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I am struggling to understand clearly the distinctions between Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness and would appreciate a good discussion around these topics.

If anyone would care to take a stab at defining/explaining any or all of these concepts I would be most grateful - and if you know of any websites/books/videos that you believe might be helpful, I'd appreciate hearing about them as well.

Thanks,

John

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
9/25/09 4:13 PM as a reply to John Finley.
Sure John: In Buddhist terminology self is a mental formation that causes one to perceive that one "is" a self or "has" a self. It is due to our assumptions about existence rather than our direct experience. In our direct experience if we try to define exactly what self is, we get nowhere. It keeps changing. To perceive a self is a false perception

Mind is not the brain. What is mind? It is a function that has only the limits we place upon it, but its own nature has no real limits. You might even say mind is Buddha. Can you tell me, where does mind begin, where does it end?

Consciousness, unlike its use in Western science means consciousness of something. In Buddhist terminology there has to be an object of consciousness for consciousness to exist. The idea of consciousness in traditional Buddhist teaching refers to "conscious of..." where as in the west (even western Buddhists) ideas like "higher consciousness" or "the seat of consciousness" use the word consciousness where the Buddhist term mind would be more accurate.

Awareness on the other hand, may or may not have an object. Awareness is in a special category in this sense. Awareness denotes a skilled disposition of mind, whether there is an object or not.

Okay, guys, agree, disagree? Have at it.

p e a c e
h a n s e n

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
9/26/09 2:50 AM as a reply to John Finley.
Self in the ordinary sense is you, obviously.

Self in the technical sense is pure pattern recognition on seemingly repeating pattern of multi-layered sensations that imply a continuous entity moving in time, whereas bare experience reveals that what has always appeared this way can also be directly perceived to be just empty, causal, self-luminous or empty sensations manifesting where they are and doing their own thing.

Consciousness, other than its standard meaning of being awake in the ordinary sense, is also used in the technical sense to imply the mental impressions of things that follow them, which is what we replay when we remember or think about something that happened, like a mental echo that automatically follows all perceived sensations.

Awareness, other than its standard meaning of being aware, implies something that does not exist independently of sensations, but is actually just a quality inherent in the fact that sensations manifest or present themselves, not to anything, and certainly not to something stable called "Awareness", and thus, we could call awareness a conventional designation of an illusion, the illusion that there is a Subject perceiving objects, when in fact, all the sensations that appear to be Subject are just sensations that are aware/presenting where they are, and all sensations that appear to be the objects of this Subject's awareness are in fact also just aware/presenting where they are, meaning all of these sensations in this whole field are just presenting where they do, also called luminosity, also called emptiness, also called "True Self" (which is very dangerous language from this point of view, but used sometimes anyway), also called all sorts of things, but one way or the other, is not something in one place, stable, or separate from the qualities that arise and it erroneously appears to illuminate, being an implication without anything that the implication refers to beyond that which implies it.

Helpful?

D

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
9/28/09 1:55 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thanks to you both, this info is very helpful!

Daniel: "...when in fact, all the sensations that appear to be Subject are just sensations that are aware/presenting where they are, and all sensations that appear to be the objects of this Subject's awareness are in fact also just aware/presenting where they are..."

I hope this doesn't sound too ignorant or simplistic of me, but are you saying that in each moment there exists sensations of an object, plus sensations of a subject and an awareness that "knows" both sets, (e.g. the presentations, plus the perception of the presentations, plus the awareness that knows them = a single "unit "of consciousness)?

Thanks,

John

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
9/28/09 4:44 PM as a reply to John Finley.
John Finley:
I am struggling to understand clearly the distinctions between Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness and would appreciate a good discussion around these topics.


Hi John;

Great questions, and you're not alone; I know the struggle to understand these definitions first hand. And later in practice after it's understood we'll probably have to struggle again to let go of the definitions!

Since dharma overground is a fourm deals with practical matters, the last thing I want to do is to bring philosophy into the mix, so I won't.

But I think it's worth noting that one of the things which tends to be so confusing about "Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness" is that different sources you'll encounter in spiritualty use the exact same four terms in radically different contexts. That in itself often makes things unnessarily confusing.

Just to illistrate the point, here are two examples of using the same terms in different ways:

Asanga, and Vasubandhu: would say that the is self is an illusion, and that all phenomona are consciousness existing as a projection of mind in a field of awareness.

Ramana Maharshi, and Nisargadatta: would say that self and awareness alone are the ultimate reality, and that mind and consciousness exist only as "I" thoughts within self.

..

...So yeah, it's bound to get confusing. Even within different schools of Buddhism there may be considerable differences in how the terms "Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness" are applied. So it's just good to be aware of that, but unless you are attracted to philosophy it needn't be a major issue. If you are doing any indepth reading on the subject, it might lessen the confusion to look at each work individually and clarify the context of the words before you explore their meanings. It would then be possible to explore their validity in direct experience.

