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Nonconceptual Awareness

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Nonconceptual Awareness?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Nonconceptual Awareness

All the Manifest Universe and All Experience Appearing as the Content of Universal Imagination

A subtler form of this experience is one that combines the logos with pure nonconceptual awareness. We perceive the flow of prenoetic forms in the process of creation as a flow of colorful images. In other words, the forms do not have knowingness, only the differentiations that compose them. In effect, we recognize the process of manifestation as imagination. All the manifest universe, and all experience, appears as the content of imagination. It is not our personal imagination, but universal imagination. We can say that the logos imagines the world into existence. The sense of imagination reflects the fact that in this experience we perceive the forms as images devoid of substance or solidity. The dominant impression, however, is the unity of manifestation, which appears as one image. Everything is purely image, purely an imagined form, but we are part of what is imagined by the logos.

Arriving at the Experience of Nonconceptual Awareness Through Negation

One way to arrive at the experience of nonconceptual awareness is through negation. We first negate presence or being, and we experience absence, or metaphysical emptiness. This negation comes not from a denial or rejection or attempt to go beyond, but simply through one’s awareness expanding or deepening past being and presence. Then we negate absence, arriving at nonconceptual presence, which is pure awareness. This occurs experientially in the path of the Diamond Approach, where the student moves from pure presence to pure absence, recognizing the ontological emptiness of presence and all phenomena predicated on presence. The revelation of truth continues to pure awareness, beyond presence and absence. Traditionally, the most common route in this process is the transcendence of the discriminating mind, by going beyond any discriminating cognition and simply pointing to what is.

Awareness Going Deeper than Discernment Can Go

What I am calling nonconceptual here is beyond immediate and nonrepresentational knowing. It is beyond basic knowing or gnosis. It is not a knowing at all, and there is no recognition of anything; it is total innocence of mind, perceiving but not recognizing what we are perceiving. So, we see that we have the possibility of being where we are—to be in such nakedness, such purity, that we just are and that is that. And we don’t even say “we” and “are”—everything just is as it is. The terminology used by those in the Eastern traditions is very good for indicating this, because it is just a pointing. You can ask, “What is it?” and they will say, “It is that.” Or “What is reality?” and the answer will be, “It is just thus.” No explanation is possible because there is nothing to explain, because there is nothing to discern—or, the discerning capacity does not function at that level. Awareness has gone deeper than discernment can go. It has reached the totally nonconceptual depth of True Nature, the noncognitive depth of reality. Thus we recognize that True Nature—the nature of everything—is fundamentally nonconceptual, beyond mind. And, the fact that awareness is beyond the mind means that we can be free of the mind.

Consciousness with No Mind Involved, Awareness with No Knowing of Any Kind

The capacity to discern differences in the field of our awareness is a fundamental element of our consciousness. But here we need to make a difficult and subtle distinction: in describing this capacity, we want to discriminate it from the capacity to actually recognize the forms that arise. So in what we are calling pure perception, associated with what is traditionally called nonconceptual awareness, there is the perception of differences within a field without recognition of those differences. There is awareness that there are different forms, but in pure perception these forms are not discriminated in such a way that they can be recognized or named. This is consciousness with no mind involved, awareness with no knowing of any kind. There is merely the awareness of shapes, colors, movements, qualities; there is no recognition, knowing, or understanding of what one is perceiving. There is differentiation but not discrimination. We refer to this perception without recognition as nonconceptual awareness, for recognition and knowing require concepts. There is awareness of content but no recognition of it; recognition requires a further step in the functioning of consciousness. The traditional metaphor for this pure perceptivity is the mirror. The mirror analogy describes the soul’s primordial and original condition, which is the pure nonconceptual awareness of experience. This is the fundamental ground of any experience, which is the pure nonconceptual bare awareness of experience before recognition, reaction, categorization, or any such phenomena occur.

Pure Awareness is an Aware Ground, An Aware Medium that Doesn’t Know what It is Aware Of

The intriguing mystery is that the nature of forms, the nature of the body, the nature of consciousness, the nature of all phenomena, include both emptiness and presence, both Being and nonbeing, in a mysterious juxtaposition. This interpenetration of Being and nonbeing in reality is even more mysterious than pure or nonconceptual awareness. Pure awareness is an aware ground, an aware medium that doesn’t know what it is aware of and doesn’t discern one thing from another. By nonconceptual I do not simply mean not mental, not constructed. I mean the barest minimum of sensitivity, the ground that is simply the capacity to be aware, to perceive. Therefore, by nonconceptual we mean noncognitive. There is perception, but there is no knowing, no cognition of any kind. Although we see that nonconceptual awareness is both emptiness and presence, both Being and nonbeing, we cannot say this in the actual experience of nonconceptual awareness. We cannot say anything, because pure awareness lacks recognition, lacks knowing.

