Search & Read
Discrimination of Objects from Awareness
Questioner: Would it be true to say that a pen in a hand is really just me? When I know the contents of this pen to actually be me, there still seems to be a name and a form. Is this name and form me as well or should I negate it? It was my understanding that duality does not stop appearing once the self is known to be my nature. Is this discrimination?
Sundari: Yes, this is discriminating the objects that appear in you – awareness – fromyou. You are formless, nameless awareness, and the pen (name and form) is you, but you are not the pen. It is called the “location of objects” teaching, and it is one of the foundational teachings in Vedanta, taught in detail in James’ books. In brief: all objects dissolve into me, awareness, because they are only ever experienced in the mind – and nowhere else. Duality makes an object appear to be separate from and other than me, but nonetheless, every object is a thought appearing in the mind. You verify this by investigating any object. You see that every object is made out of thought and thought is made out of energy and energy is made out of awareness and is non-separate from you, awareness.
Reality is non-dual consciousness, you, and there are no differences in it. The differences we see belong to the uphadis (limiting adjuncts that make something look other than what it is) of different objects, not to consciousness. As stated above, it is a matter of experience that existence is independent of objects because there is only one existence, or consciousness, neither existence or consciousness is specific to the object.
You could ask: “How can every object be made out of thought?” The answer is in understanding the relationship between (1) pure awareness, (2) pure awareness in its role as Creator – Isvara, (3) the jiva and (4) jagat, the world. We always start from the fact that everything is awareness/consciousness. So everything associated with Isvara and jiva is consciousness. But Isvara does not see the creation the same way jiva sees it. As I said above, Isvara only ever sees creation as itself in the form of knowledge, either in form, as in gross material objects, or formless, as in subtle objects (thoughts/feelings). Isvara creates in such a way that to jiva under the spell of ignorance, everything seems as if it is not me – meaning, it seems “other than” me, consciousness, because I take myself to be a body-mind. Owing to the power of maya this knowledge (the programs that create gross and subtle matter that make individual living beings possible) evolves from the subtle (mind) to the gross (physical matter).
Under the spell of maya, when jiva (awareness ignorant of its nature as awareness/consciousness) identifies with the body, the material world seems to be solid and substantial, “out there,” standing alone. It is not “out there” and it does not stand alone – unless you assume that you are the body, then the objects are out there – for you.
When you analyze perception, i.e. experience, you see the truth of the statement that all material objects and the sensations invoked by them are in fact made up of thoughts, i.e. knowledge of the objects. You see a tree, and you know a tree. You never jump out of your body and experience the tree. The tree appears in you. You never jump out of yourself, consciousness, and experience your body either. It appears as an object, like a tree, in you, because it is in the same order of reality as the tree. It is gross matter, mithya. So what is the experience/knowledge actually made of? Does it float in from some outside source, some parallel universe, and present itself to you? It does not. It arises in you. It is created by Isvara/maya out of you, consciousness, yourself. We can leave the individual jiva out of it. There is just you, awareness, and the objects appearing in you.
You can also arrive at the same conclusion by an analysis of the objects themselves. It should be easy to see that thoughts are made of awareness. It is not so easy to see the physical objects are made of awareness, but if we investigate matter scientifically, it breaks down into particles and space and the knower of particles and space, i.e. you, awareness. Material science cannot make the obvious connection of matter and awareness, because it relies on perception and inference as a means of knowledge. It does not realise that perception is an object known to consciousness in the form of the scientist and that perception is consciousness. Maya makes it seem as if consciousness is an object, when it is actually the subject.
Maya also makes the individual maya think that it is a unique entity, separate from all other entities and objects. But jiva is not what it seems either. Jiva is really awareness – appearing as matter. So the relationship between the three seemingly separate factors jiva/jagat, Isvara/maya (which creates the material world out of awareness) and pure consciousness – you – needs to be understood.
Think about it. If you look at the creation, where does it exist? Have you ever actually seen a creation? No. You have only experienced the objects that appear to you at any moment and these objects are not separate from the thoughts that make them up. Creation is only an idea, a thought. When that thought appears in you, the mind imagines the totality of objects by inference, but those objects are never directly experienced. All that is directly experienced is you, awareness, and objects. The only issue left to resolve is whether or not awareness/consciousness or matter is primary. Which came first? When we use the world “first” we mean: Which stands alone? Does matter exist prior to consciousness so that we can still have matter without consciousness? No. You cannot separate an object from the consciousness of the object. In other words, objects are not conscious. They do not know themselves or other objects. Consciousness is not conscious in the way we understand what it means to be conscious. Isvara associated with maya is conscious (although it is not a jiva, or person) and is not modified by ignorance/maya (the gunas). Isvara is conscious because with the appearance of maya there is something for awareness to be to be conscious of, i.e. objects. Consciousness is “prior” to matter in the sense that matter depends on consciousness. Consciousness stands alone. It is the first “principle” out of which everything arises.
