[Editor’s Note: February 2, 2020: This essay appears in First Essays. We don’t particularly suggest it there or here. Maybe we’ll keep working on it. You never know with us.]
The body instinctively perceives/organizes/reacts-to the outside world (picture yourself walking through the creek, thoughtlessly navigating the slippery stones, curling waters, and fallen logs). The body is subconsciously creating senses-of-things (swarms of pre-idea notions about how objects and situations feel, how you can and cannot manipulate them, what other phenomena they are associated with, etc) and in this way learns how to move through and manipulate the physical world.
The mind does the same thing, except it consciously watches various hypothetical combinations of senses-of-things (example: you sit on the bank and look at a log fallen in the creek, contemplating how best to hop stones to get to it and then shimmy up it once reached and then bask in the glory of wandering up into its still living branches) (actually, in most day-to-day thoughts, we consciously contemplate the iceberglike-tips of various hypothetical combinations of senses-of-things; I’m not sure if abstracted contemplation of, for example math or first principles, allows us to hold the whole or at least the bulk of a single sense-of-something in our conscious space — maybe. But generally, we’re consciously dealing with the tips of larger, mostly subconscious contemplations.) .
The mind consciously employs the same basic method the body subconsciously uses: it feels senses-of-things and moves them around in accordance with felt senses-towards-logic, senses-towards-preferableness, senses-towards-physical-manipulation, spatio-temporal-positioning, and etc (the same senses-towards that the body subconsciously employs).
I’m not sure exactly how consciousness works. I guess the different aspects of one’s subconscious thought can to some degree turn towards the conscious space and both project notions, ideas, and/or feelings into it & consciously observe it. Does that sound right? Consciousness is a shared screen that subconscious-shading-conscious sections of thought use to debate/evolve complex thoughts together?
And the exact mechanism — ??
Simple awareness and background consciousness are what? And then contemplative focused conscious contemplation of specific ideas is different from the background of aware subconscious chatter how? (I say “the background of aware subconscious chatter” because it seems like what the Buddhist’s call “background consciousness” is subconscious thought that has sort of bleed onto the shared screen, but that has not been particularly engaged with by conscious focus.)
What is the Light? How does it relate to that which we call “God / the True Good / Dharmakaya Buddha”? Are they one and the same? Is awareness the Light? Or is it just that the Light shines through everything and so the less distracted one’s awareness is, the more one’s awareness is aware that the Light is all there really is?
Let’s say the Light = Reality = God = the True Good = the Dharmakaya Buddha (or Buddha Nature). And let’s say the Light shines through each human conscious moment and thus constitutes a kind of background vista for every human conscious moment.
From this it follows:
The Light is Reality and to the degree a conscious space focuses on the Light, the conscious space finds itself within an environment of selfless love and infinite joy. To the degree a conscious space is able to perceive that fundamental inner vista lacing the back of our conscious moment and shining through every conscious thought, that conscious space is in heaven and is inundated by heaven’s perspective: by infinite selfless joyful kindness. In the way and to the degree a conscious space relates to that environment, the conscious space will grow in wisdom and think and act more aware, clear, effectively helpful and joyfully kind.
Mind and body are linked by feels (feels include: perceptions, pains and pleasures, senses-of-things, senses-towards). Every conscious thought shades into unconscious thoughts, which — also via feels— shade into the body and the body’s instinctive assessment and decision-making. The spiritual and the mental are linked via the aware and self-conscious Love shining through all things (aka: the Light; “Love” is how It appears to human hearts: as an infinitely joyful and compassionate explosion of holding, rejoicing-in, and uplifting us all). You are what you love, and to the degree a conscious space is focussed on Love, it loves Love: ie: it assents-to and pursues infinitely effective kind joy.
When you are in a creek, you instinctively react to that setting. To the degree you realize you are most fundamentally within an infinite Kind Joy, you are enlightened and instinctively move in accordance with the True Good. To the degree your decision making process happens within the Light, your conscious decision making process is directed towards aware, clear, honest, competent, gentle, humble, effective compassionate joyful kind creative thought and action.
