Cutting ourselves off from experience

It’s amazing how our conceptual way of using our mind can separate the idea of knowing from what is known. We invented that distinction! It’s an abstraction that doesn’t exist in our experience.

Here I mean ‘knowing’ in its most basic sense, of being aware of something. Hearing a sound, say birdsong, I know it is happening, and I see my knowing of it as being separate from the existence of the sound itself. This happens because I can imagine that I could similarly be aware of (know), something else, perhaps a car – I see the knowing of that as being the same quality of knowingness, an ability I possess. Similarly, I can imagine someone else knowing the birdsong, or the car, so it seems obvious that there is a known object, quite separate from the process of its being known by someone.

stress & suffering

This is how we exist in the world, using conceptions which we share. But our failure to realise that our conceptions don’t match reality can lead us astray, causing stress and suffering. How does the above example not match the reality of our direct experience? If we pay attention, we find that there never is a case of an appearance and its being known by us, where the knowing occurs in a different time or place from the appearance. They are never separate.

A moment’s thought will show that there never could be a knowing without some appearance being simultaneously known, just as there never could be an appearance in our awareness without its being known. “Appearance” here includes all the senses, including the mental sense. Even a dream, which has no physical substance, does not exist if it is not known. Clearly there is not a knowing-awareness separate from its known-object.

It’s just the same with time and place – we are so used to specifying times which are not now, and places which are not here, that we don’t notice that we never experience anywhere other than “here”, nor any time other than “now”.

try it yourself

Try these questions out by looking at your own experience. It can be disorienting (helpfully!) because if knowing and appearance are completely together, then objects are always experienced, i.e. known, at the place where they appear — there is no sensation or experience of a brain processing them or any little person in our head separately knowing them. We assume “I” am seeing or hearing an object or sound, but this “I” is not apparent in our experience, only in the way we describe the situation with our thinking.

Our perception, an interpretation of reality
directly experienced reality
interpreted perception of reality – or directly experienced reality…

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