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How Do I Know I Exist as Awareness?
Cervantes: Hi, my name is Cervantes. Thanks for taking the time to read this message.
During the last months I’ve somehow encountered these amazing teachings you and many people are imparting; for that I’m really thankful. I really spend a lot of time concentrating on the subject, and all I do is try to re-educate my mind based on this knowledge. I can really feel the changes in my patterns of behaviour, based on the idea that now I can discriminate which thoughts are not aligned with it, and I can certainly say that I haven’t felt this chain of continuous consciousness since I met this. To be concrete, I can happily say I really understand the model and can see the big picture you are proposing, but there is one idea not fitting and it’s making me feel poisoned.
Sundari: Before I answer your question below, let’s take a look at this paragraph above. Moksa or freedom is being able to discriminate you, awareness, from the objects that appear in you and to never confuse the two again. Anything that you know is not you – i.e. it is an object known to you – so it cannot be you. This includes gross objects like the body and subtle objects like your thoughts and feelings. Objects are not conscious although they would not exist without consciousness because nothing comes from nothing so all objects arise from consciousness. Therefore objects are made up of consciousness and have a dependent existence on consciousness but consciousness depends on nothing to exist, like your reflection in the mirror or your shadow. Both are cast by you and depend on you but you are always free of them.
Consciousness and the objects that arise from it exist in a different order or reality, even though this is a non-dual reality so there is only one awareness. Maya, or ignorance, makes it appear as if this reality is a duality by superimposing duality onto non-duality. This is the hypnosis of ignorance that apparently traps consciousness. We say “apparently” because in reality awareness is always free and cannot be trapped by anything. However, when maya is operating awareness appears as a subtle body and under the spell of ignorance apparently identifies with the subtle body. Awareness then believes that it is the subtle body and consciousness is something to gain! When the mind is purified and qualified exposing it to self-knowledge will destroy the sense of limitation that identification with objects (called bondage) creates, revealing that your true nature is unlimited, whole and complete, actionless, unchanging awareness (or consciousness). This is moksa.
Until such time as you have developed all the qualifications for moksa and self-knowledge removes ignorance, you (awareness under the spell of ignorance) will be identified with objects, i.e. Cervantes and the world. This creates the belief that you are the limited entity that goes by the name of Cervantes and therefore you need to gain something to be whole. But this is impossible because you already are whole, unlimited and complete. Vedanta calls the two orders of reality “real,” defined as “unchanging and always present (sattya),” and the “apparently real,” that which is always changing and not always present (mithya). Although both orders of reality have a common identity as awareness, the real and the apparently real are not the same (think of your shadow or your reflection in the mirror – they are you but they are not the same as you).
If you look carefully at your statement above, ask yourself who is making this statement and asking this question. Who is it that feels poisoned? You say that you (who?) have never felt this continuous stream of consciousness before. But without consciousness you would not know if you are conscious or not so you cannot be more or less conscious, you can only be more or less ignorant of your true nature as consciousness. Nor do you exist in a constant stream of consciousness because you are consciousness itself. Your statement implies that consciousness can be switched on and off or that it follows a certain course which you can be in or out of – but there is only consciousness and nothing exists inside or outside of it. Consciousness seems to take form in objects but in reality consciousness is all-pervasive and formless; it cannot be measured, quantified or contained. Consciousness is you, the non-experiencing witness of Cervantes, the experiencer. You are confusing the real with the apparently real and have not yet discriminated awareness (YOU) from the objects that appear in you. This is a big task and breaking the identification with objects is the hardest thing you will ever do.
Cervantes: So with nothing more to add, here it is: I can’t really see why there is an ever-existing, ever-present, unchangeable awareness (it fits the model perfectly but I would really like to understand the thought leading to that statement).
Sundari: Who is it who can’t see that you are ever-present, unchanging awareness? How would you know that you can’t see awareness if awareness is not there to witness the one who does not know that he can’t see awareness?
Again, let’s look at who is asking this question. There are three jivas. There is the jiva who thinks it is a person. This jiva is often called the doer, or the human being, the one identified with objects. There is the jiva who knows about awareness but it does not know what it means to be awareness. This jiva is often called a self-realized jiva. And finally there is the jiva that knows it IS awareness and what it means to be awareness while apparently manifesting as a jiva or individual. This is the jivanmukta, the self no longer under the spell of ignorance, or the self-actualised jiva.
