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The Nature of Consciousness

RUPERT SPIRA
2017

The Hard Problem of Consciousness
  • Our world culture is founded upon the assumption that reality consists of two essential ingredients: mind and matter. How consciousness is supposedly derived from matter – a question known as the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ – remains a mystery.
  • The materialist paradigm, which has served humanity in ways that do not need to be enumerated here, can no longer accommodate its evolving intelligence.
The Nature of Mind
  • If we do not take experience as the test of reality, belief will be the only alternative. Experience and belief – or ‘the way of truth and the way of opinion’.
  • All that is known is experience, and all that is known of experience is mind.
  • The first imperative of any mind that wishes to know the nature of reality must be to investigate and know the reality of itself.
  • The mind imposes its own limits on everything that it sees or knows, and thus all its knowledge and experience appear as a reflection of its own limitations.
  • Until the mind knows its own essential nature, it cannot be sure that anything it knows or experiences is absolutely true and not simply a reflection of its own limitations. Thus, the knowledge of the ultimate nature of mind through which all knowledge and experience are known must be the foundation of all true knowledge.
  • Thoughts, sensations, perceptions, feelings, images and memories are known or experienced; they do not know or experience. Whatever it is that knows objective experience can never itself be known or experienced objectively. Thus, knowing or being aware is the essential element in all knowledge, the common factor in all experience.
  • The name ‘I’ denotes that knowing essence that is common to all knowledge and experience. Being aware or awareness itself is the knowing in all that is known, the experiencing in all experience.
  • As a first step towards realising the essential, irreducible nature of the mind, we separate out the permanent element of experience from its changing forms. We separate out the experience of being aware from what we are aware of.
  • The mind recognises that there is something in its own experience of itself that always remains the same. Awareness itself does not share the qualities or, therefore, the limitations of any particular experience. It is, as such, unqualified, unconditioned and unlimited.
  • The essential nature of mind does not appear or disappear; it has no beginning or end. It was not born and will not die.
  • The peace that is inherent in us is not dependent on the content of experience, the circumstances, situations or conditions we find ourselves in. It is a peace that is prior to and at the same time present in the fluctuations of the mind.
Only Awareness is Aware
  • It is not possible to legitimately assert the existence of anything prior to awareness or consciousness. Therefore, any honest model of reality must start with awareness. To start anywhere else is to build a model on the shifting sands of belief.
  • Awareness’s knowing of its being is also its ultimate or final knowledge, that is, the knowledge that remains over after every thought, feeling, sensation and perception has vanished.
  • Awareness assumes the form of the finite mind by identifying itself with the body,
  • For awareness, being itself is knowing itself.
  • All objects and selves depend upon and are relative to awareness, but awareness is relative to nothing. All knowledge is relative except awareness’s knowing of its own being. Awareness’s knowledge of itself is the only absolute knowledge there is, and is as such the foundation and fountain of all relative knowledge.
  • Most minds, through which objective reality is known, forget their own limitations and project them instead onto whatever they know or perceive. The mind believes that the time and space it seems to experience are innate qualities of objective reality itself, whereas in fact they are simply reflections of its own limitations.
Panpsychism and the Consciousness-only Model
  • The belief that consciousness is fundamental to the universe, which is known in philosophy as panpsychism, does not in fact solve the problem. It doesn’t address the relationship between consciousness and matter. It is still a subtle form of materialism.
  • The universe is not conscious; consciousness is the universe!
  • Matter is the way consciousness appears to itself when viewed through the prism of a finite mind. The finite mind always knows experience in duality, that is, in subject–object relationship, so the object must appear in a way that is distinct from the subject.
The Inward-facing Path: The Distinction Between Consciousness and Objects
  • In most people the experience of being aware, or awareness itself, is so thoroughly mixed with the content of objective experience – thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions – that it is usually overlooked and, as a result, seems to be missing or at least obscured.
  • Few are aware of being aware.
  • The pre-verbal, pre-egoic condition of an infant is an early stage of development that superficially approaches non-duality. The pre-egoic condition and the post-egoic realisation share qualities of innocence and spontaneity.
  • As an infant grows, the sense of itself as a separate, knowing subject of experience begins to emerge. The result of this natural separation process is the division of pure experiencing into an experiencer and the experienced, a knower and the known.
