Man has been in search of himself through the ages, and yet, he remains a mystery. But among all the elements of his mystery, the most conspicuous is the phenomenon of his consciousness. What is, after all, consciousness? In this immense universe of Matter, which is or which appears to be unconscious, how does this consciousness emerge? Is consciousness entirely alien to Matter? Are they in any way related to each other? Is that relation merely external? Or is it internal? Again, is consciousness identical with what we mean by Mind? Or, is Mind itself a certain degree or kind of consciousness? And, as we begin to examine closely our own being, we are baffled by the interaction between the body and the mind, between the 'unconscious' and the 'conscious'. And still further, as we fathom into the possibilities of extension of consciousness, we are overwhelmed by the immensities and heights of the planes and levels of our being. We begin to ask ‘What is man's beginning and what is his end’? Indeed, the mystery of Man seems essentially to be the mystery of consciousness.
Philosophers and psychologists have attempted to pierce through this mystery, and we have before us several speculations, hypotheses, conclusions, several claims, dogmas, faiths, and several doubts, disbeliefs and denials. To the seeker of knowledge, to the scientist of the unknown, to the worshipper of light, all these are of immense value as a great aid to the quest, and as we recapitulate in a synoptic view what is of utmost value of the past search, we feel that a central study of this subject is not only most fascinating, but something that is indispensable to the further immediate steps of humanity's progress.
In the Cartesian psychology, a sharp and radical division is made between mind and body; the two are regarded as separate substances and it is thought that the interaction between them is impossible except through some inexplicable or mysterious intervention or connection. The facts of the connection between body and mind are so compelling that Descartes was obliged to assume the connection between the two through the pineal gland. But the pineal gland is, after all, physical, and thus, in effect, the original assumption of the possibility of the interaction between body and mind is contradicted.
In the East, in the Samkhya Psychology, the mind and body are both grouped together ‒ both considered as the results of Prakriti, which, is fundamentally a material principle. Both mind, (that is, manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara) and body are physical, unconscious, jada. The phenomenon of consciousness is explained by supposing an independent principle of Purusha whose very nature is that of conscious luminosity and inactivity. Once again, we have a trenchant opposition between consciousness and the products of the physical principles. But once again still, we find the Samkhya assuming a connection between them which is not fortuitous, but of crucial significance. And, in spite of this connection, it still remains mysterious as to how the unconscious principle assumes, even though apparently, the consciousness that belongs only to Purusha. The phenomenon of consciousness remains a mystery in the Samkhya.
One begins to wonder if the supposed opposition between body and mind or consciousness is not a myth. It may be that the body is fundamentally of the nature of the mind or the mind is really material in nature. In the modern behaviourism, it is supposed that there is no such thing as consciousness, that all the so-called mental or conscious phenomena of perception, emotion, thought, imagination, can be explained in terms of the simple formula of SR or SCR (Stimulus and response or stimulus and conditioned reflexes).
But when we come to examine this psychological theory, we find that it fails completely to explain the core of our conscious experience, namely the phenomenon of 'understanding'. Understanding is indeed not behaviour, and even though it can manifest through behaviour, it cannot entirely do so. Behaviour may manifest understanding but it cannot explain it. Besides, when we come to examine facts now brought forward by the psychical research, psychoanalysis and allied schools, we begin to wonder if body is not a form of consciousness, having its own dumb or unconscious will, thought, and feeling. The difference between the conscious and the unconscious seems to be simply a matter of degree.
This is, however, still a matter of speculation, perhaps a workable hypothesis. But when we come to study the modern schools of psychology, their apex-ideas of `polarities of conflicting drives’, ‘dream analysis', 'personality styles', 'integration' and the rest’, in the light of the Indian knowledge that has been gained through the ages by a rigorous process of research, experimentation, and verification, we feel that we are in possession of scientific data which far exceed the tentative and inadequate data of modern psychology and that these data when recognised, studied and re-established, would revolutionise our concept of consciousness and open the doors of new applications of the powers of consciousness in the fields of physiology, health, medicine, cybernetics, epistemology, mental sciences, education − in the very science and technology of evolution on the earth.
These data belong to Yoga, which has been regarded primarily as a Science of Consciousness, the science of Psychology, par excellence. One of the most striking ideas that Yoga puts is that no observation can be impartial or objective so long as there are modifications in the consciousness that observes. Even the so-called scientific observations the scientist would not merit the title of objectivity in the realm of yoga, unless the scientist is free from the Chittavritti, modifications of the stuff of his consciousness. There is, according to Yoga, a state of consciousness, the state of pure witness, the sakshin, without any ripple whatsoever, free from all partiality or narrowness, which alone can comprehend the objective fact objectively, without any personal bias, without any relativity. This is the phenomenon of the pure subject observing the Object as it is, in itself.
It is important to note that the Science of Yoga admits as its data only those observations which qualify this rigorous test of objectivity.
It is in this context that we may note that the Vedic and Upanishadic Yoga regards the whole gamut of our existence to be a manifestation of a single conscious principle. Mind and body are not basically different from each other. Not only that, they also point to the phenomena which cannot ordinarily be covered under what we mean by the word ‘Mind'.
