Colin Drake on Nonduality Street Radio

Colin Drake was my guest on Nonduality Street radio:


Here is a new article by Colin:

Awareness and the Brain
by Colin Drake

In reply to a recent article a critic wrote: ‘There cannot be any awareness unless there is one who is aware and, what/who is it that is aware? The brain of course! Before the brain existed & upon its death there was no & will be no awareness.’

This is the mind’s central argument against the realization that deeper than mind/body (which is experienced as a flow of thoughts/mental images/physical sensations) is pure awareness. (Further than that, this is what we are at this deepest level!) The argument goes that without the brain ‘we’ would not be aware (of anything), therefore upon its death there will be no awareness. This argument is based on a misunderstanding of the word ‘awareness’, which is quite understandable as I use this word in a very particular way. Which I hope will be made clear by the following excerpt from Beyond the Separate Self :

Before starting, we need to discuss the nature of awareness itself. It is obvious that we would not ‘know’ (be aware of) our own perceptions without awareness being present. This does not mean that we are always conscious of each one of them, as this is dictated by where we put our attention, or upon what we focus our mind. However, all sensations detected by the body, and thoughts/mental images occurring in the mind, appear in awareness, and we can readily become conscious of them by turning our attention to them. So awareness is like the screen on which all of our thoughts and sensations appear, and the mind becomes conscious of these by focusing on them. Take, for example, what happens when you open your eyes and look at a beautiful view: everything seen immediately appears in awareness, but for the mind to make anything of this it needs to focus upon certain elements of what is seen. ‘There is an amazing tree’, ‘wow look at that eagle’, ‘what a stunning sky’, etc. To be sure, you may just make a statement like ‘what a beautiful view’, but this does not in itself say much and is so self-evident as to be not worth saying!

The point is that the mind is a tool for problem-solving, information storing, retrieval and processing, and evaluating the data provided by our senses. It achieves this by focusing on specific sensations, thoughts or mental images that are present in awareness, and ‘processing’ these. In fact we only truly see ‘things as they are’ when they are not seen through the filter of the mind, and this occurs when what is encountered is able to ‘stop the mind’. For instance we have all had glimpses of this at various times in our lives, often when seeing a beautiful sunset, a waterfall or some other wonderful natural phenomenon. These may seem other-worldly or intensely vivid, until the mind kicks in with any evaluation when everything seems to return to ‘normal’. In fact nature is much more vivid and alive when directly perceived, and the more we identify with the ‘perceiver’, as awareness itself, the more frequently we see things ‘as they are’. (p.14-15)

So I differentiate between becoming ‘conscious’ of something, which means the mind ‘seeing’ it, which requires a brain, and awareness itself, which is the substratum in which these ‘things’ occur. So when there is no mind (brain) there is indeed no ‘consciousness’ of thoughts, mental images or sensations.

In fact one of the great values of having a sophisticated mind is that it can become ‘aware of awareness’. So a human birth is indeed fortunate for it gives us the opportunity to achieve what the Buddha calls ‘the first factor of enlightenment’ which is ‘awareness of awareness’. This is easy to see by sitting quietly and noticing how thoughts and sensations come and go, whilst ‘awareness’ is a constant conscious subjective presence.

However, even if you reject this concept of awareness, at the level of ‘becoming conscious of something’ it is easy to demonstrate that this does not necessarily require a brain; for all living things rely on awareness of their environment to exist and their behaviour is directly affected by this. This does show some ability to process incoming data and act (or react) according to this, but does not imply a ‘brain’ in the normal definition of the word [1] … At the level of living cells and above, this is self-evident, but it has been shown that even electrons change their behaviour when (aware of) being observed! Thus this awareness exists at a deeper level than body/mind (and matter/energy [2]) and at the deepest level we are this awareness! About this, Sogyal Rinpoche says, ‘In Tibetan we call it Rigpa, a primordial, pure, pristine awareness that is at once intelligent, cognizant, radiant and always awake …. It is in fact the nature of everything’ [3].

My e-book Beyond the Separate Self aims to provide a simple framework in which one can directly investigate the nature one’s moment-to-moment experience which readily reveals ‘awareness of awareness’. This may be sampled and purchased for immediate download at


[1]‘ Organ of soft nervous tissue contained in the skull’, or ‘intellectual capacity’ (OED)

[2] The theory of relativity, and string theory, show that matter and energy are synonymous.

[3] S. Rinpoche The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, 1992, San Francisco p.47

