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Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Paul Gauguin

〈Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?〉

Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903

Who am I? What is mind? What is life?
In this paper, I explore the nature of human existence based on traditional eastern psychology and
modern natural science, specifically cognitive science.

Eastern Psychology

The Conscious Field

According to eastern psychology, our conscious experience can be divided into “the field of consciousness” and “the contents of consciousness.” The field of consciousness or the conscious field is “the realm” in which the function of “knowing” occurs. It is a “platform” where qualia emerges and dances. The field in which magnetic force and electric force occur is the “electromagnetic field”; similarly, the realm of the function of knowing is the “conscious field.” Here, changes in the states of the field’s activities become the contents of consciousness.

Eastern psychology highlights two activity levels in this “field,” namely the “subtle level” and the “rough level.” In our daily lives, we recognize the latter, the “rough level” of the field. The activities of the former, the “subtle level,” remain latent and are almost never recognized (Table 1).

Table 1. The Various Characteristic of the Mind
  Field Level Subtle Activity Level Rough Activity Level
Ordinary Phase
Characteristic Knowing, Field Pre-Qualia Snap Shot Duality of Subject
and Object
Semantic Processing
Judgement, Concept
Contents Emptiness Light Ever-Changing World Sensory World Semantic World
Rupa Kalapa Logic World
Awakening of Faith
in the Mahayana
(Birth and Death)
(Great Perfection)
Dang Rolpa Tsal
Tibetan Tantric
The Subtlest
The Subtle
The Rough

Subtle Activity Level of the Field

There are at least two occasions when such normally latent activities of the subtle level manifest.

One occasion is at the time of “death” (the dying moment), when the activities of the rough level start receding and those of the subtle level begin to manifest as an experience of “light.” According to Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, as the process of death proceeds, the phase of light changes. Such degrees of change can become an indicator (death indicator) of conscious level changes. Leaving the familiar world (the rough level), the dying person enters the world of light (the subtle level).

Another occasion when the activities of the subtle field manifest is during periods of extreme concentration. In Buddhism, a meditation technique called “Samatha-Vipassana” is practiced to enhance or control concentration. In this meditation practice, when the mind is concentrated, an image called “Nimitta” gradually appears. As concentration deepens, the Nimitta becomes purer and more brilliant. The degree of changes regarding this image indicates the level of concentration.

Well-trained Samatha-Vipassana practitioners start recognizing this light as activities of the subtle field (a group of subtle particles, the “Rupa Kalapa”). According to them, the world of light (subtle activities of the field) responds to various types of sensory stimulations, and the light differentiates and develops into various qualia (rough activities of the field).

The world of light lies under our sensory world. It is the primordial world where matured qualia have not yet differentiated or developed.

Rough Activity Level of the Field

Some recent European and American consciousness research scholars point out that our conscious experience comprises discrete images, similar to pictures in a movie, within a short time (probably less than several tens of a millisecond). Like an oil painting, the conscious experiences that we normally recognize are painted by qualia. However, the conscious view recognized by Samatha-Vipassana practitioners at the level of Ksana (刹那: shortest moment) is the world of impermanence where the moment qualia appear and the moment they do not are discerned. These practitioners recognize qualia not as a bundle but as a wave motion. Initially, conscious experiences have a wave nature, and similar to how waves spread on the surface of water, matured qualia spread as waves over the conscious field.

A unit (one snapshot) of conscious experience arises at this moment, and the memory of a snapshot that has already passed is integrated, constituting “the present conscious scene” that we normally experience. Information from present and past is integrated to form “the present conscious scene,” which lasts longer than several hundreds of a millisecond.

In the present conscious scene, the integration and organization of qualia leads to a bipolar structure comprising “subject” and “object” (prior to this stage, subject and object do not exist). Sensory information, such as visual, auditory, and tactile sensations are integrated and provisionally constitute the sensory world (the object). Somatic sensation and mental functions such as emotion, feeling, thought, conceptualization, desire, and will are integrated and provisionally constitute the sense of self (the subject).

The process of conceptualization and semantic processing proceeds under this dualistic psychological format comprising the subject and object. As we know, linguistic activities enhance human beings’ semantic processing ability, and human beings have created a high-order semantic and conceptual world.


The Ego, as the central function of the mind, is provisionally created by the “conscious field” and “the contents of consciousness.” When we categorize our conscious experience into the “conscious field” and “the contents of consciousness,” the conscious field seems to be the basis of the sense of self. Self always has the function of knowing. What is clearly known in the cognition process never becomes the Self. Self is always a knower.

