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Posts Tagged ‘Advaita’

An Empty Vessel

November 12th, 2010 6 comments

Funny Animals

It has occurred to me that for much of my life I have done nothing but copy the behaviours of other people.

It is as if I were an empty vessel, with no contents of my own at all. And in confirmation, if I look deeply within, beyond the ever-changing thoughts, feelings, sensations, I can find no “thing” at all. Just an empty presence, which observes, which is aware.

In early life this copying was of course almost entirely unconscious. There may have been instinctive responses and behaviours, but a combination of fascination, fear, enjoyment, horror and engagement with the people around me led me to mimic them, repeat them, and then apparently somehow adopt many of their behaviours as my own.

At a later stage, the copying became more selective, although still largely unconscious. There was some discrimination between behaviours which I found appealing, interesting, inspiring, beautiful, as opposed to those that were ugly, painful, inefficient, unnecessary. And there was a desire for, and an attraction to the more refined behaviours, which then presumably started little by little to manifest more in my own behaviour, and led to a more gratifying response from the world from the actions I subsequently took.

Now the process is much more conscious, and there is less inner resistance to it – perhaps because I recognise the illusion that I am actually anything tangible at all, and if I am not anything tangible, then there is no obstacle, no limitation to the ways in which I may express myself. Thus the delight of discovery of a special quality in someone becomes immediately a known new potentiality in my own behaviour.

The ultimate conclusion of this process, it seems, is to offer no resistance at all, to surrender completely any illusion of selfhood, and to recognise the oneness of us all. “My” qualities are not my qualities at all.  But neither are they “Yours”, because you copied them too! Rather, all qualities are inherent in us all. This is yet another pointer to the essence of non-duality.

Categories: Life, Spirituality Tags: ,

Consciousness and Awareness – What’s the Difference?

September 5th, 2010 39 comments

If you are seeing this picture and understanding what it represents, then you are conscious. This is an indisputable fact. The knowledge of your own consciousness is the one and only fact of which you can be absolutely certain. Everything else that you might think that you know is an inference or assumption, and therefore cannot be known with certainty.

The definition of consciousness that Francis Lucille has often used is based on this fact, and may be stated thus:

Consciousness is whatever is reading these words right now, and understanding them.

This is an experiential definition, and it seems to be necessary to define it this way because consciousness is not a “thing” or object per se, and therefore cannot be defined in terms of other things. Our minds simply cannot grasp the nature of consciousness, because of its lack on tangibility. Hence it can only be pointed to. And yet, it is apparent that consciousness is what we are ourselves. Whenever we refer to “I”, it is this very same consciousness to which we refer. So in the scheme of things, it seems important that we understand it!

An interesting point to note is that, according to Lucille’s definition (and also as he has pointed out himself), there is no distinction between consciousness and awareness. The two words are treated synonymously, and are used interchangeably.

Those of you who have an interest in non-duality will likely also have come across Sri Maharaj Nisargadatta. (A famous book documenting some of his discourses, I Am That (PDF), is available as a free download.) Nisargadatta spoke extensively about consciousness, but he also referred to awareness and made a distinction between the two. The following quote from the book illustrates this especially well.

What you need is to be aware of being aware. Be aware deliberately and consciously, broaden and deepen the field of awareness. You are always conscious of the mind, but you are not aware of yourself as being conscious.

But what exactly is the distinction here? This caused me some confusion, and apparently it has confused others too. The easy way out here might be to remember that we are talking about the intangible, and just paper over the cracks by suggesting that it’s not surprising that there would seem to be inconsistencies between intangible things when we try to conceptualise them. But in fact on further investigation there my be some rationality in the distinction after all. These further quotes from Nisargadatta may make things a little clearer.