7 thoughts on “Colin Drake on Nonduality Street Radio

  1. goldenagebeyond

    You aver: ………..that deeper than mind/body (which is experienced as a flow of thoughts/mental images/physical sensations) is pure awareness. (Further than that, this is what we are at this deepest level!).
    Let me begin by saying that I like your approach in general however, you appear to be victim of your own certainty in some respects at least. First of all, is your “pure awareness” really the “deepest level”? It certainly can be detectable at a deep level, no question about that and it is “what we are” at this (whatever- the-depth) level (and quite a way beyond for that matter) but “deepest level” it is not. And why not? For two reasons really: awareness has no limit to its extent (infinite and beyond, it appears to be). You could say this infinite awareness is what we are, yes but you should not (IMHO) postulate any limit thereto by saying it is the deepest because it is with us all the time just not seen or recognized as such so really, it is present here, right now. It is not deep at all merely unrecognized (in the main). Second: there is another attribute from which this awareness emerges, the Buddha referred to it as the self-abode of reality – where reality is as something solitary, there consciousness ceases (as discrimination is no more born). Avalokitesvara terms it “prajnaparamita” – gone beyond the peak (of awareness). There are no words to describe it since it is not consciousness nothing can be reported of it. It can however, be detected in consciousness but only as a “gap” therein.
    There is also the question of how the term “mind” might be deployed. I appreciate that you are using it in the limited sense of “body-associated” but there is also a wider meaning for the term as found in the Lankavatara Sutra…… “The Mind as source of all” so to speak so maybe we can have mind and Mind as we have self and Self. Anyway, in my book “The Journey to Enlightenment”, as far as terms were defined, consciousness was taken to be merely mind at rest and mind was likewise “consciousness in motion”. Thoughts are eddies in the stream etc etc.
    So I will change everything to clearly reflect the appropriately differing usage reflected by mind as opposed to Mind as I already do with self as opposed to Self. This is a good awakening for me, thanks 4 that.
    I do not intend to suggest that I come to this “outlook” without some pre-loaded intent for I do have such. As Indicated above, I have written a book about this under the title “The Journey to Enlightenment” self-published by Lulu. A hard-copy can be obtained from directly for $12 and downloaded as a *.PDF for $5 or so. The full content can also be accessed on Most of the individual documents that make-up the final book including many others are also there as well and are available for download. The book is however, my focus for an integrated presentation. I am by training a scientist (ecologist) and at the first, after obtaining the insight that I use, I found the language of science was incompetent to the task of transfer which is why I am always looking to improve my mode of expression. Thus it is that it has taken me 14 years to reach a stage where I feel I can discuss the matter clearly. You might say that the comprehending entity involved disappeared into a cave (hidden in plain sight) in order to digest the matter for 14 years. Here is the direct link to the book and the PDF download.
    The Journey To Enlightenment by John R E Harger 237pp

    Go to for the rest including “The Journey to Enlightenment” – click on the link or search for: The Mind as Source of All . You can see the rest of the material under this link

    or you can key-in:

    Best Regards and good luck with your book!


  2. CosMic

    Further thoughts on this

    Some primitive animals such as jellyfish and starfish have a decentralized nervous system without a brain, while sponges lack any nervous system at all.

    They still respond to stimulus and are “alive” – so it cannot be that the brain is the source of awareness, right? Check Wikipedia entries for Brain (first para) and Sponge.


  3. goldenagebeyond

    What can I say other than I agree. Sponges reproduce sexually and asexually. Sexual reproduction leads to a very small multicellular ciliated larva. Nothing much is known about how the cilia are co-ordinated and they do not have any distinguishable organs but they do react either positivly or negativly to light (depending on species)and presumably settle in some places but not others (as is the case with many if not all marine invertebrate larvae). So they must somehow “know” what they are about (navigation-wise)even if only as (the result of)internal chemicals reacting one way or another to external conditions. Therefore there must be some internal switching mechanism involved (chemicals in one state or another) as they feel their way around inside the environment. But, on the face of it at least, that is the same thing that individual human neurons are capable of. Having more cells to switch with (as a human) does not change the fact that the collectivity is still just involved in switching – a big switchboard only in just the same way as a computer is merely a switchboard and not, as you correctly indicate “alive” as such. No – it is not therefore the brain itself that is aware it is rather something that merely pilots the switchboard to suite its own ends (whatever these may be). A dead switchboard is not associated with a pilot but a live one is, same for a human. It is this which allows the speck of consciousness to take into account the signals arising from the switchboard as it encounters one aspect or another of the world of name and form as it “sports” therein as mind only ie as a reactive and directive “presence”. In fact it is not this switchboard that creates the presence it is the presence (Mind Alone) that creates both the vehicle and the externality in which it sports in the instance of the now only and is thus, in effect, both the dreamer and the world at one and the same time. If you see yourself as that presence the you see who you really are. The One Self Alone.


  4. Nitram

    It’s a ancient debate: which is senior body or spirit? though clothed in modern language nothing has changed. The person asking the question is already convicted of mortality or the seniority of body, and (oddly) would defend this position as many do with every breathe.

    It’s a fundamentalism of sorts and unlikely to be relieved by mere argument, as has been shown over and over. So what is the solution?

    Since the problem is one of mis-identification, like an actor so utterly convicted of his part, such that he fears for the death of the character he portrays, it should be addressed as “Are you completely mad, friend? Where did you ever get the absurd notion that YOU are, or could be something that could even be identified with body-brain, complete nonsense of course, so there is obviously no reason to even answer such a ridiculous question”

    In the present culture of scientific materialism of which we are all convicted to some extent, such questions are taken seriously and seem completely reasonable.

    Yet there is an intuition (certain inherent knowledge) already known to all sentient beings that is: “Existence Is Never Threatened”, by any change (including death)my Teacher pointed out that flowers still bloom in the utter certainty of death and annihilation, as do people. My favorite cowboy Black Jack Ketchum went running to the gallows, as they noosed him up, he quipped “I will be in hell a’fore breakfast boys.. let her rip” Bravado perhaps, a thug no doubt, but a pointer to our inherent Unthreatened Existence, our certainty of Eternal Life (not as a separate embodied ego-entity though)Every body already really knows this (on some level)how could one ever take a happy breathe if blank mortality was the Truth, joke with a friend, kiss a loved one. The ever blooming flowers tell you this.

    The person mentioned would not be convicted or moved by this pointing out either, but that’s why we must incarnate IT into our own lives, to brighten and humour such.


  5. Zenrin

    It’s very difficult to imagine an awareness without the faculties of perception, recognition, memory, imagination – faculties that are surely associated with brain functions. It seems that we would be left with something along the lines of a sentient, animating principle – void of any attributes.

    “Noticing how thoughts and sensations come and go” surely necessitates perception, recognition and memory (at least.)

    whilst ‘awareness’ is a constant conscious subjective presence.


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