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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Consciousness at the Base


A book by Rev.Thich Naht Hanh with the title "Transformation at the Base" is the stimulus for this essay on Consciousness.

My life is impermanent. So is my body. Time is unidirectional and linear as we experience it. It is cyclic according to some systems of philosophy. But this moment I am experiencing will be over by the time I strike the next letter on the keyboard. My thoughts come and go and therefore, are impermanent.

The only thing I can see stable in this body and mind is my consciousness. (Breath too is constant. Otherwise how can I be conscious?)It is always there, even when I am asleep. It will be there even if I go under anesthesia for 6 hours. It is constant and continuous, not changing even though my body is undergoing changes and the mind keeps changing its contents.

Consciousness is as close to a constant, if not to a permanence, as we can get. The other unique feature of consciousness is that it can be both a subject and an object. Everything else in this universe is an object of that consciousness. My body, mind, objects of my mind and even my mind are objects of my consciousness. Consciousness makes it possible to be aware of everything else including itself and the breath. That is amazing, puzzling and mysterious since it is a product of the brain and the mind.

Consciousness is like light – shines and makes other things visible. That is why Light is an important sacred object in all traditions. That is why Vedas use the metaphor of light to indicate knowledge and consciousness. Consciousness illuminates everything, including itself.

But, is there something called universal consciousness? And Universal breath? And, why consciousness at all? Why life at all? What about inanimate objects without consciousness?

We realize the impermanence of all created things at every moment. We see changes all around and in ourselves and with our own thoughts. We see births and deaths. Therefore, we look for permanence of life (specifically the present one). We start talking about our Soul which we think can live even after death and about rebirth.

We see happiness and misery and ups and downs. We, therefore, look for permanent happiness, a state of Bliss. We think we can get to that state of eternal happiness by one of many ways such as Faith and Prayer, meditating and “merging” and leading a life of asceticism.

How many mental gymnastics we are going to try to escape the inevitable? Is it not easier and more pragmatic to accept the reality as is? The body IS impermanent. Life, mind and our thoughts are all impermanent. Life will be full of surprises with ups and downs. Instead of thinking about another life or next life of which we can not be sure of, why not focus on this life, as suggested by several wise elders starting with Buddha?

And why not live a life of humility in the face of awe-inspiring mysteries? Why not live a life of equanimity with cheerfulness, usefulness, and a life filled with compassion?  Why wait for eternal happiness when it can be had here and now by meditating on the  state of Basic Awareness, a state of consciousness which creates the sense of I and shows it to us as on object of that Consciousness.

If we reach the stage of Buddha or Ramana, we may even be able to reach a stage at which we will be aware of the subject only, the Bare Awareness, without any object. That is probably the closest to eternal bliss we humans can reach.  

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