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Consciousness and God's love


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#1 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 24 May 2010 - 03:40 AM

I would like to ask for guidance as to what to read in order to understand how Orthodox Fathers understand Consciousness. What is the relationship between our Consciousness and God's uncreated energies and God's Love?

#2 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 25 May 2010 - 03:56 AM

I posted this question yesterday, but as I have got no response I will try to add to the question...
In Orthodox understanding, what is the relationship between consciousness and unconditional Love? Does practicing watchfulness in itself lead to purity and Love? Or is watchfulness/consciousness only a means towards resisting the passions and the devil? Is the devil/evil conscious?
I ask this in order to be able to understand and counter the argument that without suffering and friction between good and evil there would be no consciousness and also other gnostic notions of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, Lucifer's name meaning 'bearer of light' etc

Any help with (Matt. 6:22) 'If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light' would be very helpful.

I understand this may be a huge area, so I am not expecting all-inclusive answers, but if anyone could help point me in the right direction I would very much appreciate it.

Thank you!

#3 Paul Cowan

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Posted 04 July 2010 - 10:57 PM

I ran across this thread just today. WOW, what a huge area of discussion. As I was reading the first thing that came to mind was what are the definitions of all these terms. Perhaps we could start there and then discuss in more detail?

Consciousness and how it relates to the nous?
Unconditional love = Agape love?
Watchfulness of the heart, mind, intellect, nous?
Do watchfullness and consciousness equal the same thing? I don't think they will.
passions of the devil versus passions inherint to man
is the devil/evil conscious. This one I can answer, YES
What is purity and love or what is purity in love?
do suffering and friction equate consciousness to savlation?
Gnostic notions

The eye thing refers to a persons state of envy. If your eye is dark, your soul is dark if your eye is bright your soul is bright. We ask protection from the "evil eye" when a child is born and/or baptised to protect it from the desires of others who may want it for their own. (If I understood Fr. Patrick Reardon's homily correctly.

Where do we go from here?

Paul

#4 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 05:13 AM

thanks for the reply. This is an area that is a big question for me. Obviously the terms are very difficult to define. Like consciousness. I think watchfulness is a faculty of consciousness. When I am more watchful of what is taking place in my heart, mind or body in the moment, I am generally 'more' conscious then when not practicing watchfulness. However consciousness is perhaps more than watchfulness. For example, Christ said 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do'. So if one truly knows what one is doing in the moment, if one is truly fully aware of Truth, how could one still miss the mark? Does sin not involve a 'blinding', a lessening of awareness of Truth in the moment one errs? So if the eye is dark, it sees but not fully perhaps? Otherwise, if it saw the Truth fully how could it bear to go against it?? Same with the devil, no?
Eastern religions like Zen and Buddhism are very much concerned with consciousness. So is Orthodox Christianity - watchulness (mind), attention (descent of the mind into the heart) soberness (awareness of senses), the purity of the nous - God's uncreated light.
I have read that Orthodox respond to those religions suggesting they are self contemplation, rather than Christian contemplation of God.
So what is the relationship between consciosness, inner knowledge of Truth on the one side and Agape and God's uncreated light on the other?

#5 Paul Cowan

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 05:44 PM

We should take these one at a time. There is too much here not to get confused or run the risk of intermingling them and muddling any productive discussion about them all.

I think watchfulness is a faculty of consciousness. When I am more watchful of what is taking place in my heart, mind or body in the moment, I am generally 'more' conscious then when not practicing watchfulness. However consciousness is perhaps more than watchfulness. For example, Christ said 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do'.


I agree with you on this. But I would also ask, who is conscious of his thoughts 24/7? or who is watchful over his heart, mind, nous 24/7? the noncorporeal beings are for sure, but we humans can never do this. We are always distracted. and then what of our sleeping times and times we must work at our secular jobs? We definitely are not paying attention to our inner self.

I don't know anything of eastern religions and thier practises. You would have a better conversation with Rick Henry or Owen Jones on this one.

