The "Four Turtles" Analogy Explains the Four Divisions of Consciousness (from "Christian Cultivation")
Now you know these four basics and the problems within them, you can now navigate the waters of any spiritual path or religion. Any one. It really isn’t so complicated. I just added a lot of extra words in hopes you’ll get it, but it is fundamentally quite simple. If I made it too simple you’d miss the picture, so I’ve hammered at the fundamentals again and again from many different angles in hopes one of them penetrates through the cocoon of ignorance to let in some light.
In terms of us describing consciousness in tracing it ultimately back to its Source, all that exists are these four types of consciousness. Just four. From the standpoint of the real base, these four divisions are all illusory since it’s all one thing, the same thing in its innermost purity. So it’s not like that the makeup of consciousness is an infinite regression of knowers looking at each other as in a Godel Escher Bach drawing. It’s just four types of consciousness.
Spiritual study is so easy, but people fail to use their discriminative mind to find these four portions of consciousness. That’s why they’re lost and fall into all sorts of strange practices or interpretations of Holy books. They forget that some authors only got part of the way here, and many just wrote for their times. We cling to the words and try to make inconsequential things paramount when it’s just stupidity. If you cling to the Bible that way, you too are doomed to ignorance. You have to find its living waters and you do that by cultivating to its source.
The four types of consciousness can be reduced to three or two or one depending on how you do it. You can lump the eighth together with the seventh, and then you have just three divisions. Or you can have two divisions by lumping the sixth, seventh and eighth together as a single perceiving unit, and oppose that against the reflective consciousness made up of the five senses. Or you can just say it’s one thing because it’s all consciousness and the substance is not different. It is one in unity.
The first seven consciousnesses are no different from the base but arise in the same way that waves arise on the ocean as their support, and ripples within waves when it is all entirely ocean water. It is stirring consciousness just experiencing itself.
We can think of it like the ancient saga of four turtles that hold the world upon their backs. It’s not an infinite number of minds which know each other, like an infinite regression of mirrors reflecting each other in series. It’s just four, only four things we must understand.
We have the five sense consciousness that, as a group, provide sense impressions as the reflective consciousness. They reflect “the outside world” to us. That’s one big turtle.
To grab these images and cognize them into something with specific characteristics or limits is the second turtle of names and labels. It’s grabbing that first turtle in order to classify it.
You then KNOW this, you know what you’ve cognized. That’s the third turtle or seventh consciousness which stands behind the sixth consciousness. This is the intellect, the consciousness that can also think about things. So this third turtle is grabbing the second turtle. But we’re not done.
By the way, Shakyamuni also called this third turtle the “transmitting consciousness” because it stands in-between the activities of the sixth and eighth consciousnesses. The seventh consciousness stands between the sixth discriminatory consciousness and the purest essence of consciousness itself, overlaying the mental information with the sense of a self because of an error in clinging. That’s how it entangles the first six consciousnesses in its own fallacy.
Buddha also called the seventh consciousness, or “I am” thinking consciousness, the “defiled mind consciousness” or “afflicted mind” because it maintains this false idea of an inherent self as an internal type of addiction from is hard to break. It’s one of the main reasons why none of us are saints or spiritually enlightened, which is because we’re holding on to this notion of being an entity rather than turning around and realizing we are the source. We have to break this addiction of taking the internal seventh consciousness as a self, and then we can experience things clearly.
There is yet one more turtle. The knowing of the seventh consciousness is reflected back to the ultimate source, or fourth turtle, which is the base or essence of all consciousness. All the other turtles stand on this one, and also they are also composed of this turtle and only seeing this one because they are this one.
In a way, you can say they spiral out of it touching one another with the first turtle resting its head in its shell because that’s all it ever sees. It’s all self-referential. So the only thing you ever know and ever have known is just consciousness itself – that’s all you ever see, perceive or experience and it’s ultimately, in essence, the storehouse, container, or eighth consciousness.
It’s all just consciousness right from beginning to end. From start to finish it is all just consciousness that you ever experience. You just can’t see it so you remain blind and trapped within a world of confusion, trying to perform spiritual practices to no end. You think you’re seeing things in the world and that they are real, existent, independent things but that’s just consciousness you’re experiencing and you’ve lost sight of the source. What you’re seeing is an interdependence that arises all together, and you’re just cutting out pieces of it with your mind and thinking up things on your own and investing them with a reality they don’t have.
We can say that every one of these turtles has three modes of being. They each have a transformation mode or evolving mode because each and every moment they always seem to be changing. Although the purest, clearest base consciousness itself never changes, it, too, always seems to be changing in its unreal aspect because it manifests the world of miragelike conventional illusions.
