For most spiritual seekers ‘consciousness’ has a positive connotation; they want to extend, raise, deepen their consciousness, or simply become more conscious. But as with so many other terms – soul, spirituality, freedom, love, truth, bliss, energy – everybody understands something else by them.
In Advaita Vedanta every term is defined unambiguously. In our normal usage of words, depending on the context, one defines consciousness in diverse ways. Generally, however, a material viewpoint forms the basis of the Western view. We think that consciousness depends on the brain, for example that one can switch it off or can raise and extend it (temporarily) by certain drugs. Also we think that we can direct our consciousness, align it to something or withdraw it from something.
We consider ourselves as conscious if we remember whether we have switched off the iron and as unconscious if we forgot it. Also, we should always remain conscious of internal processes – we consider ourselves more conscious if we note that an emotion has arisen inside us at the time that is arises, than if we note this only afterwards or not at all.
By observing ourselves and the world around us and always knowing exactly what is happening, we try to raise or expand our consciousness. We think that mindfulness is a form of higher consciousness and want to increase our consciousness by meditating or finding spiritual inspiration. All this is often called ‘consciousness work’ or ‘Awakening consciousness’. Meditation, psychotherapy, energy work or methods of personality development are called on/used to perform ‘consciousness work’. However, what consciousness really is, is rarely defined.
Consciousness in terms of Advaita Vedanta can neither be expanded nor narrowed, neither lost nor raised, neither diminished nor increased. It cannot be directed, nor withdrawn and we can neither have a lot of it, nor a little, nor none.
What we narrow, expand, lose, diminish, raise, deepen, direct or withdraw, are certain functions of the mind – mainly the buddhi, which I will define here as ‘higher mind’. A well functioning buddhi enables us to learn; therefore, the buddhi is particularly important on the path of Vedanta, the path of understanding. Indeed the best way to sharpen the buddhi, is training its ability to discern/distinct/discriminate, for example, in using unambiguously defined terms or question things, until one has thoroughly understood. Processes such as ‘consciousness work’ play no role in this.
This does not make them worthless, because everything that quietens down the three other functions of the mind, serves to make us fit for the teachings of Advaita Vedanta. The path is easier when the mind is quiet, but the activity involved in quieting the mind is preparatory. It is different from actually walking the path.
The ‘path of’ Vedanta is not a journey from here to there – I need not achieve an end in time and space. Rather I want to discover something that has always been and will always be: my true nature, that which is my true self. To discover this, I need a well functioning buddhi and the readiness to use it in my search. Consciousness is something, I already have, in fact more than that: according to Vedanta consciousness is what I truly am.
Consciousness is the very basis of existence. It is in and through all. Without consciousness there would be nothing. Everything that is here is by its very nature consciousness. And: If there was nothing here consciousness would still be here.
As I am part of everything there is, I too, by my real nature, am consciousness – which answers the question regarding my true nature. But, as I know very well, I still cannot tick the question off. Just because I read this in the scriptures of Vedanta or hear it from a Satsang teacher, I have not yet recognised it as true.
If, up to now, I have assumed that I need to develop in a certain direction and that I need to have certain qualities and experiences to find the truth, and if so far I have not found the truth thereby, it is worthwhile to try out a different approach: for a start I assume that I am consciousness by my real nature – I have not recognised it yet, however, I can recognise it because I am it.
To realize what I am, I need not do any ‘consciousness work‘. The path of understanding is about reflecting and inquiring whenever I notice that I only believe something because I would like it to be that way. To discover what I am, I also need to be willing – especially so in the spiritual area:
- to apply sober analysis,
- to think matters through
- to question my beliefs, and
- to inquire if I do not understand something, until I do understand it.
Energy and Consciousness
Energy and consciousness are often lumped together because neither can be experienced by the five senses. However, in Advaita Vedanta the two are not related in any way. Energy is a subtle phenomenon, i.e. energy is matter in very fine form. Consciousness on the other hand is no matter at all, it exists regardless of any form of matter, be it gross or subtle.
Energy has qualities, it has colours, shades, it can be dense or subtle, strong or weak, high or low, pleasant or unpleasant etc. Consciousness on the other hand is utterly neutral, it is pure being, without any quality. It does not feel like anything, neither good nor bad, it IS.
The one who is after energetic highs – after higher and highest vibrations – may possibly raise his/her energy level by “consciousness work”, at least temporarily. Nevertheless, he/she will not be able to trace back to their true nature in that way.
Whoever wants to track down his or her true nature, must say goodbye to the idea that by discovering what he/she is, something will be added. Understanding who I truly am means the need to add anything to what I am has dropped because it is absurd to want to make a completeness even more complete.
As consciousness shines unaffected through experience, it is the knowing ground beneath all acts and happenings. Unmoved itself by any act, it is the final ground of our experience. From it, all actions rise. On it, all actions take place. Back into it, all actions must return and be absorbed. Ananda Wood
Photo Credits: Katharina Wieland Müller@pixelio.de