Nature of Consciousness


Sri Swami Sivananda

This article is a chapter from the book Spiritual Experiences.

It is extremely difficult to define what consciousness means. Words and languages are imperfect. They cannot adequately express your thoughts and ideas.

There are different kinds of consciousness. There are physical consciousness, astral consciousness, mental consciousness, supra-mental consciousness or lower Prakamya or Prajna consciousness, cosmic consciousness, superconscious-ness, subconsciousness, unconsciousness, dream consciousness, supra-cosmic consciousness, dual or double consciousness, multiple consciousness, higher Prakamya, Virat consciousness, Hiranyagarbha consciousness, Divine consciousness or Purushottama consciousness and lastly the Highest Nirguna Para Brahman consciousness or Absolute consciousness per se.

In the waking state (Jagradavastha of Vedantins), you are conscious of this physical plane. You see, you feel, you think, you know, you will, you exert (perception or sensation, cognition, emotion, or affection, or cogitation, volition, conation–Prayatna). This is the physical consciousness.

When you transcend the physical body and operate on the astral plane with the astral body, you will have astral consciousness. You will move, and talk with astral entities.

When you operate in the mental plane with the mental body, you will have mental consciousness. You will identify yourself now with the mind just as you identify yourself with the physical body. You will have psychic Siddhis as clairvoyance, clairaudience, psychometry, telepathy, thought-reading, etc. You will converse here with the mental entities. Here the language is one.

When you transcend the mind you will identify yourself with your individual Karana Sarira or causal body. You will have lower Divya Drishti. Here you will have an expanded consciousness. You will have very subtle Etheric body and operate in an Etheric plane. You will have tremendous powers. You will be in union with the Divine Consciousness. The veil between you and Brahman is very thin now. If you exert you can peep into Brahman and can have glimpses of Brahmic consciousness. This is Prajna consciousness or lower Prakamya. You will be an occupant of Satyaloka or Hiranyagarbhaloka with the individual Karana Sarira. When you universalise now you can become one with Divine consciousness. You will have the whole cosmic consciousness. This is Purushottama consciousness with Adi Sakti or Para Prakriti or Avyaktam. This is Higher Prakamya.

When you throw off the veil of Adi Sakti also, you will become one with pure, Nirguna, Para Brahman, Ananta consciousness, the Highest end of human life (Kaivalya). It is very difficult to rest here for a long time.

Between Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara there is the veil of Avyaktam.

There is one school of thought that says that Ishvara is a reflection in Maya. This is Abhasavada or doctrine of reflection. An objector says: “When there is only one thing, how can there be a reflection? Further if Ishvara is a reflection in Maya, how will He be able to control Maya? This is not right.”

Svarupa Lakshana of Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda. Tatastha Lakshana of Brahman is Ishvara with powers of omnipotence, omniscience, etc.

When we take the Tatastha Lakshana of Brahman, Ishvara has full consciousness of Nirguna Brahman, as well as the whole cosmic consciousness. Here Saguna Brahman is identical with pure Nirguna Brahman. This is Avachheda Vada. This is the doctrine of limitation.

There is only Nirguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is a mere appearance for the sake of pious meditation of Bhaktas.

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