Sem Nyid or Nature of Mind

If you study all the Upadesha texts closely especially the Nying Thig teachings of Longchenpa, you will discover that one's consciousness as pure awareness is described as a "thigle" or sphere of Clear Light Awareness located in the center of the skull.

Longchenpa refers to it as the "Nature of Mind" or Sem Nyid, located in the skull as the energy or "tsal of rigpa".

At death it exits out through the eyes. It's what "you" are permanently yet it's empty of any fixed features and is actually outside of space and time. Its forever changeless emptiness and yet aware, never conditioned or damaged and therefore needs no rehabilitation or rescue plan.

If you read my book I described my "out of body" experience in the middle of the day in Denmark. It was exactly as Longchenpa described.

The image above  also describes this sphere of awareness as to its being a "sphere of Aware Clear Light".

For more in depth Dzogchen "Pointing Out" instructions please visit my Dzogchen website:



Longchen Rabjam (1308-1364) the great synthesizer of the Dzogchen transmission teaches:

"Self-arising wisdom is rigpa that is empty, clear and free from all elaboration, like an immaculate sphere of crystal . . . it does not analyze objects . . . By simply identifying that non-conceptual, pristine, naked rigpa, you realize there is nothing other than this nature. . . This is non-dual self-arising wisdom. . . Like a reflection in a mirror (melôn), when objects and perceptions manifest to rigpa, that pristine and naked awareness which does not proliferate into thought is called the ‘inner power (tsal), the responsiveness that is the ground (gzhi) for all the arising of things’. . . For a yogin who realizes the naked meaning of Dzogpachenpo, rigpa is fresh, pure and naked, and objects may manifest and appear within rigpa, but it does not lose itself externally to those objects."

Longchen Rabjam, The Treasury of the Dharmadhatu, (Commentary), Adzom Chögar edition, quoted in H.H. The Dalai Lama, Dzogchen,


                            The Five Principles of Realization and Liberation

The first principle is becoming aware of our thoughts and the nature of thought. By taking the position of just being an observer of the thoughts and images that come and go we discover all thoughts are the same: they are temporary appearances that come and go like clouds in the sky. Give no importance to one thought over another. If we pay no attention to any thought but remain in the "observer" role, it seems the space of awareness becomes more open and thoughts less demanding of attention. We discover all thoughts are without substance and importance. We could say our thoughts are "empty", like clouds: appearances without any core or entity.

The second principle is recognizing our stories and emotional dramas are structured only from thought, our "empty" thoughts. In continuing to observe our thoughts we should notice how they tend to link together in chains of meaning and particular significance. It is this linking together of thoughts that creates our stories, beliefs and emotional drama in a convincing and powerful way. As a result we may spend most of our time going from one mini-daydream to another. It is this trance-like state of mind that we need to break up again and again as often as possible. We do that by shifting our attention from thought to the presence of the five senses in immediate now-ness. Just notice your physical environment and the direct sensory experience free of analysis. Practice this shifting away from mental engagement in thought to noticing your physical environs as often as possible. Hopefully the trance-like habit of living in your thoughts constantly will be broken. In this way we can free ourselves from anxiety and emotional suffering as both are caused by the mind's stories that are rarely challenged. It is possible to discover that our stories and emotional dramas are as empty as last night's dreams. In fact our daydreams and stories are no more real than our dreams at night. We discover our stories are also just as empty as the clouds that group together in the sky in various formations that disperse and disappear in the next moment leaving no trace.

