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


The Origin of Attention

A Talk by Da Free John

originally published in 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 arise?

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 not!

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 itself.

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 body.

Devotee: It is the heartbeat.

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 “me.”

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 personality.

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 body-mind.

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 body-mind.*

* Also study “One-Pointedness” 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 Condition.

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 God-Realization,

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 Reality.

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 based.

* The Revelation of the Unknowable in the Higher Stages of the Way – 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 awareness.*

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

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 Divine.

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 simply.


Also see:

Transcending the First Six Stages of Life

The Tradition of Advaita Vedanta