Consciousness versus Awareness

M. C. Escher

Yes. I think taking “Consciousness” (j6) as an object brings the problem confronting awareness to the fore radically, implausibly. Not that I can think or talk my way out of this problem. Just sitting, just noticing, just sayin’.

This question of consciousness versus awareness is the crux, the crucial boundary that must be liberated. It is the consciousness that is to be seen through, to dissolve, to be liberated into the nature of awareness, which is empty and clear. This is what it means to realize that the jhanas are conditioned states, not liberation. The jhanas point, but, in being replicas, they throw awareness back on itself as something radically other than these replicas precisely because it cannot be pointed to, contained, found, or reduced to an “it.” Where a jhana’s distinqushing factors fail . . . to me, this kind of boundary leads the important dance to be done on the third path.

I’ve started reading this Mahamudra book that Daniel had recommended to me mainly for its poetic beauty (ostensibly for that reason, anyway). It is called Clarifying the Natural State, and it is really flipping me out. It gives simple instructions for samatha and then for vipassana. And then it says that these two practices, performed together at the same instant, are this problem-mind and its solution. 

It instructs one to be aware via vipassana “of” samatha. Pretty heady stuff. I had to translate it for use more in line with MCTB, where Daniel talks about making specific jhanas the objects of investigation. The MCTB practice is only a pointer to the natural state, however.

[Postscript — The ways in which the samatha jhanas, particularly the arupa jhanas, offer conditioned awareness as object, as “consciousness,” which seems to be other than the liberated awareness that holds it, will be key in my meditation manual. The consciousness-awareness interface is key to finishing MCTB third path and being well into fourth. It maps not only to certain source texts of Mahamudra, but also the difference between kunzhi and gzhi in  Dzogchen view. In addition, A. H. Almaas’s The Point of Existence: Transformation of Narcissism in Self-Realization distinguishes our usual sense of identity and our True Self. When one finds ephemeral the patterning of one’s identity, then one is flooded with emptiness in the sense of deficiency, loss. If one stays with this emptiness, it is soon felt as the shunyata kind of emptiness, a filling up with True Self, primordial essence that consists in illuminating while not itself being found.]

A Soft Parade of Circulating Body Fields

In Equanimity. Little in the way of emotions is arising now, except some gratitude toward dharma friends and those in teaching roles, that kind of metta.

Sensing Space Far beyond Myself

Sits are so spacious now that they are somewhat bizarre. In fact, the spaciousness actually obtrudes on my notice during the day, too. It is a good thing that it is so pleasant, if odd.

It is odd that “I” would be able to sense all this space, far beyond my body. It find of makes sense for hearing and seeing, since we are used to those senses beyond extended, but what exactly is this spaciousness? In what way, exactly, through what senses, am I now so convincingly directly aware of all this space, as in more aware of it than of my own body? Upon investigation, all I can find to explain this sensation is some kind of dropping away of the usual.

I cannot tell where the space ends. With my eyes open, it is very broad and extends in all directions, though not at the same time. With eyes closed, body goes away, so then felt space feels boundless, meaning who knows what — with no end apparent. When I ask, “Does this extend across the street?” The question simply makes no sense because there are no “streets” or “neighborhoods” in the dimension of space I’m sensing. There are no objects apart from space, no reference markers. So what is this space if not itself an object?

Circulation of Popping-In and Popping-Out Body Fields

Okay, so what about the line between the space and “me”? Well, now, this is interesting. No “line,” but instead pockets of body fields coming into awareness and popping out of awareness, such that the whole Jenny body is not felt at once, but is felt as a parade of circulating body fields. So, basically, my body is not even experienced as one thing ever but is one thing only when I reconstruct it retroactively by patching back together all those popping-in and popping-out body fields. In some sense, this reconstructive process is harder than meditation practice now.

Much of my former interior and superficial skin sense is just gone much of the time and, if I pay attention, clearly so. In their stead, smaller fields are circulating more slowly, sparsely, which enables me to see through some of this whole-body retrospective mapping easily. With the usual boundares gone, the undulation of space currents that are neither inside nor outside me predominate. 


