The Origin of Attention – Da Free John – Adi Da Samraj – 1981



The Origin of

A Talk by Da Free John

originally published
Don’t You Think If You Were Really Being Religious
You Would Be Seeing Things By Now
The Newsmagazine of The Laughing Man Institute – Vol. 2, No.
3, June 1981

Da Free John: What is the
origin of attention and where does attention

Devotee: It seems to arise at
the heart.

Da Free John: Does anybody
else have any ideas about this? Are you afraid to speak
because you do not want to be wrong?

Devotee: (Laughing) I dare

Devotee: That seems to be the
answer ….

Da Free John: It is not a
matter of the answer. What is your observation? Where does
attention come from?

Devotee: At the level,
unfortunately, of experience itself.

Da Free John: You mean that
attention is obviously related to experience and knowledge?
Yes, attention is the medium through which we appear to be
related to objects and experiences. It is the primary
mechanism operative in the midst of experience. But where
does this attention originate? There are infinite forms of
experience and states of mind, and attention is related to
all of them. Where does it originate?

Devotee: Master, in terms of
the physical body I feel attention to arise in the heart,
but it also seems that attention arises prior to the sense
of the body. I believe you have said that attention arises
as a contraction in the field of consciousness

Da Free John: Can we say
then, that more basic than attention is the awareness in
which attention arises? Where is that awareness originating?
Is it behind attention? Is it in the body somewhere? Is that
it? Does it arise in your ‘head or in your arm?

Devotee: It is your whole

Devotee: It is the

Devotee: You are aware of it
in your head!

Da Free John: Awareness is
what you point to as yourself.

The essays I have written for The
Lion Sutra criticize on many levels the traditional,
conventional approaches to God-Realization. On one level we
criticize the traditional approaches because they are based
on a conceived problem, the problem of the independent being
or personality, which must seek release from that problem
through knowledge and experience.

Another level of our criticism is
directed to the conventions of knowing and experiencing. The
ordinary process of our experiencing and knowing, day to
day, is a process of conventions of behavior, conventions of
language. conventions of self-reference, conventions of
relationship, that are all working models of perception and
conception, experiencing, knowing, relating. Such models and
conventions make sense and are usable within the framework
of ordinary activity and the conventional relations of the
body-mind. These conventions become a problem, however,
because we typically approach the Divine Reality from the
point of view of psycho-physcial existence, or independent
personal existence. All the language we generate it order to
conceive of or approach the Realization of that Reality is
based on the conventions of experiencing, knowing, thinking,
self-referring, relating.

In fact, though, God-Realization is
radical, a matter of direct, intuitive Realization. We do
not Realize God by developing a path based on a problem that
requires us to work toward a solution through experiencing
and knowing within the framework of this body-mind. No,
God-Realization is the transcendence of the limits of the
body-mind. It is therefore to be gotten at directly not by
creating a search based on the conventions of the body-mind,
but by realizing the Divine directly through transcending
both the body-mind and our conventions of presumption about
the body-mind and our status of experience.

One of those conventional ideas is
the sense of “me” underneath or behind all experiencing and
knowing. Experiencing, perceiving, sensing, and conventional
thinking that develops on the basis of experience, the
mechanism of attention that operates within that
conventional framework, and the awareness from which
attention springs all comprise a hierarchy of states of
awareness that point through the bodymind to this sense of

For example, the simple awareness
that is at the ground of experiencing and thinking is a
sense that “you” are behind all such phenomena and that
“you” are clearly not being anybody else. “You” are
awareness but awareness somehow defined by all of the
experiences of the body-mind. You naturally presume that
experience points to awareness as a “you” or defined self
behind experience that perceives and is aware of it all
experiences and knows. That “me can be reduced to awareness.
You can analyze it. It is not the physical body because you
are aware of the body. It is not the objects in the world,
because you are likewise aware of them. It not thoughts,
because you are aware of those. It is not even attention,
because you can be aware of how attention moves. Therefore,
it is just the awareness itself that is ”me,” Such analysis
has produced the conventional model of the body-mind that
what we are is at the root of the body-mind, is inside the
body-mind in some sense is the independent or personal
awareness at the depth of the body-mind. Such analysis makes
philosophical sense.