The mind produces thoughts ceaselessly, even when you do not look at them. When you know what is going on in your mind, you call it consciousness. This is your waking state — your consciousness shifts from sensation to sensation, from perception to perception, from idea to idea, in endless succession. Then comes awareness, the direct insight into the whole of consciousness, the totality of the mind. The mind is like a river, flowing ceaselessly in the bed of the body; you identify yourself for a moment with some particular ripple and call it: ‘my thought’. All you are conscious of is your mind; awareness is the cognisance of consciousness as a whole.

Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginningless, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change. Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful, awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. And it is the common matrix of every experience.

So the distinction that Nisargadatta is making appears to be between a mental/bodily consciousness (ie. our thoughts and sensory inputs) versus a broader awareness which extends beyond mentations and sensations. And this does appear to have a parallel with Lucille’s description of perception versus apperception (mentioned, for example, here).

“Perception” refers to the experience of an object (phenomenon, that which appears, thought, body sensation or external sense perception), whereas “apperception” refers to the experience of the subject (noumenon, that to which that which appears appears). The human mind is the experience of perceptions, but apperception takes place beyond the mind. (Extract from Francis Answers No 27)

Therefore I propose the following simple explanation of the distinction between consciousness and awareness.

  • Nisargadatta’s “Consciousness” = Lucille’s mentations and perceptions (particular to a body/mind)
  • Nisargadatta’s “Awareness” = Lucille’s consciousness (both perceptions and apperceptions, both particular to a body/mind and universal)

Having sorted out that little conundrum to the (hopefully not overly smug) satisfaction of my own mind, the next question is what an apperception is, and how on earth we can be aware of something that is not within our own mind or body?

Ah the joys of non-dual investigation!

A Fusion of Science and Spirituality

August 7th, 2010 No comments

In his book “The Fabric of Reality”, renowned theoretical physicist David Deutsch describes a world view that he arrives at through a deep and thoughtful consideration of quantum physics and the theories of knowledge, computation and evolution. It is a fascinating read, and demonstrates some of the clearest, most rigorous and elegantly argued thinking I have come across.

One of the concepts he explores in some detail is virtual reality, and one of the conclusions he comes to is that it is not possible for us ever to know with certainty whether or not we exist in an externally controlled virtual reality simulation. As a summary to one the chapters of the book, he says the following.

Virtual reality is not just a technology in which computers simulate the behaviour of physical environments. The fact that virtual reality is possible is an important fact about the fabric of reality. It is the basis not only of computation, but of human imagination and external experience, science and mathematics, art and fiction.

And from this, the essential point I would like to extract is that he is saying that virtual reality is the basis of human imagination and external experience.

If you have any argument with this point, as you may well do if you have an active and enquiring mind, then I highly recommend that you read the book to see exactly how he reaches this conclusion. It is quite compelling.

There is a very interesting overlap with the teachings of Advaita (non-duality) here. One of the tenets of non-duality is, of course, that any experience of duality that we think we may have is illusory ie. imaginary or dreamed. And here we have a scientist whose world view seems to be compatible with this, despite the very widespread belief system that reality is external to and independent of ourselves, and that our perceived reality is not virtual.

The wonderful thing about this is that he arrives at this conclusion through a careful and stringent consideration of the facts of our existence and experience, and attempts to avoid all assumptions that the less disciplined thinkers amongst us would normally make. And what this seems to demonstrate is that through the attempted use of pure reason, a physicist and a spiritual enquirer may well come to similar, if not actually the same, conclusions about the nature of reality itself.

Indeed, the Advaita teachings indicate that the main obstacle to the much sought “enlightenment” experience (the experience of the deeper truth of reality, rather than the dream), is our own ignorance ie. due to false beliefs we hold about the nature of reality, as a result of our failure to question and explore the reality of our own experience more deeply than we already do.

So apparently, the requisite questioning and exploration can apparently be either of a spiritual nature (for example, by a thorough and persistent investigation of who you are or what you may be) as carried out by the sages of the world, or it can be purely scientific, as carried out by the more advanced scientists, such as David Deutsch.

From someone with a strong interest in both of these approaches, it is inspiring to see such a rapprochement!

Categories: Spirituality Tags: , ,