In your teaching, is awareness the same as consciousness?
A question for you again; a lot of non-duality teachers (Nisargadatta especially) refer to what is prior to consciousness. They call it ‘non-conceptual awareness’ or ‘pure being’. In your book you say that there is nothing but consciousness. For me they are the same, but it could be misleading to create a duality of consciousness or awareness. That’s why it was quite refreshing that in your book you don’t create this duality. You say that deep sleep is consciousness without an object, whereas in the traditional view, awareness witnesses the coming and going of consciousness, obviously suggesting duality. So would you say there is something that knows the coming and going of consciousness, or would you say that there is nothing outside consciousness? Or would you say you agree with both concepts?
Thank you again,
Ask yourself: Is consciousness present now? Another way of saying this would be: Is there something (whatever that ‘something’ is) that is both present and conscious, which is, for instance, seeing these words?
Now ask yourself: Is awareness present? Is there something that is aware of these words?
Now ask: Am I conscious? In other words, is it not ‘I’ (whatever exactly ‘I’ is) that is conscious of these words?
Now ask: Am I aware? Am I aware of these words?
And finally, this ‘I’, whatever it is, is it not present?
I trust that the answer to all these questions is ‘Yes’, and that the certainty of your ‘Yes’ comes from direct, intimate, immediate experience. We cannot find the place from which this ‘Yes’ comes as an objective experience, but nevertheless it still comes from an unmistakable, albeit non-objective, experience.
Now go through these questions again, and in each case take note of this non-objective experience to which you refer when considering the question and from which you derive the certainty of your answer, ‘Yes’. In other words, ascertain for yourself that the answer comes from first-hand knowledge or experience.
Is it not, in each case, the same non-objective experience to which you go in order to answer ‘Yes’ to the question as to whether or not consciousness, awareness, presence, ‘I’, is present? Again, I trust the answer is ‘Yes’.
It is because we refer to the sameintimate experience when affirming the presence of consciousness, awareness, presence (or being) and ‘I’ that the words ‘consciousness’, ‘awareness’, ‘presence’, ‘being’ and ‘I’ are used synonymously.
In other words, that which is aware is also conscious, and that which is conscious is also aware. Or we could day that our awareness of an object and our consciousness of that same object are one and the same experience. Thus, the two words refer to the same experience. This also happens to be in keeping with the dictionary definition of the words and is therefore in line with common parlance.
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But we can go further than that. It is true that some teachings use the word ‘awareness’ to indicate what I would call consciousness, awareness, presence, being or ‘I’, and use the word ‘consciousness’ to refer to something that comes and goes (that is, mind).
Let us start by using the word ‘awareness’, because it is agreed by both parties that awareness is the non-conceptual (and non-perceptual) presence or being that we intimately and directly know ourself to be.
There is awareness. This is our primal and essential experience.
It is this awareness that takes the shape of thinking and imagining and seems, as a result, to become a mind.
It is this awareness that takes the shape of sensing and seems, as a result, to become a body.
It is this awareness that takes the shape of perceiving and seems, as a result, to become an object, other or world.
When this awareness is not taking the shape of thinking, sensing and perceiving, it simply remains as it always is, as the non-objective experience of knowing its own being.
In other words, there is the experience of ‘awareness by itself’ and there is the experience of ‘awareness taking the shape of the body-mind-world’, that is, taking the shape of an object.
We could simplify this by saying that there is ‘awareness on its own’ and there is ‘awareness plus an apparent object’.
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In some teachings (to which you refer) ‘awareness on its own’ is referred to as awareness and ‘awareness plus an apparent object’ is referred to as consciousness.
In the teaching I express, awareness or consciousness ‘on its own’ is referred to as awareness or consciousness, and awareness or consciousness ‘plus an object’ is referred to as ‘mind’ (in the broadest sense to include thinking, sensing and perceiving). As long as our terms are defined, there is no problem, for language depends primarily on a consensus of meaning.
However, having said that, I find that the distinction between awareness and consciousness (in those teachings that make such a distinction) is often confusing and not clearly defined, as evidenced by the number of questions I receive on this subject.
The main objection I have to using the two words ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’ differently is that it suggests that the consciousness that is conscious of apparent objects (for instance, the consciousness that is conscious of these words) is different from the awareness that stands as awareness on its own, when no apparent objects are present. (I am sure that this is neither the understanding nor the intention of the majority of these teachings. However, it is sometimes an inference.)
Such a position (if it were intended) would be the equivalent of suggesting that the screen that is present when the images of the film are present is a different screen that is present when the TV is turned off.
The central point of this teaching is that it is precisely the consciousness or awareness that is present right here and now, seeing (and being) these words, to which we refer as ‘I’, that is itself impersonal, infinite, ‘divine’ consciousness or awareness. It is only a thought (which is itself the very shape that consciousness or awareness is taking) that mistakenly identifies this consciousness or awareness with a finite appearance, thereby seeming to limit it to a personal entity.
That is how ‘close’ this impersonal, infinite, ‘divine’ consciousness or awareness is to ourself. It is closer than close. It is our very fabric and the fabric of all experience. It is simply known as ‘I’.
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In order to understand and experience this for yourself, see clearly that there is ‘something’, which is referred to as consciousness, that is conscious of these words. (See our first experiment.)
Now close your eyes and reopen them after a moment and see words again. For ease of communication let us call the experience of words ‘A’, the dark image that appears when the eyes are closed ‘B’ and then words again ‘C’.
A, B and C obviously each appear and disappear. However, does that which knows (in this case ‘sees’) A, B and C appear and disappear? Obviously not! It is our experience that that which knows all objects of the body, mind and world runs continuously throughout their appearance and disappearance. In other words, A, B and C appear and disappear within the same consciousness or awareness.
Likewise, it becomes clear in time that the entire substance of every experience is in fact ever-present. It never appears, evolves or disappears. There is only one substance.
When there are no appearances, this consciousness or awareness simply remains as it is, the very same consciousness or awareness that simultaneously witnesses and takes the shape of every appearance, without ever becoming anything other than itself.
This ‘knowing of itself as it is’ is what is referred to as the experience of love, beauty, peace, happiness and understanding. These are some of the names that we give to awareness or consciousness when it ceases to apparently veil itself from itself by assuming the form of dualistic thought.