What is Consciousness?
Consciousness is a term that has become synonymous to the idea of God-Being in the context of esoteric, nonconventional spirituality. This is particularly true of modern psycho-spiritual disciplines, metaphysical and naturalist movements, and nearly all systems of nondualist mysticism.
For ages, inquiries into the subject of consciousness and speculations as to its nature were the domains mainly of philosophy, mystery schools, occult teachings, and religious theological pursuits. In earlier times, eastern thinkers speculated on the nature of human consciousness by means of metaphors and symbolism borrowed from the natural world around them. One such example was the comparison they drew between consciousness (or the soul of man) to the lotus plant which abundantly populated ponds and murky pools of water.
Consciousness, they said, was like a lotus flower bud that developed unseen in dark muddy waters. As the bud approached the blooming stage, its stem grew longer and the lotus bud would rise higher from the depths to the water’s surface level. There at the surface, the flower opened its blossom to reveal the full glory of its bloom. In some cases, the bud would shoot up beyond the water level where it blossomed above the water in the air. In any case, the flower’s blossom was an amazing display of hidden brilliance, purity and clarity of color, and aesthetic radiance to behold, a floral beauty so clean and pure in contrast to the murky water depths of its origin.
It was said that, like the lotus flower, the soul or consciousness of man comes from some dim murky region from where it originates. Then the soul grows and develops through the dark muddy water of its spiritual ignorance until the soul emerges out of it and reaches the awakening light of truth at the surface of its enlightenment. Finally the soul blossoms into the full glory of its being, much like the lotus flower does.
During the last few centuries leading up to the rise of the modern era in the 20th century, scientific inquiry began to look into the nature of consciousness. This development became evident initially in the field of psychology. Then, the metaphysical and “new age” movements of the 19th and later 20th centuries started tapping into the rising public interest in the so-called “new physics” of theoretical physics, quantum mechanics, astrophysics and cosmology. Not long after, a science of consciousness emerged from within the metaphysical and “new age” circles in the west, alongside the influx of influential consciousness, mind-control and meditation teachings from the east.
By the mid-20th century, western psycho-spiritual thinking and eastern mystical influences had gelled into a modern revival of mysticism with a more contemporary flavor. This contemporary mysticism with its science of consciousness took root and continued to thrive and grow well into the postmodern 21st century, where it is finding increasing validation by new scientific disciplines of brain study and mind research such as neuroscience and artificial intelligence, and by recent major advances notably in the speculative areas of quantum science, astrophysics and cosmology.
Today, scientists grapple with profound questions dealing with intelligence, the brain, the mind and human consciousness, itself, as well as with age-old questions regarding the origins of the universe and life and the purpose of existence, itself.
[Acknowledgment to Nicholas Humphrey for the YouTube video above on consciousness.]
[Acknowledgment to TEDtalksDirector for the YouTube video above on consciousness.]
You cannot define consciousness,
but you can most definitely experience it.
Consciousness Experiences Itself through Mind
Consciousness cannot be defined but it can be experienced. We experience consciousness through its states and stages that express through the mind and impress upon the mind, creating impressions or reflections of form. (You can read a related discussion on this matter in the post titled: “Mystical Transformation and the Human Mind”.)
Mind is the avenue by which consciousness unfolds, becomes revealed and is made manifest. Consciousness unfolds… and mind correspondingly reflects and reveals the infinitely many things it (consciousness) possibly is and can actually be. As mind reveals more, it expands continuously… and as mind expands, the capacity of consciousness for knowingness or awareness likewise grows increasingly to experience more of what it (consciousness) is as revealed in mind. Mind is not cause; hence, mind is not a creative power in and of itself. However, mind is a creative medium, an instrument or tool — a channel of awareness — by which consciousness creatively discovers and views itself.
Mind is the medium by which consciousness becomes aware of itself:
- in a relative and finite manner — in, through and as manifest forms, and
- in an absolute and infinite manner — as unmanifest Beingness and undifferentiated Selfhood.
There is a relevant blog you can read titled “The Mystical Path of Life: The Self Contemplating Itself”. There is also an available presentation and discussion on the nature of perception and its relation to awareness.
MIND is the medium by which consciousness
becomes aware of itself.
In the human condition, the mind, laboring under the human state of consciousness, does not reveal Truth to us as the ultimate true reality of all things. Our sense perception of things conceals the hidden reality of the oneness of God.
These things we perceive with the five senses are objects
of mind, with no relationship to Truth.
All appearances are sense-objects — not of God, or Truth.
All that is objectively witnessed must be understood to be
mental images or mind projections — never spiritual reality.
