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Is it possible to have awareness without a self-sense? Does an awareness presuppose a self being aware no matter how refined or subtle that sense of self might be? Or to reframe the question slightly - can awareness be non-dual i.e. the being aware of the subject without the object.

Many thanks as always

  • Do you mean sakkāya-ditthi by the word self-sense? If so, personality-belief is a better word for that. See, sakkāya-ditthi. – Damith Feb 22 at 4:02
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OP: Is it possible to have awareness without a self-sense?

Yes, why not? It's very hard to imagine how enlightened ones think about what they use, their parents, relatives, etc... without self-sense. They use things with knowing that this is not me, this does not belong to me, this cannot be kept as I wish. How beautiful that thinking is!

Do you know even a non-returner lived in a home, did a job (without earning money), and looked after his old blind parents? I quoted here Kassapa Lord Buddha's own words about him, to understand how he did those without self-sense in order to imagine a little about how enlightened ones think.

But Ghaṭīkāra doesn’t get upset, nor will he. Ghaṭīkāra has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha. He doesn’t kill living creatures, steal, commit sexual misconduct, lie, or take alcoholic drinks that cause negligence. He has experiential confidence in the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha, and has the ethics loved by the noble ones. He is free of doubt regarding suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation. He eats in one part of the day; he’s celibate, ethical, and of good character. He has set aside gems and gold, and rejected gold and money. He’s put down the shovel and doesn’t dig the earth with his own hands. He takes what has crumbled off by a riverbank or been dug up by mice, and brings it back in a carrier. When he has made a pot, he says: “Anyone may leave bagged sesame, mung beans, or chick peas here and take what they wish.” He looks after his blind old parents. And since he has ended the five lower fetters, Ghaṭīkāra will be reborn spontaneously and will become extinguished there, not liable to return from that world.

~ Cited from: Ghaṭīkāra Sutta (MN 81)

I have provided this answer by assuming the OP's intended sakkāya-ditthi by the word, self-sense. To my understanding absence of self-sense (sakkāya-ditthi) is not something that totally abandon you from outer world or conventional relationships. We can understand this by reading the following conversation between Ghaṭīkāra and Jotipāla.

Jotipāla: Dear Ghaṭīkāra, you have heard this teaching, so why don’t you go forth from the lay life to homelessness?

Ghaṭīkāra: Don’t you know, dear Jotipāla, that I look after my blind old parents?

Note: This is how I understood. I may be wrong but not Dhamma.

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There is Mahayana text which is believed to be taught by Maitreya and written down by Asanga, Madhyanta-vibhaga-karika. In this text, Maitreya introduces something he calls "false imagination" - which is a mode of cognition that involves imputing subject/object duality onto stuff.

The text is much deeper than my ability to explain it here, so I advise you to study it for yourself, but it does discuss this exact topic in great details. The simple answer is, yes of course it is possible as this mode of cognition is (a part of, a result of) Enlightenment.

In my limited understanding, the way of thinking that delineates individual objects, evaluates each object relatively to a frame of reference, and forms an attitude towards each object - is exactly what leads to emergence of self-sense. Once this way of thinking is overthrown, whether through analytical study followed by meditation, or through yogic exercises, or through wrestling with koans, or through selfless practice of Bodhisattva, or through direct cultivation of prajna-paramita etc. - once we no longer think in terms of entities and don't build attitudes to them - the sense of self is left with no food and begins to fade. And vice-versa.

In one interpretation, by Mario D'Amato in his translation of the text, this mode of cognition is completely free from semiotic interpretation of "signs" into "what they imply", and is instead a pure cognition of everything-as-it-is.

This seems close to my personal experience, when, as my practice progressed, I noticed that my tendency to "read-in" or impute my assumptions onto things and people have significantly reduced in direct proportion to diminishing sense of self. More and more I see things as they are, in all their unknown-to-me-depth and multifaceted ambiguity, instead of trying to assume I know them in a black-and-white way. This is directly connected to the absence of self, because self is a collection of reified assumptions.

At the end, the state of awareness without self seems similar to a state of mind when you drive car on a very familiar road. It's not like you are not aware of what you see - you are, otherwise you would have crashed or lost your way. But it is like, the road is so familiar that it creates no tension that would require some hard form of deliberate attention. Although the attention is definitely there. Similarly, when there is no self, it seems like awareness is not affected, but the sense of tension brought by the self is gone.

In one sense, it is somewhat (but not quite) like awareness of a child - meaning, there is so much harmony with the environment, that the sense of separate self is not required. It is a more harmonious kind of awareness, there is no conflict in it, because the conflict is self.

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The origin of self is identification with the forms. If there is no identification with the forms then it is not possible to experience the life as a seperate self. The "form" or "self" can continue to exist in a person, but If there is no identification with it, then there is only objective, nondual, clear, peaceful experience of life. The self's momentum can continue as an old bad habit in an ego-free person, but the person would not identify himself with these mind states so his/her objectivity and clarity wouldn't be disturbed by these mind states.

Every meditator experiences these ego-free mind states temporarily, but becoming permanently free from the identification with the self takes time. Even after the end of the belief of a seperate self, the identification with the self continues. Only after experiencing Nibbana many times, the person will start to disidentify from the core self and eventually identification with the ego-self would end permanently. Then there is only walking, sitting, breathing, feeling etc. without the identification with the seperate self and the person's inner peace would become continous no matter what is happening inside his/her mind or in the outside world.

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    Nice answer. The question seems to need a distinction between self-sense and Self-sense. – PeterJ Feb 21 at 13:02
  • @PeterJ You're right. I am not sure I replied 100% the question because my English is bad, but I tried my best :) – Murathan1 Feb 21 at 13:09
  • Also it's hard to explain the objectivity, pure awareness etc. without mentioning the nature of the universe. So in another topic I tried to write some stuff about this subject with my limited English: buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/30402/700 – Murathan1 Feb 21 at 13:48
  • @Murathan1 Sir, I suppose the majority of the beings in formless-sphere have self-sense (being not stream-winners). So, how would be the origin of self identification happened with the forms? – Damith Feb 22 at 2:40
  • @Damith As I know Buddha didn't talk about the origin of the universe, how the beings "created", how the journey started for the beings etc. Also Ven. Yuttadhammo said that it's unanswerabe because maybe the time is not linear. But as many spiritual teachers and traditions say(I think some Buddhist sects say indirectly say too) the root of any beings is the identification with the forms. Everything's essence is emptiness, ultimately nothing is real except emptiness. – Murathan1 Feb 22 at 4:53
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Definitely. That mindfulness training on the 4 postures is a typical example. When a meditator walks, s/he doesn't keep the notion that "I walk". Instead it's just the bare awareness of "walking, walking, walking". Similarly for standing, lying down, sitting, the "self" is completely removed from the mindfulness. It's just a series of "standing, standing..., lyind down, lying down..., sitting, sitting...". A common stock phrase in many suttas that describes the Arahant as still having full perfect awareness but there's no notion of what's considered "I", "mine", or "myself".

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Nyom Crab Bucket, interested,

Nearly (i.e. not in the spear of senses), but there is the often called dimension of either-perception-nor-no-perception, and this question actually point on what is desired by one who seeks for going beyond: ceto-vimutti, awarness (being) -release.

"awareness be non-dual": for a mind released, there is no such as contact, hence no object taken on, is beyond the senses.

The last release is pañña-vimutti, release for any stand ("awarness"), if not attained in this very existence, by one instructed, arising in the spheres of the arupa-world, i.e. as non-returner.

[Not given for trade, exchange, stacks, Buddh-ism to bind and entertain, but to gain release]

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