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Consciousness (Self-Consciousness)

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Consciousness (Self-Consciousness)?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Consciousness (Self-Consciousness)

Complete Spontaneity

In Absence one experiences oneself to be a pure subject, that is not an object. One is the source of awareness. One is not the witness, not the witnessing, not the witnessed. One recognizes oneself as an Absence, unknown and unknowable. When one looks inward there is no perception; there is absolute Absence without consciousness of Absence, because Absence is not an object of perception. It is in fact the absence of an object of perception. When one looks at phenomena one observes functioning. There is absolutely no self-consciousness, so there is complete spontaneity. There is awareness of phenomena and functioning, but there is no involvement at all. It does not feel that there is someone or something observing or aware of phenomena. Everything is the same as usual, except that there is no self. There is no person or presence who feels or thinks he is doing or perceiving. The perceiving is present, the doing is present, without being related to a perceiver and doer. This is completely incomprehensible to ego. Ego cannot conceive of perceiving or functioning if it is not present at the center of it. For ego, functioning is always the functioning of the person or self. This experience is dumbfounding to the mind. One realizes that one has always assumed, and has taken it to be the absolute truth, that there cannot be functioning without a functioner. But here, in the experience of Absence, one realizes that one has been wrong all along. Functioning happens smoothly and spontaneously, and does not need the presence of any self or personality. 

Experiencing Oneself as a Self-Existing Consciousness

The presence of Essence implies that the consciousness itself is conscious of its presence. This means that the consciousness itself is directly conscious and aware of the fact of its existence not through inference but by experiencing the existence directly, by being its existence. So to be present as Essence—to experience oneself as presence—is to experience oneself as a self-existing consciousness, as a consciousness whose presence is identical with its consciousness of its presence. Thus, the consciousness of the presence is the same thing as the presence; the awareness of the presence is not separate from being the presence. This is a mysterious perception to the normal mind of ego, which does not experience things that way. The normal mind is always an “I” aware of something, whereas the experience of presence has no subject/object dichotomy. But because it is possible for an “I” to be aware of the experience of presence, it is also possible to mistake that experience for the direct experience of presence. An “I,” for example, could be aware of the presence of essential Joy or Strength, but that would still not be a complete knowing of the experience of the presence of Essence. The latter occurs when the Joy or the Strength is aware of itself as presence. This, then, reflects the reality that the consciousness of presence is indistinguishable from the fact of presence itself. Beingness and consciousness are inseparable, are coemergent. This means that at the moment presence is present, who you are is simultaneously indistinguishable from the fact that you know you are presence by feeling, sensing, touching, tasting yourself as presence. The touching of yourself as presence is not different from the presence itself. The touch, the taste, the texture—in other words, the perception of the presence—is the presence. 

Brilliancy, pg. 42

Functioning Here is Absolutely Spontaneous Without Any Trace of Self-Consciousness

It is here that the understanding of personalization reaches its peak. It is again a long and difficult process, in which one must pass through the dark night of the spirit, and attain the station of complete mystical poverty. This means divesting ego, and personal consciousness itself, of all existence. Then one realizes at some point that to be the Personal Essence here is to be a personal expression of the Absolute, a particular but pure manifestation of the ultimate mystery. As the Personal Essence at this dimension one is part of the very fabric of the ultimate mystery. In other words, to be a particular unique expression of the Absolute in ordinary life one must have realized the Personal Essence. But one realizes that only the Absolute has true existence. So, is one here the Absolute or the expression of the Absolute? This mystery, the relationship—which is not an object relation—between the lover (the individual expression) and the Beloved (He, the Absolute) is expressed by a Sufi poet:

Look close: all is He—

but He is manifest through me,

All ME, no doubt—

but through Him.  [Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 79]

Functioning here is absolutely spontaneous, without any trace of self-consciousness. It is the Absolute functioning through the integrated human being, but not separate from it. It is a mystery, where one is both an individual personal expression of the Absolute and the immensity of the Absolute, in some indescribable dual unity, which is beyond any comprehension of the mind. 