In terms of what I understand first hand; my own instincts tell me that Eric Hansen's definitions are sound. For now that's all I have to add.

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
9/28/09 5:42 PM as a reply to Mike John D.
Discerning the difference between a philosophical problem and a practical one is not always easy, in this case the person practicing wants an anatomy lesson related to practice and that makes it worth commenting on in and of itself. My answers are from a perspective of Buddhist history "101" and Daniel's are from hard core practice and attainment.

Some say self is an illusion, some say is eternal, some say it is really a divine being dreaming, so on, and so forth. All I am saying is that we are culturally programmed to recognize an entity called "self" when in fact if we analyze deeply enough we see that all we actually experience is "experience" itself. And from a practice point of view that is all we really need to know.

I think my comments on "mind" are typical mahayana so I will reserve them for the area of "opinions" until we hash this out.

These are interesting distinctions - for example it is possible to "hold" something in your mind that you are not yet aware of. There are many questions I have and strong leadings, that like a finger pointing to the moon, I can see where they point but I don't yet have all the understanding of due to my lack of experience. So the mind has a capacity and an expectation but the awareness and understanding is not complete so it is not fulfilled. So this isn't just theory, but an objective view of my situation.

For example.

P e a c e,

h a n s e n

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
9/28/09 9:25 PM as a reply to John Finley.
John Finley:


I hope this doesn't sound too ignorant or simplistic of me, but are you saying that in each moment there exists sensations of an object, plus sensations of a subject and an awareness that "knows" both sets, (e.g. the presentations, plus the perception of the presentations, plus the awareness that knows them = a single "unit "of consciousness)?


No, just the reverse: that there is a field of causal, transient sensations that arise and vanish. Some appear to be a self or subject by a trick of asynchrony, some appear to be object by that same perceptual problem, some appear to be awareness, some appear to be that which awareness is aware of, but in fact, they are all just sensations, manifesting where they are, known by nothing that can be found except the fact of themselves presenting, which is really enough, and all the rest is just added confusion. The field of experience is just that, nothing more. In the seeing, just the seen, in the hearing, just the heard, in the thinking, just the thought, etc. and this applies to all phenomena. The universe happens causally by itself, and is known by nothing separate from that manifestation.

Thus, there are sensations, neither are subject or object but may appear so unless investigated well, there is no awareness that is a separate thing, as sensations simply present with this being inherent in their arising and vanishing. All the sensations that arise and vanish in what in conventional language you would describe as your whole field of experience are nothing more than that, including all the sensations that appear to be you and all those that appear to be not you, but instead, reality is that these arise on their own, manifest where they are, are known by nothing else as there is nothing else, and thus, all is simplicity itself and, if practice is good, obviously so. From this very precise and accurate point of view, awareness is an added concept that adds nothing to the fact of manifestation.

Helpful?

D

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
9/28/09 11:09 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Helpful.

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
9/29/09 3:41 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Very helpful! I think I'm beginning to grasp the concept, and that gives me a much clearer idea of what I'm looking for.

Thank you.

John

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
10/4/09 11:32 PM as a reply to John Finley.
As Mike points out, context is important. Certainly holding one view or another on these topics does not prevent someone from awakening. The views are there to support a certain strategy or approach – they relate more to practice.

Even within Buddhism you will find these terms presented in different ways (for example: Dolpopa).

My suggestion is to choose your tradition, accept their definitions, become awakened, and then throw them (your definitions) away (except when you want to argue with someone). Really, no matter which definitions you choose, they will come up short in the end and may even come up short somewhere along the way.

-Chuck

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
10/8/09 12:18 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Such an interesting way of looking at reality! Though it might take stream entry to even start to truly, deeply understand it. At least, it seems that way.

RE: Self, Mind, Consciousness and Awareness
Answer
3/24/11 11:36 PM as a reply to John Finley.
Hey John,

If you're interested, I'm aware that each of these terms (which are really just standard English translations of specific Pali or Sanskrit terms) has a fairly precise, specific meaning and explanation within the complex system of what you might call Buddhist psychology. This is especially true in the suttas and commentaries of the Theravada tradition, because Nikaya Buddhism (of which Theravada is the only surviving sect) tends to place a high value on careful delineations of the subtle nature of things like consciousness vs. perception vs. mind vs. self, etc.

I myself don't know much about these very technical definitions, but I know that they exist and that a vast amount of literature has been written on them - the Indian philosophical tradition which Gotama had to 'justify himself' to (in a certain sense) after his enlightenment loved such complex and precise conceptual systems.

So if you're interested in looking at these terms from that angle (which probably won't give you much help with actual practice, but hey, who knows) the easiest way to start would probably be to look around the Access to Insight website. They have a good index and search function and all that, so you could find some good stuff on there.

But again, I'm merely talking about some very specific and technical interpretations of these concepts from a single, sectarian viewpoint - but you may find it interesting because this particular viewpoint is very much 'into' exploration of exactly what these things consist of.

For what it's worth...