“The error is that
we begin by presuming that we are awareness”


Many traditional paths have
developed on the basis of analyzing human existence in just
these terms.

The error is that we begin by
presuming that we are awareness, a personal consciousness in
the body mind and’ behind the body-mind. That very
awareness, just like the body-mind itself, defines and
separates us from all other similarly aware beings.
Likewise, our identification with that awareness separates
us from all the condition of which we may be aware, from the
world, from the body-mind, from perception, from conception,
even from the gesture of attention itself. Divine
Realization or Realization of the Transcendental and Real
Condition of all existence is radical in that it begins on
the basis of the transcendence of limiting conventions
including the body-mind and the conventional understanding
of the status of awareness or being.

There is a root in the
psychophysical physical structure of the body-mind, a root
in the nervous system on the right side of the heart, that
can be felt to be the source of attention. There is a subtle
tension in that dimension of the body-mind. When we reduce
attention from its wandering in all of the extended
atmosphere of the body-mind and all its relations, reduce it
to the awareness from which phenomena spring, the awareness
in which phenomena become obvious, we may have the sense
that awareness, which springs up as attention to all
complex. phenomena, is generated in the right side of the
heart. There are those who value that intuition of the Self
that is pure awareness, but the Self that may be realized as
pure awareness, seated in the right side of the heart, is
still another one of the conventional objects or media
through which the Transcendental Reality may be intuited. It
is a conditional realization. It excludes attention to
objects and phenomena. It depends upon the conventional
presumption that the ”me’ of awareness, the ‘I” of
awareness, is at the root of the body-mind. It presumes that
awareness is somehow originating in the body-mind itself.
This presumption is the convention through which we acquire
the sense of separate self, of ”me,’ of an independent

What is awareness that it could
possibly arise inside the body, inside the nervous system?
Our conventional understanding is that we are aware from the
point of view of the body-mind, from a depth of awareness
that is native to the body-mind. But the Condition of our
existence is different from what we presume in our ordinary
functioning about the nature of experience and the origin of
attention and consciousness. We presume as a matter of our
ordinary functioning that I am me and you are you and we
relate to the world as separate persons. But the separate
person, the convention presumed in the midst of the ordinary
affair of activity and conception, is not the reality of the

In fact, awareness does not arise
inside the body-mind, any more than the Heart arises inside
the body-mind. The body-mind is a development of a total
pattern in the universe and it arises as a result of that
total pattern. It does not arise from anything inside
itself. The phenomena that we call experience and knowing
arise as modifications of this body-mind. They are
reflections of the same pattern that gives rise to the
body-mind. The body-mind is a kind of targeting mechanism
within the infinite pattern of existence. Through the
process of the nervous system, including the brain-mind that
reflects phenomena, we erroneously conceive awareness to
arise independently inside and behind the

* Also study
From The Method of the Siddhas – 1978


In fact, however awareness is the
universal medium in which everything is arising. It is not
located in the body. It does not arise inside the body any
more than the heart or any part of the body arises from
itself. Awareness is universally present, but it is
expressed as particularity through the patterning and
targeting of the elemental processes in the individual
body-mind. Therefore, it is a conventional presumption that
“I” is at the root of the body-mind and attention springs
from within the body-mind. But this presumption is based on
an illusion, a convention, an apparency that makes certain
kinds of phenomenal existence possible. The Truth of
existence is another matter altogether.

