04 January 2014

Jackson Peterson on his form of enlightenment, and my rebuttal


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.


JACKSON: 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.

MUZIKA: Disagree.  Emotions are on a deeper, visceral level than thoughts.  Thoughts (stories) can trigger all kinds of emotions, but emotions can arise from direct interactions in the environment, such as love for a kitten, which requires no story, or hatred for Chinese butchers who boil dogs alive for tanning or for eating in restaurants. Ongoing love for a spouse or child; is this merely a story?  Devotion to a cause, such as animal rescue or preserving the environment that lasts a lifetime.  Is this merely a story?  Compassion for an insect you don’t kill in the kitchen and instead take it outside.  Is this a story or a sensitivity developed from growing empathy.  Is empathy a story?

Jackson, you oversimplify the human condition by making is all contingent on thinking.

JACKSON: 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.

MUZIKA: If we increasingly focus on the external environment, it is all too easy to lose touch with our feelings, even of love, compassion, empathy, bonding, responsibility to others.  You can have a mind as clear as a bell, but lose your emotional humanity.  It is a foolish thing to want to relegate emotionality of any sort, as something to be transcended. 

JACKSON: 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.

MUZIKA:  Yes, to an extent this is true; the sense of self is built over time.  But it is a mistake to say it is just concepts.  Actually, there are neurological changes that take place that allow for a sense of self, that are not really complete until the human becomes self-consciousness, and then adds on a sense of ownership of actions, responsibility, compassion and empathy for another.

JACKSON: 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.

MUZIKA:  You are offering a prescription for committing suicide of one’s “personal self” by “clearly seeing” that personal self does not exist.

I have seen this in spiritual students time after time after they lose contact with their inner life and beingness and become “one with the world.”  The emotions disappear and they often become dead to feelings, love, empathy, anger, jealousy, etc., to anything we identify as a human reaction.

You miss a very important point: there truly is a deeper Self, one that identifies not only with the body, but also with the totality of one’s inner life, as well as the experience of the “other,” a divine beingness within, which we all share, but which is the source of our sentience, feeling and knowing.  This is what Ramana meant by the “real I,” the divine I, the transcendent Self often called Turiya, or Krishna, or Christ Consciousness. 

Becoming aware of this Self, the real I, changes everything, for body, mind, emotions and knowing all come together as a oneness.

JACKSON: 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 orangey-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 orangey 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.

MUZIKA: Yes, you are that too.  But you are much, much more than this lighted emptiness.  You are also a human being with a body/mind living in the world, which your method is leading away from.

JACKSON: 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 the empty vividness of our Aware and Knowing Space.

MUZIKA: Reveals itself to whom?  Is this what you think you are Jackson, a clear lighted emptiness?

Yes, if that is what you choose to identify with.  But for this you abandon your humanity, your vibrant body feelings, lusts, devotion, love, compassion, empathy, your embodied presence for a well lit emptiness, which is still a phenomenon being witnessed?

JACKSON: If one incorporates and integrates these five principles into one's daily practice, in my opinion no other methods or practices should be considered necessary.

MUZIKA: Yes, because you will have become an emotionless, empty zombie.

Jackson, in your long essay there is not one word about love, about compassion, about bonding with others.  Emotions for you are something to be transcended as you realize yourself as a vast, lighted emptiness.  You have lost your humanity.

This is why Robert Adams said he would prefer to be with one saint as opposed to a half dozen sages (Jnanis).  The saint has life, love and compassion, and serves mankind through devotion.


  1. Nice commentary, very necessary. Could give many people a needed warning not to forego their emotional and mental health, but rather to integrate their spirituality with their emotional and mental health, to better serve their own potential to engage in and help the world as well as themselves.

  2. A valid critique of the seeming "appeal" that emptiness has, esp. to those who consider it something of a panacea to a turbulent lifestyle wherein they became too caught up in the apparent solidity of "things" that troubled them. Unbeknownst to them, this sterile emptiness doesn't lead to the real solution they seek but instead to relationships getting disrupted and abandoned else the new empty state gets tainted by messy "human" drama. I wonder if non-dual therapy is guilty of propagating this?
    My guess is that it depends on the perspective and approach used by the therapist doing it.


  3. Improving your emotional health can be a rewarding experience, benefiting all aspects of your life, including boosting your mood, building resilience, and adding to your overall enjoyment of life.

  4. Hello Edward. I am so happy that there is a balanced critique to the work put out by Jackson Peterson. I joined his Dzogchen Togyal Group on FB. He certainly talks the talk but dropped just Guard and then took to condescending the teachings of Namkhai Norbu. I challenged this polititely and after a little investigation it seems that JP has no qualification or persmission to teach Dzogchen or give direct introduction in any capacity.
    I agree whole heartedly that his approach is misguided and he in my opionion is borrowing and then promoting a dissociated view of Rigpa etc lacking in wisdom and compassion. It is dangerous to relentless ignore the life of the body and to fail to integrate with what arises within our dimension right now. Wise words from you. .. cheers Chris Ray Chappell