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The Nature of the Knower
Tim: Hi, Sundari, I would like to revisit the confusion I have regarding the nature of the knower of the objects of the mind/intellect, and how it knows them.
I did not explain my conundrum very well during our Skype chat, so I wanted to write it down.
The confusion can be summarised in the following question: Is it reflected awareness or pure awareness that knows the objects of the mind/intellect?
These are the only two options, so it has to be one of them.
It cannot be reflected awareness because it does not know, nor can it know, anything. I am clear on that point. That means it must be pure awareness.
But Vedanta says that pure awareness does not and cannot know objects. It can only know itself. Yet the mind/intellect, and the objects of the mind/intellect, are both objects, so we have, or at least I think we have, an apparent contradiction here.
Sundari: No contradiction, just satya-mithya confusion. Vedanta does not say that awareness cannot know objects – how would we know anything if we are not aware? Vedanta says that awareness is not an object of knowledge, in other words, it cannot be known by reflected awareness because it is that which makes reflected awareness (knowing) possible. Just like your reflection in the mirror arises from you but does not know you and is dependent on you to exist – but you are always free of the reflection.
The self is the witness, pure awareness, sakshi (the imperishable); it does not know or not know. It is IS-NESS, existence (sat), consciousness (chit), limitless bliss (ananda).
When maya is operating, consciousness apparently surrenders its status as consciousness, becoming a conscious creator – Isvara. Consciousness does not become “conscious” until maya appears because it does not need objects to be conscious. It is purely a witness that witnesses itself irrespective of the presence or absence of objects.
When maya appears, the objects appear so there is something for awareness to be conscious of, i.e. the creation. Isvara in the role of Creator needs instruments of knowledge (the subtle body) and objects of knowledge (the world, gross and subtle matter). The knower – Isvara – the instruments and the objects are all mithya. The self – sattya – is the witness of both.
From “pure” consciousness/awareness’ point of view, Isvara is just maya, an inert mirror (pratibimba) in which all created objects appear. But from jiva’s point of view, Isvara is the intelligent designer, creator, supporter and destroyer of the creation – the macrocosmic knower. As always, the answer to all questions is a response to the point of view from which you are asking the question: From the point of view of reflected consciousness, or from pure consciousness?
Tim: If pure awareness can only know itself, it can never be possible for it to know any objects. I know I am wrong because my experience (apparently) proves that awareness does know the objects of the mind/intellect. So I am definitely misinterpreting that teaching.
Sundari: If you continue the logic that you cannot be what you know, then it would follow that “awareness cannot know itself” is true from a dualistic point of view because you have a subject and an object. In duality, it is impossible to be what you see. But this only applies to the mind still under the spell of ignorance/duality, it does not apply to awareness because awareness is non-dual and therefore IS what it sees. “Sees” means “knows.”
To repeat: awareness or consciousness is not an object so it cannot be known by an object because an object is not conscious. Awareness is that which knows all objects, the “transparent” or non-experiencing witness. Awareness does not need anything to know itself because it is self-knowing. It is always a witness. But awareness is a witness only with reference to whatever is seen. By itself it sees only pure consciousness. It is self- illuminating and there is nothing but itself. Not that consciousness is a seer/knower in the way the jiva understands seeing/knowing. The person is the lens through which consciousness apparently sees objects. 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/knower; but it never actually is a seer/knower, unless seeing/knowing refers to its own self. When ignorance is operating the jiva thinks that the seer/knower is different from the seen/known; in other words, that the subject and object are different. They are not different, although they exist in different orders of reality. All objects are apparently real, meaning not always present and always changing. Awareness is that which is real, that which is always present and never-changing.
Tim: Is it just a matter of saying that knowledge is the union of awareness and objects in maya, and that the impossible (apparently) happens in maya?
Sundari: Yes, correct. When maya is operating, sattva, tamas and rajas arise (ignorance), and awareness apparently becomes a subtle body or person deluded by maya and conditioned by the gunas – i.e. the self under the spell of ignorance.
Tim: I know this issue is directly addressed in the “location of objects” teaching. But my knowledge on this issue has always been a weakness and I’ve never been able to solidify my understanding here. Despite this gap in my knowledge, I do know that the knower is present 24/7, so I have still been able to discriminate between it and the five sheaths and three states quite effectively. I just don’t know the exact nature of the knower with respect to how it knows the objects of the mind/intellect.
Sundari: There is only one awareness and one knower, and its nature is consciousness. Isvara is a name that refers to pure awareness “minus” objects, and Isvara also means awareness “plus” objects: sattya and mithya, the two orders of reality that are in truth one but not the same.
Ask yourself this: Do you need anything (instruments) outside of yourself to know yourself, that you are conscious and you exist? Your consciousness and your existence are one and the same so you do not require anything to know yourself – just like you know you are seeing even though you cannot see your eyes.
You are doing just great and this is an important inquiry. It is the tough one, Tim, and why we emphasize the understanding of the jiva-Isvara-awareness identity teaching.
Tim: Any guidance would be deeply appreciated as always. All my love and gratitude to you both.
Sundari: Always a pleasure and I hope this helps!
~ Much love, Sundari