Sacred geometry

The Nature of Awareness

This retreat was jointly taught by Rob Burbea and one or more other Insight Meditation teachers. Here is the full retreat on Dharma Seed
Realising the Nature of Mind, of Consciousness, of 'That Which Knows', brings a profound liberation to life. This talk explores an investigation into Awareness itself.
Date22nd November 2006
Retreat/SeriesNovember Solitary 2006


Realising the Nature of Mind, of Consciousness, of 'That Which Knows', brings a profound liberation to life. This talk explores an investigation into Awareness itself.

So today I would like to talk a little bit about the nature of awareness, the nature of mind, of consciousness. So right to start, just to say that again, this is a huge subject, and it would actually be more appropriate to perhaps devote a whole month-long retreat, minimum, just to this subject, and then perhaps would begin to approach it in a more full way. What I'm offering today is more of an overview, and maybe a couple of routes through this inquiry.

So awareness, consciousness, mind, that which knows. Sometimes those words are used with slightly different meanings. For this talk, I'll use them interchangeably, those four terms -- that which knows, mind, awareness, consciousness.

At first in our practice, it might not be clear that this has any relationship to the end of suffering. The Buddha said I teach one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering. You think, well, it may be a philosophical/metaphysical interest, what is the nature of awareness; it doesn't seem to have that much to do with suffering. But as our practice goes deeper, it becomes more and more important, and actually ends up being one of the fundamentally important questions. Penetrating this question is really one of the gates to freedom.

And it is possible to approach it intellectually. There are even schools of Buddhism, the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, from which the Dalai Lama comes, that's his base tradition, using a lot of logic and intellect to penetrate this question. I'm a little too stupid for that, so I'm going to talk more from a practitioner's point of view, and how we can actually use vipassanā practice to enter into that same question, those same insights.

So I'm not sure, but I think if we stop someone on the street and ask them, "What is the nature of awareness?", probably you'd get some ... [laughter] odd looks. Assuming they're friendly, and you sort of persisted, what might come through or return, and the sense that we could have in the beginning really years of our practice, is perhaps awareness is something like a mirror. There's the world out there, and in this being, in this apparatus, there's something that sort of creates an image of that world, a replica. And for a practitioner, and especially -- actually all the time, but for a practitioner, especially in the first years, this is quite a useful image. And even, to go further, the image of polishing that mirror, polishing the mirror, so that we can see the world better, so that we can see with more clarity, so that we can look into our life more clearly, more deeply, see, understand better.

I think a week or so ago, Christina spoke about papañca, this ego-proliferation, this how we get spun out in stories and views and all of that. And all of that, in a way, is a cloud over the mirror. It's like dust or grime or a dollop of who-knows-what smeared on the mirror. Stories, all that, tend -- not all the time, but sometimes they tend -- to obscure this seeing clearly. They obscure the mirror. Our preconceptions. Our images. Our views. Our opinions, particularly. How much are they colouring our seeing? Obscuring, darkening our seeing, making it incomplete or making it murky? Thoughts, moods, even subtle mind states like dullness, restlessness.

So all of this, it's very possible to actually see, to inquire into, how is this colouring, covering over awareness. And huge emphasis in practice to work towards having that be somewhat clear, or as clear as possible, so that we can see better. And we can really see the difference. So in a way, some people use the word mindfulness as that. It's a kind of clean mirror so we can see the world clearly. Pure awareness, that's a word that gets a lot of different meanings, but some people use it in that sense -- the awareness then is pure, it's clean. And so awareness becomes like this spotless mirror, to reflect experience, reflect the world, inner and outer.