On the field level, Self is not accompanied by the contents of consciousness and is not conditioned by the particular contents or structures. There, Self is formless; it is the knower with nothing to be known. However, once various qualia are produced by the activities of the conscious field (vijñāna: consciousness), the knower gets fleshed out by the particular contents of consciousness and becomes concrete and conditioned (Ego).

Somatic sensations in different parts of the body (rupa: matter) combine to create a body image, which provides a physical basis, sense of solidity, identity, and stability for the Self. Based on this body image, a three-dimensional sense of space (and probably sense of time) arises. In this “bodily field” of body image, the flow of sensation and feeling (vedana), perception and conception (saṃjñā), and impulse and volition (saṃskāra) converge. The totality of the activities of these five factors (vijñāna, rupa, vedana, saṃjñā, saṃskāra) provisionally creates a sense of Self in real time within “the present conscious scene.” In our daily lives, the activities of these factors are well balanced and form a normal sense of Self.

However, when psychological or neurobiological conditions disturb this balance, various types of transformations in the sense of Self are experienced (depersonalization, mystical experience, etc.).

The Absolute Perception (Non-Discriminative Perception)

As the conscious field becomes active, general characters of the mind appear with qualia, such as the wave characteristic, the integration function, and conceptualization function. In the particular condition where these functions are completely removed, the purest nature of the “field” is perceived. At that moment, the essence of the mind can be clearly grasped. At the pure level of the field, there is no object to be perceived; only the condition of “Emptiness: Śūnyatā” exists. The daily cognitive mode of the subject and object disappear. In the East, “enlightenment” is sought to directly perceive the essence of mind at this level of “field.” When the various functions of the mind are removed and its essence is disclosed, then fundamental wisdom, absolute perception (non-discriminative perception), emerges.

Cognitive Science

Scientific Approach to Consciousness

American philosopher, John Rogers Searle, classified approaches to research on consciousness into two categories, “the building block approach” and “the unified field approach.” The differences between these approaches reflect the differences between how we understand consciousness.

The building block approach regards our conscious experience as building blocks comprising units of qualia. Units of qualia, such as the color red, the sounds of a cello, and the scent of a lemon, gather like building blocks to create the mind. This is similar to the atomic theory in classical physics, which considers the conscious world as collections of basic units called qualia. The most basic strategy of this approach is to search for the related nerve activities for each unit of qualia, such as the color red or the sound of a cello in order to comprehend the basic principle for the appearance of a building block.

In contrast, the unified field approach considers that the conscious field exists prior to the existence of the contents of consciousness, and the conscious field is changed or modified through perceptive inputs. Our conscious experience is not like a collection of separate building blocks; rather, an all-inclusive “field” exists before anything, and field fluctuations create our conscious experiences. This is similar to the quantum field theory in modern physics: the conscious world is created through phase changes of the field. The most basic strategy for this approach is to closely examine the differences between the conscious and unconscious brain. Here, rather than focusing on qualia, the primary tasks are to focus on the conscious field and determine related brain activities, and then investigate the mechanism causing fluctuations or modifications to the conscious field.

The Unified Field Approach

The view that conscious experience can be categorized as the conscious field and the contents of consciousness may support the unified field approach as the more effective strategy of the two approaches. The biggest difference in the functional conditions of the brain is the presence or absence of consciousness. Finding the neurobiological mechanism that causes these different conditions is the most important theme for the research. Once this is understood, the next step is to clarify the process of the information processing of the brain regarding fluctuations or modifications of the conscious field.

According to European and American scholars’ current opinions on consciousness research and the traditional opinions of Asian Buddhist meditation practitioners, consciousness appears to be consecutive snapshots over a short time span. Thus, the neurobiological mechanism of the wave nature of consciousness must be clarified.

In our daily lives, the wave nature of consciousness is latent, and the group of qualia such as color, sound, scent, taste, touch, thought, emotion, and volition are harmonized and unified in the present conscious scene. The neurobiological mechanism regarding this unifying nature of consciousness must also be clarified.

Our conscious experiences have various general natures such as field nature, wave nature, and unifying nature. Neural activities related to these general characteristics of consciousness must be understood.

Neural Correlates of Consciousness

Presently, in consciousness research, neural activities related to consciousness are referred to as the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC). Using NCC-related terminology, neural activities related to the general characteristics of consciousness are as follows:

(1)Neural correlates of consciousness regarding its field nature: NCCf
(2)Neural correlates of consciousness regarding its wave nature: NCC1
(3)Neural correlates of consciousness regarding its unifying nature: NCC2

*NCC2 can be categorized into neural activities to form “a snapshot” unifying multiple information (sensory attributes) (NCC2-α) and neural activities to form “a present conscious” scene unifying multiple snapshots (NCC2-β). NCC2-α unifies the information regarding sensory attributes, which are dispersed over a wide area of the brain, and creates a snapshot at this moment. NCC2-β unifies the information of a present snapshot and some past snapshots (memories) and creates a present conscious scene in which “now” and “past” are combined.

