How is the word 'awareness' used in your teaching?

How is the word 'awareness' used in your teaching?

Dear Rupert, 

Throughout your writings you speak of ever-present consciousness and awareness as being all there is. I am assuming you do not mean these words in the traditional sense, or at least as I conceive them, as self-consciousness, self-awareness, the fact that I am aware that I am aware. I also assume that you do not mean them as some sort of thing, an object or concept that can be grasped. If this is so, to use such terms seems to imply content, when my understanding is there is only absolute emptiness, unspeakable, indefinable, indescribable and void of all content? Are we pointing to the same thing?

Thank you for your time.


Dear Dean,

The ‘I’ that is aware that I am aware is itself both present and aware. Otherwise it would not be possible for ‘I’ to know that I am aware. However, the ‘I’ that knows that I am and that I am aware is the same ‘I’ that is known to be both present and aware. In other words, in simply knowing that I am and that I am aware, awareness knows or is aware of itself. This is the simplest, most obvious and ordinary fact of experience.

Awareness is not any kind of an object. However, such a statement is only partially true. It is true in response to the belief that awareness may be an object, but the statement that awareness is not an object presupposes that there are such things as objects. There aren’t! Nobody has ever found or experienced an object as it is normally conceived to be.

Likewise, the statement that awareness is absolute emptiness is partially true, but strictly speaking, it is a contradiction of terms. It would be truer to say that awareness is relative emptiness – relative, that is, to the belief in the reality of ‘fullness’ or ‘object-ness’. In relation to apparent objects, awareness can be said to be empty, that is, empty of all objective or observable qualities.

However, once it becomes clear that there are no objects, it no longer makes sense to say that awareness has no objective qualities. In other words, it no longer makes sense to say that awareness is empty, for there is is no longer a ‘full of objects’ or ‘object-ness’ with which to compare it. Thus awareness is beyond emptiness and fullness.

There is always only awareness knowing and being itself and this is simply known as ‘experience’. It is seamless and intimate. There being nothing else present with which to compare it, it cannot rightfully be given a name. Hence the ancients, in their wisdom and humility, only went as far as saying that it is ‘not two’, a-dvaita, knowing that to call it ‘one’, is to say one thing too much.

Unspeakable? If we truly think that awareness is unspeakable we should remain silent.

Indefinable? Yes!

Indescribable? Yes!

Void of all content? Again, we are making reference to something called ‘content’ which awareness is ‘empty of’. What would such content be made of? If it was made of awareness, awareness would not be empty of it, so this content must be something other than awareness. To presume such a substance is a mistake and only reinforces the duality that is implied by it.

Are we pointing to the same thing? Ultimately, I suspect so, but if we want to speak about these matters we must accept the limitations of language and use them as skilfully and sensitively as possible. If we do not accept such limitations we have to remain silent. If we continue to use language and yet always point to its limitations, we fall prey to the danger of hiding in an ivory tower of intellectual Advaita absolutism, which is one of the main refuges of the separate self in our era, at least in Advaita circles. (I am not suggesting this is so for you).

By accepting the limitations of language, we understand that nothing we say is ultimately true and yet, at the same time, words that come from experiential understanding, rather than philosophical debate or belief, somehow have the capacity within them to evoke the understanding towards which they are pointing. In other words, words are more than pointers. They are missiles!

If they come from silence, they are pregnant with it. They don’t simply point towards silence – they deliver it! In other words, it is the understanding from which the words come rather than their ‘Advaita correctness’, or otherwise, that designates them true or not.

With kind regards,


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