(Joel S. Goldsmith, from The Infinite Way,
Chapter: “Wisdoms of The Infinite Way,” 176)
Watch the short video below which illustrates how deceptively suggestive our human sense perception can be — how we are easily fooled by the appearances of things. (Click the image to view the video.)
Here is another video illustrating how perspective can shape our understanding.
Indeed, perspective in life matters. A very human perspective of life results in a human experience of life; a spiritual perspective results in a divine God-like experience of life.
Here are video clips of photograph images that fool the sense perception of what appears before the human eyes. The perception creates a mental “suggestion” that is fed to us by the mind — a suggestion that inclines us or pushes us toward a view, an opinion, a belief, a judgment, a disposition, or even a mindset if entertained or engaged in consciousness.
The suggestion can make us see things that are actually not the case.
Perspective really does matter. The perspective we hold in the mind with unwavering regularity and unflinching consistency is the content embodied by our awareness. Our mental process acts on our content constantly to unfailingly bring to us its corresponding flow of experiences.
Perspective in life
Conscious awareness is how consciousness experiences at the macrocosmic level and how consciousness, itself, is experienced in return at the microcosmic level. Even at the microcosmic level, there is a masculine aspect of awareness that is intellectual and cognitive in nature, and a feminine aspect that is pure feeling and intuitive in nature. The former opens awareness to the manifest, gross external worlds of the mind; the latter opens awareness to the hidden, subtle inner dimensions of the Soul.
How are we to characterize awareness in the individual in relation to the universal or cosmic consciousness which we refer to as God?
We can examine the experiential modalities of awareness and surmise that:
- We can speak of awareness as the result or effect derived from the process and activity of consciousness “knowing” and “experiencing” itself.
- At the same time, awareness is the mechanism or tool by which consciousness engages in the dual relational roles of subject (the “knower”) and its object (the “known”). By assuming these relational roles, consciousness acquires the experience of seemingly “knowing” a thing. The same can be said of a love relationship situation wherein the lover experiences “loving the beloved.”
I believe that this is the spiritual mystery and mystical teaching hidden in the artistic depictions of multicultural variations on the “Madonna and Child” theme.
The Madonna (Mary/Isis/Yashoda) represents human awareness in its subject-object dual role modality — the “mechanism” through which consciousness becomes aware of something (number 2 above). The divine Child (Jesus/Horus/Krishna) represents spiritually awakened awareness as being the “result or effect” of a process of integration in consciousness (number 1 above), whereby man realizes he is both spiritual God and spiritual Man (the God-Man).The Madonna is mother of the child. She is a child-bearer — the Theotokos in the theology of many eastern Orthodox Christian Churches — meaning “God-bearer,” “Birth-Giver of God,” “the one who gives birth to God,” or (as less literally translated) “Mother of God.”
The Child is the offspring, the progeny of its mother by an undisclosed (not shown) father. In the Christian variation of the theme, God (specifically the Holy Spirit) is the progenitor of the Child Jesus. In the ancient Egyptian variation, the god Osiris (brother of Isis) is progenitor of Horus.
The Madonna and Child religious motif is intended to convey the truth that:
- Our source or origin is divine and spiritual.
- Our true nature is, therefore, divine and spiritual.
- Our spiritual nature is contained and resides in human awareness.
- This same human awareness is to be instrumental in our transformative rebirth in consciousness as the God-Man.
The same mystery paradigm of the Theotokos would be equally true of Self- or God-realization, whereby awareness “tunes in” to itself. Awareness engages in a modality of pure, total subjectivity — the knower knowing and experiencing itself as the knower (Self-realization), or the individuated consciousness of the individual Self (Atman) knowing and experiencing itself to be one and the same with the ineffable cosmic Self (Brahman) — the God-experience or God-realization.
The steps necessary to be taken to facilitate awareness of Self as consciousness have been well detailed historically. Numerous techniques and behaviors have been prescribed to facilitate the removal of obstacles to expanded awareness; these can be found in the practice of various spiritual disciplines. The one process common to all such teachings is the progressive elimination of the identification of self as finite.— Dr. David R. Hawkins —
When consciousness realizes itself as both the transcendent Beingness of all things and the immanent Selfhood of the individual, consciousness is fully awakened and self-aware. This occurs when we awaken to it individually in the experience referred to as mystical enlightenment, spiritual illumination, satori, Self-realization, God-realization, cosmic consciousness, or unity consciousness (to name a few descriptive terms).
[Aknowledgments to Sadhguru and the Isha Foundation for posting the YouTube videos above of Sadhguru.]
Enlightenment is fundamentally the workings and the result of a process (call it life or mind) that is applied to an input-output content, in accordance with the overall, larger context in which the process is operating and by which the content is determined and derived.
