Saturday, July 15, 2017

Usefulness of "Consciousness"

Let us employ the language of consciousness* (awareness) in an attempt to surpass the limits of its ordinary or more common usages and provide the term with some helpful additional roles.

We begin with a claim: Consciousness is not exhausted or limited by thought.

This may sound odd to many who are used to employing consciousness in the rather limited sense of being aware of something. Again, our aim is to enrich the term with another possible usage that may prove valuable for generating an opening to a more full or complete path to experience. So, one might say that this may provide some valuable aids to one's understanding facilitating a more complete realization of the breadth of human experience. Now, let's begin our exercise.

What we are about to say has been said before. In fact, it is one of the major themes in many religious and philosophical traditions. However, the route we shall be taking is a bit different. Our use of the term is meant to open us to a different way of looking, a looking with insight. When one exercises the proper focus, what is revealed may help lead us to a life with less suffering and correlatively a more inclusive openness to experience. That is the intention of this exercise.

We begin with an exercise in perception. I'm sitting at a table with my wife having coffee. It is morning and the birds are chirping. Suddenly, I hear a most unusual bird song while my wife is speaking to me. For a moment, the bird song steals my attention from what my wife is saying. She appears to be very intent on explaining something to me while the bird is singing. Then, she finishes what she has to say and I ask: "Did you hear that unusual bird song?" She pauses and then says yes. I ask: "Were you conscious of it while you were speaking to me?" She says "no, but I did hear it." "How, I ask." She says: "I don't know." I respond: " So, you were not conscious of it, but you somehow heard it." She responds, "yes." Our question is, how is that possible?

Well, this is where it becomes interesting. We often reduce our experience to what we become conscious of. However, what we become conscious of--as in our brief example--is not all there is to experience. An ambient consciousness is at work here. This is a consciousness so subtle, at least for most of us, that we miss paying attention to it. Our habits of perception obscure it. Our culture has been hell bent on claiming that all there is to consciousness is consciousness of something, i.e., intentional consciousness. However, what we may surmise from our example is that another more expansive consciousness is at work. This consciousness is not only a cognitive experience but additionally, it is a felt consciousness. If we have read some of my prior posts in this blog, you may have come across what I am about to say now. All experience, by definition, must take place in the body, i.e., in felt experience. The source of all experience, perceptual and cognitive, takes place in feelings, the body. By feelings, I do not mean emotions. It is in the ambient consciousness, a fully embodied consciousness, that the bird song took place. One may characterize this view as one of corporeal panpsychism. It did not take place consciously, as we are prone to say, but it did take place in what some cognitive scientists refer to as a cognitive unconscious. However, in our exposition, we must add, with haste, that the experience is not limited to an unconscious cognition; it is a felt awareness. This is a most subtle form of knowing that permeates all experience. This permutation prods some writers to add an additional metaphysical element to their exposition. You see, some of us are still echoing the voices of a naive realism, one that states the "world" is independently objective, i.e., independent of our consciousness of it. The things of this world attract our attention and we simply become conscious of them. However, and this deserves repetition, this is not all there is. So, in this sense, they posit consciousness as the ultimate reality, a substrate reality, or a universal consciousness--one that pervades all things. In our experience based view, consciousness is a term that we may find useful in exploring and augmenting our experience with an intimate and often blissful, felt dimension.

Through the cultivation of a skillful attentiveness to the ambient consciousness, it may begin to yield a fuller and more subtle dimension of feelings. We may refer to this as the process of surrendering to what is occurring in our experience without judgment or, most importantly, without any self-natured investment expressed as craving. This craving short changes our experience to the point wherein experience is poverty stricken. There is, ultimately, no satisfaction to be gained by this type of exclusivity of consciousness. The reduction of experience to the consciousness of does not exhaust experience. Experience is far too rich for that. But, the exclusionary form of consciousness of conceals experience; it is laden with non-virtuous cognitive activity, i.e., stories that are suffering itself. Actually, when this exclusionary consciousness is seen from the perspective of the ambient, embodied consciousness, instead of stories we have fables. Usually, these fables carry a strong notion of I-am-ness. There is nothing inherently wrong with the thinking and feelings of selfhood. However, when saturated with cravings, these processes are also laden with suffering. The fables with strong feelings of self of the non-virtuous type are themselves suffering and their correlate is ill feelings.