These NCC groups are not neural activities related to qualia such as the color red or the fragrance of a rose. Rather, these neural activities are related to the general characteristics of consciousness, through which a present conscious scene that we feel “now/here” is formed. Within this scene, discrete groups of qualia derived from the sensory organs are focused, and a “sensory world” (the object) is created. The discrete qualia related to the body and mind, such as somatic sensation, emotion, feeling, thought, desire, and will, are integrated and constitute the sense of Self (the subject).

In future, we must clarify the concrete structures and functions of these series of NCC groups to understand the origin of our conscious experiences.


The Physical Field, the Conscious Field, and the Integral Field

Intuitively, our world seems to comprise two fields: the “conscious field” as the platform where qualia emerge and the “physical field” comprising all physical phenomena such as space, time, force, and matter. The conscious field is colored by mellow qualia, while the physical field is systematized with rational formulas.

The activities of the conscious field and the physical field are closely correlated, like the dance of light and shadow. The activities of consciousness always entail some type of physical activities as well. However, these two fields are completely different existential concepts. The conscious field is subjective, private, and first personal, whereas the physical field is objective, public, and third personal. As today’s neurobiology explains, the activities of the conscious field can be explained by the activities of the physical field as its replacement. However, the conscious field is not the same as the physical field. The subjective nature of consciousness is missing from the physical field. In the physical field, only physical information such as position, force, mass, electric charge, and spin are present, while subjective information (qualia) such as our feelings of joy, sorrow, the livid red sky, tender green trees, and sense of Self are missing. Existentially, the conscious field and the physical field are in separate states (although their behaviors are correlated). Thus, they are described as parallel fields that never cross (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Conscious Field and Physical Field

Conscious Field and Physical Field

The conscious field and the physical field bisect the world. Here, let us assume the existence of an “integral field” that consolidates the two. We cannot deny that the conscious field and the physical field may be realities in different dimensions (dualism), although the close correlation of these fields allows us to entertain the possibility that they can be included in one “field” (monism).

The World Model

For us, as human beings, the most direct reality of life is the conscious field, without which our perception, thought, feeling, will, and even sense of Self cannot exist. The conscious field is as valuable as our minds and our selves. It is the first reality we directly access in our daily lives.

We now develop a world model assuming the conscious field as the starting point.

The conscious field is essentially considered to be created based on the activities of the integral field. Activities of the integral field create the conscious field, and the activities of the conscious field produce the contents of consciousness. The subject and object arise in the field as the contents of consciousness are integrated, and then the subject (I) and object (the world) are recognized as an independent separate entity (Figure 2). Both the conscious field and the integral field are ontologically non-dividable and consecutive.

Figure 2. Integral Field, Conscious Field, Physical Field, and Ego
(1)Integral Field (X)
(2)Integral Field (X) + Conscious Field (Xa)
 + Xa
(3)Integral Field (X) + Conscious Field (Xa), Physical Field (Mn), Ego (ego)

Integral Field, Conscious Field, Physical Field, and Ego

(1)The integral field exists (X).
(2)The activities of the integral field, as a limited phase, produce the conscious field (Xa).
(3)The structure of subject and object duality appears within the conscious field.
   a)The objects materialize and form the physical field (Mn).
The sensory world (M1) materializes through the activities of the rough level of mind.

The logic world (M2) materializes through the logical activities of the rough level of mind.

The physical field’s (appearing) substantiality derives from the true reality of the integral field.
   b)Five factors of body and mind in the conscious field converge to provisionally create the subject (Ego).

In such a relationship between the integral field and the conscious field, where can the “physical field” be positioned? How do physical phenomena such as matter and force relate to the integral field and the conscious field? Assuming that in the conscious field, the phenomenon of “an apple” emerges through the function of the integral field, then the condition or function of the integral field, which causes a phenomenon in the conscious field, may be interpreted as matter or force. A physical entity (such as an apple) exists, and its physical and chemical information directly or indirectly connects with each sensory organ, which is then transformed into electrochemical signals by neurons and transmitted as a series of information to the information network system in the brain, where it is processed. The original activities of the integral field are logically understood as activities of the physical (field). A certain condition of the integral field may be recognized as a particular physical entity, and a certain function of the integral field may be understood as a particular physical and chemical function or force.