In our outward-facing everyday human awareness or external human life, the process is one of constantly “becoming” — the thinking, feeling, speaking, acting, and doing we engage in daily as human beings. We feed the process with our inputs of humanhood (good and bad humanhood) through the conditioned human mind. In return, the process provides us with more of our humanhood together with all its attendant suffering. Thus, we find ourselves caught in a “catch-22” situation where we live out the human condition endlessly day after day after day. Our typical human experience of life is the result of this kind of content processing. All that takes place within the overall context of the human condition — the human state of consciousness.
However, when it comes to living our inner soul life or, more precisely, the life of the Spirit, a change occurs in the process: The process becomes one of “being” for which a spiritual awakening would have begun. Furthermore, since there is no “becoming” to the process, an interruption and reversal also occurs in the process: The continued processing output of our humanhood ceases; whereby the principles of mystical oneness (the Truth teaching) are introduced as new content and fed into the processing system instead. The process is radically altered and transformed in such a manner as would then reveal the contextual reality of the oneness embodied in the new, mystical content. Over the course of the transformation and thereafter, the process will eventually serve as a continuous back and forth, open freeway channel for the flow of spiritual energy between the Unmanifest and the Manifest dimensions of being.
The inward journey of contemplation or meditation, specifically contemplative meditation practice, is the PROCESS for spiritual enlightenment and transformation. The consciousness of Truth (the Christ) embodied in the teachings of mysticism is the CONTENT we take into the process. And the realization of this Truth and its oneness is the CONTEXT we seek to know, experience and understand both as the source/origin and the end of our total life process and as the fullness of our content. When the context of Truth is realized, the process will have effected a shift in the consciousness of the individual — from the human state to the unitive state known as the consciousness of the Christ, the Buddha, or Krishna.
[Aknowledgment to OSHOInternational for the YouTube video above of Osho.]
Here are some video presentations on the awakening of consciousness. They present the dynamics of consciousness working in, through, and as the energy that is mind. They explain the urgent need for spiritual enlightenment at this particular point in our evolutionary development and divine unfoldment.
[Acknowledgment: Thanks to HairyCookieMunster for the YouTube video above on “awakening.”]
[Acknowledgment: Thanks to missSerenityk for the YouTube video above.]
Below is a four-part exposition on the subject of unity consciousness, which you can view and contemplate on.
[Acknowledgment to FreedomOfTheSoul for the YouTube video above on unity consciousness.]
The mind in which individual consciousness is fully awake functions as the Buddha Mind or the Christ Mind. It is a spiritually transformed mind — an unconditioned mind functioning as the infinite, divine mind of the Spirit. Such a mind mirrors its own pristine undisturbed purity and reflects the integral wholeness that consciousness actually is. It is symbolized by the Uroborus, the serpent biting its own tail to form a closed circle of infinity with no beginning and end. It is also represented in numerology by the number 10: the One (1) that is the All (0). The enlightened mind of one individual human being benefits all others within the collective race consciousness.
And I, if “I” be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. (Yeshua, The Gospel according to John 12:32, NASB77)
And I, if “I” be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. (Yeshua, The Gospel according to John 12:32, NASB77)
[Acknowledgment: Thanks to worldofoneness for the YouTube video above featuring Sri Bhagavan.]
You can watch an informative documentary on Consciousness titled “Why Is Consciousness So Mysterious?” The documentary explains why Consciousness is such a mystery through a sampling of current thinking on the subject as viewed by various disciplines. Click on the image below to watch the documentary.
Watch the following BBC documentary, and see how science is trying to understand awareness in the course of its search for consciousness.
Consciousness is a mystery that cannot be fathomed by the finite human mind particularly through the workings of the intellect mind. However, Consciousness is not beyond individual experience. In truth, Consciousness is meant to be experienced by sentient beings in all its infinite aspects and manifestations, including its own self-aware aspect and individuation. It is the Self contemplating itself.
Consciousness simply IS!
Being infinite in nature, Consciousness is forever unfolding infinitely.
Consciousness is the greatest mystery there is. ENTER THE MYSTERY.
[Aknowledgment to StudyYourself for the YouTube audio-visual piece above of Alan Watts’ talk.]
[Note: This page will remain in a state of ongoing unfoldment, just like Consciousness, itself. The development and direction of its growth will be determined by your comments and posts on this page. Share your thoughts with us on the subject of Consciousness below.]
What do you wish to do next on the path?
- Let me review Oneness.
- Take me back to The Mystical Life.
- Feed my soul.
- I’ll take a break now.
- Let me learn more about mysticism.