Finally, you cannot get something out of nothing. So if matter depends on consciousness, it has to come from consciousness. The effect (matter) is just an apparent transformation of the cause, awareness. It is not an actual transformation, because if it were, consciousness would have lost its limitless nature when it transformed into matter. It would have become limited, bound by time and space. That matter (subtle and gross objects) arise in you, awareness, which, if you think about it, is actually your (unexamined) experience.
The logical approach to non-duality as a means to explain the creation, while useful, breaks down (from the jiva perspective) when it comes to the analysis of the cause of the universe. Deductive reasoning will only get you so far because the only means of knowledge available for it are the senses (perception and inference), which, without self-knowledge, are mithya and are stuck in mithya. Non-duality, consciousness, is not an object of knowledge and cannot be known by the means at our disposal. It is far too subtle and can only be known through a valid means of knowledge for awareness, which is Vedanta, which is capable of removing the ignorance standing in the way of understanding.
The difficulty modern science has in understanding the origin of the universe is a good example of this. It can reason up to the point where it understands that there must be a moment when the creation began – but it cannot tell us what happened at the point of creation or before it began. Quantum physics, the most advanced theory in physics to date, cannot go beyond the Big Bang. The reason for this is that non-duality – or a singularity, which is what science calls non-duality – is a state (it’s not a state, but I use the term here advisedly) from which there is no information from which to reason. If it’s non-dual, there are no objects. Science will be stuck at this point until it understands what consciousness is – which it won’t, unless self-knowledge removes ignorance for the scientist.
Many people ask: if objects are not aware, how can they BE awareness? Maya creates matter out of consciousness – subtle and gross bodies. The subtle body is born of sattva and is capable of reflecting the light of awareness – which illumines the gross objects through the senses. It is given the power to know and experience by awareness, so it seems sentient, but actually it is not.
The gross body is born of tamas, the five elements, the existence or substance “aspect” of consciousness (consciousness has no aspects, but we use the term here to explain a point). Gross objects have no ability to reflect the light of awareness, because tamas absorbs light, and so they do not reveal themselves as awareness. Maya makes awareness seem like it is both sentient, as in the subtle body, and inert, like the gross body. But it is neither. It is the knower of both. Consciousness only becomes conscious (as we define the term) when there is something for it to be conscious of – i.e. matter, or the creation – in other words, when maya appears.
Although all objects are you – awareness – you are not the objects, because no object is aware. Awareness IS what it sees. Sees means “knows.” Awareness, the subject, is not an object, so it cannot be known by an object, because an object is not conscious. Think of the spider’s web: although it originates from the spider and is made up of the spider, it does not know the spider, because the web is not conscious.
Awareness is that which knows all objects; it is the “transparent,” or non-experiencing, witness. Awareness does not need anything to know itself, because it is self-knowing; we say awareness is self-illuminating. It is always a witness. But awareness is a witness only with reference to whatever is seen. Remember that non-dual means just that: the self is a seer that never began or ceases and is the “all-seeing eye,” or “I” that sees only itself because that is all there is to see. Not that awareness is a seer in the way the jiva (person) understands seeing. The person (subtle body) is the lens through which awareness apparently looks at objects, but seeing as all objects are reflected awareness, and thus have a dependent existence on awareness, there are no objects for awareness to see. Even the experience of awareness in a purified mind is an object known to awareness.
It would be more appropriate to say that the self, seeing only itself, is that which knows the seer with reference to the seen only when maya is operating. The self-aware self appears as a seer; but it never actually is a seer, unless seeing refers to its own self. From the perspective of duality or the person who is identified with being a person, i.e. when ignorance is operating, the jiva thinks that the seer is different from the seen. In other words, that the subject and object are different. They are not different, although they exist in different orders of reality: awareness, that which is real, and reflected awareness, that which is apparently real.
Understanding maya is the key, and it is probably the most difficult concept to assimilate because it seems so contradictory. Many inquirers get stuck with this question, insisting there has to be a more satisfactory answer to the “why.” There isn’t one in the apparent reality. It is impossible to understand this, because the one asking the question is in maya – duality. Understanding only takes place when you can step out of maya when non-dual vision is firm and has removed the illusion of duality. Then there is no need for an answer to “why,” not that duality (ignorance) disappears when you know what it is; the mind is just not deluded by it anymore. Ignorance is only a problem when you take it to be real – i.e. to be knowledge. As I said in my last email to you, there are apparent contradictions in the teachings, which are not real contradictions, and dissolve in the logic of the teachings. However, they are not easy to understand, which is why you need a teacher.
