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Awareness, in depth

What is the nature of awareness? Does it differ from consciousness and mindfulness? Who or what is doing the knowing of what appears? This week, Ron guided our reflections, drawing on a talk by Guy Armstrong addressing these critical questions.

The key topic was the nature of Consciousness, as defined by the Buddha in the context of the list known as the Five Aggregates:

  • Form (rūpa)
  • Feeling tone (vedanā)
  • Perceptions (saṃjñā)
  • Mental formations (saṅkhāra)
  • Consciousness (vijñāna)

You can listen to Guy’s talk here: https://dharmaseed.org/talks/12023/

The talk examined the difficult-to-explain nature of Consciousness and its dual nature of being both always present, but also only arising with a sense object and passing away with that object. Guy used several analogies to help make this point.

Firstly he pointed to his bell, asking the question, “is it round or is it gold?”. These are two aspects of the same thing, so they both are true. He then quoted another teacher asking the question, “can you see your own eyes?”. We can see others’ eyes, and we can see a reflection of our eyes, but we cannot see our own eyes; yet we know they are there because of seeing.

Finally, he gave the analogy of standing on the edge of the solar system staring out into the blackness of space with our Sun behind us; in this place there is constant light, and yet we see nothing until a meteor or other object passes through our field of vision, at which point the ever-present sunlight becomes apparent because we see the object with that light’s reflection.

Consciousness is like this; always shining but also arising and passing away with objects. Like the vastness of space, its nature is one of emptiness. It contains any experience, but has no qualities of its own except for knowing.

The suggested practice was then to turn our attention inward and to try to become aware of the knowing itself.