Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

Sean Lindsay, modified 7 Years ago at 4/1/15 11:41 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 4/1/15 11:37 AM

Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

Posts: 46 Join Date: 11/3/09 Recent Posts
I've been recently engaging in a number of practices that all seem to direct either awareness or attention or both to the basic awareness state of the mind.  The practices have been effective in enabling me to perceive with greater consistency and facility the basic awareness of the mind.  Additionally, as I've worked with these practices over the past several weeks, I've noticed a significant decrease in emotional volatility and a similarly significant increase in equanimity.  The equanimity, in turn, has enhanced the clarity of perceptions.  All of which is fine and good.

I have a question that has arisen as I've reflected on this situation:  is staying with this practice and pursuing it more and more deeply the path to full awakening, or is this better understood as exploring the skandha of consciousness, and something that should be better dealt with as a step along the traditional Theravada path to awakening by turning attention to the three characteristics?  Is it even possible to experience directly the skandha of consciousness without an object of consciousness?  My limited understanding of the abhidhamma is that consciousness only arises in connection with a sensory perception.  So I'm a bit at sea on this one.

The principal mindstate that has been invoked by these practices -- essentially open, nonjudgmental, equanimous, vivid awareness -- seems to persist either in the foreground or the background of the mind during all waking hours (and in a few occasional lucid moments in dreams, as well).  And it seems generally beneficial and has yielded valuable insights.  But it bears no apparent resemblance to the complete extinguishment of mind (and self) that has occurred at least once in my meditation practice in the past, and which I have associated with Pali canon references to nibbana.

Path, stepping stone along the path, or something else entirely?  And what to do next?

I'd welcome your thoughts.
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Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago at 4/1/15 1:48 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 4/1/15 12:10 PM

RE: Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

Posts: 995 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
Hey,

Could you post a quick blurb on what these awareness practices are?  I'd be interested to hear about them. emoticon

EDIT: You may find this sutta helpful. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.122.than.html
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tom moylan, modified 7 Years ago at 4/1/15 4:06 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 4/1/15 4:06 PM

RE: Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
howdy,
there are mahamudra and dzogen practices which point out the clear luminous uncontrived nature of the mind.  generally these are 'pointed out' by a teacher to his pupil once the student has done much work and the teacher considers him ready.

the word conciousness is tricky and is used in different ways.  as a 'skanda', aggregaate or heap it is the knowing of phenomena which arises.  i think that what you are describing is more the mind.  investigating the nature of the mind is a very strong practice no matter to which tradition you attribute it to and there are practices in theravada as well as the mahayana, vajrayana schools.

one additional practice you might be interested in is checking out the sense of 'I' or the watcher when you are in that open equanimous space and see how it differs from your 'conciousness'.
Sean Lindsay, modified 7 Years ago at 4/2/15 9:16 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 4/2/15 9:16 AM

RE: Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

Posts: 46 Join Date: 11/3/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for the link to Thanissaro Bikkhu's piece.  I found it to be an interesting contrast to one I was reading yesterday morning by Bikkhu Bodi:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_27.html

I suspect it would be interesting to sit in on a discussion between the two of them on the subject of emptiness and its role in Theravada practice and teaching.

There've been a number of practices.   This one ( http://www.headless.org/experiments.htm   ) seemed a little bit gimmicky to me, but it worked nonetheless.  The one that was most effective for me was a group awareness practice that was (in the first session I did) done in a google+ hangout led by Sperry Andrews (http://www.connectioninstitute.org/PDF/gig1.pdf   ).  After I and some friends got accustomed to the structure of the practice, we found it effective in dyads, rather than larger groups.  The gist of it is taking turns finding words to describe awareness itself, rather than the contents of awareness.  The exercise starts by taking short turns -- 30 seconds or so -- then gradually increasing the length of each person's talk period.  At first, it was difficult to remain in the state of perception of awareness while formulating and using words to articulate the perceived characteristics, resulting in a bit of switching from one mindstate to the other.  Eventually, it became easier and easier to stay in the perceiving (and relatively nonconceptual) mindstate while using language. 
Sean Lindsay, modified 7 Years ago at 4/2/15 9:23 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 4/2/15 9:23 AM

RE: Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

Posts: 46 Join Date: 11/3/09 Recent Posts
Tom, thanks for the ideas.  Yes -- everything I have previously understood about the skandha of consciousness seems different from this mind/awareness thing.  Hence my question.

I do think that it is related to the dzogchen and mahamudra practices and teachings, but I've wondered about the connection (or lack thereof) between those practices on the one hand and the Theravada path teachings on the other.  The observations by Thanissaro Bikkhu that Not Tao linked to were interesting, and were the first I've heard of emptiness outside of the Mahayana or Vedanta paths.

