Monday, February 3, 2014

Is Consciousness the Essence of the Self?

Empty Form
* Is Consciousness the Essence of the Self? (You wouldn't want to be a Jellyfish instead ya?)

There is a common Buddhist deconstruction that helps to explain causes and conditions and in turn, the doctrine of emptiness (without an inherent nature).

It is said a car is made up of different parts and the composite of these parts is mistakenly and "artificially" being identified and labelled as one distinct entity known as a 'car'. There is actually no car-ness in the parts and hence no inherent nature in the car.

Buddhism tries to make us understand this lack of inherent nature and hope that we will not cling to any form of identity, both externally and internally.

Yet we can't help but to cling on to this identity of the self. Why so? And where is this self located?

While we may say that some people do identify themselves psychologically to external objects, most people will identify themselves as the body-mind.

It's interesting to ask why did we intuitively limit our identity to the boundaries of our skin? Why didn't we think that the chair that we are sitting on is part of me?

With today's technology, we begin to understand that we can still be alive and conscious without a finger, or an arm, or even the heart. Despite, the physical lack, we still are aware and conscious, and we identify this consciousness and self-awareness (correction from : with inherent nature) *as the essence* of my being.

It is now clear with technology that the physical "part" of my consciousness resides in the brain (try scopping some of them out and see what happens to you) and that is the only part I need to be deemed 'alive' - essentially defined as being aware and conscious.

So my question is, can we say that our consciousness is the (correction from :'inherent nature') *essence* of our being, as we so intuitively concluded?

And if so, although the engine is not the car, can't we say that the brain (and its consciousness functioning) to be the essence of me?

Despite knowing that this consciousness to be lack of inherent existence, why do we hold this consciousness so dear to us? As dear as our life if I may say.

I mean, you wouldn't rather be a jellyfish or a stone ya? And you wouldn't want to fall off a cliff or worse still, have a consciousness-debilitating disease like Alzheimer ya?

What's up with this consciousness and the sense of self? How should you look at it, now knowing of its emptiness? What's the takeaway?
Like · · February 1 at 3:44am · Edited

    2 people like this.
    Mr. J.C. The reason I don't believe a chair is me is because the feedback loop between perception and action is weak with a chair. However, when I ride a snowboard or drive a car the device does become a part of me, including my proprioceptive system which allows me to tell when I (car) might hit something or something might hit me (car).
    February 1 at 4:35am · Like · 1
    Mr. J.C. On the inherency of consciousness, this is why it is important to contemplate the Bahiya Sutta. You will find that no consciousness can be found separate from the luminosity of phenomena.
    February 1 at 4:36am · Like · 1
    Albert Hong The problem is that the image of ourselves as consciousness is an image. A ghost in the machine so to speak.

    And really the whole set up of samsara
    February 1 at 4:55am · Like
    Jackson Peterson Completely wrong concepts! Consciousness IS or Pure Awareness is what knows. That knowing aspect of consciousness is completely independent of conditioning and change. It is fully realized by a Buddha as the Mind of Nirvana. The secondary identity consciousness of the fifth skandha IS the ghost in the machine, but even then, the essential empty nature of that consciousness is Pure Nirvanic Knowing Awareness.
    February 1 at 6:28am · Like · 2
    Tommy McNally I recall at one point, as you say, “intuitively concluding” that consciousness was the inherent nature of being and that this was all brain-based, but then two things happened:

    1. The “’inherent nature’ of our being” was deconstructed further. Based on this, it makes no sense to me to suggest that consciousness is inherent, underlying, special or somehow different to experience itself.
    2. I got interested in quantum physics and the philosophical issues presented by the “Hard Problem of Consciousness”; even modern physics makes short work of the argument for consciousness being brain-based, so that in itself is sufficient to give me cause to doubt your suggestions.

    You seem to be misunderstanding what having no inherent nature actually entails; it’s not about non-existence or nihilism. Consciousness is not any different from any other aspect of experience, it is empty of inherency as it is dependent upon the presence of the sense doors, physical form, mental fabrications and feeling (in the sense of like, dislike or neutrality rather than any specific emotional overlay; this is part of the arising of mental formations). There is an obvious paradox in expressing the fullness of emptiness when trying to communicate in dualistic terms, but it is evident and self-resolving in its experiencing and I dearly hope you’ll see this for yourself.

    Were consciousness to be some permanent basis from which experience arises and passes, that would suggest a dualism which, in my experience, cannot be found. If the bare sensations involved in your experience of consciousness are observed – the raw data of touch, taste, smell, sight, sound and mental activity – it can be seen that the experience of being conscious of their arising never occurs apart from the arising itself.

