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Mirror-Mind, Ayahuasca, Buddhism: commonalities of experience

What does my unexpected Ayahuasca experience in 2019 of the world as a giant surround mirror have to do with classical Buddhist philosophy and meditation?

(Originally published 23.09.2019, and I am still trying to figure this out)

Image of a pot of brewing Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca preparation. Source: Terpsichore, Wikipedia

To realize directly that all outer appearances appear separately like images in a mirror but are nevertheless one, this is realization (Wanchuk Dorje, Tibetan teacher)
"The mind showing itself to itself" (Robert Carhart-Harris, neuroscientist)
"Awareness showing itself by itself through itself to itself " (Daniel P Brown, meditation teacher)

Looking into a mirror

A tired look in the bathroom mirror in the morning does not usually change one´s life.

One does not usually leave the bathroom with a wish to find out what that moment of gazing meant, or with the feeling of having come home after an eternity.

But unexpectedly finding oneself looking at one's surroundings as if the whole universe were really and truly an optical mirror of the self, at the deepest level where there is not even an individual personalö self, so there is only the mirror mirroring itself, can have this effect.

"The mirror of Kun tu bZang Po... is an extraordinary place, the main place that the gods and humans, eternal boddhisatvas, mahasattvas and dakinis aspire to...This is the initial metaphor of all metaphors for pointing out" (T. S. Gyaltsen et al., 2022, p. 985)

That is an example from a recently translated book "The Precious Treasury of the Expanse and Awakened Awareness", a book from the Tibetan Bön tradition. Here are two further examples:

  • Ken Wilber calls it a "major stage of meditation (e.g., gross, subtle, very subtle, mirror mind, nondual)." (Wilber, 2021)

  • The Journal of the International Dzogchen Community is called "The Mirror"

A psychedelic / entheogenic mirror experience

The following short sketch describes my personal mirror experience during an Ayahuasca ceremony. It lasted for a few minutes.

On a sunny afternoon, on the grass around a Dutch repurposed barn where an ayahuasca ceremony was taking place, I looked without preparation into a very real and infinitely large surrounding mirror. The mirror had replaced my normal field of vision. Wherever I looked, there was a reflection. The reflection had the characteristic of being somehow alive and shimmering. What was I seeing in the mirror? I saw myself, I saw the whole content of my consciousness. Everything I was seeing and experiencing was 'me'. My consciousness was reflected in the mirror. But there was no real 'I' as an individual self. There was a consciousness or awareness on both sides. The awareness knew with absolute certainty, awe and gratitude that there was nothing but awareness. There was no longer any separation between what was seen and what was seen. It was like coming home to a knowledge that had been hidden from me until that moment.

This visceral deep so-called non-dual experience had such a cognitive and emotional impact, that I researched for years what the significance was.

I had until then neither meditated nor any knowledge of Buddhism, apart from reading with fascination (but without real understanding) the books of Steven Wolinsky, an American Advaita Vendanta teacher. But that had been 25 years ago, and it had remained a mystery.

My few minutes were apparently an utterly lively instantiation of the mind-only theory in Buddhism. Whatever it was, it felt so real, that the term "realization" in Buddhism and other mystic traditions now has a meaning for me.

Later I read this Buddhist description. I indeed experienced this "at a single stroke".

The wisdom that sees that mind is empty of a perceiver/perceived duality (i.e. empty of outer perceived entities different in substance to the inner perceiving consciousnesses), at a single stroke, cuts through attachment and aversion and all the associated suffering. On the most subtle level every moment of consciousness is purified of all stain of ignorance and there is not even the shadow of the idea of a difference in substance between mind and its objects. .... The light of the wisdom mind, the self-aware self-illuminator, is experienced. This is a very profound experience and even for those who experience it, it is difficult to explain. (Khenpo Tsultrim Gymatso, & Hookham, p 56-57)

This is actually hard to do through meditation

The phenomenology of the experience of a mirror that IS the mind is actually hard to achieve through meditation, if I can trust one of the very well-known Tibetan teachers, Thrangu Rinpoche. This is a snippet of a 2007 retreat.

And to really think everything out there is mind if we think that that is difficult to take. Take that as the path of direct perception is difficult to really directly perceive that. And so it is difficult to directly meditate upon that.

It is so difficult that he does not even try to teach it in this retreat.

Of mothers and lovers and re-union and mirroring

In Mahamudra, such non-dual perception is variously described as a mirror mind, a reflective mind, an illuminated mind, or something similar.

In essence, the texts and testimonies describe a moment when consciousness is extremely aware of itself, or has the experience that everything is consciousness, or that everything is made of consciousness. They also describe a moment of profound emotional significance.

There are many metaphors that describe this moment of re-cognition, of a sudden re-remembrance or re-union. Here is a selection of metaphors:

Mother meeting a long absent son
Two people from the same country meeting in another country and immediately recognising each other
A mirror held up to a mirror to recognise itself
A man and a woman who love each other, meeting in secret to make love.

These are all metaphors for the mind (awareness, consciousness) becoming aware of itself in an extraordinary moment.

