THE NATURE OF THE SUPREME CONSCIOUSNESS
Sanatana Dharmic thought refers to the Supreme Consciousness as Brahman. Brahman is designated as SAT-CHIT-ANANDA, translated to BEING-CONSCIOUSNESS-BLISS.
Being (sat) refers to the underlying unity of the universe in its existential substratum. The Supreme Consciousness is pure unqualified being, that transcends illusory energy (maya) and truly exists. Consciousness (cit) acknowledges the principle of awareness which informs being and acts as an unchanging witness of the universal being. This self-conscious enlightenment of the universe is an illuminating experience. Bliss (ananda) is the result of the illuminating experience. It is a state of joyous, ecstatic, and unmatched majesty.
Affirmation of these attributes does not come from mere speculation but through direct experience. However, it can also be said that Brahman is not sat-chit-ananda. As a transcendental, infinite being, Brahman flouts any and all descriptions and characterizations. This is where the significance of the negation, mentioned earlier in chapter one as neti, neti, comes into play. Neti, neti is not ultimately denial of all things but an assertion that Brahman cannot be confined into the language and syntax of mankind. Humanity will fall short because our faculties are limited. Brahman is unthinkable and can only be known through experience.
Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness, is not a person. Personhood is defined as being capable of intentional action. Brahman does not act as there is no motive for Brahman to act. Brahman simply exists: eternally peaceful, utterly secure, requiring and longing nothing. Humans are driven by desires, aversions and are constantly insecure; always victim to uncertainty and frustration. Brahman will do nothing to save humanity from despondent conditions because absolutely everything needed to change ones circumstances has been given. Brahman does not love because Brahman is love. Brahman has no interest in worldly suffering because humanity can save themselves. For Brahman there is no good or evil because those are just names and forms of mankind’s narrow identities. Humans have all the tools to become Brahman and all we need to do is to merge our narrow personhood with the Supreme Consciousness.
Atma and Brahman, One in the Same
Individuality arises by identification of the self, through ignorance with the elements; with the disappearance of consciousness of the many… it disappears. Where there is consciousness of Brahman, individuality is no more.
By peeling away every projected sheath, one discovers his/her soul or atma. That atma is only his or her because it is contained in the vessel of ones individuality. But with each sheath taken away, a composite part of ones in individuality or personhood is eliminated. With all sheaths gone, what is left is the Supreme Consciousness and that is the same for all of creation.
Since everything, animate and inanimate, is ultimately a projection of the Supreme Consciousness, what is there to know about Brahman as itself? As an entity that simply is, Brahman is declared as one that neither acts nor changes. Creation is a just an expression of Brahman’s being. A metaphor from the Mundaka Upanishad states “As plants grew from the soil and hair from the body of man, so springs the universe from the eternal Brahman.” This statement does a good job in illustrating that our existence was not a deliberate, desired or will decision of Brahman. It shows that creation is not independent from Brahman but that we are forever connected to the Supreme Source. Realizing oneness with the Supreme Consciousness is all that is needed to move beyond a relative existence to the Absolute is-ness.
Is-ness is the highest perfection that can be attained. Distinction from Brahman is not perfection. Anything distinct from Him would make Him less perfect. A reality that is solely the Supreme Consciousness is perfect and as Brahman has no motive to act or create, no real distinctions are ever formed.
Common Perception of God
Supreme Consciousness or Brahman or God is a principle force for how many live their lives but how is God perceived? Is He a large mystical being living among white angels in the clouds, in his white robe and long beard? Or is God a being with multiple arms holding celestial weapons? There are endless characterizations of the Supreme Consciousness but how does limiting one self to a one dimensional identity of God become self-defeating? Sanatana Dharmic thought on the nature of the Supreme Consciousness has been presented but lets contrast it with how God is used a means for other goals rather than being an end.
All the religions of the world have been promising the vision of God, mental peace, salvation, and many kinds of temptations to their followers, but so far nothing has come to fruition. The more involved one get into divisive religious activities, the more likely one is to become dissatisfied. Frustrated expectations of God and religion always take their toll. Many preachers claim that if their teachings and traditions are followed without question, believers will find salvation. But after they return from their place of worship, they are frequently more strained, frustrated, and worried about their problems than are “non-believers.”
For seekers of the Ultimate truth, blind faith does not suffice. Belief in God with our emotional maturity and peace of mind, the two prerequisites for enlightenment, does not take a person very far in the search for truth and reality. On the path of enlightenment, it is necessary to have control over the senses and mind, but it is not necessary to have belief in God. Enlightenment is a state of liberation and freedom from the ignorance that causes suffering. Achieving this enlightenment is the prime necessity of every life. There is no necessity to attain mere belief in God, but it is necessary to have profound knowledge of the truth which lies behind the concept of the word God.
Superimposition of ignorance and limitations on God, causes tremendous suffering for those who choose to accept those distorted fantasies without thorough analysis. The definition of God needs to transcend convention and stand for something greater than one’s own limited existence. If the Ultimate Truth is defined as God, then there is no difficulty. The Ultimate Truth can be practiced with mind, action, and speech, and once the truth is known with mind, action, and speech, knowledge is complete. But having faith in the fantasies of the religionists or any other person for that matter, creates limited boundaries for the human intellect and leads to a religious atmosphere in which the poor followers must suffer until the last breath of their lives.
Though religious doctrines tempt the human mind with promises of the vision of God, it does not define the concept of God and give a way for one to verify that definition. The way religious books present God is injurious to human growth, for one who believes in God without understanding and experiencing what God really is, closes the door to further knowledge and learning and cannot experience the inner dimensions of life. Such false assurance are strongly discouraged in the Upanishads, which warn, “neti, neti—not this, not this.” The student is made aware of the need to understand the reality and is encouraged to search for truth within. The Upanishads inspire one first to know oneself and then to know the Self of all. Upanishadic literature makes one aware that every being embodied in a physical sheath is a moving shrine of Supreme Consciousness. It also provides methods for entering the inner shrine, wherein shines the infinite light of knowledge, peace, and happiness.