Ideas are concentrated and hardened swarms of impressions/feelings/senses-of-things. The body perceives inner and outer states and reacts to that input. The same process is done in conscious thought, but here the body explores swarms of perceptions and assessments consciously. In instinctual, not-consciously-regulated life, the body is like an amoeba (with its basic desperate push towards better-than-now and away from worse-than-now) unconsciously gathering and analyzing and reacting to perceptions and hypothetical interactions with that subconscious-landscape. In conscious thought, the body is like an amoeba doing the same thing but within a conscious space. In both cases, swarms of ideas/feelings interact and evolve and tussle for supremacy (for the “we’re going with this!”). To the degree a conscious space is turned towards the Light, the idea/feeling swarms perceive spiritual Love as the fundamental makeup of their reality; and because spiritual Love has the indelible stamp of Truth within It, the ideas and feelings also realize that Love is the most basic Reality of their setting.
Actually, the process of perceiving and reacting to the Light occurs in the subconscious, as well as the conscious; however, outside of consciousness, (at least from the point of view of virtue and joy) the Light’s sway is not noticeable. It is only by growing the Light in our conscious space that we can consciously experience and appreciably improve the way our ideas and feelings perceive and react to wisdom, and are thus changed and improved. Not only that, but at our deepest level we are not ideas and feelings, but rather this calm clear Light; and so by relaxing the grip of animal impulses, we can allow our truest essence to shine forth and influence the mental/material flux starting from our own vantage within this interdependent flow.
Everything is an interconnected flowing of mind/matter created by, sustained by, and shone through with a conscious Light, which Light is also everything’s essence (the Nature off of which everything flows). Therefore, to the degree one is conscious, one is more than deterministic causal chains: one is aware of and following a fundamental consciousness that is also the essence of everything. Human freedom follows axiomatically from mental/physical causal chains perceiving freedom: perceiving the free-cause: perceiving the undifferentiated Light off of which every particular thing flows. Human freedom follows from finding oneself most fundamentally within Reality; insofar as one does that, one’s thinking/feeling is overwhelmed by and cannot help but follow one’s true essence. To say one can resist wisdom is to say one can resist a nuclear explosion: when one is far far away, one is less affected, but if one turns fully to the blast, the blast will shatter one’s shell.
Since all flows together accordance with and is shone through by the same essence, the essence of all things is identical with each individual’s essence. Our essence is the Light. Wisdom is more whole-being conscious awareness of our essence, of the one essence, of the Light that creates, sustains, shines through, and ultimately overpowers the interconnected web of causality.
After Reading “There is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought”
(An interview between philosopher Peter Carruthers & article author Steven Ayer)
Peter Carruthers said that reasoning, analysis, and judgement making — all of what we might call “higher level thinking” — are done subconsciously.
He said consciousness is always rooted in sensation. Sometimes we speak thoughts to ourselves or picture a solution and in that way create our own mental input, but for a thought to be conscious it always has to be felt like a sensation is: it can never be the kind of pure cognition (reasoning) with which we often associate thinking.
He also said that consciousness is largely an inference about the thinking and feeling of the subconscious space. In conversation, we hear the meaning, rather than the logical piecing together of sound, words, meanings, grammatical rules. And experiments show that we subconsciously discover patterns before we consciously discover them. And he notes that people with autism have difficulty both reading other people’s minds and their own, suggesting that there’s only one system for inferring both our own thoughts and others. The image of consciousness is, as he puts it, “a sort of statistical summary”. As if the consciousness were the president getting briefed about what the nation is thinking and feeling. (Except most presidents have had some reasoning ability.)