To answer your question and for you to get to the self-actualised jiva you need to destroy the notion of doership and render the binding vasanas non-binding. In other words, you need to have ignorance removed by self-knowledge. To achieve this you need to expose the mind to the teachings of Vedanta with great dedication and commitment in order that self-knowledge can do the work of removing ignorance because no doing on your part is going to achieve anything. This is because no action taken by a limited being (the jiva, or Cervantes) is going to produce a limitless result, which is what moksa, or freedom, is. Even though self-inquiry seems to be a doing, the fruit of self-inquiry is self-knowledge, which is unlimited.
To understand what it means to say that you are not the doer you need a full understanding of the identity of (1) Isvara, or the Total Mind, (2) the jiva, or apparent individual, and (3) awareness. Without this, moksa will not take place. This is why you are stuck. You do not know who or what the jiva and Isvara is, what makes them different and what makes them the same.
In order to gain this understanding, the most important yoga to practice is karma yoga in order to destroy the sense of doership. Karma yoga is faithfully committing the mind to self-inquiry and dedicating all thoughts, words and actions on a moment-to-moment basis to Isvara with the knowledge that you are not in control of the results. And then to take the results that do come as prasad, a gift. This is not about not performing action or destroying the doer. As a person one cannot not act because action or experience is the nature of the apparent reality. It is about destroying the identification with the doer/experiencer through self-knowledge.
Cervantes: My ignorance just makes me interpret a universe made out of energy – ever-existing, ever-present, indestructible – that may be all it is…
Sundari: Yes, you are right. Ignorance will make you interpret reality according to your vasanas or conditioning, meaning your personal ignorance.
How do you know that you are Cervantes and this world is real? You believe it based on what you think. There is absolutely no evidence that you are a Cervantes nor is there any way for anybody to determine what the word “Cervantes” refers to apart from consciousness and a particular body, which is nothing but meat/matter. It is clear that you are not the body because the body is an object known to you, so that only leaves consciousness. That you are consciousness is self-evident. If you weren’t, the meat tube would be six feet under.
Minus an epiphany, it is true that you need faith in Vedanta’s contention that you are limitless, ever-free awareness. This is a very important qualification; in fact some say faith in the scripture, shreddha, is the most important qualification. And why should you have faith in the scripture? Because it is about you, awareness, and because the scripture is saying that there is nothing wrong with you. You just have a knowledge problem. It should not be hard to believe because the idea that you are Cervantes is purely a belief too. Why should you dismiss one belief in your identity in favour of another? The only reason you persist in the Cervantes-belief is because your desires and fears have generated actions that produce experiences that seem to reinforce the belief that you are Cervantes. You think that what happens to that body-mind is Cervantes’ life. But there is another explanation for that life that is much more convincing.
The belief that you are whole and complete, non-dual, actionless awareness is only a blind belief, like the beliefs in God or Cervantes, without a way to prove that it is a fact. So Vedanta provides a method of discrimination based on the unexamined logic of your own experience that reveals the belief to be a fact. If you practice it properly you will notice your fears and desires dry up and a sense of uncaused happiness gradually arise and you will start to notice that reality confirms the belief in your completeness. As this process unfolds, the belief in being the person will slowly abate. You will see that Cervantes is just an idea that somehow you picked up from outside without hard and fast evidence.
You cannot expect an epiphany to change your identity because no discrete experience is going to change thinking patterns which are as deeply embedded in your consciousness as the idea that you are a specific so-and-so, an experiencing meat tube. So you have to do inquiry, meaning apply the proven teachings of Vedanta over and over again to remove the effects of the ignorance that makes you think you are Cervantes.
Short of a methodology to actualise the statement that you are whole and complete awareness, you are left high and dry. So inquiry based on a proven methodology is necessary and Vedanta is such a method. It is the application of self-knowledge. But before you apply it you need to know what self-knowledge is and what ignorance is. If you think you are a Cervantes and you think that you can figure it out on your own, you will not succeed because you are not a Cervantes, an experiencing entity, and the Cervantes entity is not actually conscious as Cervantes. Cervantes is just a reflection of awareness in the subtle body. To get the knowledge, you need to be taught. Even reading books on Vedanta will not set you free unless you are highly qualified because, assuming they are actually Vedanta and not some guru’s or intellectual’s interpretation of Vedanta– which most of them are – does not work because your ignorance will cause you to interpret the knowledge through the lens of your conditioning, the vasanas.
The short answer to your question is that you have no doubt that you exist, do you? What you call consciousness is just you, your existence. All that is left to determine therefore is the nature of your existence. At present you think that it is limited but Vedanta says that it is limitless and proves it – if you are qualified to understand.