And regarding the "I" construct in that space, it flickers in and out.  When it's there and noticed, it gets labeled "selfing."  At other times, it's not a factor.  There's just the perception of awareness/emptiness.  Though eventually something else arises and my velcro-mind sticks to it until I realize I've gotten distracted once again.  Then back to it. ;-)
Derek, modified 7 Years ago at 4/2/15 9:44 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 4/2/15 9:44 AM

RE: Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

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Sean, attending to awareness as awareness and regarding awareness as merely a khandha actually have something in common. Both serve to extricate yourself from the contents of awareness. As Kenneth puts it: "You are unenlightened to the extent that you are embedded in your experience." So while the two practices lead in different directions -- and certainly imply different ontologies -- they both serve the same fundamental purpose, which is to disembed "self" from experience.
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Nicky, modified 7 Years ago at 4/3/15 8:17 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 4/3/15 8:08 AM

RE: Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

Posts: 484 Join Date: 8/2/14 Recent Posts
Sean Lindsay:
I've been recently engaging in a number of practices that all seem to direct either awareness or attention or both to the basic awareness state of the mind.... I've noticed a significant decrease in emotional volatility and a similarly significant increase in equanimity.  

.... is staying with this practice and pursuing it more and more deeply the path to full awakening, or is this better understood as exploring the skandha of consciousness, and something that should be better dealt with as a step along the traditional Theravada path to awakening by turning attention to the three characteristics? 

Is it even possible to experience directly the skandha of consciousness without an object of consciousness?  My limited understanding of the abhidhamma is that consciousness only arises in connection with a sensory perception.  So I'm a bit at sea on this one.

The principal mindstate that has been invoked by these practices -- essentially open, nonjudgmental, equanimous, vivid awareness -- seems to persist either in the foreground or the background of the mind during all waking hours (and in a few occasional lucid moments in dreams, as well). 

And it seems generally beneficial and has yielded valuable insights.  But it bears no apparent resemblance to the complete extinguishment of mind (and self) that has occurred at least once in my meditation practice in the past, and which I have associated with Pali canon references to nibbana.

.

Not sure where the Pali defines Nibbana as the complete extinguishment of mind or where the Pali equates 'mind' with 'self'. The Pali describes Nibbana as the extinguishment of craving (greed, hatred & delusion). How can an 'extingished' (unconsciousness) mind be 'awakened'?

All objects of consciousness (except Nibbana) are impermanent & inherently selfless. It follows if you continue the practises you are describing (of focusing on consciousness itself) then the mind naturally will become aware of the three characteristics. Since the three characteristics are inherent, universal & pervasive, why would a special practise be required to discerned them? For example, each morning when I sit on the toilet & defecate, impermanence, unsatisfactoriness & not-self should be quite obvious.  

As for consciousness being without an object, this cannot occur. Thus your intellectual dilemma occurs because your awareness of consciousness is so pervasive that it does not discern certain very subtle objects of consciousness, such as perception and the feeling of equinimity, which are objects of consciousness.

If you can describe this 'consciousness' you refer to then obviously it is being perceived. Similarly, if you can describe non-judgement, equinimity, etc, then they are being perceived. Perception is obviously functioning.

As for the path to awakening, it is the forsaking (abandoning) of craving.

Watching the mind accords more closer to the path of abandoning craving than say watching breathing because it is more subtle. For many, trying to watch breathing is fraught with over-exertion-activity, striving, lust & wrong effort.

However, if the mind becomes engrossed/infatuated with consciousnes then who knows? There could be craving.

The most important thing to understand about consciousness is no effort is required for consciousness to be aware.

Therefore, the more consciousness is permitted to be as natural, free & clear as possible, the more it actually will be aware of meditation objects, such as breathing or the three characteristics.

An old Thai monk once wrote/spoke a pretty long-winded book called 'Handbook for Mankind'.

But in this book (links below) he makes the distinction between the superior 'Nature Method' (which you are kind of practising) and the inferior 'Organised Method' (that the structured Burmese schools try to teach).

Regards emoticon

Book contents: http://www.budsas.org/ebud/budasa-handbook/budasa00.htm
Nature Method: http://www.budsas.org/ebud/budasa-handbook/budasa07.htm
Organised Method: http://www.budsas.org/ebud/budasa-handbook/budasa08.htm
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Nicky, modified 7 Years ago at 4/3/15 8:38 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 4/3/15 8:34 AM

RE: Awareness -- end game or skandha of consciousness?

Posts: 484 Join Date: 8/2/14 Recent Posts
Derek Cameron:
Sean, attending to awareness as awareness and regarding awareness as merely a khandha actually have something in common. Both serve to extricate yourself from the contents of awareness. As Kenneth puts it: "You are unenlightened to the extent that you are embedded in your experience." So while the two practices lead in different directions -- and certainly imply different ontologies -- they both serve the same fundamental purpose, which is to disembed "self" from experience.

Well-explained, Derek.

My impression is there is no where of importance in the scriptures where the Buddha taught to watch objects (apart from the mind itself). If we read carefully, the Buddha only taught watching the mind to keep it free so it can manifest is natural state of knowing.

Now how is mindfulness with in-&-out breathing developed & pursued so as to be of great fruit, of great benefit?

There is the case where a monk, having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building, sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, and setting mindfulness to the fore. Always mindful, he breathes in; always mindful he breathes out.

[1] When breathing in long, he knows, 'I am breathing in long'; or when breathing out long, he knows, 'I am breathing out long.' [2] Or when breathing in short, he knows, 'I am breathing in short'; or when breathing out short, he knows, 'I am breathing out short.' [3] He trains himself, 'When I breathe, experiencing all bodies.'[2] He trains himself, 'when I breathe out, experiencing all bodies.'

The monk on that occasion sees the body in & of itself by being ardent, clearly comprehending & mindful to putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world

Anapanasati Sutta: Mindfulness with Breathing




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