    If you’re saying that consciousness is inherent, you would need to accept that permanence exists since for something to be inherent it must by definition be permanent. Since the death of the body appears to bring an end to the experience of consciousness, or at the very least consciousness of “me” as an individualized mindbody structure, then that would suggest that consciousness is not permanent by any stretch of the imagination. Even the temporary cessation of consciousness, however induced, results in the ending of “me” and “my experience” so there are experiences which don’t require death to confirm this to be the case.

    The same argument for the inherent existence of any “thing” can be applied since no permanence can be found, regardless of where or how you look; the immediate experience is ‘it’, everything, on varying scales from the micro- to the macroscopic, on every level whether it’s neurological or geographical, will pass and no stability, no holding can be found. Just look for yourself, please don’t accept my word for it. I’m just some guy on a Dharma group on FB, so I fully expect you to be absolutely critical of this until you actually look for yourself.

    Another aspect of your post which bears commenting upon is this:

    “While we may say that some people do identified themselves psychologically to external objects, most people will identify themselves as the body-mind.

    It's interesting to ask why did we initutively limit our identity to the boundaries of our skin? Why didn't we think that the chair that we are sitting on is part of me?”

    Most people will identify themselves as the bodymind (a term I deliberately conjoin) due to conditioning from birth, basically a psychological structure built from repeat reinforcement beginning at the level of the approach/avoid mechanism common to all species and being referred to by name as being separate from those you observe. This is easy enough to see and it’s not necessarily a bad thing as it allows for survival and procreation, but the trick lies in understanding how it’s something you’re basically creating yourself by re-running a particular ‘programme’ in response to certain stimuli. If you take the time to look at what it is that makes up that process of identification, it is mainly a mental process which co-arises with the experiencing of certain very subtle tensions at certain points in the body, typically the ‘hara’ and solar plexus areas in my experience.

    Secondly, the sense of intuiting limits is no more than mental fabrication. That’s not to say that its use in everyday life to differentiate between what is the body and what is not isn’t useful, clearly it is, but that doesn’t mean that it implies limitation. Delineation may be a better word, but it’s still just a fabrication which allows for the safe navigation of reality. We don’t think of the chair as being “me” as we view the chair as an object to our subject, just the same way you don’t look at a cat and think it’s you…except on some psychoactive substance or another…Yes, there are times where one seems to experience themselves as if they are some other object or are seperated from their normal experiencing of self, but this is a misinterpretation of the experience as this presents the opportunity to penetrate the absence of inherent subjectivity!
    February 1 at 9:31am · Like · 2
    Empty Form Thanks Tommy, some guy on FB.... yes indeed,"inherent nature" as a buddhist terminology does mean being independent, permanent and unchanging. so you are right that conciousness, by virtue that it is changing and does cease upon sleep and death, does suggest that it doesn't have an inherent nature.

    (I know I know, *all* things are without inherent existence... im trying to phrase the sentences via a train of thought... don't get too excited, or infuriated, people ;b)

    Perhaps, I can rephrase my question to :
    Is conciousness (a quality that we literally hold so dear to our life) the essence of my being? It certainly seem to be the only definition of me (I think, therefore I am).

    Jackson, to be clear, I am using the word 'conciousness' in the context of ordinary language (with a small 'c'), as defined as self-awareness. And by 'my being', I am talking about the personality, be it a Jack or Jackson.

    We started talking about the fact that there is no car (from an ultimate point of view), so I guess what I am also asking is 'Why do I hold so dear to my self-awareness (conciousness) despite knowing that it is constantly changing and a result of interdependence.

    This conciousness seems like the most important thing to 'me'... I mean, do you not fear falling off a cliff or worse, having a conciousness debilitating disease like Alzeimer? I don't think you rather be a squirrel, a jellyfish or a plankyon ya?
    February 1 at 11:11am · Edited · Like
    Tan Jui Horng Mostly because instead of seeing consciousness for what it is we construct a grand story around it where there is this main character we call "me". The fear of being in danger is also due to karmic tendencies.
    February 1 at 11:30am · Like · 1
    Robert Healion (I am, therefore I think). However the thoughts are not separate to the I, but identifying the I with the thoughts brings problems. As for I-consciousness as opposed to pure awareness. Well, I will leave to Jackson.
    February 1 at 6:19pm · Like
    Empty Form Lets focus a little in the I-conciousness... which is the topic at hand.
    How does it come into being, and why can't we get rid of it? (Should we get rid of it?)

