Role and Transformation of Awareness
in today's society is hectic, harried and harrowing. The "assault"
of different levels of stimulus energy, reaching an organism
is getting alarmingly tough. In order to interpret some sensations,
to counter others and pace itself with the drift, an organism
has to utilize greater and greater amounts of its reserves.
The level of energy at its disposal is hopelessly inadequate
at times to meet the growing demands. This is due to the factors
of stress, depression and anxiety that quickly gobble and
waste valuable resources. This deficiency is supplemented
by the organism's psychic energy - energy that is tapped from
the deeper layers of the personality (this is not Sigmund
Freud's "drives" of aggression and libido). Psychic
energy ought to have been utilized on the psychic plane but
when it is tapped for purposes other than its legitimate use
then the organism is cutting at its root as it were. It's
like constantly emptying a well without it being replenished.
This results in the surrounding earth caving in, deforming
and depressing the surface contours. Hence we find personalities
that are shallow, fragmented, weak, shrunk and unstable. Small
wonder that this opens the organism to a host of physical
and mental diseases. If this is kept for long the personality
becomes easily bored, soulless, hollow, an automation in the
hands of external influences. Emptiness stares out from the
mask-like features. This caricature can only be impelled by
its physical needs, reducing it to a mere brutish existence.
the Syndrome of Duality
religious system has evolved its set of ethics besides its
theology, philosophy, mythology and rituals. These ethics
are naturally directed towards attenuating and eradicating
the individual's bad tendencies. In better words: renouncing
the worldly aspect of the self. The worldly aspect of the
self knows only worldly objects. There is a consensus among
the different religious systems that the present self cannot
enter the portals of religion proper, of spirituality and
of grace, unless purified. The impure, state some religions,
are destined only for hellfire. In Vedanta the jiva,
the empirical self, through discrimination, needs to give
up its false limiting adjuncts in order to actualize its real
nature. Swami Vivekananda says, "as the old Christians
used to say: "the old man must die." This old man
is the selfish idea that the whole world is made for our enjoyment."
(1) The process of renunciation of the fictitious self is
accomplished first through the performance of good karma;
this helps in counteracting old karma and checking the propensity
for future wrong karma. These are the uses of ethics. Vedanta
then goes further by teaching that merely being good does
not confer spirituality, does not help to understand the deeper
mysteries of life, because being good also is a limiting adjunct
of the jiva. Both good and bad aspects of the self
are wrought by karma and karma means bondage; one has to go
beyond them. "For fetters though of gold are not less
strong to bind." (2)
the above, it is reasonable to state that the various religions
do not want to destroy the whole individual but just its excrescences.
In some cases however, individuals discover that the remedy
prescribed will not only cure but also kill. Swami Vivekananda
humorously puts it, "A mosquito settled on the head of
a man; and a friend, wishing to kill the mosquito gave it
such a blow that he killed both man and mosquito." (3)
Now comes the difficult part - what to retain and what to
renounce; here religions are divided and quarrel with each
other. Then greater difficulty arises when even on knowing
what has to be excised, the power to perform the excision
is nonexistent or at the most, too blunt for a sustained effort.
The jiva is at the mercy of this dual nature of bad
and good. Sri Ramakrishna related a very graphic vision of
his, "I saw that a jet-black person with red eyes and
a hideous appearance came reeling, as if drunk, out of this
(showing his own body) and walked before me. I saw again another
person of placid mien in ochre coloured dress, with a trident
in his hand similarly coming out of my body. He vehemently
attacked the other and killed him." (4)
One Is Unwittingly Led
order to simplify and decide matters for us instead of going
into theological debates, one needs to just shut the eyes
and observe the phenomena of thoughts churning around. Each
thought seems like a desire to ride on a roller-coaster. But
when seated and strapped in, one cannot dictate the speed,
the direction or the duration of the ride. Thoughts and feelings
happen without our consent. If we try to follow one thought
we discover it as just a link in the chain, which is joined
to innumerable ones; thus we are led meandering down confusing
pathways. The mind, full of these runaway thoughts seems to
have a will of its own and doesn't care for our presence,
absence, opinions and control. Even if one can direct thoughts
they will be conditioned by old habits and subliminal impressions.
If this vortex in the mind slows down, it falls into a torpor
and sleep, dragging us along, making us see dreams and nightmares
even making one a somnambulist. This impetuous and disobedient
part that drags and makes a fool of us in spite of all our
good intentions and high words, will have to go.
Commencement of Sadhana, Discipline
of the "greater difficulty", even the mighty-armed
Arjuna was sceptical that it could be accomplished, (5) what
to speak of ordinary mortals. But there are no two opinions
for the solution that the Lord gives in the Bhagavad Gita:
practice and renunciation - abhyasa and vairagya.
