My limited understanding is that although we talk about 'consciousness' as being one single thing, it is actually not a thing, but a lot of events going on at the same time, very very quickly. So, you have to have causes and conditions for these events to occur, or else they won't.
The brain is made up of chemicals...salts and acids and water and so forth. From what I have heard, minerals cannot spontaneously begin thinking. So, while there is nothing in the physical makeup of the brain that can cause a thought, the brain provides a very suitable environment for the causes of thought to be 'reflected' so that they appear as something we call consciousness, or, as I prefer 'cognitive awareness' meaning that there is some action of witnessing what goes on in the physical brain...the light that comes into the eyes, the air molecules that beat against the ear drum, and of course, dreams.
As an analogy, suppose there is a full moon at night, set against a perfectly black night sky. We know that the moon is reflecting photons, or light particles, which radiate from the Sun. usually, people say that the moon reflects light from the Sun, but this is not really the case, because what we rarely consider is that, streaming all around the moon in that pitch black sky are just as many, and more, electrons. They don't actually appear as 'light' until they bounce off the moon. We don't see them because they are not being reflected by anything (well, technically they are, but we can't see that, and this is just an analogy). Futher, they don't appear as light to us until they go into our eyeballs, and are interpreted as 'light' by our cognitive awareness.
What I understand is, that the causes of cognitive awareness, the activity which becomes thoughts in our minds, includes everything, and I think this can be called dharmata and it some situations, as dharmakaya when it is clearly reflected without any distortion as Buddha. I am really bad with terms, so I do not mind being corrected on this.
What I understand is that through interdependent arising and karma, different types of beings arise, such as animals and humans, and hungry ghosts, etc. and that they all experience the same basic dharmata, but what they experience differs due to the fact that the 'environment' meaning the mind of each type of being has different sorts of obscurations and what they experience is merely a projection of their own minds, and if you want to get down to it, what they are as 'physical' beings is also a projection of the mind.
So, for example, while a dog and a human might each experience an encounter with freshly tilled soil, the experience will be totally different because the dog smells a million more things in the soil than the human does. The various conditions which have come together to produce a dog also provide the ideal environment for hearing like a dog, and being able to smell things the way a dog does.
So, while all of my understanding may in fact be a lot of misunderstanding, the point is that what we call "consciousness" arises from the interaction of continuously changing conditions, and that the various causes of consciousness do not appear as consciousness, or thought, or perception, or as dreams, until all the right conditions come together.
Now, as far as "what actually witnesses this coming together of events?" I think I used to know, but I forgot.
Last edited by PadmaVonSamba
on Mon Jun 13, 2011 2:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth. Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.