  • The development of a separate self or ego as an entity is effected by a gradual distinction between the self and all objects and others, a natural process that results in a conventional sense of ourself as a separate individual.
  • In our culture the process of individuation is mistaken for a separate entity.
  • In the Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedanta, the process that distinguishes what we are from what we are not is referred to as neti neti, a Sanskrit term that translates as ‘not this, not this’ or ‘neither this nor that’.
  • In the neti neti process, awareness ceases veiling itself with its own activity and paves the way for the recognition of itself as it is, eternal and infinite.
  • The discovery that awareness is the witness of all objective experience partially liberates it from the limitations of the body. However it still seems to be temporary and finite, the two beliefs that give rise to the fear of death and the sense of lack around which the apparently separate self or finite mind revolves.
The Direct Path to Enlightenment
  • What is important is that experience is either all subjective or all objective.
  • The study of awareness is a unique science in that it is entirely between awareness and itself. In the East it is known as meditation. In its original form meditation is the means by which awareness has access to its knowledge of itself.
  • The Direct Path: awareness goes directly to the knowing of itself without having to direct itself towards any objective practice or experience. In the Direct Path it is recognised that the experience of being aware or awareness itself is the knowing element in all experience, irrespective of the content of experience, and thus no particular experience is a carrier.
  • The self-aware ‘screen’ of consciousness, upon which all experience plays, is equally available to all people in all circumstances, though it will appear differently according to the mind through which it is filtered and the form in which it seems to be modified or coloured.
  • The understanding that everything known by or through the mind is untrue or at least only relatively true will, in many cases, precipitate a crisis.
  • Knowledge is thought, but understanding takes place when thought comes to an end, just as beauty is revealed at the end of a perception. Understanding is thus the end of knowledge.
  • It is the infinite light of pure knowing that precipitates within itself a multiplicity and diversity of finite knowledge and, in so doing, seems to veil the knowing of its own being from itself. This veiling of peace, happiness or love is like a wound which resides in the heart of the apparently separate self, and which continuously tries to alleviate itself through the acquisition of objects, substances, activities, states of mind and relationships.
  • When the mind is relieved of its limitations it ceases to be mind, as such, and stands revealed as the eternal, infinite consciousness that is its essential, irreducible reality. That knowing of our own being as it truly is – consciousness’s knowing of itself in us – is the experience of peace, happiness or love.
Self-enquiry and Self-remembering
  • To know objective experience awareness assumes the form of mind, but to know itself awareness need not assume the form of mind; it need only remain in itself. To know itself as it is, the mind need only relax the focus of its attention from the objects that it seems to know and allow its knowing to fall or flow back into itself. The mind cannot turn around and direct itself towards its own source.
  • Initially the teaching suggests enquiring into its own nature. This investigation does not require the mind to direct itself towards any kind of objective knowledge or experience. It is rather a falling, sinking or relaxing back of the attention, or the focus of the mind’s knowing, into its source. This is not an activity of the mind, although it may seem as such to begin with, but rather the cessation of a previous activity – the activity of overlooking the knowing of its own objectless, self-aware being in favour of objective knowledge and experience.
The Experience of Being Aware
  • Thought believes that awareness has limiting qualities, but those qualities are never actually found in experience.
  • The experience of being aware of being aware may be triggered by the thought ‘Am I aware?’ but it is revealed between this thought and the response.
  • Awareness itself is the ever-present self-aware background upon which all experience appears.
  • Once we have overlooked our unlimited being and, as result, believed and felt ourself to be a temporary, finite awareness, then love, the knowledge of our oneness with all beings, is veiled.
  • Our longing for love comes from the intuition of our shared being. Love is the experience of that oneness of being.
  • The mind can never find, let alone describe, the reality that it seeks, for it is itself the very activity that seems to divide that reality into a multiplicity and diversity of objects and selves, each with its own name and form that can be described in language.
  • All the skilful means prescribed by the religious and spiritual traditions are compassionate concessions to the mind that seeks its own reality, whether that search is felt as the desire for knowledge and understanding, the longing for peace, happiness or love, or devotion to God’s infinite being.
The Essence of Meditation
  • Meditation is not an activity of mind but rather a relaxing, dissolving or sinking of mind into its original, unconditioned, unborn essence. However, mind is not an entity that can relax, dissolve or sink into its essence. Mind is the activity that awareness itself freely assumes in order to manifest and know its infinite potential.
