Sunday April 2, private conversation; Barbara and Aaron, during Barbara's retreat:

Barbara: I have a question.. You said above, in rigpa (the pure awareness mind, often called the "natural state") , "There is no contraction." There are natural contractions such as reaching for an object, opening and closing hand, or a hiccup. Thought arises; sensations arise. I know you're not saying that when these contractions arise we're out of rigpa even if they are simply noted as "not other than" and observed as they "self-liberate". When we rest in rigpa, there is no conditioning from the contraction; resting in pure awareness continues.

We're always resting in this pure awareness mind, but when there's fixation on contraction, in that moment we lose touch with rigpa. I think you are saying that when we lose touch with pure awareness we reenter sem, everyday mind, which shift accords with my experience. Back to delusion, self. We can't see the clear blue sky because of the clouds, and forget the clear sky exists, get involved in trying to fix the clouds.

Then sem equates with consciousness, as different from pure awareness. It's not just a difference in degree, but totally different. Consciousness is a function of sem only, and not of rigpa. Is this correct? Yet there is sense consciousness in rigpa. What is the relationship of sem and rigpa? It seems to me that when resting in rigpa, sense consciousness is just another part of the conditioned realm which awareness may note without any fixation on it. Awareness notes the hearing, seeing or other consciousness and any conditioners of that consciousness, the cetasika. This is just happening on the surface. Like the mirror which is never distorted by what it reflects, awareness is not touched by any of this.

Can you explain this all again, very precisely. The main question is about consciousness versus awareness and the seeming shift, losing touch with rigpa, cloud blotting out the sky.

Aaron: Again we must distinguish between the first contraction and resultant contraction. Consider the movement of the hand opening to receive, or the contraction of a limb when it experiences strong catalyst such as a burn, and withdraws. When this movement is known as expression of the unconditioned and there is no fixation on the contraction, one is still resting in rigpa. The limb moves. The mind stays still.

This statement is incomplete, as when a thought arises it seems as if the mind moves. Yet a stillness may watch the mind move much as that stillness which noted the contracting limb. There is no fixation; mind is not discriminating.

What is the nature of this stillness? Let us review some basics, and then take this question further so we may be able to detect just what it is that remains still. Observe the relationship of sense organs, sense objects and consciousness. The ear and the object of sound are rupa, or "things". They are absolute realities, or paramattha dhammas. The sense organ mind, and object of the mind are rupa. They are things. We distinguish between the sense organ of mind and the function of mind, which is the consciousness, knowing, just as we distinguish between the ear as organ of hearing and the function of the ear which is the consciousness, hearing .

Consciousness is nama, mental phenomenon. Nama is of two types, citta and cetasika, which are functions of consciousness. They are also paramattha dhammas. Citta, consciousness, is that which knows or experiences an object. For a citta, there must be an object. Hearing consciousness is nama and is a citta. Mind consciousness is nama and is a citta. The thought or any object of mind is rupa. Rupa is an object and does not experience. When the thought is a plan, that is an object and does not experience. When the thought is a concept, the same is true.

I have said nama experiences an object. Hearing consciousness experiences the sound, as of a bell. When the bell sounds and the ear is present, and all other necessary conditions are met, hearing consciousness occurs. When the bell sound ceases, a new outer sound may arise and replace it as object. When the thought arises and mind perceives it, there is knowing, or thinking consciousness. When one thought ceases, another may arise. When the mental object dissolves, mind, as organ of knowing, continues just as the ear as sense organ still exists after a sound is gone. Rupa, as ear organ or mind as organ of knowing, does not need an object. Thus, mind, ear and other sense organs are not dependent on a specific object to touch upon for their existence, but they are still conditioned; they do depend on conditions for arising and will cease to exist when those conditions cease.

Cittas are classified in many ways. They may be wholesome or unwholesome. They may be the result of, or motivator for wholesome or unwholesome mind and body states, or both. They may also be inoperative, that is, neither resultant nor motivating. There are said to be 121 distinct types of citta. There is an entire classification scheme here that is not necessary to this discussion. It is sufficient to recognize that the citta may be rooted in aversion, or grasping, in kindness or generosity and so forth. It may be wholesome , derived from the wholesome, and give rise to the wholesome. It may be unwholesome, derived from the unwholesome, and give rise to the unwholesome. These are but a very few examples.

This tone of the citta relates to the cetasikas, another category of nama. These are mental factors which arise with consciousness and modify it. Feelings of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral modify the consciousness of hearing, for example. We will also not discuss this now. What is important is just to know the grasping mind, the spacious mind, and such. There is the consciousness of hearing with spaciousness; there is hearing with aversion; there is hearing with joy. with grasping, with confusion. For your practice, all you need to know is such as, "hearing compounded with aversion has arisen", or "mind is spacious and energetic." You must know these textures of mind.