As I said above, you do not understand Isvara, the macrocosmic mind. It is a very difficult teaching because to understand Isvara you need to understand the identity between Isvara and the jiva, which is awareness. Understanding awareness cannot be done with reference to objects. The only means at our disposal to know anything is perception and inference, and both of these tools are too gross to understand awareness. This is because the object cannot know the subject because the subject is subtler than the object. Does your body know you? Does any object know you? Does your shadow or reflection in the mirror know you? No, they do not. Consciousness evolved (in a manner of speaking, because consciousness is not a doer) Vedanta as a means of knowledge to know itself when maya (ignorance) is operating.
The apparent reality, or the dharma field, is brought into creation, or manifestation, when maya is operating and pure awareness apparently assumes the role of Creator, or Isvara. There are three forces in creation that create the dharma field, which are called the gunas: rajas (action/projection, or extroversion), tamas (dense matter/denial, or introversion) and sattva (mind/revelation, or clarity). These three forces govern the creation of everything, including your vasanas, or conditioning. The gunas are also called ignorance, and you are right, they are indestructible because maya, or ignorance, is beginningless even though it is not always manifest because the creation is not always manifest. Ignorance is not endless for the individual, or jiva, though because it can be removed by self-knowledge. However, the gunas, or Isvara, will continue unchanged whether or not you know who you are. When you know who you are, you know that the dharma field is only apparently real and not you, so you are not bothered by it.
You are trigunaatita, free of the gunas, even though they continue to function as they always do in the dharma field.
Cervantes: …and has generated a state of complexity that produced condensed energy (human beings) that could be aware of its own existence as universe, but nothing more than that.
Sundari: The Creator, or Isvara, has generated everything that we see and experience in existence. Isvara is conscious because it is pure awareness plus the gunas wielding maya but the objects (human beings or anything else) are not conscious. Human beings exist and appear conscious because the light of awareness shines on them. But as stated a few times now, it does not take much to realise that if you remove consciousness the body, or the person, is no more.
Cervantes: This is a great predicament because it can align with most of the teachings you impart, but I can’t see how awareness created this universe. How do you go from awareness to maya?…
Sundari: Maya is a very difficult teaching to grasp, and understanding Isvara is where most of the teaching in Vedanta takes place. There is no answer to the question of why maya exists because the mind asking that question is in the apparent reality and subject to ignorance. Even when ignorance is removed there is no other answer other than that maya is a power that exists in awareness or it could not be unlimited. Maya simply means ignorance of the true nature of reality. In order for the creation to manifest, maya (ignorance) has to be there for awareness to appear as a subtle body and to have contact with objects. This is the self under the spell of ignorance. If there was no ignorance Cervantes as an apparent person would not be around to ask this question.
Maya is that which gives rise to karma. The Bhagavad Gita says: “On the subject of karma, even the sages are perplexed.” Maya is that which makes the changeless appear changing therefore action appears to take place. This is why it is said that Isvara is the only doer; in reality there is no actual doer because when one deconstructs (1) action, (2) the jiva and (3) Isvara in the light of self-knowledge you are left with only awareness. Awareness is actionless. When one has non-dual vision one sees action in inaction and inaction in action. This means that nothing ever happens. Can you find what happened a year ago, a month ago – a minute ago? Where are the actions now? They are no more than an idea in the mind – a memory, or a vasana. There is nothing there.
There is no purpose to maya other than for awareness to (apparently) have contact with objects. Here is the key to understanding how you as awareness relate to jiva and Isvara (the individual and the total, the creature and the created). It is a description of maya, beautiful, intelligent ignorance.
Reality, though one, is comprised of three factors: (1) an apparent person, or jiva, the “small self,” or subtle body; it is an experiencing entity, (2) a causal body produced by maya, macrocosmic ignorance; maya is also known as Isvara, the power that creates the dharma field; the dharma field is brought into being by Isvara, pure awareness associated with maya; Isvara is the creator of the experiencing entities and what they experience; Vedanta refers to Isvara as The Unmanifest because it cannot be experienced; it is known by inference, and (3) the knower of both: pure awareness, the self.
Both the jiva and Isvara enjoy the same identity as awareness, and on inquiry dissolve into awareness because they are impermanent. Awareness cannot be dismissed because it is permanent. Permanent and impermanent are not actually good words because they imply duality and seemingly set the experiencers apart from the objects of experience. But we need these words and others like them to set up the discrimination that brings about moksa, freedom. Awareness is always prior to and free of the jiva and Isvara, the subtle and the causal bodies. Therefore there is really only one self or awareness, free of all objects, from which everything arises and into which everything dissolves.