And of course, as a novice, I began to "chase" this experience. And equally, of course, seeking experience doesn´t result in getting it. While I have, through meditation, been in a very weak version of this state, I never had this awe-inspiring completely real way of looking again. Being me, I still try to sneak my way into it.

My experience as "subject-object nonduality experience"

Note: For those who need precision: I am aware that talking about a "non-dual experience" is somewhat contradictory. After all, if there is a dualism between the experiencer and the experience, who or what had the experience? If there was an experience with a positive valence, a hedonistic tone, was it really non-dual? I will neglect these questions for now. I may have to update the following text after more reflection.

My experience was a classical "non-dual" experience. Such experience, where in some way the boundary between self and not-self has disappeared, is one of the types of mystical experiences that can occur spontaneously, in a religious context, through psychedelics, through physical activity.

The particular form of my experience has been classified as "Subject-Object non-duality" (Burns 2022). This is the experience of non-duality between myself as perceiver and all perceived phenomena. The other experience types are object-object and subject-subject non-duality.

In the Mahamudra tradition, my experience probably corresponded to "the first of the four stages of looking at the mind" :

The first of the four stages of looking at the mind within appearances is seeing appearances as mind. (L. T. Namgyal & Rinpoche, 2011, p100)

It continues, describing my Ayahuasca experience:

if you keep on looking, you start to notice that that is not really what is going on. If you can continue to rest within, for example, the experience of looking at an object of visual perception, you realize that what is happening is not so much the mind contacting something outside itself, as it is the mind acting like a mirror which reflects an image of something. In that sense, the image is contained within the mind. So when you actually look at what you are looking at, you realize that you are still looking at your mind. This is what we call “seeing.” This is something that you can gradually realize through your own experience and through your own practice. (L. T. Namgyal & Rinpoche, 2011, p109)

The only difference: I was given this way of looking without ever having meditated. The causative agent for its sudden occurrence was a small glass of Ayahuasca.

Btw, as an outlook, there would still be 3 stages to go through, if one follows Mahamudra teaching :

POINTING OUT THE MIND within appearances has four parts: pointing out that appearances are mind, that mind is emptiness, that emptiness is spontaneous presence, and that spontaneous presence is self-liberation.

For example, as I now know, there was still a sense of localisation of a Self that was looking at itself .

Views and perspectives as core of meditation

Ayahuasca usually provides one with a huge variety of experiences and insights, often several of them in the course of a few hours. They can be emotional, physical, intellectual, creative, or ontological. The Israeli cognitive scientist Bennie Shannon in his Oxford Press book "The Antipodes of the Mind" has gone into exhausting detail to classify the types, based on reports and on his own experience.

The particular Ayahuasca experience of this day resulted in a sudden shift in the perspective from which I perceived the world.

In Mahamudra meditation, some other terms for such a perspective are "view", "base of operation" (D. P. Brown & Thurman, 2006), "perspective" or "perceptual position", or "way of looking" (Rob Burbea 2015).

For example, a very famous way to induce such a shift in view in Mahamudra teaching is via the metaphor of ocean and wave: through pointing out instructions, the student is guided to "become the ocean watching its own waves" as an experience of non-duality of mind and objects, of seer, seen and seeing.

Daniel P Brown (D. P. Brown, 1981) in his dissertation on traditional Mahamudra meditation stages says that

the yogi is trained, from the start, to see reality not as a collection of external objects, but as an inner reflection, as mirror of mind itself.

Learning to take this perspective can take anything from a few hours for the very gifted student to a lifetime or never, depending on the student and luck. Ayahuasca gave me a bit of luck, I suppose because it happened out of the blue, in seconds.

Is my experience recognised by a Buddhist teacher?

I had asked myself, whether any reputable Buddhist teacher (ie a a true authority standing in a tradition, or lineage) would validate my I experience as a genuine meditation experience. I used an opportunity to ask the late Culadasa on his Patreon group. Culadasa is the author of the famous, neurologically founded meditation guide "The Mind Illuminated"

Please believe me that I do not show this as proof of an "attainment". It is intended as evidence for the identity of this way of looking in my Ayahuasca experience, and what is the mind-view in Buddhism. (full length hearing recommended)

I do NOT believe myself to be an awakened person - actually such a thing - some Buddhists say - does not even exist, because there is no such thing as a person that could be enlightened !

I just had an experience. This is also stressed in the reply by Culadasa. He intentionally said, "It is good that you see that as experience". This means, in Buddhist language, that one should not confuse experience with realisation, awakening, enlightenment or such.

Neither have I become a Buddhist - whatever that is. But I admire and take to heart and practice many of their subtle and powerful teachings on the mind and the heart. Buddhism is not a religion for me, but an expansion of consciousness through self-exploration, just like psychedelics.

My intention: to provide a detailed phenomenological description and compare to Buddhist scripture

The similarity between certain meditative and psychedelic experiences has often been described. But I have not seen a detailed phenomenology and comparison of a singular classical Buddhist meditation experience. Instead, most descriptions at a high level, such as a feeling of one-ness, sacredness, or timelessness.

