Aravindan Neelakandan's series on the Sri Lalitha Sahasranama has a new title, 'Sahasra'. This Navratri, we bring to you one article each from this series, each day.
What is the difference between consciousness and the mind?
This is a question that has puzzled many thinkers, researchers and seekers. Consciousness is the field and evolutes of the mind are movements in the field.
Consciousness is like a vast ocean, and the mind is like the waves that arise and subside on it. These waves may appear to be distinct from each other, or even from the field itself. They may seem to have their own nature and identity. But they are not. They are just temporary forms of the field.
Modern psychology has given names to some of these forms, such as libido, shadows, persona, ego, super-ego, and so on.
Some of these forms may go deeper than others, such as the archetypes that emerge from the collective unconscious. But none of them are the same as consciousness. This is a fundamental insight of Hindu spiritual psychology.
Consciousness is the source of all these mental phenomena. They have different shapes and functions, but they are not separate from consciousness, though they are not consciousness themselves. Consciousness remains unchanged by them. When we mistake the mind for consciousness, we shrink ourselves. We lose sight of our true nature.
Is there then a state of consciousness without any mental activity?
Yogic psychology says yes.
When we are in deep sleep, we are still conscious, but our ego is very faint. Consciousness withdraws its energy (and this is not physical energy) from all aspects of our mind. Deep sleep is like a condensed state of consciousness.
Sri Lalita Sahasranama links deep sleep with this condensed state in the Names 260 and 261 – Suptah and Prajnatmika. This is how it is for the individual being.
But there is also a Name that points to the Goddess as the complete condensed Consciousness. That is the 574th name - Prajnana-ghana-rupini. 'Pra' here means higher. 'Jnana' is wisdom and 'ghana' is concentrated.
Concentrated wisdom here is wisdom that is attained, getting attained and one that will be attained through all cognitions.
All cognitions are movements of the mind and the sense organs. And what is obtained through all cognitions is always an aspect of consciousness.
So Prajnana-ghana is a condensation of cognitive movements when movements have ceased to be. It is from this condensed form that all forms emanate.
This is the infinite-petalled lotus as the bud. This is the all-infinite variety condensed into one potential presence. She is the Hiranyagarbha of Consciousness here – the singularity where all movements have become potentials coalescing into One.
Where is this Concentrated Consciousness?
Was it one at a point of time and then like ‘Big Bang’ something happened and the one became many? Then will it unite again and start another cycle?
Here is the paradox. She is all that. She is the bud. It is Her vision that makes that infinite-petalled lotus bloom. She is also the blooming lotus. She is the flowering universe.
Yajnavalkya, when explaining the experience of this to Maitreyi, states that just as a piece of salt is salty inside as well as outside so is the Consciousness as one condensed unified whole. He uses the same term – Prajnana-ghanam-eva – only condensed Consciousness. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5.13)
In recent times a person who used this framework to approach the problem of mind and consciousness was Erwin Schrödinger. In that famous lecture, ‘What is Life' (1943) he stated this:
Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular. Even in the pathological cases of split consciousness or double personality the two persons alternate, they are never manifest simultaneously.
This is important because here Schrödinger has touched a vital psychological problem. Ego or the self derives maximum psychological energy (not to be confused with physical energy) from consciousness.
An organism like a human being has not evolved to direct simultaneously the energy of the consciousness into two personas. Through sadhana, when one can become a vehicle for more energy of illumination of consciousness, then the need for even one persona disappears.
It is in this sense that Sri M.P.Pandit called Sri Ramana Maharishi 'mighty impersonality'.
Delving further into how the Unified Consciousness particulates, Schrödinger investigated deeper:
Consciousness finds itself intimately connected with, and dependent on, the physical state of a limited region of matter, the body. ... Now, there is a great plurality of similar bodies. Hence the pluralization of consciousnesses or minds seems a very suggestive hypothesis. Probably all simple, ingenuous people, as well as the great majority of Western philosophers, have accepted it.
And this has led to the inevitable conceptualisation of multiple individual souls, which in turn with human-centric biases, can lead to questions like ‘do animals have souls?’ etc., points out the physicist.
So, the more elegant and even more scientific conclusion shall be to keep the Consciousness as One and see the separateness as arising from Maya, he says.
The only possible alternative is simply to keep to the immediate experience that consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one thing and that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian Maya); the same illusion is produced in a gallery of mirrors and in the same way Gauri-sankar and Mt Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys.
Thus individuals exist. Individual selves also exist. But they exist in the field of the Condensed Unified Consciousness. And that is She - Prajnana-ghana-Rupini.
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