Awareness is the knower of Cervantes, the one who is asking for proof for the existence of awareness.
Here is a verse from the Bhagavad Gita that is the key to moksa, Chapter 15, verse 17:
“Two selves, one perishable and the other imperishable, exist in the world. The conscious beings and matter are perishable, the Unmanifest is imperishable. But other than these is the Self beyond the selves, the limitless, changeless Awareness that has entered the three worlds and sustains them. Therefore I am renowned as the Supreme Being. If you know me in this way you become a knower of everything, the Self of All.”
This means the apparent self, person (Cervantes), or jiva (the self under the spell of ignorance), is not real because it is not always present (think deep sleep or coma) and is always changing. Although it appears to be conscious, the apparent self is not actually conscious; it is modified by maya/ignorance and is perishable because its lifespan in the apparent reality is very brief. Moksa is freedom from the notion of doership, personhood and ownership, notions that are the essence of jivas identified with the subtle body. Identified jivas are also known as human beings, or people. There are two meanings to jiva. One is awareness associated with the subtle body, the self under the spell of ignorance. In this case awareness is governed by Isvara, the Creator, because of identification with objects. But very importantly, the other meaning of jiva is pure consciousness, jivatman. This is what the great saying, or mahavakya, “Tat tvam asi” means. It indicates the identity of jiva and Isvara as paramatma. If it meant that jiva and Isvara, the Creator (jagat karanam), were identical jiva would not be free because Isvara in the role of Creator is not free. Isvara depends on pure awareness to exist. So it has to mean that jiva and paramatma are pure, limitless awareness. The jiva is not actually bound because it is really pure awareness and ignorance can be removed by self-knowledge. Once ignorance of your true nature is removed the apparent person continues to exist in the apparent reality, although as the self no longer under the spell of ignorance (jivanmukta) it is forever free of the notion of that it is limited, inadequate and incomplete. It knows it is nameless, formless, unconditioned awareness.
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. Isvara (awareness in the role of Creator associated with maya) merges back into pure awareness at the end of the creation cycle, so it too is not unchanging and not always manifest.
Isvara is always present in awareness but it is either manifest or unmanifest with reference to awareness. Therefore Isvara associated with maya is not real either although in terms of the apparent person Isvara is relatively real and eternal. In other words, Isvara associated with maya is eternal, or permanent with reference to the jiva and the objects it experiences, but impermanent with reference to awareness. To say that Isvara associated with maya is eternal with reference to the jiva does not mean that it is limitless because ignorance, or maya, only operates on a tiny fraction of awareness and because it is resolved back into awareness at the end of the creation cycle. The words “operates on a tiny fraction of awareness” are also used simply to put maya in perspective as the self has no parts and cannot be quantified.
Maya is eternal because it is a power that exists in awareness and awareness is eternal; this is why maya is said to be beginningless. Personal ignorance (avidya) ends for the jiva when the self is realised to be its true nature, ending its cycle of incarnation and suffering; but maya, or cosmic ignorance, continues unchanged although it is not always manifest because the creation is not always manifest. When ignorance or maya does manifest, Isvara in its capacity as a Creator appears followed by the apparent creation (Isvara srsti), the world of sentient beings and insentient elements (objects).
Isvara as pure awareness prior to maya manifesting is called paramatman. Although paramatman is called eternal and imperishable, it is neither. Eternal and imperishable infer non-eternal and perishable, and since paramatman is non-dual it is neither. It is “isness,” being. It is simply that which gives rise to everything, that which is self-knowing, and when objects are present knows objects. It is prior to and the knower of both the jiva and Isvara. Therefore it has no qualities.
The most subtle aspect of this teaching is the irreducible fact that because consciousness implies unconsciousness it is not, strictly speaking, true to say that awareness is conscious. Awareness is without qualities, it is the non-experiencing witness, and although it gives rise to all objects (who are not conscious) and Isvara (who is conscious), awareness is not conscious. Awareness is that which makes consciousness possible in that consciousness is reflected awareness. Like Isvara, awareness is not a person either; conscious and unconscious objects (Isvara and jiva respectively) arise when maya (ignorance) appears.
This is why the apparent reality is called “apparently” real; it is reflected consciousness. And as stated above, as long as the apparent entity, the jiva, is still embodied in the apparent reality, enlightened or not, it is conditioned by Isvara, the Creator. The jivanmukta, the self freed of apparent ignorance appearing as a human being, is free of the objects created by ignorance. He or she has no problem with Isvara or jiva-hood because both appear as objects.