But is that the true nature of awareness? We say and we hear in the teachings "to be with things as they are." So if the mirror is clean, one assumes I'm being with things as they are. That's a phrase the Buddha used, "things as they are." Is that what he meant? Is that what's meant, "things as they are," so that we can see impermanence more clearly? Is that what's meant? So this metaphor of awareness as a mirror, it's hugely useful, and I think it remains useful, actually, on one level, throughout one's practice. Especially in the beginning years, really, of practising, very, very useful metaphor. That clarity is what enables us to see how we're tying ourselves in knots, how we're perhaps interacting with people in not the most helpful ways, in ways that are leading to suffering. All of this we can see more clearly when the mirror is, so to speak, clean. So we develop mindfulness, we develop clarity, concentration, etc.

There's also something else, the beginning of something else in this particular metaphor. In a way, if you think of a real mirror, whatever passes in front of that mirror, the mirror remains unaffected. So beautiful person, ugly person, good person, bad person, horrible sight, lovely sight, whatever, the mirror remains unaffected. Tuning into that metaphor and actually seeing that there's something of that that we can take into our practice, unaffected mirror, unaffected seeing by what's going on. Instead of getting caught up in that, we, so to speak, reside in the mirror nature of awareness, unaffected. And out of that can come equanimity, peace, in relation to what's happening in the world. But is that the true nature of awareness?

As practice goes deeper, in some traditions there's huge emphasis on paying really fine, microscopic attention to the moment-to-moment passing of phenomena. So sensations, thoughts, sounds, moment to moment, incredibly fast, and the mind tunes itself to this really, really microscopic, fast impermanence -- arising-passing, arising-passing, psshoooo. And it can seem, when one practises that way, and in those traditions, and it seems to have -- in fact it does have -- some backing in the commentaries; not the original teachings of the Buddha, not the suttas, but in the commentaries, that consciousness, too, arises and passes [snapping fingers quickly], many, many times a second. It's possible to actually somehow witness this arising and passing of phenomena, the arising and passing of consciousness. The true nature of consciousness is very fastly arising, passing, arising, passing, microscopic impermanence. And with a lot of practice and really honing the edge of the mindfulness, the concentration, it's actually possible to see this, to sense that.

I have to say, though, I'm not sure how much freedom comes out of that seeing. Certainly some. But it's often not a huge amount of freedom that comes from that. We tend to think, "If I could just see things faster, just that little bit more subtlety to my noticing impermanence, then somehow, something's going to change." Maybe there isn't even an end to that. Still, some degree of freedom comes out of that, that seeing consciousness that way. And really useful, really useful. But still. Is that the true nature of awareness? Arising-passing, arising-passing? Is that the true nature of consciousness?

What has become perhaps a more popular way of practising in our circles and in some traditions of the Dharma, in some of the Thai Forest traditions and some of the Tibetan traditions, is instead of this very narrow focus of awareness, a bit more emphasis on a spaciousness to the awareness. So we've touched on this a little bit in the other talks. One's opening up to the sound. The awareness can begin to open out in a bit of a more spacious way. If, in that little bit of space, that more spacious, expansive awareness, one then begins relaxing, letting go in some way -- so, by this, I mean specifically beginning to notice what's called the three characteristics. So beginning, within the context, within the backdrop of that bigger awareness, to notice the impermanence. So things, sensations, thoughts, sounds, etc., everything arising out of that space and disappearing back into it. So this spaciousness becomes a backdrop, and the very noticing of the impermanence helps that space to get more established. This is practice I'm talking about. This is practice.

Or, as we talked about in the talk on vedanā, to just keep relaxing the relationship one has with what's going on. And that relaxing the pushing and pull, pushing away what's unpleasant, pulling towards us what's pleasant, the more we relax that, the more this space can get established. Or just regarding what's coming up, "It's not me, not mine," whatever happens -- sensations, thoughts, emotions, "Not me, not mine." There's a disidentification, and in that disidentification there's a letting go, a relaxing, and the space, again, becomes more established.