As for intention — I played with this again in terms of attention. I tried really feeling into what it was to turn my attention. This is just such an odd exercise, with bizarre felt results. Waiting for intention to arise pure and clear is fruitless. So if I turn my gaze, for example, there is again a ratcheting sensation as I experience that the intention is superimposed only retroactively. This instantly makes my movement creepy, dreamlike. It is less fraught with effort to move body or gaze during sits if I drop into assuming that intention is unnecessary and that the body does what it does. Applying intention with the arrow-of-time going in one direction is wretchedness.

Voyager Tarot

Just for fun — I wasn’t going to mention this, but I have this old Tarot deck from the 1980s that my husband gave me when we married. It is not a “real” proper deck with the proper symbols but some kind of Jungian deck, though it does contain the right number, arcana, and so forth. I don’t care. I’ve toyed with it from time to time as a kind of mirror. Well, for the third day in a row, when I drew a card for insight into my practice and life in general, I drew the card called Equanimity. Three days in a row.

Enough said. Some shift is under way.

Second-Path Toolbox Expansion Set

Not all tools are tools. | Photo courtesy of Chris Ensey

I had to laugh out loud when I read O’s saying that, while in a difficult in-between place, she once told her teacher that she hated him. It is weird and subsequently kind of funny to forget what one is supposed to be doing, meaning practicing, but there you go – other stuff going on. 

Daniel the Curmudgeon-Benefactor

Oddly, the very week that I started to work on MCTB2, stream entry happened, so in the course of talking about the book there was no way that event was not going to come up in conversation. Dan never analyzed or speculated about what I personally considered so darned fascinating about my stream entry event.  

So when I brought up again night before last how I wondered what that strange radical dislocation phase was on re-ignition of reality, and when he again thwarted discussion, saying that event was distant for me and more so for him, I got pissed at him and replied a bit curtly that I had written out the event right after it happened and it was he who was the map freak and so why was my x, y, z not on on the maps and why couldn’t he just answer the damned question!

Then I saw O’s comment about her teacher.

About two minutes later something dawned on me. So I emailed one more line back to Daniel, saying simply, “Oh! Okay. Sorry. You are actually giving me practice advice, right? I get it.” Meaning that I understood a possible context in which debriefing of my so-fascinating event of August 8 was not helpful for me here and now. 

He did say something about the maps, but it was, basically, that if I wanted to go by maps, then the maps say I should be able to repeat the event [Review Fruitions]. (Dammit!) It is rather embarrassing to keep finding that I’ve made this kind of stupid blunder, but, yeah, oh well, as you say. So next came back from his side specific meditation instructions, the way to do the Three-Percent Solution of noticing of just the large flows of aversion and attraction.

The Toolbox Expansion Set

I think that the meditation barrier I couldn’t bust my head through before all this consisted of thinking that (1) I needed to attend to the teeny-tiny particulate vibratory sensations and (2) I needed to attend to the Three Characteristics as such. I made this same sort of categorical error at the beginning of my last Equanimity stage, back in July. So, X_X, I think this is part of the toolbox expansion set you wrote of, and here is what I think I’ve put in the toolbox:

♦ To “get to” Equanimity, practice as if already in Equanimity.

♦ To practice as if already in Equanimity, incline the mind slightly toward the goal and then give no more than 3% meditative effort to the sit.

♦ Broaden considerably what you habitually have been thinking a proper meditation “object” is. This is supposedly second path; so the objects are likely going to be psychological/emotional, which is an observation that does match what most clearly has been arising for me the past few months.

♦ Widen considerably the scale on which you observe these new objects such as aversion and attraction: Forget about “vibrations”; attend to much larger swaths of movement and flux.

♦ Notice, when opportunities for such noticing present, that awareness and space are intrinsic in each other.

♦ Relax the notion that you need to look for the Three Characteristics in an effortful way: that work has been done already in some sense; therefore, just as you stopped noting early on, in preference for just noticing, the Three Characteristics, now don’t be afraid to altogether let go of the Three Characteristics conceptually.

Postscript 2.5 Years Later

I had forgotten all this until I started cleaning up posts after a site migration. This is all extraordinarily right-on. From that point in time on,  I never consciously evoked the Three Characteristics during a sit. Daniel, in pointing me to the mutuality, or rather radical interpenetrability, of unbounded macro-space (Mother Consciousness) and intrinsic awareness (rigpa), was already shifting me from Ordinary Special Insight to Extraordinary Special Insight in Tibetan Buddhism parlance. All good advice here that I will carry forward into the new book.