Quora answer: What is the awareness in Buddhism and other nondual traditions?

Feb 04 2012

I will tell you something that shocked me as I started getting into Tibetan Buddhist literature. I really liked Dzong Ka Pa because he says something I believed for a long time which was that reason has a role to play in enlightenment. And I really think his masterpiece the essence of eloquence is extremely interesting. But as I went on I learned that he supported a position that said that awareness was not inherently reflexive. I could not understand that but have to side with Mipham on that one. There is a book on the subject by Paul WilliamsThe Reflexive Nature of Awareness: A Tibetan Madhyamaka Defence.

See also 

The Conventional Status of Reflexive Awareness:
What’s at Stake in a Tibetan Debate?
Jay L Garfield
Department of Philosophy
Smith College
Department of Philosophy
University of Melbourne
Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies

“In his commentary to Candrakirti’s Madhyamakåvatåra, Mi pham argues that Tsong khapa is wrong to take Candrak¥rti’s rejection of the reflexive character of consciousness to be a rejection of the conventional existence of reflexive awareness. Instead, he argues, Candrak¥rti only intends to reject the reflexivity of awareness ultimately, and, indeed, Mipham argues, it is simply obvious that conventionally, consciousness is reflexive.”

For me as a reflexive theorist the reflexivity of awareness is a crucial question, and I agree with Mipham that anyone can verify that awareness is reflexive by introspection, so what would lead a great thinker like Dzong Ka Pa to abandon his own intuitions for a statement of a prior theorist that is manifestly untrue. And I think that is because the tradition has become more important than the evidence of ones own experience, which is always a bad sign. This made me trust Mipham’s interpretation of DzogChen more.

Normally Phenomenology talks about Consciousness which Husserl understands as wholly intentional. It is Gurewitsch who introduces awarness into phenomenology and recognizes it as important. Awarness is non-intentional in some sense. But the question is whether reflexivity is in consciousness or awareness. I place it in both as something deeper than either consciousness or awareness as such and that can be seen to be based on the ideas of Demasio that you have to have a sense of self to have any experience what so ever. I really like Demasio’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant%C3%B3nio_Dam%C3%A1sio) treatment of this issue in The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Harcourt, 1999 He also has a new book called Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, Pantheon, 2010 which I have not read yet. But he takes into account all the latest neurological information in his forulation of the problem of reflexivity, i.e. the fact that the self is there with every experience.

In my opinion this meaning of the Self is not disturbed by the idea of emptiness f the self. This self he is talking about is on the neurological level and is necessary for any experience what so ever, even those where phneomena are seen as empty. This notion of self is more like a reference point against which the flow in a stream of experience is necessary to gauge the flow. Another view of Self is that of Atman (beyond the individual self) or Jungian Self that expresses the collective unconsciousness. Buddhism is denying the empirical and transcendental self as supported by Being. But I think Buddhism especially tantric Buddhism is fully engaged with what Jung calls archetypes. Self as totality of experience seems to me does not contradict the spirit of Buddhism. It is self as unity instead of aggregate that seems to be what is denied with the idea of Anatman.

There are a lot of different selves, and which are specifically denied by any one school of Buddhism is sometimes difficult to determine.But anything that cannot stand being seen as empty is definitely excluded. Demasio’s sense of self as reference point for experience seems to me stands up to this test. Jung’s Self as totality of phenomena related to the self, does not seem to be affected either as it connects to archetypes. But Empirical and Transcendental Ego and Atman are definitely destroyed. Buddhist psychology is quite different from Western psychology and so that has to be factored in. However, if we deny the Demasio form of self as reference point then reflexivity definitely vanishes as a possibility. Reflexivity is a kind of recoil into ones own experience that is the same as having an expeirence itself. It is not reflection as in a mirror. Reflexivity is more of an action and less of a vision, such as Lacan has with the mirror stage of infants where they recognize themselves in a mirror. Reflexivity is more like the recoil of expeirence on itself so that we know it is our own experience at all times.

For my self I relate consciousness to Being and I related awareness to Existence. I would take awareness as emptiness as different from awareness as void as dual forms of non-duality separated by a Domain wall. I take awareness of manifestation as different still which is wholly nondual. I don’t know of a word for awareness of manifestation, but epiphany might due.



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