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  • Writer's pictureJackson Peterson

The Common Denominator: Absolute Non-Duality, the Highest Teaching

From Jackson Peterson

(I do not always agree with Jackson Peterson's viewpoint, but what I find truly valuable is his dedication and application in finding and teaching what works. He has an unusually deep knowledge of the various mystical traditions and is able to see (from his perspective) their various strengths and weaknesses. In this post he describes the commonality of the nature of non-duality found in all the mystical traditions . Anne)

I mentioned in my book The Natural Bliss of Being that my research was guided by a wish to find the real common denominators amongst all the authentic spiritual traditions. I felt those principles which were found to be commonly held, were probably indicative of something truly extraordinary and revealing about the nature of reality.

It’s only been most recently that my efforts bore real fruit. I discovered that there exists a common thread of true non-duality viewed identically by Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Zen, Kashmiri Shaivism, Advaita Vedanta, Kabbalah and Sufism.

Previously I focused on the common teachings they all shared regarding our true identity to be an empty, cognitive Awareness, like Aware Space. That’s all true, but it left the nature of the “external universe” to also be further researched, fully understood and satisfactorily resolved without leaving any major unexplained paradoxes.

All these mystical traditions have arrived at the exact same conclusion or view as per the reported experiences of their sages and most advanced practitioners.

That view is: the Absolute Nature is Itself appearing AS each sentient being, and AS all thoughts, states, identities, perceptions, objects and all phenomena; illusory and real. And that you are actually that Absolute Nature appearing as the conventional self felt as “me”. The actual experiencer is identical to the experienced.

I will offer some key quotes from each tradition which exemplify this totally non-dual and all encompassing view:

From Dzogchen:

“In this there has never been a duality of Buddhas and sentient beings. This is called soaring through the sky with the perfect wings of the view.”

“This is the perfection of the perfect, the true heart-essence of enlightenment. Everything is naturally the way that it is, so we have nothing to worry about. The uncontrived thigle is one, and so it is that the apparent world is primordially a Buddha.”

“The apparent world, both external and internal, is total Buddhahood by its very nature. The way things truly are has been an uncontrived heart-essence from the beginning.”

“Everything is only this. There is nothing other than this.”

“The apparent world is the primordial Buddha.”

“Everything is perfect, so we are in a state of indivisible great bliss. Samantabhadra is totally pervasive and encompassing.” Quotes from “The Tantra on the Soaring of the Great Garuda” translated by Chris Wilkinson

From the earliest discovered Dzogchen text, the Six Vajra Verses:

“Staying free from the trap of any attempt to say it's 'like this', or `like that', it becomes clear that all manifested forms are aspects of the infinite formless, and, indivisible from it, are self-perfected.”

“Seeing that everything is self-perfected from the very beginning, the disease of striving for any achievement comes to an end of its own accord, and just remaining in the natural state as it is, the presence of non-dual contemplation continuously, spontaneously arises." (Translation by Namkhai Norbu)

Here are some quotes from a Dzogchen teaching by Lama Tenzin Namdak from his commentary on the “Seven Mirrors of Dzogchen”:

“The Natural State is always integrated with your consciousness. It has never been away from your consciousness, never, ever.”

“In the same way, whatever arises from Nature and appears as spontaneous visions or thoughts - thoughts are also visions; any kind of emotion or thoughts, good or bad, are called visions, everything is like waves or reflections in water.”

“No matter what appears in the water, it is all wet, and in the same way, whatever visions or thoughts, good or bad [arise from Nature], they are all forms of the Unspeakable State.”

“So here we can say that the Nature aspect is dharmakaya.”

“In the same way, whatever arises from one’s Self-Nature and appears as spontaneous visions or thoughts - thoughts are also visions; any kind of emotion or thoughts, good or bad, are called visions - everything is like waves or reflections in water. No matter what appears in the water, it is all wet, and in the same way, whatever visions or thoughts, good or bad [arise from Self-Nature], they are all forms of the Unspeakable State.”

“Nature is 'taking the form' of happiness or suffering, all kinds of consciousnesses and perceptions, everything.”