The other way, and it's very popular, is to, in a way, relax the attention a little bit. So one has a bit of a spacious awareness -- this could be with the eyes open or eyes closed, so quite popular, the sort of sky-gazing practices you get in some Tibetan traditions with the eyes open. But it doesn't have to be eyes open. And instead of the habitual attention we give to objects, what's coming up -- a pain, I give it attention, a thought, I give it attention, an emotion, I give it attention, a sound, I give it attention; objects, objects, objects -- one, with practice, learns to relax the attention from objects. Just let them be. So for example, in this room now, we tend to notice things or beings in the room, objects in the room. So, you know, there's so-and-so and so-and-so, and here's so-and-so, and we like or dislike or have a relationship with that. What we notice less, what tends to make less of an impression, is the space of the room, the space.

So this really is a practice, to begin tuning the mind into the sense of space rather than always attending to objects. It takes a little training, but at some point it becomes, "Ah," another groove that the mind can open into. You could say relaxing attention to objects. We could say just resting in awareness. If it's either with the three characteristics or just resting in awareness or some combination, what happens is the space begins to open out, expand, become vast. It really is a practice that takes some time for most people. And what happens, to be precise, actually is a whole constellation, maybe a handful of states that are quite similar but all sort of around the same thing, this vastness of awareness, expansive awareness in which everything arises and passes.

So a little bit like the sky, the night sky, and completely black, and then a burst of fireworks, and the colour. Blackness and the colour against, out of, that night sky. And then the fireworks fade, the colours fade, they disappear back into that blackness, back into that space. This can be the sense of awareness in this more expansive sense. We hear, either we read in certain teachings or we hear from teachers or whatever, "Awareness is vast like space." Beautiful. And then we see, yes, this is the experience now. This is the experience. It goes in and out of feeling vast like space. And so the typical, normal human consciousness sense we have of awareness being in the body, usually somewhere here in the head, that has got flipped around. It's like awareness is vast and this body is in awareness.

There's a lot of freedom here. Tremendous amount of freedom. Can begin, with this, just watching the fireworks fading back into the sky, can begin to get a sense our experiences do not define us. The events of body, the events of mind, of heart, the events of the environment, they actually possess no inherent power to constrain us or imprison us in any real way. It's just stuff arising out of the space of awareness, disappearing back.

Very real sense, and a very real sense of freedom can come from it. And again, we may have read or heard something like, "Our true nature is unstained, is completely free," and this seems to fit right in with that. We feel, "Aha, now I'm getting somewhere!" [laughs] "Finally!" Nothing that arises or passes in the space seems to affect the space. Pure awareness, it seems. Pure awareness. And ... it seems sensations, thoughts, emotions, sounds, sights, all of that, arises and passes, is born and dies, but this space of awareness seems to remain. It does not seem to be born or die. It seems unchanging. And this really strikes a deep chord in a person practising this way. You begin to wonder: is that awareness, is this vast awareness, is that what people might mean when they say "the Deathless"? Is that what people might mean when they say "the Unconditioned"? Maybe I somehow just need to sink into it, or just keep opening to it. A person has this very real question. Quite common.

But a little reflection. What about death? So it seems to be steady, it seems to be open and just there, and everything's arising and passing. How can we know that that, even that sense of spacious awareness, won't disappear with death? The end of awareness. That awareness is something that's actually born with our birth and dies with our death. So if we're looking for a real Deathless, a real freedom beyond death, we can't accept that unless we're going to just swallow something pretty big on faith, on blind belief.

If a person keeps hanging out in that space and practises with it, it can go deeper. The sense of it goes deeper. We touched on this a little bit in the question and answer period. It can begin to seem, in that vast awareness, that everything is somehow of the same substance as awareness, the same substance as the space of awareness. So everything that seems so solid, inner and outer, all of this, is somehow actually just really, in its essence, it's awareness. It appears to come out of and back into, but it's all just awareness. It's hard to find -- searching for a good metaphor image, somewhat to say like the waves of an ocean. So the waves come out of the ocean, they make nice shapes, or big or scary shapes or whatever it is, and then they go back down, but actually it's all ocean, it's all the same substance. It's all, in a way, impressions in awareness, not different than awareness.

