Author Topic: Consciousness versus Awareness  (Read 445 times)

Middleway

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Consciousness versus Awareness
« on: November 14, 2020, 12:23:03 PM »
Obviously, these are two very different words but I often see these words are used interchangeably in a lot of spiritual books. Please can you comment. Thanks in advance.
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Phil

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2020, 01:25:03 PM »
Hi there

I think I'll have a disappointing answer for you. The answer is: You cannot know how the terms are used by the author(s). I use the Theravada model to illustrate:

The author / a teacher might use "consciousness" for anything that is referred to in the pali canon as "citta", "mano" or "vijnana".

The author / a teacher might use "awareness" to refer to "sati sampajanna" or to any other mental faculty that means that "the lights are on".

You would have to judge from the context, the teacher's lineage etc. what is meant.

I hope this is more on the helpful side than on the confusing one...

Middleway

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2020, 02:11:39 PM »
This is definitely on helpful side. We say “I am conscious of the table in front of me”. We can also say “I am aware of the table in front of me”. We say eye consciousness, ear consciousness, touch consciousness etc., but we don’t say eye awareness, ear awareness, touch awareness etc. Clearly, the consciousness pertains to five sense organs and the mind. But I cannot seem to put a finger on the awareness. Does awareness also belongs to sense organs and the mind? Or is it an entirely different from the senses?
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dharma bum

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2020, 02:40:04 PM »
I don't know how others use the words. Some Tibetan teachers use the word awareness a lot, while consciousness is a word I have encountered usually from Hindu teachers.

I think I use the word awareness almost as synonymous to attention, which is a psychological process of putting something at the forefront of your internal mind process. I tend to not use the word consciousness, possibly because I don't know how to use it.

With respect to sense organs, one can be aware of say, bird songs. For me, it is a kind of tuning of the sense of hearing to perceive that range and volume in which bird-songs can be heard. This can require an active effort because usually we are not aware of bird-songs as they fade into the background.
« Last Edit: November 14, 2020, 02:45:23 PM by dharma bum »
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Middleway

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2020, 03:31:20 PM »
Attention is another word that is often used in this context. It is “at tension”. This is focus or a form of concentration. But attention is also dependent obviously upon consciousness. For example, if you close your eyes, you cannot pay attention to the table in front of you. Similarly, the bird song example, one cannot pay attention to bird song if one is deaf. But even if the ears are functioning, one may not pay attention to the bird song as you said.
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Phil

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2020, 04:43:43 PM »
This is definitely on helpful side. We say “I am conscious of the table in front of me”. We can also say “I am aware of the table in front of me”. We say eye consciousness, ear consciousness, touch consciousness etc., but we don’t say eye awareness, ear awareness, touch awareness etc. Clearly, the consciousness pertains to five sense organs and the mind. But I cannot seem to put a finger on the awareness. Does awareness also belongs to sense organs and the mind? Or is it an entirely different from the senses?

The root of the confusion might be that English words are not mapped to the mind model of - for example - Theravada. So if we use examples as aware/conscious of a table, the words mean basically the same thing. Pali on the other side is rather precise as it is the language that was used to write down the minutes aspects of mind. To give you an example: In English, being aware of your table and being mindful of it is basically the same thing. But if one defines "aware" as JUST noting the object of table, then it is a very different thing than being MINDFUL of it in the sense of sati + sampajanna. The latter is a certain form of attention to the object (namely, with a non-judgemental mind free of greed, aversion, delusion). But one could be aware of a table with a mind full of aversion. That cannot be mindfulness (sati + sampajanna), JUST some sort of taking note of the table.

Middleway

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2020, 05:14:14 PM »
You are absolutely right. Pali is based on Sanskrit. Sanskrit was developed and widely prevalent during the Vedic times. Sanskrit words were used to precisely describe the nature of reality and subtle nuances. For example, the words you mentioned earlier chitta, Mano, and vijnana. Jnana is knowledge. Vijnana is experiential knowledge. Chitta is often used to describe consciousness and awareness interchangeably. Another word for consciousness is chaitanyam. Mano in Sanskrit is manas. Which is loosely translated into English as memory.