“It is very, very important to know this. Whatever appears from this Nature, whatever thoughts come - it doesn't matter whether they are good or bad, sad, but everything appears from this Nature.”

“Nature is 'taking the form' of happiness or suffering, all kinds of consciousnesses and perceptions, everything.”

“That is real, not just made or created by visualization; there is no need to change anything, no need to think anything. There is no excuse; that is real Nature. You can follow this and trust it, it is real Nature.”

“Don't say you don't know Nature or you haven't seen it; it is always together with you - it is your Nature, the Nature of yourself, no separation.”

“At that time, it looks as though you are watching Nature or the thought, but if you look carefully, where is 'you'? Where is the watcher?”

“That is a mistake [if you think there is some duality]; you are integrated with Nature, together with your thought. There is no separation between you and the thought.”

“You think and feel as though you are separate, as though the thought is like an object, but that is a mistake. Don't follow this. At the same time, the thought and the 'watcher' are liberated back to Nature together; there is no separation into 'you' or 'thought' or 'Nature.' All together, they go back to the unspeakable state.”

“After this, there is no consciousness, no person, nothing exists separately, so who sees this State, this Nature? It sees itself.”

“That is special. It cannot be compared with any other Schools at all. People often try to compare this with the Madhyamaka view, but it is not possible to do so. This is special. Itself sees itself.”

“That is called Awareness, Self-Awareness. When we speak about Nature we say it is empty, but that is only in order to give it some name; this Emptiness cannot be compared with any other understanding of emptiness, not at all. This is very special.”

“Actually, it is not possible to give it a name or explain it - it is utterly beyond thought, beyond words. We only use these names temporarily in texts or Teachings, to try to lead students and make them understand, but the main thing is that when you look there, the unspeakable state is the Unspeakable State. It can see itself.”

“It can be seen, but who sees it? It sees itself. What does it see? It sees itself. We call this Nature and Awareness.”

“Awareness (rigpa) is Nature, Nature is Awareness; there is no separation. Not at all.”

“We explain several aspects. But Nature itself is an indescribable State. Sometimes we say it is empty, pure and clear.”

“The Purity aspect is called kadag. The Clarity aspect is called rigpa. The aspect of Unification is called nyime, non-dual, inseparable.”

“This Nature is special in that it is perfected. What does this mean? It means that good things, bad things, everything appears spontaneously from this Nature.”

“Nature doesn't do anything special, it doesn't create anything. But this Nature has power, and so pure, impure, good, bad - anything can appear from it.”

“So we explain that this real Nature has Clarity, Unification and Perfection. We mainly explain [these aspects]. So here we can say that the Nature aspect is dharmakaya.”

“Nature is 'taking the form' of happiness or suffering, all kinds of consciousnesses and perceptions, everything.”

“At that time, people quite often have the thought or feeling; 'I am looking at the thought.' When you have this kind of sensation, immediately look back towards who is watching the thought. Just as you look at the thought, it disappears and there is an unspeakable state, so in the same way, look back to the 'owner' [of the thought] or the subject which is the watcher. “

“This will equally disappear into the Natural State at the same time. Both subject and object are equally liberated back to Nature. This is Nature.”

“Afterwards, there is no subject, no object, no separation, no differences at all, they are both equally the Unspeakable State. That is the Basic Nature.”

“Keep in this State for as long as you can. After a while a thought will arise spontaneously; you can see it clearly. This thought has come. At that time, you must neither reject it, nor follow it. Just leave it as a shining reflection in the mirror. You don't need to do anything, just leave it, and it will be liberated and disappear soon afterwards. It liberates into the Nature which is also the Base (Zhi) from which the thought appeared.”

“Nature is 'taking the form' of happiness or suffering, all kinds of consciousnesses and perceptions, everything.”


Master Maitripa:

“It is the mind's own nature that is Mahamudra [i.e., the Absolute State]. It is not something to be perfected or transformed. Thus, to realize this, is to realize that the whole world of appearance is Mahamudra. This is the absolute all-inclusive Dharmakaya [i.e.,the Ultimate Embodiment of Buddhahood].”

