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No separation in awareness: what does it mean?

Can anyone explain what it means that in awareness ‘there is no separation’? It is mentioned in this video, about 9 minutes and 40 seconds into the video, and apparently it’s an important concept for meditation.


I don’t understand what it means, because my awareness is different from other people’s awareness in ordinary life, we are all aware of different things. I am aware of the sentences I am writing while my son is aware of the video he’s watching and my other son is (hopefully) aware of his homework. So in a down to earth way there is separation, isn’t there?

Perhaps he is referring to telepathy? Or to empathy? Do you have sutta references on this concept?

Hi Irene!
The “Awareness which is without separation” that Luang Por Sumedho often talks about does not refer to the ordinary, dependently originated consciousness which has an object.
Rather, he is referring to a particular stage of meditation within which one experiences a feeling of having an infinite, unbounded consciousness. Within this stage, the ordinary boundaries of Self seem to dissolve and one seems to lose one’s separation from the World as such. Such ‘dissolution into something greater’ type of meditation experiences are further described under the formless Jhanas. Experiences of this type are not essential to Enlightenment. They can often be misinterpreted as union with Brahma, The Universe. etc or become objects of clinging. For Enlightenment, one must go beyond the experience to the realization that even this is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not - Self… it should be let go of.

MN64
Again, by completely surmounting the base of infinite space, aware that ‘consciousness is infinite,’ a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of infinite consciousness.

AN9.33
Now if someone should say, ‘Where does the perception of the infinitude of space cease? And where do those who repeatedly are stopping the perception of the infinitude of space dwell? I don’t know that; I don’t see that,’ he should be told, ‘There is the case, friend, where a monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of the infinitude of space, (perceiving,) “Infinite consciousness,” enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness. That is where the perception of the infinitude of space ceases, and where those who repeatedly are stopping the perception of the infinitude of space dwell.’

This is how I understand it as of now. Perhaps someone else may be able to explain better. :smiley: :sunflower:

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Thank you; when you say

the ordinary boundaries of Self seem to dissolve and one seems to lose one’s separation from the World as such

is that just a feeling? and as such is it a delusion? Since in reality each one has their own consciousness, it’s not because you feel that you are not separated from others that you actually become one with everyone else in a real sense. Or have I misunderstood?

It is actually a type of perception. An altered perception if you wish to call it that (in worldly terms), though the Buddha would hold that what is experienced after conditioned experience drops away is actually the true perception… what we commonly take as normal is the delusion. Further developing these types of supramundane perception is the way to Nibbana.

AN 4.41
And what is the way of developing immersion further that leads to mindfulness and awareness? It’s when a mendicant knows feelings as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. They know perceptions as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. They know thoughts as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. This is the way of developing immersion further that leads to mindfulness and awareness.


There is a way to intellectually understand this unbounded experience as follows…

You say:

Put aside the Consciousness aggregate for a moment and consider the Form aggregate.

Would you say that your Body (Form) is distinct from other living beings?
The instinctive answer is “Of course”… but that is a delusion.

The body (Form) is sustained by Food. The apple (Form) you put into your mouth, at some stage will become you. Your body too is not constant, it is forever in change. Consider… your skin, hair, nails are forever growing, being shed off. At what stage does the hair of your head stop being your hair and become other? And what happens when that self same hair is swept up, admixed with the hair of others (whose Form is similarly in movement), deposited at the root of the backyard apple tree… to make new apples next year… which again become you!

So when it comes to Form, the entire Rupa Khanda of the World is actually one… the only boundaries we place are artificial constructs of our mind. You really aren’t as separate from that apple as you may think!

The Rupa of the World is constantly flowing around and through … like the water of a river flows around and through a Whirlpool. Your body has just about as much separation/ reality as that Whirlpool.

This is a way in which Form can be understood to be Not-Self. (You may have noticed that I have used a modified version of Satipatthana for this exercise!)