So what is the relationship between consciosness, inner knowledge of Truth on the one side and Agape and God's uncreated light on the other?


Agape love is the totality of complete, selflessness, unconditional love. Only God is capable of this intensity of love hence the request "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do".

Why is the inner knowledge of Truth and God's uncreated light on opposite sides for you?

Paul

#6 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 06 July 2010 - 11:55 PM

I don't think consciousness and God's uncreated light are on opposite sides. I just can't understand the relationship between them. For example, I need to be watchful or awake if I wish not to react to life in an ordinary way. When someone hurts my ego, and I am not watchful of my urge to react, then I am quite likely to get carried away in my own negativity. So then I am cut off from any possibility of transformation. On the other hand, is watchfulness in that moment enough? What else is necessary? If I am trapped in another state of passion, like dejection and don't see from moment to moment that that's what is happening, then I am lost in it. My awareness is consumed by it in a way. So it seems that first I need to become aware of what is really taking place in me. And if I try and watch, I can watch for example the sensations in my body of my passion or how it's affecting my thoughts and emotions etc but then I am on a path similar to Buddhist meditation like vipassana. So what is it in the hesychasm tradition that distinguishes it from the eastern forms of watchfulness? How does one go past self-contemplation to contemplation of God? How does struggling with the passions lead to metanoia in the Orthodox Christian sense as supposed to transformation in the Buddhist sense? How does Buddhist compassion relate to Christian Agape?
I see that I have gone further in intermingling and muddling the terms, but frankly I don't know how to be clear. The muddle reflects rather well my current (lack of) understanding. Even the word 'light' seems to relate to both consciousness and Love. Yet the light of a light bulb does not compare to the light of the Sun...
I am genuinely drawn to Orthodoxy and its understanding, but as someone with past experience in other spiritual traditions I find it hard to come to clarity in understanding the difference in praxis.

Edited by Jan Sunqvist, 07 July 2010 - 12:17 AM.


#7 Paul Cowan

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 03:00 AM

I can not even begin to address Buddhism. sorry.

All I know is God takes us where we are now and baby step by baby step we learn to love Him as He does us in all our fallenness. As St. Paul says; from milk to meat. (major paraphrased there). But as we grow in God we learn. What do we learn? it is babystep by baby step. We ask questions, we find answers; sometimes. We grow closer to Him, not ourselves. As we grow we learn we are nothing compared to what He has provided for us here on earth.

We can watch ourselves internally and externally. We can be aware of ourselves internally and externally. At some point, we get tired of looking at ourselves and look to Him that made us what we are. We gripe and complain about it to Him and we, if we are mature enough, get over ourselves. We get past our family of origin hangups. We get past the fact we are always going to be who we are. We get to the point that in order to Live, we have to get past our selves and live for others. As Jesus said, "what you have done for the least of these...".

We can try to watch our thoughts. Well, at least for the second we are thinking about it. Like right now I am typing this to you. [pause] I see next to me the 2 books I am reading and wondering how long it will take me to finish them, and beside that is my wife's Sims game and a photography book. 2 things I will never want to pick up. [pause] Oh, now back to what I was saying. We can watch our thoughts for a second or two. [pause] yeah, I closed the refridgerator door. [pause] but past those 1 or 2 seconds, its pretty dog gone hard to [pause] oh never mind [pause] keep one's mind focused on myself let alone God.

That;s why we have icons to put all around our homes, office, car, gym locker, tool shed, garden, kitchen, bedroom, garage, wallet and anyplace else I can think of so I can at least think of God between those [pauses]. St. Paul says pray without ceasing. He means the Jesus prayer. Start there. DOn't do the breathing thing, don't posture your body lke the monks do. Just pray the words and don't do more until you talk to your priest.

Paul

#8 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 03:51 AM

Thank you, Paul.

#9 Rick H.

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 12:46 PM


What is the relationship between our Consciousness and God's uncreated energies and God's Love?