“Clarifying the Natural State” by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal (b.1511-1587) Pointing Out Mahamudra:

“The meditator should now assume the correct posture in front of (the master, and be told the following): "Let your mind remain in its natural way. When thoughts have subsided, your mind is an intangible, aware emptiness. Be undistracted and look directly into the identity of this naked state! "At this moment, allow a feisty thought, such as delight, to take form.

The very moment it vividly occurs, look directly into its identity from within the state of aware emptiness. "Now, is this thought the intangible and naked state of aware emptiness? Or is it absolutely no different from the identity of innate mind-essence itself? Look!" Let the meditator look for a short while.

The meditator may say, "It is the aware emptiness. There seems to be no difference." If so, ask: "Is it an aware emptiness only AFTER the thought has dissolved? Or, is it an aware emptiness by driving away the thought by meditation?

Or, is the vividness of the thought itself the aware emptiness?"

“If the meditator says it is like one of the first two cases, he has not cleared up the former uncertainties and should therefore be set to resolve this for a few days. “

“On the other hand, if he personally experiences it to be like the latter case, he has seen the identity of thought and can therefore be given the following pointing-out instruction:

“When you look into a thought's identity, without having to dissolve the thought and without having to force it out by meditation, the vividness of the thought IS itself the indescribable and naked state of aware emptiness.”

“We call this seeing the natural face of innate thought or thought dawns AS dharmakaya.”

"Previously, when you determined the thought's identity and when you investigated the calm and the moving mind, you found that there was nothing other than this intangible single mind that is a self-knowing, natural awareness. It is just like the analogy of water and waves. “

"This being so, is there any difference between calm and movement? "Is there any difference between thinking and not thinking? "Is it better to be serenely calm? Do you need to be elated about it? "Is it worse when a thought abruptly arises? Do you need to be unhappy about it?”

"Unless you perceive this hidden deception, you will suffer the meditation famine. So, from now on, when a thought does not arise you need not deliberately make one arise so as to train in the state of its arising, and when the thought does arise you need not deliberately prevent it, so as to train in the state of its nonarising. Thus, do not be biased toward calm or movement."

“The principle for this thought can be applied to all thoughts.

However, the meditator should train for a while in simply making use of thoughts, so when no thoughts arise, conjure one up on purpose and sustain its essence. Otherwise, there is a danger of losing sight of the identity of thoughts. The meditator should, therefore, be instructed to continue practicing diligently for several days.

If it is preferable, bring in some quotations to instill certainty.

Third, the physical posture and so forth should be kept just as before. Then ask: "While in the composure of the natural state, allow a visual perception, such as that of a mountain or a house, to be vividly experienced.

When looking directly at the experience, is this perception itself an intangible aware emptiness? Or, is it the aware and empty nature of mind? Look for a while to see what the difference is between them. Let the meditator look. He may say, "There is no difference. It is an intangible, aware emptiness."

If so, then ask: "Is it an aware emptiness only AFTER the perceived image has disappeared? Or, is the image an aware emptiness by means of cultivating the aware emptiness? Or, IS the perceived image itself an aware emptiness?"

If the answer comes that it is one of the first two cases, the meditator has not thoroughly investigated the above and should therefore once more be sent to meditate and resolve this. If he does experience that the vividly perceived visual image itself - unidentifiable in any way other than as a mere presence of unconfined perception - is an aware emptiness, the master should then give this pointing-out instruction:

“When you vividly perceive a mountain or a house, no matter how this perception appears, it does not need to disappear or be stopped. Rather, while this perception is experienced, it is itself intangible, empty awareness. This is called seeing the identity of perception.”

“Previously you cleared up uncertainties when you looked into the identity of a perception and resolved that perceptions ARE mind.”

“Accordingly, the perception is not outside and the mind is not inside. It is merely, and nothing other than, this empty and aware mind that appears AS a perception.”

“It is exactly like the example of a dream-object and the dreaming mind.”

