From Absolute Self (atma) to Non-Self
Consciousness begins as Absolute Consciousness, pure "I" or infinite Subject,
which is the essential nature of the Absolute Reality. All manifestation
then is a movement from that Infinite consciousness or Self to Its own
Objects of Consciousness or Non-Self. Originally the individualisation is a valid part of the Absolute itself, and Self and Non-self coexist as equal aspects of the Supreme. But with the appearace of multiplicity this unity is lost and Self and Non-Self become a dualistic dichotomy, described in Samkhya as purusha and prakriti. Note that non-seplf can include mind as well as body, so this is not the western duality of spirit and matter.
Atmaology - Levels of Selfhood
Levels of Selfhood or the self-not-self axis constitutes a distinct ontological parameter, defined by subjectivity and the activity of consciousness. It is a central theme in Eastern Philosophy and Phenomenology. Consciousness is here distinguished from Mind and Psyche. Because of a lack of precision in understanding the various aspects and ontological axii, the self-not-self axis is very often usually confused or combined with either or both the "horizontal" inner-outer psychological series (psychology), or the physical-spiritual "vertical" series (occultism and theosophy). This confusion arises because the conventional current western religious and philosophical position involves a choice between Materialism (including variants such as Judeo-Christian resurrectionism - as they are unable to conceive of a soul apart from the body) and some sort of Cartesian, spiritualist, or natural-supernatural religious dualism. But these materialistic, holistic, or dualistic interpretations ignore all the manifold aspects and dimensions that human consciousness includes.
The much more sophisticated understanding of ancient India is based not on the dichotomy of soul/mind/spoirit and body/matter, but of Pure Consciousness or Witness and the Objects of Consciousness. This latter includes both mind and matter; in other words, thoughts are just as much non-self as the physical body. This simple yet profound observation can be confirmed or proved by any decent meditation practice. Thoughts are distinctly experienced as something different from the core-awareness, the "I" or "knower" or "witness" or Self (or "non-Self" - i.e., non-Ego - if you are a Buddhist, for the experience also proves to you that there is no persisting ego or outer personality self).
The study of consciousness is also considered in Husserlian phenomenology, where the static cartesian subject-object is replaced by the more dynamic polarity of noesis-noemata. However this only refers to the Mental or Noetic aspect of the Self-Not-self axis. In the following ontology, both eastern and phenomenological perspectives are integrated.
- Transcendent Self / Paramatman / Buddha Mind - This is the Self that is infinite, eternal, all inclusive, one with the Supreme. In fact it is the Supreme Reality of all mystic teachings, according to which the essence of the Soul or individual being is the same as the Godhead of the Cosmos (monistic Vedanta, Eckhardt, see also chap.1 of Huxley's Perennial Philosophy). Of course, the nature of the Supreme varies according to the conceptual system one uses to approach and relate to it. Advaita Vedanta affirms the "Self" and Buddhism denies it, but both are describing two aspects or rather perspectives and ways of approaching the same thing. everything, the universe and beyond - that mode of the Absolute which is the universe (and the universe as the Absolute)
- Purusha / Ray or Focus or Individual Reflection of the Absolute - an aspect of the Absolute as one of an infinite multiplicity of beings, the Atma or Monad of Theosophy; the Pneuma or Divine Spark of Gnosticism; Purusha of Samkhya, the Vijnanakala and Purusha of Kashmir Shaivism.
- Ego / Dualistic Impulse which could also and perhaps more technically be called Bhava - being, coming into being, the original samskaras or impulses at the back of consciousness; equivalent also to the root of kleshas, the separation of the individual consciousness from the original Absolute Consciousness. In Indian thought paralells include the Alayayavijnana and Manovijnana of Yogachara Buddhism, and Buddhi and Ahamkara in classical Samkhya.
- Vikalpa / Activity of Consciousness - relative or finite being, defined above, is constantly and obsessionally active, but ina way that limits rather than enhances itself the activity of consciousness with a small "c". This self-limiting form of shakti is in the Indian tradition called maya, in which Consciousness, no longer non-dual and tranquil, is now caught in an obsessive relationship with the objects (noemata) to which it is directed. Husserl's Phenomenology refers to the act of consciousness as Noesis, this could be considered here as a form of shakti
- Prakriti / Noemata / Not-self / All Other Selves - To some extent this is the Prakriti of Samkhya and Advaita, but also everything that is not included in the individual Self. It is also, at least in its physical aspect, Objective reality according to science and secular thought. Husserl's Phenomenology replaces Object with Object of Consciousness (Noemata), and this can even be applied to Hwa Yen Buddhism (Odin 1982). Except in the most objective physical levels of being, the noemata are not separate from noesis, but constitute the "yin" pole; if noesis is willing, feeling, etc (or rather the energy of these things, because the details pertain to the other parameters), then the noemata are those phenomena that are willed, felt, etc. There are two aspects to this; the Figure which is the immediate focus of the consciousness described at the preceeding stage, and the Ground which is the background in which the figure sits (rather like the symbolism of the wave and particle dichotomy in quantum physics). In the symbolism of Yin and Yang, the Figure is Yang, the Ground Yin.
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text content and original diagrams by M.Alan Kazlev
relocated from original Integral Paradigm / Metaphysics page; this page uploaded 4 September 2005
some material originally uploaded 15 July 1998 as Consciousness page