Tuesday, May 02, 2017

A thought on "consciousness"

The term "consciousness" is often used not only as an element that is part of experience, but the word is often used as that which may constitute our reality, i.e., what is experienced. In this sense, consciousness becomes a term that has utility in describing how experience is structured. It is often seen as that which is primary and not derivative. Some even use the word consciousness to be some metaphysical reality that all else is derived from and rooted in. It is the fundamental reality. However, there is no need to go that far and posit consciousness as some reality-in-itself. What is truly real to us is our minute-by-minute experience. In this sense, reality is evanescent, dynamic, and elusive. As a phenomenological fact, we rarely if ever experience consciousness in our everyday lives; but we do live with illumined worlds of experience. What we do experience is the structure (relations) and contents of experience. We may learn to discriminate or isolate awareness as an aspect of all experience, but I see little need to make consciousness any sort of metaphysical entity that gives rise to the contents of experience. More to the point, I see no need to use the word "consciousness" in this sense.

A difficulty for some then, seems to be the issue of the type of reality consciousness is. The simple truth, as we formulate it, is that consciousness (awareness) is an aspect of all experience but it is not the contents of experience. It transmutes all contents of the sensorium into experience, but not into consciousness. There is no need to use the word "consciousness" as a sort of fundamental reality. Even the Indian Upanishads don't have to be read that way. Brahman, often viewed as the all-pervasive consciousness, is the totality of that which is illuminated or made manifest in experience; it is the "vision" that is all-inclusive. "Brahman" is used in two senses. First, it is the content of all experience. This is called sa-guna brahman--the brahman with "qualities"--an unfortunate translation. The other sense of the word is called nir-guna brahman--brahman without qualities. If we restrict the concept of Brahman to its nirguna aspect, we may use "consciousness" as the life-granting aspect turning all things (contents, qualities) into experience. We, therefore, give "consciousness" a more narrow use. There is no intrinsic need to do metaphysics in the sense that the word "consciousness" does not have to be used as a fundamental reality at the bottom of all things. Brahman is a phenomenological conceptualization of experience, not some fundamental "reality" that all things are made of. Brahman relates to human experience.

Moving on to our everydayness, awareness (consciousness) is not typically something that is experienced. However, it may reveal itself as that which illuminates all things rendering them experience in a strict phenomenological sense. We may reflect upon lived experience and say that consciousness was an element in experience but not a cause of experience in the sense of it being a reality in itself. Advisedly, when speaking of consciousness, we must be aware that we have left behind our immersion in experience and have reflected upon what has just happened in experience. The past, in a rather limited sense, is then the object of our reflection. But note, awareness is not the object of experience in the act of reflection. Consciousness does not reveal itself in experience; it reveals our manifest worlds. On this basis, we may then use "consciousness" as a tool to interpret our (past) experiences thus providing a way of understanding experience in a purely conceptual manner. Consciousness is a concept, often helpful but frequently a dangerous one.

Monday, May 01, 2017

On "The Universe"

So many of us are held by the belief that "the universe" has little to do with our all too human embodiment. The universe most of us refer to is one constructed of thought and is not the living experience of life as lived. To pray to such a universe, claiming that it will answer your requests, is to pray to an abstraction that has been historically generated by human conceptualizations. What we may advocate is paying delicately focused attention to experience, the keeper of all possible worlds, and yes "my brother." This might be termed "the living universe." Experience is, in the most radical sense, all we ever have. Yet, we also live out of those theories that continue to create and uphold "the universe" in the "scientific" sense. No one is advocating dispensing with such a theoretical universe--with its laws and particles. However, what we are advising is that we do not lose sight of the lived (or living) universe of human experiencing. Unfortunately, "the universe" has become so consensual that few of us can appreciate its conceptual nature and inadvertently substitute the conceptual for the actual.

Burning as living, Living as burning

On the Dangers of Translation

One of the most important texts of Mahayana Buddhism is the  Bodhipathapradipam ("Path to Awakening") by Dipamkara Shrijnana Ati...