“From the very moment a perception occurs, it IS a naturally freed and intangible perceiving emptiness.”

“This perceiving yet intangible and naked state of empty perception is called seeing the natural face of innate perception or perception dawning as dharmakaya."

“This being so, 'empty' isn't something better and 'perceiving' isn't something worse, and perceiving and being empty are not separate entities. So, you can continue training in whatever is experienced. When perceiving, in order to deliberately train in perception, there is no need to arrest it. When empty, in order to deliberately train in emptiness, you do not need to produce it.”

“Whenever you recall the mindful presence of practice, all of appearance and existence is the Mahamudra of dharmakaya, without the need to adjust, accept or reject.”

“And so, from now on, continue the training without being biased toward perception or emptiness by repressing or encouraging either of them"

“Nevertheless, for a while allow various kinds of perceptions to take place. While perceiving it is essential to be undistracted from sustaining the unidentifiable essence."

“Thus, let the meditator train for several days. If it is preferred, bring in some quotations to instill certainty.”

“At some point, when mindfulness and your Mind are no longer seen to be different entities, everything turns into the nature of mindful presence and it is 'smooth sailing' from then on.”


From the great 12th century Sufi Balyani:

“Because of this, the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) said, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord”. He also said, “I knew my Lord through my Lord”.

“What the Prophet meant by this, is that you are not you but you are He and there is no you; and it is not that He enters into you or comes out of you, or that you enter into Him or come out of Him.”

“Then God showed him what is other than Him as Himself, without the existence of what is other than Him. So he saw things as they are, that is, he saw them as the essence of God – may He be exalted! – without how or where.”

“The word ‘things’ may equally well be applied to the self or to other things, the existence of the self being similarly in the category of things. When one knows the things, one knows oneself and when one knows oneself, one knows the Lord: because what you think is other than God is not other than God but you do not know it. You see Him and you do not know that you see Him.”

“You do not see God as having ever created anything but as being “every day in a different configuration”, which sometimes reveals Him and sometimes conceals Him, without any condition: since “He is the First and the Last, the Apparent and the Hidden and He has Knowledge of everything”. He manifests Himself by His Oneness and hides Himself by His Singularity.”

Sufi Shah Nimatullahi:

“The seeker is the Sought!”

Kashmiri Shaivism:

From the Pratyabhijnahydayam:

“The universal Consciousness itself becomes the individual consciousness (jiva) by contraction ….”

From the Spanda Karika:

“Since the experient constitutes the whole universe like Siva, therefore there is no state whether it is the beginning or the middle or the end and whether it is word, or object, or ideation or thought which is not Siva. The sense is that every thing is Siva. Since it is thus, therefore the experient himself who is of the form of consciousness that abides wholly neither less nor more in the form of the experienced…”

“Therefore through knowledge he feels his identity with the all-of-reality. As he becomes identified with the whole of Reality, he becomes in the words of Ksemaraja visvasakti 'universal power,' and thus all objects are said to arise from him. Secondly, as he feels his identity with all, there is no state which is not Siva to him. Therefore, the difference between the experient and the experienced disappears for him.”

“Actually it is Siva itself that flashes forth as the various forms of manifestation”.

From the Zen tradition:

“All beings are primarily Buddhas. Like water and ice, There is no ice apart from water; There are no Buddhas apart from beings. Not knowing how close the Truth is to them, Beings seek for it afar--what a pity!" Zen Master Hakuin Zenji

Huang Po:

“It is pure Mind, which is the source of everything and which, whether appearing as sentient beings or Buddhas, or as the rivers and mountains of the world which has form, or as that which is formless, or penetrating the whole universe, is absolutely without distinctions, there being no such entities as selfness and otherness.”