Existence and Order

As per our discussions above, we can conclude that the physical field essentially does not exist; what exists is the integral field introduced as a metaphysical field. Here, apparent substantiality is derived from the true reality of the integral field.

The integral field has order matrixes from foundation to higher levels that intertwine and influence each other, and various hierarchical units of order are evident. We interpret a unit of order as a “thing.” Specifically, a solid and persistent unit of order is treated as something stable.

A “thing” is essentially a unit of order constituting the “world,” rather than the basic constitutional material of the world. Modern science is one method to rationally comprehend the system of order of this unfathomably deep world.

The physical field is provisionally created and substantiated by the rough level of mind. First, the physical field is colored by qualia and substantiated as the “sensory world” through the function of the rough level of mind. Second, the function of the rough level of mind, which accompanies the reasoning ability of high order, substantiates the physical field as the “logical world” portrayed by equations. The conditions and functions of the integral field materialize as various worlds according to our cognitive functions.

Absolute Perception (Non-discriminative Perception)

How can the East’s ultimate wisdom or absolute perception (non-discriminative perception) be understood from the perspective of the world model based on the integral field?

There is no object to be perceived in absolute perception; it lies in the state of emptiness and the field’s level of pure consciousness. Absolute perception in the condition of emptiness seems meaningless from an ordinary cognition (discriminative perception) perspective, which is filled with the rich contents of consciousness. However, from the perspective of the awakened one, who once attained such a state, it holds more value than discriminative perception. Ultimate truth can only be grasped in that state. Compared with such truth, all phenomena grasped through discriminative perception are only relative; in other words, they are delusions.

When we seek a theoretical basis to verify the awakened one’s insight, we arrive at the possibility that the act of “knowing” as the subjective function of the conscious field is a more fundamental and basic function of the “knowing” in the integral field. In other words, the act of “knowing” is a fundamental characteristic penetrating the integral field and the conscious field. Therefore, non-discriminative perception that understands this clearly has special value and significance as wisdom seeing through the truth.

In (ordinary peoples’) discriminative perception too, the particular functions of the integral field manifest as the particular contents of consciousness. The mountains, rivers, grass, and trees that we see correspond to the integral field’s functions. The infinite varieties of the integral fields’ functions create the rich contents of consciousness. In contrast, in (the awakened one’s) non-discriminative perception, “knowing” as the fundamental function of the integral field is experienced to its maximum clarity. The moment perceivable objects disappear, the conscious field, which has until then been filled with information related to the particular function of the integral field, becomes clear, and the function of “knowing” is vividly experienced. The wisdom that clearly understands this “knowing” as a fundamental function penetrating the conscious field and the integral field will be treated as the supreme wisdom that sees through the truth transcending discriminative perception.

However, in our daily lives, the word “knowing” indicates the activities of the conscious field, which correlate to neural activities. Our daily act of “knowing” is limited to “knowing” on the conscious field level. However, “knowing” on the integral field level, as discussed here, is a more primordial mental characteristic with the potential to develop the “knowing” of the conscious field. The integral field originally possesses primordial mental characteristics, and this basic nature can develop into the conscious field under certain conditions. The primordial mental characteristic of the integral field is conditioned and embodied, after which the conscious field emerges.

Let us now imagine a choppy sea with waves splashing on the undulating water surface (an infinite number of splashes). In this example, the sea can be compared to the integral field and each of the infinite number of splashes arising can be compared to the conscious field. The splashes surface one after another from the wave motion of the sea’s surface, moving away from the sea. However, a splash itself has the same essential nature as seawater; thus, they share the same origin. A splash and the sea are homogeneous, with their basic characteristic being the fundamental nature of water that penetrates both. Knowing the basic nature of a splash is knowing the basic nature of the sea. The wave motions of the sea’s surface, which cause the splashes, are then recognized as the physical field, where the undulations can be understood as particles and forces.



The integral field, which integrates the conscious field and the physical field, is essentially the activities of “nature itself,” activities that become the basis of the conscious field and the foundation of the substantiality of the physical field. The wording of nature may emphasize the physical aspect of the integral field. Thus, to emphasize its mental aspect, we should say that the integral field is “life itself.” The integral field is the fundamental field of the conscious being, that is, of all living beings. It is the activities of life itself.

This primordial activity of life (the integral field) manifests as the conscious field. From the conscious field, I (Self) am provisionally composed. In other words, the provisionally composed Self expands to the conscious field, and the conscious field further expands infinitely until reaching life itself (the integral field). The Self arises from the field (life) and returns to the field (life).

The East’s absolute perception (non-discriminative perception) is the direct perception of primordial life. Eastern traditional thought or philosophy elucidates this indescribable primordial life through words.

