The big and small understanding of awakening: Upsides and downsides of each

I like using both the big and small understanding of awakening. They each have upsides and downsides, they serve as corrections for each other, and using more than one view helps me recognize them as views.

First, a brief overview of awakening and the small and big views.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

It’s not wrong that I am this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that works relatively well.

And yet, is it what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience? Here, I find I more fundamentally am what this whole world of experience is happening within and as. Even more fundamentally, I find I am capacity for all of it – consciousness and what consciousness forms itself into to create experience.

I find this in immediate noticing. (In my case, it happened spontaneously, uninvited, and before there was any conscious interest in it.) It also makes logical sense in a couple of ways.

(a) Content of experience is in change, it all comes and goes. So how can I fundamentally be any of it? It makes more sense that I am the consciousness all experiences comes and goes within, that forms itself into all of these experiences.

(b) If I “have” consciousness, it means that to myself I have to BE consciousness, and it also means that the world – to me – happens within and as the consciousness I am. The consciousness I am forms itself into this whole field of experience: the wider world, this human self, any sense of me or I, and so on.

Awakening can refer to my nature noticing itself, as described above. It’s the beginning of a process of noticing this noticing (!) through more and more situations in daily life, and allowing our human self and psyche to transform within this new context.

THE APPEARANCE OF ALL AS CONSCIOUSNESS

When the consciousness we are notices itself, it notices all of its content as itself.

The consciousness we are forms itself into all experience, into the world as it appears to us.

The world appears dream-like for that reason. Just like a night dream is made of the consciousness we are, waking life and any state and experience is made of the consciousness we are.

There are some other aspects to this as well, less relevant in this context: Consciousness is one. There are no boundaries found anywhere. There is no “outside”. All we have ever known is our nature, whether it was noticed or not.

BIG AND SMALL UNDERSTANDING OF AWAKENING

Awakening can be understood in two ways.

The way I described it above is close to my experience and doesn’t make too many assumptions. This is the small – or psychological – understanding of awakening.

The big understanding of awakening is the more traditional spiritual one. Awakening is the divine waking up to itself, locally and while connected with this particular human self. All of reality is the divine, and not only that, all of reality has the same nature as me. All of existence is consciousness.

UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES OF EACH

These two views each have upsides and downsides, and they can serve as a correction and medicine for each other.

THE UPSIDES OF EACH

The small view stays close to immediate noticing. It doesn’t make any assumptions of the nature of reality, it doesn’t assume that my nature is the same as the nature of all of existence. It can serve as a kind of lowest common denominator for talking about it across time and traditions. It fits a science orientation better and can more easily be used in an academic context. It helps us demystify awakening.

The big view is more traditional and familiar to many. It can be experienced as more inspiring. It may even be more accurate in the big picture. (It does fit some things that the small view doesn’t explain: undeniable and frequent synchronicities, precognition, sensing at a distance, healing at a distance, and so on.) There is a lot of insight and wisdom in the big view traditions, accumulated over centuries and millennia.

THE DOWNSIDES OF EACH

The small view can be experienced as uninspiring to some. It doesn’t give answers beyond immediate experience.

The big view often makes more assumptions, including about things we may not be able to check out for ourselves. It’s often tied to particular traditions. It doesn’t connect as well with people with an atheist or scientific orientation. It sometimes comes with a lot of misconceptions and baggage.

EACH AS CORRECTION AND MEDICINE TO THE OTHER

The small view serves as a correction to assuming that awakening has to be understood in a spiritual context. It helps us avoid some pitfalls of the big view and some of the misconceptions of awakening. It helps us take a more pragmatic approach. It helps us put the things we cannot (yet) check out for ourselves on the “maybe” shelf and hold it lightly. Since we know we cannot know the nature of existence itself, we have to live as if the world is as seen from a conventional view. We cannot give away responsibility for our life.

The big view opens up the perspective compared to a small view and it opens up more to explore. It helps us connect more with past generations and draw on their insights and wisdom. If someone uses the small view combined with a materialistic view, the contrast with the big view can help them recognize that those are assumptions and may not be accurate.

Together, they remind us that each one is a view. They are questions about the world. They can serve as practical temporary pointers.

FLUIDITY

I like to be fluid with these views. I use one or the other – or both – depending on what makes sense and seems useful in the situation.

If I see or hear something that comes from one view, I may look at it in my own immediate noticing and put words on it from the other view.

If I notice I am used to looking at something using one view, I may explore it using the other view and see what new perspectives and insights come in.

If I talk with someone, I may use the view most familiar to that person and sometimes bring in the other for balance.

Together, they are a reminder that each one – and all maps and understandings – are questions about the world.

It makes practical sense.


INITIAL DRAFT

THE BIG AND SMALL VIEWS AS MEDICINE

I like using both the big and small understanding on awakening. They each have upsides and downsides and using more than one helps me recognize them as views.

The small view helps me avoid complacency. I cannot know the nature of reality itself, so I cannot go into an idea of all being divine will and so on, which can – if misunderstood – lead to complacency.

The big view helps me avoid cynicism and

The way I described it above is close to my experience and doesn’t make too many assumptions. It’s an understanding that assumes as little as possible,

….

It’s an understanding that assumes as little as possible, that can be a kind of lowest common denominator to talk about it, and

….

Since we don’t know the nature of reality itself, it makes sense to be a good steward of our life in a conventional sense. We cannot rely on the divine to come in and rescue us, or tell ourselves “it’s all divine will” and step out of responsibility.

….

The way I described it above is close to my experience and doesn’t make too many assumptions. This is the small – or psychological – understanding of awakening.

….

It makes practical sense. Also, it helps me recognize both as views. They are questions about the world. They are maps. They have temporary practical value, at most. They are free of any final, full, or absolute truth.

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