Space and Mind - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.08.16

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In Mahamudra meditation, understanding consciousness as space is not understanding. It is experiencing. What is important is not the concept, but a kind of inner representation of limitless and timeless space.


Countless passages support the meditator-student to build up this inner representation. Of course, even the experience of that spacious container is a mental appearance, and thus not some kind of fundamental "reality". It is a representation.


Yet, only once this inner representation or experience of a limitless, boundless all pervading space is stabilised, can one begin to "see" all mental events (sensations, emotions, thoughts) arise from a kind of quantum fielf.


Sam Harris


Consciousness is just this open space

You may find it particularly interesting through the example of pointing out instructions to experience limitlessness given below.


You may also find it interesting through its similarity to contemporary philosophy, represented by Bernardo Kastrup.


You may also be interested in more posts related to the concept of space: (TBD)


Note on terminology

In this post, I will use the terms consciousness, mind, awareness etc as synonyms.


Sam Harris

Consciousness is just this open space

Sam Harris says this in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In this tradition, the meditator´s realistic representation of limitless space, in which all internal and seemingly external events arise, is seen as a precondition for the awakened mind.


Space as a metaphor conveys the nature of emptiness, in that it can only be defined as an absence. Space is not something that can be represented. It “cannot be seen” .... It has no form, nor can it obstruct form. Space, though all-inclusive and all-pervasive, cannot be considered “existent.” It is impervious to the changes of time and to the law of impermanence. (Brown & Thurman, 2006, p. 335)

Daniel P Brown describes the underlying reason for the more precise instruction approach in the introduction to "Self-Arising Three-fold Embodiment of Enlightenment":

Pointing out limitlessness serves as the basis for the realisation of enlightenment. In order to fully experience limitlessness, it is important to see if the ordinary mind has imposed any mental constructions of edges or boundaries upon limitless space . If so, the practitioner "opens" ... his or her awareness directly into any edges or boundaries, like pouring space into space, until the edges dissolve like mist into the atmosphere. The practitioner continues this process until all residual impositions of edges and boundaries disappear and there is a direct experience of genuinely limitless empty awareness/space (Daniel P Brown in intro to Gyaltsen et al., 2022, p 117)

However, Sam Harris is not very detailed in his instructions just how to represent space, and the openness of space. It is left to the hearer what is meant by "open".


One could say that this is a gap in his instructions. Other traditions go much deeper in giving the meditator a tool for mental operations how to represent this open, limitless space. One of these is the Pointing out the Great Way approach that rests on Tibetan Bön Buddhism, a Tibetan variant of Dzogchen,


Below I have added an example for pointing out instructions how to experience limitlessness, which use exactly Daniel P Brown´s theoretical passage as a source for practical guidance.


Analytical philosophy (Bernardo Kastrup)

As an aside, the equation of mind (consciousness) with space is surprisingly modern. Below, find Bernardo Kastrup (not a Buddhist himself) talking about it in the context of the question "what is consciousness".



You want to visualize mind that large visualize it as empty space, and all the things that pop into existence within space as the patterns of vibration. Empty space is the lake when it's not rippling. Objects and all the dance of existence are the ripples of that lake. Mind is empty space and empty space there is only one (Bernardo Kastrup in Jaimungal, 2021, 1:50:50)

His metaphor of "the lake and the ripples" which describes space and vibrations ) is nothing else but Buddhist terminology.

Tibetan Buddhism

"Consciousness, mind, awareness are like space" - this is one of the most significant statements in Tibetan Buddhism. Large parts of the meditation training, teaching metaphors, and pointing out instructions in Mahamudra are meant to let the student literally experience mind as space, so that it does not remain an empty analogy.


Pointing out instructions to experience limitless space

The following quote is from a retreat of the Pointing Out the Great Way organisation. It is a translation of the theoretical statement made by Daniel P Brown into a more detailed pointing out instruction. Therefore, you will note the similarity. That is no surprise since Daniel P Brown presumably wrote them both.