Functioning Spontaneously Arising with No Self-Consciousness

As Being continues to manifest as its absolute nature, I begin to understand how functioning and doing happen. Whatever I do, I do with total lack of self-consciousness. There is absolutely no premeditation. The action and the awareness of the action happen simultaneously, inseparably. Taking the action and the perception of taking the action are the same experience. I recognize this as spontaneous functioning. When functioning occurs without self-consciousness it is completely spontaneous. The feeling is that the spontaneity is the self, which is the vast blackness. The functioning spontaneously arises out of me, with no self-consciousness, without it ever becoming other than me. I am the source, the black crystalline source of spontaneous action. This is difficult to describe. I am not only the source, but also the spontaneous and non-self-conscious functioning. The universe is the spontaneous arising in me, without becoming other than me. The sense of spontaneity in action brings such freedom and release that it generates both exhilaration and fear. Inquiry into the subtle fear reveals an unconscious need for self-control, and a fear of making mistakes, of making a fool of myself or being inappropriate. I recognize that my action has always been reserved, even when I thought I was spontaneous. Until now, I have never felt that I could be totally and unreservedly spontaneous, not knowing what I am doing except through the doing of it. The fear arises because I feel I cannot have self-control, for I have no self-consciousness. I do not have self-consciousness not because I feel I do not need it, but because there is no feeling of self to be conscious of.  

In the State of Absence there is No Self-Consciousness

The loss of the concept of Presence happens through the realization of the ultimate void (Sunyata), which is the absence of conceptualization. This is another radical departure from one’s previous experience. One goes from a sense of absolute presence to a sense of absolute Absence. One here realizes that for the first time a complete cessation of the sense of self is attained. There is no experience of self or person, without consciousness that there is no self or person. When the sense of presence is lost, the last foothold for the sense of self (identity or person) is gone. In the state of Absence there is no self-consciousness at all, and one realizes that it is the self-reflective movement of the mind that is the core of the sense of self. Roberts describes her discovery of this truth this way:

Before this event took place, I had never noticed how automatically and unconsciously the mind was aware of itself, or how continually conscious I had been of my own awareness in all mental processes, or in all my thoughts, words, and deeds. But when this reflexive movement came to an end, I suddenly realized the profound roots of self-consciousness, roots that unknowingly had infiltrated every aspect of my existence. [Bernadette Roberts, The Experience of No-Self, p. 148]

It is not until this realization of Absence that one realizes that usually there is a continuous and incessant sense or feeling of self or I. Every experience is related to this I. Now there is experience and perception of experience, but it is not related to an I, not even to the I of oneness. There is pure awareness of phenomena, with complete absence of self or center. The Absence is so complete that there is not even consciousness of the Absence. The complete absorption in this condition is the cessation of all sensation and consciousness of oneself. There is Absence and there is absence of the consciousness of Absence. It is like deep sleep but one is not asleep.

No Consciousness of Ourselves is Fundamental to the Condition of Absence, Because We are Not There!

In the state of absence you are completely spontaneous without knowing that you’re being spontaneous. The reflective capacity is not there. This seems improbable because we cannot imagine being aware without some self- reflection, without some consciousness of ourselves. But no consciousness of ourselves is fundamental to the condition of absence, because we are not there! We are aware only of what is actually there, namely, our environment. We reflect neither on the environment nor on ourselves as the perceiver. No consciousness of self remains, because instead of self there is absence. As a result, we do not experience emotional self-consciousness; this is why absence is a condition of absolute spontaneity. 