Equality and Compassion

The origin of every Self lies in primordial life (the integral field). Thus, in origin, all human existence is homogeneous and equal. Consciousness emerges from primordial life. From consciousness, the Self manifests. Essentially, every Self is equal to primordial life; thus, the Self and others demonstrate equality and dignity.

The essential equality and dignity of life gives rise to compassion. Based on the equality of the Self and others, unconditional love is awakened. Compassion is predicated on the nature of life, from where it naturally appears. It is neither an enforced rule or moral, nor a particular propaganda or ideology. Compassion arising from human nature has a universality that transcends time, locality, and racial difference.


In our lives, humans evaluate the lives of others according to an individual viewpoint. Through the activities of our Ego, the aggregate of body and mind, we empirically realize the value of others’ lives. Therefore, in this life, the extent of our sympathy for others (compassion) is limited and conditioned by activities centered on the human Ego. Compassion does not manifest where there is no awareness of the value of life.

From an integral field viewpoint, every life has the fundamental dignity and equality of the infinite. The awareness of life’s infinite value enhances and extends our relative and limited function of compassion more deeply and widely. In this world, awareness of the value of life tends to diminish within the Ego’s activity range. However, life naturally tries to infinitely deepen and expand diminished value cognition. This influence enhances the awareness of life’s value, of not only a limited group of people to which we belong but also of every human being, among both familiar people and hostile people. Furthermore, transcending the boundaries of the human species, it also enhances awareness of the dignity of life of all species supporting one another. It silently tells us, who tend to love only familiar people, to love “every being.” We may experience it as a feeling of duty arising from the depths of our hearts. These silent voices become the foundation of our “conscience.”


Exploring the mind Vol.1 and Vol.2

Foreword Introduction
Part 1. The Five Aggregates and No Substantiality of Self:
The rough level of consciousness
Chapter 1. The practice of Samatha-Vipassana
  • Because we all have fundamental suffering
  • Theravada Buddhism
  • An Outline of Samatha-Vipassana
  • Top down Attention and Bottom up Attention
  • Effect of Samatha-Vipassana
Chapter 2. Analytical Data of the Mind
  • The Rough Level of the Mind (the Usual Aspect)
  • The Rough Level of the Mind (Ever-Changing Aspect)
  • Meditation
Chapter 3. Psychological Model of Self
  • Form and Sensation
  • Consciousness
  • Perception
  • Mental Perception
Chapter 4. The Neurobiological Analysis of Self
  • The Building Block Approach and the Unified Field Approach
  • Neural Correlates of Consciousness (NCC)
  • Neural correlates of consciousness regarding its field nature (NCCf)
  • Neural correlates of consciousness regarding its vibrational nature (NCC1)
  • Neural correlates of consciousness regarding its unifying nature (NCC2)
  • Semantic Processing
  • Neural correlates of consciousness regarding the sense of Ego (NCC ego)
Part 2. Light and Image: The subtle level of consciousness
Chapter 1. Light
  • Nimitta
  • Resolution of Light
Chapter 2. Light of Death
  • Near Death and Light
  • Transformation of Consciousness at the moment of death
Chapter 3. Psychological and Neurobiological Study of the Subtle Level of Consciousness
  • Activity of the Subtle Field
  • Neurobiological Interpretation
Part 3. Perfect Enlightenment
Chapter 1. Characteristics of Enlightenment
  • No object to be taken (Emptiness)
  • Awakening triggered by sensory stimulus
  • Non-Discriminative Perception
Chapter 2. Various Characteristics of Mind
  • Conclusion
  • Eastern Traditional Psychology
Chapter 3. Hard Problems of Consciousness
Part 4. Essence of World and Self
Chapter 1. Field
  • Two Fields (Physical Field and Conscious Field)
  • Integral Field
  • Non-Discriminative Perception
Chapter 2. A Mahayana Buddhism World View
  • Avatamska Sutra
  • Universal Manifestation of Truth in Everything
Chapter 3. Consistency with Science
  • Orderliness of World
  • Existence of World
Chapter 4. Multiple World Views
Part 5.  Wisdom and Compassion
Chapter 1. Life
  • Integral Field and Life
  • Equality and Dignity of Life
  • Subconscious Awareness of the Essential Equality of Everything
Chapter 2. Compassion and Virtue
  • Wisdom and Compassion
  • Virtue
Chapter 3. Free Will
  • Not to Substantiate Self (No Substantiality of Self)
  • Not to Substantiate the World (No Substantiality of the World)
  • Whereabouts of Social Responsibility
Chapter 4. Value
  • Wisdom and Value
  • Compassion and Value
  • Happiness and Value


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