"The very first step in understanding what this is all about is giving up the concept of an active, volitional 'I' as a separate entity and accepting the passive role of perceiving and functioning as a process." - Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Monday, June 12, 2017

Awareness and Consciousness

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

One morning when I had paid my respects to Maharaj and sat down, I found that there were only two other persons present. Maharaj suddenly said: What is the difference between 'awareness' and 'consciousness', if any? When something like this happens, one does not really know whether he expects an answer, or whether he is merely thinking aloud. One hesitates to answer for fear of breaking the flow of his thoughts. But then, he might also say: Why don't you answer? Have you been wasting my time, listening to the talks all these days? This morning, however, he carried on without waiting for an answer.

He observed that awareness is of the Absolute, and therefore, beyond the three Gunas; whereas consciousness is something fed by, and limited by, the food-body. When the food-body is destroyed, consciousness also disappears. Mind you, no one dies - the body, made of the five elements mingles with the elements when it is lifeless, and consciousness, which is subject to the three gunas, becomes free of the gunas. Awareness is the primordial original state, prior to the concept of space-time, needing no cause, no support. It simply is. However, the moment the concept of consciousness arises on this original state of unicity, the sense I AM arises, causing a condition of duality. consciousness is with a form, a reflection of awareness against the surface of matter. One cannot think of consciousness apart from awareness; there cannot be a reflection of the sun without the sun. But there can be awareness without consciousness. In deep sleep, for instance, there is no consciousness (it is resting) but awareness is certainly there, because, on waking, one is aware of having slept; but only on waking.

Maharaj never allows us to forget that it is consciousness alone which is out constant companion, and that it is the continuous attention to one's stream of consciousness that takes one on to Awareness - the basic existence, that which is life-love-joy. According to Maharaj, the very consciousness of being conscious is already a movement towards Awareness. The mind by its very nature is out-going, always tending to seek the source of things within the things themselves. When it is directed towards the source within, it is almost like the beginning of a new life. Awareness replaces consciousness. The I AM, which is a thought in consciousness ceases. In awareness, there is no thought. Awareness is the source of consciousness. Maharaj suggests that it is an excellent spiritual exercise to sit quietly and watch what comes to the surface of the mind. What we call thoughts are like ripples on the surface of water. Thoughts always lead to identification or condemnation; they are products of pre-conceived notions and stand in the way of real understanding. Just as water is serene when free of ripples, so is the mind serene when free of thoughts, when it is passive and fully receptive.

In the mirror of your mind, says Maharaj, all kinds of pictures will appear, stay for a while and disappear. Silently watch them come and go. Be alert, but not attracted or repelled. It is important not to be involved. This attitude of silent witnessing will have the effect, gradually, of driving away all useless thoughts, like unwanted guests that are ignored. By being thus within yourself, that is, in the I AMness, by watching the flow of mind, without interfering or judging, as a dispassionate witness, the deep unknown will be encouraged to come to the surface of consciousness and release its unused energies to enable you to understand the mystery of the origin of life.

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सर्वभूताधिवासं यद्भूतेषु च वसत्यपि।
सर्वानुग्राहकत्वेन तद्स्म्यहं वासुदेवः॥

That in whom reside all beings and who resides in all beings,
who is the giver of grace to all, the Supreme Soul of the universe, the limitless being:
I AM THAT. -- Amritabindu Upanishad