Thursday 8 March 2007

I think because I am, but I am even when I do not think

In Happiness and the Art of Being, chapter 6, 'True Knowledge and False Knowledge', on pages 322 to 323 of the present e-book version I have written:

... though our basic knowledge or consciousness 'I am' alone is real, and though all the other things that appear to be real borrow their seeming reality only from this consciousness, which is their underlying base and support, we are so accustomed to overlooking this consciousness and attending only to the objects or thoughts that we form in our mind by our power of imagination, that those objects and our act of knowing them appear in the distorted perspective of our mind to be more real than the fundamental consciousness that underlies them.

The only reason why we suffer from this distorted perspective is that we are so enthralled by our experience of duality or otherness, believing that we can obtain real happiness only from things other than ourself, that throughout our states of mental activity, which we call waking and dream, we spend all our time attending only to such other things, and we consequently ignore or overlook our underlying consciousness 'I am'.

This distorted perspective of our mind is what makes it so difficult for us to accept that our consciousness 'I am' alone is real, and that everything else is just an imagination or apparition. Whereas in our distorted perspective all our knowledge of this world appears to be solid, substantial, obvious and irrefutable, our underlying consciousness 'I am' appears in comparison to be something insubstantial and ethereal, something that we cannot quite know with the same degree of precision and certainty.
In continuation of this same same subject, on page 323 of the present e-book version I had written two paragraphs about the famous observation of Descartes, "Cogito ergo sum", but while revising Happiness and the Art of Being in preparation for printing I have expanded those two paragraphs as follows:

A clear example of the effect that this distorted perspective has upon our human intellect is the famous observation made by Descartes, "Cogito ergo sum", which means, 'I think, therefore I am'. What he implied by this conclusion is that because we think, we know that we are. But this is putting the cart before the horse. We do not need to think in order to know that we are. First we know 'I am', and then only is it possible for us to think, or to know 'I am thinking'.

More appropriately, therefore, his saying could be inverted as, 'I am, therefore I think', or better still as, 'I am, therefore I seem to think'. Even when we do not think, as in deep sleep, we know 'I am'. Our thinking depends upon our knowledge of our being — our fundamental consciousness 'I am' — but our knowledge of our being does not depend upon our thinking.

However, what Descartes observed is not altogether untrue. Whatever we know and whatever we think does indeed prove that we do exist. All our knowledge and all our thoughts are irrefutably clear proof of our existence or being.

However, to know that we exist, we do not need any such external proof, because our existence or being, 'I am', is self-evident. Even in the absence of any other knowledge or thought, we know that we are. In sleep, for example, we do not think or know any other thing, but we do experience that state, and we remember our experience of it now in this waking state, saying 'I slept'. We experience the thought-free state of sleep because in that state we do indeed exist and know that we are existing. Therefore our existence and our knowledge that we do exist do not need any proof, least of all the proof provided by our thinking and knowing other things.

Our existence or being is self-evident because it is self-conscious. That is, our being is conscious of itself, and hence it does not need the aid of anything else to know itself. In other words, we are self-conscious being, and hence without the aid of anything else we know ourself as 'I am' simply by being ourself.

Therefore our basic self-consciousness 'I am' does not depend upon any other knowledge, but all our other knowledge does depend upon our basic self-consciousness 'I am'. Hence our basic self-consciousness 'I am' is our one fundamental and essential knowledge.

In order to think, we must be, but in order to be, we do not need to think. And since our being is not separate from or other than our knowledge of our being, we can equally well say that in order to think, we must know that we are, but in order to know that we are, we do not need to think.


Anonymous said...

Sir, it has been concluded that, in sleep, we exist and we KNOW that we exist. From my present state, I can see that the first part is true (i.e., "we" exist, though it is not clear what is meant by "we" here) but the second part (i.e., we know that we exist) is not true. So, I think that conclusion is too fast a jump. Can you explain how we know we exist in sleep ? Thanks a lot.

Michael James said...