All of these characterised my experience. But I want to provide more detailed and granular phenomenological information than that, and to compare it to descriptions in Buddhist scriptures and academic writings.

This post is, in a way, a phenomenological addition to Tim Ferris´question to Henry Shukman how one can compare the Zen "Kensho" awakening experience with a similar Ayahuasca experience.

For the comparison, I relied primarily on material made available through Daniel P Brown as new translations. You see a selection of them below.

Foto of books of Bon and Mahamudra literature

Main Characteristics of the Experience

The experience unfolded in two stages: first, as an immensely strong appearance of the subjective, personalised, localised perception of "I AM".

And then, in the second stage, the mirror experience occurred, where there was no longer a localised self, but a generalised awareness of awareness itself.

What follows is a description of perceptual features of particular significance during these minutes, and how they relate to texts in the Buddhist tradition.

I do not claim that the description is complete - it still occasionally unfolds in my memory. Nor am I a trained Buddhist scholar, who would probably find many errors in what I write.

Stage 1: "I AM"

The core non-dual experience, described in the subsequent sections, was preceded by another kind of experience:

I had the experience of "I AM" as singular, powerful, completely obvious, all-pervasive feeling of existing. While I was having it, I was amazed that during my entire life I had never truly felt to BE. The comparison that came to mind was that of the bright sun as opposed to a dim lightbulb. I had spent my life as a lightbulb. Now I experienced myself as the sun. It was exhilarating and wondrous.

This feeling, of which I was fully aware in metacognitive awareness, left me with appreciative wonder, developed in the course of a few minutes. The feeling began with a light wonder, and then became more and more powerful until it reached an extreme and very joyful "I-Am-ness"

Another observation during this time: wherever I looked in the room where I was, I saw two bright circles of light seemingly projected by my eyes on any surface I looked at, a typical Ayahuasca experience. A common effect is that part of the visual field being focally Illuminated. Typically, it is as if a flashlight were illuminating it" (Benny Shannon, p275) . Light phenomena also appear in deep meditation.Shinzen Young discusses them in a podcast touching on the energetic phenomena experienced in meditation.

As a more poetic description for this light phenomenon, I liked a passage from A. H. Almaas book "Keys to the Enneagram". He equates the phenomenon of appearing light to a "point of presence", and references Nisargadatta Maharaj - who is the author of talks collected in his major work, called "I Am That".

This experience still reflected a subject, an experiencing separate Self. In terms of Daniel B Brown´s "stages of meditation", it was not a non-dual experience. It was still "localised". The next stage would go further, although it was still an experience with an experienc-ER, and as such far from non-dual as Stephen Wolinsky would point out.

Stage 2: The mirror experience

Sudden onset of the mirror mind phenomenon

When, now with the Ayahuasca brew fully active, I left the communal hall to go outside into the surrounding nature, my perception was suddenly transformed.

My perception instantaneously switched into a wide, immense panoramic view, where I was looking into a giant surround mirror that reflected "me". This "me" was not the usual feeling of self, but one of all-encompassing awareness.

This sudden onset very much resembled James Austin´s Kensho experience that he describes in "Zen and the Brain" :

With no transition, it is all complete. Every detail of the scene in front is registered, integrated, and found wholly satisfying, all in itself (p 537).

Austin's description of the Kensho onset aligns with Daniel P Brown description of the "crossover" to enlightenment as immediate and compelling:

Contrary to the slow ripening of meditative experience throughout the preliminary and essential stages of meditation, and even the gradual ripening of awakened wisdom during extraordinary meditation, crossing over to enlightenment is an immediate and compelling event, wherein the mental continuum undergoes a series of fundamental and enduring reorganizations. (PoW, p. 500)

Mirror-like quality

I believe that this particular element of the psychedelic experience is a key to understanding Mahamudra meditation. It gave me a way to grasp the descriptions of such states in the meditation literature at a fundamental level. Evan after 3 years I am still trying to untie the experience.

What was my personal experience? In short, again:

A huge universal surround mirror, mirroring my consciousness , had folded up in front of me/within me, containing my entire field of vision. It was exactly like what Daniel P. Brown compares in his commentary on how meditative "visions" come about to "watching a film projected on a screen" (Tapihritsa, Six Lamps, p. 16).

The following quotes are a mix of original quotes and quotes by secondary literature mostly by Daniel P Brown and Keith Dowman. They all focus on the "mirror" phenomenon.

Daniel P Brown describes a key subset of the Six Lamps meditation instructions:

"The fluid eye lamp instructions open the experience of seeing all seeming external appearances as the pure mirror of awakened mind".

I also found a typically poetic description of the mirror in "The Precious Treasury" (TPT):

The metaphor for the essence, nature and compassion is like a bright mirror. What is symbolised by these three is that your own essence is inseparable from the crystal, you become inseparable from the heart-essence of emptiness and awakened awareness, and you know the one great interconnected sphere of ultimate reality (TPT, p 985)

In fact, seeing the world like a mirror is systematically trained in Mahamudra meditation. Daniel P Brown describes it like this in his 1981 dissertation:

Recall that representation is an act by which the mind takes the shape of or creates the pattern for what it perceives. Advanced Yogis can turn this awareness back on itself. Though they gaze upon an outer object, they perceive only its inner reflected image. At a certain stage of proficiency, all yogis are instructed to dismiss the outer image and focus only upon the reflected image" (Mahamudra Meditation Stages, p. 256)

There are specific meditative techniques to practice this mode of representation. I will give one example. It is a Sam Harris meditation, made slightly more efficient with an instruction by Daniel P Brown). It is a 4 step mediation.