Qualities Implicit in the Essential Ground, the Coemergence of Nonconceptual Awareness and Basic Knowledge

Thus the essential ground, the coemergence of nonconceptual awareness and basic knowledge, possesses implicit qualities that we refer to as its perfections. In its nondifferentiated and fundamental mode it implicitly possesses peace, love, compassion, truth, authentic existence, pleasure, joy, strength, will, clarity, intelligence, impeccability, purity, contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, spaciousness, and so on. They are not explicitly recognizable, but the presence feels complete and does not lack any of these qualities that the soul always needs. These implicit perfections can and do manifest in a differentiated and explicit way in the inner experience of the soul. In other words, the soul can experience her essence in one of these differentiated qualities. Alternately stated, essence can manifest itself within as these perfect spiritual qualities, when the fundamental ground and nondifferentiated presence of the soul transforms a region of its field into this particular quality. The form that appears may have a shape but it might not; it may be bounded and limited or boundless and infinite. But it will have recognizable characteristics in all the dimensions of the Riemannian manifold of the soul. In other words, these noetic forms will be presence characterized not only by the three spatial dimensions, but also by color, texture, taste, smell, sound, viscosity, luminosity, density, and affect. They are noetic forms because each possesses a distinguishing cognitive component, which we call a universal concept.

Seeing that Our Being is Fundamentally Beyond Mind, Beyond Discriminating Knowing

In recognizing that pure awareness is nonconceptual, we discover new and surprising truths about Reality. We see that our being is fundamentally beyond mind, beyond discriminating knowing. We see that, since nonconceptual awareness is the ground of all manifestation, Reality is independent of our minds, and manifestation is not the creation of our thoughts. Without manifestation there would be no awareness, and since awareness is ultimately nonconceptual, the forms in manifestation are not conceptual either. This is a radical discovery. It illuminates the Reality beyond our individual minds, revealing that the differentiation in manifestation is beyond mind. We do not need discriminating knowing to perceive differentiation. Differentiation is inherent in manifest reality, and it ontologically precedes the dimension of basic knowledge, the nous dimension. The basic knowledge of pure presence simply adds discrimination to the already present differentiation of forms in manifest reality.

The Effect of Nonconceptual Awareness as it Mingles with the Flow of the Logos

This is the effect of the dimension of love as it fills the field of the logos, giving us the impression that the universe is unfolding as the action of the love of Being. The logos is felt then as the heart of God, and we are all its inhabitants. At other times, the flow is more of universal revelation of knowledge. We feel and perceive knowledge arising everywhere: each form is a recognition, and each phenomenon an understanding. The flowing boundless presence is here transparent, but with an exquisite faceted sense to it, as if it is a flowing ocean of liquefied diamonds of various colors and hues. Such is the effect of the dimension of pure presence as it arises coemergent with the logos. At other times the flow is totally empty and light, even though formed and sculpted with the forms of manifestation. It is radiant and clear, with a sense of total freshness and newness, with an indescribable beauty and ecstasy that shatters the thinking mind and leaves it awed and dazzled. Such is the effect of nonconceptual awareness as it intermingles with the flow of the logos.

The Inner Guidance of Being can Arise as the Coemergence of Pure Awareness and Basic Knowing

We have described how this occurs: pure presence with its noetic capacity can manifest coemergent with that of nonconceptual awareness. In other words, the inner guidance of Being can arise as the coemergence of pure awareness and basic knowing. Pure awareness penetrates the preconceptual obscurations, and basic knowing discriminates the specifics as insight. The nonconceptual dimension of the inner guidance challenges and highlights the nonconceptual differentiations in these obscurations, allowing the noetic dimension to discriminate these differentiations. The insight is basic knowledge, but it is a discrimination that nonconceptual differentiation brings into awareness. As the noetic guidance illuminates the obscurations they melt away, and allow the soul to experience herself on the nonconceptual dimension.

