awareness of awareness

wesak_lanterns‘Our awareness is like the air around us: we rarely notice it. It functions in all our waking moments and may even continue in sleep. Usually we are caught up in the content of our awareness, preoccupied with what we think, feel, and experience. Becoming aware of awareness itself is Receptive Awareness, very close to the idea of a witnessing consciousness. Resting in receptive awareness is an antidote to our efforts of building and defending a self: the assumption that there is “someone who is aware” falls away. Self-consciousness falls away; the distinctions between self and other, inside and outside, perceiver and perceived disappear. There is no one who is aware; there is only awareness and experience happening within awareness. We learn to hold our lives, our ideas, and ourselves lightly and rest in a spacious and compassionate sphere of awareness that knows, but is not attached.’ [Link to: Receptive Awareness]

POSTCARD #132: Delhi: Today, June 1st, 2015 is Visakha Puja – a special day in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Singapore. This day commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna) of Buddha in the Theravada tradition. So you get all three on the same day. The events that take place on this day go all the way back to the time of the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago, monks chanting verses, there is a talk by a senior monk, listeners seated on the floor, and it fills me with awe to consider that it’s the same now as it was all those years ago; this moment here and now is actually that moment there and then. Everything about who I am, the clothes I wear, my appearance, identity, gender; all of that disappears for an instant in the huge span of time that appears to lie in between. There’s only awareness, I experience it physically, somewhere in the centre of the chest, spreading out to the shoulders. In Pali it’s called the citta, the heart.

Thought and mental activity are all located in the brain area; flashing like electricity voltage sparks, but awareness is in the centre of my being. Experientially I’m conscious that awareness is prior to thought and mental activity, awareness comes before everything. It’s there all the time, even when I’m asleep. I may assume that awareness is ‘me’, ‘self’. This ‘self’ says it’s ‘my’ awareness, ‘I’ am aware. But when this ‘self’ that I believe to be me starts to look for the ‘me’ that possesses awareness, it finds that it’s the other way round: awareness has to first start looking for the ‘me’ (and the ‘me’ can’t be found).

The question then arises, ‘who am I?’ I might say, well, I have an identity given to me by my parents, and a birth certificate, driving license, passport, ID card, and all this documentation is saying this is ‘me’. I have a personality; I’m like this, I’m like that. But it’s awareness that sees all this, the feelings, emotions, moods and I find the question: ‘who am I?’ is itself focusing attention, opening the mind, thoughts flicker and disappear, sparks fly, awareness sees all this. The identity, the personality is witnessed by awareness. Awareness was there before it all; before feelings, moods – emotions are objects of perception that awareness perceives. Awareness is what I am, it’s what all sentient beings are, it’s not personal, it’s everything. No beginning, no end, awareness has always been there. Awareness is spirit. Spirit is awareness

Most of the time I live with my small self, worn like a costume in a fancy-dress party, and function with other small selves doing the same thing. Same with everybody here today, at Vesakh time seated in meditation and focused on the Buddha’s teaching. But the Buddha wouldn’t have wanted us to say anything like, “I am a ‘Buddhist’”… beliefs appear in awareness, awareness is there before beliefs, before thought, before all that. There’s an awareness of a constructed ‘self’ – necessary for getting around. There’s this awareness and an awareness of the awareness itself.


Photo source:
Note: some parts of this post inspired by an Adyashanti talk in a post on the website: To Know Beauty/ Meditative Self Inquiry

27 thoughts on “awareness of awareness

  1. I have been wrestling with ‘awareness’ as a concept for the past 2 months … my mind wants to put an equal sign between consciousness and awareness and wants to call it ‘new-speak’ — but still the awareness sees the reasoning of the crazy mind and can bring it out of its circular thinking, … can bring it out of its thinking all together. Then the conceptual world ends, and with it the duality awareness consciousness. Then mind wakes up again and remains confused 🙂 and it begins all over again … and a sigh is vented from deep within.