Did any of you read my essay about how humans learn via empathy? That is: we associate certain words, actions, and concepts with certain internal states by reading other people’s body-language; mapping their body-language in our own mind/bodies (ie: you feel what it would be like to grimace like they are grimacing; or sometimes you even actually grimace along with them and feel it all the more acutely); and then correlating what they say and do with xyz feelings (the feelings we believe they experience because they are the feelings that we make when our body language is similar). From this it obviously follows that the worse people are at mapping feelings to and from body-language, the less insight they will have on other people’s internal thoughts. But if (as per Carruthers) the same people who struggle understanding other people’s internal thoughts struggle understanding their own, it does seem to imply that in some sense we are learning about our own internal states by reading our own body-language — both explicitly expressed by the body, or as mapped into the mind on a sort of mirror-body that the mind uses to keep track of the body (and which I read about years ago — I think it is called “homunculus”).
I can believe Peter Carruthers is correct to say that we do not consciously control the reasoning process. But does he think we can still consciously help guide it along by holding it in our conscious space and demanding it not give in to xyz-conclusion, but rather keep searching or come from another angle? That’s all we spiritual-seekers need: for reasoning to be a tool that consciousness can use and tune better or worse by holding it (reasoning) in the Light of wisdom, and thus demanding it (reasoning) proceed with intellectual, emotional, and spiritual rigor.
From my experience, consciousness may not control reasoning directly, but it can hold reasoning within its space and demand reasoning try harder and differently. That is to say: consciousness can push back on subconscious processes. This seems to agree with Carruther’s general assessment. He didn’t mention specifically the process of consciously holding the reasoning process accountable to higher standards than it might want to hold, but he gives a couple examples of consciously pushing back on the subconscious. He puts pictures of his family on his desk to motivate him to keep working. And he says sometimes with awareness we can consciously catch a mistake of the subconscious, his example being that sometimes he thinks he’s irritated but he’s really just hungry.
If I understand him correctly, Carruthers believes that consciousness arises when some sensations are focused on by awareness. Awareness and consciousness don’t always directly overlap. He gives the example of a spectator missing a gorilla running in front of him because he was preoccupied watching a basketball game. At some level his awareness registered the gorilla, but his consciousness only (he says) gets a general overview of what his body is aware of. I guess he thinks of what we call “awareness” as a kind of background awareness that is 100% sensory (with the caveat that the mind can create internal sensations, so awareness is not just of the external world) and “consciousness” as that part of the background awareness that we consciously focus on long enough to contemplate (hold it in our working memory, I guess [in accordance with the working memory theory of consciousness]). So the gorilla was never held by working memory because the conscious space could care only for basketball.
In Buddhism, there are eight consciousnesses: five sense perceptions, mind (perception), manas (self-consciousness), and storehouse consciousness.
Per Buddhist scholar Thich Nhat Hanh, mind consciousness makes plans, worries about the future, and is dependent on the body. This type of consciousness takes a lot of effort and should be minimalized. Per Carruthers, then, this sort of consciousness is not actually always conscious — only those moments when mind consciousness focuses on sensations (created either by the senses or by the mind imagining sensations) are conscious. I guess Hanh’s “mind consciousness” and Carruther’s working-memory-consciousness (we’re conscious of what we consciously focus on and hold in working memory) point to the same basic phenomenon.
Per Hanh, storehouse consciousness holds all impressions and processes them. Store consciousness is always flowing, though mind consciousness can be interrupted (ex: in a dream or coma). Per Hanh, this storehouse consciousness is what neurologists call “background consciousness”. Storehouse consciousness often goes through mind consciousness to interact with the five senses, but not always. Hanh gives the examples of pulling up a blanket while you sleep, and of mindlessly but still successfully driving a car (in both cases he clains store consciousness bypassed mind consciousness and interacted directly with the senses).
From a Youtube video I watched of Thich Nhat Hanh, I learned his view that mind and body rest upon each other: you cannot have consciousness without a body, and a body is not fully a body without consciousness animating it (well, not a living body). From this you might think it follows that there is no consciousness after death. But many Buddhists (including TNH) believe that spiritual energy continues on after death, and so in some sense we are reborn after we die. What then happens to one’s conscious space at the final nirvana? What happens to the spiritual energy that doesn’t enter another body? They say it is a candle going out, but they also speak of a different state of awareness, and the idea that the enlightened consciousness simply ceases to exist seems to not be what the Buddha suggested. (https://tricycle.org/magazine/nirvana-2/) (https://tricycle.org/magazine/no-self-or-true-self/).