Maya is a power that exists in awareness or it could not be unlimited. Maya is also eternal because awareness is eternal, which is why maya is said to be beginningless – but NOT endless, because self-knowledge can remove it. Although its appearance gives rise to the apparent reality, maya is neither real nor unreal. Maya creates the categories of real and unreal. Without maya, there is no creation, no jiva and no Isvara in the role of Creator. Personal or microcosmic ignorance (avidya) ends for the jiva when the self is realised to be its true nature, ending its cycle of incarnation and suffering; but macrocosmic maya, or macrocosmic ignorance, continues unchanged, although it is not always manifest, because the creation is not always manifest.
When ignorance, or maya, manifest, Isvara in its capacity as Creator appears, followed by the apparent creation (Isvara srsti), the world of sentient beings and insentient elements. Isvara creates, sustains and destroys the whole universe. The world we see with our senses and the senses with which we see it is all Isvara’s creation. The subjective reality of the jiva is its own creation, called jiva srsti, or pratibasika. When the mind of the jiva is controlled by maya and deluded into the belief that duality is real, it suffers.
Questioner: Can you go wrong with discrimination?
Sundari: No, if your discrimination is solidly based in self-knowledge; and yes, of course you can, if it is not. Discrimination can be used in the service of ignorance – which is hardwired and very tenacious. Assimilating self-knowledge is the subtlest and most difficult thing the mind will ever do – and it is never its own doing. Only self-knowledge removes ignorance with constant and dedicated self-inquiry into the true nature of reality with a valid means of knowledge. Once self-knowledge is hard and fast, discrimination never fails because you always know the difference between what is real (you, satya) and the objects that appear in you, that which is apparently real, (mithya). The most important prakriya, or teaching, for moksa is karma yoga.
Questioner: The self can’t be negated, so there can be no errors.
Sundari: Yes. Self-knowledge, unlike object-knowledge, is always true because it is true to the self, meaning it cannot be dismissed or negated by any other knowledge. Self-knowledge is different from knowledge of objects, which is object-based, not subject-based. Knowledge of objects is not knowledge unless it is true to the object. If it is “my” knowledge, then it is my subjective interpretation of an object (pratibasika), which is not necessarily knowledge. Ignorance (or my point of view) causes me to see or experience objects in a certain way because of “my” conditioning. People believe that ignorance is knowledge because they believe that what they experience is knowledge. It may be knowledge, but it may not be.
For anything to qualify as true knowledge, it has to possess three non-negotiable qualities:
1. Exists in all periods of time – past, present and future.
2. Exists in all three states – waking, dreaming and deep sleep.
3. It cannot be negated and is not subject to verification.
Only consciousness qualifies in all three categories.
Questioner: If I continue to discriminate the name and form, and time and place, of this pen from me, the self, will it just become less apparent or does the self actually stop appearing as the many?
Sundari: No. Name, form, time and place do not become “less apparent” upon discrimination and investigation of the true nature of reality. They are known to be mithya, only apparently real – meaning not always present and always changing. The self “appearing as the many” (i.e. objects) still has an apparent existence when ignorance, or duality, is removed from the mind, and you know that the objects are not real. It is like the mirage still appears when you know it is a mirage, which is called “conditional superimposition.” The name and form of the pen is mithya, and the knower of the name and form is me, consciousness (satya).
Questioner: You say there is nothing other than me, the self. Is it the force of maya that apparently divides consciousness into two orders of reality, that which never changes and that which changes? Is this the dream within a dream?
Sundari: Nothing divides consciousness, because it is a partless, indivisible whole. Maya makes reality appear to be a divided – a duality, explained above. Duality is a superimposition onto non-duality. It is not real – a dream within a dream, as you say.
Questioner: The reflection is an object as well, but still just as unreal as all other objects?
Sundari: Yes. Everything reflects light, but a mirror reflects light clearly, as it is. The clearer the mind (reflective surface), the more distinct are the objects in it. Even though all objects arise in awareness, it is not as easy to see some objects as awareness, because they are obscured by tamas. The point is, if the mirror (mind, or reflective surface) is clear, the self as the object reflected in the mirror can be precisely known as an object of knowledge/experience. In non-dual reality, experience and knowledge are the same. There is no obscuration in a clear mirror. However, the reflection is still only a reflection of the self. It is not the self and it is not conscious.