The third principle is recognizing that one's sense of self is also only an empty story made of thought; a mental construction without an actual identity as an entity that exists independently and with self-determinism. Studies have determined that our coherent sense of personal identity doesn't appear until about the ages between 18 and 24 months. That means previous to that time there was no personal "me" story or self-image. That also means the newly appearing sense of "me" is totally the result of thought-stories that the mind constructs about identity. There is no personal self present other than this make-believe "me" story. Even science makes clear there is just one unified field of energy as the universe without separate parts. The entire field is inter-dependent without any breaks or splits in the unity. The sense of being an independent entity like a "personal self", is just an illusion and has never existed in fact. By observing the "me" thoughts that arise from moment to moment we can notice the "personal me" is nothing more than a chain of linked thoughts about identity that are supported by memories and imagination. Seeing this directly and clearly, not just intellectually, the emptiness of personal identity becomes obvious to the mind at which point the illusion ceases. But that cessation will only occur according to the degree of the depth of this self inquiry. If it doesn't occur the understanding is too shallow and not convincing enough to the deeper levels of mind grounded in conditioning and habitual "selfing". In such a case one should revisit the first and second principles again and establish a deeper state of observation regarding the experience of the "me" thought arising and dissolving until it becomes clear that no personal self exists outside of the mind's belief otherwise. When recognition arises it becomes clear that the notion of there being a personal self is as empty as a single huge cloud that dominates the sky yet disappears in the next moment without a trace.

The fourth principle is recognizing what exactly is the nature of that which is observing and experiencing the empty nature of thoughts, stories and personal selfhood. What is doing the "recognizing"? What is this impersonal aware consciousness that perceives and knows? In these recognitions there seems to be an ever increasing evolution or revelation of wisdom. As a result one's cognitive space seems expansive, open and vividly transparent without a center. What exactly is this state of impersonal consciousness? It clearly has a sense of being aware; empty and knowing. Can we be aware of being aware? Is this aware consciousness present in all experience, inseparably so?

Let's look directly at this impersonal aware knowingness: In a well lighted room close your eyes. Notice at your eyelids that the light of the room shining on your eye lids creates an inner glow upon your closed translucent eyelids. You will see an orangy-red color at your eyes lids. What is it that is observing this color? It will seem as though your aware consciousness occupies a place a few inches behind the eyes and its attention is directed at the eyelids in front. Notice your aware presence as being the place from where you are looking forward from at the orangy color. Are you "aware" of the color? Now be aware of your awareness just as it is. Does this awareness have any color, shape, substance or dimension of its own? Or is it simply an empty presence of aware knowing? Review these last two questions again and again until it becomes clear that "you" are actually this empty, clear and aware knowing. When this is seen clearly instead of recognizing the emptiness of thoughts and self as the empty nature of the clouds that appear in the sky, the empty nature of the sky itself is recognized; the empty cognitive space in which all appearances appear and disappear.

The fifth principle is recognizing the inseparable relationship between one's empty, aware "seeing" and the five senses. One can't find awareness separate from one's sensory perceptions. There isn't first a sensory perception and then an awareness of it. The five senses are this "knowing awareness" seeming to be split up into five separate sensory components. These sensory capacities are not limited to the physical five senses. "Knowing awareness" can perceive independently of the five physical senses with no limitations regarding time and space. Merging our attention fully with the five senses instead of with the mental phenomena of thoughts, stories and beliefs in personal identity, reveals a state of total "nowness" beyond thought and mind. A limitless vista of knowing transparency and Clear Light reveals itself to be be our true nature beyond any descriptions or assumptions of mind. In merging our attention totally with the five senses, the luminous nature of appearances reveals itself to be the bright vividness of our Awareness.

No Separate Places

Nirvana and samsara won’t be found in separate places or in separate times: the empty nature of samsara is itself nirvana. Not seeing the empty nature of nirvana is itself samsara.

Pure Awareness and afflicted mind won’t be found in separate places or in separate times. The empty nature of the afflicted mind is itself Pure Awareness. Not seeing the empty nature of Pure Awareness is the afflicted mind.

The ego-self and no-self won’t be found in separate places or in separate times. The empty nature of the ego-self is indeed the no-self. Clinging to the empty nature of the no-self is indeed itself, the presence of the ego-self. The imagined non-existence of the one, is the imagined existence of the other.

Wisdom and ignorance won’t be found in separate places or in separate times. Seeing the empty nature of ignorance is itself wisdom. Not seeing the empty nature of wisdom is indeed ignorance not seen.

Obstacles and release won’t be found in separate places or in separate times. The empty nature of obstacles is their own release. Not seeing the empty nature of freedom and release, we are bound and obstacled by our own freedom and shackled without release.