One of the Main Characteristics of Narcissism is Self-Consciousness

This clarifies the observation that one of the main sources of narcissism is the self-reflective capacity of the normal self. More precisely, one of the main characteristics of narcissism is self-consciousness, an outcome of the normal self’s capacity for self-reflection. It is only at the level of the Absolute that this characteristic disappears. It does not disappear at the earlier stages of self-realization, not even at the level of nonconceptual reality because there is always consciousness when we reflect. The ego-self hangs on to this consciousness, even nonconceptual consciousness, by self-reflection. In the experience of nonconceptual reality, we perceive pure consciousness when looking backward or inward. In the experience of the Absolute, consciousness disappears when we attempt to reflect. The experience then is not self-consciousness but cessation of all consciousness. We could say that in the self-realization of the absolute truth, our front is the perception of phenomena, which is the same as the phenomena, and our back is total cessation. The quality of this depth of Being, whose nature is total cessation, dissolves self-consciousness. This eliminates the last element which supports narcissism.

Perception and Functioning with No Self-Consciousness

Ego psychologists have assumed that the infant perceives things somewhat similarly to adults. So when they have observed behavior that indicates projection they have concluded that the child is aware of an inside as opposed to an outside. This is probably not an accurate conclusion. From the perspective of Being, when there are no ego identifications at all, it is possible to experience perception from a certain state, which we call the experience of Absence, in which both the sense of individuality and self are absent. There is no self-consciousness whatsoever, although there is perception and functioning. The perception includes one’s body as part of the environment. But the perception is not related to a frame of reference, or to a self as a center. There is the perception of all that appears to the senses, without the slightest movement of referring anything perceived to a self or entity. It is as if there is the perception of the outside without a concept of inside. It is reasonable to assume that the infant exists in such a state, or something similar to it, before he begins to form concepts. At the beginning he behaves in ways that can be interpreted by the external observer as involving projection. But if there is as yet no concept of inside, of entity, or self, what could projection mean?  

Self-Aware Consciousness

At some point, however, you come to the recognition of what we call “essential truth.” Essential truth is not an insight about something but the apprehending of the immediate reality of the moment. This immediate reality is presence—the quality of beingness—as when one is experiencing an essential aspect, such as Compassion or Strength. We find out here that one of the most important characteristics of essential presence is that it is self-aware consciousness. So if I am experiencing the presence of stillness, which is one flavor of essential Peace, nobody needs to be outside the stillness to be aware of the stillness. I and the stillness become one thing. My familiar sense of being a separate observer dissolves. There is no observer and no observed. The stillness itself, Essence itself, is awareness, but awareness with a quality of stillness and peace. And the awareness is pervasive throughout the presence of the stillness. The presence is completely aware—a medium of consciousness characterized by the quality of stillness. When we appreciate how knowing occurs in essential experience, we know clearly what basic knowledge is, because Essence knows itself only through basic knowledge—through being present to itself. That is why we call it presence. When we begin to think about our essential awareness, the presence and the consciousness are no longer one, and the knowing shifts to ordinary knowledge. Furthermore, Essence, which is consciousness and presence as one, is an awareness that not only is aware of its own presence and the fact that it is presence, but is also aware of the distinctive quality of that presence—in this case, stillness and peace. 

Self-Consciousness Tends to Obstruct the Carefree Attitude of the Heart

The soul’s earliest experience is, consequently, an identification with the field, or more correctly, an abiding in it, without discriminating recognition of this field. The soul begins her life abiding in essential presence, without her knowing this in a discriminated way, without an explicit recognition. The child is not unconscious regarding the essential presence. What is missing is not consciousness, but recognition. This situation is similar to the that of the individual who is spontaneously happy without knowing it. It is common knowledge that when one knows one is happy, one loses the spontaneity and joy. This is because self-consciousness tends to obstruct the carefree attitude of the heart. This observation becomes precise knowledge in the understanding of the essential aspect of joy. Since the soul is mostly not self-reflective early in her life, she does not recognize her true nature. She abides in it without recognizing it. Furthermore, even if for some reason she sees it she will not recognize it. She does not discriminate it in her experience as something independent from the various forms and shapes she experiences, because her discriminating capacity is not developed enough to do so. By the time the soul is able to self-reflect in a sufficiently discriminating way, her ego development has already structured her experience to exclude the essential ground. It seems that the natural design of our soul is such that she cannot realize her true nature with a discriminating recognition, necessary for the enlightenment experience, until her cognitive capacities develop. 

