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Lion´s View: Awareness of Awareness - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.11

Image of Lion and Dog chasing after stick

A dog chases after a thrown stick, a lion turns toward the thrower.

It seems that AI "understands" the different behaviours of lions and dogs when a stick is thrown at them. No AI that I used created a lion/stick image with the lion behaving like a dog. Instead, the lion would always face the thrower.

This different behaviour is the core of one of the most well known Buddhist teaching metaphors: the "Lion´s View" (or Lion´s Gaze).

Image of text Turn attention upon itself

Sam Harris

Turn attention upon itself

Sam Harris, in his meditations, does not make a systematic distinction between awareness and attention. But he regularly expresses the same thought in his pointing out instructions.

This is (in principle) the kernel of "becoming conscious" in 4 words: the turning around of the mind towards itself. The mind watching itself. The watcher watching the watcher. Awareness becoming aware of the huge space (the "thrower") in which all appearances arise.

It encapsulates what Peter Barth (2007) says "is at the heart of both Mahamudra and Dzogchen". Barth formulates it like this: "Looking with awareness at awareness is at the heart of both Mahamudra and Dzogchen".

The Lion´s View

The thought is beautifully expressed in the famous "Lion´s view" metaphor.

When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once. (Milarepa, 2021)

This is a great metaphor for "awakening", or at least for a pre-stage of it: once one has had a glimpse of this "awareness showing itself to awareness" at a deep level, one will never forget.

Daniel P Brown, in the intro the Tapihritsa´s work "The Six Lamps", describes the Lion´s view like this:

This view...entails taking the limitless, timeless field of awareness itself as the object of meditation, holding the view of the non-dual unbounded wholeness uninterruptedly, moment-by-moment, without looking at anything in particular. In this way, any tendency of the mind to pick out anything in particular is viewed as the activity of the unbounded wholeness itself, in such a way that the view no longer interferes with the direct recognition of the unbounded wholeness that is always right here. (Tapihritsa et al., 2022, p. 4)

The Lion´s View in detail

As one progresses deeper into states of "awakened awareness" during essence-of-mind meditation, one eventually arrives at what's known as the Lion's Gaze. This state acts as a doorway to the final "stabilized awakening" that the practice builds towards.

One can think of the Lion's Gaze like a child standing before an elaborate temple (another well known metaphor), eyes wide with wonder, captured by everything the child sees yet focused on nothing in particular.

The key to the Lion's Gaze is a radical opening and utilization of our entire visual field. Normally one sees through a narrow tunnel, dominated by whatever object or task draws our attention. Now oneback relaxes into a vast, limitless space of perception.

This expansive seeing allows to sense the non-localized essence of awareness itself. Awareness flows evenly across space without getting snagged anywhere. One does not stare at objects, instead our vision itself dissolves from localization into pure spacious cognition.

Instead of looking out at discrete objects, the very space of the looking now comes into the foreground.

These two realizations, of limitless non-localized awareness and the "luminous knowingness of awareness", unite in the Lion's Gaze. One sees directly into the space in which everything appears.

This view is the precursor to the final shift into stabilized awakened awareness .

The neurological equivalents of the Lion´s view

The neurological correlates of taking the Lion´s Gaze has been researched by Daniel P Brown in his neurological study with Jud Brewer.

In summary, the study reports the following brain effects of meditating in the essence traditions, although the results are not specific to the Lion´s View. Note that the following are tech

Visuospatial Processing:

  • Increased activation in parietal areas like the precuneus and superior parietal lobule that are involved in spatial cognition and visual processing. This matches the description of utilizing the entire visual field.

Visual Awareness:

  • Changes in occipital and temporal visual areas in the brain. The vivid visual luminosity described may correspond to increased higher-frequency EEG activity in these visual processing regions.

Salience Network:

  • Greater insula, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and fronto-parietal activity as part of the brain's salience network. This fits with heightened perceptual awareness and processing of salient visual stimuli during Lion's Gaze.

Global Coherence:

  • Increased global gamma band synchronization across brain networks, reflecting a coherent, vivid aesthetic experience of visual space.

Reduced Default Mode:

  • Attenuated default mode network (DMN) activity connected to reduced self-referential narrative focus. This neural dissolution of an egoic "self" meshes with the non-localized awareness reported.

So in summary, enhanced visual, spatial, salience, and global processing regions combined with decreased DMN activity may work together to create the heightened non-conceptual visual awareness of Lion's Gaze and related views (e.g. Ocean and Wave).


Barth, P. (2007). A Meditation Guide for Mahamudra [PDF]. Mahamudra Meditation Center, Petaluma, USA. (Original work published 1998)

Brewer, J., & Brown, D. P. (1999). Mapping complex mind states: EEG neural substrates of meditative unified compassionate awarenes. .

Center for Adolescent Studies. (2021, December 28). Cultivating the Lion Mind: A Mindfulness Metaphor that Sticks | Center for Adolescent Studies. Center for Adolescent Studies | Competent Training for Professionals Working With Adolescents.

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.

Gebel, T. (2022a). Attention and Awareness - confusion. Till Gebel.

Milarepa. (2021b, July 20). Milarepa: “When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick.” Wildmind. Retrieved 11 September 2022, from

Samaneri Jayasara [Samaneri Jayasāra - Wisdom of the Masters], & Milarepa. (2021, January 25). Milarepa (1) - Selected Pointers and Teachings for Meditation - Tibetan Buddhism - Kagyu [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved 11 September 2022, from

The clip with the Lion´s view from the above Youtube video

Tapihritsa. (2022, May 3). The Six Lamps: According to the Zhang Zhung Oral Transmission Lineage of Bon Dzogchen (Daniel P Brown & G. Sonam Gurung, Trans.). Mustang Bon Foundation.


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