Here is the question posed by Din on Facebook, followed by the response. The reason for posting it here is that FB does not permit comments of this length.
Well Peter, since I have your ear, I have a question for you
I’ve been involved lately with the emptiness teachings, and what comes to mind is that all phenomena and all non-phenomena, like consciousness itself, is empty
what that means to me is that consciousness is not really a “something” but is more a notion i have about what it is
now Francis Lucille says that consciousness/awareness is that which is aware of these words
but my own sense is that consciousness is just a construct the mind has created to create some understanding of this aware space that seems to be here
in other words, consciousness exists in relation to everything else, but does not really exist by itself, it’s just a convenient explanation to try and explain the unexplainable
so I would be interested in how you see this
To give a quality answer to that kind of question really requires more than a typed response here. I shy away from quick responses, which is why I shy away from email answers to such deeper questions, but we’ll give it a shot. If the following doesn’t work for you, that’s totally fine—but I’m not interested in debating anything (see reference to the blog post, below).
Bottom line is, as far as there being something “beyond” interdependency, you’ll never get an answer that will satisfy the thinking mind. That’s because the answer means the would-be mind and all its would-be experiences and questions never occurred. And that’s definitely unacceptable to that so-called “mind”! So…the answer either “groks” or it doesn’t. Or, you have a deep experience that “shows” you. Period.
Those who tend to favor emptiness teachings tend to give primacy to thought, the intellect and the power of reason. Yet the very fact that Life is alive does not depend on, and is not arrived at, by way of reason. And by the way, the “emptiness” that emptiness teachings refer to, (sometimes also called nirvana) isn’t dead. And yet it’s not interdependent. So then what is it THAT?
A big part of the problem for this endless debate in some teachings is the words awareness and consciousness. Virtually always, they are linked to the “aware of” or the “conscious of” and so it seems that they are interdependent. Funny, I appear to have written a book called Consciousness Is All, but at the time had not much familiarity with the Eastern teachings and the different meaning they gave to “consciousness.” Because of this issue, I don’t use the word nearly as much since getting on the nondual scene!
Also, many eastern teachings almost always START from phenomena, apparent experience, and then sort of “work back” from there. Emptiness teachings seem to be the pinnacle of human reasoning and the mind; the statements are often laser-like in their clarity and argument—but, maybe that’s not the whole story. Yes, it’s also possible to have mere notions about consciousness—but that’s not to say that there isn’t something “beyond” the notion, too, even though it may not be one’s everyday experience.
Other traditions such as the Infinite Way, and the work of Alfred Aiken (which I studied a lot) don’t go at it in that way. They also use other words as pointers (which admittedly are only words) such as Spirit, Being, so there isn’t this same hang-up on that debate. I’m very “comfortable” with there being an Infinite, a formless, timeless “state” that does exist beyond the realm of phenomena and interdependency. (And actually, from ITS “viewpoint” It isn’t beyondsuch an interdependent realm, but actually precludessuch a realm.) This also has been “demonstrated” by many who have had “experiences” such as nirvikalpa Samadhi, wherein there is no form, no interdependency, no thought, no reason—but there is still Life.
And it’s okay to call It Consciousness—which is why It’s capitalized—to make a distinction from “finite” consciousness which is what most teachings deal with. I’m not implying there are two kinds of consciousness either—it seems to be a matter of degree (see the email response below to “Ellen”).
To me, emptiness teachings are the philosophical/religious equivalent of Newtonian physics. Their model explains everything nice and neatly by way of the mind and its apparent experience—up to a point. Then quantum physics comes along and blows everything out of the water. In this case, the pure Infinite is the equivalent of quantum physics. And by the way, Infinite in this sense does NOT mean an endless, vast finity. It means NO-finity, just as the prefix in-finite really indicates.
To Infinity, a finite state never occurs—so does not even exist to argue, or be discussed. But that only makes sense when “starting” or looking out from Infinity. But if you start on the level of apparent experience, that’s totally unacceptable.
If you want to look into it more, I would humbly suggest a couple of old posts on the Reality Check blog here. You can find them in the archives:
First is an audio post from 5/3/11, titled, “If there were nothing to be aware of, would Awareness still exist?”
Maybe the best answer is this double post from 6/26/10: “In this debate, don’t take de bait.”
Finally, here’s a reply I wrote to an email with a similar question (Ellen is a made-up name):
This is a poor illustration, but imagine the Ellen body and Peter body sitting in a coffee shop having a discussion about interdependency, and why “he” is saying such a question is irrelevant. Now pull back from this limited scene in your perspective a bit. (Think of the Google maps or satellite images that pull up and away from earth to a broader perspective.) What had a moment ago appeared to be a very real interior of a coffee shop now is a tiny speck on a huge land mass, surrounded by water. Pull back even further and you can see the whole northern hemisphere. Going back further you see the entire earth, floating in space. Pull back even further–to the whole solar system, then the milky way galaxy. The pull back even further, where there are countless galaxies. From this perspective, Ellen and Peter and their discussion don’t even appear anymore–not even as illusion! Nor do any teachings appear. Nor any debates. This is not a denial of such things—rather, at this “level” such things don’t even appear or occur in order to even be denied.
Then pull back further still, to where even the universe disappears because it, too, would be finite and limited. From this perspective of unlimited Infinite Consciousness, an entire universe is not even appearing or identifiable, let alone an earth. There is only the boundless Love of pure Infinite Consciousness, Oneness. From HERE, starting 100% only from HERE, can it honestly be said there is a place called earth with debates? That, again, is not a denial of earth–because from this perspective, no finite illusory earth even exists or is known in order to be denied (let alone a coffee shop, its occupants, or their discussion). All of that is something seemingly dreamed up by a lesser, illusory would-be finite Ellen mind, which, to Infinite Love, never really even begins or occurs.
Notice also that this “higher” perspective is not something arrived at by way of reasoning or by the argument of Peter in the coffee shop. Nor would it be possible for Peter to bring this perspective down into the framework of their current coffee shop experience in order to prove his argument. It’s the total “eradication” of the experience and all its debating. Rather, it is the preclusion of such a thing.
And if one tries to say, “Yes, but…earth still exists from another perspective…” then one is right back dreaming again, and ignoring the purity and Infinity of the very All-embracing Consciousness, Love, Self, Life, You truly are.
It is from this perspective, that the book Consciousness Is All is starting. Here, there is only the Infinity of pure Consciousness. It is said that this is the only “true” or “valid” perspective because It is this very same Infinite Consciousness that is the only One being conscious and existing in the first place! Who else is there, really, to take a lesser or limited perspective?
The apparent body called Peter Francis Dziuban is not the pure Infinite Consciousness spoken of when saying “only Infinity really exists.” To this Infinite Consciousness there is only Its Infinity, and no finite body/thinker called Ellen that is asking questions, and no finite body/thinker named Peter who could react one way or another.
We don’t deny that it may seem at the current time that a lot of an illusion/dream still appears to cling and hang around–even though the allness of the Infinite is clear. Just because it still appears to be around, that is no reason to negate or doubt Infinity’s allness. When you’ve awakened from a sleeping dream and some of the dream-feelings and images may still seem to linger for awhile, do you doubt the validity of your awakeness and decide to go back dreaming because some of the dream still appears to be hanging around?
I hope that helps a bit Din…