Growth of Consciousness
We are evolving from five-sensory humans into multi-sensory humans.
Consciousness is a confusing word because, depending upon whether it has been spelt with a small ‘c’ or a capital ‘C’, its meaning changes dramatically. Spelt consciousness, it means awareness; spelt Consciousness, it refers to the imperishable Absolute Reality which is present in all creation, although concealed and rather poorly expressed. Human beings are unique in having the capacity to become progressively more aware of the all-pervasive presence of the Divine. As a result of this process, consciousness now includes a deeper layer of reality which is beyond sensory perception; therefore, the process is called growth of consciousness. The culmination of the process of growth of consciousness is its expansion to such an extent as to make the person constantly aware of both layers of reality – sense-based reality, and the Absolute Reality behind it. At this level, the person’s consciousness becomes identical to Consciousness. What a major change, and how trivial our language makes it look!
Consciousness is a confusing word. It might help to know that it may mean two very different things depending on whether it is spelt with a small ‘c’ or a capital ‘C’. Spelt with a small ‘c’, consciousness is used by neuroscientists to denote awareness. That is also the ordinary dictionary meaning of the word. In this sense, consciousness depends on the function of sense organs, such as eyes and ears. Our sense organs feed us information about our surroundings. The brain puts together the inputs from different sense organs, and dovetails the integrated output with previous stored experiences. The net result of the processing is the totality of our consciousness. Spelt with a capital ‘C’, Consciousness is used in spiritual philosophy almost as a synonym for God, the Divine or the Absolute. In this sense, the entire universe is a manifestation of the supreme Consciousness. It is a dictum in spiritual philosophy that an eternal portion of the Consciousness is present in all its manifestations. Hence all creation, animate and inanimate, has Consciousness. Every atom, and every subatomic particle, has Consciousness. But Consciousness is very effectively concealed in creation; it is invisible and very poorly expressed.
Therefore, when scientists debate about the seat of consciousness, the spiritual philosophers would dismiss the debate as meaningless. To the philosopher, every cell, nay every molecule, of the body has Consciousness. What the scientists want is to identify the part of the body which is responsible for conscious awareness. According to current knowledge, consciousness ‘resides’ in the brain. What it means is that increased activity in certain parts of the brain is associated with conscious experiences. The parts of the brain that are active during a visual experience are different from those which are active during an auditory experience, and so on. These regions have now been identified with great accuracy. But we are still far from understanding how exactly objectively observable activity of the brain is transformed into subjective experiences like a beautiful red rose, or sweet soothing music. There are scientists, such as Francis Crick, who feel that this gap is purely due to inadequate scientific knowledge. They are confident that a day will come when we will know enough about neural function to understand how physicochemical events can generate subjective feelings. But there are others who believe that for the study of subjective experiences, the tools of science are not just inadequate; they are also inappropriate. However, most neuroscientists are prepared to wait for the larger picture to emerge, and are at present content to know more and more about the specific neuronal events associated with well-defined mental events.
While all creation has Consciousness, the degree to which it is expressed depends on the place of the creation in the evolutionary scale. So little of the Consciousness is expressed in non-living matter that matter is normally considered Inconscient. However, we do get frequent glimpses of Consciousness dormant in matter, if we are careful to catch them. A piece of furniture lasts much longer if treated with love and care. Machines seem to develop an equation with an affectionate owner, and may work when handled by him, while refusing to work when handled by a rude or indifferent stranger. Consciousness is expressed better in plants. The positive response of plants to love and affection is widely acknowledged. The Mother could perceive which vegetables wanted to be plucked by Her. The Consciousness is still better expressed in animals. Because of the similarity in the mode of expression, human beings do not have much difficulty in relating with the moods and feelings of higher animals such as cats and dogs. However, in human beings the Consciousness is expressed to a far greater extent than in animals. But even in human beings, only a very small fraction of the Consciousness is expressed; much of it is still dormant.
