The Implications of Total Awareness
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 22nd February 1976
Let us consider together some of the implications of the transformation of our mode of awareness of existence, which takes place through living the religious life. In culmination, the worldly mode of consciousness is completely changed into the transcendent mode. This does not mean that it is another mode from the worldly mode. We must understand this very carefully because the religious life is life in the world in terms of true humanness — of human perfection, if we may so call it. What has happened is that all that characterises the worldly mode, our ambitions and fears and anxieties, our perplexities, our ignorance and all that, has disappeared with this transformation of the worldly mode, which has these characteristics, into the transcendent mode. But we are conscious of the world, this same world of which we were conscious in the worldly mode before the realisation of human fruition and fulfilment. As the outer world would put it, the man of the world is transformed into a being who is free of illusions and delusions, whose life is a saintly life. One does not, therefore, practise saintship as if it were a technique or a particular mode of living. The saintly life becomes the life of that man quite naturally and spontaneously. He cannot help living that way. When I look at him I say, “Oh, that man is a saintly man”. By contrast the average man of the world is a worldly man. But for the saint, himself, there is no sense of contrast in his mind with regard to himself. In fact, with regard to himself, one may almost say that he is quite unselfconscious. This is one of the great changes that takes place.
Now there is an outstanding characteristic which differentiates ourselves in the worldly mode from ourselves in the fully human mode, which we can quite legitimately call the transcendent mode, and that is in the manner in which we attend to everything, to every person, every event and every situation. First and foremost we are no longer aware in terms of separation from any person, any thing and any situation. We are fully awake to the fact that the situation completely contains us. Our self-containment, which in our worldly state separates us from the world, is now a self-containment in which the word ‘self’ has grown in meaning in such a way as to include the totality. But if it includes the totality, the sense of the separate ‘I’ has completely vanished. It is no longer a case of ‘I’ and ‘you’ or ‘him’ or ‘the situation’ or ‘the country’ or the object you are looking at, etc. The separatist ‘I’ consciousness has completely vanished. One is aware in terms of the whole and one attends to the whole completely and totally. Now, first and foremost, this implies the utter transcending of the birth-death process in our mind and consciousness. It does not mean oneself, the living person will not physically die, of course one will, but the manner in which we are ordinarily conscious of the birth-death process is completely transcendent.
Now, we all know from our ordinary every day experience that, for us, every thought or mood or action or experience begins, proceeds and comes to an end. We associate our self-consciousness, the ‘I am I’ consciousness (which is actually a misconception) with beginning, proceeding and ending of our every thought or mood, etc., and so we experience life in terms of time. The time-consciousness undergoes a complete transformation when attention is total and complete. In ordinary time- consciousness there is always a lag in our awareness of what is happening. The thing arises, it happens and afterwards we become aware that it has happened, and we are always catching up with its proceeding. As we commonly say, time passes by. In this process we undergo all kinds of reactions to the process because the process is constantly sending out impulses, stimuli, to us. When we receive the stimuli, whether they be in terms of sight, hearing, touch or whatever, the brain reacts back at those stimuli. This is basically due to our being aware, in this mode of time, of the movement of time which is the state of mortality; beginning, proceeding, dying, birth, death, birth, death - a constant succession of births and deaths in our own mind and consciousness. This is the real meaning of the Sanskrit word Saṁsāra. The word has been mistranslated as ‘a series of lives’. It is not ‘a series of lives’, it is a series of awareness of that which is in terms of mortality - beginning, ending, birth, death, a specific “separate” unchanging entity, and each stage as something separate. In fact we are atomistically conscious only, and not conscious in terms of the whole field simultaneously. But when one is totally attentive there is no time lag in the awareness of what happens, there is absolutely no time lag.
