QUESTION: It is said that awareness is the epitome of the Buddhist life. Do you agree?

SHORT ANSWER: Not the epitome, one element.

LONGER ANSWER: Awareness refers to alert consciousness. Alert conscious is one part of life and is valuable, but it is only one part. Deep sleep is another part and even more important. Musing and allowing the mind plenty of space in which to daydream is another part - again very important.

There is a deeper mind that is more important than our conscious watching and thinking. In fact, much of what we actually watch and think about are the products of that deeper mind as they emerge into consciousness. Some of these deeper processes can be considered to be a kind of instinctive wisdom. Many, however, are simply animal instincts or the products of our digestion of recent events in our life. The Buddha  recommended that we have awareness of this material in  order to distinguish what is useful and what is troublesome.That kind of awareness can help one to avoid being carried away by ephemeral emotions or lost in one's personal psychological complexes. To that extent it is useful. Then there is awareness of the world around us. Again, we can learn much from experience and awareness of detail can sometimes be very helpful, both in problem solving and in more general reflection and contemplation. Awareness is a development of wariness and the Buddha tells us that there is plenty to be wary of. "Guard the sense doors!" he says. This, however, is all essentially defensive.

When one says to onself, What is going on with me at the moment? one might also ask, Who is asking who? The conscious mind is asking about the signs that it sees of the activity of the deeper mind. Thius is a useful thing to do, but there is also more to life.

Perhaps I suddenly notice that I am feeling happier. I might just enjoy the change or I might enquire into myself, How has that come about? I might manage to identify some change. Doing so might be useful. This is a good aspect of awareness. However, what I am becoming aware of at such a time is something that has already taken place and been achieved by a part of the mind that is not in awareness, and it has done a perfectly good job without my interference. In this way, we can understand that the depth of the mind is often hidden and it is important to trust it. It is even more important to trust the mind in general than to be acutely aware in particulars.

In any case, to be aware of everything is quite impractical. One has to let the mind get on with its business. For sure the mind is not totally reliable. It will get us into trouble and when we see this starting to happen, awareness can sometimes help to steer us onto a better course. However, it is easy to over-estimate how much control one actually has.

There a value in making enquiry into oneself, but one will never, as it were, reach the bottom of the bucket. Karma is measureless. One has to reckon with it but one can never exhaust it. I think that modern people, on the whole, have quite enough awareness. Modern life is alarming enough. What they more commonly need is to settle down a bit. More and more awareness means more and more control and that involves suppression and what is suppressed then comes out in other ways. Better to have been more natural in the first place. We do not need more cures for stress symptoms, we need less stress.

This is why I emphasise faith. Faith has gone out of fashion. We are all supposed to be rational, controlled, positive thinkers these days, but this is not entirely healthy. Sometimes a bit less awareness is called for and a bit more dreaming and wondering. When consciousness is allowed to free-wheel the deeper mind can speak and then the two parts of the mind can come into some kind of harmony. Otherwise our efforts to deal ith our stress just become, in the long run, causes of more of the same. This is exactly what the Buddha told us long ago.

The epitome of the Buddhist life is faith in the Three Jewels, in the wisdom of the Tathagatas, of the natural unfolding of that wisdom in the world. If you belong to a different faith tradition you will clothe it in different language and different metaphysical concepts. That does not really make much difference. The Buddhas can appear in many guises. Trust life. Have faith in the rolling of the Dharma Wheel - the wheel he set rolling brings peace to the world. Conflict continues in the world because of our lack of faith and our attempts at over-control. Awareness has its value, but its popularity these days has much to do with the urge to achieve more and more control and this is folly. It has unforeseen disastrous consequences.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you Dharmavidya.  

I was so happy to hear you encourage dreaming ....

Made me think of the English lyrics to a Japanese animation movie called Spirited Away.  Here is a YouTube link to the beautiful song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5Cln9kVpEI

Always with Me

Somewhere, a voice calls, in the depths of my heart 
May I always be dreaming, the dreams that move my heart
So many tears of sadness, uncountable through and through
I know on the other side of them I'll find you
Everytime we fall down to the ground we look up to the blue sky above
We wake to it's blueness, as for the first time
Though the road is long and lonely and the end far away, out of sight
I can with these two arms embrace the light
As I bid farewell my heart stops, in tenderness
I feel My silent empty body begins to listen to what is real
The wonder of living, the wonder of dying
The wind, town, and flowers, we all dance one unity
Somewhere a voice calls in the depths of my heart keep dreaming your dreams
don't ever let them part
Why speak of all your sadness or of life's painfull woes
Instead let the same lips sing a gentle song for you
The whispering voice, we never want to forget, in each passing memory
always there to guide you
When a miror has been broken, shattered pieces scattered on the ground
Glimpses of new life, reflected all around
Window of beginning, stillness, new light of the dawn
Let my silent, empty body be filled and reborn
No need to search outside, nor sail across the sea
Cause here shining inside me, it's right here inside me
I've found a brightness, it's always with me

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