Considerations of Mind-Awareness Distinction
By: Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P.
For much of my personal and professional life I have had an enduring
interest in the distinction between mind and awareness. As my education
unfolded over these many years, I have been happy to recognize that this
distinction between mind and awareness is of serious consideration in
continental phenomenology, in forms of psychoanalytic understanding such
as the object relations work of Donald Winnicott, as well as in many forms
of the experiential psychotherapies such as Gestalt, experiential focusing,
in Ericksonian hypnosis, structural family therapy, archetypal
psychotherapy, existential psychotherapy, existential psychoanalysis to
name a few.
When I began to extend my interest based on continental phenomenology
into the eastern wisdom traditions, I found the same distinction within the
Hindu Tantric tradition of Kashmir Shavism. Later in my life I found the
same distinction within the Tibetan non-dual Nyingma tradition of
Dzogchen. In my study of the Qi Gong tradition, I had the good fortune of
being able to study for a number of years with Dr. Yan Xin who is a most
remarkable healer and who has this same distinction of mind and
awareness in his form of Daoist Qi Gong.
From an historical view point, this distinction of mind and awareness was
central in gnostic philosophy and gnostic theology. In contemporary
Jungian archetypal psychology there is a similar distinction between the
knowing of mind of ordinary life world of lived experience and the knowing
of the archetypal dimension of lived experience, as well as the knowing of
the primordial awareness dimension of pure potentiality.
I have also had this interest in and through the phenomena of my own
knowingness, the knowing of self, the knowing of others and of knowing of
the encompassing nature of Existential Being. I have had for as long as I
can remember, the sense of the explicit experience of my mind as explicit
thoughts, and explicit feelings and explicit sensations and explicit
imaginative imagery, and at the same time a subtle sense of tacit or
implicate or implicit sense of intuitive knowing. In this way I have always felt
I had two ways of knowing.
I felt I had a knowing through my mind and the functions of my mind such
as knowing feelings, as knowing through sensations, as knowing through
thoughts as knowing through memory and as knowing through imagination.
And simultaneously I also had this knowing through my felt sense of
awareness which is more or less direct, and more or less immediate, more
or less unmediated, more or less non conceptual. Of course, this knowing
is more or less mysterious.
I began to reflect on this phenomena of my two ways of knowing in my
second year of college where my psychology professor Pius Lartigue told
me about the book Existence by Rollo May. And within this most wonderful
book, I found explicit discussion about these two ways of knowing that is for
some, the heart of existential phenomenology.
Years later, as my academic work unfolded I did experimental studies on
phenomenological themes such as cognitive style, future time perspective,
awareness of death, personal identity development, the use of focusing
experientially in order to make the implicit explicit. I had studied time and
timelessness phenomenologically at the Institute of Time Perspective in
Louvain, Belgium with Dr. Joseph Nuttin. Later I did further post graduate
work in experiential psychoanalysis and existential phenomenological
psychotherapy where a foundational theme was analytic knowing and
experiential knowing. I had many great teachers in this endeavor. I
especially loved Erving and Miriam Polster who were masters of this
understanding both as psychotherapists and as people.
In my professional training of clinical psychology and psychotherapy, I was
aware of the different forms of knowing that are important in the
transformative experience of psychotherapy. The languages varied but
descriptors like reflective and pre-reflective knowing, analytic and
experiential knowing, conscious knowing and unconscious knowing,
mediated and unmediated knowing, mental knowing and contemplative
knowing, conceptual and non- conceptual knowing all expressed the
various nuances of the two ways of knowing.
In time in the unfolding of the profession of clinical psychology, I began to
experience that clinical psychology over the years has become more
cognitive to the exclusion of the experiential realm. I began to experience
and see the split between mind and awareness and between the
psychology of mind and the experience of existential ontology. Some would
say mind and spirituality. For myself spirituality is existential ontology or the
realm of Being and the realm of Being-ness of beings.
In the realm of existential phenomenology and in existential psychotherapy
these two dimensions of knowing are explicitly and essentially within the
heart of existential phenomenological psychotherapy. These two natural
dimensions of human existence are intertwined as the knowing-ness of
mind and the knowing-ness of awareness. Another way of expressing is the
mediated knowing of mind and direct knowing of awareness. For my
purpose here I will focus on knowing of mind and knowing of awareness.