We won’t find peace and turbulence in separate places nor in separate times. The empty nature of turbulence is itself our long sought peace. Not seeing the empty nature of our peace, we turn peace into turbulence, like crashing waves that never seem to cease.

Not seeing the emptiness of our current condition we search for realization near and far. Realization is the ever present emptiness of our current condition however it may appear. Awareness can only be found as the luminous and knowing emptiness that is exactly what and where we always are.

Here is a teaching that I often share in my retreats:

In a well lit room or out of doors in the day-time; close your eyes and notice the effect of the light on your eyelids. It seems like you are seeing an orangy colored light from inside and behind your eyes.

What is it that is "seeing" that light on the inside of the eye lids? It may seem like that awareness that is "seeing" is just a bit behind the eyes looking forward at the light at the eye lids. Your awareness is a borderless transparent sphere of pure awareness oriented behind the eyes at the center of the skull with it's center approximately at the pineal gland.
It is your consciousness that leaves the body at death through the space of the eyes.
Examine that awareness that is "seeing" that light. Does that "seeing awareness" have a shape, substance or form? Is it someone else that is seeing or is there a strong and perfect certainty that the "seeing awareness" or "knowing" is "you"?

Even though this "knowingness" or "seeing awareness", seems like it is what you are, can it be found to exist as some "thing" or entity with shape and form? Or is it just a naked, impersonal aware "knowing"?

Recognize this ungraspable pure "aware knowing" to be your true nature. Its always present and knowing in all experience, as all experience.  Recognize this "aware knowing" again and again until you are able to rest in just this pure and vivid transparent clarity, stably. The mind with all its empty stories about this and that will dissolve into this knowing clarity and a very special wisdom of self-recognition will arise that cannot be described through words and concepts. 

The next phase of practice is about noticing the inseparable nature of the "aware knowing" and its field of experience.  It will be seen that there are not two aspects present:  the "aware knowing" and "experience", but rather each experience is actually the "aware knowing" appearing as experience. This is fully discussed in my book with a means to see this directly for oneself.

Form of Awareness

 Awareness has no form of its own.  It is absolute emptiness, like space, yet is clearly aware.  It is our immediate awareness that is the experiencing knowingness in oneness with all experience.  There is no distance between our experience and our awareness of it.  There is no better or worse for awareness.  All experiences are equal in value.  Its form is our exact experience just as it is being experienced.  All sensory input and our thoughts about sensory experience are the forms awareness is taking in every moment.  Whatever the experience, it is the form of our awareness, and is therefore perfect.  We can give up trying to create an improved life, emotional or psychological conditions as well as give up trying to resist “negative” life, emotional or psychological conditions.  Each moment of experience is the perfection of our self-expression, the manifestation of our awareness.  Recognizing this is the form awareness is taking in that moment.  Not recognizing this is also the form awareness is taking in that moment.  But at no time is changeless awareness becoming this or that.   Like a mirror, the reflections have no benefit or harm to the mirror.  Likewise, our experiences have no benefit or harm to our awareness, as they are the forms of our awareness.

Two Pegs and the Middle

I read a very interesting text by the Sri Lankan monk Niyananda. He described that our subjective self sense is one peg and the "other" or an object, is the other peg. Between the two arises a consciousness, as the middle. Here is another way to approach non-duality and liberation.

Before a relative, dualistic consciousness can arise the two pegs of subject/object dichotomy are required. On a personal level the basic subject is "me" and other people and things are the objective side. When those both arise, the "story" about the relationship between those two arises. That story is the "middle". It's like two poles of a battery. When you have two terminals in place, an electrical charge can arc between the opposite poles. That charge energizes the emotional story.

On a more global level the subject can be our "awareness" and our "experience" is the objective side. We may see our awareness as a witness and our experiences as what we are aware of. In this case all kinds of stories arise about "our experiences" that happen 'to' us.

When this basic duality arises our karmic traces can arise as story content. Our karmic traces reside in a "superposition" quantum state, and stay there until triggered. When the subject/object pair is established, the sense of a "me" is found to be a common denominator in all karmic traces. The resistance by the "me" to a prior experience is what causes the traces in the first place. The entire karmic bank of traces becomes subject to being triggered by the "me" resisting a current experience. We can call this bank of karmic traces the "reactive mind". Once triggered there is an immediate karmic-related reaction experienced in consciousness. The traces triggered become active and reinforce further the reification of the subject peg and the object peg, which establishes the "middle" as the new samsaric story-line.

