The end of a long process of mental activity, not long perhaps as chronological time is involved, but long in a line of experiences and consequences, there comes consciousness.
It begins, if one may speak of a beginning anywhere at all, with a physical contact (phassa) with one of the six senses of perception (salayatana). This produces a sensation (vedana) which is the experiencing of a challenge. It is at this stage that the process tends to become mental, when the sensation is perceived (sanna).
This perception is usually a way of seizing (perception from capere, to grasp) of getting hold of the sensation for the sake of its effect, pleasurable or unsatisfactory. This seizure takes place because of the necessity of the self to continue the experience, for it is in continuation of experience that the self attempts to survive as an individual entity.
Without seizure there can be no continuation in memory and hence no survival of self. It is at this stage that the long chain of dependent origination can cease to become and continue, when sensations are experienced as mere responses to stimuli. But, when sensations are grasped at for the psychological survival of the experience, they will be seen as pleasurable or not; and in that gratification the self grows, establishes itself in memory, projects itself in ideals, and the chain of dependent origination (paticca samuppada) continues, when sensations become the source of desire (tanha) and clinging (upadana) leading to the becoming (bhava) of self-consciousness in which the ‘I’ continues.
In this process of conditioning (sankhara), the experience is no longer experienced, but its memory compared with earlier gathered experiences. Then when need has become greed. The stored or re-linking consciousness (patisandhi vinnana) can bring its idealized image up and project it for further action (bhava-kamma). This process of recognition and registration completes the process of thought, when out of decaying memory new thought and action are formulated to reform and restart the cycle of consciousness in ignorance. Only the perceiving of experiencing without thought of seizure can awaken the intelligence which can break the perpetual chain of rebirth of thought.
What is the difference between consciousness and awareness? Consciousness is thought; and thought is the result of thinking, which is a process of application of the mind with logic and memory, with volition and determination, with judgement and selection, with prejudice and ideals, with fear and hope.
Consciousness, in other words, is the ‘I’ in action which is reaction, because all thinking is the conditioned result of the entire past, not only of the individual past, but the accumulation throughout the ages of the struggles for survival, the interminal wars for emergence, the endless conflicts, with the ideas of the mind controlling the weapons of the pen and the sword. Consciousness is the past trying to become the future, without understanding the past, without knowing the future. Thus, consciousness or thinking is always in conflict; it cannot solve any problem, because it does not try to understand.
But awareness is not thinking, is not the memory of the past, is not desire, is not the longing for the future. It is just to be open and receptive to whatever is or happens. There is no approach to the present; the present is here already and we are facing it directly without fear of the past, without hope of the future. Awareness is seeing what is as it is, with openness and directness, without expectation of results, without fear of consequences, without reflection as to a self judging in prejudice. It is an immediate experiencing, in which there is no reference to self, and hence no thought, consciousness, reaction.
Unconditioned, there is no conflict, no opposition, no self. And where there is no self, there is no problem. Can the self become no-self ? Such question is obviously formulated in ignorance, for it is still the self that wants to become its ideal. Only in stilling all consciousness there can be awareness in which there is no striving for attainment of an ideal. And consciousness is still, when there is awareness of what ‘is’.