Investigation into Consciousness
What is it that makes you alive? And what is it that makes the chair you’re sitting on, not alive. Your body walks, talks, thinks, feels. The chair does not walk or talk or think anything. Why not? This is a matter for you to contemplate upon. Observe the world around you and yourself. Think what is it that makes you alive.
After examining your own experience, you can observe that a defining characteristic which you have but the chair does not, is the fact you are conscious. You are conscious of things around you – sounds, colours, tastes, etc. You are conscious of yourself as a being a man or woman. You are conscious of your appearance. You are conscious of your thoughts. You alone know whether you feel sad or happy. Angry or calm. Therefore, you are conscious of thoughts. The whole world and all your experiences, are things you are conscious of. OK…this may all sound very obvious. Of course, I am conscious! True – but often the we do not notice the most obvious things in life staring us in the face. For example, you read these words on a piece of paper. Your eyes and awareness are focussed on the black text on the paper. But do you ever focus on the white paper upon which these words rest? No. It’s just so obvious we don’t bother to take notice. But it is the paper which sustains and pervades all the letters you read. Without the paper, there are no words possible to be printed. So to, with the fact you are conscious. It’s so obvious, we generally don’t even think about the fact we are conscious. But every single experience you have depends upon the fact that you are conscious. If you were not a conscious being, you could not experience anything, like the chair can’t experience anything as it is not conscious.
OK, another question for you to ponder upon: WHO is it that is conscious? Is it your body that is conscious? Is it your mind that is conscious? Or it something else other than the body and mind that is conscious? This is a very important question. Please spend some time thinking about this and see if you can look at yourself at work out this puzzle. I will give you 1 key principle (given in a text called ‘drk-drshya-viveka’ by Shankaracharya) which will help you in your investigation: The one who is conscious, can never be the same as the thing you are conscious of. The seer can never be the seen. This is a simple logic we can prove with a simple example – imagine a camera. The camera takes photos of anything around it. Camera can take picture of absoloutely anything in the universe, APART from only 1 thing. Can you think what that is? Itself. The camera can never take a picture of itself. It’s simply impossible. The camera is the one because of which all objects are pictured. So will you then say if I show you a photo – “I don’t believe the camera exists because I have never seen a photo of it!”. Will you say that to me? Of course, not, it’s a ridiculous statement. Of course the Camera exists, because without the Camera to take the photo in the 1st place, there would be no photo! So without seeing it, you know 100% exists. So to, without ever actually seeing yourself (the one who is conscious), you know 100% that you are conscious. Because if you were not conscious, you couldn’t be conscious of any thought, colour, sound…anything! Also, if the body were conscious, how can I be conscious OF the body? I must be a separate from my body, in order to be conscious of it. Like the camera must be separate from the object it pictures.
So back to our original question – who is conscious? Are you conscious of the fact that you are conscious? And what is the nature of ‘conscious’ i.e. consciousNESS. The “ness” suffix in English indicates something’s very nature. Like the nature of hot is called hotness. Or the nature of something sharp is called ‘sharpness’. So the nature of the one who is conscious (i.e. you), is referred to by the word ‘consciousness’. This is why in Sanskrit we use 2 words – Chetana (conscious) and Chaitnaya(consciousness). Please contemplate all the above questions – spend 5 mins every morning sitting quietly and observing your mind. Becoming conscious of your body and thoughts, and then become conscious of the fact that you are conscious.
The Bhagavad Gita is primarily concerned with explaining the nature of your very self as consciousness. We will see further that this consciousness is separate from your body and your mind. You remain conscious even when your body dies. Even when the mind thoughts are not there, you remain as consciousness. It is by understanding this consciousness, which you are, that the entire puzzle of Samsara is solved. Another name for this consciousness is ‘Atma’ and Sri Krishna will reveal to us the true nature of Atma from Chapter 2 Verse 12 onwards.