The Ladder of Awareness

Sri Aurobindo translates Katha Upanishad, First Cycle: Third Chapter, Verses 10-12:  “Than the senses the objects of sense are higher: and higher than the objects of sense is the Mind: and higher than the Mind is the faculty of knowledge: and than that the Great-Self is higher.  And higher than the Great-Self is the Unmanifest and higher than the Unmanifest is the Purusha: than the Purusha there is none higher: He is the culmination, He is the highest goal of the journey.  He is the secret Self in all existences and does not manifest Himself to the vision: yet is He seen by the seers of the subtle by a subtle and perfect understanding.”

Most people, trained to look upon the subjectivity of our ego-consciousness as higher than the objects in the outer world in terms of awareness, would reverse the order noted here that the “objects of senses” are higher than the senses themselves.  Those who see the outer world as an illusion, certainly have a difficulty in assigning a higher place to the objects of the senses than to the senses.  Even those in the West, who believe in material culture, however, tend to place a higher value on the subjective experience, as we see with philosophers such as Rene Descartes indicating “I think, therefore I am.”  The senses are important instruments of the mental action, and thus, rank higher than what they perceive, from this viewpoint.

Looked at from another viewpoint, however, this order makes sense.  The senses are specifically related to the individual human being, providing a connection between that individual form and the universal manifestation.  From the perspective of the divine, however, the universal manifestation and its forms would be higher than any individual’s perception of it.  Mind, which is not limited by the individual form, but represents a universal awareness, is then higher than the objects of the senses, and from there the power of Reason, the “faculty of knowledge” is higher.  The Great Self is the universal consciousness in manifestation, the Kshara Purusha and beyond this is the unmanifest, the Akshara Purusha.  Beyond both the manifest and the unmanifest is what the Gita calls the Purushottama, the Supreme consciousness that embodies, and transcends both the manifest and the unmanifest.

As long as we turn our focus on the gross manifestations of the world, relying on the senses to observe and experience the objects of the senses, we are unable to experience consciously this ultimate transcendent consciousness.  As we quiet the mind and withdraw the senses, the possibility of experiencing the transcendent awareness that creates, maintains, permeates and upholds all arises.


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Katha Upanishad, pp. 213-241, and Kapali Sastry, Lights on the Upanishads, pp.  104-129

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