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  • Rudy Bauer

Phenomenology of Dualistic and Non-Dual Knowing: Dzogchen and Kashmir Shaivism

One Knower: Different Modes of Knowing

In all philosophical and psychological traditions knowing has many different meanings. In Tibetan Buddhism there is nondual Dzogchen and in Hinduism there is nondual Kashmir Shaivism. In both these nondual traditions there is profound understanding that there is one knower with two different modes of knowing.

My Mind Knowing You and Things

One mode of our knowing is the conventional subject object knowing which is the mind knowing as the perceiver and the perceived. This is our ordinary knowing of mind, my mind knowing you and things. This is my mind knowing of all the various forms of otherness.  This is my mind knowing of singular aspects of phenomena and my mind knowing, by discrimination, the differences within phenomena. This is my mind knowing of the reality of objects, and the actuality of events and situations. This is my mind knowing the reality of persons and sentient beings as well as non-sentient beings and things. This is my mind’s natural mode of dualistic knowingness. 

My Knowing as Direct Perception

As humans knowing we both have and are this wonderful other mode of knowing. In Dzogchen this is the great knowing of awareness and through awareness, and this knowing described as direct perception is often called  gnosis, or jnana, or  ye she. Kashmir Shaivism names this dimension of knowing of this vast field of awareness/consciousness vimarsa.  This vast and unbound dimension of knowing that is our own awareness knowing as primordial awareness   opens for all of us primordial nondual knowingness.

My experience of my awareness knowing awareness opens this vast expanse of the matrix of awareness . As Efram points out, this awareness is the transcendental condition for all acts of knowing. Transcendental simply means the precondition, the source, the base for all acts of knowing. All our knowing arises within and from this transcendental condition. My dualistic knowing of my mind arises from within and out of nondual knowingness of awareness. Subject object dualistic knowing arises out of this profound nondualistic awareness. My subject object dualistic knowing arises out of this field of primordial awareness for myself and every person and even for every sentient being. 

The Matrix of Awareness

This matrix of awareness is the source for all my acts of knowing whether of my mind as thought, my mind as sensation, my mind as imagination, my mind as feeling, my mind as affect, my mind as memory, my mind as touch and my mind as taste and my mind as smell. All conceptual and non- conceptual knowing arises out of my experience of primordial awareness.  This dramatic understanding also actually reflects the great medieval  understanding of St. Thomas Aquinas which was that the knower and known are ontologically in oneness. For the Thomistic philosopher, the understanding was that to know whatever you know you are in ontological oneness with what or whom you know.  From and within this ontological  oneness you can know the difference and the aspects of who or what you know. Nondual oneness was the condition of personal knowledge. This understanding is also expressed by the contemporary French philosopher Jacque Maritain. This very same understanding that nondual oneness is the source of personal knowledge is expressed by Dzogchen philosopher Longchenpa as well as by the Kashmir Shaivite master Abhinavagupta. 

My Knowing and My Being are the Same

Foundationally and ontologically primordial knowing and being are the same. There is no difference between being and knowing. In Hinduism there is this great statement of the oneness of knowing and being and the statement is Sat Chit Ananda. Existence is awareness and is bliss. Being is awareness and is bliss. And so within and as primordial awareness, Being      and Knowing are indivisible.  During the 19th century in Tibet a mysterious  Dakini appeared to the great Dzogchen master Dudjom Lingpa and said to him, “You and I  are indivisible.” The Shiva Sutra states dramatically the bliss of Samadhi is the bliss of the world. Both of these statements are opening the door to the understanding that through duality there is the experience of nonduality.

My Two ways of Knowing Simultaneously

And so in our sublime knowing of awareness becoming aware of primordial  awareness, in this opening of ye she or jnana or gnosis we experience the direct experience or perception of the nondual nature of primordial reality. Simultaneously within our mind we also are knowing the nature of the   appearances as objects, and as situations and as events. These two modes of knowing take place within our experience simultaneously. We both are and have this knowingness of sublime awareness as primordial reality which is the basis and source of everything and anything and is completely pervasive. Our glimpses and experience of Absolute Reality is not as underlying (as in deep deep deep down) as some would have us think but is the pervasive nature of everything and anything as spaciousness, as luminous clarity, energy of aliveness and the pure resonance of compassion. 

Sometimes we can think of these two modes of knowing as relative truth and absolute truth. The mode of our mind knowing is relative truth and our awareness knowing is absolute truth. Unfortunately the word relative and the word absolute reifies this most natural experience and so the language actually hides and belies the closeness and immediacy of the natural states of simultaneous knowing.

