Advaita Vedanta is concerned also about realizing our true nature, it is also concerned about liberation, and so on. In many respects they sound similar. It is only after a period of practice, experiencing, refining one's insights that one comes to see the difference between Buddhadharma and such teachings.
First of all, despite having taken refuge in the triple gems, I do not believe in throwing out non-Buddhist teachings. I believe in making good use of them but also understanding the limitations and going beyond all such limitations, which I shall explain. As I told many people, despite having taken refuge in the triple gems when I was 2 (I can't even remember that occasion) in a formal ceremony... I did not confine my studies to Buddhist teachings. As a matter of fact, between 2006~2010 my primary interest is more on Advaita materials, even though I have been acquinted with Buddhist teachings and teachers as well. From contemporary and popular teachers like Eckhart Tolle, to traditional teachers like Sri Ramana Maharshi, to neo-Advaita teachers like John Wheeler, Tony Parsons, etc etc. Sri Ramana Maharshi is a particularly good teacher at this particular self-inquiry practice I undertook, so in my e-book/e-journal I advise people looking into his materials if one is inclined to that path. Then later as my insights developed, I started to be more inclined to other teachings, like certain neo-Advaita teachers that talk more about the non-dual aspect in late 2010, then some Zen teachers, also a non-Buddhist teaching called "Actual Freedom", and later what really drew my attention was the suttas and sutras. I think they are exceptionally clear and speaks most accurately to my experience at this moment. But in any case, for myself, I am drawn to different teachings because that is what is most relevant to me at the moment (in terms of practice, insight, experience). I do not limit myself, or confine myself, to a particular set of teachings be it Buddhist or non-Buddhist but freely utilize whatever is more relevant and helpful for me, which may change over time. And this is the way I recommend for everyone, in Kenneth Folk (meditation teacher)'s words, "Pragmatic Dharma - whatever works".
In 2008, having had many glimpses of experiencing the Presence yet having no unshakeable realization beyond doubt, someone whom I consider my teacher, "Thusness" asked me to start doing self-inquiry, by asking myself "Before birth, Who am I?" He did not give me much instructions on self-inquiry, just asked me to contemplate on it. I took a serious contemplation on my part, just as Sri Ramana Maharshi and others (including Buddhist teachers like Ch'an Master Hsu Yun and many other zen masters) for the next two years until an unshakeable certainty arose in a moment when all concepts subsided and there is just this still, complete certainty of just this Presence, this beingness, pure sense of existence (which is not a concept, but just the pure luminous mind itself). At this point I am completely beyond doubt.
Naturally it is the case that one tries to abide and remain in this Presence one has discovered throughout the day and night. One may start to think that 24/7 abidance in this purest Presence is equivalent to nirvana. But one is still limited by one's view, that is, the subtle idea that this Presence is behind and underlying all manifest perception, that it is the thoughtless, formless, odorless, colourless substance underlying everything. This Presence is subtly seen to be separate, even though it is also the ultimate ground of everything - everything is seen as being manifestation of this ground. In actual case, this Presence is a true experience, but it only pertains to the luminosity of mind, as a pure thought, so it is only an aspect and not the totality in terms of the eighteen dhatus. One does not experience the one taste of presence in all perceptions, in all of the eighteen dhatus so to speak. Then owing to one's framework and view, one makes a pure identity out of Presence. But it is not that the Pure Presence is a "wrong" or "deluded" experience, it is a pure, "true" and important experience insofar as it relates to the innately luminous essence of mind, but it is the views (of duality, of inherency) and framework that remains intact that is faulty, shaping the way we view ourselves and our experiences. Nonetheless, for the rest of the journey, one is guided by this "I AM", this Presence, and it is just the refining of the view experientially, i.e. "keep the experience, refine the view" as Rob Burbea reiterated. Then one begins to discover that even though right from the start (the first discovery of Presence as the pure sense of I AM) one always talks about "uncontrived awareness", there will always be contrivance until clarity of view arises (view not in terms of concepts but a deep experiential insight which ultimately results in the freedom of all views).
Naturally, when there is any subtlest view of separation, there is naturally a contrivance, something that prevents full effortlessness of Presence in and as every experience. For if we are listening to music, what is Presence at that moment? Is Presence something separate or behind the experience of music, or is Presence always and already the very perception of music itself, never has there been any separation? This is also part of my next inquiry (among a list of inquiries), that is, has there been any separation, is there a border or line between presence/awareness and manifestation? At one time and since then, all sense of a subject and object, any sense of an observer, dissolved into a seamless presence which instead of being behind everything, is simply manifesting "AS" everything... at this moment, one's practice is no longer as contrived as in the previous phase where practice is inclined to trying to abide 24/7 in a purest state of Presence (residing in the pure Self, as the pure source/background behind everything), yet even this is not the end. But one begins to understand the third step of which Sri Ramana Maharshi speaks of: "The world is illusory, Brahman alone is real, Brahman is the world".
Sri Ramana Maharshi says:
"When once he realises his own Self he will know that there is nothing other than his own Self and he will come to look upon the whole universe as Brahman. There is no universe without the Self. So long as a man does not see the Self which is the origin of all, but looks only at the external world as real and permanent, you have to tell him that all this external universe is an illusion. You cannot help it. Take a paper. We see only the script, and nobody notices the paper on which the script is written. The paper is there whether the script on it is there or not. To those who look upon the script as real, you have to say that it is unreal, an illusion, since it rests upon the paper. The wise man looks upon both the paper and script as one. So also with Brahman and the universe."