Sati is smriti in Sanskrit which means remembrance. This is again loosely translated into English as mindfulness. Samprajanya in Sanskrit means clear understanding.

In Sanskrit there is no precise word for awareness for a reason. It is intentional.

But here I am talking English words. Why do we have two very different words namely consciousness and awareness if they appear to mean the same thing.
« Last Edit: November 14, 2020, 05:15:51 PM by Middleway »
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dharma bum

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #7 on: November 14, 2020, 05:31:46 PM »
Quote
But here I am talking English words. Why do we have two very different words namely consciousness and awareness if they appear to mean the same thing.

Outside the context of meditation, they can clearly mean different things. Consciousness indicates something that is the essence of life, while awareness has more to do with knowledge.

IMO language is always subjective and even native Pali or Sanskrit speakers will never have the exact identical usage, apart from the fact that it is not even possible to verify what exactly the other person means when they use a word.

Since the early Buddhists came from all walks of life and not everyone of them was an intellectual able to use language in a very nuanced way, it is perhaps not important to know exactly what the original words meant. Even if 'mindful' is just an approximation, it is IMO good enough.
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Phil

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #8 on: November 14, 2020, 05:38:42 PM »
My apologies, Middleway. I feel I have made the confusion worse. That was not my intention.

Maybe we should consult a linguist to track down the origin of both English words. Anybody reading this, your contribution is welcome?

My two cents on the use/meaning of the two ENGLISH words would be: I feel people use "consciousness" as a somewhat wider term than awareness. I guess a neurologist would use the term in the sense that somebody's "lights are on". Awareness is often used in connection with an object as you pointed out.

Middleway

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2020, 05:54:30 PM »
Fair enough. I will introduce another word “knowingness”. This is how I understand the difference between consciousness and awareness (at this time).

We see, we know.

We hear, we know.

We touch, we know. And so on.

See, hear, touch etc. can be termed as consciousness. This knowingness which is common to all is awareness. There cannot be consciousness without awareness. But can there be awareness without consciousness? In deep jhana, we withdraw all our senses including the mind consciousness (mental formations). This is pure consciousness.

This pure consciousness reflects awareness. So, consciousness is body dependent and belongs to space and time. Awareness is beyond it. Beyond space and time. This awareness is the void or emptiness. In this empty void, all impermanent manifest universes arise and passes away.

This is my intellectual concept and I am sticking to it (for now). 😉😀
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Phil

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #10 on: November 14, 2020, 06:47:12 PM »
Great if you managed to bring precision to "fuzzy" English words. I usually fail in this endeavour as I have no control over how other people use English. Therefore, personally, I find it more useful to use a precise framework that was intended to be used to address aspects of mind (such as in the pali canon and/or the Abidhamma) and are therefore very precise and less subject to interpretation.

dharma bum

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2020, 07:04:03 PM »
If you're a professional philosopher, then you have to define concepts as precisely as you can. The rest of us can do whatever we like. :)

There's also the word sentience. We say peace to all sentient beings and by which I think we mean peace to all beings that have consciousness and we exclude objects like chairs and rocks. But actually, some cultures including Indian and Japanese (not sure about Chinese) can consider objects to be more than objects so some Mahayana followers consider everything as having sentience and consciousness, including stones.
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Phil

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2020, 07:16:21 PM »
If you're a professional philosopher, then you have to define concepts as precisely as you can. The rest of us can do whatever we like. :)

Totally disagree. I wonder how one would discuss subtle aspects of mind if there are no precise words everybody agrees upon. Or at least the people participating in the conversation...

Middleway

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2020, 08:26:27 PM »
It’s not that complicated Phil. Withdraw all your senses in the wakeful state and watch what happens. That’s all there is to it. Everything else is the practice to get there.

We don’t need sutras or have to know Sanskrit or Pali canon. In fact Buddha rejected all the vedas and upanishads. After he passed away, his disciples created scriptures similar to vedas and upanishads which Buddha rejected in the first place.