Of course we can experience that the two modes of knowing are different and yet we can feel and know they are indivisible and in oneness. Our immediate experiential knowledge of the actuality of appearances such as the actuality of objects, actuality of events and situations and the actuality of persons are experienced dualistically, experienced through difference. Simultaneously we can experience that this great vast knowing of the pervasive spaciousness and radiance of everything and anything is known non- dualistically. These two ways of knowing are not in opposition. They reflect the nature of what is. The world is both a world of oneness and a world of difference simultaneously. The world as phenomena is a world of both oneness and difference, both nonduality and duality simultaneously experienced.Through nonduality we can experience duality and through duality we can experience nonduality.

My Two Modes of Knowing are Not Opposition

These two different ways of knowing are not opposed to each other in Dzogchen or Kashmir Shaivism whatsoever. However, in many of the historically unfolding traditions of Buddhism as well as the unfolding tradition of Hinduism these two ways of knowing were seriously and relentlessly opposed to each other. These historical oppositions reflect early foundations of Indian philosophy whether as the Hindu version or Buddhist version. This aspect of Indian culture is not the Upanishads but Vedantic. Buddhism and Hinduism are both forms of same Indian philosophical culture. Many of the Buddhist traditions and Hindu traditions  considered it necessary to  free oneself from knowing the reality of appearance or from worldly knowing  in order for direct perception of ultimate reality  to arise.  For many of the Buddhist and Hindu traditions there was only the validity and reality of knowingness as source. The only real knowing was nondual knowingness. And so the knowledge of appearance was denigrated as delusion. The knowingness of appearance was invalidated. The knowingness of the reality of persons, the reality of  events, reality of situations, and the reality of the world was understood to be opposed to the knowingness of pervasive absolute reality.

Knowingness of phenomena or worldly knowing had to be eliminated. Of course what followed such an unhappy assumption was that all human desire had to be eliminated, and cessation of mind was the only method of liberation. It also followed that all elimination of both sense of self and self agency was method. All pleasure had to be eliminated. Dissociation was the method of preference. Dissociation of mind, of body, of self, of world. What was left was this pure knowingness. Untouched and unseen and unthought. Of course the use of this method easily fell into the extreme of nihilism.

Powerful Forces Dissolving Separation

The intimate connection, the intimate oneness between appearance and source was unhappily ruthlessly separated. However with the arising of the Mahayana tradition, this unhappy illusionary separation began to be dissolved slowly.  Form is emptiness and emptiness is form was a dramatic and decisive statement of the great Mahayana text the Heart Sutra. Appearance and emptiness are in oneness. The primordial dimension was affirmed and the intentional structure of knower and known was beginning to be integrated within the home and source of the primordial dimension of awareness. The tantric traditions were also arising during this same time as Mahayana traditions. The tantra completely and emphatically emphasized  the purity of primordial awareness (kadig). Since out of this primordial awareness phenomenal reality manifested, phenomenal  reality was experienced as indivisible with absolute reality. Hence all phenomena was originally pure and phenomena was pervasively equal. Dzogchen emerging from within these contexts manifested the understanding that the Beingness of knowing and the knowingness of Beingness intrinsically abided within all forms of knowingness including the various forms of dualistic subject object knowings. Nondualistic knowing infuses the  mind’s intentional knowning of  phenomena.

The Divinity of Appearance in Dzogchen

Indivisibleness of Dzogchen

The intrinsic and immediate abiding of nondual knowingness within the human mind and its relationship to phenomena was self liberating. To experience that nondual knowingness was the ground of all phenomena and simultaneously the ground of all subjectivity and the ground of all otherness and the ground of all knowingness was amazing. Within my mind the ground of awareness is pervasive.

Simultaneous Knowing

And so we as human knowingness are simultaneously both nondual knowing and dualistic knowing. We are both modes of knowing. Within human awareness abides both modes of knowing. In becoming aware of awareness, rigpa, I know and experience the nature of  primordial knowing….which is like the sky, which is pervasive, which is spontaneously present in everything and anything, from which manifests all phenomena, which radiates light and energy as all phenomena, which is openness and luminous emptiness which pervades everything and everyone, both past present and future time. Which knowing itself is timeless awareness.

Present in Lived Experience

This knowing is completely present in our lived experience and is the source of knowing difference and similarity and yet is not changed by such knowledge of singularity of the reality of object, and the reality of persons and the reality of events and situations. Primordial knowing supports, manifests, and abides in dualistic knowing of singularity and particularity. How fantastic and how amazing. Through the singular, through the particular, the reality of objects, the reality of events, the reality of person and the reality of sentient being, primordial reality itself is knowing. Through the experience of dualistic knowing arises the knowledge of the experience of nondualistic knowing. This happens because ontologically nondualistic primordial awareness manifested dualistic experience and the both knowings are there within us as source and as intentional mind.