Even when this is seen, there is still this view of a Source, of an inherent Awareness that nonetheless is expressing itself as everything. This is where Namdrol says everything is the lila of Shiva, Brahman, God, etc. Everything is the expression of consciousness and is not other than pure consciousnes - rather it is pure consciousness expressing or experiencing itself. The sights and sounds are all the pure display of consciousness, they are the display of You.
But because "pure consciousness" is seen as an inherent substance, source, an ultimate ground manifesting as everything, there will still be this subtle referencing and clinging preventing full uncontrivance, effortlessness, freedom (from all manners of grasping). One tries to re-confirm this Self in everything such that everything is Me, the sound, the sights, the everything IS the Presence. There is still this subtle, often unknowing, contrivance to reconfirm a source, an (inherent) essence. There is still this clinging to a One Awareness, a One Mind. This is itself a hindrance.
This is where Thusness's message to me came clear, there are two views or obscurations - the view of duality, and the view of inherency. Despite countless glimpses of Presence, if one does not have an insight to break through these views, one will never experience total non-contrivance, effortlessness, and liberation. Yet, even if one has a realization that overcomes dualistic view (of subject and object), it is not the same as overcoming the view of inherency. The view of inherency is overcome by the experiential realization of the twofold emptiness (of self and object). An example of overcoming dualistic view but not penetrating into emptiness is like Kashmir Shaivism's realism that sees the universe as the sport of Shiva or Advaita Vedanta's "the universe is Brahman".
And at this point he posted something very relevant to me:
Hi Simpo and AEN,
Yet we cannot get carried away by all these blissful experiences. Blissfulness is the result of luminosity whereas liberation is due to prajna wisdom.
For intense luminosity in the foreground, you will not only have vivid experience of ‘brilliant aliveness’, ‘you’ must also completely disappear. It is an experience of being totally ‘transparent’ and without boundaries. These experiences are quite obvious, u will not miss it. However the body-mind will not rest in great content due to an experience of intense luminosity. Contrary it can make a practitioner more attach to a non-dual ultimate luminous state.
For the mind to rest, it must have an experience of ‘great dissolve’ that whatever arises perpetually self liberates. It is not about phenomena dissolving into some great void but it is the empty nature of whatever arises that self-liberates. It is the direct experience of groundlessness and non –abiding due to direct insight of the empty nature of phenomena and that includes the non-dual luminous essence.
Therefore In addition to bringing this ‘taste’ to the foreground, u must also ‘realize’ the difference between wrong and right view. There is also a difference in saying “Different forms of Aliveness” and “There is just breath, sound, scenery...magical display that is utterly unfindable, ungraspable and without essence- empty.”
In the former case, realize how the mind is manifesting a subtle tendency of attempting to ‘pin’ and locate something that inherently exists. The mind feels uneasy and needs to seek for something due to its existing paradigm. It is not simply a matter of expression for communication sake but a habit that runs deep because it lacks a ‘view’ that is able to cater for reality that is dynamic, ungraspable, non-local , center-less and interdependent.
After direct realization of the non-dual essence and empty nature, the mind can then have a direct glimpse of what is meant by being ‘natural’, otherwise there will always be a ‘sense of contrivance’.
My 2 cents and have fun with ur army life.
An insight then arises when I was contemplating on Bahiya Sutta that in seeing there is always just the seen, in hearing just the heard, always just the process, flow of self-luminous experience/experiencing without any Subject, agent, seer, perceiver, etc. But not only that, one then starts to see and understand that "Consciousness", "Presence", "Awareness" is utterly empty - being merely a convention, a label, no different from the word "Weather". The word "Weather" is a label connoting the everchanging clouds, forming and parting, rain falling, wind blowing, all interpenetrating and manifesting freely but nothing whatsoever can be pinned down as an ultimate ground, reality, or essence. Just like the "chariot" analogy.
Similarly, when one sees through the view of Consciousness as an ultimate ground but have a better understanding of imputation, one no longer seeks or grasps at anything, there is no longer any need to re-confirm, nothing about the Source... there is no need to reference to what is mere imputation without reality - i.e. “There is just breath, sound, scenery...magical display that is utterly unfindable, ungraspable and without essence- empty.” And this is where I find Buddha's teachings as exceptionally clear, and in fact, could not be found anywhere else in other (non-Buddhist) teachings. At this point, Cula-sihanada Sutta: The Shorter Discourse on the Lion's Roar
on how Buddha's teachings are distinguished from other religions does make sense to me, even though my advise on being free from all limitations still apply.
Lastly there is no hierarchy of things... if a person talks about luminous presence, I will point out the empty nature (for if one does not go through two fold emptiness, how is a dual and inherent view going to lead one to that uncontrived awareness as this moment of suchness?), if one only talks about the empty nature, I will point out the luminous essence, and if one talks about its inseparability, I will inquire on what is the direct and actual experience of it like? Many people study emptiness teachings intellectually, this doesn't really help. The teachings must always relate to one's experience, to Presence, to the nature of mind, to this very moment of experience.