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Awareness (Pure Awareness)

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Quotes about Awareness (Pure Awareness)

Differentiation of the Nonconceptual Field of Pure Awareness

In other words, pure awareness, a nonconceptual presence and truth, is the ground of all manifestation, more fundamental than any knowing. But this nonconceptual field that gives the soul both her fundamental ground and her capacity for perception, differentiates into the various forms of manifestation, the shapes and colors, the tastes and flavors, the changes and movements. These forms appear differentiated in pure awareness, but such differentiation does not imply recognition, rather it means simple differences, a perception of patterns of color and shape that we do not recognize as having any meaning and do not even isolate as forms. We simply see an indivisible transparent medium with patterns of color and shape, but we do not even recognize these as colors and shapes. We perceive these patterns without abstracting out forms from these patterns, without even isolating any details in the patterns. We see the patterns of appearance in their totality, but without mentally registering that we are doing so. Cognitively contemplating our perception we can then say we saw patterns, shapes, and colors. (See Luminous Night’s Journey, chapter 6, for a detailed description of this perception.)

Even Though Pure Awareness is the Presence of a Field the Direct Sense is of No Presence, No Substance

Pure awareness is presence in the sense that it is a field or medium that pervades everything, and underlies all manifestation. Yet, in the experience itself we do not have a sense of recognition that we are that. Even though the awareness is the presence of a field, the direct sense is of no presence, no existence, and no substance. The immediate experience is totally paradoxical: we are aware of awareness as a pervasive field, and at the same time this field does not feel like the presence of anything. We are here and now fully, yet experience a total absence, a lightness that is the very absence of any existence. We cannot say awareness exists, yet we cannot say it does not exist. It is both and neither, and not even that.

For Awareness of the Absolute, Another Dimension Needs to Arise, which is the Dimension of the Nonconceptual, Pure Awareness

I distinguished between the nonconceptual experiencing itself as nonconceptual, and the nonconceptual experiencing the conceptual. I can be the Absolute experiencing myself as the Absolute, in which case there is no consciousness of myself nor of anything. But I could be the Absolute experiencing the world. Then I am not purely the Absolute; then the level of the Nous is present with the Absolute, so there is discriminating awareness. Only because there is Nous do I know there is an Absolute. Without discriminating awareness I would never know the Absolute; I would just be the Absolute without knowing that I am the Absolute. So in some sense, in order to know it you have to get out of it. For awareness of the Absolute, another dimension needs to arise, which is the dimension of the nonconceptual, which is pure awareness. As the nonconceptual, you can become aware of the Absolute. You realize that the Absolute is simply a bigger abyss than you have seen. This is why it is said in the Tibetan tradition that a subtle consciousness is needed to apprehend emptiness. This subtle consciousness is called the clear light. The clear light of the Void is what apprehends the Void. Without the clear light, without consciousness, you don’t know whether there is a Void or not.

In the Immediate Experience of Pure Awareness We Do Not Recognise the Elements of Our World

We describe this situation by saying that nonconceptual Reality is inherently differentiated as the world we normally see, but in the immediate experience of pure awareness we do not recognize the elements of our world, even though we clearly perceive them. In other words, differentiation is a step prior to discrimination. To put it more analytically, true nature manifests as a nonconceptual ground that differentiates into all the forms of appearance, and its dimension of pure presence develops these differentiated forms into discriminated ones. Differentiation creates differences, but discrimination makes these differences knowable. The new point for our discussion is that the nonconceptual ground functions as ground by differentiating into the various forms. If that were not the case we would then have a ground that is separate from the world of differentiation, which is a contradictory position from the point of view of the perception of the nonconceptual ground.

Perception Without Cognition, Seeing Without Recognition and Hearing Without Comprehension

Pure awareness is perception without cognition, seeing without recognition, hearing without comprehension. When this level of awareness is dominant in our experience, we can be looking at someone and see a shape and color, lights and shadows, but not register that we are seeing a person, or indeed have any notion about whether there is such a thing as a person. We do not recognize the shape, or even know that there is such a thing as a shape. We see the colors but do not register that there is such a thing as color; we see the lights and shadows, but have no sense or meaning for what we see. We may hear someone talking but have no comprehension of the words; we do not actually know that there is such a thing as words. We hear sounds, without recognizing that there is such a thing as sound. The mind responsible for knowing and discrimination, and hence recognition and memory, is not operative here. We are simply aware, without the sense that there is someone who is aware, without even the idea that there is such a thing as awareness. There is simply pure perceptivity, mirror-like and absolutely innocent.