(!) Open your eyes and look into the space before you. Take in everything at once, as a giant visual panorama. (2) As you breathe in, imagine pulling inwards this panorama with the breath, so that it becomes an appearance, a reflected image on the inside of your mind. (3) Now get a sense of your Self. Clearly get a sense of how it feels, now, to be you. For me, it would be my "Till-Ness" .(4) Now, as you breathe out, continuing to stare into space, imagine to mix your Self, your (for me) Till-ness with the wide space in front of you.

And this is from Keith Dowman's translation of Dzogchen Semdzins:

Do not look with your eyes, but be conscious of the screen upon which the object is projected. Do not judge, do not take a stand for or against anything, but be open to all .

And, from Keith Dowman´s "The Flight of the Garuda".

“The emptiness of the mind is not just a blank nothingness, for without doubt it is the primal awareness of intrinsic awareness... Without doubt all appearances whatsoever are our own manifestation. All phenomena, whatsoever manifests, is like reflection in a mirror...The thought-free lucidity is the mirror-like wisdom"

In the classical work The Royal Seal of Mahamudra the mirror is mentioned when a distinction between experience and realization (=awakening) is explained.

In one taste, to think “It seems my body, outer phenomena, and my mind are without true nature” is an experience. To realize clearly that outer phenomena are like reflections in a mirror, and that although they appear as diverse they are one, is realization (page 225)

The mirror-like quality of perception can also be trained for the ear, as described in the "Semdzin of ear consciousness", as described by Keith Dowman:

We fixate our attention in the ear but not upon any single sound, allowing whatever sound arising to pass without judgement or projection as in non-judgmental or mirror-like listening. The cognizance that vividly realizes that it lacks true nature is realization.

I have not the slightest doubt, that the mirror-like quality of perception I experienced lies at the base of these instructional or mystic text passages.

As a modern reference: the Buddhist metaphor of "the mirror held up against itself" is reflected in one scene of the movie "Inception". The "architect" positions a mirror in front of a mirror.

Image from Inception movie with mirrors mirroring themselves

A single non-dual field of awareness

Another description of this mirror-like nature of awareness was presented to me in a Mahamudra retreat by Daniel P Brown. This description does not focus on the actual mirror experience but on the "non-duality" of experience.

Here, the instruction to create an inner "view" or "basis of operation" included the phrase

"the space, the objects and in the space and the knowing of the objects - one single non-dual field of crystal clear field of awareness".

This formulation is perhaps an equally valid description of my experience. (from Level 1 retreat, Pointing Out the Great Way). However, with my current knowledge, I believe that these instructions go beyond the mirror experience: in the mirror experience, there was still a viewing entity, even if it was not the"small self".

Visual quality: Luminosity

The mirror experience also had a particular visual quality

The visual field had changed into being energetically loaded, scintillating, brilliant luminosity as in radiating in and out of itself.

I recently came across recent neurological research mentioned in a podcast with Shinzen Young (Viking, G. [Guru Viking Podcast]. (2022, March 25). Research confirms that indeed our sensory perception becomes clearer when the ego/self constituting processes are reduced, eg through meditative states.

We literally "see more pixels" because the conceptual mind and the ego-sense get out of the way. This phenomenon had already been described by Aldous Huxley in "The Doors of Perception" as result of taking mescaline. But Huxley at the time could not explain it neurologically.

The following is a historical excursion: Luminosity is a phenomenon that also characterised Plato's world. As described by Huxley, "in the Phaedro Socrates speaks about a world in which everything shines.. The very stones of the road and on the mountains have the quality of precious stones... A luminous other world" (quoted in Shannon p 391f)

However, it is interesting to read Tashi Namgyal on this phenomenon. He warns to take the experience too literal.

"The uneducated presume that the clarity of aspect of any type of meditative experience is what is meant by natural luminosity and think that what is called luminosity is something that illuminates, like sunlight. They are very mistaken" (Moonbeams of Mahamudra, pos 340).

In this view, luminosity is not a physical characteristic of mind, otherwise the mind would have characteristics (which is not the case in this philosophy of mind). In his view, "luminosity" is more of a metaphor for the original purity of mind.

Personally, I cannot agree to it, since the luminosity was a distinct perceptual attribute of this moment that characterised psychedelic experience and deep meditative perception. Illumination phenomena occur in both of these extraordinary states.

You may be interested to read more about luminosity in my blog post.

Dissolution of Experience into Mind Moments

The mirror experience had another quality that points to the concept of "mind moments" and "arising and passing away".

The experience was no longer continuous. Instead, it seemed to be decomposed into very many very short moments of experience which arose and immediately were replaced by another moment.