Let’s make explicit these two ways of knowing in existential
Our mind knows forms, things, beings, both subtle and gross. Our mind
knows faces, buildings, trees, math formulas. Our mind knows subject and
our mind knows objects. Our mind knows dualities, our mind knows me and
you, us and them. Our mind knows time, our mind knows the sense of past,
and mind knows the sense of the present and the sense of the future. The
mind knows difference. The mind know beings and entities. The mind
Our awareness knows Being directly and awareness knows the Being-ness
of Beings directly. Awareness knows Being is not a being and awareness
can know Being manifesting beings. Being manifests beings, and manifests
Being within beings, as their Being. Being itself is not an entity, not a being.
Being is non-duality. Being knows the non-duality of everything and
anything. Being is oneness and pervasiveness. Being is openness. Being
self-manifests as radiant knowing light.
By becoming aware of our own awareness, we may actually experience
primordial awareness which is the ground of beings, which is pure Being.
Awareness is Being. Awareness is Being knowing itself. Being knows
Being and the Being-ness of beings. Awareness can know timelessness
as well as knowing Being in time as beings. Our awareness can be both in
timelessness and in time simultaneously.
The mind knows time, and awareness knows timelessness in time and
beyond time. Being knows timelessness in time, and Being is timelessness
manifesting time. Being becomes everything and anything. Being self-
manifests as everything and anything. Being is no thingness. Awareness
knows Being. Awareness is the nature of Being.
When mind and awareness integrate, then we can know the Being-ness of
a being, and within a being we can know Being. Within our own being we
can know Being. Mind and awareness are intertwined. Without mind there
is only the knowingness of Being. And without awareness there is only the
knowingness of beings. When our mind and awareness are integrated, we
can know Being through beings including our own being.
Of course institutional belief can play a cultural and limiting role in our
knowing. Institutional scientific mind only wants to know the evidence of
mind alone. The scientific mind knows things and entities. Scientific mind
knows duality. This knowing though mind alone is very limiting and
incomplete. These limitations are forms of concrete realism.
Institutional belief, as the various forms of religion, can also limit our
manner of knowing since forms of religion or forms of spirituality often
mythologize our direct knowing-ness of awareness and our knowing-ness
of Being. Religious myth about our knowing of awareness and our knowing
of Being contextualizes this most natural knowing only as a function of
spiritual earning and spiritual merit. Institutional religion often
contextualizes our natural form of knowing as belonging to and a function
of particular religion tradition or format. Religion brands direct knowing-
ness as belonging to itself and itself alone.
This knowing which is actually, and naturally us, becomes reified and
sanctified and in this sanctification becomes experientially distant from
ordinary life. Persons under institutional influence begin to think that they
must earn spiritual merit in order to experience the nature of their own
being which is Being itself. They begin to think they must spiritually earn
what is already given. Some people think, they really think they have to
submit to religious authority and moralistic monastic framing in order to
experience the innate liberation of self-awareness. Many people think they
must be subsumed under some patriarchal theocratic authority to
experience the Being of their own being. Religion relentlessly mythologizes
and takes possession of this natural given-ness of our innermost luminous
awareness knowing-ness. Religion politicizes our human nature of
awareness field which is naturally infinite in its horizons and
Some forms of eastern religion even discount the actuality of beings and
only think that the only reality is Pure Being which Pure Being is formulated
as some kind of transcendental otherness. All phenomena and all human
experience are considered delusional perceptions of mind, including you
and me. Of course this distorted sense of the unreality of phenomena
creates a distorted sense of unreality of sense of self .This transcendental
view does not support the immanent sense of Being within us, as being the
very Being-ness of our being. When the sense of Being is no longer within
us, and we are not living within the sense of Being, we begin to live in a
dissociated ‘la la’ land. This is the land of ‘as if!’ In this land all experience
is unreal. All experience is a delusion.
On the other extreme institutional psychology in its cognitive wisdom
declares that human beings are only cognitions. Human being are simply
cognitions. And of course there is no Being within human beings.
Contemporary psychology only experiences duality. Contemporary
psychology only experiences dualistic facticity and dualistic data. Just as
some religions only experience non-duality. Both extremes of spiritual
idealism and mechanical realism are incomplete, completely incomplete.
The wonderful and immediate actuality of duality being within non-duality
and non-duality being within duality is foreclosed and missed. Natural
liberation is foreclosed.