Indeed in all schools of yoga, have a distinction between consciousness and mind, in the sense that consciousness is a large complex of awareness, while mind is only a limited or selected overt portion of that awareness. In the view of the comprehensive system of Yoga, Consciousness has a range which rises above our ordinary mind, and it has a range below it which may properly be termed as subconscient. Body too has or is itself a formation of consciousness, most of whose operations are subconscious. Mind itself is an intermediate status of consciousness. For it is recognised that behind our ordinary mental consciousness, there is the subliminal consciousness, and above the mind, there are ranges of the superconscious.
In modern times, the phenomena of the subliminal consciousness are being studied (although not fully or even adequately) by the Psychical Research ‒ the phenomena of extrasensory perception, such as telepathy, telekinesis, foreknowledge and allied or cognate operations. But in India, there were schools which specialised in the study of this range of consciousness. And, in the system of Tantra, we have a remarkable body of the application of the knowledge of the subliminal or occult consciousness.
The subliminal has to be distinguished from the subconscious. The subconscious is the consciousness which is emerging from a condition of the sleep of consciousness; it is a consciousness in the process of waking but which does not wake up, although it is active and operative and produces effects upon the conscious life and its movements. It covers what Freud calls the Id, and also what Jung calls the Individual and Collective Unconscious. It is the region in which our suppressed desires and wishes find their resort and from where they surge up during our dreams or during our physical and mental illness. It is the abode of the roots of habits, and it is the cause of repetitions of the thoughts, feelings and emotions which we have consciously rejected. It is, in short, a layer of dark and dumb surges of consciousness.
The subliminal, on the contrary, is a field of what are called the inner sheaths or Koshas. There is, according to the Yogic knowledge, a sheath of the subtle physical behind our gross body. Similarly, behind the complex of our desires, emotions and superficial or deep-seated longings and attractions and repulsions, in short, what we may call the superficial vital being there is the inner vital which is the source of our larger and wider action which is the cause of our frequent or rare outbursts of exhibition of superhuman strength and power. There is also behind our groping and labouring mental operations of perception, observation, imagination, ratiocination and pragmatic cunning and invention, an inner mental consciousness full of large and vast symptoms of ideas and images, clearly and systematically organised. The subliminal consciousness is what is popularly called the occult consciousness, the consciousness that is manifest in the phenomena of clairvoyance, telepathy, foreknowledge and cognate phenomena.
It has been affirmed that the dreams are built not merely by the subconscious, but also by the subliminal consciousness. And, just as the subconscious has its own symbolism, the subliminal too has its own symbolism, a notation of its own language. As explained by Sri Aurobindo:
"If the subliminal...comes to the front in our dream consciousness, there is sometimes an activity of our subliminal intelligence, ‒ dream becomes a series of thoughts, often strangely or vividly figured, problems are solved which our waking consciousness could not solve, warnings, premonitions, indications of the future, veridical dreams replace the normal subconscious incoherence. There can come also a structure of symbol-images, some of a mental character, some of a vital nature: the former are precise in their figures, clear in their significance; the latter are often complex and baffling to our waking consciousness, but, if we can seize the clue, they reveal their own sense and peculiar system of coherence. Finally, there can come to us the records of happenings seen or experienced by us on other planes of our own being or of universal being into which we enter: these have sometimes, like the symbolic dreams, a strong bearing on our own inner and outer life or the life of others, reveal elements of our or their mental being and life-being or disclose influence on them of which our waking self is totally ignorant; but sometimes they have no such bearing and are purely records of other organised systems of consciousness independent of our physical existence..."[i]
[i] Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, Vol. 18, SABCL, pp. 424-25
There is a misconception regarding Yoga in which Yoga is exclusively identified with occultism or with the powers and so-called miracles that can take place when the subliminal consciousness operates effectively or visibly in the physical. The true yogins have repeatedly denounced this misconception and affirmed that the central occupation of yoga is the inmost discovery of the soul and of the levels and powers of consciousness that lie behind or above the mind.
The subliminal is vast, large, powerful and organised but it is still remote from what Yoga terms as knowledge, Vidya. Knowledge is a perception or realisation of one Self in all, while the ignorance, Avidya, there is a false idea of the multiplicity or of the individual as self-existent.
The science of yoga, therefore, in its understanding of Consciousness, insists on the distinction between the subliminal on the one hand, and the psychic and the superconscious, on the other.
Of the soul, of the psychic consciousness, and of the superconscious, there are, in yoga, numerous descriptions; among the Sufis, among the Christian mystics, among the Lamas, there are parallels in their descriptions, and in the Indian Yoga itself there various classifications of the states of consciousness that pertain to these domains. The release from the ego, the realisation of the Self, of the Cosmic Consciousness of the Transcendental Consciousness, ‒ these are among the most
fundamental. Advaita, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita, Purusha and Prakriti, Brahman and Maya, Ishwara and Shakti and hundred other similar concepts have behind them the experiences and realisations which are of central significance to Yoga. And pertaining to each experience and each state of consciousness there are numerous powers of action, and at various levels of being they have varying degrees of effectivity. All these have been explored, experimented with, verified, and we have in Yoga a rich, complex, subtle and authentic body of knowledge. Yoga further affirms that it is not a closed book, but an ever-developing field of research. And in Modern India, we have not only a recovery of the past knowledge, but as in Sri Aurobindo, new discoveries, new applications of the knowledge, new achievements, new proposals for further realisations. The concepts of the supermind, of the Gnostic Being, of the Divine Body are some of the results of the recent yogic research.