Now investigate if this field of knowing awareness-space extends in all of the directions, like an infinite vast expanse. Boundless. If the ordinary mind imposes any edges and boundaries on this awareness, you can move right into the boundaries or edges with your awareness. When you move into the boundaries with your awareness, limits immediately dissolve like mist dissolving into the atmosphere. Just keep moving into all the edges and boundaries. It is like pouring space into space, pouring awareness into awareness. If the ordinary mind imposes edges and boundaries somewhere further out, just keep moving into those edges and boundaries with your awareness, until it is perfectly obvious to you that this awareness is boundless, edgeless. This field of knowing awareness space is timeless and changeless on one hand, and boundless, edgeless on the other hand, like a vast ocean of changeless, boundless awareness (Pointing Out the Great Way - Retreat Levels, 2022)

Space as metaphor for mind / awareness / consciousness

Here I want to add a longer quote by Rob Burbea.


Rob Burbea (Burbea 2015) has given a wonderfully poetic description of how the experience of awareness as "space", as a "container" of everything that appears in consciousness, can develop in meditation.


Burbea´s text rests on the traditional Buddhist metaphor for awareness as "space". Awareness is equated to space in various ways, which he details in his text.


The metaphor does not mean that awareness IS space. The metaphor is only a pointer, not the thing itself. However, for the purpose of meditation, the human mind needs something to drop into the experience of something boundaryless, timeless and changeless. It's a crutch.


One should also not "reify" awareness as space. Even in the deepest experience of space, it is still something IN awareness and therefore it is fabricated and not a thing in itself, as Burbea notes.


In the following text, the term "holy disinterest" is not equal to boredom. This disinterest is based on an absence of clinging or attachment to whatever pops up in the mind. The mind is no longer interested to chase after, as is the Tibetan expression. Or, as seen from the perspective of the perceived object, it has no grab.


Getting a sense of inner space (Rob Burbea)

The following long quote is a poetic wide ranging description of how mind can appear as space.

Through an attitude of holy disinterest, less entranced by and entangled in the particulars of phenomena, a perception of awareness as a vast and clear space in which all appearances are contained may naturally begin to emerge.
In contrast to the habitual sense of consciousness as somehow ‘over here’ (perhaps in the head) directed toward some object ‘over there’, consciousness can now seem less localized, more pervading, like the open space of the sky.
It can seem to hold within it the arising, the abiding, and the dissolving of phenomena, effortlessly accommodating whatever is present. In this vastness there is plenty of space for every thing, making it even easier to let go of any need to control or interfere in the play of appearances.
Sensations, sounds, thoughts and images, indeed all phenomena, can seem to float free in this open consciousness, like fireflies flickering in the blackness of night, like clouds in the wide sky, moments of experience appearing and disappearing in the vastness of awareness.
And just as physical space seems undisturbed by what appears within it, so the space of awareness rejects nothing, holds and embraces everything, no matter what it is. A meditator can tune into this sense of the space and use it to deepen the letting go.
As it opens and becomes more steady, it can seem more and more that all phenomena appear to emerge out of this space of awareness, abide for a time, and then disappear back into it, while the space itself can have a sense of profound stillness, of imperturbability, to it. Like shooting stars, or like fireworks, bursting into view against an immeasurable backdrop of night sky, phenomena live for a while and then they fade back into the space.
Seeing experiences this way allows one even more fully to let them all arise and fade; and to let them all belong to the space of awareness.
As the letting go deepens further, and this more open perception consolidates, phenomena may seem to recede somewhat, while the space of awareness as a kind of ground of being can begin to become even more prominent.
Gradually attuning more to the felt sense of it, various subtly delightful qualities that seem inherent in the space can be appreciated. It may seem to sparkle with a joyous aliveness, for instance, or express an unshakeable and unfathomable peace; there may be a quality of eternity, of timelessness, that it seems to possess; it may appear luminous, or be radiant somehow, or it can be dark, imbued with mystery and a sense of the infinite.
All this and more, if it is present, it is important to explore and appreciate, and be touched by too. In time, phenomena may also start to lose their sense of substantiality, appearing less solid in the moment. They can seem to be merely impressions in awareness, something like reflections on the surface of a lake. Then even any image, or sense, of self, or of anything else that appears, can be regarded as just an impression in awareness too.
The stillness and space of awareness can also begin to pervade and permeate everything that arises, so that all things seem to be made of the same ‘stuff’, the same ethereal ‘substance’, as awareness. Then it matters even less what appearances arise. Just like the ocean, whether it is the waves on the surface or the still depths, all is water, and all waves dissolve back into the sea.
With less distinction thus being perceived between inner and outer, and between phenomena and awareness, there may naturally be a sense of oneness, of unity of all things, that emerges, perhaps gradually, at this point. Every thing appears then, mystically, as having the nature of awareness. And this awareness seems to have very little to do with the personality; it seems more as if one has opened into something universal, shared and available to all.
Allowed and supported by this sense of oneness and universality, a perception of love may also arise organically and permeate experience (Burbea 2015).


