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Who Is the Perceiver?
Marco: Dear Sundari, I’m Marco, follower of Ram/Vedanta teachings since I met you both in a satsang in Amsterdam 2016.
In this email I would like to share a doubt I hope you would answer me whenever you have the time.
On page 240 of How to Attain Enlightenment, it says that we perceive ourselves whether or not the intellect is present…
This bring me a subtle confusion since, although I know I’m aware and I exist beyond my intellect, isn’t it that my perception is possible only through my intellect?
Does he mean “perception” as becoming aware through the senses or perhaps I misunderstand the use of the word “perception”? For example, although I exist when I’m in deep sleep, I’m not perceiving myself – right?
Always grateful for your/Vedanta teachings!
Sundari: Your misunderstanding is related to who you think the perceiver is, or who the “I” relates to. Is it the jiva, the small-self perceiver, or the Self, that which makes perception possible?
As long as the body is alive and awake, it is perceiving and experiencing something. Perception cannot take place without consciousness and it comes and goes because the body comes and goes – but consciousness does not. Consciousness is always present and unchanging, the knower of the appearance and disappearance of all perception. Therefore we say you are unborn and never die. The mind, which includes the intellect, is a vehicle for the Self to have knowledge of objects, although it knows itself whether or not objects are present to be known. Consciousness is self-knowing.
Perception is governed by the way the mind is conditioned by its vasanas but consciousness is not conditioned by anything. The vasanas will be what colour the jiva’s perception of the world it sees. You are confusing Marco’s perception – how he sees – with consciousness as the perceiver or knower. The small-self perceiver is the Self under the spell of ignorance, also called the experiencing entity, or jiva, seeing objects through the screen of the vasanas. The true perceiver (consciousness) is the non-experiencing witness and that which makes perception possible, the knower of the experiencing witness, Marco, and the knower of all that he perceives through the senses.
How Perception Works
When we look at an object, the subtle body sends out a thought, a beam of light, a ray of consciousness. Consciousness shines on the subtle body and illumines the mind and senses, which in turn illumine the object. However, the thought or ray of consciousness sent from the intellect to the object is inert, meaning it is not itself conscious. You know this to be true because your thoughts do not know you. You know your thoughts. Consciousness is delivered to objects through the mechanical process of reflected consciousness shining or bouncing off a conscious, sentient object – a jiva, or subtle body. Thus experience takes place. If you cannot see a material object, no thought can reach it, so no experience of it is possible. Subtle objects like thoughts and feelings are known in the mind in the same way, by consciousness shining on the mind.
Gross objects require consciousness to be known. Human objects require consciousness and a functioning intellect and sense organs to know anything. They are the means of knowledge for objects only. The mind is also called the eleventh sense instrument because it rules the five knowledge-gathering gross sense instruments in the body (ears, eyes, skin, nose and tongue) and the five subtle sense organs (hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting and touching). The sense organs give rise to the experience of things in the body.
No sense organ perceives an existent object. We only infer the properties of an object (shape, weight, texture, smell, colour, sound, taste) based on perception. This is because we cannot know the actual substance of all objects (consciousness) with the senses. Consciousness is the existence aspect of all objects, not the name and form, because consciousness is beyond name and form. It gives rise to all names and forms. All name and form depend on consciousness to exist, but consciousness depends on nothing.
All perception and inference (which includes hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, smelling) happens in the mind because all experience takes place there. Consciousness is not an object of perception, so cannot be known by these means. It can only be known through Self-knowledge, by analyzing the relationship between the name and form of an object and consciousness, which is what Self-inquiry is fundamentally all about.
When a tree falls in a forest, unless there is an ear present to hear it, there is no sound. Although the falling tree will disturb atoms and cause vibration, acoustic vibration alone is insufficient to produce sound. Sensors are needed (functioning ears) to convert acoustic vibration into electrical impulses. A processor (the central nervous system in a functioning brain behind the ears) processes the impulses – and the intellect makes sense of the sensory information. All sound is a result of perception.
Sight is the same. Light is one form of electromagnetic energy. The light spectrum splits into visible light; we do not “see” light but waves of energy. These electromagnetic waves reach our sensors (the eyes) in the form of photons (the carriers of the electromagnetic force) which get absorbed by special cells that line the retina of the eye. This produces corresponding electro-chemical signals that are sent to the visual cortex where the information is interpreted and then processed as sight. Without an observer with the proper sensory equipment operating in the right portion of the light spectrum, which has the ability to convert the electromagnetic waves to perception, there is no light.
Everything in the apparent reality is based on perception and inference. It is the same with all the other senses. And it is the same with every other object. There is no “real” world “out there” or “in here.” Without an observer, there is no perception. Without consciousness, there are no objects to perceive.
Direct knowledge of yourself as the Self is “what I perceive is there because I see it.” In other words, the world would not be there without me, consciousness.
Indirect knowledge of yourself as the Self is “I perceive what I see because it is there.” In other words, I am identified with my body-mind and take the world to be real and separate from me.
See the very subtle but all-important difference?
The deep-sleep state proves this logic because there must be a perceiver present to know you slept, or else how would you know this when you woke up? Consciousness is the invariable factor – that which is always present and unchanging, and the jiva, the small-self perceiver, is the variable factor because it is not always present (such as in deep sleep or coma) and it is always changing.
Marco: Thanks a lot for your extensive, deep reply. I really appreciated it. The “How Perception Works” excerpt made me clarify my misunderstanding so well. What can be difficult sometimes to me with Vedanta is to understand when scripture (and Ram) speaks either from the point of view of awareness or the jiva.
Sundari: You are welcome, Marco, I am glad that helped. Discriminating the jiva from the Self is the work of Self-inquiry and is the basis of moksa. But it is difficult because it is counter-intuitive, which is why trust in the scripture is so important.
Keep up the good work.
~ Much love, Sundari