About the Illusory Form Practice & Instruction category

This Illusory Form Practice category is for participants in the Dreams of Light book group to share insights, offerings, questions, and suggestions.

It is principally to discuss the illusory form practice introduced in session three that brings appearances, or form, onto the path. But if you like, you can share anything that pertains to the study of this material, the relationship of form to emptiness – the practice of illusory form.

As the group continues, I will refine this practice of looking at form, offering a number of “leading the witness” questions that will invite you to eventually discover the non-dual nature of perception, or what in our context is called perfectly pure illusory form. I’ll also offer material from other disciplines (philosophy, cognitive science, etc) to support this practice.

For now, share your experience of this practice with others. Here are some guidelines for posting. Perhaps check your motivation before you post something. Are you doing so as an offering to others? Or are you doing so to draw attention? Try not to be discursive. Be pithy, on the spot, precise; but balance this with speaking from your heart. This is not the place for oratory or indulgence. This is a place of offering, the practice of generosity (the first “perfection” or dana paramita ). Part of the aspiration for this platform is to cultivate a stronger sense of community. It’s also in the spirit of engaging the second and third wisdom tools, or contemplation and meditation. We’re going to be contemplating/meditating on the nature of mind and reality with this practice.

At first we all stumble and fumble with this practice, not sure we’re doing it right, not sure we’re doing it at all! That is normal. I started doing this practice decades ago, and it took me many weeks to get the hang of it, and longer for the insights to arise. But it is a potential deal maker, and can rock your world as you come to see “rocks” and “world” in an entirely new way.

This practice is very subtle, so be patient, kind to yourself ( maitri ), and playful as you engage in it. An attitude of childlike wonder is helpful as we cultivate “fresh vision” with a beginner’s mind. We’re going to be deconstructing the normal way of seeing things, and there may be some resistance (an internal “conflict of interest” as the evolutionary spectrum of your identity clashes with the devolutionary end). Part of you truly wants to wake up and see the world like a buddha; but another part of you prefers to stay asleep. It’s important to understand this, smile at it, and as the Dalai Lama says of anything worthwhile: “Never give up!”

The Instruction

It helps to first sit in meditation for a few minutes, to gather and center the churned up mind. Imagine a glass filled with stirred up debris, creating unclear waters. By sitting in meditation, things settle down, like sediment. We’re going to be looking into the “bottom of the mind,” and it helps if we can see to that bottom clearly. This, of course, is the practice of shamatha (which always precedes vipashyana, or clear seeing). Once you feel somewhat settled:

  1. Find a neutral object, like a vase, or anything that isn’t laden with too much history. A book or a photo of a loved one may be too charged, for example. At fruitional levels, you can do this practice with any object and ride out into the world, but “training wheels” are helpful at first.

  2. Place the object several feet in front of you, take off your glasses if you wear them, and dim the lights a bit. Taking off your glasses and dimming the light helps to create a new “mood” for this practice, which is about learning how to see in a new way. This is not mandatory, but highly recommended.

  3. The practice is to look at the object, engage it, with a sense of crisp concentration at first. But don’t analyze it, or look too closely at any entertaining aspect of the object. Look at the object, but don’t get lost in it. This is like striking a gong. How long to do this varies, and you have to trust your intuition. I don’t want to give you a fixed metric, but a few seconds is probably too short; and a few minutes may be too long. Listen and trust your inner wisdom.

  4. Now relax the gaze, and open to the object. Let your mind expand, and almost embrace the object with a more receptive awareness. This is like resting in the “hum” of the gong. Again, no fixed time for this, but a few seconds is probably too short, and a few minutes may be too long.

  5. Alternate this opening and closing of the aperture of your awareness. We do this because it’s easy for this practice to get stale. At first, I recommend shorter sessions for the entire practice, 5-10 minutes perhaps, to keep things crisp. We’re exercising the luminosity of the mind, which can space out and get hazy if we try to do this too long at first. If you find yourself blanking out, spacing out, you’re doing this too long.

  6. This practice is a form of analytic investigation, or vipashyana (insight meditation), which often uses questions to “lead the witness” towards insight. A host of questions will be offered in the following weeks, each one acting like the facets of a diamond, reflecting the light of your awareness in slightly different ways. The question/investigation for this week is: Are you separate from this object? Are you and the object perceived as different? These questions “perfume” steps 3-5. In other words, you don’t want to be too tight and pound the object with these questions; but you also don’t want to be too loose, and just space out on the object. The maxim “not too tight, not too loose” applies. You will probably bounce off of the extremes of too tight and too loose till you find your sweet spot, the “middle way.”