  • Mind is awareness in motion; awareness is mind at rest.
  • For a mind accustomed to directing the light of its knowing towards objects, the suggestion to turn its knowing upon itself will initially seem to require an effort. Only later will it become apparent that the relaxation of a previous effort that had become so habitual that it was no longer noticed as such.
  • The more interested the mind becomes in its own essential nature of pure, objectless awareness, the more deeply it is drawn into it, and in time this interest grows into an intense love.
  • The desire for knowledge and the love of God are realised to be the same quest.
The Outward-Facing Path: Collapsing the Distinction Between Consciousness and Objects
  • The spiritual path can be divided into three steps:
    • The first step: involves the investigation into the essential nature of the ego or separate self through the neti neti process. The witnessing subject of experience is extricated from all objective content and stands alone.
    • The second step: consciousness releases its attention from the objective content of experience and begins to flow backwards or inwards into itself, eventually coming to rest in itself. This is the essence of meditation and prayer.
    • The third step: involves an exploration of objective experience in the light of our new understanding in order to collapse the apparent distinction between consciousness and its objects.
  • These stages of development, from the conventional position of the ego, through the enlightened understanding of our eternal, infinite nature of pure consciousness, to the establishment of this understanding in all realms of our lives, are detailed in all the great spiritual and religious traditions.
The White Radiance of Eternity
  • In our actual experience, the body is an appearance in and of the mind, and all there is to mind is knowing.
  • A world made of matter is an abstraction. It is only from the perspective of awareness’s own self-modification in the form of the finite mind that awareness is temporary and finite.
The Focusing of Consciousness
  • The natural condition of consciousness is to simply be at rest within itself, knowing its own being, but it is also natural for consciousness to move or vibrate within itself. All vibration has a particular amplitude and frequency, and this vibration gives form to the otherwise formless field of pure consciousness.
  • We could define mind as the movement or activity of consciousness.
  • In order to know something finite, such as an object, person or world, infinite consciousness must cease knowing its own unlimited being as it is and assume the form of the finite mind.
  • Consciousness never enters a state but simply vibrates within itself, unfolding itself within itself. The different states are different frequencies and amplitudes of its own activity.
  • For a specific object – a thought, image, feeling, sensation or perception – to come into the field of experience, consciousness must contract within itself, focusing and thus limiting its knowing in the form of attention. As such, attention brings form into existence out of the formless field of infinite consciousness.
  • As awareness relaxes the focus of its attention from the object, other or world, its faculty of knowing gradually sinks back into itself and, in doing so, is progressively relieved of the limitations it assumed in order to take the form of the finite mind.
  • Consciousness enters its own imagination as a separate subject of experience, from whose point of view it knows the world, but in doing so it loses the knowledge of its own eternity and seems, as a result, to become temporary and finite. This is referred to as the Fall in the Christian tradition and ignorance – the ignoring of reality – in the Vedantic tradition.
  • The apparent limitation of consciousness for the sake of manifestation is not a mistake that is imposed on consciousness by some malevolent or ignorant external force, but is freely assumed by consciousness itself so as to bring what lies in potential within itself into apparent manifestation.
  • The world can only be known in duality, in subject–object relationship. Consciousness has to divide itself in two – a subject that knows and an object that is known – in order to manifest creation.
There are No States of Consciousness
  • From the point of view of consciousness, there is no separate, individual self or ego that could transition through any states. Waking, dreaming and deep sleep are temporary modulations of consciousness, which is never itself inherently changed by any of the states it assumes.
  • Ironically, the very mind that would investigate its own nature must itself dissolve, and it is for this reason that there is so much resistance in most people to exploring, let alone facing, the reality of experience.
  • We fall asleep, the clarity and precision of the waking state begin to dissolve. Attention or mind starts to sink back into its source and is progressively relieved of its defining qualities and thus its limitations.
  • Everything exists eternally in infinite consciousness, in a way that is impossible for the mind to understand. It is the gradual focusing of consciousness – the activity known as mind – that brings the previously unfocused and therefore inaccessible content of consciousness into apparent existence.
  • In the dream state consciousness has access to a broader segment of its infinite possibilities than it does in the denser, more clearly defined waking state.
