Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What is This?

More on the Radiant Mind retreat with Peter Fenner.

Peter spends a lot of time pointing at unconditioned awareness, because it is a state that most people are not familiar with. Unconditioned awareness has a lot of names. Some of the ones that are most useful to me as pointers are "pure" awareness, "contentless" awareness and "just this."

In our daily lives, we are swimming in conditions and objects of awareness. People, places, thoughts, our concepts about how to live--all of these things are objects within our awareness, or conditions that are placed on the space in which we are living.

Unconditioned awareness is awareness itself. That which is witnessing our lives. That which is looking through our eyes. It has no content. No gender. No biography. No limitations.

In fact, it can't even be said to exist. It is beyond being a thing, or not a thing.

Nevertheless, it can be revealing to try to find it. One of my favorite exercises is one Peter calls "What is This, Where is That?" You can try it yourself--it works best when you are doing it with a partner and you both are in a contempative space. The first person says "What is this?" The second person responds--"It's a room, it is consciousness, it's my projection of the world, etc." And then the first person asks "And where is that?" The second person responds again and the first person asks again "And where is that?" And this continues for a few minutes.

Like many of Peter's exercises, this can lead you to a state of deep unknowing. It is what Peter calls an "unfindability inquiry," which is at the heart of many of the direct Buddhist traditions like Madhyamaka, and vipassana (insight) meditation.

This state is one where we don't know where we are, and where we can't even find an individual. We can't say that things could be better or worse, because these terms don't apply in this space. There is no suffering or even the possibility of suffering. This is unconditioned awareness.

And to Peter, this is what the saints and sages have all pointed at. And it has been right here all along.


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