In some of my previous posts, particularly Awareness and Consciousness the Mysterious Twins and Intention. What Is It, Why Is It A Problem the relationship between awareness and consciousness and the idea of an underground subconscious stream that is the source of our thoughts was examined. This post will look in more detail at these ideas and examine the relationship between them in more depth.
There is a hierarchy within human nature and this hierarchy is shown below as being one of diminishing awareness and knowledge as we travel upwards from below.
Underground Stream (Subconscious, Ego)
Sense Consciousness’s (Intellect, Sight, Sound, Taste, Smell, Sensation)
From the unenlightened persons point of view, overt thoughts are at the top of this hierarchy and the unenlightened person generally identifies with these thoughts as being “themselves”. These overt thoughts are observed in an overt consciousness that also perceives the various senses as objects in the same way it views thoughts as objects. The overt consciousness is dimly aware of the underground stream operating below it but this stream actually feeds the overt consciousness. Because the average persons perception of the underground stream is poor they can be somewhat puppet like, reacting constantly to thoughts that ambush them from below. It is this lack of awareness of the underground stream that is the cause of their inability to control their thoughts. The underground stream itself is fed by the individual sense consciousness’s which include the intellect. The intellect draws information from the other sense consciousness’s and attempts to draw logical inferences from that information. The intellect also draws information of an intuitive kind from the awareness that sits below it but the intellect is not directly aware of this process; it is unaware of the source of it’s own intelligence. The the underground stream is composed of interaction between the sense consciousness’s and is the seat of the ego; it is reactive and unstable. The underground stream constitutes the psychology of the person and it filters up to overt consciousness above which has difficulty perceiving it’s own source and hence has difficulties with self identity. It is for this reason that it tends to pretend a lot and invent self images.
Underneath the sense consciousness’s lies intuition and awareness. These two are really one. Awareness observes and is “free of all characteristics”, thus a person cannot lay their hands upon it. It is like a will-o-the wisp. It is themselves but they cannot perceive it because they are identified with consciousness and awareness is anterior to consciousness. Intuition is the intelligence of awareness. It is the source of the intellects intelligence but the intellect is only dimly aware of it’s source. This is why intuitive thinking has a tendency to be highly accurate; it is superior to conscious intellectual thought which can only engage in supposition. Intuition is direct knowledge.
When we look at this scheme we can see what happens when a person goes to sleep or when they dream. When a person goes to sleep, the sense consciousness’s “switch off” and consequently there is no overt consciousness of the “external” world. Intellectual thought shuts down and the underground stream becomes non-existent. The person is plunged into awareness or “the unconscious”, but awareness being “dark” they perceive only darkness free of all mentality. They are at peace, luxuriating in pure awareness but with no external world or thoughts to disturb their mind. They are dimly aware of continuing to exist but it is an intuitive awareness. When a person dreams the flow of images and impressions comes out of awareness and intuition and hence they “see” things but consciousness of the external world remains shut off. When a person sleeps therefore, they have returned to their source but they have no mentality due to the shutting down of the sense consciousness’s and the intellect. They are luxuriating in death. We can see from this why a person feels no pain when they are asleep; that consciousness that perceives sensation has “switch off”.
It becomes clear therefore that the development of a person towards greater awareness and knowledge ultimately requires that they become increasingly aware of that level of existence that lies beneath their current dominant level of existence. The person who is strongly identified with overt thinking needs to try and perceive the underground stream and use that perception to bring overt thinking and the underground stream under control. In this task, awareness is our ever present friend because awareness is anterior to all else and thus allows us to see all. Awareness is the superior principle. However, it must be understood that awareness cannot “see” awareness. Being the superior principle it cannot become an object of something else; it cannot “see itself”. A person can only become awareness. It is knowledge through identity not a dualistic knowledge of subject / object. The odd thing about this situation is that although a person is aware of the world because of awareness, they are not consciously identified with awareness. They therefore think of themselves as a separate object within reality. The truth is however that all of their being and mentality is a product of this awareness. It is as if a person is hiding from their true identity; as if they have a severe case of amnesia. It is somewhat comical because the reason they are searching for things in the external world is because their own being, awareness, is illuminating that very world whilst they remain oblivious to it due to lack of conscious identity with awareness. They do not perceive “oneness” to coin a phrase, they see multiplicity. They have no direct perception of things and they have no direct intuitive knowledge. They are in effect profoundly blind.
At this point somebody might ask why they need to bring the underground stream under control and with it bring their thoughts under control if awareness is already illuminating the underground stream to a degree. Surely I can already see myself they might say. To answer that question it is important to understand the difference between illumination and conscious knowledge of something. When a person views their thoughts, it is awareness that views those thoughts. But the average person does not consciously perceive awareness, they perceive thoughts and they think the thoughts are themselves. Such a person needs to get to the point where they see awareness as themselves, where they have conscious identity with awareness in the same way as they currently have conscious identity with their thoughts. They have to become awareness. Once a person becomes awareness they have direct perception of the world and of their being. They will come to see the senses as “empty” in nature, to be manifestations within awareness, to be literally conscious experiences. They will have direct perception of the external world and it’s objects. They will be able to say “The world is I and I am the world”. They perceive no separation within reality. They will develop astonishing levels of intuition due to the fact that intuition is the intelligent aspect of awareness.
Another way of looking at this is to consider the fact that an inferior principle can never come into direct knowledge of a superior principle because the inferior principle is an emanation of the superior principle. If thoughts arise in consciousness and consciousness arises in awareness then thoughts themselves can never perceive consciousness and consciousness itself can never perceive awareness. Consciousness can perceive thoughts, and awareness can perceive consciousness and it is this pyramid like structure that produces the illusion of being. Awarness is anterior and superior to consciousness and consciousness is anterior and superior to overt thought. Clearly then , to gain the superior viewpoint a person must become awareness.
A spiritual teacher named Alfred Pulyan once said “The ego is like a penny blocking out the sun”. What he meant by this was that identification with the inferior principle of the ego prevented identification with the superior principle of awareness. A person who identifies with the ego enslaves himself because he fears that to let go of this means death. In reality it means ineffable joy because the small identity of the ego is replaced by the larger and more profound identity of direct perception of reality. This is what is meant by the saying “To live you first have to die”. The unenlightened person is indeed back to front.