You may separately consider the other aggregates too, though the exercise gets progressively trickier … :rofl:

Meditation in terms of Jhanas offers the opportunity to viscerally know the same thing as an experienced fact. Hence it offers a window into the true nature of Reality. Actual lived Experience is held in far greater stead over dry intellectual understanding when it comes to its capacity to free the Mind (I am reminded of Ajahn Brahm’s joke of the gourmet who ate the menu instead of the meal :joy:). Hence its importance.

:sunflower: :heart: :pray:t2:

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Thank you, really interesting stuff. I like what you say about the Body, it got me thinking. It’s true that you have atoms and cells continuously renewing; also you cut hair and nails; you can have a transplant too in fact! At the same time one could say that if someone chops off your finger that hurts and it might not be possible to replace it with another (I saw that in the series American Patriot) so there’s also some kind of self-sameness in the body. It will not accept foreign bodies in some cases. But very interesting stuff to contemplate.

Hi Irene,

First of all, thanks for the video which I listened to until the end and for the first time. For me personally it is really a great experience and I will try to explain how I understand it.

Consciousness is the awareness or knowing. The Thais used the word “Buddho” as the object of awareness so that they thought their awareness could stay focused on that single object. However, as I understood, the mind (another name for consciousness or awareness) kept moving from the object “Buddho”. The reason why the mind kept moving or changing was because the causes due to which the mind conditions are impermanent. This leads the meditator to the insight that all conditions are impermanent.

But the most important insight from the above is that the consciousness or awareness of this constantly changing nature of the mind itself is not separated from one change to the other. That is to say that the meditator is conscious or aware that the mind arises (due to conditions which are impermanent) and ceases only to arise again due to conditions (which are again impermanent). Said in a different way, although the mind changes when the object or condition changes, the change itself is known to meditator therefore there is no separation of knowing in between changes.

Ordinarily, we think “I” am thinking. This is equating the consciousness as “self” and identifying that self as the thinker. This is the personality view which is the first fetter to overcome to become a stream enterer. All intentional actions originate from that identification because the “self” identified needs to be placated. This is how the Saṃsāra continues .

As I understand this insight is the basis for all meditative attainments which culminate in the cessation of feeling and perception.

So, as you can see from the above, the non separation of awareness is not from person to person but it is within oneself IMHO.
With Metta

Luang Por Sumedho points to “that which knows”, or the subject of our being. Our experiences are known or witnessed by a consciousness that isn’t finite. It’s also called the highest form of meditation, but actually it so close and simple that most don’t get it. If you ask yourself: Am I conscious? My guess is that you will answer yes without having to think about it, and that answer comes from pure knowing. It’s also the direct way to stillness, and not by some object which depends on outer circumstances. When the mind has the right concentration onto object it ends in this same pure knowing.

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Yes, it’s super interesting, isn’t it? :joy:
Also, the Buddha didn’t deny the presence of a certain kind of sense of self, what he made explicit is that there is no permanent / immortal self. Neither is there any Self which gets destroyed at death. What we commonly refer to as Self is an illusion…just a bunch of interactive Processes being given the conceptual assignation “Me”. This is what must be correctly understood.

AN 6.38
How, indeed, could one—moving forward by himself, moving back by himself —say: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’?

SN 22.9
Suppose, bhikkhus, a dog tied up on a leash was bound to a strong post or pillar: it would just keep on running and revolving around that same post or pillar. So too, the uninstructed worldling … regards form as self … feeling as self … perception as self … volitional formations as self … consciousness as self…. He just keeps running and revolving around form, around feeling, around perception, around volitional formations, around consciousness. As he keeps on running and revolving around them, he is not freed from form, not freed from feeling, not freed from perception, not freed from volitional formations, not freed from consciousness. He is not freed from birth, aging, and death; not freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; not freed from suffering, I say.

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If there wasn’t this knowing, then where could there be any escape?

There is the unborn, uncreated, unformed, unoriginated, and therefore there is an escape from the born, created, formed, originated. If it were not for the unborn, uncreated, unformed, unoriginated, there would be no escape from the born, created, formed, originated, but because there is the unborn, uncreated, unformed, unoriginated, there is an escape, there is liberation from the born, created, formed, originated ( Udana VIII.3).

