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I Am the Sun and the Solar Flare
Doug: Dear James, it may seem like nitpicking but in my enquiry I seem to be getting trapped in a circular argument which may have something to do with the persistent confusion between the language of experience and the language of knowledge.
In questions like “Who knows that Doug slept?,” “Who knows Doug had a dream?,” the answer is often given in the form “You, awareness, know that.” But then somewhere else it is stated that awareness is not a knower. So there seems to be a contradiction. In my understanding, the one who knows that Doug slept or dreamed can only be the subtle body (as the intellect). So if the subtle body isn’t available during sleep, and awareness can’t be the knower, how is it known that Doug slept or dreamt? Where is the dream registered, and how? It appears in the memory when the body awakens, but how does it get there?
James: It is known by inference once you wake up. I think the problem is there because you are not clear about the nature of the witness, the knower. The subtle body is the experiencing knower and awareness is the non-experiencing knower. It is not a knower with reference to objects but it is a knower with reference to itself. If maya is operating it becomes a knower but it is not affected by what it knows whereas the experiencing witness – Doug, the subtle body – is affected. This doubt is a case in point.
Doug: If awareness is not a knower, even the knowledge “I am awareness” is not known by awareness. It is known by the subtle body. And the statement “I am awareness” is also made by the subtle body, since awareness can’t make statements. You could say that awareness doesn’t know that it’s awareness.
James: Yes. It doesn’t mean anything for it to say “I am awareness” because it implies something other than awareness. However, from its perspective there is nothing other than it, so it won’t be saying “I am awareness,” except as it identifies with the subtle body of a jnani or someone practicing knowledge.
Doug: Having said all that, I do know that I am awareness since, for example, awareness is all there is. It makes no sense to say there is anything outside of awareness or other than awareness, so I must be it since I can’t be other than it. But if the above logic is correct, the thought “I am not the body, I am not the mind, I am awareness” is only a thought in the subtle body and tells me nothing about my being awareness or about awareness itself. I suspect that this is something to do with the akandakara vritti.
James: Your thinking is correct. The “I am not…” idea is only a provisional concept useful for awareness when it realizes that it is caught up in the apparent reality – when it thinks it is a jiva. Once the sheaths have been negated, the “I am not…” idea dissolves. You can establish yourself as awareness by logic or by direct experience – how do you account for awareness if you are something other than it?
Doug: I notice that in your previous email you wrote, “You [meaning awareness?] are the one that observes the thought,” and while I realise what that means and find it useful, is it true that I, awareness, can observe a thought?
James: Yes, when maya is operating. Maya generates thoughts that appear in awareness. Outside of maya it is not true. Awareness is only aware of awareness. Remember maya does not cover awareness. It is only a flyspeck in awareness.
Doug: Following the reasoning above, it seems that having read your statement, my (Doug’s) subtle body then had the thought that “I (awareness) am observing a thought in Doug’s subtle body.”
James: Yes, but how is the thought that “I (awarenesss) am observing a thought in Doug’s subtle body” known? It is not known by the thought. It is known by you, awareness, as it appears in the subtle body.
Doug: This is extremely difficult to convey in writing, and having written it I think, “Does this make any sense at all or am I showing my ignorance?” But anyway, it won’t go away, whatever it is, so I’m going to risk sending it and getting shot down in flames!
James: No flames, Doug. Just some simple logic. Let me know if my explanation makes sense.
Doug: I’ve just been reading your article What is Advaita Vedanta? in which you state, from the point of view of awareness, “What I experience is me but I am not what I experience.” This is an example of the question I was asking in my previous email. I’m not trying to put you on the spot or anything, I’m genuinely confused about this. “I am not what I experience” seems to imply that I, awareness, am an experiencer. Is that the case?
James: Yes and no. It is a non-experiencing witness. Doug, the subtle body, is an experiencing witness (see above).
Doug: Incidentally, I think there is an error in the article, on p. 23 (Section 3, Enlightenment). It reads “The ego/mind, the subject, meditating on the self, the object, becomes the subject and the subject, formerly the object, becomes the subject.”
Should it not read “The ego/mind, the subject, meditating on the self, the object, becomes the object, and what was formerly the object, the self, becomes the subject”?
James: Yes. Looked at in context the reader knows that the self is a subject with reference to objects so we can let it stand although your formulation is correct also. The point is that one’s identity shifts from the subtle body to Awareness when the knowledge is firm.
Doug: Further thoughts: I’m trying to convey what happens in meditation where I, awareness, shine and at the same time Doug’s subtle body knows this and puts words to it. It’s a bit like consciously putting words to a dream and remembering it while the dream is happening. Sometimes there’s just the dream, and sometimes there’s the dream and the recording of it.
James: Very astute observation, Doug.
Doug: Is it that thoughts about myself, awareness, are taking place in Doug’s subtle body?
Doug: As if I, the self, were “using” that apparatus to think about myself, to know about myself, to speak about myself. I am felt in the subtle body as “bliss”?
Doug: The subtle body becomes fascinated by this process. But at the same time the subtle body is an object to me, awareness. The subtle body tries to give words to this unknowable subject that I am, awareness, so it’s as if the subtle body speaks as awareness.
Doug: As if the moon became aware of the light of the sun shining on it and tried to talk about the sun (which it can’t see) while enjoying its light and warmth. But then the focus shifts and the sun simply shines on the moon while the moon may or may not continue finding words for how it senses this immense, radiating energy. So the subtle body is aware of itself as an object bathed in the light of that unknowable subject while at the same time I, awareness, the subject, simply shine.
I am subject and object simultaneously. It’s as if I, wordless, unknowing awareness, am given words and known by the subtle body. The sun shines and the solar flare knows itself to be the sun. I am the sun and the solar flare.
James: The subtle body is apparently aware of itself as an object. But yes, indeed. Great thinking, beautifully expressed.
Doug: I’ll send a copy of this to Tan. I hope this duplication is okay by you, as I’m not quite sure what the protocol is.
James: Send it on, by all means.
~ Love, James