When we are absorbed in any situation, be it a thing or a person, do we know more or know less of what is occurring at that moment? Before we get into that discussion, let us understand what “absorbed” means in this context and its difference with “awareness”. The act of “being absorbed” has an “in-it” or “into-it” experience whereas “awareness” has a lighter sense of knowing the object but not entering into it. Another way to express it is that “being absorbed” gives an overtone of “immersion” – like being one with the object”; whereas with “awareness” there is a “space” with the object.
All of us experience these two mental factors throughout our lives on different occasions, depending on the need at those moments. We can be absorbed in our work, absorbed in love or even absorbed in a seasonal tv series as entertainment. We also apply awareness in our daily actions, like when we are crossing the road, driving along the street or in a meeting. When we are not aware on occasions which require it, many unexpected happenings can occur.
Both these states of mind can be enhanced or made more pronounced by intentionally entering into a specific mental training, which we normally label as “meditation”. Meditation is not anything religious or even spiritual considering that we are merely enhancing the particular mental factor that we already have, except that now it is in a more heightened state. The only difference with meditation is that we are giving priority to developing those mental states per se rather than being interested in the object or happening. Because of that, those mental states will become more obvious than before since it is the priority of the meditator. The question now is when those states are enhanced, what happens to the object? Though the priority during meditation is about development of those states and not the object, yet in no way the object can be avoided since mind and object are inseparable.
The analogy to describe this will be of a telescope and the object concerned. The greater the magnification of the telescope, the greater the object seemingly becomes. Thus, in the case of absorption, wherein the earlier stage of development will be to train the mind in focusing on a chosen object without distraction, which upon maturity, produces an enhanced state of an inseparable mind-object experience, an immersion with the object. It can be a blissed-out experience where concepts of time or separation don’t exist at that point.
Whereas when it comes to the development of awareness in its heightened state, the object of awareness becomes heightened too but unllike absorption, the object can be known instead of being absorbed into. More things can be known about the object than before, just like the analogy of the telescope. As you can see from the development of both those mental states , the end-result is pretty diverse, with one knowing more and the other totally absorbed in it. And that pretty much answers the earlier question of which state of mind knows more.
Yet, of these two, there is potentially a new state which many minds have never ventured into before. And it is not about developing absorption or even developing awareness. Though awareness is required in the initial stage, yet it is not about the development of awareness per se, rather using awareness as a preparatory groundwork for a rare mental factor to arise. And that mental factor is wisdom. Wisdom, when it arises, does wonders to every experience we ever encounter. As the word “wisdom” implies, it gives an indepth awakening or understanding to the experience, whatever experience it can be. Sometimes it unlocks a certain ignorance. At other times it shows the truth, an opposite to what we knew before, which on hindsight we realize was false. More importantly, it opens up a new world or dimension which has always been present, but not known before. Hidden from sight due to the absence of wisdom. Wisdom is an awakening experience.
The way to growing wisdom is not through development of states, rather through discovering what is blocking wisdom from arising. And the block is found at the volition – the subject itself, rather than the object. It is here, the block is found – delusion, together with its birthed counterpart, craving. Delusion gives rise to craving. These two blocks wisdom from arising. The way of this meditation is by discovery, of finding out what is already present, but not yet known. The purpose of awareness is just for that. Welcome to the journey of wisdom inspired supportive endeavour, in short WISE.
The purpose of awareness is not for use to develop “being-in-the-now” rather awareness is a helpful tool to uncover the blocks. It is the wisdom factor we are investing in, and as such, the awareness is geared towards inner inquiry rather than resting in it. This will become obvious when we meditate for years not having understanding and when understanding arises due to changing the direction of the purpose of awareness .