Please allow a cautionary note here. The use of the word "consciousness" here is not to be understood as an element that constitutes experience. I prefer to speak of awareness so as not to hint that a metaphysical reality may be made of "consciousness." No one experiences consciousness! I know that may sound odd or downright ridiculous. However, when burning your hand on the stove is felt, where the heck is consciousness? Think about it and watch your experience. You may find our view to be helpful in your future observations. Your keen observations may even lead to a reduction of the suffering we all share as human beings. That is my hope.

We plan on carrying this theme throughout our subsequent blog entries. If you find anything here at all relevant or interesting, please add your comments or questions to the blog. You may contact me at

*Probably a loan-translation of Greek syneidesis, literally "with-knowledge."

"Online Etymology Dictionary". 2017. Etymonline.Com. Accessed July 5, 2017.

Brief Insight

On the lake,
two ducks swimming, 
they're using
the whole lake.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Awareness at the Intersection of Contact and Craving

When our senses, including the thought processes, come into contact with their respective (intended) objects, more often than not (sadly), the experience of the contact is smothered by a craving that reduces the experience of contact to a cognitive framework that turns the experience into a conceptual yearning. This yearning is expressed in the forms of felt attachments, aversions, or numbing indifference. The yearning is inherently, and by definition, dissatisfaction--on a scale from minor to major suffering.

To illustrate this, take the simple example of dropping a container of milk on the floor in a supermarket. The experience of witnessing the event includes a bodily component. The experience of perceiving (i.e., contact) the milk dropping and landing on the floor may be one of simple yet profound amazement at the movement and crashing of the container on the floor. This may elicit a felt, open bodily intimacy with the movement and crashing of the container. It may be quite a profound experience! This may elicit a "WOW!" moment. However, the movement may also be one of fear (for obvious reasons) and its associated contracted bodily experience coupled with the aversion that is fear itself. Fear is an unsatisfactory feeling that may be a warning or an instinct to move from an oncoming truck. In this instance, the fear aversion is not a satisfactory experience. In the case of milk dropping, we are not in danger. In the case of a truck, we are. Dissatisfaction may be, at times, a very helpful experience. However, often it is an unnecessary one. On the other hand, if one is in the middle of an argument with one's spouse, dropping the milk may be a deliberate act to elicit a reaction. Then the crashing milk container may yield an intended effect. There is a felt gratification (pleasure) on the part of the agent of the act and a painful response felt by the one toward whom the act is directed. Keep in mind, this is not solely a conceptual event. Intentionally it was designed to elicit both a painful and pleasurable feeling from the one toward whom the act is directed and the perpetrator of the act. The nature of the act, whether pleasurable, painful, or neutral (indifferent) hinges on intention. I hope this is clear.

Actions (karma) of body, speech, and mind that are intentional will result in reinforcing their conceptual and felt origins. These origins are held in intentions.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

On Craving

Craving diminishes our capacity for experience.

When the fullness of experience is tinged with aversion, attachment, or indifference very often dissatisfaction results. These three are known in some traditions as the "three poisons." When they substitute for the role the fullness of experience plays to bring completeness to our lives, we find ourselves situated in dissatisfaction yearning for more or less via attachment and aversion. The fullness is reduced in relation to the intensity of the desire. The passions of attachment or aversion serve as movements of reduction.

Craving is intrinsically reductionist. When desire inhabits experience, the fullness of experience is reduced to the structural dimensions of the language of the desires. Just a tinge of craving will have that effect, except only moderately. However, all too often, cravings are intense and reciprocally reduce experience to their framework. Keep in mind that craving is also present in aversion. Aversion is wanting some or all aspects of experience to dissolve.

Another way of understanding the relationship of craving and experience is to view the relationship as one of "inverse proportion." To the extent that craving increases, the fullness of experience decreases. In reducing experience to a closed system or structure of desire, experience no longer satisfies. It is found wanting. Experience, in this movement, exhibits a lack.

When a sense organ such as the eye comes into contact with a sense object, experience is reduced to the configuration of a desire. The whole is concealed, sacrificed, to bring about an object(s) which appears in relationship with the desire that may have initiated the perception.

The fullness of experience is, in effect, reduced by craving and vice versa.    

Unedited and more to follow, I had to get this out. 

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...