Q: Why is it that some people are so certain that our consciousness is single, shared between us all? I can see how logically our physical forms and our minds must all be connected together as one, but how do we know that we don’t each have our own unique awareness?…
A: [Jitindriya] Ultimately, ‘surety’ on this subject is really a matter of direct and pure insight… A ‘conscious singularity’ doesn’t make much sense to the thinking mind in a dualistic mode of perception. But keep in mind that such a term is just one way of describing the experience or realisation of absolute reality. And even though many people might ‘believe’ it, or intuit it to be true, what this points to cannot be fully comprehended until it is known directly!
This is my [Buddhist] perspective on the matter: the individual or subjective mode of consciousness is what we can call ‘sense-consciousness’… Individual human beings have six sense bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind), so we have six ‘spheres’ of sense activity – therefore any sense experience arising therein can be considered as subjective perceptual functions. The Buddha encourages us to notice that these six spheres of sense activity or fields of sense-consciousness (which include the sense bases and objects) can be seen/experienced/known to arise and cease… i.e. they are in a constant process of flux and change, both perceptually, as well as ‘organically’.
Yet, there is that element which transcends this level of change (which can be known directly, not conceptually), referred to as the ‘changeless’, or the ‘deathless’, or the ‘unborn’ or ‘timeless’ reality; often referred to as ‘transcendent awareness’, or ‘consciousness without feature’… ‘unmanifest, boundless, luminous…’ etc. It is this level of reality which in some traditions is said to be the element of ‘pure consciousness’; an element of ‘awareness’ that is indivisible and non-differentiating, thus is said to be the essential (yet empty) nature of all that is. In such a way it can be conceived of as ‘shared’ by all that exists – as the ‘basis’ or essential reality of all that exists – and ‘singular’ in its nature due to its indivisibility. This nature is ‘knowing’ or ‘aware’ or ‘luminous’, yet ’empty’ of any substantial essence one could describe or differentiate as either ‘something’ or ‘nothing’. Thus, it is said to be beyond the extremes of view in terms of ‘existence’ or ‘non-existence’. It cannot adequately be described by language, as language tends to function as, and in, a dualistic framework of conceptual discrimination.
So, one could perhaps say it is the ‘mystic’s’ domain where surety of this knowledge is said to be gained only through direct experience/insight.
Otherwise, for many, it may be a comforting concept, even if they don’t have direct experience. Nevertheless, without direct experience we are still vulnerable to cycles of suffering in its various forms, until we fully awaken to this reality ourselves!
I hope these musings help to clarify your question.
Further response by questioner:
… I was more than half expecting you to say that I couldn’t understand it unless I directly experienced it! I suppose I can’t expect the logical mind to be able to comprehend the workings of a world much vaster than itself. Then again, even if the nature of consciousness seems intuited after spiritual experience, there’s no real way of knowing that this intuition is definitely the truth, besides one’s own personal conviction.
It seems presumptuous to suppose that even someone as advanced as Ramana Maharshi or Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj is correct in making statements to the effect that they have the same knowledge of reality as God. Then again, if I’m expressing a doubt in their convictions, it seems silly for me to have asked the question in the first place.
I guess I’ll never really know, and I have to accept that…
Our further reply:
Well, the thing is, you do already know (at some level)… as this reality is the reality of your very heart, your very being, (it’s the same for all of us)… however, it just hasn’t become fully apparent yet because the conditioned mind (thinking mind) is busy looking for something else! This is the conundrum we all face.
‘God’ (being one term for absolute reality) isn’t apart from Ramana or Nisargadatta, or you, or me, or anyone or any thing… How can it be otherwise?… We are mostly just entranced and entrapped by identifying with the ephemeral experiences of our subjective reality and mentally busy in reacting to them one way or the other…
By chance, I listened to Ramana’s ‘Be As You Are – 5b’ the other night…. it was interesting in relation to this very subject. Perhaps worth a listen if you are interested?
There’s also a beautiful recording of Nisargadatta’s teachings on ‘The Power of Love’ that I think that may also help to bridge the gap here!