This can be a very real sense, a very strong, real sense that we have in practice. With practice, we have that in practice. And then we can say things, everything, inner and outer, is empty because it's of the same nature as awareness, it's not different than awareness. It's not real in the way that we tend to [knocks on something] think of it being real, because actually it's just awareness. And then this really starts to seem to correspond with a lot of teachings that we've heard, and actually it does correspond with a lot of teachings that we've heard. So in the Advaita tradition that's quite popular, we hear "non-duality." You say, ah, not two, non-duality, not two -- yeah, that's right, everything's one, everything's just one awareness. It's a kind of oneness. And there is, in this opening that a human being can have, a beautiful sense of oneness. There's nothing but this vast, unperturbed awareness, just existing by itself.

Oneness seems to correspond very much to a lot of the deep, mystical teachings that we hear, or one mind. Again, it seems like it's just one mind, everything is one mind. Cosmic consciousness. This is a very real perception, and incredibly striking perception that one can have. Awareness knowing itself, the play of consciousness -- all this begins to really make sense. Self-existent, just eternal in a way, vast, unchanging, beautiful, mystical.

Sometimes in that state a person may notice there's a kind of fading away of objects, and there's just left this vast sense of awareness. Sometimes not. But it doesn't seem to matter; awareness is awareness. And there really is, in that opening, a real beauty and a real sense of mystery. And a person that practises this way a lot, and has a lot of experience entering into that opening, that state, will be very radiant, very beautiful person. They will feel a lot of freedom, immense amount of freedom and joy, for much of the time.

But is that the true nature of awareness? It might be that a person practising is going through all this and experiencing all this. And what's quite common, unfortunately, is for people to reach that place, after years of practice certainly, but to reach that place and to kind of stop there. And the questioning has stopped. The inquiry has stopped. And, you know, frankly it's an amazing place. But is it a place to stop?

So another person might feel quite uneasy, either with the idea that actually there's nothing out there at all, or some other -- not quite sure why there's an uneasiness there. Can we keep that questioning alive? Can we actually listen to that uneasiness? It's not comfortable, and it can actually be extremely uncomfortable. I actually remember being on a long retreat and feeling like I couldn't find the answers to these questions. I could not find the answers to these questions. And actually bringing me to tears at a certain point with the frustration, with the uneasiness. So it's not comfortable to keep that questioning alive.

But if we backtrack a little, what might be some of the assumptions that are underlying something like that? In that state that I've just described, this beautiful, open, self-existent, vast, eternal awareness -- awareness, consciousness, whatever name you want to give it, that which knows, has the quality, qualities of being extremely simple. Simple, very natural, effortless, passive in a way, open. Versus something which is often called mind, which is a lot of thinking and analysing and all this stuff, and attending to things.

Because of that simplicity of that sense, there's a real beauty to it. However, is there some unrecognized assumption there: are we perhaps, do we perhaps, have a bias towards simplicity? In my experience, this is quite common. Occasionally you come across someone who is really hung up, they want everything to be really complex, and they love the Abhidhamma and this really intricate Buddhist psychology and philosophy. It's really rare. It's really rare, and they don't tend to -- at least don't tend to stick around places like Gaia House long. What's much more common is for us to have this assumption or even longing for the truth of things to be simple. "Ah!", relief from our usually complex minds. And we hear the truth is simple, it's easy, it's all so simple, and it's like, "Yes! Yes! Please! Can it be simple?" And it's lovely.

But ... are we letting our likes and dislikes, or our opinions about truth being simple or complex or whatever, get in the way and block our investigation, our passage to the truth? Maybe truth is not complex or simple. Maybe it's actually beyond what we can even call simple or complex.

Couple of other things that can come in here, in a very sort of insidious way. After a certain level, after a certain point in practice, words describing the nature of awareness, describing ultimate reality, etc., all begin to sound pretty similar. Someone can talk about vastness or spaciousness or nothingness or emptiness, and actually there's a whole host of different meanings and levels of meanings. So we can sort of describe our experience, and it seems to correspond to a lot of other people using the same words, and so again we tend to stop looking, or we can tend to stop looking.