This is very technical, is drawn from Abhidhamma, and is not necessary to study here in detail. How does this information relate to the question of consciousness versus awareness? The above deals with the citta or consciousness-experiencer touching a rupa or object. These three – cittas, cetasikas, and rupas – are all conditioned or sankhara dhammas. What when the object is not a conditioned object but is the Unconditioned itself? Nibbana is also a paramattha dhamma or absolute reality. However it is not conditioned. It is said to be nama, but it does not experience an object; herein lies confusion. You ask why it is not rupa; it is not an object; it transcends subject/ object.

Cittas are classified by level of experience, or bhumi. Sense impressions are one level of citta, knowing objects through the body sense as in every day hearing or thinking.. Other cittas do not experience through the senses. At the highest end of the spectrum are the supramundane cittas or lokuttara cittas. This is the citta which may have nada, or ground luminosity as object. This is the citta which is capable to experience Nibbana,

Consciousness, nama, is dependent on an object. When the external object fades, when the external visual object dissolves, when the thought dissolves, the consciousness ceases. However, hearing awareness, seeing awareness, objectless awareness do not cease. We must distinguish between consciousness as related to discursive mind, sems, and awareness as related to the pure awareness mind, rigpa. That which hears nada or sees ground luminosity is not the sense organ ear or eye but is awareness itself.

I have said that Nibbana transcends subject/ object. It can be experienced through the mind when the mind is ripe to experience it. What is this ripe mind? You understand that consciousness seems to continue even when there is no object of consciousness; hearing seems to continue when the sound dissolves. Then there is hearing of silence, and so on with each physical sense. When the sound dies and hearing consciousness seems to continue, hearing the silence, which is unconditioned, that which knows nada is pure awareness. There is a shift; consciousness fades and mind opens to pure awareness. Seeing: as the focus shifts from conditioned object to the innate radiance of that object, which is unconditioned, mind shifts into pure awareness. When there is awareness and no object, mind rests in that objectlessness. This resting is the uncontracted state. Thus, consciousness does indeed need an object, and when conditioned objects dissolve, if presence is firm, pure awareness opens. The object of pure awareness is of the unconditioned realm. We might say the cloud is consumed and burnt away. In all of these situations, with nada, with ground luminosity, with objectlessness, there is no possibility of contraction. This is how consciousness dissolves, opening to pure awareness. Pure awareness is that which may know Nibbana.

It is this shift with which pure awareness practice works. We move out of conventional mind. The pure awareness mind, mind resting in rigpa, is not necessarily experiencing Nibbana, but is open to that experience if directed skillfully and if all the other required factors are in place. This resting in rigpa is only a doorway, but a very powerful doorway to deeper experience, entering Nibbana. From there, all the stages of insight must still develop. This is why you do not experience in dzogchen, resting in rigpa, so deep an experience of the unconditioned as when moving through the vipassana jhanas where there is a practiced path to deeper, more direct experience. It is a doorway through pure awareness, not very different from the pure awareness state opened into in vipassana practice, but as you have noted, once practiced well, it becomes a "shortcut" of sorts.

Returning to your question, when one is resting in rigpa and there is a physical object such as a loud noise, hearing occurs, and the natural reaction of the body is to contract. When there is touch of a hot object, the body will likewise contract, as it will to a brilliant flash of light. When these contractions are seen also as 'not-other-than', they are merely further objects which present themselves and dissolve. The mind rests in rigpa, aware of it all, free and uncontracted. The more it notes arising without fixation, the more stably it rests in rigpa. It is clear, present, totally unperturbed. This is the mind which may move on to touch Nibbana.

We have not fully addressed the relationship between sem and rigpa, and will come back to that another day.

Barbara: Thank you, Aaron, I need time to digest all of this. So is it only the mental contraction or fixation which pulls us out of rigpa?

Aaron: It is ignorance, delusion, which pulls you out of rigpa.

Barbara: What's most useful to me here is the explanation of consciousness vs. awareness and of the shift to pure awareness..

Aaron: It is of no use as concept. Go and see it again now. Enough words; please return to your meditation. That is all.

Barbara: One more question please. You once told me that only wholesome lokuttara cittas dissolve habitual tendencies/ defilements. These, what you've called "supramundane cittas" are related to pure awareness and thus, I would conjecture, always present when we can open to them. I see then that this is why, while resting in rigpa, there is no khamma or possibility of it, but it returns when we come back to sem. It this correct?

Aaron: Yes, this is correct in essence, but a full reply would be complex. We have spoken briefly of the 40 lokuttara cittas. Different cittas eradicate different defilements. Resting in rigpa, the defilements cannot arise but they are not yet eradicated. That is why I have labeled rigpa as a doorway to Nibbana, and not Nibbana itself. In rigpa, all the lokuttara cittas become available. I do not wish this discussion to become conceptual. First you must sit until I know you see what we have discussed above. That is all.