Pure Awareness is Both Presence and Absence and Neither, for It is Innocent of Conceptual Coloring

<p>We have discussed the dichotomy of matter and spirit, and indicated others. The most basic fundamental dichotomy is that between being and nonbeing, or presence and emptiness. It is true that presence and emptiness are not simply cognitive experiences in the normal sense of the word. But because we know that we are experiencing presence, which is being, and emptiness, which is nonbeing, it becomes clear in pure awareness that such experiences retain some conceptual colorings. These colorings are subtle, for the concept of being is so pervasive in experience. The fact that they appear as opposites reveals them to be conceptual, even though it is the conceptuality of basic knowledge. The sense in which pure awareness neither exists nor does not exist is not related to whether it ultimately appears in experience, but to how it feels in experience. It does not feel like existence and it does not feel like nonexistence. It is both presence and absence, but actually neither, for it is innocent of conceptual coloring.</p>

Pure Awareness is Deeper and More Fundamental than Direct or Basic Knowing

We are referring to hierarchy in a sense that has nothing to do with dominance or control. It refers to the timeless truth that a deeper or higher dimension in the hierarchy is more fundamental than the one that comes after it. It forms its ground, core, and essence. In other words, as we investigate a particular dimension we can penetrate it to a dimension deeper than it, which both underlies and contains it. The deeper dimension is more fundamental and hence deeper or higher. It transcends the one below it. Furthermore, it means that experience or manifestation can continue without the lower one, for it can be on the deeper dimension on the hierarchy. For example, we can experience essential forms on the dimension of pure presence, where the presence and the knowing of presence are inseparable. Or we can go deeper to the nonconceptual dimension, where the essential forms are present, yet there is only awareness with no knowing of the presence. So pure awareness is deeper and more fundamental than direct or basic knowing. Our experience in most situations, however, needs and includes knowing.

Pure Awareness is Nonlocal, Nondimensional and Beyond Time and Space. The Soul is Awareness Located in an Environment

What is the soul in the most general sense? First, soul is the locus of our own individual awareness. It is our own self-awareness as a localized phenomenon. This has two meanings, external and internal. To understand the first we need to recognize that pure awareness is nonlocal, nondimensional, beyond time and space, and soul is the expression and manifestation of this awareness in our time-space universe. The soul is awareness, but not simply awareness. It is awareness localized in an environment; it is our individual awareness. It is the locus of our experience of ourselves, the place where we experience ourselves, the location in Reality where we experience the self. This point is difficult to comprehend, because we ordinarily think of the site of our awareness as dictated by the location of the body, which is ordinarily the case. However, this perspective implies that the body is more fundamental than the soul, and here we are interested in exploring whether this is the case. This perspective is directly challenged by out-of-body experiences, frequently reported by individuals under anesthesia or in near-death experiences. Reports of such experiences indicate that one can be aware of the body from a different physical location; for example, these reports frequently mention looking down at the body from above. The reports of out-of-body experiences indicate that we can be aware of our environment from the perspective of a different location than the body.

Pure Awareness is Not a Sense of Being

Yet the awareness responsible for perception is more fundamental than knowing and cognition. This becomes clear when we experience another boundless dimension of true nature, pure awareness. Pure awareness is again a field: boundless, infinite, and continuous. It is similar to that of pure presence, but without the cognitive element. Since the source of cognition is the knowing of being, pure awareness is not a sense of being. We do not experience it as presence, for the experience of presence involves the concept of being or existence. Since pure awareness is a continuous medium or field, we can say it is presence, but it does not feel like presence because it involves no recognition of being or nonbeing. There is only the pure awareness of manifestation, without knowing of what one is aware. Pure awareness is like a mirror that reflects what is in its field but does not recognize or know what it reflects. Pure awareness is the capacity to perceive prior to knowing or recognition. It is implicit in normal perception, in which we perceive and know at the same time. We do not normally recognize this dimension because we always experience it along with the cognition.

Pure Awareness is Specifically Transcendence of the Concept of Being

Since pure awareness is beyond knowing, the experience is totally nonconceptual. There is awareness of awareness, which is the presence of awareness, but this presence is not felt as presence. Nonconceptual awareness is beyond the concept of being, so we cannot experience or describe it as being or presence. We might then think that it must be nonbeing, but nonbeing is also a concept, the opposite of being. Being and nonbeing constitute a pair of mutually defining concepts; like all conceptual pairs, neither exists without the other. Experientially, being is presence and nonbeing is absence; the latter is often referred to as emptiness. Because pure awareness is free from the cognitive element, it transcends all concepts, but it is specifically the transcendence of the concept of being. By transcending being it also transcends nonbeing, emptiness. Experientially we feel it as simultaneous presence and absence, being and nonbeing. But this is only when we begin to view it conceptually. When the experience is full and complete we cannot say it is both presence and absence, nor neither. In fact, it does not occur to us to say anything about it, for to speak is to conceptualize, while here we are absolutely in the moment, beyond all mind and speaking.

