What If Awareness Isn’t Real?
What if awareness isn’t real? A recent scientific study found that awareness or consciousness is a construction of the mind like everything else – like the self, our world views, all of it.
This latest scientific discovery is not particularly groundbreaking. In fact, postmodern philosophical explorations in the last century have essentially obliterated inherent metaphysical notions like awareness or spirit. They have torn these notions to shreds in so many ways and from so many angles that it is embarrassing in those circles to posit such notions. Whatever we think is pregiven as a reality is exactly not that. It is a construction. This has been dealt with so directly that there are now things like non-metaphysical nonduality and post-metaphysics popping up. Yet, most of the spiritual community is ignorant of what science is currently saying and what these postmodern explorations have uncovered about how our minds conceive – essentially “make up” – everything, even our most profound metaphysical notions. Even though our spiritual circles are slow to see this, we have all already seen it, yet we often turn a blind eye to it. For example, those who follow certain regional traditions and teachings tend to see what those teachings and traditions teach and nothing more. For example, a Buddhist is not going to find Union with Christ. A Christian is not going to realize nirvana. True nature is realized only by those who follow teachings that say that there is a true nature and that this is what you are. I found this out long ago when I would meet with people who had experiences of the dropping away of everything. They didn’t follow any teachings. When I suggested they were seeing their true nature, they looked at me as if I had just said “You are a squirrel.” Even when they began to call their realization “true nature,” they did so by taking that on as a conception, a context for what had been seen. And that’s the mind, through and through.
Awareness gets thrown around as if it is the final realization, as if everything is just awareness. But look around – nothing in the universe is labeling itself awareness. Labeling happens through the mind. And to say that we have to be aware in order to even see a universe is still the mind, for it posits a division between what is aware and what one is aware of. All divisions are of the mind. They are constructions.
The perennial philosophy itself, which is the notion that there is one pregiven reality that we all come to see, regardless of our particular tradition or spiritual view, has been obliterated also. If there is one pregiven reality, why is everyone still arguing about it? Is reality arguing with itself? How would that happen anyway if there is one reality? Why do Buddhists, Advaitists, Scientists and Christians still assert that whatever they are realizing is what everyone else is realizing as one fundamental truth? Could it be that what they are realizing is only what their teachings and traditions make room for? Could it be that the notion of one fundamental truth is just another way the ego wants to be right? If so, that has nothing to do with a pregiven, nonconceptual reality. That is all about self.
Is this the end of metaphysical notions like awareness? I say “no.” It just means it is time for a change in how we view these things (or non-things). Setting up the notion of awareness can be helpful on one’s path to freedom. It provides a way to identify less with thoughts and other arisings that come and go. But inevitably, many land on that conception as a final realization, still dividing the universe in two, between awareness and all that other stuff that comes and goes.
We often hear that all there is, is Oneness. But did you know that many schools of Buddhism do not posit Oneness as a final insight. Instead, they say it is empty too, like everything else. It is a construction.
Wow, this sweeps the proverbial rug out from under us. It calls on us to look at our reality differently – to stop taking the words of spiritual teachings, science and religion on face value. It calls on us to look at our conceptions, no matter what they are and no matter how profound they appear to be.
But isn’t this what freedom is about anyway? Isn’t it about not getting cozy within mental prisons that create more divisions and, instead, letting the fire of freedom burn everything up?
If you are willing and ready to let that fire burn it all up, nothing that is said here will offend you. Instead, it will excite you at the possibility of going deeper then where you are currently landing in your conceptions of reality. If this offends you, and you wish to argue with me, be prepared. I’m not defending a view here. I’m merely inviting you to examine your own. You’d only be arguing with yourself. Apparently, that’s what reality does.