Or also this notion that the truth is actually beyond concepts. The real, ultimate truth is non-conceptual. So again, what can happen for some people is we get a little sloppy. We say, ah, we don't like concepts anyway, and concepts are responsible for, you know, the misery of Western civilization and all that. And we just sort of let go of that, and say I'm going to just be non-conceptual about all this. Now, there's a real beauty in that. But it's possible that we could be being a little bit lazy, a little bit sloppy. Often when we say "non-conceptual," there's actually a whole host of concepts that are operating just below the radar screen, just below the radar. So conceiving, conceptuality, is something very deep, much deeper than the use of words.

So this beautiful, vast, mystical, open, eternal, self-existent awareness. As I remember talking to one teacher many years ago and questioning about this, he pointed out, "Yeah, but I wish everyone could open to that." But that sense, there's still a sense of permanence in it, unchanging, permanence, eternality in it. Being permanent, being eternal, it's still of time. It's still bound up in time. The Buddha very skilfully and very precisely with his language calls it a "perception attainment." So it's a depth to which perception can open to. But actually it's only a way of practising. It's only extremely skilful means of practising. Extremely deep and extremely skilful. It's only a way of practising. It's not the ultimate truth, though that way of practising is absolutely fantastic and great. And as I think I said on the talk on samādhi, my teacher, Ajaan Ṭhānissaro, said to me, "Get attached, Rob." [laughs] "Don't be in too much of a hurry to move on from these things." Because it transforms. Opening to this, being in this, dipping in and out over and over, will profoundly affect the heart, affect the perception, the sense of the world, the sense of one's life. But don't move on too soon.

Actually, like I said, unfortunately it seems that a lot of people don't move on at all. It's quite common to just stop the questioning there. Is there something that's more true, more real? Can we keep that questioning alive? Then a person might review their practice. They might say, "What is going on here? Sometimes I can experience consciousness as this very rapid arising and passing. Sometimes as this unchanging, vast, eternal, etc. And sometimes in the course of one sitting, if I have enough skill in it, I can actually experience one and then the other. What is going on?"

I asked one teacher many years ago, "What is going on there?" And he said, well, there are actually two kinds of awareness, and one is this very small, and one is very big, and it's this whole complex metaphysical system that, you know, reminds one of sort of medieval architecture of the planetary system or something. What's going on here? What's going on? Could it be that consciousness and the perception of things are actually bound up together, are actually inseparable? So that when there's a certain perception -- a very fast arising and passing -- consciousness begins to appear that way. When there's a perception of vastness and stillness, awareness appears to seem that way.

Maybe how awareness seems takes on the aspect of the perception at that time because it's bound up with the perception. So now, if this is true, we seem to have come, beginning to come, full circle. What seemed to be free, this unaffected mirror, this space which was unaffected, is maybe completely bound up. Awareness is bound up with perception, with things. So in a way, it's not free. This is the whisper, the beginning, of something utterly remarkable, really, truly radical, completely radical. Somehow, in the very not-freeness of awareness is the understanding of our freedom and the freedom of all things.

So there are a couple of routes onward. In fact, there are many. But I want to just highlight a couple. One is quite simple. So there's a global sense of awareness, and in that awareness, even begin to notice less of a difference between, say, sounds and thoughts or body sensations. It's all just this global space of awareness, and things arising and passing, and not really noticing the differences so much between things. More emphasis on the space. But taking one step back and saying, that sense of the space of awareness, that sense itself of awareness, even if everything seems to have disappeared and there's just this sense of vast awareness, that, too, is an impression in awareness. That, too, is something happening in awareness. And so, in that moment, to reflect on that, and keep reflecting on that, keep reflecting on that. This, too, you could say, it just happening in awareness.

