Consciousness is the all pervading reality. Consciousness in Sanskrit means chaitanya. Its root word is chit, which means light or knowledge. Consciousness is the source of this multidimensional universe. Every field of research has their own views about consciousness. They have their own limitations in explaining consciousness. Except spirituality, no other field could reach the depth of consciousness. The reason is, the truth is very simple but we make it more complicated because of our ignorance. Consciousness cannot be described or defined. It is so subtle, pure, simple and infinite. We can talk and write about consciousness, but the real consciousness is to be perceived by one without any duality. Every mind expresses a different aspect of consciousness. The supreme consciousness is more than all these. Every field is trying to analyze consciousness in the way they think to be the best and perfect, yet they could not reach the goal. In this frustrated approach and search, they contradict and disagree with the research done by the other fields. Only the Indian Rishis were able to penetrate to the depth of consciousness by their incredible knowledge gained through meditation. They were able to radiate their inner feelings to others through their writings and teachings. Let us now discuss about how the other fields have slipped away from the path of reality.
Science – Its external analysis to know the inner truth
Consciousness until recent times was analyzed by philosophers and religious practitioners. Recently many scientists are interested in doing research in this field, which opens up only to spirituality. In the modern world there is a feeling that there is a close embrace between science and spirituality. Science which was dealing only with matter wants to penetrate into the field of consciousness. It wants to give scientific expression for consciousness. At the higher states of consciousness, there will be no mind or science.
Science is empirical and experimental. It cannot go deeper than what the five sense organs (jnanaindriyas) can perceive. Modern science feels that consciousness is part of the body. Actually, body is the part of consciousness. Sankara explains, “Which is the self? This infinite entity (purusha) that is identified with the intellect and is in the midst of the organs, the (self-effulgent) light within the heart (intellect). Assuming the likeness (of the intellect), it moves between the two worlds, it thinks, as it were, and shakes as it were. Being identified with dream, it transcends this world – the forms of death (ignorance etc)”, Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, (4,3,7)
Consciousness is pure intelligence and it is infinite. Mind and intellect works because of consciousness. When spirituality says that consciousness is beyond science, it does not mean that it is opposite to science. It says that consciousness is something which science cannot understand its pure form by external analysis. Science depends on the information given by the sense organs and analyses it by the mind. At the deeper layer of consciousness, mind merges in consciousness. Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa explains this situation with a metaphor. A salt doll tried to measure the depth of the ocean. Before the doll could reach the deep ocean, it dissolved in the ocean and became the vast ocean. Like this, by analyzing consciousness, the mind will merge in consciousness and lose its finite nature.
The greatest challenge of science is to solve the brain-mind conundrum. Mind is entirely different from brain, brain is the physical part and mind is the subtle part. The brain structure is very complex. It has over hundred billion neurons and they are connected through several trillion synapses. There are many scientific methods to understand the brain functions. According to spirituality, brain is a physical part; it gets activated by the signals from the mind. The development of the brain largely depends on the reactions in the mind. The whole body reacts to the signals from the mind. Science has not understood the higher reaches of the consciousness as understood by the Indian seers. Science cannot search for consciousness in the scientific way; if it does it, then the concept of science would become spiritual. Science can analyze the psychic consciousness which is not profound as the supreme consciousness. Consciousness is reality and beyond the scope of science. The understanding of the physical phenomenon is always an evolving process. Swami Vivekananda says that, “Indian Rishis are spiritual scientists, who are constantly engaged in consciousness research”. Science, arts, music etc are different expressions of consciousness, this knowledge is not sufficient to understand consciousness itself. Consciousness reveals itself in the silent thoughtless state.
Psychology – Its tryst with consciousness
Psychology literally means ‘science of the soul’. The ancient psychologists were not clear about the idea of the soul. Soul is beyond time, space, and knowledge. “Soul is a theological entity and was inaccessible for scientific investigation”, K. Kumaraswami Pillai. In the eighteenth century, psychologist defined it as the ‘science of the mind’, but they could not define the mind. Freud and his followers laid emphasis on the three states of the mind, which refers to the three levels of consciousness – conscious state, the subconscious state and the unconscious state. Since psychology was unable to understand the interactions of the mind with consciousness, it drifted its path to the behavioral science of the human beings. Psychology was unable to penetrate the subtle veil of the mind to enter in to the infinite pure conscious state. “Psychologist does not unanimously agree to any definition of psychology. However, they all subscribe to the view that psychology is the study of human behavior, where behavior is understood in terms of mechanical connection or interpreted in psychical or mental terms”, K.Kumaraswami Pillai. Unable to plunge into the deeper layers of consciousness, psychology limited itself with analyses and study of the fundamental aspects of human experience – knowing (cognition), willing (conation), and feeling (affection). Thus psychology unable to proceed in the analysis of the deeper layers of consciousness became the study of human behavior and experience. Later it included the behavior of animals also.