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I don’t understand what you mean by

a consciousness that isn’t finite.

Is it conscious of everything? I don’t think so. What do you mean precisely by ‘not finite’? :pray:t2:

interesting perspective :pray:t2: I understood separation in the first sense because he says ‘I am sitting here and Ajahn … is sitting over there, that seems like separation etc’ Anyway it’s difficult stuff to understand :astonished:

This is a pecularily Thai approach where there is a belief in a “common consciousness” at the level of primal awareness where conventional reality has been objectified and transcended. When you talk about the activities of your sons, those kind of things are conventional reality. You consider this “down to earth,” but that is giving conventional reality undue authority and must be overturned. The important thing is that this is arrived at by a conceptual separation between conventional and ultimate realities (mentioned at about 18.10).

And also here by another Thai teacher:

“The reason we’re this way is because we take conventional truths and latch on to them tight.”—-

The Buddha and the arahants experience both conventional and ultimate reality:

“these are the world’s designations, the world’s expressions, the world’s ways of speaking, the world’s descriptions, with which the Tathagata expresses himself but without grasping to them.”—-DN 9

Conventional reality and self begins when the body is named at birth with an arbitary word, then that name becomes the basis for the proliferation of connections to conventional human institutions. The word level, such as “buddho” is secondary to the first sense impressions which are pure feeling. The first and second tetrads of the Anapanasati sutta deal with becoming aware of the feelings of the breath throughout the entire body (no words).

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what do you mean by objectified? I would say that in everyday life there are objects of consciousness, so isn’t it already objectified in everyone’s experience without need of a ‘common consciousness’?
Is the common consciousness discussed in the Suttas too?

It is not conditioned, but is unconditioned - unborn - uncreated - empty - visible here and now. It is the refuge of Buddha and Dhamma.

If you see Buddha, you see Dhamma.

To be finite it must be contracted through our senses, but since this conciousness or awareness is prior to our activities, it can’t be affected, and is therefore infinite. It knows, that’s all it does.

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What is meant by ‘objectified’ is to classify conventional reality as one particular class of experience so detachment from it can be achieved. When you objectify something you are able to stand back from it. Incredulity that everyday experience is a delusion may be a barrier to progress and progressive realization of impermanence must be developed which gives rise to dispassion. CR is known in the suttas as “the round,” which does not include nibbana.

"Among whatever qualities there may be, fabricated or unfabricated, the quality of dispassion — the subduing of intoxication, the elimination of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the breaking of the round , the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, the realization of Unbinding — is considered supreme. Those who have confidence in the quality of dispassion have confidence in what is supreme; and for those with confidence in the supreme, supreme is the result.”—Iti 90

“So you have to try to peer into yourself until you reach a level of awareness that can maintain its balance and let you contemplate your way to sharper understanding. If you don’t contemplate so as to give rise to true knowledge, your mindfulness will stay just on the surface.”—Upasika Kee Nanayon

What you call “down to earth” awareness is superficial. The first gate to deeper mindfulness is the separation of conventional from ultimate reality, conceptually to begin with. Perceptions are dependent on views, and if the view of CR is changed from being “the All,” then all perceptions of experience change as well.

The Thai idea of common consciousness stems from the boundless awareness of metta, which also extends to animals.
When concentration begins to be developed, higher powers inevitably arise and one of them is knowing the minds of others.

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IMO he is referring to elements of body. Human are made of 6 elements

How, bhikkhu, does one not neglect wisdom? There are these six elements: the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element, the space element, and the consciousness element. – …Now both the internal earth element and the external earth element are simply earth element…And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted…–MN 140

When one identifies any of internal or external form as I or mine or myself or personal, then there is separation, which leads to craving then clinging starts which leads to birth of action, sorrow lamentation etc.

I guess he is trying say when one regards any internal/external forms as not I , not mine , not myself, not personal, one regards all forms as not personal and there is no separation. This is cognized with insight(wisdom).

Wisdom and consciousness, friend—these states are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is impossible to separate each of these states from the other in order to describe the difference between them. For what one wisely understands, that one cognizes, and what one cognizes, that one wisely understands.

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