[You Tube video just mentioned: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=thich+nhat+hanh+life+after+death&view=detail&mid=6B4C223C16B7576F9FBB6B4C223C16B7576F9FBB&FORM=VIRE]
Per Hanh, store consciousness can be trained to become wiser. I guess store consciousness survives the body’s death. Sense and mind consciousness depend on the body and so must die with it. And manas (self-consciousness) is the illusion of “I am a particular being” that is rooted in store consciousness but that (I think) comes alive in mind consciousness. But store consciousness flows on always, even in the absence of mind consciousness. Store consciousness is not completely unconscious. It is the consciousness that connects senses to sense-objects, as well as the container for all we “are”, including our Buddha Nature (the One Essence we all share and which constitutes our true “self” [not, of course, in the sense of a particular being]). It is our ground or “background” or fundamental consciousness. https://upliftconnect.com/thich-nhat-hanh-the-four-layers-of-consciousness/
I guess one always observes at least some aspect of store consciousness, though we don’t generally focus too much on it, except in some types of meditations or perhaps certain ways of zoning out. Mind consciousness seems, as noted previously, to be what we’d normally call “conscious focus”; but sometimes in meditation we can focus on nothing-much and so then our conscious focus is actually on store consciousness. So maybe it is better to call mind consciousness “consciously focusing on some particular sets of ideas and feelings (all of which, according to Carruthers, we have to somehow feel).
Carruther’s idea that all consciousness is based on sensation fits pretty well with my sense of my own conscious space as moving felt-feelings and felt-ideas in around with felt-senses-of-logical&physical&moral-rules. But then don’t I think I am consciously controlling the reasoning? I don’t know; the experience is more of pushing back on reasoning and letting it evolve as it will in that pushed-towards direction; and then seeing what arises and perhaps pushing back again.
I guess if you don’t get enlightened, your store consciousness still has seeds of manas in it, and for this reason your energy chases after another body. However, upon the final enlightenment, store consciousness becomes a type of pure awareness filled with all that you’ve seen and been in all your lives, but most of all overwhelmed by your Buddha Nature and so ready to melt into everything/nothing. In this way you become awaredly what you have — as per Spinoza — have always been: a memory in the mind of God/Nature.
What about this: All the universes and their timespaces create a type of infinite mind that the enlightened watcher realizes s/he is one with, and upon death s/he melts into that mind instead of taking another particular body, which are only interesting to deluded energies that think they can be individual successes or failures?
Mind consciousness as working-memory consciousness.
Store consciousness as background consciousness with the twist that it is both subconsciousness and the fleeting moment of conscious awareness that we can gaze forgetfully and thus react to without the aid of mind consciousness OR focus and concentrate consciously on by holding in our working memory. And with the further twist that store consciousness does not depend on the body, but is in fact an eternal flowing.
Now why shouldn’t store consciousness depend on the body? Can’t we in fact show that long-term information is stored by the brain? So here we seem to have a disagreement between Buddhism and obvious scientific fact: the brain does hold information for long periods of time. Well, either consciousness contains an eternal component that, in tandem to or somehow in cooperation with the brain, stores and processes information; or Buddhism is just wrong on this point (on the never-ending nature of store consciousness); or I misunderstand Buddhim on this point.
Certainly, we can agree with Buddhism that store consciousness is always processing information — with the caveat: so long as we’re alive. But when we die? What then? Maybe we are reduced to our most basic energy and maybe that energy holds some basic information in it: like some manas (some illusory/unwise sense of individual self) and some deep, pre-idea, pre-feeling insight into Reality (some wisdom); and maybe that falls into another body upon the destruction of the one we’re currently inhabiting.
Well, it’s hard to say exactly what is Real, but it’s interesting to consider various perhaps-possibilities.
Official Statement: Well, some ideas anyway