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Nonconceptual Dimension

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Nonconceptual Dimension?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Nonconceptual Dimension

As Long as there is Recognition and Knowing there is Conceptualizing

Many people, when they consider their immediate experience or their feelings and sensations, think that those experiences are nonconceptual, because they are not merely concepts in the mind. Although some traditions refer to feelings, sensations, and direct immediate experience as nonconceptual, in our work, we don’t call that nonconceptual experience. For us, those experiences are still conceptual, because they are recognizable and knowable. As long as there is recognition and knowing, there is conceptualizing. We can’t know without concepts. The knowing of any affect or sensation or spiritual state requires concepts. So, as long as there is any discernible experience, there are bound to be concepts. For example, in the immediate experience of “this is spaciousness,” there is a knowing of spaciousness that relies on a concept of what spaciousness is. Even though it is direct knowledge and is actual spaciousness—not an idea about spaciousness, not a memory about spaciousness, not an association about spaciousness—it is still conceptual. What I call nonconceptual is the experience of no cognition. In the Diamond Approach, we work with three dimensions of nonconceptuality, two of which I refer to as “radical nonconceptuality” and the third I call “total nonconceptuality.” We first encounter the dimensions of radical nonconceptuality when presence reveals that it is not only the nature of the soul or the individual consciousness, but also the nature of everything. To be able to understand both radical and total nonconceptuality, it is necessary to appreciate reality viewed from this new vantage, which I call the boundless dimensions.

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, movement, 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.

Barrier Against the Experience of the Nonconceptual

The attachment to the channels of our senses is a major barrier against the experience of the nonconceptual. Understanding how the senses work will help to clarify the difficulty. This understanding is not possible to someone who has not experienced anything beyond the senses, or who might not even think about such a possibility. But when you experience things without using your physical senses, you begin to see how your physical senses tend to prejudice you in a certain direction.

Certain Kinds of Concepts Harbored by the Dimensions of Pure Awareness and the Absolute

As we explore the dimensions of pure awareness and the absolute, which lack any sense of knowing, we can begin to discern that they still harbor certain kinds of concepts. Pure awareness contains concepts of clarity, emptiness, and newness; and the absolute includes concepts of mystery, source, and nonbeing. But these dimensions share an even more subtle concept: their nonconceptuality. Because nonconceptual is the polar opposite of conceptual, it is one end of a conceptual polarity. As long as anything has an opposite, as long as anything is defined as not being its opposite, it is part of a polar dichotomy and is based on some kind of subtle conceptuality. So our experience of nonconceptuality, which is pure freshness and clarity and transparency, is still not completely nonconceptual, because total nonconceptuality has to be something that is not opposed to anything else. Now the subtle conceptuality of the nonconceptual dimensions is not a mental conceptuality, is not something that our individual mind creates. It is part of our natural cognitive development and one of the ways that Total Being manifests awareness. This is a much more basic type of conceptuality than what our mind constructs. These are not concepts that we created. These subtle concepts are a class of experience that we usually think of as fundamental to reality, as a priori elements of reality.

Coemergent Nondual Presence Excludes Nothing

Reality is then nothing but true nature that is constantly displaying itself in various and changing forms. Coemergent nondual presence does not exclude anything. It includes true nature in all of its dimensions and aspects, all of physical reality including our bodies, and our subjective experience with all of its content. We experience this totality as an indivisible truth, where all of its dimensions and forms coexist in total harmony, a harmony that appears in the orderly pattern of the logos. Since we understand this condition to be the objective truth of things we term this wholeness Reality. It is what actually is in its true ontological nature. When we do not see it this way we are simply perceiving through some obscuration or veil, some belief or representation, or from a particular vantage point. In other words, we refer to it as Reality because it is the real; it is how things are when perceived with no subjective filters. We may perceive Reality as it is, completely objectively, or in one degree or another of approximation. Our experience and perception can vary with various factors, but Reality is always a coemergent nondual wholeness.

Differentiating Conventional and Radical Nonconceptuality

So far, I have differentiated between conventional nonconceptuality, which is immediate experience, feelings, and actions rather than mental content, and radical nonconceptuality, which is experience with no knowing at all. This absence of knowing and cognition characterizes both the pure awareness and absolute dimensions of true nature. Pure awareness is the empty lucidity of all experience and perception, the luminosity of true nature, and the absolute is the transparency before luminosity, the unobstructedness of nonbeing.