Each turtle also has a performance or effect producing mode of being, which is another way of saying that they arise and perform their functiong. Each consciousness functions to produce results in the status of the mind.
And lastly, despite their changes they all retain their original nature, the base essence that never changes. Their essence, at its purest, is always never changing or non-moving. That’s their third mode of being.
Higher spiritual beings may be closer to the ultimate mental purity of the source than you are, but as long as they too are not enlightened, they are still caught in this self-made web of delusion of taking mental appearances as real. They too have all these parts of consciousness, but are just more pure in how they use them.
The seventh consciousness still perceives the constructed images of the sixth consciousness which categorizes the first five contributions. A grasped something is the sixth, knowing that and thinking about it is the seventh.
The authentification of that knowing is done by stainless pure awareness that is always present and never moves out of reach. Whatever arises as something known, whatever it is, is the body of the container consciousness that’s seen through the vehicle of these first components, so all you ever know is mind. It is all only Mind Only. Everything is just appearing within the one true mind. In one of the Gospels, Jesus tells the Pharisees "You will not be able to recognize the coming of the kingdom of God by external signs. Nor will you be able to say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘See there!’ For the kingdom of God is within you."
In John 17: 21-23, Jesus says, “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” In the Gospel of Philip it says, “The Christ has everything within himself— whether human or angel or mystery, and (also) the Father.” It also says, “The Father was in the Son, and the Son in the Father. This is the Sovereignty of the Heavens!” In other words, everything is Mind stuff.
Just like Jesus said, few people ever realize the Father because they never realize that all they are ever seeing or experiencing is Mind stuff, or consciousness. What is the source of the illusion or delusion? The existence of the seventh consciousness is the cause of the dualistic world we take as real, and we search for God in the false world rather than trying to lift the cover of the dualism of subject and object. We take the apparent self and its external world for the true nature of things and blind ourselves from the source. The seventh consciousness is actually pure and clean, but because of wrong habits it filters the indeterminacy of the substrate of consciousness through discriminated categories that create a self and others.
How does this wrong habit come about? It’s like naturally learning a language to which you have been conditioned right from the beginning. Whether French or German, American, Korean or Chinese, you start getting used to a language that’s always present from earliest childhood and get conditioned to it. Through constant and consistent association you pick it up as the natural tendency of expression, and assume that’s the way things are and then start attaching to it because it’s always there. The beginningless habit energy of attachment to the base consciousness arises in the same way. It just comes about for no specific reason other than as a false habit you can let go of.
Another analogy is to imagine a clear crystal placed on top of a red piece of paper. If you put the crystal on top of the paper, the crystal will look as if it’s red even though its real nature is clear clarity. If you assume the crystal is red, the error in judgment is because you’re not thinking clearly.
In the same way, pure awareness becomes colored by the perceptions of consciousness, and just as we then can mistake red for the color of the crystal, we make a mistake of assuming a false self when there is none. The clarity, the presence, the Nowness, the ultimate base is clear through and through but we lose sight of this and start attaching to imaginary things.
Buddha said you only have to get rid of the false self to arrive at the real self, to return to the real substrate of reality, and you do that by letting go of conceptions. That’s all you have to do. You practice the renunciation of letting go of your thoughts. If you let go of grasping, and the continuation of grasping that has been going on ceaselessly stops, then the pollution of clear perception naturally lifts. In Christianity we say you merge with the source from doing this, which is the immaculate ground of existence.
If you don’t let go of conceptions, you’re just cheating yourself every moment. You think you are an ego and become proud of yourself and then want more and more and more but you will never find a real thing in whatever you experience. Keep letting go of everything until there is nothing more you can let go of, and only then will you find the real you.
The problem is that you constantly cling to the body and its sensations as a force of habit, or you identify with your thoughts and emotions as yourself … all these things you take it as your self and then keep clinging to them wrongly. You just weren’t told the true way, and no one showed you or corrected your error. It’s just an erroneous habit. In the Gospel of Philip Jesus tells us about this exact spiritual practice once again. He says, “Indeed come into the house of the Father, but do not hold on to anything nor likewise carry off anything.”
The problem in spiritual cultivation is all one of clinging. We have this idea of being an ego and then we cling to it, and create the habit of clinging to it, and that erroneous reasoning and the habit energy of carrying it forward are what end up blinding us from the truth. Consciousness arises because of a body, so the “I am” consciousness identifies itself with the body and we cannot let go of the body identity to assume our real identity of who we really are.
Right now, just go ahead and show me your ego! Stop right now and find it for me right now.
