What’s It Like, What Does It Mean to “See the Tao”?
People have asked what’s it like upon awakening. What’s it like to "see the Tao" - what’s that mean?
What’s it like to see the Tao? It’s as if a long time perimeter, border, or veil has been lifted and you can now see things as they really are. You suddenly realize - through the knowing nature that is you - that everything you hear, see, perceive is just the Mind. And then you realize there is no ego because there is only Mind. That’s it - that’s the only existence, but the mind’s substance is empty so you can’t say it’s existent either. But you call it Reality because now you know what’s truly Real in all your experiences, in all the universe - for the whole universe is inside it. You can laugh with joy, cry with joy, or laugh and cry at the same time for you instantaneously recognize with true certainty that you’ve come home and that there is no Tao other than This One. Everything is just this knowing essence we call the Mind.
But the thickness of long time habit energies still exists and can reassert itself so you can lose this realization, this insight, this direct perception even though you now KNOW, REALIZE, SEE, PERCEIVE that this is the Truth, the ultimate state. This is not normal worldly knowing, but BEING KNOWING, true knowing - there are no words that would describe it accurately since you’re outside of all the falsity that was before. Another way of saying this is you have no doubts, you have true belief. But this recognition is a direct perception, it isn’t a belief or idea but a true knowing - you know this because you’re in TRUE knowing and out of all phenomenal knowing. True knowing, or transcendental prajna wisdom knowing, is the term most schools give this self-realization. With a wink of turning around, you understand, and then you also realize why you were in illusion. It was all the habit energies of mental clinging to thoughts, to using the mind incorrectly.
Dammit! It was there all along like a jewel sewed into a coat which you can’t see though it’s there. Dang! It was there for so long unnoticed, right there in front of you, and all you did is foolishly cover it over because you refused to let go. When you tried to let go in meditation you kept trying to impose comprehension and understand what was happening when that state of not understanding was the right way. Drop your habit of trying to impose comprehension as its born. Why? Because the Mind’s knowing is the correct knowing - the thought of confusion is just a thought it KNOWS. You realize that you should just let things arise in this Mind without imposing comprehension. After awhile, chaos sorts itself out and dies down naturally. Don’t try to sort out the chaos with your mind - just reflect its presence that it’s there.
Confusion departs without any effort. The clarity of wisdom is knowing what’s clear or unclear, so trying to discriminate clarity out of chaos is wrong - you are already clear that there’s chaos so don’t impose discrimination trying to transform it. Whatever is transforming just let it transform without adding internal words or names or labels to it. Shut off the commenting chatter. The chaos of confusion is not a hindrance that has to be solved. The darkness of chaos is temporary and is also just another illusion arising within Mind. Darkness, chaos, confusion all arise within the Mind which, while being clear knowing, knows their nature as dark and leaves it at that since that is their phenomenal nature — they are just phenomena without meaning, so let them go and don’t try to impose comprehension. How confused you have been mistaking that for millennium.
The original Mind itself in which they and everything else arises is empty, is clear, it has no thinness so we say it is substanceless or, the term I prefer is "indivisible." What arises in it has no reality but is just mind stuff. Everything that arises is ALL mind-stuff, and our distinguishing or discriminating forms and appearances is the incorrect use of the mind, for that discriminating is the very definition-being-essence-function of clinging. Phenomena may arise and transform but that original nature is unbecoming. It never changes or transforms or turns into something else.
The empty mind that gives rise to everything is the true nature of reality. Everything arises in there. It contains the universe. All things appear in it, and then you realize the Tao, you next laugh how silly it is to run after anything because the mind is substanceless and empty and cannot possess anything. It cannot possess ANYTHING. It’s impossible. So all those struggles are fruitless and pointless - pointless to even start, and fruitless because they can never be attained. All that arises within the mind is just an illusion, an illusion where everything depends on everything else through cause and effect. Karma holds the tapestry together but with this initial enlightenment or awakening you cannot fully fathom the emptiness of phenomena yet, just the emptiness of being a self or person.
And other beings? They are This Mind as well … beings are like the reflection of the moon in infinite puddles of water. There is only one moon in the sky but infinite reflections, all of which capture the moon’s light and seem real, but there is only one moon. So imagine an invisible sphere projecting internally inside itself these puddles that can reflect images or know images like the water; the surface of the sphere projects those tiny knowing reflective surfaces inwardly. That knowing sphere is Mind or awareness, and the small internal reflections or projections inside are also this same sphere - the surface of the sphere. That’s why imaginary beings also have this wonderful power of awareness but are all this same One Mind. They are illusions that are projected, for they are really just the surface of the sphere. They all return to the same One Source. Now remove the idea of this invisible sphere - remove any ideas of thickness, shape or infinity entirely because it has no beginning, ending, borders, substance, nothing whatsoever - there isn’t a sphere there — and you get a poor analogous description of how beings think they are all independent natures when they are all the same source essence, the same original nature, the same prajna wisdom. They are all inside the Mind’s bright clarity nature. That’s the only way I can describe it as an analogy. All sentient beings share in that original source perceiving, we are all the original nature. But are you using it to be bound to thoughts from attachment to the small, or letting go to return to the Real All.
