On consciousness

While Paul Edmonston was a post-doctoral fellow in South Indian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania from 1972-73 he submitted a thirty-five-page research paper using some twenty sources on Sri Aurobindo’s life and yoga.


by Paul 
Paul Edmonston
Tonsciousness is the faculty of awareness, whereby, by means of identification, we are cognizant of self, others, things, as well as forces within and without. It is the means whereby we exercise control over our actions and reactions, including the ability to abstain from reacting either to events or forces impinging on us from the outside, or impulses, needs, desires rising up from within. It is a power for storing up force or a means whereby forces may be put forward to act on outside persons, events, and things. 

Essentially one throughout the universe, consciousness varies as it manifests in different orders of existence. At some levels, consciousness is unorganized or inchoate, as in the inconscient, or variously suppressed, as in the subconscient. The ordinary human being is usually only conscious or in contact with a limited range of phenomena in the mental arena, having little or no awareness or contact with ranges of consciousness from the submental through the overmental to the supramental. 

Consciousness is the essence of being and manifests itself in a progressive movement downward from higher spiritual levels to its involution and obscurity in the densest matter, and upward from the most inconscient levels by a process of both natural and spiritual evolution. Essentially it is divided into two aspects, an awareness of self, things and forces, and a higher will-force which can be applied for change. 

Consciousness is usually involved and bound up in the physical, vital and mental actions of man, but with the development of yogic powers, the capacity for detachment and separation from the ordinary levels of being arises. As conscious energy, it can be put forth or held within and, as inner witness, it can stand back and observe the actions of the energies it puts forth. While ordinarily synonymous with mind, increased conscious awareness allows it to function at all levels, while on the mental level, introspection fosters its division into a consciousness that observes and a consciousness that acts. This developed self-awareness leads to the habit of observing the various movements and impulses of one's being and the ability to discriminate and be aware of an impulse to action when it arises. It may lead to a feeling of uneasiness when an erroneous idea, impulse or feeling occurs, and so prevent one from taking false action. It may also take the form of a subtle inner voice which gives warning and inhibits false actions before they are initiated. 

Tt the lowest levels of our being, we partake of a material consciousness which is mostly beyond awareness, subconscient, mechanical, inert, moved by habits and forces of our lower nature. It is resistant to change, full of inertia, ignorant, obscure, dark and dull. At the mental level it gives rise to the mechanical mind, concerned with the lower instinctive and reflexive reactions to physical life and things. It tends to be repetitive and is evidently a deep well or storehouse of all past experiences. 

Slightly above this level is the physical consciousness, of which, as manifestations of living matter, we also partake. It is the part in us related to the universal physical consciousness of nature in all her forms. It gives rise to the physical mind, that mental part of us concerned only with physical things and their effects, depending entirely on the input from the senses and deducing all truth from such limited evidence. It knows no other truth than that of sense. Further, there is a resident consciousness in physical things which is responsive and sensitive to human consciousness, whether this is exhibited in rough handling or loving attention and care, a phenomenon which has most recently been demonstrated in controlled experiments with humans and plants. 

There is a body consciousness as well, a body-mind, even a cellular consciousness: an obscure intelligence, purpose or will resident in the lowest levels of our material organization, a consciousness in the atoms and molecules, the corpuscles and the cells. The body, with its ongoing processes of automatic metabolism, homeostasis and involuntary nervous controls, acts on its own without our conscious mental intervention or will, and often against them. Its processes are ordinarily little known by the mind, and an aim of yoga is to become aware of this separate consciousness in the body, to become sensitive to its movements and to the forces acting upon it from within and without, and to control and direct it in its most hidden and subconscient operations. The numerous demonstrations of remarkable control over body processes in the yogic literature of India are testimony to the fact that such superior awareness and control has been attained. 

Tince we live in a universe composed of vast and complex subtle forces, a sea constituted of various waves of cosmic origin, as well as intermingling waves of mental, vital or physical origin which emanate from other beings, there is an environmental consciousness which we share, an ordinarily invisible extension of ourselves into the surrounding environment. This consciousness is a means of contact with the ever-present waves of force impinging upon us and seeking entrance into our awareness. The ordinary man, who is primarily bound up in his small personal consciousness, an ego identity knowing only by means of mental and vital waves based on feeling and sensation, is constantly being bombarded and invaded by these forces, and thereby affected by them without any awareness of whence they come. 

With the development of the yogic consciousness—a magnified and subtle and expansive awareness of all the planes of being—one is aware of these forces, can feel or sense their coming, and control or reject their influence at will. This environmental consciousness manifests as the aura, which has recently been demonstrated by scientific experiments conducted in the Soviet Union to exist as rays of colored light emanating from the surface of the skin. Around those with a developed concentration of yogic power or force, such as the Buddha or Christ, this aura is supposedly very intense, and is visible to those who have developed the powers of subtle sight. 

The inner consciousness or inner being, sometimes referred to as the inconscient or the subconscious by psychology, and as the subliminal self by those in the psychic sciences, is actually a very complex range of self-awareness which encompasses the five planes of being, including the physical, vital and emotional, mental, psychic or spiritualized overmental beings. This inner self plays across the complex range of the subconscient (all those processes below our waking awareness), the conscient (but much wider in its access and dimensions), and the superconscient (which is unknown to most, but which breaks through into existence in many and subtle ways). 

The term higher consciousness is reserved for that contact with the higher ranges of consciousness designated as the illumined mind, intuition, overmind and higher mind and opens up to the borders of the supramental. Finally, the cosmic consciousness refers to the supreme and ever-present omniscient spirit of the cosmos, including the nature and all beings and forces in the universe, of which we are, once again, an integral and functioning part. 

The aim of yoga, then, or of spiritual evolution in life and time, becomes a process whereby we move, in a series of ascents, from conscious awareness and control of the physical being, with its inconscient history and its subconscient processes; up to the vital being, with its sensations, passions, emotions and desires; up to the fully developed mental being, controlling the centers of will, vision, and dynamic as well as higher thought, to the supramental being with access to the superconscient planes, and truth-consciousness above; eventuating finally in the integral consciousness of the spiritual or divine being, luminous and self harmonizing, free and commanding all levels below which have been transformed by the Light. 

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