Nailing it down

I’ve been using the term nonduality to point to something that’s true about ordinary human consciousness—that its source is nondual. That source is recognized within an individual’s phenomenological envelope when attention is able to rest on awareness without objects, resulting in the neurological event we can call nondual realization.

What we’ll never nail down is what the nonduality actually is. In other words, we can know the nonduality of our own consciousness in a way that we can experience, but never in a way that we could ever talk about. This is because where nonduality is, a subject is not. Nonduality is experienced as nonduality, not as a person having an experience of nonduality.

But the person persists, and when they decide to discuss nonduality, they must make choices about what to say. Most of the time, they find quotes in the Hindu and Buddhist literature, or out of a spiritual tradition they adopted along the way. Maybe they’ll talk about a “presence,” or “silence,” or “emptiness.” These will all be utterly unsuccessful attempts at conveying what nonduality is to itself.

The Hindus came up with the composite term sat-chit-ananda for the job, otherwise known as being (or existence)-consciousness-bliss. One of the reasons it’s better than “silence” is that the latter term is bound to rise as a conceptual object—the cognitive explication within the scope of the definition of the term—since we have a much more definitive knowledge about what “silence” is like as an experience. The former will also result in a conceptual object, but since these are unfamiliar terms, or when translated, much more abstract, they are therefore not as potent as a cause of conceptual displacement.

The other thing I like about sat-chit-ananda is that it puts consciousness both inside as an embodied bliss, and outside as existence itself. You could almost say that “existence” is the cause, “consciousness” is the effect, and “bliss” is its signal. If we agree there is such a thing as awareness without objects, we have to come up with an origin for it. A materialist would say “the electrical activity of the brain!” A spiritualist would say “God, the Cosmos, whatever!” But what if it was a force of nature, like gravity? What if being was “equipped” with consciousness as a resource that could be “employed” by sophisticated biological systems?

These are pretty much the main presuppositions of this writing project, that awareness without objects exists, that it’s a feature of reality as much as biology, that it can be known within the phenomenological envelope of an individual’s life, but that it is only known as itself, rather than as an object of perception or a “state of consciousness.”



One Thought on “Nailing it down

  1. vajramrita on March 15, 2013 at 5:07 am said:

    No disagreement whatsoever with you here, just to comment from my understanding of a Buddhist perspective – the equivalence of sat-chit-ananda with the ‘nature of mind’ (Tibetan: ‘sems nyid’, synonym of ‘buddha-nature’ or ‘tathagatagarbha’). To quote:

    “The nature of mind is often described in terms of essence, nature and compassion (or energy, or responsiveness). Sogyal Rinpoche writes:

    “Imagine a sky, empty, spacious, and pure from the beginning; its essence is like this. Imagine a sun, luminous, clear, unobstructed, and spontaneously present; its nature is like this. Imagine that sun shining out impartially on us and all things, penetrating all directions; its energy, which is the manifestation of compassion, is like this: Nothing can obstruct it and it pervades everywhere.””

    One can almost see sat-chit-ananda directly in this.

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