The Mind is the nature of things. You see this when you "see the Tao." It is empty but gives birth to everything that arises, which are just temporal images, illusions or appearances within its pristine presence or nature. For so long, since beginningless times, you have subtly held on the feelings of the body, or chi, or thoughts or consciousness and made them into a cocoon you called "yourself." But the cocoon was never real and all the intertwining and envelopments and involvements you ever tried could never make it real either. All thoughts and feelings were like "reflexive pingings" against this imaginary border or perimeter of thoughts which always seemed to be there but which weren’t. You have been trying for endless time to define yourself through these reflections, trying to create a reality where there is none, trying to spin another layer of entanglements to make it real, but the effort was fruitless. All you ever did was increase your confusion and remain involved in the dark, refusing to see the light.
But all of a sudden, due to your cultivation work and merit, you let go and the veil lifts like Saran wrap being peeled away from a smooth surface. The veil lifts, the perimeter disappears and you realize this is all only mind. The barrier that always seemed to be there, as if a haze, and by which you shut yourself off from what’s true, cocooning yourself, is gone. It was never real to begin with but was just the obscuration of clinging incorrectly, and you realize if you had just ignored it and refused to use it and mentally let go you could have known the truth ages ago. For years you clung to that hazy barrier, trying to use it to define yourself when you really were this greater All. You gave up the great for the small, the inconsequential, the false, the non-existent. Everything real you’ve been searching for you could never find because whatever you searched for was always within this false realm. But now you "see the Truth." You "see the Tao." You "see the Path." You experience awakening. You now know what the self is, and the internals doubts, fears and worries are gone because you now have surety - you KNOW you can never be rid of This Knowing One. And you know that with security, with knowing, with truth, with faith so your realization is true and real and called self-realization. As Confucius said, you have no more doubts. You are no different than all the Buddhas, and so are all sentient beings. They are nothing different than this same This One.
Even the thoughts of being a "you" are only thoughts. You realize there is no personal identity, just the mind, but the habitual problem of perceiving incorrectly still remains - the habit of clinging or attachment to what arises still remains, the habit of using thought incorrectly still remains, the habits of the passions and desires still remains that can reassert themselves in obscuration once again — so the problem of phenomena or what arises in the mind is not yet seen through clearly. However, now you have seen the Way, the Truth, the Tao. You have true knowing, or True belief. Another way of saying this is you have no doubts. You know this.
Now you know how to cultivate correctly. Habit energies of clinging and attachment can obscure this clear knowing from time to time. Even these habit energies are false and non-existent (from the standpoint of the original nature), so obscuration is unreal … the clinging is unreal. How do you return to non-delusion? You just jump out with one moment of letting go. It’s like using the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri’s sword - "woosh" with a swish you’re back home. All you do is detach from thoughts and instantaneously all of true reality arises. The doing is no doing because you’re not doing anything in the phenomenal realm but just letting it continue to spin without your mental involvement. You just let go of clinging, or we can say "let go of clinging to delusion," or we can say "let go of delusion," or we can say "just let everything arise without attachment," or "drop falsity." "Woosh" swings the sword of detachment, cutting off clinging, and the All Body of Reality arises instantly. For an ordinary meditation practitioner their chi will change instantly, they won’t know what’s going on, and those transformations are the right transformations as they’ll all settle down to reveal clarity. That’s the right way to cultivate.
The funny thing is, that original pristine clarity knowing has always been there, so you’re not creating it. You just turn around and realize what’s doing the perceiving. And you also realize that since you cannot possess anything, but phenomena still arise in the mind, the best and only way to act is to offer to others without holding to anything, to do things for others unselfishly. You don’t exist, but the karmic result of happiness, joy and peace for others, even though empty of reality, is the right response to engender because this unreality of karmic appearances, even though samsara, is of the same nature of the mind. Hence one ends up choosing to do good rather than evil. And in offering, giving charity, and practicing all good works unselfishly one is letting go, giving up, and practicing actions that accord with the very fabric nature of reality. These are the ONLY actions that accord with the fabric nature of reality.
So that’s what it’s like to see the Tao. After that, what next?
Now you can cultivate correctly. As the Fifth Patriarch of Zen said, “Unless you see the Tao, all you cultivation work is in vain.” Now you can open up ALL the channels, the charkas, and cultivate the samadhi.
What’s it like to open up the central channel and the heart chakra. If I have time to write about it, I’ll do that next. There are stages PAST the initial opening described in Tibetan books. Also, there are stages of overturning the Mind Ground for the Desire, Form and Formless Realms. There are stages for breaking through the Conception, Volition and Consciousness skandhas. All these things I can describe if I have time to write about it. You’ll have to wait until my return trip from China though…