In Orthodox understanding, what is the relationship between consciousness and unconditional Love?

Does practicing watchfulness in itself lead to purity and Love? Or is watchfulness/consciousness only a means towards resisting the passions and the devil?

Is the devil/evil conscious?

So what is the relationship between consciosness, inner knowledge of Truth on the one side and Agape and God's uncreated light on the other?

So what is it in the hesychasm tradition that distinguishes it from the eastern forms of watchfulness?

How does one go past self-contemplation to contemplation of God?

How does struggling with the passions lead to metanoia in the Orthodox Christian sense as supposed to transformation in the Buddhist sense? How does Buddhist compassion relate to Christian Agape?

How does Buddhist compassion relate to Christian Agape?



Jan, I really wish I could find a series of posts by Father Raphael for you to read, but I cannot find them here. They were in a thread titled, "The Heart of Salvation." This thread was ultimately divided up and turned into several more specific threads, I have not been able to find this and other certain posts since then.

In this thread we had a very fruitful discussion about a hypothetical Buddhist man. I posed many of the same questions that you have here recently, and Father Raphael wrote about "paths, seeds, & shells" in a very illuminating series of answers. In this thread we saw that there is overlap as you point out and as Father Raphael wrote in this thread, the path for a Buddhist man may turn into the path to Salvation, and there are seeds that germinate which lead to salvation and the Buddhist man does in fact crack some shells with his efforts. I really wish I could find this for you and some other pieces because I see the sincerity in the questions you have written above.

Also, I can share with you something that I did not know when I first started asking some of the same questions that you are asking now. Some Orthodox folks are very sensitive about even the mere mention of the word Buddhism, let alone any comparisons that may be made in praxis. I found this out the hard way here on this forum, but I think most or all of the community members who had a severe reaction to my questions are gone now. But FWIW, I will share this with you in case it increases your awareness.

But, at the end of the day, if a discussion is sparked here in this thread, I think you will find that much like Buddhism, there are different schools of thought, there are different trains of thought about the questions you have posed. You will hear different things from different people. You may hear many cliches used that are virtually meaningless to a seeker such as yourself. And, in many ways you may end up right where you are now. Or, you may see some parallels as well as a point of departure between the way of the Buddha and the way of Orthodoxy. I suspect you already know that we Orthodox do stand on separate shores from the Buddhist. While one may hold to a theology of hope, and one may hope that while we are clearly climbing separate mountains that we are all on the same mountain range . . . there is a clear division of paths.

However, it is not crystal clear to me where this point exists. The Buddha taught of a spiritual path that leads to "natural freedom" in which we find freedom from the illusion of separation. He taught the way out of this is to find liberation of the heart which is love/lovingkindness and this by means of a living tradition of spiritual practices that cultivate love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

The Buddhist teacher will teach that these four states of consciousness are the most beautiful and powerful states of consciousness we can experience and together they are called in Pali, the language spoken by the Buddha, the brahma-viharas, the heavenly-abode.

So, to participate in the living tradition of Buddhist spiritual practices is to find transformation and to abide in a state of heavenly consciousness. But, possibly some questions that may help are:

1.) What is the role of Grace in the Buddhist tradition, and what is the role of Grace in the Orthodox tradition?

2.) When we practice such as the Buddhist way, as would lead us to the brahma-viharas, at what level are we being affected with such as lovingkindness meditations?

3.) Is it ultimately the natural uncreated light that we seek to acquire, or is it something else?


So, this is offered, Jan, as a possible conversation starter that may attract others so that you may possibly benefit, God willing, from this discussion as I have in the past. Possibly, you may even be blessed by a visit her from Father Raphael. So, I guess we will see. Hopefully, you will keep some of my disclaimers in mind above to avoid some surprises or disappointments . . . sometimes we learn quickly, and we get our questions answered clearly. But, other times, we go through long and extended journeys through various no-man's lands and ironically suffer a bewildering sense of separation as the reward of our efforts to seek connection/communion.

