My second straight post with a question mark in the title. I still don't know if awareness can be aware of nothing, so I'll extend my ignorance by talking about what happens when we're unaware of everything.
Like, under anesthesia. Or after being hit on the head with a baseball bat. Or in deep dreamless sleep.This latter state is particularly praised by Advaitist sages such as Ramana.
I like Ramana a lot. But whenever he extols dreamless sleep as being akin to a realized consciousness, I'll pause in my reading and think: Gosh, I'm not sure I want to be enlightened if it means I'm unaware of everything.
What's the difference between being (1) dead and gone and (2) alive and unconscious? Not much.
That's why lots of people have signed living wills that allow life support to be withdrawn if they're in an irreversible persistent vegetative state.
As mentioned in my previous post, I'm reading "Consciousness is All" while here on Maui. A good book, creatively and intelligently written, very much in the Advaita tradition – but without the Indian cultural trappings (which appeals to me).
Today I made my way through the "Consciousness is not the 'human mind'" chapter. In arguing that consciousness isn't tied to the body, Peter Dziuban said:
This point can be illustrated by this typical human assumption: "Consciousness has to be inside the body. Why? Well, suppose my body had surgery, and was given heavy anesthesia. Or suppose my body got knocked out. In each case I would be 'unconscious' or 'unaware.' When any of those things happen to my body, Consciousness stops functioning – at least temporarily – so Consciousness must be inside the body."
First, a literary quibble. I understand the purpose of the quotation marks around 'unconscious' and 'unaware.' But they don't change the fact that when I got my tonsils out as a kid and had an ether-soaked cloth put over my nose, I really was unconscious and unaware for quite a while.
Similarly, you could say that when I take my last breath I'll be "dead." Well, it's sort of nice to see those not really quotation marks again. However, they're not going to change the reality of the situation.
Which, for the anesthesia and knocked out examples, Dziuban sees differently from me.
In such cases something seems to cease functioning, of course. But it is not Consciousness, the Infinite that stops. It is the so-called human, sensing "mind," or that which is finite, that stops. They're not the same.
…In other words, it would be everything one appears to be conscious of that gets disrupted, not Consciousness Itself. It would be everything observable that gets knocked out. Consciousness Itself never is observable to begin with – because it's infinite! So the fact that everything observable seems to have gone doesn't mean Consciousness itself has gone.
Though I'm attracted to Advaitist and non-dual approaches, this is where they and me start to part company: when I'm asked to have what sounds like blind faith in infinite Consciousness. How is this different from blind faith in God?
I mean, I'm unconscious. I'm unaware. Yet supposedly Consciousness and Awareness (the capital letters signifying their universality) proceed on their merry way.
They're still there. They just can't be observed. Well, if consciousness is all, as the title of the book says, why isn't it more noticeable rather than less when the obscuring physical body and mind are removed from play?
In other words, why doesn't being knocked out with a baseball bat lead to enlightenment? Now that the senses aren't working and thoughts have stopped being produced by the mind, shouldn't the purity of Awareness shine much more clearly?
Conceptually (and I know: concepts are a no-no in nonduality) this is a big problem for Consciousness is Everything folks. As for those who believe that immaterial soul consciousness is the true Self.
Again, why isn't the soul's intrinsic awareness evident when the normal functioning of brain/mind is interrupted? What happens is just the opposite. We become much less conscious and aware when the body isn't functioning as usual.
On this note I'll end with a pointer to an interesting post by Manjit on the Church of the Churchless message board, who also tilts strongly toward non-duality, but has some reservations about it. An excerpt:
Midway through a 4 week mini meditational home retreat, checking my emails and reading the posts on the main blog, I thought I'd add my personal understandings of the value of 'spiritual practice'.
Spiritual practice specifically in relation to the absolutist, pure non-dual and so-called 'neo-advatist' etc, views or positions. A View that is promoted by so many, including myself on occassion, on the ChurchoftheChurchless blog. More specifically, the complete and total dismissal of any kind of 'spiritual practice' whatsoever, with a kind of implied belief that by simply adopting that View, it will in and of itself resolve all the various factors which lead to the primal suffering/existential angst/incompleteness etc, which caused one to 'seek' or search for spiritual peace or God or whatever.
Having myself often expressed myself with this 'View' too, it may seem strange or contradictory when I say that sometimes this View comes across as rather hollow or shallow sounding? Even stranger, from my perspective, and I have considered it deeply, it is entirely integral!
In the end, what the @#$%&! do I know? Or any of us knows? Maybe a lot. Maybe nothing.
Today I enjoyed Mark Morford's column about the Earth singing its own music, along with the entire cosmos.
Me, I like to think of the Earth as essentially a giant Tibetan singing bowl, flicked by the middle finger of God and set to a mesmerizing, low ring for about 10 billion years until the tone begins to fade and the vibration slows and eventually the sound completely disappears into nothingness and the birds are all, hey what the hell happened to the music? And God just shrugs and goes, well that was interesting.
Yeah, for sure.
Each of us gets a lot less time than the Earth to ring (maybe). Regardless, when our tone comes to an end, at least we can also say, "well that was interesting."