When the bi-polar subject/object dichotomy is absent, the traces in "superposition" can't be triggered. Until they are triggered they don't "exist". If they aren't triggered samsara can't get started again.

How can we make use of this information? Our consciousness needs to become non-dual. Consider your awareness as a subjective self that perceives experience as separate and apart. The sense is often "my awareness cannot be conditioned by any experience". This of course is dualistic: awareness on one side and experiences on the other. The two pegs in place cause a dualistic consciousness to arise: the middle. That dualistic consciousness is dependent on all conditioning, history, stories and karmic traces as well as the two pegs being firmly in place. Remove the pegs and the middle disappears i.e. dualistic karmic consciousness. That is liberation.

So let's do that. Here's how: observe your current "knowing awareness". Now close your eyes and just listen to any sounds. As you are listening notice how the sounds are in your awareness or consciousness. Do you notice any border separating the immediate sound and your awareness of it? Is there any distance between the sound and your consciousness of it? Play around with for a bit until it is realized that awareness and sounds are the same thing. There is no "awareness" having an experience of sound, but rather sound is recognized to be awareness and awareness is recognized to be sound. That is non-duality.

Next, close your eyes again and this time do the same with some thoughts. How much distance is there between your awareness and a thought at the moment the thought appears? Is there a border separating your awareness from the thought?
Play around with this a bit until you discover that that thoughts, all mental events, and awareness are one thing. Again, this is non-duality.

Now let's broaden this to include all experience. Close your eyes and notice your total sensory and cognitive condition. Notice if there is any actual separation or border between your awareness and your total experience. Does any perceived aspect of your immediate experience occur apart from your conscious awareness in the exact moment of experience? Is there any distance between your awareness and any experience? Play around with this for awhile until it becomes clear that ALL experience of every kind is not separate from awareness. They are one thing. Awareness IS experience, not a perceiver of it. That is the realization of non-duality.

When this insight dawns in the deepest levels of consciousness, the mind will cease dividing Reality into subjects and objects. When subjects and objects cease to arise in consciousness then karma and karmic traces remain non-existent. That is real liberation, even though no one was liberated. Remove the two pegs and the middle vanishes.

Final Resolution and Total Relaxation in Dzogchen

In the Dzogchen phase of pracitce known as Trekchod or "cutting through tension", there eventually comes a sense of completion: no more practice, no searching and no effort to "stabilize a state".  When it is recognized that Awareness or Beingness is naked of any particular flavor or form or "feel", that Awareness is then known to be the Knowing within all experience.  All experience is equal in this case or sometimes known as "same taste" in Dzogchen or Buddhist Mahamudra.

We have to be alert that we don't have a subtle definition of Awareness that colors its empty, nakedness.  That means we , by mistake, make Awareness into a particualr state of experience.  That would be like:  "Awareness is a clear openness that is spacious and serene" or "a sense of awakened-ness" or "transparency" or "bliss" or "love" etc.  We then have defined Awareness  and by doing so we have made it possible to lose the "state of Awareness".  When we aren't feeling that "clear openness that is spacious and serene" we feel we have lost Awareness. But Awareness has no definition, all experience is the experience of Awareness.  Awareness has no form or state of its own. That then allows Awareness to be every state, every feeling,every emotion,every thought, every identity sensation, every perception. That being so, what is there left to achieve?  Every experience, happy, sad or neutral is the appearance of Awareness. We give up completely the notion that Awareness has to have some particular flavor or color. Oh my god, we can finally really relax! Its over!  Every experience is equal in Awareness! What could you possibly practice?  You are already aware, so you don't need to become aware.  Everything is already happening however its happening, so there is nothing special to do. No special "state" to attain!  If you experience a special state, that's  fine, but it will never become stable.  The only stability is your unchanging knowing of whatever is experienced. That unchanging knowingness  is Awareness, the heart of the Dharmakaya (Pure Primordial Being).