This blog post was previously written on 1/26/17 and slightly edited on 9-15-19. It is the second of a series of previously written blogs that I never got around to publishing. (Note: I am not necessarily publishing these in the order they were originally written.)
While laying in bed last night and examining witness awareness, it occurred on me (as it has previously) that all that I perceive or sense or feel—or better yet, everything that is observed, including the sense of being—are nothing more than objects that arise in awareness.
But then, the question arises, “What is awareness and how is it that awareness is even aware of awareness?”
What was realized that in order for awareness to be aware of itself, it must receive information of some sort. I believe it was James Swartz who referred to this information as reflected awareness. Awareness knows itself through its reflections. It is like there is some internal radar that sends a signal out into the ether of consciousness. If no signal returns, there is no perception. Nothing. Nada. Emptiness. But if a signal is returned, then awareness arises and is able to know of itself. Ping. Awareness. Ping. Awareness.
Try it: how do you know you are aware? Look. I mean really look. What you will likely find is that in order for there to be something that is aware, there needs to be a perception. Ping.
So, that brings up an interesting question: “when all else is taken away, what is left?” Another way of asking is this: “what is prior to all sensations, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and awareness?”
That is the entry way to awakening. As it is said in the Heart Sutra of Buddhism: form is emptiness; emptiness is form.
In non-duality literature, “I am” is considered the first thought. It creates worlds. It is the act of creation of both an observer and the observed. The second thought is something like “I am [insert your name].” What we are discussing here is what is prior to that first thought.
Even the thought “I am” is only that which arises at this moment. If nothing is arising, then there is no “I”; not even awareness. Awareness, “I am”, “I”, and all other arisings reduce to no thing at all. Or emptiness.
I’m reminded of an exchange that took place with my Zen teacher many years ago:
Me: I experienced something that was nothing.
Teacher: Now drop the nothing.