Awareness is Key

William B. Turner
4 min readSep 12, 2022
Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion

Awareness is key.

I apologize. I have said that I would use the term, “consciousness,” consistently, but I now intend to use the term, “awareness,” mostly instead.

Ajahn Sumedho uses the two terms interchangeably, and they have pretty much the same meaning. Sumedho also says that we are trying to describe what cannot be described, so the terms are not that important.

What is particularly interesting about Sumedho’s explanation is that he says what we call “consciousness,” or “awareness,” or whatever we choose to call it, defies description, not because it is so rare and precious, but because it is so common. He likes to point out that, if he asks anyone if they are conscious, the answer has to be yes. Why would anyone ask a question of a person who is discernibly unconscious? That would be pointless. The unconscious person would not know that you had asked a question.

Similarly, I can assume that you are conscious right now because it is impossible to read when you are unconscious.

But consciousness, awareness, as a phenomenon in the world, not a thing, is like having grown up in a huge house that you only ever lived in a small part of. You might know your bedroom, and the kitchen, and the dining room, and the living room, but there are entire wings full of bedrooms and sitting rooms and bathrooms and maybe a library and who knows what else that you have never seen because you have not explored the entire house.

It is entirely ordinary and always available, if as yet unfamiliar, again, only because you have not explored it.

We have enormous capacities that we never use, never even know about, because we do not explore our own consciousness, or awareness.

The advantage I now see with “awareness” as opposed to “consciousness” is that “awareness” has a slightly more active sense to it. It is not wrong to say, “I was not conscious of that,” but people in the United States are more likely to say, “I was not aware of that.”

It is not quite correct to say that conscious awareness (!) is active. It is pervasive, I assume throughout the universe. We may never know. We certainly will not know in my lifetime. But given what we do know, I see no reason to think that, if space travel becomes possible on…

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