In reply to the above comment by Anonymous:

Firstly, with regard to your comment, "it is not clear what is meant by 'we' here": Yes, this is precisely the problem that we all face. Who or what is this 'I'? All our problems are caused only by our present seeming lack of clear knowledge or consciousness of what we really are. If we clearly experienced the true nature of this 'we' (which is used here as an inclusive form of the first person pronoun 'I', denoting our single self), we would not confuse ourself with this body or mind, and we would experience only one state of clear self-knowledge instead of our present three states, in each of which our consciousness of ourself appears to be unclear and therefore confused.

Secondly, with regard to your main question, "Can you explain how we know we exist in sleep?": When we wake from sleep, do we not clearly know that we were asleep? When we say, 'I was sleep', are we not clearly affirming that we existed in sleep? How do we know this?

If we did not actually experience our being in sleep, how could we now know so clearly and indupitably that 'I was asleep'?

We wrongly consider sleep to be a state of unconsciousness, because we confuse consciousness with the illusory consciousness of otherness and multiplicity that we experience in waking and dream. When we do not experience multiplicity or anything other than our own being, as in sleep, we imagine that we were unconscious.

However, we imagine 'I was unconscious, I did not know anything' only after we have woken from sleep, and not while we are actually asleep. All that we experience in sleep is our non-dual consciousness of our own being, 'I am'. Only on waking do we imagine that state of thought-free being-consciousness (self-consciousness) to be a state of 'darkness' or lack of consciousness of anything.

How do we know that our body or this world existed while we were asleep? We know this (or rather, we imagine that we know it) only because other people in waking (or in dream) tell us that they existed then. But do we need anyone else to tell us that we existed in sleep? No, when we wake up, we know without the least shadow of doubt, 'I was asleep'.

Is it not strange that we now clearly know that we were asleep, yet we imagine that we did not know our being in sleep? Does not this thought 'I knew nothing in sleep' clearly contradict our actual experience of having been asleep — 'I was asleep' or 'I was (I existed) in a state called sleep'?

Anonymous said...

Sir, I really appreciate your reply. You've been so patient in giving such an elaborate answer to my question. Thanks a lot for that. But the point is I did not understand much from it ! I've seen these kinds of explanations in several places... all more or less saying the same thing.

I've only one point : In sleep (without dreams), we don't know. Full stop. We just don't know anything. This includes that, I don't even know that I am sleeping.
For any question like 'did you know .....', the answer is a simple 'NO'.

I can say 'I was sleeping' or 'I slept' after waking up, probably because of one or more of the following :
- by seeing myself lying on a bed in the morning, perhaps in a sort of semi-consciousness.
- a sense of relaxation.
- sleeping is something we do everyday, so we know it by habit
- the very absence of knowing anything in between the two events: the moment we lie on the bed the earlier night, and the moment waking happens in the morning.

Because of one or more the reasons above, I can say 'I slept' or 'I was asleep'.

If you are trying to convey something, I can imagine you might be facing difficulty here. If you did your best in trying to explain, perhaps that is all you could do.

Michael James said...

In reply to the above comment by Anonymous, I have today written a separate article, Self-enquiry: the underlying philosophy can be clearly understood only by putting it into practice.

Anonymous said...

First of all, your reply in the form of a separate article is greatly appreciated. It makes me imagine the level of clarity you have on the subject. I confess that I was not very serious when I wrote my earlier comments, though I believe whatever I wrote was true/correct to me. I'm not sure whether I should be writing this reply now or perhaps after thouroughly reading and thinking about it... but I'm writing this as I keep reading your article and getting questions/doubts in between:

'...sleep is not absolute unconsciousness..'. It would be good if you further clarify what is meant by 'relative unconsciousness'. Does it mean some part of consiousness still remains ?

This question from your reply : ".. if we really did not know anything in sleep...would we not just have to say '... I do not know whether or not I knew anything in sleep' ? " is a good one. It made me for a moment think how could we ascertain that we do not know anything in sleep. (I explained whatever I think as the answer towards the end of this reply -- last but one paragraph.)