The initial insuperable difficulty of cutting free is strongly
encountered but as one starts with even a very mild tempo,
it builds up and gathers momentum. It's like starting an avalanche
by purposely kicking snow on a mountain slope; the difficulties
then seem to look feeble to the growing power that develops
within. There is an incident in Swami Vivekananda's life.
I was once travelling in the Himalayas and the long road stretched
before us...there was an old man with us. The way goes up
and down for hundreds of miles, and when that old monk saw
what was before him, he said, "Oh! Sir, how to cross
it; I cannot walk any more; my chest will break." I said
to him, "Look down at your feet." He did so, and
I said, "The road that is under your feet is the road
that you have passed over, is the same road that you see before
you; it will soon be under your feet." (6)
Nature of Awareness
used to working with tangibles one will cry out, 'Well, what
do we practise? And through what do we renounce?' The answer
might look ridiculous but it is a fact nonetheless - it is
awareness. One practises awareness and renounces the "excess
baggage" also through awareness. Awareness is a state
of mind. It is preceded by relaxation and followed by concentration,
ciharana, which flows into dhyana, meditation; this merges
into the lower Samadhi, which again culminates into the higher
and higher ones. Here, we shall try and look briefly at awareness
and how it becomes dharana. The word awareness is used
variously from mild attention to absorption. In order to clear
the decks for the explanation that follows, one must at first
shed the wrong idea that the contents of consciousness are
consciousness per se. Generally one notices only a
river flow by without noticing the "unseen river"
that is above in the form of water vapour and which is its
source. The contents of consciousness is the river; consciousness
is the unseen river. All studies like neurology, biology,
behavioral psychology, etc. trying to unravel the mystery
of consciousness commit this error. "Consciousness is
a mere film between two oceans of the sub-conscious and the
super-conscious.... I could not believe my own ears when I
heard Western people talking so much of consciousness! Why
it is nothing as compared with the unfathomable depths of
the sub-conscious and the heights of super-conscious! In this
I could never be misled, for had I not seen Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
gather in ten minutes, from a man's subconscious mind, the
whole of his past, and determine from that his future and
his powers?" (7)
Scope of Awareness
is enmeshed in complex psychological structures. Liberation
from these structures, releases vast amounts of energy that
transforms itself into creativity and spirituality. The famous
Descartean statement, cogito, ergo sum - I
think, therefore I am, (8) - to an adept in meditation
is so childish. For centuries people have gone into believing
that they exist only on the level of thought. There are immensely
greater depths in man, more meaningful, subtler, more pervasive
- suksbmatara, mahattara, pratyagatmabhuta.
(9) As you read these lines it is obvious that intruding thoughts
constantly disturb your awareness. It is also obvious that
these underlying autonomous thoughts of similar class, sajatiya,
and contrasting class, wijatiya, (10) colour
what you understand by association of ideas and what you don't.
Taking the eyes away from this page and mulling over what
one has just read makes awareness discursive. It is also reactive;
every action presupposes reaction, to become aware of what
you just read makes this awareness reactive. Awareness is
in constant motion flitting from one point to another, it
is led by other thoughts and it succumbs to other mental states.
The very fact that one is aware of a train of thought being
broken by another proves that awareness is something distinct
from the chains.
Distinct State of Mind
branch of psychology which takes a mechanistic view of the
mind to study levels of attention or awareness, its span,
its deficiency, makes use of medical scanning machines like
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), PET (positron emission tomography
- this records the glucose being metabolized in different
parts of the brain), to show how the brain processes give
rise to thoughts. Another method is to measure the electrical
discharge of the brain (called alpha, beta, theta and delta
waves), by placing electrodes around the head while performing
simple tasks like solving mathematical and linguistic problems,
painting, talking, even listening to music and sleeping. There
is of course a general agreement in the methodology but not
in the conclusions. These experiments make use of available
technology and the findings are always open to revalidation.
One popular experiment is to keep a few subjects sitting relaxed
and to record the brain-wave patterns in addition to the pulse,
heart rate, and muscle contractions along with body temperature.
This is done after flashing pictures, from a slide, on a screen,
one after another, with duration of a few seconds. As pictures
of trees, suburban houses, desert, city streets, old folks,
ill people, food, beautiful faces, etc are projected, each
picture evokes perceptible changes in the brain and bodily
rhythms of the subjects. But these are largely subjective,
determined by a person's background, economic and social status
and age. Hence each response is conditioned and cannot be
said to be purely objective. The important thing these experiments
prove at least to us is: awareness, as it was said above,
is a distinct mental state. This state of mind makes changes
in the circulatory, endocrine, neurological systems, in short,
the whole body.
is like a searchlight that makes any external object or internal
thoughts and feelings, leap into prominence from its surroundings.
