wild life in Australia and France. But, I don’t think this would do the trick.


Peter: So what type of sharing can help us this evening? And remember, we want to make progress. Most of us believe that time is precious. If we ever think that we’re wasting time, then we think that time is precious. You can see that I’m not giving answers. That is not my style. This is not like a lecture in which you passively listen to what someone else is saying.

[Silence] Peter: Given that there is already a fair amount of silence occurring, do you think it makes any difference whether we are silent or sharing through conversation? Are we better to sit here in silence or continue conversing?

Woman: For me it does make a difference.

Peter: Which do you feel is better, being silent or engaging in dialogue?

Woman: I would like you to talk to us about what you call “assumptions”.

Peter: I could do that but is that going to help us? Let’s not just assume that talking about assumptions is useful. And there, incidentally, is an answer to your question. There is an example of an assumption. The assumption is that it will help our fulfillment if we understand what I think assumptions are.


Peter: Assumptions are the beliefs that make sense of what we’re doing. By and large, for example, if I meditate, there is an assumption that it will be useful, that it is helpful. If someone doesn’t meditate, there is an assumption that there is no real value in it.

Woman: You haven’t said enough. I want you to say more.

Peter: It feels as though you want me to offer you a story about the way that our assumptions restrict our capacity for freedom and creativity and how we can transcend their influence. You want to hear my version of the spiritual path. You want me to talk about what gets in the way of real fulfillment. Overall, I think you want me to create some “hope” that a better quality of living is a real possibility.

Woman: Well yes. I do want to hear what you have to say about how to reach enlightenment.

Peter: So what is the assumption that accounts for the very active way you are listening to me right now?

Woman: I want to learn more!

Peter: Yes. But you said to me, “That’s not enough. You haven’t said enough about assump- tions.” So what’s behind that?

Woman: Many things. In fact I have many questions.

Peter: Right. But that your one question is in fact “many” questions reinforces the feeling that you are operating out of one core assumption.

[Silence] Peter: What is being challenged right now?

Woman: My need to know, to figure out what is happening.

Peter: Yes. And if you don’t know it produces discomfort and anxiety.

Woman: I don’t like it. I’m being honest. I cannot stop myself wanting to know. I need to know.

Peter: You need to know what?

Woman: Why I exist.

Peter: Why do you have to know that?

Woman: Because I don’t have the answer.

Peter: But if you need to ask the question simply because you don’t have an answer, you will be asking questions for the rest of your life. A question of the type you have just asked can be a source of unending frustration. You can never come up with a definite answer to the question: Why do I exist? You can never achieve closure on that type of question. That is why people ask that same question, millennia after millennia, without getting any closer to an “answer” that would stop the question. It is the type of question that is designed to stimulate our thinking. I’m still not clear why you need to know why you exist. From one point of view there is noth- ing to even think about. You are a happening, and you will continue to happen until you don’t exist.

Woman: But I just feel I need to know more and more.

Peter: What do you need to know right now?


Woman: I need to know what is happening right now. I’m starting to feel quite lost.

Peter: What do you think is happening?

Woman: I’m not sure. This feels very strange. What is happening?

Peter: We are in a conversation in which you are trying to work out what is happening.

Woman: You must know what is happening.

Peter: I’m not coming up with anything. And I don’t feel any real need to know what is hap- pening beyond the observations I’m making.

Woman: So you mean we are both lost?

Peter: Well no. I don’t feel lost. I’m quite familiar with this space.

Woman: So where are we?

Peter: We are in a space where we can’t say where we are.

Woman: Well, I still feel there is something I need to know, but I don’t know what it is. And this is really frustrating.

Peter: Do you have any idea where you can begin to look for an answer?

Woman: I don’t even know if there is an answer. As I said, I don’t even know what I’m looking for. I just feel stuck.

Peter: Stuck in what?

Woman: I don’t know. I’m just stuck. What is happening?

Peter: You think there is something you need to know, but you haven’t got any idea what it is.

Woman: Right. So what can I do? I don’t even know what to do. I don’t even know if there is

anything I need to do.


Peter: Do we need to do anything more with this at the moment?

Woman: I don’t know.

Peter: Are you okay where you are?

Woman: I guess so.

Peter: Are you feeling comfortable or uncomfortable?

Woman: I really can’t say.

Peter: Are you okay not being able to say exactly what you are feeling?

Woman: Yes I am.

[Long silence]

Woman: I came here this evening with a lot of questions. I don’t know what has happened. I have the feeling of being influenced by a very extraordinary energy. I don’t have any answers, at least the type of answers I was expecting. But nor do I have any questions. Thank you.

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Stuck with bad genes Thu, 02 Jan 2014 19:24:00 +0000 Participant: Can you describe what the Intrinsic Freedom course is about? (Now called Radi- ant Mind Course)

Peter: Essentially what we do in a course is create an ideologically neutral environment that allows your own individual way of constructing the experience that “something is missing” to express itself. We don’t impose a philosophical, spiritual, or psychological ideology that will skew or condition how this belief expresses itself for you. The course is a microcosmic expression of how you construct the experiences of “lack” and “fulfillment” on a day-to-day basis. It lets you experi- ence at a very fine and deep level, the structures that produce the experiences of being “on track” or “off-track”, in “breakdown” or “breakthrough”, and so on.

Penny: Because the course is neutral in the sense that it doesn’t validate or invalidate any particular system of belief, it accommodates people who interpret their lives from a spiritual, reli- gious, psychological, or new-age perspective. The course doesn’t “collude” with any particular orientation or perspective. In fact, it very clearly reveals people’s preferences and assumptions.

