How We Know the Self is Aware


Hi. We haven’t communicated directly to-date. However, I know of you thru ShiningWorld. I know you’re teaching at Tiru next January, which is pretty cool.

Background: I’ve inquired thru listening to James’ teachings for the past two years. I’ve listened to about 2,000 hours of James’ talks (400 hours of audios I purchased and listened to about five times during this time). In spite of this, questions continue to arise, albeit more infrequently these days. I had confabs with Vishnudeva earlier this year and late last year, but since he’s no longer available I’m emailing you.

Question: This puppy won’t go away… I hear James and scripture state over and over again that Awareness/Me is ‘self-luminous’ and self-aware. I read that the brain isn’t sentient because insentient matter can’t be sentient. But, this begs the question – how is it ‘known’ that Self is luminous/aware. I know it’s stated that it IS awareness – that awareness is its nature, its essence. That awareness is my nature, as a human being. But, again, can you explain ‘how’ we can know that Awareness is luminous/aware?

Am I missing something simple here, or not correctly connecting the dots?

I hope my question is clear enough. If not, let me know.

And thank you in advance for your help.

Bradley 🙂



Hi, Bradley.


Nice to make your acquaintance. Your question is a good one.


To cut to the chase, the mind, which is the vehicle by means of which the relative knower (i.e., the apparent individual person) knows what he or she knows and doesn’t know, knows that awareness is self-luminous/aware by virtue of the fact that it is illumined by awareness. Were it not illumined by awareness it would be neither enlivened and capable of performing the functions of perceiving, integrating perceived data, determining what it is, discriminating between various options regarding how to respond to the data, and deciding upon the course of action it will direct the body to take. In other words, were the mind not illumined by awareness, it would not be able to perform the functions that we collectively call knowing.


Awareness itself is not the relative knower, for it has no mind, other than in the most general sense that given the non-dual nature of reality, awareness is the “substanceless substance” of which all objects are made. Awareness is the illumining factor or what we might refer to as the knowing-principle or intelligence-as-such. By analogy, it is the “light” that illumines the contents of the mind.


Though awareness “itself” is not the knower, it is the factor that imbues the mind with sentiency and enables it to not only know objects, but also recognize its true non-objectifiable nature as pure awareness, which appears as a “reflection” in a sufficiently still mind.


We know that the nature of the self (i.e., pure awareness) is aware due to the self-evident fact that we are aware (i.e., we know that we are). The facts that 1) something can’t come from nothing and that 2) the mind is composed of inert matter and, thus, cannot be the source of sentiency or awareness leads to the irrefutable conclusion that existence itself (i.e., sat) must be conscious (i.e., chit). Moreover, that conscious existence cannot have come from a source more fundamental than itself, for what is existent is only established as such because it exists within the scope of consciousness and what is conscious is necessarily existent. Therefore, awareness must be unborn or eternal (i.e., not subject to the limiting parameters of time and space) and, thus, limitless (i.e., ananda). In this way, limitless conscious existence (i.e., sat-chit-ananda) is established as the fundamental reality. And since there can only be one fundamental reality, the same limitless conscious existence that is the substratum of the entire manifest universe in both its subtle and gross aspects is the very nature of the self informing the apparent individual person.


Due to the limiting parameters superimposed on limitless conscious existence, the portion of limitless conscious existence associated with any given body-mind-sense complex is limited to the sensations and emotions and cognitions, the perceptions and conceptions, gathered and generated within the limited purview of that vehicle. Nevertheless, just as the portion of all-pervasive space associate with a given pot is no different than the space pervading the manifest universe, so the awareness informing and enlivening the body-mind-sense complex of the apparent individual is not different from the absolute awareness that is the fundamental reality of all that is.


You are that limitless conscious existence. This is the essential message of Vedanta.


Hope that explanation clarifies the matter. If not, please let me know.


All the best,






Thanks so much for your expedient response. And on the weekend too! J


Okay, with your answer I was able to discern the sticking point I’m stumbling on…


You wrote: “The facts that 1) something can’t come from nothing and that 2) the mind is composed of inert matter and, thus, cannot be the source of sentiency or awareness leads to the irrefutable conclusion that existence itself (i.e., sat) must be conscious (i.e., chit).”


All else you wrote goes without question.  But the gist of my sticking point seems to be related to a leftover from my strongly materialist mindset.  That is, my belief that the brain/matter could be ‘creating’ awareness.


My stumbling block is that there’s still this niggling doubt that this could be the case.


I know you wrote (and I’ve heard James say numerous times in his talks) “something can’t come from nothing” and what you’re referring to is getting sentiency (awareness/consciousness) from insentiency (brain/matter).


But, without meaning to sound asinine, one wouldn’t think that one could get a solid/liquid (water) from combining two gases (hydrogen/oxygen).  It would appear that ‘something was created from nothing’ with this example.


Ted: The water did not come from nothing, but rather from the combination of the two gases. Any material substance—subtle or gross—can change form. But as even material science has confirmed, energy—which is essentially the same thing as matter—cannot be created or destroyed.


And that’s only to speak in terms of the manifest realm. Conscious existence itself cannot be created or destroyed either. Who or what would create or destroy it? There is nothing other than itself. Both existence and consciousness are irreducible. Even were we to posit, for the sake of argument, that the existence and consciousness that is our nature could be resolved into a subtler substratum, that substratum would necessarily be existent and conscious.


Bradley: So, why couldn’t the brain and, say, electrical functions in the brain, be ‘creating’ awareness/consciousness?  Not as a new creation, but as the result of a combination of matter and electricity.


Ted: What would be the foundation of the matter and electricity? Even inert matter must exist within the scope of consciousness, for all matter is only established as such by its measurement within the time-space continuum. Thus, every object depends on the parameters of time and space for its existence. Yet time and space are themselves objects—albeit the most subtle objects of all—existing within and, thus, wholly dependent on awareness.


Remember as well that awareness is not the mind. It is not the cognitive functioning that we sometimes think of as awareness. It is the “field” of conscious existence in which the mind—which is actually not a thing, but the name we give to the phantasmagoria of subtle objective phenomena that appear within the scope of conscious existence—performs the function of knowing objects.


Science has shown that the neurons firing in the brain do create thoughts, but the brain and all its activity is nothing more than an elaborate object with many components carrying out their various functions according to the design of the machine. The question remains, in what “field” of conscious existence are these objects appearing and activities occurring? For the reasons given, the matter and electricity cannot possibly be the fundamental reality. The fundamental reality can only be limitless conscious existence.


Bradley: This is how finely parsed this needs to be and explained from the Vedantic standpoint, to address this doubt I can’t address myself.


Further discussion on this topic is appreciated, and needed.




Ted: Please contemplate the logic of the explanation I have offered and see if it doesn’t clear up your doubt. If it doesn’t, let me know.


All the best,