Awareness bound and unbound: Realizing the nature of attention

Philosophy East and West 58 (2):223-243 (2008)
Abstract
: This essay takes seriously the many Buddhist admonitions about ‘‘not settling down in things’’ and the importance of wandering freely ‘‘without a place to rest.’’ The basic thesis is that delusion (samsāra, ignorance) is awareness trapped (stuck), and liberation (nirvāna, enlightenment) is awareness freed from grasping. The familiar words ‘‘attention’’ and ‘‘awareness’’ are used to emphasize that the distinction being drawn refers not to some abstract metaphysical entity but simply to how our everyday awareness functions. This way of distinguishing between delusion and enlightenment is not only consistent with basic Buddhist teachings but gives us insight into some of the more difficult ones, such as the way karma works and the Mahāyāna claim that ‘‘form is not other than emptiness, emptiness not other than form.’’ Moreover, this perspective illuminates some aspects of our contemporary life-world, including the particular challenges of modern technology and economics. It is important to see the implications for some of the social issues that concern us today. The constriction or liberation of awareness is not only a personal matter. What do societies do to encourage or discourage its emancipation?
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