The Truth is that everything of
which we are composed, including awareness itself, is a
universal form of existence, made particular through
modifications of the universal pattern. At death the body
returns to the universal elements. Each portion, each aspect
of the body is returned to the dimension of the universal
process in which it is modified as particularity. Not every
aspect of the being returns to a non personal universal
condition at death. The physical body certainly does, but
other aspects may remain in a particularized, modified state
until they too are transcended.

It is said in the traditions that
the basic illusion that must be overcome is the ego. What is
the ego? The ego is the conventional conception that
awareness is felt to be a separate, separated, and
vulnerable being. Awareness is itself a universal element or
dimension of existence. It is not ever a particularity, or a
particular being. It only appears as such through the
mechanical patterns of the manifest process of the world. It
is actually universal, just as the actual Condition of the
body-mind is comprised of elements that are universally
present and that temporarily come together to produce a
particular form. When we realize that all of the elements or
dimensions of our existence are universal conditions and
that we are not the particularity, the separate self that we
conceive of through conventional thinking and acting, then
there is perfect Realization, perfect liberation. When all
the conventions of our composite existence are transcended
and everything is released into its universality, permitted
to inhere in the Divine of which everything is a
modification, then we are liberated into the Divine

There is no ego that must somehow be
destroyed. There is no ego concretely existing. Our
conscious existence as a separate being is an illusion, not
a concrete reality. The ego is simply a presumption, a
conception based on the function of the body-mind as a
target of phenomena. There is a body-mind, temporarily at
any rate. It has individuality, but it is not separate from
any other being or thing. It is a dependent form part of a
universal pattern. When the fundamental being realizes its
inherence in the universal Divine Being and realizes the
Divine Condition of all aspects of the particular being,
this Realization, this acknowledgment, is liberation or

This radical consideration is a
criticism of the conventional presumptions about
experiencing and conceiving that are common to all people,
whether they are philosophically inclined or part of a
tradition or pursuing God-Realization in any sense at all.
All individuals presume that they are themselves. Because of
the conventions of perceiving and thinking, everyone is, in
a sense, a philosopher. He or she makes a presumption about
his or her status that is true only in the conventional
sense. It is a working presumption, usable as a framework
for conventional behavior and activity in this present
configuration of the material world. But if we make that
presumption the limit of existence, if it is not only a
conventional presumption that enables us to act and think in
ordinary terms but is also the limit of our realization, the
limit of our understanding of existence, then we become
troubled. We become simply a mortal, passing phenomenon that
is struggling fruitlessly to survive, trying through the
conventions of thinking, presuming, and acting to attain a
state of release.

The traditions of religion and
spirituality are truly profound developments of human
endeavor, but they spring from the same conventional
understanding that every ordinary person, who is not even
pursuing anything like God-Realization, is animating in his
or her unillumined life. The traditions are founded in the
same dilemma, the same illusion, the same conventional
limits that bind ordinary people. Transcendental Realization
is a matter of transcending the error in the conventional
point of view, the point of view of ordinary people. When
that conventional point of view is transcended, then
something may also be said in critical terms about the
traditional point of view. But the first dimension of
existence to be understood in this radical process is the
ordinary dimension of the conventions of thought and
perception and self-conception.

Therefore, attention and awareness
identified as or a self within, does not in fact originate
within. It is created simultaneously with the body-mind
itself, all arising as a process of patterning within a
universal field. awareness is implied to be separate and
within through the mechanism of the body-mind, just as the
elements have an implied separateness when they appear in
the form of an individual body that can walk about and be
separate from every other body. It is a little more obvious
at the level of the physical that we are arising in a
dependent pattern. But we all think of ourselves as sprung
from a seed somehow deep within us, rather than having
appeared through agencies of all kinds.