Religions often prescribe prayer as a way to connect with God. However all it really does is satisfy the need for desires to be heard and comfort people in spite for their frustrations. Many people who are not acquainted with the basic principles of Vedantic philosophy think that there are prayers in the Upanishadic literature. For example: “Lead me from the unreal to the Real; lead me from darkness to Light; lead me from mortality to Immortality” may beto be a prayer. However, it is actually an expression of the aspirant’s spiritual endeavor that reminds him/her of the Goal. It is a way of maintaining constant awareness of Supreme Consciousness. It is not asking God or any supernatural being to help one or to lead one to the higher states. The idea is not to know God as a distinct being, but to know that consciousness pervades all beings including myself. One is not actually attaining something but uncovering something that is already there. This Upanishadic verse is not a prayer asking for anything but a way of strengthening constant awareness of Supreme Consciousness which is the goal of the Upanishads.
Dualism is the first round experience of a contemplative mind. Many religions propagate dualistic concepts, such as good vs. evil, God vs. Devil, God and humans, etc… These concepts are illogical when they are analyzed with clarity of mind and pure reason. In the course of study, a student first experiences dualism—the reality that he exists and the Supreme Consciousness also exists. Then a state comes when he/she experiences “Tat-vam-asi” translated as “Thou art That””. These two fields of experience appear to be different, but they are essentially one and the same. These are the progressive states that aspirants experiences, but as far as the Supreme Consciousness is concerned, there is only one without second.
The philosophy of the Upanishads asserts that the ultimate goal is to be free from all pain and misery whatsoever. This state of freedom from anxieties, misery, and ignorance is called enlightenment. It is the union of the individual with Universal Consciousness. Preachers of religion say that one has to have faith in the sayings of the scriptures and in the way they are preached. But in Upanishadic philosophy; the mind is released from all religious prejudices so then one can think and reason freely. The Upanishads declare that even the best of intellects is incapable of fathoming the unfathomable, and that learning the scriptures is not the ultimate way of realization. On the path of enlightenment, even the lust for learning must eventually be abandoned.
In some of the Upanishads, the word Īśa or Īśvara, which is roughly translated as God, appears. But the concept of God as preached by religion is not found in the Upanishads. In the Upanishads, the word Īśvara is used to denote a state of collective consciousness. Thus, God is not a being that sits on a high pedestal beyond the sun, moon, and stars; God is actually the state of Ultimate Reality. But due to the lack of direct experience, God has been personified and given various names and forms by religions throughout the ages. When one expands one’s individual consciousness to the Universal Consciousness, it is called Self-realization, for the individual self has realized the unity of diversity, the very underlying principle, or Universal Self, beneath all forms and names. The great sages of the Upanishads avoid the confusions related to conceptions of God and encourage students to be honest and sincere in their quests for Self-realization. Upanishadic philosophy provides various methods for unfolding higher levels of truth and helps students to be able to unravel the mysteries of the individual and the universe.
Knowledge of Brahmavidyā, the direct experience of Supreme Consciousness, is the common theme of all Upanishadic literature. “I am Brahman; the whole universe is Brahman; Thou art That”—such statements are the foundations for all its theories, principles, and practices. All philosophical and psychological discussions are meant to make students aware of their true nature—Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness. For a realized one, there is perennial joy in the universe, but for the ignorant there is only misery everywhere. The moment a student realizes his essential nature, the darkness of ignorance is dispelled, but before that the individual mind travels to the groove of self-created misery and thus projects the belief that there is misery everywhere. In reality, this universe is like a great poem of joy, a beautiful song, and a unique work of art. The moment one unfolds and realizes one’s human capacity and ability, one becomes aware that, “Thou art that—Brahman.”
Here lies the difference between a Self-realized person and a religious person. The religious person does not know and yet believes in God, but the realized person is directly aware of the Supreme Consciousness and the Ultimate Reality of life and the universe. First, he knows the truth, and then he believes it. If God is the Ultimate Truth hidden behind many forms and names, then it should be realized, and, for realizing the Truth with mind, action, and speech, one needs to practice truth rather than being a hypocrite and a fanatic. It is not necessary to believe in God to attain self-enlightenment, but it is very necessary to know the various levels of consciousness and finally to realize the ultimate source. The manifest aspect and the unmanifested aspect of consciousness (Brahman) should be realized, for that alone can enlighten aspirants.
Vedic Trinity of Original Creation
The principle of Original Creation employs three aspects of Original Consciousness. It is stated as:
Creation = Thought + Feeling + Motion
Motion is the key aspect of Original Consciousness which brought the dance of Thought and Feeling into play, making all else in the universe possible. Infinite Being is the underlying state of all consciousness which projected itself into this Trinity of Original Creation.
Study of ancient Vedic philosophy, found that what Vedantins call Brahman is exactly the original consciousness that is referred to as Infinite Being. Study the Vedic definitions of the Trinity which created the universe.
The Vedic Trinity consists of the principles called Brahma (that’s Brahma without an ‘n’ on the end), Vishnu and Shiva. While these three principles have deity-like names, Vedantins are well aware that they represent principles of original consciousness and not person-like deities. However, in order to describe the many characteristics of these facets of original consciousness, they are given names and then extensive and poetic descriptions of their many attributes.
Basically, the traditional attributes of the Vedic Trinity are summarized as being represented by the principles of Creation, Preservation and Destruction.