This implies non-awareness and partial awareness of other
objects and thoughts, which seem to file past without much
ado. In spiritual life, the first work of awareness is that
it has to disengage, disassociate, and deny everything but
itself. This disengagement is called renunciation, va/ragya;
practice, abhyasa, is to get the dispersed awareness into
focus. With practice, awareness inexorably gravitates to a
centre by leaving the periphery. As awareness matures it is
sustained, alert, unbending and non-discursive. It cuts itself
into the mind the longer it is held. It no longer reacts but
behaves like an impartial witness. Whenever one reacts to
something one is bound by the action, for reaction necessitates
preconceived notions and this preconception itself belongs
to the 'false self that is supposed to be renounced. To the
aspirant the contents of consciousness has lost its allurement,
what is important is the container, that is consciousness,
the "unseen river".
state cannot be had for the mere desiring; most aspirants
have to plod through a great many obstacles to attain it.
Hence mindfulness is highly recommended before the actual
practice can commence. Mindfulness implies recollection, constantly
recollecting what one is doing and thinking; it brings clear
vision and insight. One has to be mindful starting from the
grossest actions and then slowly rise higher to the breath,
then to thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness changes the personality
making it deep and peaceful. Awareness, however, is different
from mindfulness, though grounded in it. The majority of aspirants
are not comfortable with this due to their nature and upbringing.
These types take the help of symbols, forms and a mantra of
a god or a goddess. The rationale is: a symbol, form and mantra
are divine, and introspecting on it breaks the mind's stranglehold
of worldly names and forms - of the framework of thoughts
and habits. Thus arises vairagya naturally and contemplating
repeatedly on divinity is abhyasa. Besides this, a silent
continuous repetition of a mantra in the midst of every activity
greatly boosts the mind's tendency to enter into itself.
the actual practice commences, focusing awareness and non-reactivity
(to other states of mind) becomes complementary to each other.
Both work in tandem to create non-identification with the
"false self". The practice simultaneously forms
strong subliminal impressions that will hold in abeyance the
distractions of autonomous thoughts. Jajjah samskaro'anyasamskara-pratibandhi
- he resulting impressions from this obstruct all other impressions.
(11) In the absence of anything to pull it down, awareness
becomes refined or bare; "choiceless" as some modern
teachers like to call it. The next step is: awareness that
was apparently divided into being non-reactive and focused,
now merge. In this state awareness, like the convergent rays
of the sun bouncing back from a mirror, falls back onto itself.
It has now become subtle and enters the subtle realms of the
personality. Swamiji says, "The power of attention when
properly guided and directed towards the internal world, will
analyze the mind, illumine facts for us. The power of the
mind is like the rays of light dissipated, when they are concentrated,
they illumine. This is our only means of knowledge.'"
the Practice of Awareness
the subtle realms, awareness encounters the core of the false
self, which is aggressive. This, so long nurtured on false
things, does not relinquish its hold so easily. A bitter struggle
ensues, the stronger the samskaras, subliminal impressions,
the more vicious the fight. It is here that the necessity
of a guru, religious tradition, mythology, rituals and above
all sadhusanga, company of monks, is admitted and realized.
These factors act like buffers to absorb the shock of reactions.
It was said that awareness is powerful, and practice increases
it tremendously, hence it needs careful handling. Swami Vivekananda
says, "What can puny decrepit little things do? They
will break into pieces whenever the mysterious forces of the
body and the mind are even slightly awakened." (12) The
factors mentioned above are like a shell that protects a pearl
and without which the pear! cannot develop. Or as Sri Ramakrishna
says, like a hedge that protects a sapling from being destroyed
by cattle. Modern teachers, who remove the practice of awareness
from its settings and preach in order to attract people, invariably
the Identification with the False Self
becoming stabilized, focused and deep reveals the inner dimensions
of the personality. The real individual, so long smothered
by the false self, feels great, natural, and just being oneself.
What can this be but feeling freer? Constantly practised,
awareness now transforms itself into razor-sharp concentration,
dharana. This concentration brings knowledge that not
only snaps its identification with the false self but also
discovers that the identification itself was false. The mastery
over this accumulating power brings to heel everything. The
organism is now no longer under the sway of external stimulus
energies or is taken around on a roller-coaster ride by the
mind. Awareness transforms the personality; it's like uncovering
an aquifer in an old abandoned well. As the water gushes out
bringing its energy to the shrivelled and empty organism,
life becomes meaningful, poised and fuller. Being freed from
the thraldom of brutishness, it is on the path of spirituality.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: 1.88.
Sri Ramakrishna The Great Master, 1.172.
The Bhagavad-Gita, 6.34.
Great Books of the Western World, Descartes, Methods,
IV, p. 51.
The Katha Upanishad, 1.III.10.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjaii, 1.50.