Practice noble eightfold path. That’s all.
« Last Edit: November 14, 2020, 08:28:24 PM by Middleway »
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dharma bum

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2020, 09:20:01 PM »
Phil, I also think that all this is very interesting and I enjoy it very much but the fundamental teaching is simple - to let go of attachment and aversion. If someone sits quietly long enough the mind will figure out how to do it. Imo techniques are not important.
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Phil

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #15 on: November 14, 2020, 09:33:32 PM »
 :D
You two made me laugh hard.   :D
Back and forth trying to solve a puzzle in Middleway's mind, then: Phil, let it go! Just practice!
  :D Laughing hard again.  ;D

but anyway, if you are hapoy, I am happy too

dharma bum

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #16 on: November 14, 2020, 09:36:53 PM »
Haha. There is Buddhism in a nutshell. Just be happy. :D
« Last Edit: November 15, 2020, 04:04:18 AM by dharma bum »
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Middleway

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #17 on: November 14, 2020, 10:00:42 PM »
Here I am expounding Dhamma in very simple and plain English and you feel it’s funny and a laughing matter? All your practice has come to this? Where is the humility? Humility is the prerequisite for learning. Please re-read what I have said about the difference between consciousness and awareness. Then read your suttas. You will understand them with utmost clarity.

I am saying this utmost humility.

In the Dhamma.

Middleway
Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Nicky

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #18 on: November 15, 2020, 04:11:51 AM »
Obviously, these are two very different words but I often see these words are used interchangeably in a lot of spiritual books. Please can you comment. Thanks in advance.

"Awareness" is a very broad & non-specific word in the English language and has no equivalent in Buddhist terminology. It is used by people who don't understand Dhamma very well.

Phil

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #19 on: November 15, 2020, 08:40:08 AM »
Here I am expounding Dhamma in very simple and plain English and you feel it’s funny and a laughing matter? All your practice has come to this? Where is the humility? Humility is the prerequisite for learning. Please re-read what I have said about the difference between consciousness and awareness. Then read your suttas. You will understand them with utmost clarity.

I am saying this utmost humility.

In the Dhamma.

Middleway

Friend

I am sorry for the pain you feel that led you to post with such obvious aversion. However, I take no responsibility as my silly but light hearted post could not possibly have caused all your ill will.


raushan

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #20 on: November 15, 2020, 11:26:47 AM »
"Awareness" is a very broad & non-specific word in the English language and has no equivalent in Buddhist terminology. It is used by people who don't understand Dhamma very well.

Hi Nicky,

How do you understand the Dhamma very well? Do you just practice or do a lot of reading also? And also How do one verify that one's understanding is correct?

« Last Edit: November 15, 2020, 11:28:30 AM by raushan »

stillpointdancer

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #21 on: November 15, 2020, 11:40:41 AM »
Here I am expounding Dhamma in very simple and plain English and you feel it%u2019s funny and a laughing matter? All your practice has come to this? Where is the humility? Humility is the prerequisite for learning. Please re-read what I have said about the difference between consciousness and awareness. Then read your suttas. You will understand them with utmost clarity.

I am saying this utmost humility.

In the Dhamma.

Middleway
It's a shame that English really isn't a good language to discuss the Dharma. There is no such thing as simple and plain English when it comes to words which have a history apart from usage as a translation of technical words from a different religion, time and culture. The words are widely used in many contexts and with many interpretations. With groups at the Buddhist centre it took years of face-to-face discussions to get some kind of shared understanding of terminology based on Pali or Sanskrit but translated initially by Christian Victorian scholars. Even then turnover of people led to gradual 'creep' of understanding.

There is no consensus at any level, be it scientific or religious or whatever, about the term 'consciousness'. Nobody knows what it is, let alone define it for such a discussion. Similarly with 'awareness', 'knowing', 'attachment' and 'aversion'. Tracking down derivations of words can be useful, but their meanings for people change constantly, as language does. Meaning for a Victorian can be very different for the here and now.