This corresponded to the mind moments in the experience of advanced meditators, as described in Culadasa´s "The Mind Illuminated" and by Daniel P Brown.

The following description as a "dissolution experience" is by Dan Brown:

In the old Buddhism, there's a certain depth of concentration called arising and passing away samadhi, where everything flashes very quickly like a stroboscope. And if you keep looking at that, eventually all the simplest movements of the mind will start breaking up and fragmenting and disappear.
Like the simplest points that you can observe in the mind disappear. And it's not a very pleasant experience, but because all that activity of mind fragments and disappears, it's called Bangunyana and Pali, or dissolution experience. You can then see this mirror-like awareness, and you can learn something about the nature of awareness, freed up of all the stuff of the mind.

This experience might point to a non-linearity of time, however, it may also be taken as a processing mechanism of the mind. The latter is Dr Brown's approach

Daniel P Brown (in "Mahamudra Meditation Stages") gives this phenomenon an extensive discussion by comparing it to the perceptual experiments with tachistoscopes in the 1960s.

In essence, he sees similarities in the trained yogi's granular perception of mind moments with the acquired skill of tachistoscopic test subjects over many training sessions.

"The stage of arising and passing away is described in terms of very fleeting but discrete moments. These moments pass so quickly that this state of consciousness is said to be the experiential basis of the Doctrine of Impermanence" (p 615).

Dissolution of Experience into Strings / Particles

[Note August 2021: the following interpretation of "thiglets" needs to be revised, following my reading of "Mahamudra Meditation-Stages by D. Brown]

It may also correspond to the transformation of the perceived world into smaller and smaller bubbles/grains, or other patterns, called thiglet in Tibetan meditation.

The visual field seemed to me to consist of something a water fountain. It appeared like an infinite set of upwards moving filaments, composed of very small individual particles.

Recently I came across a description of this type of visual experience in "The Six Lamps".

..the heart essence of awakened awareness, mere grains of energy drops, like filaments of energy drops, or silver-white threads, or filaments of white silk. They stay like a string of very small grains. In the midst of these energy drops the coarse types of enlightened Buddha-bodies [TG: I assume he means the recognizable shapes of objects] are just projections and there they reside in a subtle way. At that times these visions are like a waterfall gushing from a mountain, or like drops of water not staying but scattering or coming together. They arise and cease, scatter and come together, move and become agitated" (p.18)

For me, the experience was not of a "waterfall gushing from a mountain" (downwards movement), but of a a water fountain (upwards movements). The principle is the same.

Daniel P Brown references "unusual perceptual experiences" in "Pointing Out the Great Way". In his quotes of Jampel Pawo, they are associated as energy currents entering the central channel (pos 580). For example, the energy current "fire" is described as "Alternating emanation and cessation". This corresponds to my experience of very rapid occurence and disappearance. The energy current "space" is described as "As if passing through a sieve or grating". This corresponds to my experience of moving filaments (when one lets water run through a sieve, it appears initially as individual water filaments).

For science fiction fans: I guess there is an allusion to this phenomenon in the downward running filaments of number strings on the monitor-screens just before the transitions in the movie "Matrix".

The term Matrix itself is an allusion: it is one of the standard terms in Tibetan Buddhism for the ground of awareness-space.

Solitary Realizers reduce to the smallest particles all phenomena that appear to have substantial characteristics. Through that, they come to see directly that nothing really substantially exists as objects of mind" (TPT, p 933)

The Feeling-Tone of Sacredness

The experience had a sacred character.

It was the most intense awareness of awareness, and I was filled with sacredness, awe, gratitude and timelessness.

Those perceptions came naturally into my mind at the time, although I had never had any such spiritual or mystic moments of perception.

Daniel P Brown, in the "Buddha at the Gas Pump" podcast, mentions the sense of sacredness in the context of discussing the concept of "Self". In Mahamudra meditation, there is no intent to eliminate the sense of Self (as in "egolessness"). Instead, the Self, like any other appearance, is experienced - but it is experienced as empty at any moment.

In this way, the sense of Self and the sense of the all-encompassing sacredness can co-exist: the Self does not disturb the sacredness.

In my experience, indeed there was a distinct sense of being a Self. It was not an undistinguished "one-ness" where the Self was entirely gone.

I have long thought about this: would one not expect the complete disappearance of the individual Self in a mystic experience?

But according to Tibetan Buddhism, I then learned, that is not so. The higher stages of meditation allow the Self to persist. In terms of the ocean and wave metaphor, there is no conflict between being the wave and being the ocean: they are simultaneous.

Regarding the experience of sacredness, Daniel P Brown sais that the sense of Self can come and go, and it does not interfere with your perception of the sacred world "

The Feeling-Tone of Coming Home

The sense of "coming home" is is another experience that may occur in deep meditation.

The entire experience was suffused with the feeling-tone of "coming home" after a very long absence, measured in eternities. It was a very deep feeling of recognition, of having been here before.

Standard Buddhist metaphors describe this moment of re-cognition. There are several metaphors with the theme of recognition, remembering and coming home. However, My favorite one is the comparison to sex.