If you look carefully at the time process, birth, then movement, then growth and then death, there is a great distance. But in actuality, and this is true of the entire universal process physically, there is a vibrating at such an extraordinary speed that consciousness cannot differentiate between the beginning and the ending, as we call it. Now, when you cannot differentiate like that you are quite unconscious of the actual happening, but when the mind is sufficiently purified, so that there are no reactions to the time process, then this beginning and ending is seen as a vibrating of life in eternity. Then you are actually aware in terms of eternity and you no longer feel the life process as a beginning or birth and an ending or death. You are so responsive to the continuous changing process that you are actually in tune with the transformation from moment to moment, a transmutation from moment to moment. The life of the universe is creative energy in action in eternity, not in time. Because I am unawake, incapable of responding to this, I mistranslate it as a beginning, proceeding and a dying in unidirectional time. This is simply due to the fact that I am unable to give total, complete attention to the life process as it goes on. This is the difference between mortality and immortality. All the common-or-garden meanings of immortality are sheer nonsense. When your mode of awareness has undergone this transformation, so that you are attentive completely and totally to the totality, now in the instant, then you are at one with that transformation process and you do not separate out any more, in terms of the time process, the time movement. We impose the concept of time, and awareness in terms of time, upon the actual fact of eternity here now. It is a creative action in eternity and this creative action in eternity has neither birth in it nor death in it. The absolute all is undergoing continuous transformation. If the absolute all is undergoing continuous transformation there is nothing which is annihilated, nothing which is destroyed, nothing which is made and brought into being as something new. The totality is there always as the totality, and being there always in totality it is not fragmented. The fragmentation takes place because of my mode of awareness, my mode of consciousness. I am unawake to the totality. I am unable to be conscious, in terms of totality, to attend totally and completely. As long as I separate self, as long as I separate one thing from another, as long as I am unawake and unaware of the complete interrelationship between the multitudinous so-called separate things which make up the totality, I am unawake to their relationships and their interactions, I am aware in terms of fragments and broken bits. I have broken up the totality in my consciousness. I cannot avoid it, I cannot help it, at the start, this is how we begin. We begin with time and we do not get rid of time. Time becomes transformed for us in our awareness into eternity.
Now just consider carefully, ordinarily one reacts constantly to the whole life process. One likes what is happening, one dislikes what is happening. One feels secure and pleased, one feels insecure, anxious, in fear. All those reactions completely vanish if you are totally attentive in the immediate, creative Now. Because when you are totally conscious like that, there is no sense of a separate otherness in relation to anything and everything. Then there is no fear. This has been put very tersely in one of the great Upaniṣads, but I doubt if anyone has succeeded in expounding it lucidly in intellectual terms. This sense of otherness is due to the fact that one is unable to give total and complete attention to what is called the other. All the sense phenomena, sights, sounds, tastes, touches and so forth, tend to produce an analytical split-up awareness of what is going on. To give you a simple example of this in our own daily lives, if the body is well and healthy and there is nothing wrong with it, your background self-consciousness of the body is a whole consciousness. The body is a whole, ‘This is me’, and its continuing life process is the ‘me’ you do not feel or think about it in terms of parts. But if you get a headache or something, then the sense of separateness or something other has come into the situation. This is what happens with the mind and in consciousness. The body comes to maturity, the body can be healthy, we all experience that, but the mind almost never comes to maturity in the members of the human race. It is always in this fragmented condition, this split-up condition. Therefore, there are all these reactions, all these fears, all these strange intellectual explanations, and you pick and choose the one which pleases you, the one that satisfies you for the time being and say, “I believe this”. When you can attend totally there are no beliefs, no fixed convictions, no mental fixations of any sort in the mind. The mind is utterly transparent and, to use the words they use so much in India particularly, the mind is empty. What is it empty of? It is empty of all the obstructions to total awareness expressed through total attentiveness. So, if one can be totally attentive like that, one is aware, one is actually living in terms of immortality. There is no longer beginning and ending, you are with the universal process from split second to split second. This does not mean that you are unconscious of differentiation. Differentiation there is. There are innumerable particulars, limited, finite things, persons, events and so on, but because we are unawake to their complete interrelationships we are conscious of them as so many separate things. And when we cannot relate the separate things together in the right way our sense of wholeness, of holiness, has disappeared. It is this release of the sense of wholeness, of holiness, of completeness, of totality, which is the whole task of religious living. And this religious living, therefore, can be carried out only in the world, not away from the world, because this is our sphere of action. It is our school. The world itself, from day to day, is our school in which we learn, if we have been helped to understand something of the art of learning, and this is where attentiveness and mindfulness play the most important part. You are really mindful of what is happening all the time. Particularly be mindful of all the reactions which take place in our ordinary worldly mode of awareness, the mode, in terms of time, which of course is also in terms of sorrow, of anxiety, of ignorance, of perplexity, of fear and all these things, of duality, of multiplicity. Be aware of the reactions which spring up in the brain and observe them very quietly and coolly with the intellect, and very intimately, totally accept these reactions warmly with the heart, because if you reject them and say, “Oh, no, no, this is not the right thing, this does not lead me to fruition and fulfilment”, the cure cannot be effected. One has to see both ways the reactions, as they take place inside oneself, holding them at a distance, for examination like a scientist observes them. You have also to take them right inside yourself, with your eyes closed, and feel them as the creative artist feels. Now, how does the creative artist feel? When any person takes something right into his own psyche, and feels it intensely as part and parcel of himself, a transformation process takes place there. The impure is transformed into the pure. That which is ill understood, which ties up the intellect in knots, becomes disentangled and everything straightens out. This is the way insights come, this is the way of the creative artist. The two are combined together, both are necessary, one alone will not do. Take in ordinary life a creative artist, a man with genius. He gets an inspiration but if he has not got the cool intellectual grasp of it and the technique of working out that inspiration, he will produce no music, no poetry, no painting, nothing at all. You have to have both aspects there. The critical externalized observation, which is analytical, sees the relationship of parts, and this something from within, which is feeling and non-analytical, integrates that which the intellect sees at a distance and, lo and behold, a thing of beauty comes into being. It is this kind of process which goes on inside us when we live the religious life in the right way.
