Obviously I've got no problem with talking about consciousness or awareness, which in my view are the same thing. If we're conscious of something we're aware of that thing.
It's the pure that rubs me the wrong way.
That word conjures us an image of something absolutely clear and transparent, nothing in it except consciousness/awareness. (From now on I'll just speak of consciousness rather than wearing out my laptop's slash key.)
Sure, I get the idea that consciousness is akin to an empty sky in which clouds, birds, airplanes, and such are contained. I jotted down a couple of ways Sam Harris describes consciousness in this fashion in his Waking Up app's guided meditations.
Consciousness is the space in which everything is arising on its own; rest as that... You are the condition in which everything is appearing.
So this seems to presume that what is most real about us isn't what we're aware of, but a formless that composed of pure consciousness.
Well, it's a nice idea. It just doesn't make sense, though. Where's the evidence that consciousness ever can be experienced in such a pure state, there's no content of consciousness?
And if this somehow were possible, how would someone know they've experienced pure consciousness? After all, there can't be a sense of "This is pure consciousness," for that sense clearly isn't pure, it's a sensation of this is pure consciousness.
Thus if consciousness truly was pure, there would be no way for that purity to contain an experience of purity, for experience always is of something. After all, what would pure experience be like?
Nothing, I guess, for the experience would be of nothing.
I got to thinking about pure consciousness because Paul Breer talks about it quite a bit in some chapters near the end of his book, Beyond Self-Realization: A Non-Sectarian Path to Enlightenment. I've enjoyed his right-on take on free will (it doesn't exist) and the ethereal Self (nobody has one).
However, his frequent use of "Pure Consciousness" rubbed me the wrong way, at least until I read enough about how Breer uses this term to realize that when he's referring to isn't really pure.
Breer's book consists of dialogues between a group of people taking an enlightenment course at a local library led by someone who, not surprisingly, bears a lot of resemblance to Paul Breer. Here's some passages describing Pure Consciousness.
What I "see" is Pure Consciousness in the background of my perception of you; just as in an enlightenment experience you would see Pure Consciousness in the background of your perception of me.
At the same time I see both you and me in the conventional sense, that is, as separate individuals, you over "there," me over "here." In the foreground, I see the two of us as separate individuals; in the background I see (with my inner eye) Consciousness Itself which serves as the Source for the distinctions I make in the foreground. The same would be true for you if the roles were reversed.
...Whenever you gain access to Pure Consciousness, you will experience it as a background to whatever you see, hear, taste, touch, or smell -- and that includes your awareness of me. I'm not saying, as your books apparently suggest, that everything in the universe contains Pure Consciousness.
When I say that the world is One, I'm referring to the sense of Wholeness created by THAT which serves as background for whatever I perceive in my foreground. The experience of wholeness takes place "here"; it's not something that exists in blades of grass, bluebirds, trash cans or any other objects of perception.
Oneness, in other words, is a feature not of the universe itself nor of the objects in that universe, but of our own perception of the world when viewed from a background of Pure Consciousness.
...Most fundamentally, you are Pure Consciousness. As such, you are THAT which enables an organism with a brain and nervous system to make distinctions and use those distinctions to construct a perceptual field composed of objects and a subject.
Even after you have discovered your deeper nature (Pure Consciousness), you retain a limited identification with the part (as body-mind) you are playing in a particular perceptual construction. In other words, you are both the "movie" (the construction) and the context (Pure Consciousness) in which the movie is playing.
So when I burrow down into the nitty-gritty of what Breer is saying here, it seems to be quite simple and uncontroversial.
Consciousness is necessary for perceptions of the world. From birth until death, being conscious is how we perceive everything inside and outside of us -- the contents of consciousness. I'm not sure how this realization translates into enlightenment, since it seems to be a basic fact of life.
But maybe that's what Zen masters are getting at when they keep pointing the student searching for enlightenment back to everyday perceptions. Cooking rice. Running water. Ringing of bells.
I don't disagree with how Breer views Pure Consciousness. Just seems to me that what he's talking about is merely consciousness being the foundation of all experience. Which is damn obvious.