In the light of consciousness

- through Francois Leclercq

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It is in the experience, in particular of meditation, that Buddhists apprehend the different aspects of consciousness to discover what they call emptiness.

"The state of pure consciousness devoid of any content, a subject that may seem disconcerting at first sight, is a state that all contemplatives have experienced", underlines the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. Indeed, anyone who makes the effort to stabilize and clarify their mind can experience this state of non-identification with their thoughts and thus become "aware" of what the Buddhists call the "fundamental nature of consciousness" in other words emptiness. . “In Mahayana and Vajrayana Great Vehicle theory there is no difference between the inner world and outer physical reality. The matter-consciousness duality or the body-mind problem is a false debate since neither of them has an independent and intrinsic existence. An object does not exist in itself. It is always dependent on another object. Experience is a complete bubble in which subject and object are united. The Cartesian dualistic world postulating a material reality and an immaterial consciousness that cannot maintain a link with the first thus appears as a hallucination”, explains Patrick Carré sinologist, Tibetologist, translator and French writer.

To get out of this illusory mistake, the Buddhists propose to experiment with two paths: that of charitable action and that of meditation. The emphasis is on the inner change that these experiences imply through practice. In his quest to explain consciousness, Michel Bitbol, ​​at the same time physicist, doctor and philosopher, questions his ability to grasp himself, in its totality: "To wonder about the origin of consciousness is a unusual activity, because less than any other, it cannot ignore that it is turned towards itself. In such research, one cannot content oneself with standing firmly, with a desire for elucidation, in the face of an object of study. Because on the one hand, the object in question is not one, but is identified with the state of the seeker in the process of reaching out towards it. And on the other hand, clearly perceiving this vertiginously self-referential configuration requires deep work on oneself”. It is above all an inner path involving the transformation of the seeker.

Everything is based on experience, it only has reality for those who live it.

But what consciousness are we talking about? In dictionaries it is mentioned that the concept of consciousness is multiple. In its primary sense, it refers to knowledge, but also designates all the mental or emotional states that are accompanied by a lived experience. Consciousness would thus seem to encompass the subjective apprehension of our experiences and the objective perception of reality. Through it – and it is above all on this point that the specialists of Buddhism insist – we are also given the capacity to act on ourselves in order to transform ourselves. In all cases, it is necessarily linked to the experience lived by each person – unique by definition – and cannot be limited to being defined in a purely theoretical way. Moreover, as Michel Bitbol rightly points out, which guided him to define consciousness in his book, “it is an incessant exercise of attention which allows one not to get lost in abstract reasoning”.

"The more we become accustomed to the way the mind works, the more present-moment awareness we develop and the less we allow the spark of afflictive emotions to become an uncontrollable raging fire." » Matthew Ricard

Buddhism recognizes six, seven, even eight aspects of consciousness. For Matthieu Ricard, the first corresponds to the basic consciousness, which has a global knowledge of the world and which knows that I exist. Then there are five aspects of consciousness associated with the five sensory experiences: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The seventh level is mental consciousness which assigns abstract concepts to the first six aspects. Buddhist philosophy sometimes considers an eighth instance of consciousness related to conflicting, reality-altering mental states such as hatred, greed, etc. These eight aspects are underpinned by what is called the "luminous continuum of fundamental consciousness", explains Matthieu Ricard again: "The nature of consciousness is luminous in the sense that it allows us to know the outside world through the through our perceptions, and where it illuminates our inner world through our feelings, thoughts, memories, anticipations and present moment awareness. It is luminous as opposed to an inanimate object which is opaque, that is to say devoid of any cognitive faculty”.

Circles vicious suffering

To simplify, we could distinguish two main aspects of consciousness through the experience that everyone can have: a fundamental aspect, a pure awakened consciousness which is always present, and adventitious aspects, in other words the mental elaborations which change constantly. By letting your thoughts pass without focusing on them, meditation allows you to experience this fundamental, immutable aspect. But be careful, it does not only consist in controlling oneself to become happier, specifies Patrick Carré: “It is above all a question of a spiritual commitment. I meditate because I want to become a Buddha, that is, a person who tries to do good for others and who is a little less subject to conditioning than so-called “ordinary” beings. The Buddha never feels tired, because deep down he knows that everything is illusory. In short, he helps illusory beings who don't know they don't exist. He will set out to show them that there is nothing, and has always done so. Which will take forever…”

However, this illusory character does not detract from the value of the experience lived by the subject. For Matthieu Ricard, "the more we get used to the way the mind works, the more we develop mindfulness of the present moment and the less we allow the spark of afflictive emotions to become an uncontrollable ravaging fire, capable of destroying our happiness and that of others”. Meditation is therefore also a way of freeing oneself from circles of suffering, or samsara. Patrick Carré describes them as vicious circles in which the same painful patterns are always repeated. He specifies: “Suffering can change color with the ever deeper awareness of the illusory nature of everything”.

In any case, it is interesting to note that consciousness, as an object of study, represents one of the greatest scientific challenges of the 70st century and that it never ceases to fascinate by revealing its mysteries. , especially through the study of near-death experiences. Thus, the American psychiatrist Raymond Moody, the first to be interested in the question in the XNUMXs, describes an “exacerbated form of consciousness” experienced by people on the verge of death and deeply affecting their lives. Testimonies often mention a "pure consciousness", accompanied by "a luminous character", which is not unlike Buddhist terminology.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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