Have you ever wondered if there is a real difference between being conscious and being aware?
We are taught that we have a body, soul and spirit, but the distinction between soul and spirit is rather nebulous. Are we talking about the mind, or something different? At least we know that we are conscious.
When we look at our consciousness, we begin to realize that we are usually conscious of something outside ourselves, something we can point to and name.
We learn to verbalize early in life. Soon all of our experience is mediated through language, and it becomes problematic as to which is the symbol, and which is the reality behind it. We begin to associate ourselves, not only with body and mind, but with our nametag.
You might say that we human beings, above all creation, are conscious of being conscious, which we usually associate with the neocortex, and operate out of the frontal lobe of our brain.
We label this self-awareness, and recognize that we each have an ego, or focal point of our individuality. We also often link this to the left side of the brain, which is highly analytical, experiencing time in a linear fashion.
We can also look at it as left brain versus right brain. The left hemisphere is associated with our analytic capabilities, and the right brain with our creative and artistic capabilities. You can actually graduate from college with your right brain removed, but not your left brain, as words and numbers are so vital to higher education.
I think you get the idea. If you are self-aware of your brain and its capabilities… well… we can say that you pass the test of being conscious.
However, this type of consciousness OR self-awareness is primarily sitting on the “surface.” There is something beyond consciousness. The type of consciousness that even our conscious mind can’t comprehend.
When we look deeper, we notice that we have a basic awareness, which is sometimes called primordial. We are aware, not only of various sensations and perceptions, but of pure being itself. Things just are.
When yogis carefully monitor their brain states over hundreds of hours of meditation, they begin to recognize pure awareness behind, not only waking and dreaming states, but also deep sleep. They realize that while they sleep, they are somehow still aware.
This is much like lucid dreaming, where you find yourself mid-point between a dream and the waking state. You notice that you are dreaming, yet have editorial control of the dream. The scene and characters are vivid, maybe even more so than in daily life.
Nisargadatta Maharaj was the greatest nondual teacher of the 20th Century. From his tiny attic in a rundown part of the city, Maharaj would give daily talks and answer questions to hundreds of people who keep coming in from all over the world. In later years, he kept asking his students, “What is prior to consciousness?”
This was much like the Zen roshis asking their monks, “What was your original face before you were born?”
Maharaj pressed his disciples to realize that pure awareness is who they really are, that it is “prior to consciousness.”
The Vedic tradition in India maintains that the ultimate is Sat, Chit and Ananda, or Being, Consciousness and Bliss. Their ultimate word for God is Brahman, which refers to infinite expansion. They then referred to Parabrahman, the Absolute, beyond even Brahman.
Simply being conscious of your actions and thoughts is good enough, but this whole notion can be explored further. Just know that awareness is a state of being beyond consciousness.
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Our ultimate Self, just like that of the Creator of the Universe, is beyond any names or qualities that we can assign to Him or Her. He is both personal and impersonal…and neither personal nor impersonal. The Supreme Identity, which we all are, is the Transcendent Mystery.
When we get in touch with our divine Self, we realize that Who and What we truly are is the very Source of the Universe. That very same awareness at the core of our psyche is the awareness beyond any name that we can give to God. We find it easier and easier to open up and love other sentient beings as individualized expressions of the Absolute.
In a nutshell, we need both consciousness and awareness. Consciousness is our ticket to the play of life. It helps us navigate through all the twists and the turns of the plot, making us very human. Yet in our fundamental awareness lies eternal life.