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Awareness (Pure)

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Awareness (Pure)

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.)

In the Immediate Experience of Pure Awareness

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 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 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.

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 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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