You cannot – you can only find thoughts or sensations or body feelings, but no such thing as an ego or self. You are just the absolute nature, so let everything go. Be a passerby. Don’t get caught up in whatever arises in the world because it all arises without your involvement. It will all happen anyway and do what it’s supposed to do without any need of your mental clinging that keeps you bound.
If you practice identifying everything to realize “you are not this, and not that or anything else that can be experienced” then what’s ultimately left over after you subtract everything else out will be the real you, the real self. You have to find that one and stay in it for your spiritual life to unfold and develop.
You don’t need to analyze the mind into infinite components to understand the basis of this because that’s wrong. It’s not like you observe the mind, and observe that you have a mind that observes the mind, and so on in infinite regress. It’s so easy that even a child gets it. There are only four components in total. Just four turtles you need to understand. You have to focus on methods that purify the second and third turtles, the sixth and seventh consciousnesses because the eighth is already pure and the sense organs produce pure reports.
You can even think of these four types of consciousness as a lump of clay. Clay, as you know, is made up of dust particles that are its substance. The lump of clay is no different than its particles because if it was different then you could never produce a lump of clay out of them. If there is no difference between the clay and its particle components, however, then the lump would be indistinguishable from its particles also. The clay and its components seem separate but are the same, the same and yet separate. The example is simple enough. The various consciousness are no more than manifestations of the root consciousness, the true Mind. They are no more than manifestations of the One Mind and they are illusory, unreal manifestations because they never stay changeless but always depart.
If you just sit down and apply clear discrimination you’ll find the four parts just as I led you through them, but the fault of Christianity is that hardly anyone ever does this anymore. “Believe this, believe that” is common, but no one examines how you actually spiritually realize something … anything! Isn’t that crazy? No one is teaching you how to find God and I was able to lead you through in a few minutes. Why aren’t they doing this?
This is the crux of the matter, and everyone skips over this, the most crucial part. If you don’t understand this you won’t get anywhere no matter how many hours you participate in the Church congregation.
People don’t teach this in Sunday school but the real Christian spiritual practice is to trace this route back to the source, for that’s the only way you can find God. You cannot find God any other way except through the avenue of the mind.
If you don’t understand this information, how will you pierce the veil and rend is asunder to know God? Will you do it by attending Christmas or Easter services or by singing songs, reciting hymns or lighting candles in Church on Sunday?
We take Christ as our savior because he achieved this oneness with the Father we’re talking about, taught us how to do so, and promised he would lead us there. We need but copy his example.
Don’t be so prejudiced as to think that Jesus was the only one. Humble yourself to go check perhaps a spiritual school like Advaite Vedanta and you’ll see that the sages in the East also wanted to return to the fundamental source. So if they don’t say anything that offends us, why can’t we look at what they have to say, especially if it agrees with us. The Apostles only recorded a few hundred of Jesus’s direct words of teaching, and who knows what they left out and if they even recorded it correctly. Only a few hundred! We already know they differ on so many details because humans are fallible, that’s just the way it is. Frankly, they’ve left us a pitiful amount of all his teachings and words. If you stop concentrating on trying to interpret these differences and turn inward and experience just the Source, in that way you will win ever lasting life and spiritual liberation because those are the attributes of the Source.
One spiritual school may call the ultimate objective God, another Allah, another Brahman, another absolute nature, another Buddha nature, another true Self, another ultimate Source, but if they all refer to something real, eternal, pure, ultimate, infinite and the function of that real essence is pure, undivided awareness. There cannot be two independent things that have these same characteristics but are different. Two pure, infinite, eternal entities cannot exist. There can only be one. Everyone is after the same One Thing, the same common ultimate essence. When different schools talk about God as a living being that’s something else but when they are talking about this original One, they are all pointing to the same moon, so-to-speak.
If the original essence did not function with the power of radiant awareness, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place. There wouldn’t be life or sentience or consciousness or being or however you want to say it. That’s just its nature, that’s just what comes with it. There’s no purpose to it other than that is what is.
The pure awareness of our original host has no shape or form and is perfect as it is, and it is always perfect. But when it comes into contact with consciousness, the world springs up. So the base of our spiritual nature is actually the perfect, nonmoving, undifferentiated, indeterminant, formless Self that have the ability of awareness. That Self is what you are ultimately perceiving or experiencing all the time – just your true through the display of all existence. Anything you have seen, thought or understood you cannot be, so This One is the real you. It is totally different than anything that can be understood.
The base of consciousness is the body of all experience and the container for all experiences, so we can call it the container or storehouse consciousness. This is what you want to reach because this is where it all springs from. This, my friend, is the unfathomable God of which the Bible speaks. Please don’t turn this into a person. When you do that you slight the scriptures.
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