This singular and unique state of awareness can only be found within oneself. If that is the case, then, when one recognises one's essence, everything is brought together in a single moment within which a cognition is present that does not go beyond the knowledge of that singular essence, wich is rig pa. This is like a man and a woman who are in love and who meet together secretly in solitude in order to make love" (Garab Dorje)

Use of the Eyes: Stabilising the View by not Moving the Eyes

For some reason I knew that to hold this view I should not move the eyes and look at a particular object, but slowly turn my head and body to take in the spectacular scene. I found later that not moving the eyes is a meditative technique.

The practitioner relies upon this sense-perceiver when doing the gaze in such a way that the eye organ doesn’t move, and in turn the sense-perceiver and even the many [usual] movements of the mind-perceiver don’t [move either]. (Moonbeams of Mahamudra, quoted in Pointing Out the Great Way p.237)

Another quote is in "The Precious Treasury of the Expanse and Awakened Awareness" ).

When the visions of primordial wisdom arise, they do not stay in one place, but run to the right, left, up, down, etc. After a while, they won´t come at the time of practicing with the eyes of the mind directly focusing on it. Therefore, the manner of gazing is gently guided to the corner of the eyes [peripheral vision... The mind and eyes do not chase after the visions" (TPT 923)

Daniel P Brown in "Mahamudra Meditation Stages" states that

The eyes are not allowed to make any gross or subtle movements (MMS, p.257)'

The stillness of the eyes was probably a way to reduce or suppress the process that's called particularizing in Tibetan Buddhism. That's the very basic process by which the mind isolates / constitutes individual aspects from the field of awareness and begins the process of conceptualising. It's a very fast pre-conscious process.

Also, when one focuses on a particular object, the sense of being an individual, acting Self that does the focusing, is strengthened. Peripheral vision and de-focusing reduces that sense of Self.

Personal changes

During my 4 years of Ayahuasca experience, I had never had such an ontological shift of perspective. All prior experiences, emotional and insightful, were deep, significant and had lasting effects. But none of them changed my fundamental world perspective as much as this experience.

Comparison: psychedelic and meditative mystic experience

It should be clear from the descriptions, that there was essentially no difference in the phenomenology of this particular Ayahuasca experience and "classical" Buddhist deep meditation mind states as described in classical mahamudra litererature.

Current academic researcheg at Johns Hopkins University by Roland Griffith confirms my subjective conclusion. Many participants of a study reported the same type of experience.

A word of modesty

I am aware that my experiences are no way new to the world. They have been made and have been described in various form for thousands of years. But of course, they are significant to me at an intellectual and an emotional level.

And hopefully they are useful to create curiosity and interest regarding meditation as a way to experience very deep altered states.

"On Having No Head"

The following quote from D.E. Harding´s "On Having No Head" touches on the essence of my Ayahuasca experience.

In numerous texts we are told how the enlightened man as if by magic engulfs rivers, mountains, seas, the great world itself, reducing them all to the Void here, to nothing at all; and then, out of this Void, creates rivers, mountains, seas, the great world itself. Without the slightest discomfort, he swallows all the water in the West River, and spews it up again. He takes in and abolishes all things, produces all things. He sees the universe as nothing else than the outflowing of his own profound Nature, which in itself remains unstained, absolutely transparent. Now he is restored to himself as he really is: as the very heart of existence, from which all being is made manifest. In brief, he is deified. Established at the unique Source, he cries: “I am the Centre, I am the Universe, I am the Creator!” (D.T. Suzuki) Or: “I am the cause of mine own self and all things!” (Eckhart) In the vivid language of Zen, the mangy cur has become the golden-haired lion roaring in the desert, spontaneous, free, energetic, magnificently self-sufficient, and alone. Arrived Home at last, he finds no room for two. Our own Traherne once more echoes Eastern masters when he exclaims: “The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine: and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.”


Podcast Buddhist Geeks, episode 17.12.2015 , on "psychedelic experiences" in meditation

Andrew Huberman, & Carhart-Harris, R. (2023, May 22). Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris: The Science of Psychedelics for Mental Health | Huberman Lab Podcast [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from

Michael M Taft (Psychedelics, Consciousness Hacking)

Taft, C. [Consciousness Hacking]. (2018, October 28). Psychedelics, Technology, and the Future of Meditation w/ Michael Taft and Vincent Horn [Video]. YouTube.

Guru Viking Podcast #142

Viking, G. [Guru Viking Podcast]. (2022, March 25). Ep142: Science & the Enlightened Self - Dr Jud Brewer, Shinzen Young, C Fasano, & Dr Sanguinetti [Video]. YouTube.

A.H. Almaas (Enneagram)

Almaas, A. H., Hudson, R., & Maitri, S. (2021). Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type. Shambhala.

James H Austin (Zen and the Brain)

Austin, J. H. (1998). Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness. MIT Press.

Austin, J. H. (1998). Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness. MIT Press.