Awareness under the spell of ignorance is apparently governed. It is all a play of the gunas and although the apparent reality can be experienced, it is not real. It is all a projection, a dream. Isvara is like the projector, the jiva, or apparent reality, is the movie and awareness is the screen on which the movie is being projected. All objects are temporary, seem to act and are always changing; awareness is ever-present, never changes and is actionless.
This does not mean that the gunas cease to exist; Isvara srsti, or the creation, continues as before enlightenment. The gunas no longer condition the jivanmukta, or the self no longer under the spell of ignorance, thus the jivanmukta does not project the person’s creation, or jiva srsti, onto Isvara; the jiva, the gunas and Isvara are objects known to it. However, as the jiva never leaves the apparent reality, it is still subject to the dharma field, or Isvara. Therefore the jivanmukti would naturally follow dharma in every aspect of its existence because in order to remain free of the gunas, or samsara (the notion that reality is a duality), a purified, or sattvic, mind is necessary.
The jivanmukta, who perceives duality, is not affected by it because he or she knows that it is a superimposition onto non-duality and that Isvara, the gunas, is the doer.
To repeat once more: the Isvara-jiva-awareness identity is the essence of Vedanta because it is the key to understanding what it means to be awareness as a jiva living in the apparent reality. Isvara plus jiva and jagat (the world of objects) make up the dharma field. Their common identity is non-dual reality, awareness, out of which all orders of reflected awareness arise. Although all objects share a common identity as awareness they are not the same as pure awareness. However, all the orders and the objects depend on awareness but awareness is always free of the objects. A good analogy is H2O. Water is pure H2O. So are the ocean (Isvara) and the wave (jiva/jagat). But while the wave and the ocean are dependent on the H2O, the H2O is free of both the wave and the ocean. Pure awareness is free of Isvara, jiva and jagat but Isvara-jiva-jagat has a dependent existence on awareness.
The distinction between these three factors in existence is crucial for the jiva’s moksa because it disentangles the jiva from its own psychology and from the objective world. It makes it clear that everything the jiva could claim to be the author of belongs to Isvara and that anything that it claims ownership of also belongs to Isvara. At the same time this teaching makes it clear that the jiva is not under the control of Isvara because Isvara is not real. How can something that is not real actually create or control anything? Furthermore, this teaching separates awareness from both Isvara and jiva, the creator and the created. In so doing this teaching makes it clear that the jiva’s ordinary awareness, which is the essence of its identity, is limitless. The discovery that the self is limitless awareness is moksa, freedom for the jiva.
Get this: the jiva cannot exist unless it is known to exist, and the knowledge of its existence is only possible because it is aware.
This leads to the conclusion that you are awareness. Try as you might, you cannot negate awareness.
An individual, or jiva, that knows that it is limitless awareness is called a jivanmukta, liberated while alive. In reality a jivanmukta is just pure awareness stripped of its identification with Isvara and jiva.
Cervantes: …and why is it that you can infer that?
Sundari: Inference is the act or process of deriving logical conclusions from known facts. Inference is therefore based on perception, which is a valid means of knowledge. The laws of valid inference are studied in the field of logic; there are two types of inference: inductive inference and deductive inference. Inductive reasoning is inherently uncertain. It only deals in degrees to which, given the premises, the conclusion is credible according to some theory of evidence. In other words, interpretation of the facts is at play. For example, the sun is a star; the sun has planets therefore all stars have planets.
A deductive argument is one in which it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. Thus there is no interpretation possible and the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises and inferences. In this way perception based on facts is definitive proof of the truth of the claim. Example: where there is smoke there is fire.
Deductive reasoning can be contrasted with inductive reasoning with regards to validity and soundness. In cases of inductive reasoning, even though the premises are true and the argument is “valid,” it is possible for the conclusion to be false but this is not the case with deductive reasoning.
Vedanta, which is the science of consciousness, is concerned with logic and deductive reasoning, or irreducible facts, i.e. the truth of the conclusion follows from that of the premises.
Cervantes: Hey, man, what you are doing is really fucking perfect and it’s changing my life. But I really need to answer this question in order to move on with the process incorporating more knowledge. It’s like a wall I’ve encountered.
Thank you… or maybe thank self, but hey, gimme some help. ☺
Sundari: Yes, indeed, understanding the teaching on Isvara/jiva is the wall everyone comes up against who wants freedom more than anything else. I have attached a more detailed article that James and I wrote on the topic of awareness, Isvara, jiva and the gunas. Let me know if this helps.
~ Om and prem, Sundari