There is another point we need to be careful and clear of. The word 'we' or 'I' seems to be widely used in explaining all this. I think there needs to be some clarification of the meaning of those words whenever we use them. For instance, at some point in the reply, it is said .. "In other words, we know that we did not know anything in sleep because we actually experienced that state of knowing nothing. "

Here, the first and second occurrences of 'we' refer to us in the waking state (i.e., normal meaning of 'we'). However, the third occurrence of 'we' (in the part: '...we actually experienced that state of knowing nothing') needs to be clarified. It is definitely not the same 'we' as in the sense of the first two occurrences. Because the 'we' in the sense of first two occurrences do not exist in sleep. So, we cannot say 'we experienced sleep'.
If we do say, then it has to be clarified what does it mean by 'we' here, because the regular meaning does not apply. I hope my point is clear.

Also, saying 'I slept' or 'I was sleeping' seems rather incorrect expression of a fact. We cannot put 'I slept' (or 'I was sleeping') in the same category as 'I ate', 'I wrote', 'I went', 'I thought', etc. Because, sleep is not something we do, but something where we ourselves don't exist, and so don't know anything.

I understand your question 'how do we know that we don't know anything in sleep ?'. I would like to more precisely state that question as ' how do we know in waking that we did not know anything in sleep ?'. Let me try to answer this as follows: If we had known something while sleeping, perhaps we might remember that after waking too. Dreams is a case of this. Now, because we don't remember anything, we say in waking that, we slept(without dreams). So, is it that we are 'inferring' that we slept, rather than directly knowing ? It looks so to me.

If this is becoming too focussed on a small part, perhaps we should leave discussing this point (that we know, or are conscious of, ourselves in sleep), and you could rather say what is the bigger picture (i.e., the main/ultimate point we should understand), and also how this part fits into the bigger picture. I confess and convey that I'm not doing any practice you mentioned. I did try it for a short time earlier, but then somehow got discontinued. Probably one main reason is that I was not sure/clear of whatever I was doing was correct. Are there hints or guidelines which can help in verifying whether whatever way we are doing the practice/enquiry is correct or not ? Thanks a lot once again. I hope your effort-filled replies will help others, even if not me.

Michael James said...

In reply to the above comment by Anonymous, I have written another separate article, The true nature of consciousness can be known only by self-enquiry.

Anonymous said...

(I just want all my replies at one place, so that it will be easy (for me at least) to look all of them as a single thread. So, I'm replying to your above article here itself.)

You seem to imply that 'consciousness' and 'we' (or 'I') are synonymous, both are just two words for the same thing.
But the usual experience is different. We say 'we are conscious' (as if it is a property/attribute (among others) of us)... in the sense that we 'have' it, and thereby sometimes we dont have it (what is called unconsciousness).
Also, things like 'our consciousness' (implying consciousness is something we have) are also widely used (including your article). Would you say this is a wrong notion ? And would you say, in all these, whatever we say 'I' or 'we' is a result, a product... whose cause is something else ?

It is said "conciousness is conscious of consciousness". It is interesting to see how the subject can attend to itself... because normally that which looks cannot look at itself. For instance, we cannot look at ourselves (completely, without a mirror). Do
you mean to say 'consciousness is simply conscious (irrelevant 'of what')' or you really mean it can be, or is, conscious of itself ?

I can see one major difference, what I call 'me' or 'I' (which is the usual experience), is what you are calling 'mind' or 'ego', and also you call consciouness 'I'. Why/how do you say (whatever I call ) 'I', is 'mind' or 'ego' ? Our normal experience is 'I have mind'.

If I ask myself 'who am I?', I feel I am basically a human or more broadly a living entity, which is no further questionable. There are quite a few similar entities (humans and non-humans) around me. Just as they are, so am I (probably with a few differences here and there). What more should I question ?

One more thing I like to mention is, I think nobody consciously thinks/assumes that he is the body. If it is indeed wrong to think like that, then it is not his fault. Either it is unconsciously (in the sense, without his knowledge/will) has happened. Or he has been fed with that notion (by his environment). In any case, if at all it is a mistake, it is not his. If infinte has become finite, who fault is it ? Finite's or infinite's ?