The body is one with the universal
pattern. It has no independent existence and did not create
itself. It is totally dependent on that pattern and then
returns in due time to the universal status of that pattern.
The same is true of every other aspect of the body-mind. The
body-mind is a modification of a universal pattern and does
not generate itself. The awareness and the attention that
seem to arise from within us are not in fact arising from
within us. They are conceived to do so because of the
targeting process of the body-mind. Thus, a separate self is
implied and presumed in the conventional approach to
experience, but a separate self is not in fact the Truth of
our existence. The being inheres in the Universal Divine

Therefore, all approaches to
Realization that try to solve the dilemma of separate
existence, either by drawing attention into the higher
ranges of the nervous system* or by reducing it to awareness
itself prior to attention, are simply developments of the
conventional illusion of the status of the body-mind. Rather
than enacting that process of finding solutions through
experience and knowledge, through the media of the
body-mind, the radical Way is to transcend directly these
conventions and illusions and the dilemma and the search
that are based on them, and the satisfaction with the
objects that arise on the basis of that search. Rather than
that entire adventure, there is a way of entering directly
into the disposition of God-Realization prior to all such
activities and the dilemma upon which they are

* The
Revelation of the Unknowable in the Higher Stages of the
– The Enlightenment of
the Whole Body – 1980


Devotee: My Lord, that
tension in the right side of the chest, at the heart, must
be where the body-mind registers the universal

* The
Heart is the Key to the Enlightenment of the Whole

Da Free John: Yes. The
Transcendental Consciousness is registered as awareness at
that point. If we can take attention away from its various
objects, gross and subtle, physical and mental, and then
feel how attention is arising toward those things, feel
where attention is arising in the conventions of the
body-mind when we are reduced to awareness itself, prior to
the gesture of attention, then the sense of relationship to
things is felt to develop mysteriously from the right side
of the chest. If we are reduced to awareness itself, we are
reduced through that point. at least we may perceive it to
be so. The conventional sense that awareness is arising
behind the body-mind is reinforced by the pursuit of
awareness at the root of attention. When we are left with
only awareness itself, it seems to have a universal status.
We call it the Self, with a capital “S.” But the only reason
we feel that this root awareness or Self is unbounded and
universal is that we have systematically excluded the
possibility of the arising of attention toward objects.
Therefore, according to this view, we must realize the
Universal Reality that remains. But such, a realization is
clearly limited. It intuits the Divine through the icon or
medium of awareness that has been analyzed out of the
complex body-mind.

Rather than limiting ourselves to
this reductive process, which is one of the developments of
the great search of mankind, we must recognize all the
phenomenal conditions of existence to be modifications of
the universal Divine, including awareness, attention,
psychophysical events of all kinds, and the world.
Everything is simultaneously arising as a modification of
that universal Being. The mere intellectual and
philosophical presumption that this is so is not
Realization. Merely to look at all of this from the
conventional point of view of perception and conception and
say that all of this is God is to recite a bit of religious
poetry. Such a conviction has some positive significance
perhaps, but Realization is another matter. Realization is
not just to observe all phenomena and say that they are God.
To do so is to adhere to a transcendental interpretation of
life while still to suffer phenomena.

Actual Realization is a matter of
moment to moment Realization of the transcendental and
actual Divine. In that Realization the phenomena of
existence become transparent. Not in the sense that a tree
may look ghostly and you will be able to see the mountain
behind it through the trunk. I do not mean transparent in
that sense, but I use the word “transparent” to convey the
non binding nature of phenomena when they are perceived
literally as modifications of the Divine in the moment when
the Divine is actually]Realized. To observe phenomena
arising and say that they are God is not to be God-Realized.
One must Realize, God, and then one recognizes phenomena as

In the yogic traditions many say
that the mind is God. Therefore, in this traditional view,
the highest, objects of the mind are God. In other words,
not, having transcended objects and the conventions of
psycho-physcial perceptions themselves, such yogis make
icons that are presumed to be identical to the Divine, and
they argue that to see one of these icons is to see God. l
am here to tell you that to Realize God is to see through
all phenomena, high and low, and to Realize God


Also see:

the First Six Stages of Life

Tradition of Advaita Vedanta