Pure Awareness is the Capacity to Perceive Prior to Knowing or Recognition. It is Similar to Pure Presence but Without the Cognitive Element. Pure Awareness is Free from All Concepts

Knowing depends on perception; without perception there can be no knowing. Perception is, hence, more fundamental than knowing. Perception involves the capacity for simple awareness, the sensitivity that makes it possible for us to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. We saw in the last chapter that the dimension of pure presence turns out to be nothing but our simple everyday awareness, even though we ordinarily do not recognize it as such. This does not mean that it is pure awareness. It is more accurate to say that it is our ordinary awareness, recognizing that this awareness includes the cognitive dimension, which is inseparable from our ordinary awareness except when discriminated through meditation practice. We ordinarily perceive and know, or perceive and do not know what we perceive, together. We normally cannot separate awareness and knowing. Yet the awareness responsible for perception is more fundamental than knowing and cognition. This becomes clear when we experience another boundless dimension of true nature, pure awareness. Pure awareness is again a field: boundless, infinite, and continuous. It is similar to that of pure presence, but without the cognitive element. Since the source of cognition is the knowing of being, pure awareness is not a sense of being. We do not experience it as presence, for the experience of presence involves the concept of being or existence. Since pure awareness is a continuous medium or field, we can say it is presence, but it does not feel like presence because it involves no recognition of being or nonbeing. There is only the pure awareness of manifestation, without knowing of what one is aware.

Pure awareness is like a mirror that reflects what is in its field but does not recognize or know what it reflects. Pure awareness is the capacity to perceive prior to knowing or recognition. It is implicit in normal perception, in which we perceive and know at the same time. We do not normally recognize this dimension because we always experience it along with the cognition. In various wisdom traditions pure awareness is referred to as nonconceptual awareness or nonconceptual presence. To call it nonconceptual presence is problematic, for even though it manifests as a field and ground, it is beyond any conceptual category, and presence implies the concept of existence. Pure awareness is free from all concepts, basic concepts and representational ones. There is no knowing in it, neither basic knowing nor ordinary knowing.

Pure Awareness that is Not Aware of Itself

The Absolute is a pure awareness that is not aware of itself, but it is aware of anything that comes out of itself. The moment consciousness arises, the Absolute becomes aware of it as pure light, pure radiance. So you can be the Absolute being aware of the nonconceptual. Or you can lose the Absolute and become just the nonconceptual. You can be just the nonconceptual experiencing the nonconceptual, which you experience as just pure awareness without anything to know. Or you could be the nonconceptual and be aware of the Absolute. And then you know the Absolute. That is how we can talk about the Absolute and its absence of qualities. At any level of experience, you can perceive both the more superficial realms and the next deeper realm. Except if you go to the Absolute, there’s only one way to go, which is towards the more superficial. If you are in the personal mind, there’s also only one way to go, which is towards the deeper. The Absolute is the most fundamental, and the personal mind is the most superficial.

Since Pure Awareness is Beyond Knowing the Experience is Totally Nonconceptual

Since pure awareness is beyond knowing, the experience is totally nonconceptual. There is awareness of awareness, which is the presence of awareness, but this presence is not felt as presence. Nonconceptual awareness is beyond the concept of being, so we cannot experience or describe it as being or presence. We might then think that it must be nonbeing, but nonbeing is also a concept, the opposite of being. Being and nonbeing constitute a pair of mutually defining concepts; like all conceptual pairs, neither exists without the other. Experientially, being is presence and nonbeing is absence; the latter is often referred to as emptiness. Because pure awareness is free from the cognitive element, it transcends all concepts, but it is specifically the transcendence of the concept of being. By transcending being it also transcends nonbeing, emptiness. Experientially we feel it as simultaneous presence and absence, being and nonbeing. But this is only when we begin to view it conceptually. When the experience is full and complete we cannot say it is both presence and absence, nor neither. In fact, it does not occur to us to say anything about it, for to speak is to conceptualize, while here we are absolutely in the moment, beyond all mind and speaking.

The Nonconceptual (Pure Awareness) Manifesting as Existence or Presence as the Dimension of Pure Being, or the Supreme

The Absolute and the Nameless are both nonconceptual. With the Nameless there is consciousness, and the Absolute is beyond consciousness. It’s the difference between the night and day. The night is Absolute, and the day is the Nameless or the nonconceptual. There is light. This light doesn’t bring any particular knowledge; it’s just pure light. The next thing that arises is that the nonconceptual, or pure awareness, manifests as existence or presence. We become aware of ourselves as existing. That is what I call the dimension of Pure Being, or the Supreme. Being then exists, and there is awareness that there is existence. The consciousness becomes aware of itself as existing. This is the beginning of the conceptual. The first concept that arises is Existence, Beingness, Presence. Here there is a concept, but there is still no differentiation. It’s not that someone exists. It’s not that I exist and you exist. There is one pure something, and that is Pure Beingness, Pure Existence. That is the first concept. If you go beyond that into the nonconceptual, you can’t talk about existence, or nonexistence.