    • Hi Bert, there is this a similarity in usage of the words: awareness and consciousness – others have mentioned it here. It could be that language doesn’t reach that far, new-speak as you say. You’re right about awareness sees the crazy mind. My wife Jiab has a Thai understanding, very clear and straight; the crazy mind (mental activities) is the brain, in Pali: manas – I’m not sure about the word manas, somebody may correct me on this. Awareness is the heart, in Pali: citta and I feel that one quite clearly is in the centre of my chest. The circular thinking of the crazy mind sometimes throws out an idea that leads to a creative sequence and awareness plays a part in this, and constructive thinking works in short bursts, but soon the usual state of affairs returns with mind busy thinking about things for no apparent reason 🙂 and an even larger sigh is vented from deep within…

      • Thank You, for this understanding dialogue.
        I remember the word manas, and remember looking for its meaning — i remember the word bodhicitta and relate it to compassion and kindness.
        It feels as if awareness is the active (attentive) component of consciousness, where consciousness is all encompassing … — and there it ends, the game of words — like discussing the concept of enlightenment, which will always remain a concept when we reason, think and talk about it, even when we would be enlightened.

      • Good to know I was right about the word manas I like the idea of awareness being the active component of consciousness, but the game of words; this is it exactly, all too often concepts get in the way, obstructions.
        Awareness comes before the concept is fully formed. There’s a silence about it…

  2. That is put beautifully and concisely. Awareness is always there before the content.
    I enjoy to see how there is an exchange in the blogging world. This post seems like the answer to Michael’s recent post. It is an inspiring discussion.

    • Karen, they have never told me about any rules like that. I correspond back and forth to one of the teachers there. I have not been posing much on wordpress because I have been doing more G+ lately. but sometimes my creative writing doesn’t flow either. I am fairly new to all the writing and crativness thing. It seems to flower more the more layers drop off.

    • Hi Karin, I’ve neglected my dialogue with Michael because, right, his most recent inspired this. So I’ll have time now to go back and link up with Michael’s comments. I like this: ‘Awareness is always there before the content.’ The idea of content and context comes to mind; the content is in a context, so Awareness contains content which is constantly fleeting, transitory and of no substance. From this content there sometimes arises a thought which immediately becomes part of the context – or maybe it goes the other way…

  3. beautiful post, writing, and insight Tiramit.

    this part :”Most of the time I live with my small self, worn like a costume in a fancy-dress party, and function with other small selves doing the same thing. ”

    I am beginning to see that this too is awareness. we never leave it. the smaller self is made of awareness and is awareness in form.

    I am beginning to see this because I really think there is some sort of shift happening . A have friends reporting things that I would not thought they even knew about.

    It is becoming clear that we are awareness and everything is awareness.

    Great Post!!

    • I really like this one: ‘we are awareness and everything is awareness.’ And the thought that, ‘there is some sort of shift happening.’ Things are changing, it is this ‘,“in-the-moment” inspired action’ you mention in your recent post, and, ‘When we begin to align with this knowing, correct action is revealed moment to moment.’ The smaller self is … awareness in form. that sums it up for me. Thanks for these observations…

      • you are the best Tiramit! thank for cross referencing my previous post, which I had on my mind when I wrote your response, but did not express that great. you picked up the idea of it. Fantastic 🙂

      • It struck me that we were talking about the same thing, so what you’re saying in your post is true: “…we are waking up to a new truth now… When more and more layers of the “me/ego” are recognized and allowed to fall away, a deeper knowing starts to emerge.” And that ‘deeper knowing’ is citta (awareness), the heart (not the head). “Allowing the moment to reveal what is to be done, when whatever appears in the now, is the only way that works every time.”

