The next phase of my research on awakened consciousness requires travel to continue interviewing awakened teachers. To fund the travel, provide dana for the time the teachers give me, and pay for transcribing and other expenses I need your help. Thank you.
As I say in the video, this project began as an effort to learn about the experience Buddhism calls Awakening by interviewing American and European teachers who seemed especially likely to have experienced it. This strategy worked well – they told me in simple language about the paths they had followed and what they had learned about awakening. Transcripts of those interviews, along with my analysis and theoretical integration, will be published by Columbia University Press in Spring 2015 under the title Realizing Awakened Consciousness: Interviews with Eleven Buddhist Teachers and a New Perspective on the Mind. Here I describe in some detail of the scientific work that needs to be done next in order to better translate the subjective experience of awakened consciousness into the conceptual framework developed in the book.
Describing awakening in words is difficult because it is an ineffable experience that words can only crudely represent. On the other hand, many subjective experiences are hard to describe, especially if you are talking with someone who has never encountered them. For the book I simply asked the teachers to tell me their path story in their own words, and left them on their own to find ways to describe what they had experienced. The descriptions they came up with are rather like the ancient Buddhist story of the three blind men and the elephant. One describes it as a wall, another as a snake, the third as a post. But we know that an elephant is a single organism in which sides, truck, and legs are parts of a whole.
I think the same thing is true for awakening. Analyzing what the teachers said I found three features of awakening, which I call No Separation, No Reification, and Not Knowing. Most teachers mentioned only one feature, because one dominated their experience. But if awakening is a single form of consciousness, then all three aspects should be present at once. How can we find out if this is true, or if awakening can be different things to different people? Here’s my plan. Since conducting the initial interviews I’ve noticed several times during informal communication with the teachers that when I mention a description of awakening that is different from the one they had given, they nevertheless immediately recognize what the new description refers to. They might re-phrase it, or make distinctions within it, but in the process we refine the descriptions and find that they actually are all part of a single experience.
In the research proposed here I want to go back to the teachers I interviewed earlier, show them descriptions given by others, and ask for their comments. I may probe a bit, until a revised and improved description emerges. Then I will share that description with other teachers and incorporate their comments. If possible I will get two or more teachers together at the same time. The idea will be to see how far we can move toward consensus on a conceptual framework for describing awakened consciousness.
There are more things to do. First, I would like to include some new people in the process. Second, there are other topics to investigate, especially the huge question of what happens after an initial awakening experience. I’d like to ask them about their post-awakening process of learning, how they worked to deepen and strengthen it, what new insights emerged, and what problems they encountered trying to live an awakened life in everyday society. I have a bias here, which I will just state as a hypothesis and try to disprove. The bias is that the way Buddhists often think of awakening implies perfection, which is far too lofty and also makes awakening seem unattainable to mere mortals. The hypothesis is that gaps and flaws remain after awakening, which people work on as best they can.
To do these things I need money for travel expenses and for transcribing the recorded interviews and group sessions. The teachers all volunteered their time for the original interviews; this time I would like to pay them as consultants or at least give them dana. The total is a bit open-ended, because the research can continue in several directions, but I am initially setting a goal of $5,000.