It may be noted that the science of yoga not only provides us with the knowledge of the various states and levels of consciousness, but it gives us also the practical methods of verifying them by a fresh achievement in our own being. And these methods again are numerous, and pertaining to each method, there are steps and stages, and for each of them there are appropriate states and powers of consciousness. These too have been studied, experimented with and known with authenticity of verifiable repeated and repeatable experience. Even the minute vibrations of consciousness have been noted and described with precision; fine distinctions have been stressed; subtle variations of the methods and processes, whether of Raja Yoga or Hatha Yoga, or Karma Yoga or Jnana Yoga, or Bhakti Yoga or of Tantra have been studied in detail. All in all, we have a vast and opulent treasure of the knowledge of consciousness in Yoga.
Consciousness is intrinsically related to personality. For personality is a pattern of qualities, and qualities are the vibrations of the consciousness of the being. The secret of personality and of the development of personality lies therefore in the nature and powers of consciousness.
Yoga, in dealing with consciousness, necessarily deals with personality and yoga provides knowledge as to what constitutes personality. Yoga has, for instance, behind the concept of personality, significant concepts of the ‘real person', `free person', ‘witness person' and 'supreme person'.
And Yoga provides also a methodology of the development of the 'person' that is conveyed by these concepts to its fullness and in its integrality.
It is significant that in the new waves of research and experimentation in education, there is an increasing stress on the development of personality and on the concept of 'Learning to be'.
If this is the importance that is to be laid in our education on the development of personality, it is clear that consciousness and personality as understood in Yoga have an immediate relevance. To put forth therefore the Yogic idea of integral personality based upon its profound concepts of consciousness is an urgent need.
That consciousness of Man is greatly influenced by ‘unconscious' has largely come to be accepted all over the world, and modern medicine has accorded a place to psychiatry in the treatment of certain diseases. The concept of mental health and its relation to various elements of consciousness have also come to be accepted. But if, as yoga affirms, there are not only the subconscious and the conscious, but even the subliminal and the superconscious and if the laws of these in relation to cure and health are studied, there could occur a revolutionary change not only in the practice of psychiatry or of mental health, but even in our approach to medicine itself. It may have a result even on the knowledge of our body, its functioning, its possibilities and its future.
One of the important problems that still remains unsolved is that of Death. What is Death? Is death inevitable? Is it merely a habit? Or is it something inbuilt in the very structure of the body? And has this structure anything to do with our consciousness? And can this structure be changed by a revolutionary change in consciousness as is sometimes conceived by Yoga? And, in that case, can death be eliminated by Yoga?
And what would this mean in terms of processes and methods that would be involved in the elimination of death? Would it mean a complete change of the human body, its need of blood circulation, food and oxygen? Recent research in Yoga has raised all these important problems not merely as matters of fascinating curiosity or in pursuit of some ambition to conquer death and enjoy the round circle of life perpetually, but as something so relevant to understand Man himself, his place in the evolutionary process, his function as a species.
It is being increasingly realised that the problems that Man confronts are the result of the consciousness in which he dwells. And it is undeniable that the problems that Man faces today are so complex, so critical, so global as they have never been in his history. Has this situation not to do centrally with the consciousness of Man? And, if we are keen to resolve this situation, is it not necessary to study deeply man's consciousness, its relation to his problems and to find solutions to these problems in terms of a radical change of his consciousness? And in that case, shall we not find yoga, which is not only a science of Consciousness, but also a technology of the change of consciousness to be indispensable in the further progression of Man?
Man and his crisis, man and his limitations, man and his death, man and his evolutionary future, man as a species preparing a new species ‒ all these seem to be related to each other, and they all seem to point to the mystery of man's consciousness. Yoga as a science of consciousness promises to hold the key to this mystery and in the critical urgency of the human situation, we feel impelled to knock the doors of Yoga in the hope that these portals will open and show us the way. Or if the way is still not ready with all its past and present achievements, we shall march with yoga to build it.
It has been said that yoga was for long kept secret for a select few, but the time has come now to generalise it in humanity. Indeed, the pressure of our crisis leads us to feel that even we of ordinary humanity must turn to yoga.
Yoga affirms that there are extraordinary states of consciousness, accessible to us by a methodised effort. These include not only states and powers of the subliminal consciousness and of dreams and visions but also the following:
In the new awakening in the world which leads us to concentrate on the theme of Consciousness, it would be highly relevant to make a detailed
study of these and other experiences and realisations which give us a direct access to what may significantly be called the Infinite Ocean of Consciousness.