Particular Knowing

Our knowledge of otherness is known through the intentional and noetic structure of our mind in situations, our mind is in and of the world. In this mode we know particularity and singularity. We know particular events, situations, context, and such knowing is action. Through dualistic knowing we know and love particular beings, particular situations and particular objects. And we know them through our mind and through our embodiment of mind. We know them and perceive them and we think them, we remember them, we feel them, we imagine and we create and bring forth experiences of them. Primordial awareness infuses both our mind and our actions. Infuses both our own subjectivity and the subjectivity of everything and everyone. Primordial awareness infuses the reality of events, the reality of situations and circumstances, the reality of the world.

 Knowing Reality

Our primordial awareness manifesting as our own direct perception knows awareness within awareness in our self and in the world. Our gnosis knows awareness within everything and everyone. By knowing awareness within everything and everyone we experience the absolute reality of nonduality and we experience this nondualty through the duality of everything and everyone. Wherever there is self manifestation duality arises from non- duality just as the self manifestation arises from the ground of nonduality. By self manifestation I mean the self manifestation of primordial awareness manifesting phenomenal actuality, phenomenal beings. All beings are the phenomenal self manifestation of primordial awareness. Ground awareness which is no thingness manifests everything and anything.

Pervasive Presence

 To think that these knowings are opposed is to think that manifestation is opposed to the unmanifest in the ground of being. This way of thinking is an ancient distortion of the indivisibility of appearance and awareness, the indivisibility of the ground and its vast infinite manifestations.

There is no phenomenological division between being aware of and the phenomena about which we are aware. The all pervasive presence of primordial knowing is within all lived experience, and is knowing by being awareness. By being aware of awareness the characteristics of primordial awareness self manifest and in this self manifestation of awareness the intentional structure of the mind is supported and directed to the reality of objects, situations, persons, and events. Simultaneous awareness is knowing the ground of object, situations and persons and events non- dualistically. The ever present background of ground awareness is pervasively present within and through the singularity of all experience and all individuality. 

Greatness of My Dualistic Knowing

This vast awareness which is wholeness and clarity experiences the arising of simultaneous experience whether dualistic or nondualistic. The non- dualistic knowing knows particularity through the dualistic mind. Amazing. Thus the great 11th century Tibetan master of the divinity of appearance  Ronzompa would say there is gnosis of mind and gnosis of awareness. Amazing…such is the greatness of the mind and the greatness of dualistic knowing….the love of the singular….the love of whoness. Whoness is itself primordial awareness manifesting in singularity, through and as face and eyes and embodiment and as innermost interiority which is awareness itself. 

My Transcendental Knowing

So here at this moment we are elaborating the understanding that this transcendental knowing, the base of all knowing and all forms of knowing  comprehends individualities.

All phenomenal  appearance, experience and action is the self manifestation or self appearance of primordial awareness, ground awareness. You and I at this very moment of reading this text are the self manifestation of primordial awareness, pure awareness. And so when we are perceiving beings as individualities our experience of beings showing up, coming forth allows us to experience the liberating presence of primordial awareness which is transcendental and unbound. This liberating presence is simultaneous both in our viewing and our knowing as well as in the self manifestation of the beings we are experiencing. We are experiencing duality (the appearance of a being) and we are experiencing nonduality of the liberating presence of knowing that is primordial awareness manifesting our knowing of the being. Our self knowing is always present in the knowing of otherness because in the very knowing of otherness this knowing is not separated from our knowing our own qualities of transcendental awareness which is the source of our knowing the individual as well as transcendental qualities of nondual awareness knowingness.

Shining Forth

In this experience of knowing non dualistically beings appearing in their individual manifestation, we experience these phenomenal beings are manifestations of shining forth beyond our cause and effect constructions and beyond conceptual framing. 

Self Manifestation

The difference between knowing conceptually and knowing through primordial awareness or as primordial awareness reflects the different dimensions of awareness. Conceptual and mental knowing is the act of intentional  awareness about particular beings in time and space and place. Primordial awareness as knowing knows its own qualities as awareness knows awareness which is the base and source of everything and anything. And so conceptual knowing as mind includes the indivisible qualities of primordial knowing as the matrix of being aware.  This awareness is not focused on any object but the self manifestation of its own qualities. So intentional knowing requires for its appearance the primordial sense of being aware. In this way all objects are events of manifestation of pure awareness shining and radiating everything and anything including our reading of this text and this very moment.


Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and The Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Studies

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