The Nonconceptual Presence of Pure Awareness

Another difference is that the nonconceptual presence of pure awareness retains the experience of inner sensation, while the absolute is precisely the absence of all sensation. We can say that nonbeing dominates in the absolute more completely than it does in pure nonconceptual awareness, to the extent of annihilating all sensation. Because of this characteristic the understanding of emptiness and insubstantiality is much clearer and more precise in this dimension. That is why it becomes the dimension of emptiness, while in fact it is nonconceptual and beyond being and nonbeing. Because the absolute is not simply nonbeing, we experience it as a field, an expanse, and not simply nonbeing. To understand this we need to make a particular differentiation explicit. We have been using two terms interchangeably, namely absolute and absolute dimension. Strictly speaking, the absolute is the ultimate nature of Reality, and it is beyond dimensions; for dimensions are the experience of manifestation. Yet, we do experience the absolute as a dimension, boundless and infinite, an infinity that contains and holds all manifestation including the other boundless dimensions. We can say that the absolute is the unmanifest, the ultimate truth and mystery of Being, beyond all dimensions and qualities. But when it begins to manifest appearance, this manifestation appears as if in an expanse, an infinite and boundless expanse, that looks like black space.

This Ground of Nonconceptual Awareness that Has the Capacity for Perception is the Deepest Ground of the Field of the Soul

Thus we recognize here the quality of mind that is emphasized in many traditional spiritual teachings: the ground of nonconceptual awareness, of pure perception. We do not normally notice this dimension of consciousness, because our knowingness arises too fast for us to catch it. In ordinary experience, our knowing mind, in addition to our labeling, categorizing, and remembering mind, functions almost simultaneously with pure perception of objects. Normally, we perceive and know in the same act, thus always believing that consciousness functions only as the normal perception that always has some recognition of form. It is clear, however, that the pure capacity for perception, before recognition, is a necessary ground for all our experience, including experience of our inner content. This ground of nonconceptual awareness that has the capacity for perception is the deepest ground of the field of the soul. It is this ground in which arise the forms of consciousness that constitute the inner experience of the soul. We see from this perspective that the mirror metaphor is helpful but not completely accurate. It is accurate only in the sense that it can register what arises, without any reaction or response. However, our previous discussion shows the limitation of this metaphor: a mirror can only reflect what appears in front of it, while the consciousness of the soul creates (or becomes) the forms. Our consciousness is like a magical mirror that creates the forms that appear on its surface.

This Reality is Prior to Any Concept, and Hence, Possesses No Presupposition Whatsoever

The only thing that is there is consciousness. But consciousness here is not exactly a concept; it is just the fact of consciousness. We are not unconscious, that’s all. There is consciousness, but there is no one who is conscious. Here, we are going into the true nature of Being, the true nature of God, or the true nature of the universe, before any mind, before any conceptualization, before any specification, before any differentiation, before we can experience or say anything; so this pure consciousness is beyond experience, beyond mind, beyond concept, beyond all these things. We realize that we are the suchness, but we don’t feel that, “I am the suchness”; there is just suchness, and we don’t even say there is suchness. This nonconceptual awareness is truly radical. While it does not affirm any concept, neither does it negate or deny any concept. To negate is to affirm and to affirm is to negate, for in both cases a concept is present. This reality is prior to any concept, and hence, possesses no presupposition whatsoever. Purity of Being is now nonconceptual, so it is complete, and recognized as the fundamental reality of all experience. Many lucid insights appear. The reality of the self is beyond concepts, so thinking about it, conceptualizing around it, or remembering it, is bound to make it into an object. Conceptualizing automatically creates a shell, a mental representation. The mind tends to remember experience, to think and talk about it. This can become an attempt to hold on to the experience for the purpose of self-recognition, for identity.

When All the Concepts and Categories are Gone Only the Nonconceptual Awareness Remains

What we’re seeing here is that self-realization is ultimately self-annihilation. We don’t gain anything. Rather, we are going to lose everything. We lose the concepts of our mind, one after another, one category after another: people, objects, values. When all the concepts and categories are gone, only the nonconceptual awareness, which is a field of pure consciousness, remains. This spontaneously dissolves into its underlying ground, absolute nonbeing, total absence of being. This nonbeing, when we recognize it as the ground and inner secret of all of reality, is the night of reality, the inner of the inner. This is the Guest.

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