Understanding Waking Consciousness


INQUIRER:

I’m trying to clear up my understanding of waking consciousness. What exactly is the makeup of the unrealized waking state re: reflected Awareness? Is it the mirror in the intellect, or is it variously in the mind/intellect/ego complex?

RESPONSE:

The waking state is not “in” the subtle body (i.e., the mind/intellect/ego complex).

Rather, the waking state is that experience that includes the awareness of the gross body and its interactions with the “surrounding” world as well as the sensations, emotions, and thoughts arising within the apparent individual’s subtle body.

Waking state consciousness involves all three functions of the subtle body—the mind, intellect, and ego (ahamkara).

The entire subtle body, its three basic functions, and all the objective phenomena, subtle and gross, that are experienced by means of the subtle body are nothing more than reflected awareness. In other words, they are mithya, apparent objects whose existence is entirely dependent upon awareness.

Awareness alone is satya, real, which in Vedantic terms is defined as that which ever-present and immutable.

Thus, pure awareness (Brahman) is the ever-present and unchanging “mirror” in which its reflection shines in the forms of the myriad objects that comprise the apparent reality in both its gross and subtle aspects.

INQUIRER:

I can perceive thinking, calculating, emoting and doing, and this mirrored awareness is stable.

RESPONSE:

No, reflected awareness is not stable. The reflected forms are the ever-changing subtle and gross objects that are “witnessed” by awareness or whose existence is made known by their appearance in the “light” of awareness. Awareness alone is stable.

INQUIRER:

I can understand it as if it is the background/screen state…

RESPONSE:

Just to be clear, awareness is NOT a state. A state is an experiential phenomenon that, like all experiential phenomena, is subject to inevitable change. Awareness is the ever-present and unchanging substratum of all states.

You can easily verify this fact through a simple analysis of your own experience.

Despite the myriad moods and innumerable ideas that have arisen, abided, and subsided within your mind, you have always been present and privy to them.

What’s more, if you are subtle enough to recognize the pure awareness, the essential “is-ness,” that is your true nature, you’ll “see” that you have never been affected in the least by any of the objects or experiences that have occurred within the scope of your being.

The body has encountered many different objects. The mind has experienced many different moods.

The intellect has entertained many different ideas, and the ego has assumed ownership of many different objects and asserted doership for many different deeds. But you (pure awareness) have remained the same silent, stable, and serene “field” of existence in which all these phenomena have appeared.

In this regard, though you are not a state, you are by analogy the “screen” upon which the movie of the manifest universe in both its subtle (i.e., ”inner” or subjective) and its gross (i.e., ”outer” or objective) aspects appears.

The idea that awareness is a state is the most rampant misunderstanding riddling the “spiritual world,” and it is perhaps the biggest obstacle that most seekers have to overcome in the assimilation of the teachings of Vedanta.

You, awareness, are not a discrete state of being characterized by a particular feeling, emotional tenor, or even intellectual understanding.

You, awareness, are existence itself. No matter what experience arises, appears, or occurs, whether it is the most mind-blowing transcendental epiphany or the irritation that arises when you are stuck in a traffic jam, it is known only because it is illumined by awareness.

Self-realization is not a matter of experiencing or becoming established in some higher or more expansive “state,” for you, the pure awareness in which the projected entity (your body-mind appears), are already limitless.

Rather, self-realization is a matter of appreciating your true nature, understanding the difference between you (i.e., the self, which is of the nature of pure awareness), and the person you seem to be.

INQUIRER:

…but cannot experience it directly presumably because it seems to be conscious of itself.

RESPONSE:

You cannot experience it directly as an object, for limitless awareness by definition has no edges or boundaries by which it can be delineated or any attributes, qualities, or characteristics by which it can be defined.

You do experience it directly, however, in the sense that “it” is you.

Moreover, “it” doesn’t seem to be conscious of itself.

“It” is you, and you know unequivocally that you exist.

Though you can never see yourself because you are always and ever the witness of whatever object you see, you nevertheless know you are simply be virtue of the fact that you are.

In this regard, you know yourself to be the self-luminous awareness that is existence itself.

INQUIRER:

My attention can easily be focused on the body, mind, intellect and external objects, etc. in order to experience these things. Is attention just focused reflection from the Self?

RESPONSE:

It depends on who the “me” is in reference to “my attention.”

If “my attention” refers to the attention of the apparent individual person you seem to be, then that attention is an action, which is an apparent object, that is executed by the mind, which is an apparent object, and laid claim to by the ego, which is an apparent object.

Since all apparent objects are reflected awareness, we can thus say that the entire experience is nothing other than reflected awareness.

If, on the other hand, “my attention” refers to you, the “light” of awareness, by means of whose illumination all objects are known, then it indicates pure awareness.

It should be understood, however, that pure awareness is not a volitional entity that directs its attention toward objects, but is rather the essence of attention itself.

Awareness doesn’t illumine objects in the way that the ego (i.e., apparent individual doer) executes an action nor does it know objects in the way that the mind (i.e., “inner instrument) perceives and processes experiential phenomena.

Awareness simply “shines.” And all objects appear and experiences occur within the limitless, actionless scope of its being.

INQUIRER:

How is this little mirror affected by Vasanas?

RESPONSE:

If the “little mirror” refers to the subtle body, the “inner instrument” or mind-intellect-ego complex that essentially constitutes the apparent individual person, then it is entirely conditioned by the vasanas.

The vasanas determine the apparent individual’s likes and dislikes and, in turn, establish his values.

And it is in terms of these values that the apparent individual superimposes his subjective interpretation or evaluation on the objective phenomena he encounters and, thus, “creates” the quality of his life experience.

If, however, the mirror refers to pure awareness—in which case it wouldn’t be little…or big, for that matter, since the pure awareness is limitless in the sense of being wholly beyond delineating markers—then it is wholly unaffected by whatever objects appear and experiences occur within the scope of its being.

INQUIRER:

It seems thoughts, emotions, conditioning, etc. appear within this small/reflected awareness, but the awareness itself seems little… if at all affected.

RESPONSE:

That which is unaffected is the self, pure awareness…you!

INQUIRER:

What does the word Atman have to do with this?

RESPONSE:

The word atman (self or awareness) indicates pure, limitless awareness in its association with the mind-body-sense complex of the apparent individual person.

The word Brahman indicates pure, limitless awareness in its absolute or universal aspect.

INQUIRER:

I have lots more questions I could bore you with, but will save them after trying to figure them out myself.

RESPONSE:

This is a great approach. I am here to help clear up any doubts that you have, but self-inquiry is a process that requires your conscientious engagement.

Because the apparent individual is innately self-ignorant, you do initially require a teacher to properly unfold the teachings.

Once you have heard a given teaching, however, it is best to first reconsider your previously acquired beliefs in light of the teachings to which you have been exposed and to attempt to work through any doubts or questions by yourself before consulting the teacher for clarification.

In this way, you build confidence in your own ability to conduct effective inquire into your own experience and assimilate the knowledge to be culled from it.

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