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Awareness Aware of Itself
Tom: Hi, James. Glad you’re doing well after the surgery. I think the person who asked about me was Morrie; he sent you greetings from me and Sally. Thanks for the seminar, it is helping a lot, clarity is increasing. Also, thanks for the live shout-out the other day; sorry I couldn’t respond immediately, the computer was busy loading the page and wouldn’t let me type in chat.
James: I am glad you enjoyed the seminar, Tom. Thanks so much for the generous donation. Yes, Morrie speaks highly of you. It seems you are helping him a lot. His understanding is growing by leaps and bounds. I think this seminar was particularly useful for him.
Tom: By the way, regarding Atmananda’s deep-sleep prakriya, it seems to me Panchadasi, Chapter II, verse 44, under subheading “Yoga,” which you covered recently pretty much, nails it in one sentence: “Either you are conscious of things or, in the absence of things, you are aware of awareness.” Deep sleep is “absence of things” therefore in deep sleep, as in nirvikalpa samadhi, only awareness remains, and since objects are absent only awareness is available to be known. Atmananda expands on this topic and offers some additional arguments but basically that seems to be the core idea. According to Atmananda, the only reason we posit ignorance when we look at deep sleep is because ordinarily we look at deep sleep via the viewpoint of duality. Through the dualistic viewpoint it looks like if there are no objects to be aware of then there is nothing there, or ignorance. Furthermore, it seems to me, from the viewpoint of duality, if we don’t remember seeing objects we assume that “I,” the subject, was also absent. In fact it is only lack/ignorance of objects which we are remembering in deep sleep and therefore also the lack of a dualistic subject identity which we usually identify with in the waking/dream state. However, this kind of subject is only present in the presence of objects when the duality of subject-object is operating. We usually do not keep inquiring to check what remains in the absence of all objects and resulting absence of the dualistic subject. What remains is only our self-awareness, and what remains to be known is also only awareness, therefore the essence of deep sleep is simply awareness aware of itself.
On a related note, I was contemplating recently the possibility of “being aware of an absence of objects.” It seems to me that this is in fact not possible to do literally.
Because in order to be aware of an “absence” of “objects” the idea or concept of the objects which are absent must be present in the mind and then the idea of “absent” must be present, both of which are objects. In other words, to even be aware of an absence of something we must silently refer to know/imagine this something in our mind’s eye therefore the something that is “absent” is in fact “present,” if only in the mind. It follows that we can never really be aware of an “absence of objects,” this is only an approximate description of an “experience” which the dualistic mind cannot imagine because it only deals in objects. That means the only real way to truly be aware of an “absence of objects” is in fact to put attention on awareness and be “aware of awareness,” which means no reference to objects at all, not even silently or unconsciously.
This line of thinking seems to support Atmananda’s argument that in truth there is no ignorance in deep sleep, neither of objects nor of the self, for there is no possibility to be aware of an absence of objects in deep sleep because awareness of an absence would imply objects being present, which implies a mind, which is by definition an experience not available in deep sleep. Therefore all that is available in deep sleep is awareness aware of itself. And so we come back to the statement in Panchadasi: “Either you are conscious of things or, in the absence of things, you are aware of awareness.” Of course, on waking up we assume the habitual waking-state dualistic point of view and that is why, as the scriptures say, it is important to get the knowledge in the waking state, in other words, it is important to “awaken” the waking state jiva to its nature, remove its ignorance, for that is the only problem.
What do you think?
James: It depends on the point of view from which we consider the idea of the absence of objects. From the dualistic waking state mind’s point of view your argument is correct. Absence implies presence. “Absent” and “present” are only thoughts in the mind. From awareness’s standpoint there is no absence of objects because there is only awareness. Even if maya is operating and there is a presence of objects they are known by awareness to be awareness only so they are not objects actually, only awareness appearing as objects through the power of maya.
If we consider deep sleep, which is an object to awareness, there is a factor that needs to be considered. The Upanishad says a suksma vritti is present that makes experience possible in deep sleep. The self is not an experiencer so it does not experience bliss as an object. It is bliss, i.e. awareness, itself. The waking jiva has to lose its subtle body to become prajna, the experiencer of the bliss of sleep, the causal body. The subtle body has intellect and memory which makes the ideas of presence and absence possible and the knowledge of duality. But prajna does not have a subtle body so it has no duality, which is just a belief in the subtle body. There is duality, however, because there is experience: prajna experiencing the causal body, the bliss sheath. The bliss is caused by awareness reflecting on the causal body. Prajna, however, is also an object to awareness. Yes, it is the self but the self is not prajna.
Talking about this is difficult because of the limitations of words. Awareness aware of itself is an experienceless experience by an experienceless experiencer, which is to say that the bliss of awareness is not experiential. Awareness is the bliss of knowledge.
It is just the factor that makes experience and objective knowledge possible, insofar as you cannot have maya and therefore experience without awareness. It is the knower of the prajna’s experience of bliss just as it is knower of the waker’s intermittent experiences of bliss and suffering and the knower of taijasa’s expriences.
It does not feel anything as prajna and viswa do. It is a non-experiencing witness.
Atmanda’s statement that there is no ignorance in deep sleep can be considered in this way. Ignorance for whom? Deep sleep is ignorance just as the waking and dream states are ignorance, the effects of maya. Deep sleep is a state in which the self appears as prajna wrapped up in experiential bliss. All three jivas are ignorant of the self in their respective states except those waking state jivas whose self-ignorance has been removed, i.e. jnanis. It is their identification with the state that they experience that makes the jivas ignorant.
~ Much love, James