Presence • Awakening • Consciousness • Self-knowledge • Evolution Vol 2, No 1 • JANUARY 2005
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A publication of the Fellowship of Friends

Consciousness and Functions

“One must remember that consciousness is not mind activity.”
Robert Earl Burton

Consciousness is a wordless state of presence that is simultaneously aware of itself and what it observes. This state cannot be seen or heard or touched, nor is it any of the 'I's produced by the functions of sensation, movement, thought, or feeling. Even when we notice these functions and the 'I's they produce in us, consciousness usually remains unaware of itself observing them. In the words of the system, it remains asleep.

Prompting consciousness to be aware of itself is what self-remembering has always been about for schools and those possessing school knowledge. Seventy-five years ago, Mr. Ouspensky said, “Emotion is a function and sensation is a function, but self-remembering is not. It is an attempt to create in oneself a state of consciousness without any relation to functions.” The Sufi poet, Hakim Sanai, said the same thing 750 years earlier: “Take your place in the presence of the wordless.” And 500 years before that, The Tibetan Book of The Dead offered this directive: “You yourself must recognize yourself and you must stay with that experience.”

All of these are descriptions of trying to divide attention and be present. They are all based on the knowledge that, without divided attention, the four lower centers function by themselves as we walk, talk, eat, and go through the day. Rumi said about this condition: “This place is a dream. Only a sleeper considers it real.” The sleeper is consciousness and it must remember itself to reach presence—the “wordless.”

Schools have always emphasized self-remembering as the way to awaken higher centers, or what the Sufis call “the beloved,” and what both the Sufis and the Bible refer to as “god.” Higher centers reside above the realm of imagination and have a clarity of perception that is not identified with—not attached to—the lower centers. With inner presence and calm, higher centers see the world more vividly and objectively. Higher centers can be momentarily evoked by unusual circumstances, but it is rare and unreliable. Conscious control of higher centers comes only through intensive work on self-remembering.

Schools stress self-remembering because in each moment our lower centers assert themselves at the expense of divided attention. As soon as we move, speak, think, or react, consciousness loses awareness of itself and collapses into functions. A Sufi aphorism says it this way: “The lower self prevents you from remembering god.” To remember “god,” to sustain presence, we need to recognize the full range of our functions and be vigilant about not letting the endless array of ‘I’s displace presence.

Learning to separate consciousness from functions is the special study and ultimate goal of those in a school. As Mr. Ouspensky says, “Functions can exist without consciousness and consciousness can exist without functions.” And from the Sufi, Shabistari: “Set the world [lower functions] aside and become a world within yourself.”

Links of interest on our web site
• See videos of Robert Earl Burton teaching
• Review suggested reading about the Fourth Way
• See the web site in your language (home page menu)

Introductory lectures — monthly
We offer a series of free introductory lectures in cities around the world. To register:
• Call our USA information line (1-800-642-0212),
Find a center nearest you.

1— The foundation of the Fourth Way
• Self-knowledge · Levels of consciousness
• Man as a machine · Consciousness, will, and unity
• Obstacles to awakening · Three lines of work

2— The theory of centers (requires lecture 1)
• The 4 lower centers
• The sex center
• Higher centers
• The soul, the spirit

3— Practical ways to seize and prolong presence
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
• How to introduce and sustain self-remembering

Membership information
The Fellowship of Friends is a Fourth Way school with centers worldwide. Membership is monthly. For details:
Find a center nearest you.
• Email

• Call 1-800-642-0212.

Front of a marble sphinx. Collection of the Fellowship of Friends.

Thoughts on consciousness
The term 'clear consciousness' or 'waking state of consciousness' seems to have been given in jest, especially when you realize what clear consciousness ought in reality to be and what the state in which man lives and acts really is.
George Gurdjieff
Real self-remembering is not in centers, it is above centers.
Peter Ouspensky
The practice of self-remembering or division of attention is connected with the attempt to produce…the birth of consciousness in oneself.
Rodney Collin
Consciousness is not functions. You are what observes, not what you observe.
Robert Earl Burton
Who am I standing in the midst of this thought traffic?
One thing is certain and all the rest are lies.
Omar Khayham
Someone will steal you away if you do not stay near the beloved.
Take heed… that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods…
Deuteronomy 11:16
You must know how to shield the burning candle from the winds.
The most precious of human things is the state of being occupied with the present.
Abu Said

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