So in a way, this is a very simple approach. What can happen is that -- well, it's hard to put into words, but consciousness sort of pops out, and there's a moment, a sense of something: awareness not being of space or time. It's something not of space and not of time. Another route that's probably more helpful because it gives a fuller understanding is to go the route of what the Buddha calls anattā. It's a way of practising where one -- I touched on it before -- just keeps regarding what comes up as not me, not mine, not-self. So sensations, thoughts, emotions, sounds, everything, not me, not mine. Sometimes people have a little resistance to practising this way because they want to just be with what is, and just not do anything, "I want to do less." But actually, without our realizing it, all the time we're saying "me, mine." Sometimes we're aware of it. Sometimes we're not aware of it. So to say not me, not mine, is actually to do less. It's to take that hook of "me, mine," of identification, out of experience. It's actually to do less. And again, this is really a practice. This is really a skill that we can develop. Not me, not mine.

But then to go a step further and reflect: awareness, consciousness, also not me, not mine. It's also just happening. So this is a more subtle level of practice. It's actually more difficult. All this takes practice. As I said at the beginning, I'm giving an overview. So even if it sounds -- maybe it does -- just abstract, I'm just giving an overview of one possible journey. Awareness, as well: not-self. So this is quite important, to disidentify with awareness. Because even when we've disidentified with objects coming up, there will be some identification with awareness left. That's where the identification will go. "Okay, I can't identify there, so I'll go back here and identify with the subject, the consciousness."

And in some traditions you hear, "You are the witness. That's your true nature, that's the ultimate truth of who you are." The Buddha says go beyond that. Go beyond that. Let go of the identification with awareness and see what happens. Because there will be some subtle identification with awareness that's remaining without realizing it. So this is a practice, like I said. If one practises that way and develops that practice, develops skill in that practice, there are three important possibilities.

One, when one lets go of all identification with objects or subject, there's just a most lovely, complete feeling of freedom, utter freedom. Ego, self, is not attaching to anything out there or in here, subject or object, anything at all. There's just a sense of freedom.

Second thing, though, if one hangs out and one practises this more and more, time seems to stop. Time, it's like, moments or even stretches of time, of timelessness. Something is happening to the very fabric of our reality when we disidentify, when we stop owning everything. Timelessness. Or, and/or, objects begin to fade. The things that arise no longer arise, or they're there and they just dissolve. Things disappear, including the sense of space. Disappears. What's important here is not the experience, but the understanding. Not to overvalue or overemphasize experience. It's the understanding that comes out of it. So what is the understanding that comes out of this, or hopefully will come out of that?

What it means is that time, which we usually take completely for granted as some self-existent thing that's just trundling along no matter what, and the world, things, inner and outer, are both empty. They don't actually exist by themselves without this identification of the self somewhere. When we take away that identification, it's like the fabric of reality has nothing to stand on, and it begins to crumble and fall through the floor. Time, things, objects, world are empty. They're dependent on the way of looking, on the notion of self, in some subtle way, at some subtle level.

If there's no time really, there's no time really for awareness to exist in. No time. Where's awareness going to be? How can anything exist really if there's no time for it to exist in? If there are no things, really, and no objects, really, what's awareness awareness of? The usual meaning of awareness is awareness of something, whether it's space or the bell or a sound or body or whatever. It's awareness of. But if there's no something of ... there's nothing to see, nothing that awareness can see, really. So is it Dorothy who says in The Wizard of Oz, "I don't think we're in Kansas any more"? [laughter] This is ... [laughter] Śāntideva, one of the great Mahāyāna teachers, "Why speak of that which knows when there's nothing to be known?"[1] Why speak of that which knows when there's nothing to be known, when there is no knowledge?

So what we begin to see, consciousness, awareness, that which knows, mind, whatever you want to call it, is dependent on and wrapped up with, is not separate from perception. That's one route through not-self. As we go deeper, even deeper, just a brief outline, what we begin to see is that consciousness, attention, intention, perception, vedanā, the push-pull that we've been talking about, ignorance, a notion of duality, a notion of time, a notion of things, of self, all of that is actually dependent on each other, completely dependent. Consciousness depends on perception, and perception depends on consciousness. All of these stand together sort of propping each other up, inseparable from each other. There's nothing at the base of it. It's completely groundless.