From the Hongaku Tiendai Buddhist tradition:

Chan master, Tsungmi wrote:

“The arising of mental activity, the movement of thought, snapping the fingers, or moving the eyes, all actions and activities are the functioning of the entire essence of the Buddha-nature. Since there is no other kind of functioning, greed, anger, and folly, the performance of good and bad actions, and the experiencing of their pleasurable and painful consequences are all, in their entirety, Buddhanature.... If one examines the nature of its essence thoroughly, he will see that ultimately it (awareness) can neither be perceived nor realized just as the eye cannot see itself, etc. If one considers its responsive functioning, he will see that everything that he does is the functioning of the Buddha-nature and that there is nothing else that can either realize it or be realized.... One should not rouse the mind either to cut off evil or to cultivate the Way. Since the Way itself is the Mind. One cannot use the Mind to cultivate the Mind. Since evil is also the Mind expression, one cannot use the Mind to cut off the Mind. One who neither cuts off evil nor does good but freely accepts things as they come is called a liberated person. There is no dharma that can be clung to nor any Buddhahood that can be attained.... Simply allowing the mind to act spontaneously is cultivation.”

Zen master Dogen wrote:

“The Tao is originally perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent on practice and realization? The true vehicle is self-sufficient. What need is there for special effort? Indeed, the whole body is free from dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from this very place; what is the use of traveling around to practice? And yet, if there is a hairsbreadth deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion. Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the Way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. You are playing in the entranceway, but you are still short of the vital path of emancipation. Consider the Buddha: although he was wise at birth, the traces of his six years of upright sitting can yet be seen. As for Bodhidharma, although he had received the mind-seal, his nine years of facing a wall is celebrated still. If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice? Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will manifest. If you want to realize such, get to work on such right now.”

“The so-called dharma gate of the whole reality of Mind-Nature in Buddha-dharma includes the entire phenomenal world, without separating nature from characteristics or birth from death. Nothing, not even awakening or nirvana, is outside of Mind-Nature. All things and all phenomena are just One Mind; nothing is excluded or unrelated. It is taught that all dharma gates are equally One Mind, and there is no differentiation. This is the Buddhist understanding of Mind-Nature.”

Zen Master Chinul wrote in 12th century Korea:

"Internal and external are all the same function. That means when we are practicing, we take up all the phenomena of the physical universe, internal, external, mental or physical as well as motion and activity, and regard them all as the sublime activity of the True Mind. As soon as any thought or mental state arises, it is then the appearance of this sublime function. Since all things are this sublime functioning, where can the deluded mind stand? This is the method of extinguishing delusion by seeing that all things external and internal are the same function of the True Mind.”

Suzuki Roshi wrote:

“To do something, to live in each moment, means to be the temporal activity of Buddha. To sit in this way is to be Buddha himself, to be as the historical Buddha was. The same thing applies to everything we do. Everything is Buddha's activity. So whatever you do, or even if you keep from doing some- thing, Buddha is that activity. Because people have no such understanding of Buddha, they think what they do is the most important thing, without knowing who it is that is actually doing it. People think they are doing various things, but actually Buddha is doing everything. Each one of us has his own name, but those names are the many names of one Buddha. Each one of us has many activities, but those activities are all Buddha's activities.”

The point being made is that the Absolute manifests AS “dependent origination”, where the principle of cause and effect is never violated or is absent.


“Some would argue that God is a divine spark inside things. Others would argue that God is a spirit outside things. God is not inside or outside. God is the very thing itself.”

“And when there is no thing, but only empty space? God is that as well.”

“Picture a bowl in your mind. Define the bowl. Is it just the clay that forms its sides? Or is it the empty space that fills with soup? Without the space, the bowl is not a bowl. Without the side, the bowl is not a bowl. So which is the bowl? The answer is both. To be a bowl, it must have both being and emptiness. It is the same with God.”

“For God to be God, for God to be All, God must manifest as both being and emptiness. In Hebrew, we call being yesh, and we call emptiness ayin. And that is what God is: yesh and ayin.”

“Being (yesh) is that manifestation of God that appears to us as separate entities—physical, spiritual, and psychological. Emptiness (ayin) is that manifestation of God that reveals all separation to be illusory: the universe is empty of separate beings.”

When eternity reigns, there is no yesh, only ayin; being returns to emptiness, and creation is no more. All is annihilated and empty of separate being." Rabbi Rami Shapiro


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