Resources



Brown, D.P., & Thurman, R. (2006). Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition (Annotated). Wisdom Publications.

https://www.amazon.de/-/en/Daniel-P-Brown/dp/0861713044/


Rob Burbea (Seeing..)

Burbea, R. (2015). Seeing That Frees: Meditations on Emptiness and Dependent Arising (English Edition) [E-book]. Hermes Amāra. https://www.amazon.de/dp/B00SI7PQD8


Till Gebel (Pointing Out)

Gebel, T. (2022b, June 21). Pointing out instructions in Mahamudra meditation. Till Gebel.

https://www.till-gebel.com/post/pointing-out-instructions-mahamudra-dzogchen

Till Gebel (Ocean 1)

Gebel, T. (2022a, May 29). Be ocean 1: meditation and contemplative neuroscience. Till-Gebel.De.

https://www.till-gebel.com/post/becoming-ocean-1-meditation-neuroscience/


Gyaltsen (Self-Arising Threefold)

Gyaltsen, S. T., Gurung, G. S., & Brown, D. P. (2022). Self-Arising Three-fold Embodiment of Enlightenment: [of Bon Dzogchen Meditation] (English Edition). In No Title (2nd ed.). Mustang Bon Foundation. https://www.amazon.com/-/de/dp/1732157944/


Gyaltsen, S. T., Gurung, G. S., & Brown, D. P. (2022, April 29). Self-Arising Three-fold Embodiment of Enlightenment: [of Bon Dzogchen Meditation] (English Edition) (2nd ed.). Mustang Bon Foundation. https://www.amazon.com/Self-Arising-Three-fold-Embodiment-Enlightenment-Meditation/dp/195695001X




Donald Hoffman (The Case)

Hoffman, D. (2020). The Case Against Reality: How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. In No Title. Penguin. https://www.amazon.de/-/en/Donald-Hoffman/dp/0393254690/


Bernardo Kastrup (Analytical Idealism)

Jaimungal, C., & Kastrup, B. (2021, February 20). Bernardo Kastrup on Analytical Idealism, Materialism, The Self, and the Connectedness of You and I. YouTube. Retrieved 5 September 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=6650&v=lAB21FAXCDE&feature=youtu.be

https://youtube.com/clip/UgkxGyUhkK4uA3TqebBbKDNvr0XjPpfqb4XY (Clip)


Pointing Out the Great Way (Home Page)

Pointing Out The Great Way Foundation. (2022). Home | Pointing Out the Great Way. Pointing Out The Great Way Founiondat. Retrieved 17 July 2022, from https://www.pointingoutthegreatway.com


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