A very extensive dissection of a kensho experience by a cognitive scientist. This is a massive science book written by a cognitive scientist having had several extraordinary state experiences through meditation. Warning: he uses an unkniwn type of object called "floppy disk" as symbol for storage... meaning the book describes and experience made in 1974 and was written well before the current research wave. But it is still worthwhile reading. It was the Winner of the Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize for 1998

James H Austin quotes a shorter list of criteria for a mystical experience.

  1. "A strong confidence in the reality or objectivity of the experience; a conviction that it some reveals "the truth"

  2. Ineffability [the impossibility to adequately communicate it]

  3. An unconventional, qualitatively different mode of intellectual perception. During it, conventional intellectual operations are suspended or substituted for

  4. A paradoxical sense that opposites, of various kinds, coincide [the basis of "non-duality"]

  5. An extraordinarily strong affective tone. This might include various kinds of emotion which coincide in unusual combinations, such as sublime joy"

Badiner, A. (2021, May 27). Allan Badiner on Buddhist Practice, Psychedelics, and Which Holds More Value | Maps of the Mind [Video]. YouTube.

Daniel P Brown (Pointing)

Brown, D. P., & Thurman, R. (2006). Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition (Annotated ed.). Wisdom Publications.

Daniel P Brown (Mahamudra)

Brown, D. P. (1981). Mahamudra Meditation-Stages and Contemporary Cognitive Psychology (Dissertation).

This dissertation is a free download. It is a massive, highly technical volume that nevertheless gives an unparallelled insight into the education of a yogi. It draws on the knowledge of cognitive science as of the late 1970s, so it is not the newest in this regard. As compensation, Daniel P Brown gives some insight into the experiments with tachiscopy. to which he still referred in his retreats in 2021. The Universits of Chicago library entry:

Daniel P Brown (The New Republic of the Heart )

Brown, D. P., & Patten, T. (2013, January 1). The Sun Beyond the Clouds of Self | A new republic of the heart. A New Republic of the Heart.

Daniel P Brown (Buddha Gaspump)

Brown, B. A. T. G. P. [Buddha at the Gaspump Interview]. (2021, January 12). Daniel P. Brown - Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview [Video]. YouTube.

Rob Burbea (Seeing)

Burbea, R. (2015). Seeing That Frees: Meditations on Emptiness and Dependent Arising (English Edition) [E-book]. Hermes Amāra.

This book is praised by Michael Taft, one of the best contemporary teachers, in is "Best meditation books of 2020"

Dave Burns

Dave Burns - Psychedelics & Non-Duality: Understanding & Integrating Expanded States Podcast

Cambridge University

LSD Madness and Healing

Culadasa (Mind Illuminated)

Yates (Culadasa), J., & Immergut, M. (2017). The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness. Hay House Uk.

Till Gebel (Luminosity)

Gebel, T. (2022z, November 11). Luminosity of awareness - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.06. Till Gebel.

Garab Dorje

Garab Dorje, S. J. ā. W. O. T. [Jayasara Samaneri]. (2019, April 18). The Last Statement of Garab Dorje (Extended Version) - The Golden Letters - Dzogchen [Video]. YouTube.

The "sex" metaphor is at around minute 27. This is an absolutely moving text in the rendering by Samaneri.

Keith Dowman (Dzogchen Semdzins)

Dowman, K. (2020b). Dzogchen Semdzins (Dzogchen Teaching Series, Band 2). Independently published.

Keith Dowman (Flight)

Dowman, K. (1994). The Flight of the Garuda: The Dzogchen Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (2nd Revised ed). Wisdom Publications.

Till Gebel (View)

Gebel, T. (2021b). The View is the Meditation. Https://Www.till-Gebel.Com.

Guru Viking Podcast #142

Viking, G. [Guru Viking Podcast]. (2022, March 25). Ep142: Science & the Enlightened Self - Dr Jud Brewer, Shinzen Young, C Fasano, & Dr Sanguinetti [Video]. YouTube.

Khenpo Tsultrim Gymatso, & Hookham

Khenpo Tsultrim Gymatso, & Hookham. (2016). Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness (3rd ed.). Van Haren Publishing.

Kenneth Folk

Buddhist Geeks Podcast, B., & Folk, K. (n.d.). Buddhist Geeks - A Guided Tour of the Four Jhanas, with Kenneth Folk. Google Podcasts.

Till Gebel (Ocean and Wave)

My blog post on the ocean and wave metaphor in mahamudra meditation teaching

Gebel, T. (2022c, May 29). Be ocean 1: meditation and contemplative neuroscience. Till-Gebel.De.

Roland Griffith (Mushrooms)

Griffith, R., & Horn, V. (n.d.). Meditating on Mushrooms. ART19.

Gyaltsen (The Precious Treasury)

Gyaltsen, T. S., Brown, D. P., & Gurung, G. S. (2022). The Precious Treasury of the Expanse and Awakened Awareness: The Ornaments of the Definitive Secret (English Edition) (2nd ed.). Mustang Bon Foundation.

Donald Hoffman

Hoffman, D. (2020). The Case Against Reality: How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Penguin.

Mehrmann et al

Mehrmann, C., & Karmacharya, R. (2013). Principles and Neurobiological Correlates of Concentrative Meditation. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 205–218.