  7. Be open to whatever arises. Don’t expect anything (expectation is pre-meditated disappointment), but be open to anything. Be inquisitive, and playful. Swami Kripalu said: “The highest form of spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.” So don’t judge what you experience, and don’t “should” on yourself (“I should be experiencing this, I should be feeling that” etc.) Be like a child, even a baby: open and even amazed at whatever it sees. If you have a “spiritual” experience (nyam), don’t try to repeat it. If you have no experience, smile at it. So many things can happen with this practice, or nothing at all. It’s all good.

  8. It helps to journal your experience, to see how this meditation progresses as you get more familiar with it, and we continue to refine it. Be a good objective reporter. Don’t write down “answers” you feel you should be writing down. Write down what you honestly experience. If you experience confusion, or bewilderment, write that down. If you have no idea what you’re doing, write that down. Mostly, have fun on this trip, which is a journey into . . .


@Andrew - I noticed in the practice instructions that you recommended we choose a neutral object to work with. Would it also be appropriate to choose a “sacred” object like a statue of a buddha? By way of context, I’m a long time Vajrayana practitioner.


I liked very much doing the exercise. Thank you so much for offering it.
I looked at my blue drinking cup for a few minutes and had a nice feeling of connection with it. As I asked me the 2 questions, I found we were both still and open. I liked my cup very much in a non grabbing way.


@Andrew I am so grateful for you, and all gathered here. Doing the beautiful exercises you gave us is like a child viewing a temple for the first time, opening a sense of awe and limitlessness, exploring a vast open space with clarity. I get good practice during the day helping guide people into new ways of seeing their lives so it is precious to see this reflected in the cup, the space, the “me” that dissolves into space, and the space that merges with that identity. There was no longer a cup and “me”, simply the awareness-connecting space. In the sound of the gong which is actually played from within the pure mind itself, arise five buddhas and five consorts, each welcoming this vision of union in a mandala of awareness and love, where perception, thought and feeling dissolve into the pure realm. Again this is a practice I do consistently even prior to sleep, so clear light is a wonderful if not constant companion, and I merely its witness. The fact that it arose like a flower blooming with your instruction is a song to my heart. You are indeed the dharmakaya. So thank you, and if this can somehow improve this pristine stream of awareness, heart to heart, in the night club community then I am deeply grateful and I am especially humbled by all the hearts that share so openly here.


I chose a large dark purple dahlia flower head.
Answers as experienced are
I am not one nor I am separate from the flower. As I open up I became almost hypnotised by the colour and shape and somehow settled within experience, everything fades as the flower becomes more clear.



So visceral. Mostly softening and expansiveness and a glimmer out of my side eye of negative space(?) I don’t have a better word for the sensation.
Flashes of the many times I would say or want to say to people, “ I can taste that color” or feeling boredom at art exhibits because I wanted to dance when I looked.
And, why do I have to “come up” with words to say out loud?

Then, listening to the September 28 webinar when Andrew spoke about “nothing wrong with language or concepts…it’s relationship to…(true) words collapsing into reality” I apologize for my synopsis but what spoke to me is this: from that illusory state I can “come up” with words. I think I am sometimes afraid to speak from there.

1 Like

I feel so sustained by this group and by the way questions are held like precious things.
sometimes - after having shared a question - re-reading it - I feel incredibly stupid and so humbled by my limited knowledge.
But answers that are shared by Andrew are always nudging to let go of concepts and inviting to widen the angle of my view and go beyond a little more.
Thank you so much!

Following the group I already can observe some changes:

my practice has stabilized a lot and I do not want to miss that again

  • I am more aware of my dreams - I can remember them most of the time,
    they are not lucid yet, and who knows if they ever will be, but sometimes it seems as if they almost are
  • the borderline between dream and reality is softening: sometimes I just cannot tell if something in my mind has happened “for real” or just was a snippet of a dream
  • I sleep a lot better, as if beginning to trust darkness more and more
  • sleepnessness is not an option that scares me any more - I use it for meditation and use it to see how long I am able to observe my mind before it goes … where-ever
  • illusory form practice … as a Vipassana meditator I am careful not to mix up meditation styles, but what is congruent and interesting to observe is: who is seeing and how this “who” realizes that it is “seeing”…
    (in a way nobody sees reflections of shadows and light…)