So the notion that we had before of awareness being something completely natural and effortless and passive and still, either the mirror or the space, now gets replaced with a notion -- or perhaps on the way to this more deep answer -- with a notion of something more akin to, you know, a stage manager at a theatre production who's running around behind the stage trying to make sure everything -- trying to get everyone looking right. Awareness is actually a tremendously active process. For all this to appear, even when it seems like I'm just sitting, doing nothing, I'm just being ... tremendously active process, which has no base.

So this, actually, this whole notion between being and doing, it's quite a division that we often get in the teaching. "Just be. I just want to be," versus doing, which gets a bad rap. Actually to see through that duality. Being is doing. No doing, no being. Consciousness depends on things and objects. Objects and things depend on consciousness. Consciousness does not exist in time. This is completely counterintuitive.

So the Buddha's very precise about all this. I mean, it's amazing how precise he tried to be. As precise as he possibly could. As I mentioned very briefly before, even this, in this state of very vast, open awareness, eternal, unchanging and all that, there can be some fading, some fading of the experience of objects. Why? Similar to when we were talking about the vedanā, when we relax the push and pull, relax, the letting go, because of this dependent origination, we're not actually feeding the appearance of things. So there is some fading. But the Buddha is so precise. And so, again, words can sound very similar -- emptiness, nothingness, spaciousness, etc. There, in a way, in a weird way, there are types of nothingness, and the Buddha talks about this.

What we uncover at the very deepest level is something that has no dimensions in space and no dimensions in time. It's beyond nothingness. Beyond nothingness even as a concept. It's gone beyond all concepts. Where there are concepts, there's ignorance, and the ignorance gives rise to things and a subject and an object in relation to things. Again, another Mahāyāna sūtra: "Not to see anything is to see excellently." Not to see anything is to see excellently.

So who's the other character -- Alice in Wonderland: "curiouser and curiouser" as we go deeper into this. It's really gone beyond what can be conceived about. For something not to exist in time, it's gone beyond what can be conceived about. We come to a place where that which knows, knows nothing. It's not real in any way. It's not a basis for anything. It's groundless. Consciousness is dependent on all these other factors, and all these other factors are dependent on consciousness. There's nothing anywhere, in any way, separate from anything.

Knowing, that which knows, knowing, and the known, are not two. But they're also not one. They're not a multiplicity, and they're also not nothing. Consciousness is unfindable. It's unfindable. But not -- sometimes you hear people saying, "It's unfindable like your eyes, like you can't see your eyes." Which is okay, but the assumption there is, well, your eyes are still there; it's just we can't see them. But actually consciousness is unfindable because it doesn't really exist. Actually it doesn't exist and it doesn't not exist. So some Zen traditions, Huang Po and other teachers, "True mind is no mind." There's a quote from Huang Po, he says, he's talking about this true mind, this no mind, the true nature of mind: "The people of the world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. [Blocked] by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive [it]."[2] They do not perceive the nature of mind. No mind, nothing to liberate. No self, no world, no mind, no problem.

So perhaps that all seems very abstract and unreachable and not for me, at least in the next thousand lifetimes or whatever. But it actually is. It actually is. And in this practice, in this vipassanā practice, these are -- this is a thing that's possible for us to come to, to open to. We talk about emptiness, and emptiness is -- the mark of emptiness, as one of my teachers said, the mark of emptiness is freedom and joy and love. And it's really something that's possible. I'm not talking about abstract things or intellectual things.

Shall we sit together for a minute?

  1. BCA 9:60. ↩︎

  2. John Blofeld, tr., The Zen Teachings of Huang Po: On the Transmission of the Mind (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 36--7. ↩︎

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry