Things I wanted to say during my dharma talk this morning but never got around to including (quite possibly because I've been out rock 'n' rolling all week):
The universe appears to be composed of matter and energy, and life and consciousness appear to be byproducts of configurations of matter. That is to say, there is first matter, then matter assumes biological forms, and then biological forms give rise to sentient beings, from which in turn arises consciousness.
But there's an interesting thing we can all see about the nature of consciousness as opposed to the nature of matter. Concrete forms, like water or human beings, have measurable properties, like temperature, viscosity, weight, and density. All of these properties are not the things themselves, that is, they are not the water or the human beings, but the attributes of the things by which we know them. We have no first-hand experience of water or human beings other than the information about them that we can perceive.
But we have no way of measuring any direct attributes of consciousness. Things would be so much simpler if we could - we would be able to tell if, say, a fetus in the first trimester or a comatose patient in a vegetative state had consciousness or not, and make decisions accordingly.
But consciousness itself is not a measurable property of some underlying form. We can detect neural activity, we can record our thoughts and memories, we can even quantify intelligence and problem-solving abilities, but these are properties of consciousness, and not consciousness itself.
That being so, consciousness must be a first-order form that itself gives rise to second-order, measurable properties (thoughts, ideas, memories, etc.) and not be a second-order property that arises from biological substrates. That is, consciousness does not arise from brains, but must exist at the same level as organic matter. I'm not denying the co-dependency of organic matter, like sentient beings and brains, and consciousness, any more than I would deny the relationship between plants, soil, and sunlight, but just as plant life is not a measurable property of soil and sunlight but a separate but interdependent phenomena in its own right, so too are consciousness and biological matter interdependent but equivalent. And since all biological matter are first and foremost matter, consciousness and matter are fundamentally existent at the same level, and quite possibly are one and the same thing.
I realize that all of this sounds hopelessly philosophical. But even while a growing number of physicists suggest that consciousness may play a much more fundamental role in nature than scientists previously believed, we can directly observe this fundamental nature of consciousness through meditation. Upon seeing the peach blossoms in the spring, Lingyun had an awakening, and later he told an assembly of monks that when all else is stripped away, there remains only an underlying, luminous and all-pervading consciousness, which is eternal.