Psychology mainly analyses the emotional mind. It does not analyze the higher mind, which has its interaction with the supreme consciousness. Higher mind makes a person to stay in the present state of mind. It does not allow the mind to oscillate between the past and the future. When the mind thinks about the past or future, it creates behavioral problems. When the higher mind operates, there will be an inner connection with all the living beings. The mind becomes sublime and peaceful. In this supreme state, we realize and understand various aspects of life. When the supreme consciousness is revealed, it helps to solve many problems in life. Psychologists how far they try are unable to proceed beyond a certain point. If psychology leans on spirituality, then their mission towards correcting the behavioral problems will be easier. When we meditate on silence, the mind and its corresponding physical activities can be controlled.
Psychology can be used to know about one’s behavior and can do self assessment regarding the likes and dislikes, personality, anxiety, conflicts etc. One can make the mind pure by such analysis, but cannot penetrate the supreme consciousness. Psychology analyses the various levels of consciousness, but not the pure and supreme consciousness. Psychology has its own limitation.
Vedanta and consciousness
Consciousness came to the common man’s knowledge through the srutis and smritis. Srutis are Vedic scriptures embodying the direct experience of the Rishis and Sages. Smritis are represented by the different schools of Indian philosophical thoughts attempting to explain the intuitive experience of chaitanya in intellectual terms. Srutis are considered to be superior and authorized by various schools of philosophy. Smriti is considered as inferior to sruti. The views and concepts explained in the sruti are elaborated in the smriti. Scriptures like Upanishads reveal the experience and teachings of the Rishis to the common man, and enable them to have the same experience. Upanishads are the first hand information of the Rishis and seers. Various schools of Indian philosophy give divergent theories about the nature of chaitanya as conceptualized by them. Chaitanya is beyond the comprehension of the common intellect. Even a Sage who has realized chaitanya cannot explain it in detail because it transcends the sense faculties and the mind. Meditation and tapas are needed to realize consciousness. The mind must have higher state of concentration to realize the supreme truth.
Every sadhaka has a different experience of the consciousness. Some experience consciousness as a bright light. Some people experience an internal sound known as anahata dhvani or nada. Some meditate on the internal silence. The difference in the experience of chaitanya is due to the ability of the intellect to grasp the different aspects of the supreme power. Some people are able to grasp a single aspect of chaitanya. Consciousness or chaitanya is a feeling of infinity. How can a finite mind grasp it completely? A sadhaka has to transcend the mind to experience it completely. The nature of a person depends on the consciousness he dwells in.
Advaitam and consciousness
According to advaita philosophy, Brhaman alone is the reality. From the standpoint of Brahman, Brahman is reality (satyam), the relative world of names and forms is unreal (mithya). This does not mean that the world is not real. It means that the world is not the reality. It has its existence in another source, Brahman. There is only one transcendental reality, one whole mass of absolute consciousness. From the standpoint of relative reality, it is that one reality which takes innumerable names and forms. The reality is described by various names and forms. It is the ignorance which blocks us from observing the consciousness.
Many people have experienced consciousness in many different ways. All are true, but not sufficient enough to know the truth. The uniqueness of the Upanishad is that the Rishis have explained the nature of consciousness and have given procedural methods to realize that supreme state, which they have experienced. The Rishis enabled a common man to rise to their level of consciousness through their teachings, in the field which others have failed to go beyond a certain point. A common man with the help of a Guru and the teachings of the Upanishads will be able to realize the truth by steadfast practice. Even though, many fields have analyzed consciousness in their own way, only spirituality was able to penetrate to the depth of the infinite consciousness, the Truth.
Consciousness : A deeper scientific search, Kolkata, Ramakrishna mission institute of culture, 2010.
Foundations of Educational Psychology, K.Kumaraswami Pillai, 1969.
Essentials of Educational Psychology, S.K.Mangal, Delhi, PHI Learning pvt ltd, 2011.