There is no reason to believe that the process of evolution has stopped with man. Glimpses of what the future evolution of consciousness might be like are available from a few rare individuals who sometimes show an intuitive awareness of past lives, future events, or happenings at distant places. What is a rare phenomenon today could become the norm in a species yet to evolve. The ultimate aim of evolution possibly is to arrive at a being with Supramental-Consciousness, which would be as close to full expression of Consciousness as is compatible with terrestrial existence. However, what makes man unique is neither the fact that a relatively larger fraction of Consciousness is expressed in him, nor the existence of a few rare individuals in whom an exceptionally large fraction of the Consciousness is expressed. The uniqueness of human beings lies in their capacity to achieve growth of consciousness through their own efforts. Yoga may be regarded as a systematic process of achieving growth of consciousness. Vedic rishis, and mystics belonging to various other traditions as well, have achieved enormous growth of consciousness through intense self-purification and concentration. Their descriptions give us an idea of the directions in which consciousness may grow. First, it grows deeper. The individual looks deep within, and becomes aware of something there which is far Higher and Greater than himself. This is the Divine spark, the essence of the Supreme Consciousness (the Infinite) within each of us. The result of deepening of consciousness is the awareness of the Self in self. Secondly, it grows horizontally. We may call it the widening of consciousness. The person becomes aware of the same Divine spark also in the rest of the creation. To start with, he may perceive Divinity only in the good and the noble. It is far easier to see God in Rama than in Ravana. But as the consciousness widens, the person is able to see the Divine spark in all human beings, animals, plants, and finally even in non-living objects. The result of widening of consciousness is the awareness of the One in all. Thirdly, the consciousness grows radially. The person realizes that the Divine extends beyond time and space. In terms of time, the Divine has always been around, and will always be there. In terms of space, the Divine exists even beyond the farthest galaxy that we know of. In other words, the person’s consciousness has now a feel of the absolute Reality that envelops the ordinarily perceived reality. The result of radial growth of consciousness is the awareness of all in One. Finally, the person starts visualizing everyone and everything around as nothing but the One in yet another form. This stage may be described as all as One. Everything that person is aware of is a part of the One indivisible Reality, and the One is greater than the sum of all its finite and apparently divided manifestations. How much greater, we can neither know nor imagine; therefore the One is Infinite. Each successive stage in the growth of consciousness is a better appreciation of the supreme Consciousness, and includes the previous stage.
There is one more aspect of the growth of consciousness. The experiences of the divine spark within oneself, in all creation, and beyond all creation, are all spiritual experiences because they make us aware of the Divine Spirit. To start with, spiritual experiences appear as occasional flashes of insight. Between these flashes, the person lapses into ordinary consciousness. As the consciousness grows, awareness of the Divine Spirit becomes less interrupted. Finally a stage may come when the person lives in constant, unbroken awareness of the all-pervasive character of the Divine. But he may still see a separation between himself as finite consciousness, and the Divine as Infinite Consciousness. When that distinction is lost, his consciousness becomes one with Consciousness. The two achieve identity, the two unite, the yoga (union), is complete. In short, the journey of yoga, for which a whole lifetime is usually grossly inadequate, and the mighty evolutionary urge, are both merely about converting the small ‘c’ into the capital ‘C’. What a great transformation, and how trivial our language makes it seem!
Growth or elevation of consciousness through yoga is not a goal to be achieved, but a discovery to be made, for the Infinite is already within us and all around us. For the discovery we need an aspiration which is sincere and intense, rejection of whatever obstructs the awareness of the Infinite, and surrender to the Divine. The ascent of consciousness engineered by our aspiration and descent of the Divine Grace initiate the growth of consciousness and continue the process till the wave of consciousness becomes one with the ocean of Consciousness. A multiplication by infinity, represented symbolically by the mere capitalization of the ‘c’!
Accepting the theoretical possibility of the growth of consciousness is only a small step beyond ordinary human consciousness. The successive stages in the evolution of the ‘mind’ have been described and named by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine. The ordinary human consciousness is supported by the reasoning mind. The reasoning mind does not even consider the growth of consciousness possible. The Higher Mind considers it possible at the intellectual level, but does not have the experience. As the intellectual acceptance grows into an experience, the Higher Mind grows successively into Illumined Mind, the Intuitive Mind, the Overmind and the Supermind. The supermind has the Supramental Consciousness, from which the final merger with the Consciousness is yet one more step.
While it appears as if growth of consciousness is a quantitative and qualitative growth in our knowledge of reality till we know the Reality itself, it is much more than an improvement in our capacity to acquire knowledge. Each step in the ascent of consciousness represents a higher grade of expression of Consciousness, a qualitatively different mode of manifestation of the Divine. For example, life is not just a refinement of matter. During the next major step in evolution, introduction of the mind changed the character of life radically. Further addition of the intellect added new possibilities to what a living being could do. Similarly, Supramental Consciousness will possibly introduce possibilities which are beyond the imagination of the average human present today. What should be of immediate concern to us as a species today is to live a life full of love, trust and compassion, which promotes growth of consciousness. That would not only bring inner peace, joy and fulfillment into our own lives, but also make the world a better place to live in.
First published in The Call Beyond, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2004, pp. 33-35.