Consciousness – what is it really?

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Let me begin with the Mandukya Upanishad. I find it useful at times to start with the end, to grasp the middle, and then the whole. So for this piece I begin with the last sutra. It is said, that the essence of Vedanta is contained in the Mandukya Upanishad, which has in all just 12 verses. If this understood, all spiritual texts are understood. Hopefully, this would be worth grasping. 🙂

Verse 12. The fourth is soundless: unutterable, a quieting down of all relative manifestations, blissful, peaceful, non-dual. Thus, OM is the Ātman, verily. He who knows thus, merges his self in the Self – yea, he who knows thus. – Mandukya Upanishad

Consciousness is the Absolute One. The One that has no second. (Advitiya or ekmevaadvitiiyn). Everything IS Consciousness (Brahman). Everything (if there is such a thing) does not exist in Consciousness: It is consciousness. It is Fullness of everything. Yet it has no ‘thing’, so it can be said to be No-thing. It is pure awareness – here now. Ever Present. Brahman is the figurative Upadana – both the principle and the cause.

Consciousness is present to all of us: we are conscious to our thoughts, we are conscious to our sensations, we are conscious to our perceptions. Yet, even more importantly we are conscious to our own Consciousness. That’s why we can say, I am aware of my thoughts, and yes I am aware of You sitting on the chair, and yes I am aware of my back resting on the seat. But what’s really incredible we can also say, I am Conscious! Consciousness is real, and for Scientist it continues to be the ‘hard problem’ – what causes its’ physiology, its’ phenomenon?

Consciousness is who we are! It is us every moment, if only we can see it. Verily, no experience can take place, either of thought, perception or sensation unless Consciousness is present. What is thought, perceived or sensed requires awareness. For without the awareness there would be no experience – no object, no scenery, no sensation. Again, when we say ‘seer’, the ‘seeing’ and the ‘scenery’: all of this is a substance of Consciousness. The observed is the observer itself. It is awareness being aware of itself. There is no witness and a doer: both are substance of the same Consciousness, from which all manifestations belong.

Yet, it is all that is containable, yet it is not a container. All sounds are modifications of it, but it’s true nature is soundless; all forms are awakened, yet itself it is formless. All elements are perceived of its form, yet it is not perceiving; it is in the nature of the perception itself. It has no beginning (was never created) nor will ever cease. It has no time nor space. These are illusions of the mind, which itself is an illusion, when the phenomenon is divided off from itself. Consciousness is not an entity, located in space and time. It is absent of time or space.

The atman (is but an immutable, indivisible part of the Brahman (aka consciousness). It is the substance of the Brahman. It is not born of it, it is it. I am that, is the oft repeated clarity provided in the multitudes of the Upanishad.

Again it is incorrect to say, that once this is realised, that it merges ‘self into Self’ – that is a notion of dualistic. There are no two entities. Recognising this is awakening to one’s self, sometimes referred to as Enlightenment. When you say Steve realise that you are playing the role of an ‘actor’- when you awaken to this fact, the ‘actor’ dissolves, only Steve remains. You have always been Steve, yet awareness that has always been present, has been veiled to the true nature of your being.

The actor is very much existent, but is an illusion. It is the mind that creates the ‘actor’, the perception of objects, sensations and it is the actor that has thoughts.The thinking mind is pointed, it always comes up referring to ‘something’. The thinking thought creates a ‘person’ while awareness brings awareness to presence. People when relating to a pet feels its presence, and without judgement.

So what prevents us from knowing our true self?

In yogic teaching, it is said that when there is Ignorance (Avidya) of our true nature then there are hindrances which cause us to create a divided ‘ego sense’ that is identified, attached to or has aversions to objects, sensations and perceptions, that wishes to cling to life failing to realise that the true self is immortal. It is in this, that desire is born, and with it affliction and suffering. Abiding in one’s true nature of Sat Chit Ananda, all suffering drops.

Mandukya – the balance verses

Working backwards, to the all the remaining 11 Slohkas, it can now be understood that:

Awareness exists – once (awakened state) in the world of thought, perception, and sensations, with opportunities for action.

Again, it exists in dream stage, with thought, perception and sensation, without the faculty for action, but access to the unconscious wisdom, inaccessible to us otherwise, and include memories from past lives as well.

When in deep sleep, it is pure awareness, but absence of thoughts, perceptions and sensations. It is Consciousness or awareness of absence of ‘things or matter or mental stuff’.

Each of us, has awareness of the first two, and the outcomes of the third. That’s why we say we feel refreshed after a good sleep.

The fourth stage of Turiya, is when Self realises itself.

All religions in some form or the other share the non-dualistic nature of man.

How does one live in that space?

Be grateful for the glimpses. Also to bring more present awareness to routine activities as opposed to thinking. To bring ‘spaces’ in your life. What matters most in each one’s life is Now. Time dominates the surface level of reality and includes past and future. Getting what you want, and not getting what you want – both can lead to being unsatiated.

When we identify with ‘problems’ we are bound up with the phenomena. At this moment, I may have a challenge (if a wild animal creeps up suddenly). They may be pain, even an emotion. But what is the problem now? Be always in a state of surrender.

The human ego acts as a block to realising consciousness. It goes beyond selfishness and arrogance. Ego is an identification with the streams of thinking. It is the arising of thinking, and discriminating good with bad (when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden apple). There is a ‘mind made’ entity which is made up of memories and past conditioning from which we derive our sense of who we are – a split between Me (ego) and I. It is an identification with thought forms, emotional forms, which makes us ignorant to our bigger self. As also with the other, we objectify the other and fail to become aware of the aliveness of the other, and ourselves. We project, label, judge others and ourselves, using thought forms.

Am I my story? If not, then who are you? It’s fine to recall, but one should immerse but not be immersed in the past. You ought not to be trapped in your past history. Marketers offer us ‘exclusive labels’. We are also competing for negative moods –“ you say you are having a headache, I have even worse.’ Ego wishes to be right all the time. It loves conflict with others. Its needs to emphasise self and the other.

Consciousness exists at many levels – outwardly and inwardly. As one draws inwards one gets closer to the source of light. Let me end with the Mundukya Upanishad 1.1.7: “ As a spider projects forth and draws back (its threads), as plants grow on earth, as hairs grow on the body, so does the universe emerge from the Imperishable Being.“

What does this article evoke in you? Do share your comments.

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