#10 Rick H.

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 01:52 PM

I found most of the conversation that I was looking for here:

http://www.monachos....hells#post46357

#11 Rick H.

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 01:53 PM

Possibly, any interested can start around post #173 in the above thread.

#12 Rick H.

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 02:05 PM

I thought this was very good by Fr. Raphael, from The Heart of Salvation thread, and I think it speaks directly to this thread as well:


There are two realities to tie together. Otherwise we fall into one of two mistakes each just as serious as the other.

One of these realities is that there is the Body of Christ wherein is found Truth Incarnate.

The other is that all that is good & beautiful must also be a reflection of Christ's Truth.

The Holy Frs struggled with these two constantly and often stressed one over the other according to circumstance.



#13 Rick H.

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 02:44 PM

One would really have to read and track with the flow of the conversation in the other thread to understand in a fuller way what is being said, but here is more from Father Raphael in that conversation:


--Maybe the 'good' Zen Buddhist cracks other shells, real shells even.

--But only in Christ will he [the 'good' Zen Buddhist'] begin to crack the one shell that really waits breaking from all of us.


I'll quit now! ;)

#14 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 04:41 PM

Dear Mr Sunqvist,

What do you mean by 'our consciousness' in your original post?

INXC, Fr Irenei

#15 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 07:55 PM

Thank you for the link, Rick. I need some time to digest whats written in that thread.

Fr Irenei, what I meant by 'our consciousness' in the original post is the consciousness of a human being. The consciousness of an 'average' fallen man.

To answer what is 'consciousness' I most definitely am not able to. Like the concept of 'time' people of all sorts of scientific and spiritual backgrounds have much to say about it, but it almost always falls short.

Perhaps the way I phrased it is also misleading, because by 'our' I did not mean to imply that we possess consciousness. From my limited and possibly flawed understanding, we are given consciousness, we receive it from moment to moment. It is extremely difficult to say anything about it, so I can just ask questions. For example - What is the awareness of a living being, an animal, and where does it come from? What is the awareness a man has of himself? Does consciousness have 'levels'? For example, when I stare at a movie, and am so absorbed into what I am watching , is my state of consciousness the same as when I by grace remember that I am here on Earth and that there is a higher spiritual Truth above me of which I am almost always unaware of and of which I understand so little?

Talking about these topics, although extremely interesting is not really the reason I asked the original question. Not so much to get a verbal answer, but to share a wish to understand and ask for help to understand the relationship between 'consciousness' and God's Love, Love which awakens the nous and transforms the consciousness of a fallen man.

Edited by Archimandrite Irenei, 08 July 2010 - 02:49 PM.
Added blank lines between paragraphs


#16 Rick H.

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Posted 08 July 2010 - 01:30 PM

. . . the relationship between 'consciousness' and God's Love, Love which awakens the nous and transforms the consciousness of a fallen man.



Hi Jan,

If I am tracking with you here, I am glad no one asked me to define 'Consciousness' as I think you have used it in your first post. I did notice that you capitalized the 'C' in your first usage of the word (So, while I would not want to have to define Consciousness, I'm not so sure you didn't chicken out a bit with the explanation). And, knowing I might be out in left field here, and might even be projecting somewhat . . . I have wondered about too about your initial question as well:

I would like to ask for guidance as to what to read in order to understand how Orthodox Fathers understand Consciousness. What is the relationship between our Consciousness and God's uncreated energies and God's Love?


Yes, a love that awakens, very good. I would think that to consider our consciousness and God's uncreated energies, and God's Love together as being as being very much Orthodox in terms of participation, transformation--especially in early stages.

And, you other repeated references to non-Christian Eastern approaches cause me to consider the possibility that there is to some degree a question behind the question. But, then again, I might just be projecting here. Because, as any who have had experience with other non-Christian Eastern approaches (viz. meditation practices), the very question, just as you have asked it would eventually surface as it relates to even an introduction to Eastern Orthodoxy. And, when this may happen, again, I think Fr. Raphael speaks volumes in his writing on this subject, especially in what I presented yesterday:

There are two realities to tie together. Otherwise we fall into one of two mistakes each just as serious as the other.