    And lets define our words in case they get meddled up...
    February 1 at 6:51pm · Like
    Robert Healion prajnaparametra = wisdom beyond mind. No room for I consciousness there. Comes into being when the body mind forms during development. Hard to get past it as the tool for removal is the I consciousness. and as a stain is very hard to scrub away with what makes the stain. Should we get rid of it is arbaritary . It will end at physical death. until then it will remain.
    February 1 at 7:19pm · Edited · Like
    Robert Healion To quote haukin who I am very fond of:
    Once a person is able to achieve true single-mindedness in his practice and smash apart the old nest of Alaya consciousness into which he has settled, the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom immediately appears, the other three great Wisdoms start to function, and the all-embracing Fivefold Eye opens wide.
    If, on the other hand, he allows himself to be seduced by these latter-day devils into hunkering down inside an old nest and making himself at home there, turning it into a private treasure chamber and spending all his time dusting and polishing it, sweeping and brushing it clean, what can he hope to achieve? Absolutely nothing. Basically, it is a piece of the eighth consciousness, the same eighth consciousness that enters the womb of a donkey and enters the belly of a horse. So I urgently exhort you to do everything you can, strive with all your strength, to strike down into that dark cave and smash your way open into freedom.
    February 1 at 7:18pm · Like
    Robert Healion So to continue, in Vedanta when the salt man dissolves (identification of ego) the stream is then salty until it merges with the ocean.
    Does I consciousness end with enlightenment, I feel no. nirvana: is blowing out of the tendency of mind to grasp, mind still exist but as a servant. Moksha: unbinding is loosening; the grasp of samsaric beliefs or behaviors bound to those beliefs.
    So I consciousness will remain.
    Any contesters here
    February 1 at 10:22pm · Like
    Mr. J.C. "I" is clinging. It is not there when there is no clinging. It can be nice to get rid of it from time to time.
    February 2 at 12:06am · Like
    John Tan Hi Justin,

    Also an interesting point to take note is this:

    One can be free from the “I” that sees, hears, thinks, smells, feels, tastes and matures the experience of just scenery, sound, thought, scent, sensations and taste


    Still have a strong sense of mine.

    Freedom from the background of “I-making” does not equal to freedom from “mine-making”.

    “If there is no I then there is no mine” is a logical deduction; it is not necessarily an experiential truth and may not hold up in practice.

    I originally wanted to add this to Piotr’s excellent post but since he has taken a temporary break, I will just post it here.
    February 2 at 1:40am · Unlike · 6
    Jackson Peterson The "I" is an illusion, a projection of the subconscious mind: in true anatta the mind is no longer generating an "I" of any type.
    February 2 at 3:23am · Like
    Ram Jayaram The I is not an illusion.. it's the only reality
    February 2 at 8:03am · Like
    Soh What I are you talking about? The kind of absolute consciousness expounded in vedanta?
    February 2 at 8:14am · Like
    Jackson Peterson Ram Jayaram, the I is mental projection... actually a projection of the human brain...
    February 2 at 8:17am · Like
    Ram Jayaram sorry, you are totally wrong on this point.
    February 2 at 8:18am · Like
    Ram Jayaram lots of half-baked ideas have been propagated by various groups and people, and folks have now clung to them.. quite unfortunate
    February 2 at 8:19am · Like
    Ram Jayaram anyway, i will retire to bed now.. I did more than 32 miles of walking today, traversing from the western end of london to the eastern suburbs.. beats any meditation, i tell you.. more about this another time
    February 2 at 8:21am · Like · 3
    Jackson Peterson Nisargadatta at the end of his life taught the "I" was a conceptual illusion... and must be seen through...
    February 2 at 8:22am · Like
    Robert Healion The subjective I, identification with the body would remain but contained. Having no thoughts arising is not he equivalent of having a dead mind.
    February 2 at 8:24am · Like
    Jackson Peterson Robert Healion, that makes no sense to me... Why would an illusion continue? When a snake is seen to actually be a rope, the snake disappears. Same with the "I" body identification.
    February 2 at 8:26am · Like
    Soh Directly realizing Awareness is just first step really and due to wrong views it is reified into something inherent. Many of us in this group has gone through these stages of realizations:
    Awakening to Reality: Thusness/PasserBy's Seven Stages of Enlightenment
    I understand very little of what Thusness has said. The path that Thusness descr...See More
    February 2 at 8:38am · Like · Remove Preview

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