An Exercise to Experience the Nature of Consciousness

The quest to understand the nature of consciousness, and “who am I?” spans back through the past history of mankind. Some of the exercises undertaken by the ancient sages remain relevant into the current day, as the Mother illustrates in her example below, which derives in its original form from the Bhriguvalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad. The general proposition put before the disciple was to “seek thou to know that from which these creatures are born, whereby being born they live and to which they go hence and enter again; for that is the Eternal.” As the teaching progressed the Master also provided the insight that ‘concentration in thought, or concentration of force’ is the eternal’. The seeker first tried to understand by focusing on the body, but soon realized this did not explain everything. He continued and focused on the life-energy, but again, it was insufficient. Next he turned to mind, and, unlike Descarte, he was not satisfied to stop there. This brought him to the knowledge-consciousness, beyond the individual manifestation of mind, and eventually to the bliss of the Eternal which transcends all.

Experiences of out of body awareness, of near death experiences and the phenomenon known as ‘quantum entanglement’ in physics cannot be explained by the idea that consciousness is limited to individual bodies or forms and somehow is the result of random chemical interactions, as some Western scientists of the past have held.

The Mother observes: “But first of all one must know what one’s consciousness is, that is, become conscious of one’s consciousness, localise it. And for this there are many exercises. But one of them is very well known, it is to observe oneself and watch oneself living, and then see whether it is really the body which is the consciousness of the being, what one calls ‘myself’; and then when one has realised that it is not at all the body, that the body expresses something else, then one searches in his impulses, emotions, to see whether it’s that, and again one finds out that it is not that; and then one seeks in his thoughts, whether the thought is truly himself, what he calls ‘myself’, and at the end of a very short time one becomes aware: ‘No, I am thinking, therefore ‘myself’ is different from my thoughts.’ And so, by progressive eliminations one succeeds in entering into contact with something, something which gives you the impression of being — ‘Yes, that’s ‘myself’. And this something I can move around, I can move it from my body to my vital, to my mind, I can even, if I am very … how to put it? … very practiced in moving it, I can move it into other people, and it’s in this way that I can identify myself with things and people. I can with the help of my aspiration make it come out of my human form, rise above towards regions which are no longer this little body at all and what it contains.’ And so one begins to understand what one’s consciousness is; and it’s after that that one can say, ‘Good, I shall unite my consciousness with my psychic being and shall leave it there, so that it may be in harmony with the Divine and be able to surrender entirely to the Divine.’ Or else, ‘If by this exercise of rising above my faculties of thinking and my intellect I can enter a region of pure light, pure knowledge…’ then one can put his consciousness there and live like that, in a luminous splendour which is above the physical form.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of “Oneself”, pp. 124-126


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