Khamtrul Rinpoche (Royal Seal 2)

Khamtrul, K., Rinpoche, & Abboud, G. (2020). The Royal Seal of Mahamudra, Volume Two: A Guidebook for the Realization of Coemergence. Snow Lion.

Nisargadatta Maharaj 2003

Nisargadatta Maharaj, S. (2020). I Am That I Am: A Tribute to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (English Edition). Quantum Inst.

Pahnke, Walter

Pahnke, W. N. (1969). The Psychedelic Mystical Experience in the Human Encounter with Death. Harvard Theological Review, 62(1), 1–21.

Full text available here.

Jackson Peterson

Unbroken Wholeness (Mirror)

Matteo Pistono

Pistono, M. (2021, July 20). The New Wave of Psychedelics in Buddhist Practice. Lions Roar. Retrieved 9 October 2022, from

Samaneri Jaiyasara on Youtube

A Bhuddhist nun reciting on Youtube hundreds of mystic texts from all traditions (Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Sufism...). A vast aural library. Some of Samaneri´s readings are now integrated into Sam Harris´ "Waking Up" meditation app.

Gebel, T. (2021d, April 11). Mystic world tradition, masterfully read (for free) by Samaneri Jaiyasara. Till Gebel.

Henry Shukman, on Tim Ferris Podcast

Shukman, H., & Ferris, T. (2021, September 13). Henry Shukman — Zen, Tools for Awakening, Ayahuasca vs. Meditation, Intro to Koans, and Using Wounds as the Doorway (#531). The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss.

Tahpiritsa (Six Lamps)

Tapihritsa, G. N., & Lodpo. (2022). The Six Lamps: According to the Zhang Zhung Oral Transmission Lineage of Bon Dzogchen. Mustang Bon Foundation.

Gyaltsen, T. S., Brown, D. P., & Gurung, G. S. (2022). The Precious Treasury of the Expanse and Awakened Awareness: The Ornaments of the Definitive Secret (English Edition) (2nd ed.). Mustang Bon Foundation.

Benny Shannon

Shanon, B. (2003). The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience (Illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press.

Ben Stewart

"The DMT Quest" (video)

Reports recent research at the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the possibly central role of DMT for Human consciousness

Stewart, D. [The Quest]. (2021, January 24). DMT Quest Documentary [Video]. YouTube.

The central research hypothesis here is this:

Endogenous DMT plays a central role in consciousness. Its production may be facilitated/increased by

  • LSD

  • Psilocybin

  • Dream

  • Meditation

  • Deep Breathing

  • Near Death Experiences

This would help explain the overlapping types of experiences I had, as well as the scientific measurements, eg of increased gamma wave activity through meditation and psychedelics.

Michael M Taft (Psychedelics, Consciousness Hacking)

Taft, C. [Consciousness Hacking]. (2018, October 28). Psychedelics, Technology, and the Future of Meditation w/ Michael Taft and Vincent Horn [Video]. YouTube.

Tashi Namgyal

Namgyal, T. D., & Callahan, E. (2019). Moonbeams of Mahamudra (Tsadra) (Translation ed.). Snow Lion.

Tashi Namgyal (Ocean)

Namgyal, L. T., & Rinpoche, K. T. (2011). The Ninth Karmapa’s Ocean of Definitive Meaning (New ed). Snow Lion.

University of California, San Diego

"The psychedelic science of pain"

Ken Wilber (Fourth Turnining)

Wilber, K. (2021, May 21). Toward a Fourth Turning of Buddhism. Integral Life.

Stephen Wolinsky

A Western psychologist and disciple of Nisargadatta, who built his own integrative system. Many free books for download

Stephen H. Wolinsky Ph. D. - Home. (n.d.). Stephen Wolinsky PhD.

Stephen Wolinski: Advaita Vedanta

"Advaita is Vedanta: States-Stations-Experiences and Samskaras"

Shinzen Young (in Guru Viking Podcast 115)

Young, G. [Guru Viking Podcast]. (2021, October 1). Ep115: Jhana, Ego, & Orgasm - Leigh Brasington, Shinzen Young, Chelsey Fasano, & Dr Sanguinetti [Video]. YouTube.

Wanchchuk Dorje

Wangchug Dorje. (2017). Mahamudra - The Ocean of True Meaning (1st ed.). BoD – Books on Demand.

TBD add this

There are, of course, many kinds of meditative practices, and they each have distinctive effects on the mind. One popular class of practices are those of vipassanā, which roughly translates as "super seeing". Meditative practices of this form focus on cultivating mindfulness by deliberately bringing the mind's objects into awareness. Experiences during a vipassanā practice can start mildly psychedelic — with all sorts of emotions, memories, and insights making their way into consciousness. And, then, if the practice is continued for long enough — for example, during a vipassanā retreat — the experiences can become very psychedelic and not at all unlike the trip reports one finds on erowid.

In fact, it may be that the real value of psychedelic drugs isn't so much their ability to reveal the mind but rather their ability to reveal the possibility of revealing the mind. Therefore, the experiences we get from psychedelics might be better thought of as "proof of concept" experiences — of the psychedelic kind.


A thought on...

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