Participant: How do you create the space for revealing these patterns?

Penny: Well, we begin by inviting participants to follow some very simple guidelines. For example, we suggest that people become aware of, and correct, their tendency to either make hard work of the course, or just cruise through it, as though it was a vacation. People become aware of their preference to adopt a hands-on, or hands-off approach. In terms of how people interact with others, we simply suggest that you observe any energy or impulse to invade other people’s space, or create artificial distance, either through fear of offending others, or by indulging a need for privacy. In a group setting we suggest that people neither try and draw attention to themselves by hogging the floor, or divert attention away from themselves by keeping a low profile. This dimension of the work is done very much at a “feeling” level. For example, people become sensitized at a bodily level to how they are attracted towards some situations, and repelled from others. These gentle guidelines help to create a lovely social environment in which people are neither defensive, nor out to validate their own opinions. The guidelines produce a creative balance between sharing and privacy.

Peter: With this as a platform we are then able to reveal and dismantle the specific fixations that arise during the course. Quite a bit of this disclosing and dismantling occurs in group dialogues. These dialogues work with people’s constructions in the here-and-now. They work in a very precise way with fixations as they manifest. So the content is relevant to what people are experiencing. It isn’t theoretical. Also, because we impose very little structure, people clearly see how they construct meaning and meaninglessness, purpose and lack of purpose, loss and gain, “not getting it” and “getting it”. These dialogues bring energy and clarity to people’s experience, so in between the group dialogues you continue to explore and experience the relationship between beliefs and feelings. Also, sometimes we set up specific exercises designed to dismantle our fixations around “doing” and “not doing”, “getting it” and “not getting it”, and so on. In many ways the course is like a natural koan, in that is stimulates a profound inquiry into the very structure of our existence. Participant: I do a lot of sitting practice and have reached a place that seems fairly much like what you’re talking about, and then the retreat’s over and I go back into a life and all my “stuff” comes back again. Any number of times I get to this place where I feel there is no completion or incompletion, but then it comes up again-this feeling of being wounded or damaged at some deep level. It seems to me this past conditioning is very strong, and the level of fear is so unconscious and inaccessible that I can’t get rid of it. I think this is true for most of us. How is this approach going to be any different?

Peter: In order to give you a taste of how we approach your question, I’ll just point out that what you are doing now is constructing an interpretation on the spot, that validates the loss of a valued experience. Moreover, you are empowering this interpretation by using terms like condition- ing, unconscious, wounded, inaccessible, and so on. Also, notice how you implied that your interpre- tation essentially applies to everyone. As soon as we activate such a belief we can readily find any number of sources-individuals, books, systems-which validate this interpretation as being real and valid. Believe me, it is very easy to get people to agree with any interpretation that makes life diffi- cult. Look at the amount of literature that just assumes that our present problems stem from parental influences, or “weighed down” by past karma. I’m not denying that the past can impact the present. But the point is that you are sharing your interpretation as though it’s a reality-as though this IS how things are. And to the extent that you expect, or invite, others to share that interpretation it can become a reality.

Penny: We tell ourselves stories, and earnestly share them with others. We say: “Don’t you think these things are very deep?” And our friends say: Yes, they really are, aren’t they.” We say: “I think they even go back further than our childhood. Don’t you think?” And our friends respond: “Yes, it really feels like that.” (Group laughter)

Peter: An alternative is to re-enter that space that transcends a feeling of incompletion (or even completion) by inquiring into what that experience was. We ask the question: “What, or where is that space that transcends loss and gain? But we ask it not with the intention of producing an explanation or theory, but rather in a open mood of wondering what that could actually be. “What am I talking about when I say that my experience was neither complete nor incomplete?” “What was that thing that I thought I had, and then lost?”

Participant: It seems like you’re asking us to take a leap into enlightenment. I agree with everything you’ve said, but at the same time this “conditioning” does seem very real and solid. It is in the very structure of our bodies. All the fears, and tensions and reactions have impacted our nervous systems and this is why the same stuff arises again and again.

Peter: Perhaps, but again just notice your commitment to your interpretation. We offer our “interpretations” as “canonical truths”. In fact, these days people have a short-hand way of saying what you are saying. If you want to say that something is intractable, and really can’t be shifted you just say, “You know, I think its genetic.” (Laughter) I’m sure you have noticed how people now say that all sorts of personal patterns and problems are “genetic.” People’s shame is genetic. Their anxiety is genetic. Their infidelity is genetic.

Participant: I see what you are saying. We figure that we’re referring to a real situation, some- thing that’s solid-and we are unwilling to really look into it.

Peter: Right. Because remember, there are times when you are feeling good when this preoccu- pation with conditioning just doesn’t seem relevant-or this interpretation even correct. So, the skill is in being able to see how we solidify and consolidate the belief that something is bad, wrong, or missing. We become sensitive to the thoughts that seed a limiting and constricting interpretation of our experience. We recognize the beliefs that kick-off a new “fix” on how thing are.

Participant: But what is it about human beings that produces this experience of lack in the first place? I mean, it isn’t just a personal experience, it’s a universal phenomenon.

Peter: This is just what I am talking about. You see, if you begin to talk about a sense of lack in this way, it is very easy for it to become a nearly intractable problem. If we move in this direction, even for just a minute or so, we could find ourselves believing that it is impossible to ever escape the feeling that something is missing. The skill is in catching ourselves right when we begin to lay down the first brick of a limiting interpretation. The alternative…

Participant: (Laughing) I’ve got it!

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