How do we know that awareness is ever-present?

How do we know that awareness is ever-present?

Dear Rupert,

Can awareness without an object, such as in deep sleep, be experienced, and if not, how is it known that it is present at all? If it is not possible to witness the arising and disappearing of awareness, because it would take awareness to do that, and because awareness can’t be witnessed at all, how can one conclude that awareness is continuous and ever-present?

As you also know, some Buddhists claim that awareness and its arisings are interdependent: no arisings equals no awareness, and no awareness equals no arisings. Isn’t awareness more of an inference gained from the presence of things? If there were no things and we were in eternal sleep, how would awareness, if ever-present, know itself?

Lou Monte


Dear Lou,

Can awareness without an object, such as in deep sleep, be experienced, and if not, how is it known that it is present at all?

You refer to deep sleep and I presume you are referring to the experienceof deep sleep. If deep sleep were not your experience, presumably you would question the presence or reality of deep sleep itself, just as you do awareness.

So you assert the presence or reality of deep sleep which, at the same time, you equate with awareness without an object. Fine.

Now, if you say that deep sleep is your experience and at the same time equate deep sleep with awareness without an object, the answer to your question is simple: You know that awareness without an object is present and real in the same way that you know deep sleep is present and real.

That response will either satisfy you or cause you to reconsider the experience of deep sleep. Do you have such an experience? If the answer is yes, then the experience of deep sleep must be known by awareness (as awareness is that which knows in all experience). 

As there is nothing objective present in deep sleep, the only other ‘thing’ left to be known in deep sleep can only be awareness. Therefore, your own experience of deep sleep must be the experience of awareness knowing itself in the absence of objects.

Now, if your answer is ‘No, I do not actually have the experience of deep sleep’, then let’s not discuss it, because all we are interested in here is our experience. 


*     *    * 


So let us leave deep sleep there for the moment and come to your next question: How is it known that awareness is present at all?

Ask yourself, ‘Am I present now?’ We may not know whatthis ‘I’ is, but can we say from our experience in this moment, ‘I am?’ And is not this ‘I’ that we intimately know ourself to be also aware?

I hope you have answered ‘Yes’ to both these questions. In other words, I hope it is simple, clear and obvious that the ‘I’ that I amis also awarethat I am. That is, ‘I’ is simultaneously present (I am) and aware (I know). But ‘I’ is not two things, so being and knowing are one in myself.

Now ask yourself, ‘How do I know for certain (and this is the only thing we do know for absolute certain) that I am present and aware?’ The answer is, of course, simply because it is our experience.

So now ask yourself what it is that experiences your own presence and awareness. Whatever that is, must also be present and aware!

Now, are there two awarenesses in your experience, one that knows and one that is known? No, obviously not, because if there were two awarenesses, one of them (in fact both of them) would have to be an object.

So in this very simple way we come to see that our certainty that ‘I am and I am aware’ derives directly from the aware presence that I am directly and intimately knowing itself.

However, in knowing itself it does not know itself as some kind of an object. It knows itself simply by being itself. In fact, as long as we are looking for awareness as an object, we are by definition denying its presence now, thereby projecting it in the future.

Now, if awareness is not present now and is only to be found in the future, what exactly is aware of these words, your thoughts and sensations, and so on, right now?

Therefore, it is our most simple, obvious, intimate and ever-present experience that awareness knows itself by itself, in itself, as itself.


*     *    * 


You go on to ask, ‘How can one conclude that awareness is continuous and ever present?’

In this question you equate continuity and ever-presence. However, they are of an entirely different order. Continuity means lasting forever in time. Ever-present means the ‘now,’ not ‘now’ a moment in time, but eternally or ever-present now. In other words, ever-presence is not in time.

Now ask yourself, in your actual experience, is it ever ‘not now?’ No! In other words, we never actually experience time. Life is eternally ‘now’.

Do you see how we imagine time and then wonder whether awareness lasts in it?

So now to the question of whether awareness is ever-present. Ask yourself at any ‘moment’ if awareness is present. The answer is always ‘yes’. That is how we know that awareness is ever-present, simply because it is our most obvious experience. We have never had, nor could we ever have, the experience of the absence of awareness.

It is only because we imagine time that we think awareness must have begun and will one day end. But there is no time in our actual experience, and therefore no beginning and no ending.

Likewise, it is only because we imagine objects to be real in their own right that we imagine that awareness is something that is not real, or at least that it is something that comes and goes. But if it comes and goes it must be an object, and if we have the experience of such an ‘awareness’ object, something must be ‘there’, present and aware, that is not itself an object, to be aware of it.


*     *    * 


This leads to the next part of your question: ‘no arisings equals no awareness, and no awareness equals no arising’. The statement contradicts itself! 

To arise means to come into being. If awareness and objects come into being simultaneously, what is the ‘being’ into which they come and which, prior to the arising of awareness and its objects, must be devoid of awareness? Have you ever experienced (or could you) such a place?

And from where do ‘awareness plus objects’ come? That place from which they come must be full (at least in potential) of awareness and objects but devoid of being, because they (awareness and its objects) are, so the statement claims, about to arise or come into being. 

Have you ever experienced awareness without being? In other words, can you say that ‘I’ (awareness) knows but is not present’? Obviously not!

Do you see that it is simply not your experience that awareness and its objects arise together?

In fact, the problem in the statement is the presumption that there are two things: one, awareness, and two, objects. If awareness is the subject of a separate object, then it must be separate from the object of which it is aware and therefore be limited and, as such, some kind of an object itself. There simply are no such objects ever actually found in experience.

Experience is always one and seamless. It is not possible for there to be two things, such as awareness and an object present together. Look at your experience. It is always one and seamless.

Is it not ‘I’ that is seeing these words? Now close your eyes and clap your hands together. Is it not ‘I’ that hears the sound? When you close your eyes is it your experience that the words and the ‘I’ that knows them disappear and that when you hear the clap, the sound and the ‘I’ that hears it arise together?

No! Experience is seamless and ever-present. It doesn’t consist of arising objects nor arising awareness. There is seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, thinking or we could just say there is experiencing and experiencing itself is not coming and going. The substance of experience is eternally present. Its appearance changes but its substance never changes. There is no time present in which it could change.

It is like the image and the screen. The image seems to come and go but the only substance present in the image is the screen and the screen doesn’t come and go.

‘I’ is the name that we give to that alone which truly is, that knows no time nor any objects. It is not present inthe now. Itisthe now, eternally.


*     *    * 


And now to the last part of your question: ‘Isn’t awareness more of an inference gained from the presence of things?’

In fact, it is not awareness that is an inference. It is objects that are an inference. Nobody has ever found or experienced an object. Our only knowledge of an object or world is the knowingor experiencingof it. 

In fact, we do not know or experience an object or world. We just know ‘knowing’ or ‘experiencing’. Where does knowing or experiencing take place, and what is it made out of? Does it take place at a distance from ourself and made out of something other than ourself? Or is it utterly intimately one with ourself, made only out of ourself, that is, made only out of present awareness?

See clearly in this way that objects are an inference, never an experience, and awareness alone is the ever-present reality of experience, always only knowing and being itself alone.

You finish: ‘If there were no things and we were in eternal sleep, how would awareness, if ever present, know itself?’ Well, I hope it is clear by now there are are no ‘things’ or objects and that it is not that we are in deep sleep, but rather that we are the ever-present reality of awareness which shines eternally in all states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The states are states of mind, not states of awareness.

Awareness is like the sun, always in the same ‘place’, always shining with the same brilliance.

Kind regards,


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