Before we get to my take on things, I’m front-loading this post with canonical references — words of the Buddha himself, 2500 years ago, yet as though a day has not passed, so fresh and perfect are these instructions.
Here’s a short and pithy formulation of the Dhamma given by Gautama Buddha, from Bahiya Sutta, U 1.10:
Then, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of dissatisfaction (dukkha).
Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing:
There the stars do not shine,
the sun is not visible,
the moon does not appear,
darkness is not found.
And when a sage,
a brahman through sagacity,
has known [this] for himself,
then from form & formless,
from (pleasure) & pain,
he is freed.
How does a “brahman through sagacity” become freed from form and formlessness, from pleasure and pain?
Having established herself in a dedicated, rigorous and skillful practice of the first seven folds of the Eightfold Path, she engages thusly (from the Maha-satipatthana Sutta, DN 22):
And what is right meditation (sama-samadhi)? There is the case where an aspirant is quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental projections, enters and remains in the first ecstasy (jhana): bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal, accompanied by applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára). With the stilling of applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára), one enters and remains in the second ecstasy (jhana): joy (sukha) and bliss (piiti) born of tranquility, unification of awareness free from applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára) with internal assurance. With the fading of joy one remains in equanimity, aware and alert, physically sensitive to bliss (piiti). One enters and remains in the third ecstasy (jhana), of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘equanimous and aware, one has a pleasurable abiding.’ With the abandoning of grasping and aversion for pleasure and pain (sukha and dukkha) — as with the earlier disappearance of pleasure and pain — one enters and remains in the fourth ecstasy (jhana): purity of equanimity and awareness, with neither pleasure nor pain. This is called right meditation.
“This is called the noble truth of the path of practice leading to the cessation of dissatisfaction (dukkha).
What does meditation leading to absorption have to do with transcending the sense of self (i.e., “there is no you”)?
By entering the jhana/samadhi states described endlessly by the Buddha (as well as Patanjali and many other ecstatic contemplatives down through the centuries), one becomes saturated throughout each day and night, and is confident in her ability to engage ever-deepening absorption states through a dedicated daily meditation practice. Through daily immersion in the absorption states, one truly does transcend form and formlessness, pleasure and pain. One becomes so filled with the phenomena of ecstasy — so consumed by God — that the sense of “I am” is rendered uncertain at best. Then, when not in meditation, saturation continues, constantly reminding the contemplative of her essential unification with That which connects everything.
This becomes an automatic function.
This becomes like breathing.
This transforms a person at the deepest possible levels, slowly but steadily, until she is able to say (from the Samannaphala Sutta, DN 2),
With release, there is the knowledge, ‘Released.’ [S]he discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’
Really, this is not too much to ask. All that’s required is a willingness to structure one’s entire life around a dedicated, rigorous and skillful meditation practice… as though one’s life has become a meditation retreat, even in the midst of a day job, grocery shopping, bus riding and paying taxes.
So, put daily immersion in absorption at the center of your life, surrender to ever-deepening states of jhana/samadhi, check-in with those who’ve gone before… and let things unfold as though by miracle, from the inside out, filled with an inexplicable Wisdom that always knew you’d be here now.