One of these realities is that there is the Body of Christ wherein is found Truth Incarnate.

The other is that all that is good & beautiful must also be a reflection of Christ's Truth.

The Holy Frs struggled with these two constantly and often stressed one over the other according to circumstance.


"How do the Orthodox Fathers understand Consciousness?" This is the initial question. The final question was a request for help " . . . to understand the relationship between 'consciousness' and God's Love, Love which awakens the nous and transforms the consciousness of a fallen man."

You might have to give Fr. Irenei more to work with in order for him to engage fully on this. But, otherwise, if you want anymore questions answered that were not actually asked, then you know who to call! :o)

#17 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 08 July 2010 - 03:15 PM

Dear Mr Sunqvist,

Thank you for clarifying what you meant in your original message. I am glad to gain some small degree of understanding of what you intend when you use the rather vague term 'consciousness'. Today, outside of medical contexts (where it is unquantifiable, but tends to mean simple 'mentally alert' or 'cognisant/awake'), it is an essentially meaningless term in and of itself, given its use as a kind of 'umbrella' for every form of mental state / condition / self-awareness, etc.

For information, the term itself is Latin (conscientia) which literally means 'knowledge' (scientia) 'with' or 'together' (con-); or, in other words, shared knowledge. It is an old legal term, generally employed to talk about shared knowledge of a case, an event, the shared/common knowledge of witnesses or evidence in a trial, etc. -- most often carrying some nuance of moral knowledge (i.e. the shared knowledge of right and wrong). Only from the 17th century do we start seeing it used in anything but this manner; and in the late 17th century it undergoes a radical shift, suddenly being taken by certain influential writers to mean precisely the opposite of its traditional intention: personal moral knowledge and personal moral identity (despite the fact that the term itself implies communality, a knowledge that comes from being together). This new personalised intention was how it was very famously used by John Locke, who had an enormous influence on shaping the understanding and usage of the term in the later West. Today it is essentially a hodge-podge term, used as an umbrella for any and every condition of the 'self' (another term with little concrete meaning in modern usage); and because of this has become extremely popular with various quasi-religious movements, as a way of describing conditions of the 'self' that 'transcend' body, thought, reason, etc.

You won't find much in the Fathers on 'consciousness', largely for the reason of it having meant something concrete for most of history, and something quite different than what is generally assumed today. However, what you are really looking for, if I understand your most recent words correctly, is actually information on the mixture of the facultative powers of the human person, on which the Fathers do comment a great deal. You wrote:

For example - What is the awareness of a living being, an animal, and where does it come from? What is the awareness a man has of himself? Does consciousness have 'levels'? For example, when I stare at a movie, and am so absorbed into what I am watching , is my state of consciousness the same as when I by grace remember that I am here on Earth and that there is a higher spiritual Truth above me of which I am almost always unaware of and of which I understand so little?

The concepts you are actually hinting at here are properly awareness, reason, watchfulness and perception, which are all quite specific powers and disciplines of the human creature, and which only get confused if one attempts to fold them all into a generalisation such as 'consciousness'. If you focus on such terms and disciplines, you will find a great deal in the Church Fathers.

You also wrote:

Talking about these topics, although extremely interesting is not really the reason I asked the original question. Not so much to get a verbal answer, but to share a wish to understand and ask for help to understand the relationship between 'consciousness' and God's Love, Love which awakens the nous and transforms the consciousness of a fallen man.