Encountering Radical Nonconceptuality

In our work with the boundless dimensions of reality, we first encounter radical nonconceptuality in the dimension of pure awareness. Reality appears here with pristine clarity and transparency, but there is no knowing. Because there is no knowing in this dimension, we consider it nonconceptual. There is only pure perception, pure nonconceptual awareness. In the beginning, we called this dimension “the nameless,” because, without knowing, we could not name anything. And we managed to give it a name anyway. Otherwise, each time we talk about it, we would have to say a whole paragraph to point to what we are talking about. That is what happens in any area of study; we have to create concepts, symbols, and labels to make communication more efficient. The arising of this nonconceptual dimension made it possible for us to understand the role of the primitive and precognitive structures that we discussed in the last chapter. Although we were already aware of these structures, we did not understand them fully. For a long time, I thought that they were constructs and concepts that I hadn’t yet penetrated. But the arising of the nonconceptual dimension, because it is truly nonconceptual and has no knowing, revealed that these structures were not representational but precognitive.

Experiencing Things Without the Past

To experience things without concepts means to experience things without the past, with absolutely no mind, because mind is the filter we put on reality. When we speak here of experience without mind, we mean without discursive or discriminating mind, not without awareness. The nonconceptual is what is, without the overlay of our past experience, our past prejudices, and our minds.

Freedom from Nonconceptual Structures

At some point, we can recognize that emptiness offers not only freedom from constructs based on memory and concepts, but also freedom from nonconceptual structures. Our sense of self includes structures that are not constructed through conceptualizations, because they developed before we were able to know or to think. The experience of emptiness frees us from conceptual constructs and also from nonconceptual impressions, which are not constructed by the mind but are nevertheless imprinted onto the consciousness. So the consciousness mistakes these nonconceptual impressions as important features of reality and holds on to them as if they are what it is. Understanding these preverbal and nonconceptual structures liberates us more deeply from the sense of self and also moves our realization to deeper and more subtle levels.

Freedom from the Concept of Time

True nature reveals this kind of total nonconceptuality as one of the possibilities for human beings. Nonconceptuality can reach a condition that has nothing to do with the opposite of what we experience. So our freedom from time is not timelessness. Our freedom from time is total freedom from the concept of time. The interesting thing about the experience of no time, which is beyond timelessness and time, is that it is comfortable with both time and timelessness. Time can be present, but the sense of Being is that Being has nothing to do with time. It is similar to the presence of concepts in total nonconceptuality—the condition is neither attached to nor opposed to concepts. It is a total transcendence of the polarity. We think that nonconceptuality is a transcendence of concepts, but total nonconceptuality is a transcendence of that very transcendence. More precisely, we could say it is not really a transcendence at all: It is the pure simplicity of experience and perception.

How Things Are

Nonconceptual Reality is how things are. It is direct perception of reality without the involvement of the mind. It is both presence and absence, but also neither. It is neither self nor no-self, nor the absence of both self and no-self. It is both being and nonbeing and neither. It is everything and it is nothing. Whenever there is negation or affirmation then there is conceptualization, and the true reality is gone. And hence we call reality as it is the Nameless; it cannot be named.

Manifestation is Not the Creation of Our Thoughts

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.

Nonconceptual Realms

The nonconceptual is the same as the Absolute, except that there is consciousness. As the nonconceptual, which I called the Nameless because there is no name for it, I know, and I know that I know. But I don’t know what I know. This level of knowing does not involve recognition of things.

Perceiving But Not Recognizing the Elements of Our World

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 there 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 the differentiated forms into discriminated ones. Differentiation creates differences, but discrimination makes these differences knowable.

Seeing Nonconceptual Reality Does Not Eliminate the Usual World that We Perceive

Nonconceptual reality is not the absence of the physical world; it is the perception that the physical dimension does not exist independently, that it is part of a larger reality just as the surface of the body is part of the whole of the body. If you see the skin as one layer of the whole, the rest of the body, the depth of it can be perceived at the same time. It is the same with physical reality – physical reality as a whole is the surface. Seeing the dimension deeper than physical reality allows the porousness, the permeability of the concepts. Seeing nonconceptual reality, what is, does not eliminate the usual world that we perceive. It is as it is, except that it appears more porous. Things are not as discrete from each other as they usually appear to be. We see that they are made out of the same thing -–the space, the earth, the table, the rug, me, you. We’re all made out of the same thing. It’s a homogeneous existence. This homogeneous existence is nonconceptual in the sense that there is nothing you can say about it. When you say something about it, you tend to close it off. The less you say about nonconceptual reality, the more it will open up and appear as it actually is

Seeing the Conceptual and Nonconceptual as the Two Ends of One Polarity

As we recognize the subtle concepts in the nonconceptual dimensions, we begin to see that it is possible for Total Being to manifest true nature as a nonconceptuality that is not the opposite of concepts, a nonconceptuality that transcends both the concepts of the conceptual and the nonconceptual. This total nonconceptuality becomes instrumental in illuminating the precognitive structures. Total Being manifesting as total nonconceptuality powerfully challenges and illuminates precognitive structures. It does this by the mere fact of not being opposed to concepts. Because total nonconceptuality is not the absence of concepts, it is a nonconceptuality that has no trouble with concepts. In this condition, both the conceptual and the nonconceptual are categories that manifest within this awareness and are recognized as the two ends of one polarity. Many people can arrive at this insight logically.