I constantly write, for myself, about the Dharma and how it could be easily understood in English, and quite frankly, it can't. I follow a blog about the Heart Sutra and its different versions, and arguments around translations of terms. If anyone wants to see the kinds of problems then this is an interesting link to scholarly discussions on the subject http://jayarava.blogspot.com/. Run through some of the issues raised in the series of blogs and you might get some idea of the problem we have in the English speaking world.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2020, 11:42:29 AM by stillpointdancer »
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Middleway

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #22 on: November 15, 2020, 12:02:13 PM »
It's a shame that English really isn't a good language to discuss the Dharma. There is no such thing as simple and plain English when it comes to words which have a history apart from usage as a translation of technical words from a different religion, time and culture. The words are widely used in many contexts and with many interpretations. With groups at the Buddhist centre it took years of face-to-face discussions to get some kind of shared understanding of terminology based on Pali or Sanskrit but translated initially by Christian Victorian scholars. Even then turnover of people led to gradual 'creep' of understanding.

There is no consensus at any level, be it scientific or religious or whatever, about the term 'consciousness'. Nobody knows what it is, let alone define it for such a discussion. Similarly with 'awareness', 'knowing', 'attachment' and 'aversion'. Tracking down derivations of words can be useful, but their meanings for people change constantly, as language does. Meaning for a Victorian can be very different for the here and now.

I constantly write, for myself, about the Dharma and how it could be easily understood in English, and quite frankly, it can't. I follow a blog about the Heart Sutra and its different versions, and arguments around translations of terms. If anyone wants to see the kinds of problems then this is an interesting link to scholarly discussions on the subject http://jayarava.blogspot.com/. Run through some of the issues raised in the series of blogs and you might get some idea of the problem we have in the English speaking world.

While language cannot easily explain cultural nuances between peoples, Dhamma does not require language. Dhamma is not monopolized by Pali or Sanskrit. Dhamma is universal. Dhamma is also discovered by tribes in the Amazon, Inuit in the Canadian North and First peoples in North America and aboriginals in Australia. What I see as the main obstacle is our accumulated knowledge and the accompanying ego that limits our ability to have dispassionate discussion about Dhamma.
Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Middleway

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #23 on: November 15, 2020, 12:36:29 PM »
Friend

I am sorry for the pain you feel that led you to post with such obvious aversion. However, I take no responsibility as my silly but light hearted post could not possibly have caused all your ill will.

Hi Phil, I do not have aversion or ill will towards you whatsoever. I noticed your ego in your introductory post and am bringing your attention to it. You said that you have 10 years of meditation experience, 1.5 years of retreat time, and self studies of suttas, Abhidhamma and other texts. You said that you will be happy to "help" others. You encouraged us to send you personal e-mails to discuss 1:1. No where you stated that you are also here to learn. I suggest that you to carefully examine the state of mind that wrote that introduction.

If you are genuinely here to "help" and not display your jnana, compassion should arise in your heart. Not laughing hard at us.

Read your first response to my question in this post. Right off the bat, your ego became defensive. It said that it's answer would be disappointing. Then it threw a Pali book at me. It refused to engage in any meaningful discussion about the Dhamma.

When jnana is accumulated, the ego gets strengthened. When that jnana is applied and turned into vijnana (experiential knowledge), the jnana and the accompanying ego drops off. For example, you first learn how to drive a car. Someone teaches to how a clutch, gears, and brakes function. This is jnana. First when you drive the car, there is fear of hitting a curb etc. (this is ego). Once you learn how to drive i.e your jnana becomes vijnana (experiential knowledge), the fear goes away. Mind returns to its natural state of ease and composure. It is not "proud" that it learned how to drive. The mind simply internalizes the knowledge.

All the sutta reading and listening to dhamma should be internalized. Turn that knowledge into experiential knowledge by practice.

In our sangha here, we don't "teach" others. We share our experiences on the path and learn from one another.

Warm regards,

Middleway

Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Phil

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Re: Consciousness versus Awareness
« Reply #24 on: November 15, 2020, 03:29:29 PM »
You're right, still no aversion there in your post and I'm happy you checked your mind for greed, aversion and delusion before typing!

 

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