Hi Francis, Sorry for the long question, but it’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while now. Thanks! According to the Direct Path, as I understand it, the self gets folded into consciousness, on the one hand, and external objects get folded into thoughts, which in turn get folded into consciousness, on the other. The result is that: all there is is consciousness. Folding external objects into thoughts and then into consciousness means that what we naively regard as external objects do not have independent existence. This is where I, and I’m sure many others, have a problem. There is an extraordinary coordination between various perceptions, between those of different agents, between those of the same agent at different times, and between different sensations of the same agent at the same time. Mary can tell me about a new statue in the park, and I can go there and appreciate it for myself. I can return to my bedroom each night, and see that that the bed, the nightstand, the floor lamp, and the dresser have the same appearance and configuration as they did on previous nights. I see, hear, and pet the barking dog, and these various experiences are resolved into a single, coherent perception of the dog. How are these familiar occurrences possible if there is not a world of independent, existing things, a world that has some sort of intersubjective reality that is more substantial than fleeting forms of awareness? As I see it, Direct Path teachers try to defuse this sort of objection by permitting only an appeal to “direct experience”. It’s true that external objects are not part of my “direct experience”. As far as my own experience goes, there are only perceptions, feelings, and thoughts. But can’t one reasonably infer the existence of external objects from one’s own direct experience and the reports of others? Doesn’t the behavior of even self-realized Advaitins indicate that this inference has been made? It seems to me that someone who really took seriously the notion that her sensations do not correspond to a substratum of independent, existing things would regard the world as a series of disconnected flashes of images, feels, and smells. Another problem with the restriction of evidence to “direct experience” is that it seems to be tantamount to solipsism. I have no “direct experience” of the awareness of others, and, thus, shouldn’t I also discount my own belief and the claims of others that they are aware?
Yes, although I would rather say that the reality or substance of thoughts, feelings and external sense perceptions is consciousness, or “subtle reality”. We may notice in passing that this subtle reality is directly experienced by us, and that we are therefore absolutely certain of it.
Then you go on saying:
No, for if there are external objects, their substance may be other than thought. Let’s call it “physical reality”. We may notice in passing that the physical reality is not directly experienced by us, and that therefore the existence of external objects is inferential, not experiential. It is inferred from our intersubjective agreement about the qualities of these external objects, as you have already noticed.
Then you add:
Although this is true, it cannot be logically implied by 1 and 2 (since 2 is not true}, which explains why you, and many others including me have a problem with this line of reasoning.
We have been conditioned to see consciousness as a limited object located in time and space, somewhere between the ears. This childish belief, or one of its variations, is the root of the ignorance of our true nature. What experiential evidence do we have of such limitations, or that consciousness is an object? Absolutely none. This opens the possibility to envision consciousness as an ever present and ubiquitous “field”, just as we envision the laws of physics to be in effect everywhere at all times. Our openness to this possibility is a prerequisite for the understanding of that which follows.
Let’s go back now to the two realities that we have encountered earlier on, the subtle reality we are absolutely certain of and the physical reality, the existence of which is inferred from the intersubjective agreement.
Let us assume for the time being that they are two distinct realities. In that case, either they interfere and communicate with one another, or they don’t. Since we claim that our sense perceptions (the reality of which is subtle) are of the world (the reality of which is physical), we must eliminate the possibility that the two realities don’t communicate or interfere. Now, if they interfere, either one of them is the ultimate reality of the other, or there is a third ultimate reality which is the substance of both of them. In all cases, there is an ultimate reality that is both the reality of our subjective experience of thoughts, feelings and sense perceptions, which is precisely what consciousness is, and of the physical world that we perceive. This implies that this reality-consciousness is all there is.
The case where there are not two distinct realities is trivial. In this case too, consciousness or subtle reality is all there is.
If you go deeply into this, the remaining questions will be easily answered. However feel free to ask again if you have any doubts.