Last month a friend called Venkat asked me several questions in a series of three comments that he wrote on one of my recent articles, Is consciousness a product of the mind?, so this article is written in answer to his questions.
In his first comment he wrote:
Thanks very much for your response. I agree that it is not possible to know whether the external world (and the body-mind) exist independently of the perception of it. Equally, I don’t think that it is possible to prove that the world is just an illusion, a perception in consciousness.
So I agree that one has to examine / question what the ‘I’ is. You imply that the result of this is the certainty that only consciousness is real and all else (including ‘my’ body mind) is an illusion.
You commented in this blog, that Bhagavan’s ‘I am’ can be equated to the awareness that is aware of the awareness of a perception, and that we should turn our attention to this awareness. But is it possible to be ‘aware of the awareness that is aware’? since under Vedanta’s neti neti, one cannot be aware of this awareness, one can only BE this awareness, as I think Bhagavan says.
So two questions. Firstly, is the point of this attention on awareness to recognise that the feeling of ‘I’ is just another perception that arises, equivalent to all other perceptions and is neti neti [‘not this, not this’]? And second what does BEING awareness mean?
Yes, I agree that just as we cannot know that our body and this world exist independent of our experience of them, we equally well cannot know that they do not exist independent of our experience of them. In other words, we cannot know whether their seeming existence is a mind-created illusion or not, though there is no doubt that our mind does at least play a major role in creating the mental picture of this body and world that we experience. That is, what we actually experience is not any body or world as such, but only a mental picture of them consisting of ever-changing sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations, and we seem unable to ascertain whether this mental picture is created entirely by our mind, as in dream, or is at least partly caused by anything (any actual body and world) that is external to or independent of our mind.
The only possible means we have to ascertain whether all these things that we experience are an illusion or not is to investigate ourself, the ‘I’ that experiences them, and thereby to experience what this ‘I’ actually is. Once we know what this ‘I’ actually is, we may be able to know whether all that it experiences is created solely by it or is in any way or to any extent caused by anything that exists independent of it.