Contemplating the Reality of Consciousness
The journey of the seeker of self-realization must eventually come to a focused gaze upon consciousness itself.
Come with me now, if you wish, on a guided contemplation of the reality of consciousness.
It is important to make very clear before we begin, that none of this discussion will direct or require the seeker to memory, belief systems, or speculation of any kind. For instance, in speaking about consciousness, I mean to direct your attention toward your most basic common-sense, everyday understanding of the term – nothing more specific. Follow my lead and the context of the discussion. For this contemplation to be effective, you must temporarily put aside (to the best of your ability) your knowledge of the World, and any religious, philosophical or metaphysical beliefs. Anything of that kind will only serve as an obstacle here.
Actually, you cannot completely set aside all your beliefs. One of the biggest of those beliefs, I suspect, is the peculiar contemporary speculation that brain generates consciousness. For the purposes of this contemplation, I will address my words to the window presented by this particular idea. Though, for the sincere seeker it will gradually become obvious that this particular speculation is neither useful nor evidenced.
Let us begin.
The question, “What is Real?”, can only be answered within and with reference to the only moment – this instant of consciousness – the eternal Now. The details within the conceptions of mind, the recollections of past experiences, and the imaginations of the creative seeking mind – none of these details are relevant. They are all dead abstractions, mere ideas. The seeker must be interested in what actually Is, never his ideas about it.
The reason for this very particular gaze is as follows.
Life never unfolds beyond the gaze of consciousness – not in any meaningful sense. In this, consider that you never experience life as something other than a conscious subjective experience. Even imagination and memory always occur within this frame.
There is never any kind of ‘not-experience’ (an experience of not-being). If there was, that too would itself constitute an experience.
If you are tempted to raise deep sleep as an example of experiencing a ‘not-experience’, let me stop you here. You may experience an absence of memory – in this instance, the inability to recall anything from deep sleep. Nevertheless, this inability to recall is itself an experience.
Let me make it abundantly clear: you cannot ever experience an absence of experience.
Moreover, whatever happens, it is consciousness that will be first on the scene to ‘meet’ that happenstance. Without consciousness, for all intents and purposes, there would be no scene to be met.
Some seekers may take issue with my last statement. They may take issue with my assertion that without consciousness, there could be no scene. The contention being that if someone else perceives the apparently unconscious body of the seeker, there is a happenstance which is occurring outside the frame of consciousness.
Again, I must stop you there. There are two ways of looking at the aforementioned disagreement.
In the first instance, if something unfortunate happens to the body of the seeker whilst they are temporarily incapacitated, the only knowledge of it that they shall have can only be registered having regained their seemingly absent consciousness. In that case, the happenstance of discovering some unfortunate bodily melady is itself met, first and foremost, by consciousness. If consciousness of that individual were truly unrecoverable, they would know no more about it. Therefore, it ceases to be of any concern to our discussion, because we are interested in understanding the nature of consciousness as it pertains to our most intimate and immediate experience of reality.
You may raise disdain for the aforementioned scenario. In that case, I draw your attention to consciousness. For it is consciousness which will ‘meet’ the disdain.
You may also raise an empathetic argument, with respect to concern for the assumed other who may witness any unfortunate circumstance upon the body of the seeker. Again, I draw your attention to consciousness. The mind of this hypothetical other will itself be witnessed by consciousness. Thus it is consciousness which will ‘meet’ their presumed discomfort. Again, the discussion is drawn toward consciousness.
It also goes without saying that consciousness is akin to the seat of experience. Though, have you ever deeply contemplated the truth of this fact?
Most of us are oriented toward the World. With obvious exceptions, the majority of humans have sight. I would suggest we are a very visually oriented species.
You probably take it for granted that the room and your body exist. Yet, have you ever seen either a room, or a body? Look carefully, and you will realise that the room, the expansive World outside, the body and everything you know, they all exist within consciousness. Do not misunderstand me. I am not making a metaphysical claim. I am simply drawing your attention to the actual reality in which these words appear to you, either by way of sight, sound or even touch.
It is worth considering that consciousness, whatever it is, is the only ‘substance’ that you can directly know. Do not raise your ideas of the World. Even your ideas appear within consciousness. Everything appears within consciousness. Everything is literally ‘made’ of consciousness.