  • Contents from the broader field of mind are continuously making intrusions into the more clearly defined forms of the waking state, often causing disruptions within it. These intrusions may be felt in a positive way as intuition or a deep sense of connection between people, animals and objects, or as disturbing emotions that seem to arise from the depths of our being. A similar relaxation or expansion in the field of mind takes place in meditation, enabling previously ignored or suppressed contents from the broader medium of mind to find their way into our experience.
  • A mind that is accustomed to returning regularly to its essence in meditation becomes increasingly transparent to its light and is, as a result, gradually deconditioned from the residues of separation which have dominated it for many years.
  • Agitation, fear, neurosis and the sense of separation and lack give way to corresponding feelings of peace, joy and connectedness. These feeling of peace, joy and connectedness are simply the inherent qualities of our essential nature filtering into objective experience through the previously murky layers of contraction and separation.
  • The body, being a denser vibration of mind than are our thoughts and feelings, usually takes longer to be permeated by the peace of our true nature, but in time even the body begins to be colonised by the light of consciousness, leading to a profound relaxation and an increase in sensitivity and openness.
Wordsworth and the Lomging for God
  • The early morning, before the forms of the waking state have fully crystallised, and the evening, as their apparent solidity is beginning to dissolve into the fluidity of the dream state, are considered auspicious times for meditation.
  • Maya, as illusion, is the activity of mind through which infinite consciousness brings manifestation out of its own being into apparent existence. It is its own cause. The deeper meaning of the word maya is ‘creativity’, the process by which consciousness manifests itself as an ever-changing flow of experience without ever ceasing to be and know itself alone.
  • From the perspective of a separate self, maya is an illusion; from the perspective of consciousness, it is an expression of its own inherent freedom and creativity.
  • In deep sleep only a thin veil of nothingness obscures awareness’s knowing of its own unlimited being; it is sufficiently transparent to afford the mind a measure of peace or happiness. This dissolution also takes place momentarily on the fulfilment of a desire, when the mind’s activity of seeking comes briefly to an end and, as a result, the mind plunges into its source and briefly tastes the unconditional peace and inherent fulfilment of its true nature. The unwinding of the mind may also be effected in more extreme moments of great fear, sorrow or loss, when the coherence of the mind is temporarily disturbed and it is ‘thrown back’ into its original condition. From this perspective the experience of pleasure, normally the enemy of spiritual realisation in the religious traditions, is considered a taste of pure consciousness.
  • The wandering mind is brought to bear so intimately on the object of perception as to merge with it.
The Shared Medium of Mind
  • The forms or energies of mind that coalesced to form the appearance of a body in one lifetime may remain present in consciousness after the body has disappeared, and there is nothing to suggest that these residues may not coalesce ‘downstream’ and appear in the form of a new body, and thus in another life. This phenomenon gives rise to a theory of reincarnation that is consistent with the consciousness-only model, without making a concession to the idea of a reincarnating entity or self.
  • What was present as thoughts and feelings inside us in the waking state may become our outside environment in the dream state.
  • Time is not validated by memory; memory, in the form of thought, creates the illusion of time. It is the activity of consciousness, in the form of the apparent expansion and contraction of mind, that makes what is eternally present now appear as a succession of events in time.
  • An object is a crystallisation of the broader medium of mind in which it appears, and it is for this reason that the apparently solid object retains and expresses the vibrational qualities of the field out of which it emerges. It is like an imprint from the larger field of mind onto the waking state. Music – sound – is a direct transmission of the field of mind out of which it emerges.
  • A work of art brings into the focus of the waking state, from the broader, shared medium of mind, knowledge that is normally inaccessible to it, and makes it available to humanity. Carl Jung called this shared field of mind the collective unconscious. It is the collective field of consciousness which lies, for the most part, outside the compass of the waking-state mind and makes itself known to the individual mind through dreams, images, intuitions, and so on.
  • The function of an artist is to bring into the field of the waking-state mind knowledge that comes from the broader medium of mind in which it is precipitated but to which, under normal circumstances, it has no immediate access. The result is a work of art that inspires humanity to a life of love, beauty and understanding.
  • The apparent merging of the field of the perceiver with the field of the perceived is the experience known as beauty. It is not a merging of two fields but rather the dissolution of apparent distinctions within the essentially indivisible field of their shared continuum. The experience of beauty is a communication of truth, an intervention of reality into the world of appearances.
  • The longing for freedom, love, peace and happiness that lies in the hearts of all apparently separate selves is only the longing for this dissolution.