Self-Pervasive Consciousness, the Very Substance or Medium of Presence Itself

When we can finally be ourselves fully, we recognize ourselves as presence, and apprehend that this presence is nothing but the ontological reality of consciousness. We feel our presence as a medium, like a material medium, such as water or clear fluid. This medium is homogeneous, unified, whole, and undivided, exactly like a body of water. This homogeneous medium is consciousness. The medium is conscious and aware of itself. It is not aware of itself by reflecting on itself, but by being itself. In other words, its very existence is the same as awareness of its existence. To continue the physical metaphor, it is as if the atoms of this medium are self-aware. Presence is aware of itself through self-pervasive consciousness, where this self-pervasive consciousness is the very substance or medium of the presence itself, not an element added to it. From the perspective of self-realization, then, the soul is simply our consciousness, free from the occlusive veil of past experience. She can experience herself directly, without any intermediary. She is thus dispensing not only with the veil of past experience, but also with the self-reflective act. She experiences herself by simply being. She knows herself to be a presence, a self-aware medium in which the awareness is simply of presence itself. She is. She is presence, pure and simple. She is aware that she is presence because presence is indistinguishable from awareness. 

Since the Essence of this Presence is Absolute Annihilation of Consciousness, there is No Sense of Self-Consciousness

The inseparability of perception and appearance relates to a specific characteristic of this new manifestation of Being, different from all previous manifestations. There is absolutely no sense of self-consciousness in this experience of presence. In other words, even though I experience myself as an infinite black depth, when I try to sense the texture or quality of the presence, I find nothing. In all other manifestations of the presence of Being, even the clear nonconceptual manifestation, there is always a texture of consciousness, a sensation of the presence of a medium. Sometimes, as in the clear nonconceptual presence, the medium is a total sense of nothingness, an openness that is so open it is absence. In the black depth, there is not even a sensation of absence. It is as if the essence of this black presence is absence without the sensation of absence. More accurately, consciousness ceases when it tries to plumb its essence. Therefore, since the essence of this presence is absolute annihilation of consciousness, there is no sense of self-consciousness. There is no looking toward the depth, no seeing inward, no possibility of self reflection. This also means that when there is no perception there is no consciousness. This black mystery is an awareness so absolute that it possesses no ground to look back at and be aware of. It cannot be an object of perception, for it is the absolute subject. It is absolutely nothing, so there is nothing for it to be aware of when it is aware of itself. It is absolutely being the awareness. This is why the word “absolute” seems to fit it. It has no back. It is the ground of all grounds, the final background. To look backwards only leads awareness back to more superficial dimensions, usually back to appearance.

Total Spontaneity

I experience myself as an extension of the absolute only when there is embodied functioning, such as in eating, walking or driving. In other words, when I am simply resting, not doing anything, I experience myself as the vastness of the mysterious absolute. But when I function, do and act, as an embodied presence, I experience myself as an inseparable extension of the absolute. I function then as an organ of action for absolute Being. In this condition I am mature, completely responsible, totally the center of my life and action. I am total presence. The presence has no veils over it, no defense or pretense. The back is at the front. Nothing, absolutely no part of me, is held back. There is total spontaneity, and absence of self-consciousness. The experience is total presence; complete involvement; utter openness; and non-self-conscious spontaneity. The interplay of involvement and spontaneity, presence and absence, is beautiful and deeply satisfying. I am myself, without a feeling of self. I merely function as my own nature. That is why calling the absolute “ipseity” feels more accurate than thinking of it as ultimate reality or truth. It is the ultimate reality that is both the self and the self-nature. The passionate intensity and fierceness of presence gives this way of being the flavor of a love affair.

