Knower of the Field

I wrote Behind Closed Eyes using three distinct voices. The first voice you will encounter is the Knower of the Field. He is the higher self, the witnessing consciousness, the pure knowing mind. When I was writing this novel, I felt that since most Eastern meditation teachings refer to a transcendent higher self, that character should be in this story. Even though Theravada Buddhists don’t believe in a higher self, there are Vipassana teachers who reference a higher knowing or witnessing consciousness in their teachings. Whether there is a higher self is an interesting question to explore in one’s practice, and it is for that reason I see it as important to have this character in this novel.

 

OPENING TWO PASSAGES OF BEHIND CLOSED EYES

Knower of the Field

“And the Knower of the Field, when without a body,

must be either knowing or unknowing.

If it is knowing, there is something for it to know,

and if there is something for it to know,

it is not liberated.”

Acts of the Buddha, Canto XII.80

Ashwaghosa (circa 2nd Century A.D.)

translated by E. H. Johnston

I am the Knower of the Field. I am not human, nor am I a god nor demon. Those designations do not touch me. I exist between the ultimately real and the imaginary. Some may claim that I reside in the heart, knowing all of its secrets. Others may see me as the mind’s awareness of all things within the field of consciousness. I am that and greater than that. I can see beyond the horizon of consciousness and thus know what seems impossible for anyone to know. I can tunnel beneath the secrets of the heart to where the unknown core of one’s being lies. Nothing within one escapes my knowing. Yet I cannot know myself, for I am empty, devoid of my own content. I have no world but that of the mind I know. Each individual has but one Knower of the Field, and no two of us are exactly alike.       

When I fully digest these passages, I come away with a different notion of knowing everything (omniscience). For some, this will sound like God, who knows all of our secrets, residing in the heart. But this higher consciousness can tunnel beneath the secrets of the heart, knowing that which we may not ever know about ourselves in any conscious way. It is this quality that distinguishes Western and Eastern ideas about “pure awareness,” for the Eastern notions have it that such awareness is beyond our senses, our personality, what we know, and is, in essence, unknowable. It can’t even know itself. From where we normally perceive our experience this Knower is empty; from where the Knower perceives, there is only the world of the mind it knows. At least, that is where this character begins in this novel.

If you keep these ideas in the back of your mind as you read the novel, you may be able to track the different kinds of awareness found in people’s meditation sittings. At the beginning, the meditators are mostly trying to get the instructions right, so they are mostly aware of doing the instructions to the exclusion of most everything else. Even if the instruction is to be aware of sounds and thoughts, and not just the breath, the meditators start off by trying to do something with their attention, directing it correctly according to what they have been taught. They are mostly developing awareness of the 5 external sense doors, and trying to stop, manage, or bargain with the 6th sense door, the mind. They are gradually building support for the belief, common in modern-day Vipassana and Mindfulness practices, that true awareness is being purely in the sense experience, such as with the breath, hearing sounds, feeling sensations. Such awareness is of the known, not of the unknown. To the Knower of the Field, this kind of awareness is inferior, rather than optimal as it is often presented in Vipassana.

ANOTHER PASSAGE FROM THE KNOWER OF THE FIELD IN BEHIND CLOSED EYES

Direct knowledge is a myth propagated by those whose intellects like to create perfect models. In reality, in my reality at least, all thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are known in their reflected form only. Some sensations, however, are known as they arise as they are. There is direct sensing, but I have no part of that. That is the animal part of the mind’s range; I am of the not animal, the nearly not human.

I have long taught that awareness, as we develop it in meditation, is awareness of something, and what we are aware of is a mentally reflected (represented) form. Thus, my theory of awareness is between the extremes of awareness being direct sense experience and being a pure transcendent awareness. In Behind Closed Eyes I attempt to describe the extreme of a pure transcendent awareness from various angles, drawing on Vedanta, Yogacara Buddhism, and metaphysics. In doing so, I am leaving the door open on that way of seeing things in one’s meditation practice, especially if it leads to fruitful investigations into the nature of consciousness, both intellectually and experientially.

This way of exploring a pure transcendent awareness, I believe, can be considered a feature of Samatha meditation, where the meditator enters into progressively more tranquil and empty states of mind. Behind Closed Eyes is a book on meditation that has more emphasis on tranquility and the development of samadhi, which will be the subject of my next author’s commentary on this novel.

Jason Siff

March 27, 2017