One will not really find the Fathers speaking in such amorphous terms as God's love 'transforming the consciousness' of man. Rather, what we tend to see is description of God's love awakening deadened spiritual perception, purifying the senses and intellect to see into the deeper realities (logoi) of creation and the divine economy, leading one by ascesis to a state of trained watchfulness that offers a true perception of spiritual reality, etc. The specific powers of the human heart and will, deadened by sin, are purified and strengthened; and the disciplines by which true humanity is lived out, abandoned by estrangement, are newly fostered. And so we do not find the Fathers speaking even in parallel to ideas of a 'transformation of consciousness' (which is largely a mental, cognitive idea of 'awareness' and self), but a transformation of the heart - which is the concrete spiritual and physical core of the human will and nous.

INXC, Fr Irenei

#18 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 08 July 2010 - 06:51 PM

Thank you both for replying.

Rick, I think the quote of Fr Raphael is golden.

Fr Irenei, I am afraid I am not able to put my question in terms that could be clearer. In respect to etymology I can't resist to bring up the coincidence that the words 'Consciousness' and 'Conscience' have the same root in English/Latin, as well as some other Slavic languages. This, I think is very much related to my original question.

I have found reading a lot of threads on this forum very helpful, and it is not that I don't wish to continue discussing this question, but at this moment I feel that I wish to talk to someone in person about it. As Rick rightly sensed, there are questions behind this question, related to my experiences in non-Orthodox spirituality. If anyone feels they may be able to help me find an appropriate person to talk to, please send me a private message where I could feel more comfortable with personal details...

Thank you all, I look forward to continuing to explore this forum.

#19 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 02:28 PM

Consciousness is always consciousness of something. The reason why the Niptic Fathers are such great psychologists is that they understand and appreciate, via empirical knowledge, that our thoughts are always oriented toward some "object" of desire. i.e. you can't have consciousness of nothing.

There are two ascetic traditions regarding this. One is to crucify desire altogether. The other is to properly orient desire (eros) toward its rightful, natural "object." I place the word "object" in quotes because obviously God is not an object but a Presence (parousia). It's interesting that there is much more focus on the problem or question of consciousness among modern philosophers than there is among Christian theologians these days. On the one side you have the nihilistic philosophers (a contradiction of terms to be sure) and on the other side you have what one might refer to as the philosophers of transcendence or the philosophers of Being. A lot of good work on this subject was done by Eric Voegelin whose historical studies led him to conclude that a philosophy of consciousness was required in order for anything else to make any sense. And he came up with some very useful parameters and insights, drawing on Plato's experience of the in-between (which is also found in the Philokalia), and his seminal essay called "The Beginning and the Beyond." He found that consciousness is a structure that can be examined, that it is analogous to the structure of reality as a whole. His desire was to restore philosophizing as a science, but I think he could have benefited from examining classical Orthodox sources such as the Niptic Fathers and St. Maximos. According to his wife he had a death bed conversion to which she sarcastically responded: oh, fine, now that it's too late for you to write about it...!

One way to simplify it all is to simply say that consciousness IS God's presence. But one has to deal with the problem of the deformation of consciousness and I think it is valid to examine this beyond such simply blaming it on sin and the devil.

BTW, from all that I have seen and read and thought about on the subject, to refer to "our consciousness" is the beginning of the problem of deformation. For me to say "my" consciousness is inherently a deformation of consciousness because it assumes a self-contained entity called the "I" and it fails to adequately address that there has to be a partner for there to be such a thing as consciousness in the first place. The phenomenon of consciousness implies participation in a beyond consciousness.

You won't see anything in the Niptic Fathers referring to "my" nous, or "my" awareness. They say "nous" or "awareness" as transcendent realities in which we participate.

#20 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 02:36 PM

OK, ok I was wrong, technically speaking. St. Simeon does refer to our nous:

"He who does not have attention in himself and does not guard his nous, cannot become pure in heart, and so cannot see God. "He who does not have attention in himself cannot be poor in spirit, cannot weep and be contrite, nor be gentle and meek, nor hunger and thirst after righteousness, nor be merciful, nor a peacemaker, nor suffer persecution for righteousness sake." (St. Symeon the New Theologian.)

However, I can confidently say that St. Symeon is not arguing that that is the whole story. There is no such thing as our nous without Nous.




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