So in observing the reactions you discover your own inner nature, “This is what I am”. When we discover our own inner nature, from moment to moment, we must not let that discovery be a fixation. One is caught up in a mood of fear or depression or anger or whatever, but do not say, “I am angry, I am a person who is characterised by anger for ever and ever”, because the mood changes. Your state, your mode of reaction, changes. It undergoes changes from feeling very angry and horrible towards whomever it may be, to feeling affectionate and kind and generous. So what is the truth? The truth of the matter is that one goes through changing states all the time. Time and change, in that separatist manner, go together and, therefore, the solution of the problems raised by that process can never come from that level. Any healing, in the true sense, any integrating, always emerges from a transcendent depth because it is in the transcendent depth that the integrative creative activity goes on. These are deep things in connection with the consciousness process. We do not understand it well enough in the ordinary way.
So now let me come back to this matter of attentiveness. When attentiveness is total and complete and one is fully aware and awake in terms of wholeness, then one is living and functioning in eternity, not time. Therefore, the past, as we commonly call it, has lost its grip upon us. Consider how much sorrow and other things besides, we go through when memories of the past come back to us. How much hate is roused up when we recall the evil things done to us by somebody, undeservedly, as we always say. It may probably be considerably undeservedly but it never is a hundred per cent undeservedly, there is always something on both sides. This is what memory does, the memory of the past produces all kinds of reactions. When attentiveness is total, the memory of the past is not suppressed, it is not wiped out, but what happens is this — or something like this. These memories of the past are impressed upon the actual cells of the brain and perhaps other parts of the body too. We hold our total history in our own living bodies and, whatsoever may be the conformation of the molecules and cells (which compose our brains and our bodies), they hold in their particular conformation this memory of the past. When you transcend the time element, when the mind and heart, here now, are utterly pure and strong, that conformation undergoes transformation. That conformation of the brain cells itself undergoes change. This is one of the points associated with the physical practice of the discipline of yoga. The bodily postures and the breathing contribute towards this transformation, provided one approaches the whole thing utterly purely and not in order to gain anything for self, because that is a force which spoils the real transformation. Extraordinary changes take place which affect not just the mind alone but which actually affect the body too. So when attentiveness is total, when you are actually functioning in eternity, all that psychic energy which was an ill expression of one’s own life process, that ill expression can no longer take place. This transformation, at last, takes place so that this energy is liberated into the power for pure expression, for right expression. There is no question of undergoing a specialized technique in order to bring about purification. The process of purification is a natural process. I cannot take any of the cells of my brain or body and wash them in some new detergent which is guaranteed to wash them whiter than white. It cannot be done that way. It is through the observation, through the understanding, and through the total attentiveness that this force for separating or splitting-up is out of the situation. That same energy in me, myself, which splits up, no longer splits up. That energy, now, is integrative only, it is utterly purified. So in total attentiveness a process of purification is going on constantly. And you know how important this process of purification is, because unless there is complete purity there is no possibility of true communion. And the state of communion is the state of total attentiveness. It marks the fact that one’s mode of awareness has undergone this complete transformation from the worldly mode of awareness (which is self-centred, self-oriented and all the rest of it) into the transcendent mode. Into the transcendent mode where there is no fear. There is no sorrow there, there is no pleasure-pain duality there. That is expressed as the peace of God which passes understanding, as the bliss or ānanda of Brahman. These phrases have been used, but what they actually mean, in psychological fact and expressed in reasonably lucid intellectual terms, is very difficult to get hold of. But what has happened? I, the ordinary man of the world, am at last truly a man. And remember that the word ‘man’ means the creative thinker. The word ‘human’ means the happy creator. These meanings are identical with what man ascribes to God. Man is potentially that which is represented in the word God.
So I have tried this afternoon to take us into the depths of what is implied and what is involved in this matter of total attentiveness, of right mindfulness, and of the transformation of the worldly mode of awareness of existence into the transcendent mode, which is the purely and fully human mode.
A super talk. Thanks.
Tom, 1st March 2019