The Absolute is Not Only Nonconceptual but also the Source of Nonconceptual Awareness

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.

The Complete Innocence of the Nonconceptual

Consciousness is the first thing that is needed for any experience. You cannot recognize a table without the capacity to be aware of a table. You cannot have any conceptual experience, such as, “I have a body” unless you have the consciousness that allows you to be aware of a body Then in addition to the consciousness you need the concept of body before you can experience “I have a body.” Before that you might be experiencing a body but not recognizing it as a body. The nonconceptual does not have categories. It is just the bare awareness. It is purity itself. It is complete innocence. The nonconceptual does not have a sense of time. Here, the closest thing to time is like a sense of eternity. But by eternity we do not mean something that goes on forever. The sense of eternity indicates a realm that has nothing to do with time. Time is a concept. From the perspective of the nonconceptual, you cannot say whether something exists or doesn’t, because existence and non-existence are concepts. When your awareness of yourself is nonconceptual, there’s no one there saying, “I exist” or “I don’t exist.” When you are contemplating existence or nonexistence, you have already distinguished two things, and are thus in the realm of the conceptual. So this realm is beyond existence or nonexistence. And even though there is consciousness, there isn’t an idea of consciousness. Consciousness is not saying “I am consciousness.” There is consciousness because there is consciousness, not because it is saying, “I am consciousness.” It’s very subtle. Then, when you go to the Absolute, even that is gone. There is complete darkness.

The Move from Radical Nonconceptuality to Total Nonconceptuality

For now, it is enough for us to know that nonconceptuality can go beyond what we usually experience as nonconceptual, whether that is the conventional sense of the nonconceptual as direct experience or the nondual sense of it as the transcendence of concepts. This going beyond nonconceptuality is not a negation of anything. Even to say “going beyond” is not an exact description but rather an approximation of the situation, because there is no “going” and no “beyond.” The move from radical nonconceptuality to total nonconceptuality is one of greater inclusion. Because it is not patterned or bound by polarity, total nonconceptuality is open to all the possibilities of experience—conceptual, nonconceptual, and otherwise. Freedom comes not by eliminating concepts but by becoming master of them, so that what we are is not patterned by them in any fixed manner. As our freedom becomes unconditional, we are able to experience and utilize concepts and no concepts with comfort and ease, with a simplicity that is beyond the need for fixation and an openness that refuses to be limited.

The Shell Around the Secret

Even the nonconceptual universe is a shell around the Secret. The nonconceptual is a way station. First you experience reality without concepts, which is enlightenment. And when that happens, when the nonconceptual nature of reality is experienced, you sacrifice that, you go beyond that, which is not actually a going anywhere. It is simply annihilating whatever remains.

Total Innocence of Mind

It is important to recognize that what we mean by “nonconceptual” here is not what most people, including philosophers, mean by this term. Usually, nonconceptual describes something that is not mental, but is rather immediate experience, like a feeling or sensation. So the scent of a flower will be seen as nonconceptual, the texture of the orange is nonconceptual. I refer to this level of experience as basic knowing, not as nonconceptual perception. In the way I am discussing things here, these experiences and perceptions are still conceptual, because there is knowing in them, and knowing always involves concepts, even when the concepts are those of gnosis—that is, spiritual immediate knowing. 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.

When the Vastness of Consciousness or Awareness is the True Subject

What I call nonconceptual is the experience of no cognition. In the Diamond Approach, we work with three dimensions of nonconceptuality, two of which I refer to as “radical nonconceptuality” and the third I call “total nonconceptuality.” We first encounter the dimensions of radical nonconceptuality when presence reveals that it is not only the nature of the soul or the individual consciousness, but also the nature of everything. To be able to understand both radical and total nonconceptuality, it is necessary to appreciate reality viewed from this new vantage, which I call the boundless dimensions. As we experience these boundless dimensions of reality, our view changes in a big way. The vantage point of perception no longer is the center of observation that we have called the self, but rather is the vastness of Being itself. The sense of being a subject, in the beginning, is experienced as being an individual that sees itself through the aperture of the self. As that aperture opens up, at some point we see that the individual is not the true subject. The vastness of consciousness or awareness is the true subject. But even that is not entirely accurate, because in this vastness both the individual consciousness and other forms of experience appear at the same time.

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