Even the distant celestial bodies – the stars, moon and sun – are always in a very real sense, entirely intimate with you. When this point is clear, let it sink in for a while in silence. Savour it like a cheese, or a wine, or some other delectable food item.
Consciousness is literally the substrate of reality. Any conception to the contrary may perhaps be found eloquently essential within the domain of science and technology. Nevertheless, such a conception must also be found equally useless within the domain of self-realization. For there is nothing more intimate to the self, than consciousness.
This substrate of reality – consciousness – is quite unlike anything else we know. It is literally of an entirely different order to any other object of experience, for it is both the ‘container’ and ‘material’ of all phenomena – of subjectivity itself.
That there is something it is like to feel pain, or pleasure, or to see colours, or hear music, or witness thinking, is profound.
If consciousness has any particular qualities, we ought to find out. Since whatever happens is only known to us within the frame of consciousness, if consciousness has qualities, they must necessarily affect our perception and therefore our ability to face whatever happens. If consciousness has qualities, they must necessarily affect our entire sense of reality.
Think of it like a pair of glasses. If the lenses are tinted, the World too appears tinted. In the same way, if we discover that consciousness itself has some ‘tint’ or characteristic of which we have not been aware, it stands to reason that our perception of reality has been affected. To what extent, we cannot be certain. Though we can be certain it is so.
When was the last time you gave your full attention to an observation of consciousness itself? Few ever do.
Take a look right now, in this instant.
Doing so, there are a variety of observations that may be made. The phenomena are continually changing. Even if the changes are very subtle, the change is unceasing. The mental noticing of these changes (by way of memory), is what you call ‘time’.
Is there anything, any quality to consciousness itself, which would impact the ability for you to ‘meet’ the present moment? Try this particular observation in different situations throughout your life.
Perhaps you consider consciousness to have the quality of variable clarity. This certainly fits the conventional understanding of consciousness. We say, “they lost consciousness”, or, we may say that the consciousness of a drunk person is unclear.
Actually, the situation is not what it may seem at first glance.
Take the hypothetical drunk person as an example. If you have no recollection of an experience with alcohol intoxication, consider the effects of a severe lack of sleep. We shall conduct a thought experiment.
In our experiment, consider the consciousness experience of the hypothetical drunk person. The mind may be dischordant and sluggish to think. The body may loose balance and experience the sensation of vertigo or spinning. The vision may be intermittently blurred or sluggish to adapt to changes in physical orientation within space. The speech may be slurred. Movements may be uncoordinated.
We can (on the basis of our experience of similar circumstances) make certain reliable observations about the experience of our hypothetical drunk person. The most relevant of these, relates to the issue of clarity.
There are two observations we can make about clarity. One, the person perceives and acts with a loss of clarity and co-ordination of both the body and the senses. Two, the conscious experience of the drunk person remains crystal clear with respect to the lack of clarity registered by the senses. This second point is very important to our discussion. Despite all these symptoms of intoxication, consciousness itself remains undistorted. It is precisely the undistorted clarity of consciousness that enables us to recognise the evident lack of clarity within the senses.
At this point, we have made an important discovery about the nature of consciousness.
Consciousness is always crystal clear. When we speak of someone experiencing a loss of clarity within consciousness, we really mean to speak of a disturbance within the senses, as perceived by consciousness.
So. We can never directly experience the absence of consciousness – consciousness is for all practical intents and purposes, ever-present. Consciousness is literally the only thing we directly know – it is the self-aware substrate upon which reality is known. Furthermore, the clarity of consciousness seems unaffected by its contents – the phenomena of experience do not affect the clarity with which the raw phenomena are known.
In other words, the most intimate and profound conception of Self, is everywhere, always present and recognises no limitation.
That which is limited, is the mind, the World and the body. Have you noticed yet, that despite our intellectual intuitions to the contrary, the World (and body) actually appears within the mind? Look down at your limbs. Touch your hands or arms, if you want. Your direct experience is unequivocal. The body appears within the mind. The mind appears within the Self – or the closest we come to knowing it anyway – within consciousness.
That is what you know, directly.
And of that, what is the significance?