  • Contemporary expressions of non-duality mistake the non-dual understanding for solipsism. Solipsism is the belief that only the content of ‘my’ finite mind exists; it is a form of insanity.
  • Experience must be the ultimate test of reality, and therefore the ultimate science must be the science of experience itself.
The Memory of Our Eternity
  • It is not always now; it is eternally now. Eternal does not mean everlasting in time. It means without beginning or end and, therefore, not in time at all. Time is what eternity looks like when refracted through the limitation of thought.
  • Deep sleep does not take place in the time or space that seem to exist from the perspective of the waking and dreaming states.
  • It is consciousness itself that assumes the form of mind in order to bring time out of eternity and space out of infinity.
  • The word ‘infinite’ does not mean extended indefinitely in all directions. Infinite means ‘not finite’, that is, with no finite qualities.
  • There are states of mind, but no states of awareness or consciousness. Awareness is always in the same condition.
Consciousness's Dream
  • Infinite consciousness needs an agency, a mechanism through which it can know or experience a multiplicity and diversity of objects.
  • The reason we all see the same world is due to the fact that each of our finite minds is precipitated within and informed by the same consciousness. It is the sameness of consciousness that gives rise to the apparent sameness of the world.
  • Who or what is it that is aware of my experience? With this question, the knowing which is normally directed away from itself towards the objects of experience – thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions – is directed back towards itself.
The Search for Happiness
  • The body is not something solid made out of matter but a condensation or localisation of and in awareness.
  • Space-like presence of awareness must contract or collapse within itself. This contraction is an activity of awareness, and its maintenance requires energy. The contraction of awareness into a finite mind exerts a tension on itself which is always seeking to be relieved. It is felt as the experience of suffering.
  • To find happiness is the ultimate purpose of human existence.
  • The desire for happiness is the gravitational pull of our true nature on itself when it has lost itself in its own imagination.
  • Awareness only seems to be missing because it is so completely present in all aspects of its creation that it cannot be distinguished from it.
  • By acquiring the limits of the body, consciousness appears to become a fragment, and feels cut off from the whole, incomplete, lacking and alone. This consciousness-in-the-body entity – the ego or separate self – is in a perpetual state of desire, always seeking to relieve the sense of lack, incompletion and loneliness through the acquisition of objects, substances, activities, states of mind and relationships.
  • By seeming to share the destiny of the body, consciousness appears to become a temporary entity, subject to birth, change, ageing and death. It is for this reason that the consciousness-in-the-body entity lives with a deep fear of disappearance and death and is almost perpetually trying to allay this fear through emotional defence and resistance.
Afterword by Bernardo Kastrup
  • We can acquire knowledge through three distinct avenues: empirical observation, rational thought and introspection.
    • Empirical observation consists in the subset of our experiences associated with the five senses.
    • By empirically observing the World we can discern its patterns and regularities during observation.
    • Rational thought enables us to deduce unobserved – and even unobservable – aspects of the World from observed ones.
    • By introspecting, we turn our attention from the World to the knower of the World and the process of knowing. Introspection requires an intimate engagement with the subject of experience, as opposed to its objects.
  • Science rejects subjective experience on the grounds that it is personal and therefore cannot be validated by anyone other than the person having the experience. We tend to conflate what works with what is true – an error easily seen when considering theories that work in practice yet aren’t actually true. Science’s emphasis on empirical observation and rational thought, at the cost of true introspection, is the imbalance in our culture’s approach to knowledge.
  • We cannot logically argue for the validity of logic beyond our minds, so the World might as well be absurd.
  • The fact that these archetypes extend into the World clearly indicates that the World itself is mental and continuous with the Self.
  • Gröblacher and others have shown empirically that the properties of the world do depend on observation. To reconcile their results with materialism would require a tortuous redefinition of what we call ‘objectivity’.
  • Other statistical implications of the posited separation between Self and World12 have also been experimentally tested, empirically demonstrating that the properties of physical systems do not even exist prior to being observed.
  • Kim and others have shown empirically that observation not only determines the physical properties observed at present, but also retroactively changes their history accordingly. This suggests that the past is created at every instant so as to be consistent with the present, which is reminiscent of the notion that the World is a malleable mental narrative.

These notes were taken from Rupert's book.
For more info visit his website at www.rupertspira.com


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