When Your Action Simply Arises on Its Own Without Premeditation, Without Any Prior Knowledge

To really be in the realm of the night, to really know what you ultimately are, what the secret of reality is, means to be not self-conscious. The moment that you are conscious of yourself, you are conscious of the consciousness, you are conscious only of the daytime. You see the light of day but not the darkness of the night that far transcends and contains the day. You see the transitory but not the eternal. You see the manifestation but not the unmanifest ground. You see the front but not the back. Your back, your ground, is the night. When you are the night, you can behold the day, but you see it as your front. Your back is something you cannot see, for it is the seer itself, the primordial eye of awareness. To be the back means to be completely spontaneous. You are not conscious of yourself; you are aware only of your front, the manifest world. You are then absolutely spontaneous because there is no self-consciousness whatsoever. Your action simply arises on its own, without premeditation, without any prior knowledge. We cannot truly understand spontaneity before then. As long as there is one atom of self-consciousness, there is no spontaneity. Spontaneity means there is no self-consciousness at all. What you say, what you do, comes out without your knowing it is coming out. You don’t know where it is coming from. And only from the night can such complete and utter spontaneity emerge.

With a Singularity of Presence that is a Singularity in Time Its Self-Existence is Its Self-Consciousness

Before differentiation and conceptualization, before there is memory of the past or thoughts of the future, there is just the pure fact, the pure actuality, of presence with its complete radiance. Here the consciousness is aware of itself completely outside of time—consciousness and presence as the same thing. Timelessness, which is the full and complete experience of Brilliancy, becomes the entry into the now, which is universal presence. We can think of consciousness being aware of its own actuality as a loop of self-reflection. But a loop implies time, right? Now suppose that the loop gets smaller and smaller—infinitely smaller until the loop disappears. This would mean that there is no time between actuality and the awareness of actuality. There is no longer self-reflexivity or the passage of time. It is a singularity of presence that is a singularity in time. It is completely self-aware right now; its self-existence is its self-consciousness. It is completely timeless. It is here that we recognize Essence in its purity as a timelessness that is really you—what you are experiencing yourself to be right now. If you experience yourself purely right now—without your ideas, without your beliefs, without remembering what happened to you in the past, without referring to what you are and what you are not, without thinking where you are going, where you come from, what affected you, who your parents are, whether you are married or not, whether you are a woman or a man, whether you’re young or old, sick or healthy, happy or unhappy—if all of these thoughts, beliefs, ideas, remembrances, and identifications are completely gone from your mind, completely obliterated by the radiance, and you are just here and you are just your consciousness itself, then you are in the timelessness of presence. Then you are that timelessness; then you are that presence.  

Brilliancy, pg. 48

Without Self-Consciousness there are No Personal Issues or Conflicts

Reality has a front and a back, phenomena are the front and the absolute is the back. However, since the absolute is actually nonbeing, Reality becomes simply the front. There is no back. There is no back to reflect on, no inside to look into. We are the freedom of the world, the liberation of all manifestation. Alternatively, there is total absence of self-consciousness, on all levels and in all senses of the word. There is no awareness of self, and no knowing of this lack of awareness. This phenomenological absence of self-awareness becomes a psychological or emotional absence of self-consciousness. We cannot be self-conscious, because there is no self to be self-conscious and no self of which to be conscious. And without self-consciousness there are no personal issues or conflicts, no personal suffering. The most interesting part of this lack of self-consciousness is the experience of spontaneity. Without self-consciousness there is no self-watching and no cautiousness about our expressions and actions. There is no premeditation and no rumination about what to do. Hence we are totally spontaneous, like young children. We are totally open and innocent, with no defensiveness and no strategizing. There is no holding back, no hiding, no protection, no pretension. There is complete openness, presence, and genuineness. There is no self-control whatsoever. So the spontaneity is total. The absence of control is absolute. We simply experience ourselves as freedom, lightness, delight, openness, and spontaneity. Without self-consciousness, action and expression are absolutely spontaneous, and hence totally free.

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