The Nonconceptual Dimension is Pure Awareness

I distinguished between the nonconceptual experiencing itself as nonconceptual, and the nonconceptual experiencing the conceptual. I can be the Absolute experiencing myself as the Absolute, in which case there is no consciousness of myself nor of anything. But I could be the Absolute experiencing the world. Then I am not purely the Absolute; then the level of the Nous is present with the Absolute, so there is discriminating awareness. Only because there is Nous do I know there is an Absolute. Without discriminating awareness I would never know the Absolute; I would just be the Absolute without knowing that I am the Absolute. So in some sense, in order to know it you have to get out of it. For awareness of the Absolute, another dimension needs to arise, which is the dimension of the nonconceptual, which is pure awareness. As the nonconceptual, you can become aware of the Absolute. You realize that the Absolute is simply a bigger abyss than you have seen. This is why it is said in the Tibetan tradition that a subtle consciousness is needed to apprehend emptiness. This subtle consciousness is called the clear light. The clear light of the Void is what apprehends the Void. Without the clear light, without consciousness, you don’t know whether there is a Void or not.

The Presence that is Pure Awareness

These observations show us that the capacity of pure perception is a potential of our True Nature. Our True Nature has in it this dimension of pure awareness, which is actually presence. But usually presence has a cognitive capacity; it knows that it is. What we are talking about here is a presence that doesn’t know that it is—just as it operates in a baby. In that state, you don’t experience the fact of not knowing as a feeling of something missing. What you recognize is: “I am complete. I am so much myself that I don’t need to know. Anyway, I already know True Nature, so why do I have to think about it? I know it, and it is me—continuously. I understand that the mind has done its job. It has brought me to the place where I can recognize True Nature and see it for what it is. And now I can sit in it with confidence and know that it is not something I can lose—or gain. You are so relaxed that you don’t even think about it. That kind of presence is natural—“first nature,” not even second nature. And it comes with a sense of innocence, the fresh awareness that reveals everything as though you were seeing it for the first time. Whenever we know what something is, we can associate it with another time when we saw the same thing. But if we look at it with pure awareness, it is as though we had never seen it before. It is fresh and new—everything is glistening, just being born. Everything is clean, transparent, light, crisp—it is just as it is—because the mind is not doing anything to it. And the mind is not doing anything because it is simply not there. Mind enters with knowing, but this is before knowing, when there is just pure perception.

When Pure Awareness Looks at Itself

In the dimension of pure awareness, you can be aware of all phenomena or you can be aware of yourself. All the boundless dimensions are inherently aware of themselves without having to self-reflect, although the capacity for self-reflection is also possible. When pure awareness looks at itself, it sees an empty, infinite vastness. I remember I experienced it once as the whole universe being an infinite crystal—true, transparent, perfect—and all forms as the facets of that crystal. The experience of this dimension is a kind of intoxicating awakeness—a fresh, sparkling, clear, bright awareness everywhere. Consciousness has awakened to itself; reality has awakened to itself. But when the absolute looks at itself, it doesn’t see anything. There is nothing to perceive. If you look at the absolute, experience altogether disappears and the next thing you know you are back looking at phenomena. If you sense into it, there is nothing to sense. The absolute is not only nonconceptual, but also it is the source of nonconceptual awareness. And it is subtler than pure, primordial awareness because there is no perception of sensation and no capacity for self-reflection. The capacity for self-reflection disappears here. In pure awareness, you can self-reflect even though you don’t have to. Here, if you self-reflect, nothing happens—experience stops; it is a non-event. It’s like what you see when you look into nonbeing. This dimension of absolute reality brings in the mysterious darkness, the luminous night.

When the Soul Attains the Dimension of Pure Awareness

When the soul fully understands and integrates the dimension of pure presence, she becomes open to all knowledge, to all the timeless wisdom of Reality. When she attains the dimension of pure awareness, she goes beyond knowledge, and attains nonconceptual freedom. She is now free from the constraints of knowledge. However, if she has been able to realize both dimensions and integrate them in her realization, she will be free to use knowledge without constraints, and without danger of reification. She will be able to recognize concepts and their reifications, to see the usefulness of conceptual knowledge as well as the dangers of the discriminating mind. She is open to knowledge, but is established beyond it, and hence she is not afraid of it and not constrained by it. She has attained the station of master of knowledge.

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