Understanding Consciousness

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Paloma Martinez

The Buddha & His World

January 28, 2014

Understanding Consciousness

There are many definitions of consciousness. On a general, superficial view, it is awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts and surroundings. It is the mind or the mental faculties as characterized by thought, feelings and volition. However, a deeper investigation into the question of consciousness reveals much more complicated and mind twisting theories. Modern science has yet to attain a proper methodology to investigate the phenomenon of consciousness. In philosophy, however, the idea of consciousness has been delved into greatly. The Dalai Lama states that the experience of consciousness is completely subjective, which is probably why there are so many theories on the matter. "At one extreme was the standpoint of behaviorism, which attempted to define consciousness in terms of the language of external behavior, thus reducing mental phenomena to verbal and bodily action. At the other extreme was what is known as Cartesian dualism, the idea that the world comprises two independent, substantially real things - matter, which is characterized by qualities such as extension, and mind, which is defined in terms of an immaterial substance, such as the 'spirit'."

(120) In between those two poles, there is a multitude of diverse theories that have been proposed, by which most are understood by means of aspects of the material world. The direct observation of consciousness seeks answers to questions such as what its characteristics and functions are. Does it exist only when we are awake? Are all living organisms a part of this phenomena? Does it require something to be conscious of? Etc. The subjectivity of the idea of consciousness leaves the door open to multiple answers for such questions.

The Buddha regarded consciousness as being the central pillar of determining the human course of happiness...