The ordinary subject-object consciousness may be regarded as a flow of consciousness from the subject to the object. The awareness is focused upon the objective content of consciousness. This content may be the sensibly given world, but is not restricted to that, for ideas may equally well serve as objects of consciousness. Likewise, even in introspection, in the usual sense, consciousness is focused upon an objective material, even though in this case the object is of a more subtle character. We may say, therefore, that characteristically subject-object consciousness has an objective vector value, to borrow a term from mechanics.
Growth of consciousness is commonly conceived as development in the sense of the objective vector. Hence we ordinarily conceive of evolution or progress as an elaboration in terms of form, a movement from homogeneity to heterogeneity, or a development from simples to complexes. This is revealed in the tendency of all cultures to become more and more complex with the passage of time.
Growth in complexity implies decrease in stability and increase of entanglement and confusion. This fact is well illustrated by the differences between inorganic and organic nature. The inorganic substances are characteristically of relatively simple composition and are highly stabie, while organic forms are highly complex and very easily subject to decomposition. Likewise, the analytic study of inorganic forms readily leads to knowledge of a high degree of dependability, whereas much uncertianty attaches to the determinations in the biologic sciences.
An error, very commonly made by the student who is seeking to understand the meaning of ‘Recognition’, ‘Illumination’ and Liberation’, is to regard these states of consciousness as the apogee of consciousness developed in the sense of the objective vector. But,in point of fact, all such movement leads to increase of instability and of bondage through entanglement. The apogee is never reached, as all objective elaborations of consciousness prepare the way for still greater elaborations without limit. Hence, great knowledge in the objective sense may actually serve as a barrier to Liberation.
Recognition and Liberation are attained by an inversion of the vector of consciousness. This means that the focus of attention must be turned toward the subjective pole and away from the objective content of consciousness. The effort must be to attain a consciousness without objective content. Such a consciousness is the ultimate of simplicity and very difficult to distinguish from sheer unconsciousness. It may be likened to a light in a space that contains no objects. It is the meditative consciousness without a seed. This is the primeval consciousness which is indistinguishable from unconsciousness.
From the standpoint of Recognition the whole value of the objective development of consciousness lies in its arousing the consciousness of being conscious. This self-consciousness is the prime characteristic which differentiates human from animal and other lower forms of consciousness. But self-consciousness must become very acute and strong before it can recognize pure consciousness apart from consciousness of objects. Pure Liberated Consciousness is consciousness in a void. The consciousness of all creatures is grounded in this, but only at the culminating stage of human consciousness is it possible to be conscious of this consciousness in a void. In general, it requires ages of evolution to attain this power.
The idea of consciousness in a void affords peculiar difficulties to those selves that are polarized toward objects. The void is such when conceived from the standpoint of objective filling. In the relative sense, Liberated Consciousness is consciousness of nothing, but it is not correct to say that It is a consciousness which is nothing. Consciousness which is nothing would be an absolute nihilism, in other words, absolute unconsciousness. Consciousness in the void actually is utter Fullness, but it is not consciousness of fullness in the sense of an objective filling apart from the Self. Consciousness in the Void is, in fact, the root source of all relative consciousness and, therefore, of all worlds. For consciousness bound in bodies, liberated Consciousness is approached as though it were consciousness in absolute emptiness, but when realized it is known to be real Substance.
It is said that Liberation destroys the universe for the individual who has attained that state of consciousness. This idea, also, is very apt to be confusing. The individual who has attained Liberation may choose to be aware of the universe, though, in so doing, he turns his back upon the pure liberated state. The universe is destroyed as the container of the individual. For the man whose consciousness is bound in a body it seems as though the universe is the matrix which contains him. But for the Liberated Soul the Self is realized as containing the universe. The universe is produced, sustained and consumed by that Self. Thus the universe is destroyed as an independent and conditioning power. As such an independent and conditioning power it is merely an illusion having only such existence as may be predicated of a mirage. It is the creation of man’s ignorance and as independent and conditioning, is destroyed when ignorance is consumed by the Fire of real Knowledge.
As already noted, the Liberated State is realized by a process of inversion, that is, a turning of the focus of consciousness from the object to the subject. This produces a universal inversion of values and, as a consequence, progress toward Liberation may be made by the appropriate application of this inverted valuation. Habitually man predicates substantiality of the objects of consciousness. By application of the principle of inversion he would predicate voidness of all objects. He could continue to study objects as terms in relation provided he persisted in denying that any substantiality inhered in such terms. He would conceive of his terms as being the forms of a real nothingness but which, none the less, could be employed to reach to real Substaniality by inversion. The discrete universe would thus become a genuine nothingness contained within an indiscrete substanial Matrix, which, in its turn, is identical with the Self.
The mirage of the universe is valuable as a means for arousing consciousness of being conscious. It does this by opposing a resistance to the free flow of primeval consciousnes. The essence of this resistance is pain or suffering and has positive value in that it forces awakening. The universe is produced as a negation of real Fullness or Substantiality. Liberation is attained as the negation of this negation.
Reprinted from a 4-page typed manuscript dated April 22, 1937 on the website of The Franklin Merrell-Wolff Fellowship. Text and photo used by permission under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-Share-A-Like 4.0 International License.
Franklin Merrell-Wolff (1887 ‒ 1985) was an American philosopher, author, and spiritual teacher.
By Franklin Merrell-Wolff
Franklin Merrell-Wolff is unique among authors of spiritual books because he had a first-rate mind (he was an instructor in the math department at Harvard), he had a first-rate Western academic education (he had a spectacular academic career at Stanford and Harvard), and he had an extremely deep level of spiritual experience. This volume contains his two most important books, Pathways Through to Space and Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object. He experienced two main stages of enlightenment, and he was particularly interested in Kant, especially Kant’s concept of the synthetic unity of apperception. Merrell-Wolff’s books are heavy going, but we know of nothing like them in the history of spiritual literature.
This page was published on April 1, 2018 and last revised on April 1, 2018.