2022-10-06 Consciousness (4 of 5) Unentangled Seeing
2:53PM Oct 6, 2022
We come to the fourth talk of the series labeled "Consciousness." The premise here is that what we call consciousness or what I'm calling consciousness, we don't actually know what it is for sure. What I call consciousness is the synchronized working together of all the different active capacities, faculties, we have for attention, for perception. They can come together with our attitudes, motivations and many of the cognitive functions of the mind as well. It all comes together. The mind creates an image or a sense of the whole that is greater than the parts. A whole, which is partly a painting. The mind paints what this thing is – the whole, the unified whole, the thing that consciousness can seem.
There is a wonderful coincidence that in Pāli, that the word for "mind," which might easily be translated as consciousness at times, is a homonym (same pronunciation) as the word for a painting. Maybe consciousness is this construct, the painting the mind makes of itself, that somehow brings together all the different parts into an image or a sense of something.
These different capacities we have for perception, attention, are key component parts of this painting that is created, the sense that is created. One of them today we are talking about is the ability to see – to see clearly what is happening. The Buddha uses this language of seeing as a metaphor for the inner way of perceiving – the inner way of sensing, knowing that is somehow in the mind rather than in the sensations. The knowing quality of the mind that knows I'm sensing warmth, coolness, a sound, taste, smell, tactile sensation, body. It is not so much the cognitive, in the sense of recognizing what it is. It is not the recognition factor of the mind.
It is more like the level of the mind that can just do the equivalent of hearing or seeing, in that hearing and seeing are different from listening and looking in that hearing and seeing are receptive not directive necessarily. They are not active, engaging, of those sense doors, but those sense doors are on and sensations, sounds or sight objects arrive and come and they are seen, they are heard. But they are not looked at, they are not listened to in an active way.
Both of these metaphors of the hearing and seeing, I think build on the idea that what is seen and what is heard, is actually usually at some distance from the ears and the eyes. The distance could be just a few centimeters away, but still there is a gap, a distance. The medium through which the information is going, through the air and space creates a bit of difference from feeling sensations in the body, physical sensations.
We feel pain or pleasure and there is an intimacy there to ourselves in a certain kind of way. That intimacy sometimes of pain or pleasure becomes something that we are prone to get actively involved in, concerned with or identify even with. The things we see in the distance, see a tree, we don't usually identify it as being me – who I am the tree, it's all about me the tree.
If we hear traffic outdoors we are not again defining ourselves by the traffic. We might find it uncomfortable and have a reaction to it. The hearing itself does not react. That is deeper in the mind that begins reacting and making meaning, values and preferences. Before these other layers of the mind get involved – which have to do with judgments, evaluation, reactivity, preferences and emotions – there is initially this very simple, and I would suggest relatively innocent, act of just hearing the sounds, seeing the sights.
That is translated now for the Buddha, or adapted by the Buddha to talk about an inner eye and an inner way of seeing. Here also the idea is to do it in this receptive, non active way. The Buddha never tells us in his instructions to "do" seeing with a mind's eye, the inner seeing, or "do" the perceiving, but rather to abide in it. He uses this word "abiding" a lot, when he's talking about deeper meditation. When we get settled in practice, in meditation, and are able to kind of course in the present moment, then it is more like settling back and abiding, dwelling in something, in a state, in a way of being, in a way of perceiving, than it is actively trying to do something and make something happen.
It is a remarkable shift when that can happen. Some people find that they can tap into that earlier in their practice. For some people it takes a long time. Some people can do it early, and then they can't do it for a while because they're going through layers of needing to do some real inner work to sort through and settle down so they can settle back. For the Buddha it is the latter. We do all the work of practice – a purification practice, cultivation practices, settling practices, understanding practices – then with enough practice, at some point, we can just settle back and observe what's happening.
This is abide in the observing, abide in this inner seeing where everything is allowed to be itself. It is very respectful of everything. It can almost be reverential. Everything is allowed to be its own pristine thing – every sensation, every sound, every sight, every thing that is known. This seeing, can be seen with reverence or with care, with simplicity, radical simplicity, just allowing it to be itself.
That becomes the foundation for the kind of insights the Buddha emphasizes the most. The insights that are a part of the insight meditation path are insights that don't come from actively looking for them. But rather when we settle back and can observe and see in this kind of way that I'm talking about today.
Now as we see this way the seeing is somehow free of what is seen, in the sense that in the seeing we are not entangled, not caught up, not reacting. What is being seen is clearly left alone. Just like seeing with a physical eye, or hearing with a physical ear. We are not actively involved with the tree and interfering with the tree as we're gazing upon it. We're not interfering with the sound of the car outside. It just does its thing independent of us.
All things are allowed to be this way and be seen in such a way that insights begin arising – that is maybe for another time. The sense of what I want to emphasize today is this way in which the seeing, there's a freedom in the seeing, an independence in the freeing. There is a spaciousness, an allowance of things as they are, in this kind of inner seeing that goes on.
In that seeing is one of our attentional faculties, when seeing has this quality of freedom in it, when we construct this idea of consciousness, consciousness then begins feeling like something that is a place of freedom, allowance, openness, receptivity. In particular there can be a feeling that in consciousness itself, is some place we can rest in a kind of freedom. Consciousness almost can feel very broad. The inner mind constructs a spatial sense of awareness, where it constructs spatial space, spatial ideas of location. When that spatial location gets relaxed and soft, that also starts having a broad, almost boundless, quality to it.
The construction of consciousness can now start feeling not only free, peaceful, broad, and untouched by the things of the world. Also it can feel like it is boundless, open and expansive. Is consciousness actually boundless? Is it actually anything at all? It is hard to say. There are strong opinions about this. The view that I'm presenting here – yes, it is boundless in the sense that the construction, the image, the sense that the mind creates, has no boundaries. It is a wonderful composite image, Gestalt image or idea of all these wondrous faculties that we have, which come together and work in some kind of harmony together. We try to understand it. We try to have an image of what is operating. The mind creates that image of it all. We can abide in it. We can rest in it. We can allow it. It can be very freeing and supportive to have a sense of consciousness like this.
I hope that this is useful for you and gives you something to reflect on and explore on your own. I would encourage you for these next 24 hours to use hearing and seeing – the physical ones and also the mind's eye, the ability to see, hear and perceive – to experiment with gazing upon things or hearing things in a very receptive, open, allowing way. Feel the refreshment that can come – how the eyes and ears get refreshed, cooled, calm, and peaceful when they're able to just see rather than look, searching, straining or staring. The same thing can happen to hearing when we hear rather than strain to listen or something.
Thank you all very much and I am looking forward to coming back tomorrow morning.