      • exactly Tiramit, and that awareness, or life as I label it in my post, is what we are, and it is what has been doing everything all all along. Even the apparent doings the “me” thinks it does 🙂

  4. Powerful message my Good Friend.

    An open question for me is- Is Awareness beyond Consciousness or vice-versa? 🙂

    At least in terms of definition of these two words commonly discussed in Spirituality Consciousness perhaps has an endless meaning without any boundaries. I probably associate this word with our soul, the totality, the Creator.

    Awareness on the other hand, for me, is something I relate to my environment I am in and how much of it we can understand and absorb, which I assume is relatively more limited to our physical presence in a given location.

    Would love to know what you (or others) think about these two words…


    • Hi Manish, I’ve heard it said that consciousness and awareness are two words meaning the same thing, I don’t know if that works for me. I’ve heard teachers use the term, conscious awareness. I suppose you could have an unconscious awareness of something and later it becomes conscious. It’s all words. I’m inclined to agree with you, Consciousness is where awareness ends up an endless meaning without any boundaries. The word ‘God’ has a place here. Awareness though, seems to me, extends beyond a given location where this mind/body organism is situated, I’m sometimes aware of what my sister is thinking and she’s a few thousand miles away from me in Scotland…
      ps. I’m working out an itinerary that’ll include Glasgow. It could be I’m there in the same hotel on Sunday night of 7th June or Monday morning 8th and staying for a few days. I’ll email separately.

  5. Great, great post. You have put it beautifully…briefly and with such clarity. Mooji would love it. I agree with Bert… Consciousness seems to equal Awareness. Happy Visakha Puja! And thank you!

    • Thanks Ellen, much of it was inspired by the Adyashanti talk, maybe that’s where some of the clarity comes from. I recommend you listen to this, see the link at the end of the post. And yes there is this kind of consciousness/awareness synonymy. I see a few other references to this I’ve not got round to yet. Thank you for the Visakha wishes. Also for these nice words

      • I listened to the link. Yes, very good and very much what I heard last week. Good to have it repeated from a different source. I also very much like the quote at the beginning. Will look at that link, too. Thank you.

  6. There’s a great deal of confusion around the use of the two words “Awareness” and “consciousness”. Many teachers use these words interchangeably to refer to the same concept (and we must remember it is all conceptual).

    I find Nisargadatta’s explanation agrees with the experience here:

    “There can be no consciousness without Awareness, but there can be Awareness without consciousness – as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful, Awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. And it is the common matrix of every experience.” – Nisargadatta Maharaj.

    Thank you for this beautiful post T.

    • “Awareness without consciousness – as in deep sleep.” I hadn’t heard that before. And “consciousness is always of something.” Consciousness of an object – that one I’m familiar with. But language carries meaning like the HTML coding creates words and images. I’ve heard it said that Pali and Sanskrit are more specific. Even so, it is all conceptual, as you say… no way around that at this point in time. I agree completely with the Nisargadatta quote. Thanks for these words…

  7. Your simplicity shines here, my friend. If I try to keep with the terms used here, there is this feeling of fear when I was first learning about non-duality, and to try and describe it simply it would be a fear that as the small self dissolves, awareness would dissolve, too. But the joy I begun to find is that in abiding in the pure awareness, even without the small self, awareness remains.

    I still cannot say this well, but in A Course of Love and A Course in Miracles, this might be expressed using the language “nothing is lost”. It feels initially as though there is so much to be “given up”, and much that will be “lost”, but when the “loss” of small self occurs, what remains is sort of an astonishing completeness. Nothing is lost. Only elements of “consciousness” that were illusory in nature drop away…

    Thank you for this clear-hearted writing…


    • Thanks Michael, I think I can understand “nothing is lost” in what I understand in the context of AOM/AOL… and as you say, ‘only elements of “consciousness” that were illusory in nature drop away.’ As I understand it, awareness comes before the small self, so the belief in the small self dissolves, awareness remains and we continue with our lives, our day to day experiences, personality can be exactly the same, the only difference is, something is added – nothing is lost…

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