These distinctions of mind and awareness are foundational in non-dual
existential Dzogchen of Tibetan Buddhism. The same distinction is
foundational made in non-dual Kashmir Shavism. In these eastern dual/
non-dual traditions the experience and understanding is that the mind and
functions of the mind are a different dimension of existence then the field of
The Dzogchen uses the word sems for mind and semde for awareness.
This is the most important and foundational distinction in Dzogchen. The
focus of praxis utilizes this difference. For the most part a person is
considered to be located in their mind. And a person shifts to become
aware of their mind which is a form of mindfulness. And then the person
make another shift into becoming no longer aware of their mind, but they
become aware of awareness itself. As a person becomes aware of their
own awareness, the qualities of awareness begin to manifest. These
qualities are spaciousness, luminous knowing-ness, and vibrational energy.
Other qualities also arises in time, namely the sense of purity of Being.
Purity of Being is not the same as purity of mind or purity of character or
purity of behavior.
Moreover as a person remains in awareness, the field qualities of
awareness manifest and the field of awareness is infinite in its horizons and
vast and multidimensional. As a person establishes themselves in
awareness the sense of direct perception arises and the capacity of the
experience Being within phenomena and Being as phenomena opens.
It is of interest that this description of Dzogchen praxis is not unlike
continental phenomenology’s description of the epoche and reduction.
These two traditions are very similar. They are also similar in that a person
after having establish their sense of awareness of awareness or rigpa, the
person then integrate their mind into the field of awareness and this
luminous awareness infuses their mind and the qualities of their mind.
I have had many great Dzogchen teachers who have supported me in my
integration endeavors including Lama Tharchin, Lama Norhla, Kungsang
Dechen Lingpa, Rigdzin Dorge Rinpoche, Lama Wangdor, Namkai Norbu
Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche, YangThang Rinpoche to name some. In the
tantric tradition of Kashmir Shavism my mentor and teacher was Swami
Muktananda for many years.In the cosmological view of Vedic Astrology
my mentor and friend was Chakrapani Ullal. In Daoist Qigong, my teacher
was the great healer Dr. Yan Xin. With these remarkable teachers I have
always experienced them as companions and friends and not as would be
deities. They were all individualistic and supported individuation. Neither
were they a mother figure or father figure. They were companions and
The various psychotherapies that utilize these forms of praxis can be very
beneficial for people. As the psychoanalysis Donald Winnicott points out,
this base of awareness which he calls transitional space facilitates change
within the mind. There also arises within this multidimensional field of
awareness a sense of potential space which can be experienced as
timeless awareness in time. In the unfolding of transitional space, a
person’s sense of self or subjectivity changes and unfolds from a cognitive
representation, or a cognition or mind part to an ongoing sense of
continuity of Being. The true sense of the self is the ongoing continuity of
Being embodied in time, as Winnicott so beautifully languages.
This integration of mind within awareness facilities change at different
levels of experience. There can be change at the level of ordinary life
world, and there can be change at the level of archetypal dimension and
there can be change at the dimension of pure potential space.
This multidimensional understanding offers multiple opportunity for change
and transformation. This multidimensional understanding for
phenomenological change has always interested me. This understanding is
located in the mind awareness difference. This existential understanding
offers a way of knowing and working within the intertwining of psychology
of mind and ontological dimension of human existence.
This understanding that the mind- awareness continuum offers many
different skills. One such skill is that awareness field can be extended and
transmitted from one person to another. Another skill is that instinctual
drives such as sexuality and rage can be integrated into this innate field of
luminous awareness. Awareness metabolizes experience. Instinctual
energies as well as affective states can be metabolized into the heart
essence of innate awareness increasing the power and vital-ness of the
field of awareness.
Of course the study of the newer imaging instruments are of great interest
to study the brain’s drama in this drama of awareness mind interface.
Furthermore the experience of healing is always related in the
intersubjective context. True intersubjective experience is the inside to
inside experience of awareness entering awareness. This inner conjunctio
to use Jung’s language is an essence of healing. The experience of duality
within non-duality and non-duality within duality is the essence of healing
The power of this unfolding is that the field of Being itself and the
psychology of mind are intimately related. We could also use the language
of natural spirituality within our understanding that spiritualty and Being are
Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D, Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P. The
Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and the Washington Center
for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Studies