Space and Consciousness

In the 13th chapter of the Gita, Krishna uses space and light as examples to explain consciousness. The Upanisads also use space and light as examples.

In his lectures, Swami Paramarthanandaji uses the concept of space to beautifully explain Consciousness.

Consciousness is the subject which can never be objectified. Everything that can be perceived or thought of, in other words, “objectified” is insentient. The experiencer who can never be an object of experience is the Consciousness. All attributes belong to the objects only. The subject can never have any attributes. This feature of attribute-less-ness of Consciousness results in several interesting corollaries.

Space (aakaasha) and Consciousness (caitanya) have several commonalities:

  1. nirgunam – property-less or attribute-less
  2. nirvikaaram – changeless with respect to time, because any change can be only to properties
  3. sarva vyaapakam – all-pervading because changeless with respect to space, because change can be only to properties
  4. achalam – non-moving because changeless and all-pervading
  5. akhandam – partless, homogeneous and isotropic, because attribute-less
  6. ekam – unique, because there cannot be two, because attribute-less
  7. asangham – non-contaminatable because cannot take on any attributes
  8. sarva aadharam – substratum for everything else
  9. sookshmam – subtle and not easily comprehensible

The difference between space and Consciousness is that space is insentient, whereas Consciousness is sentient.

Now, to understand Consciousness better, Swami Paramarthanandaji takes us through various stages of understanding. First, consider the room and space.

  1. I should learn that the room has space inside.
  2. Next I should understand that space is in all rooms.
  3. Even though rooms are many and varied, space is the same in every room.
  4. Not only there is one space inside all rooms, there is space outside the rooms also.
  5. Really speaking, space is not inside and outside all rooms. All rooms and in fact all objects are in space only.
  6. Not only all objects are in space, all objects are formed in space and when the object disintegrates, it goes back into space only.

Now, replace room by body and space by Consciousness.

  1. I should learn that the body has Consciousness inside.
  2. Next I should understand that Consciousness is in all bodies.
  3. Even though bodies are many and varied, Consciousness is the same in every body.
  4. Not only there is one Consciousness inside all bodies, there is Consciousness outside the bodies also.
  5. Really speaking, Consciousness is not inside and outside all bodies. All bodies and objects are in Consciousness only.
  6. Not only all objects are in Consciousness, all objects are formed in Consciousness and when the object disintegrates, it goes back into Consciousness only.

In fact, all objects are just super-impositions on Consciousness only. Consciousness is the substratum. This is called Brahman.

To explain this, Swami Paramarthanandaji uses another interesting example.

When we say “tall tree”, “tree” is the substance and “tall” is an incidental property. The tree was short earlier. Now it is tall.

However, when we say “golden bangle”, “gold” is the substance and “bangle” is an attribute, because we have “golden ring”, “golden chain”, etc. The bangle can be melted and a chain be made of the same gold. Thus, gold is the substance. “bangle”, “chain”, “ring”, etc are incidental properties.

When we say, “this is a pen”, there is a property which is implied in the word “is” there. It actually means, “this is an existent pen”. Similarly when we say, “this is a boy”, it means “this is an existent boy”. Now, Advaita Vedanta says, “Existence” is the substance. “pen”, “boy”, etc are incidental properties. This substratum called “Existence” is called Brahman.

Thus, the entire world, including my own body and mind, is a super-imposition on this Existence-Consciousness substratum, which is called Brahman (literally meaning “Infinite”).

Another example used for Consciousness in Gita and Upanisads is dispersed white light. Light is everywhere. But only where there is an object to reflect the light, the light is perceived as the object. In the absence of object, the light is there, but it cannot be perceived. Similarly, Consciousness is everywhere. Where there is a reflecting medium in the form of an object, we perceive the Consciousness in the form of the object. In the absence of the reflecting medium, Consciousness cannot be perceived. The word “Consciousness” can be replaced by “Existence” and the same concept applies.

As Brahman is the only Conscious Existent entity, it has to be my own essential nature, because my consciousness and existence are two things that I can never deny. This real “I” is called aatman. Thus, “I” am Brahman.

The entire world owes its existence and appearance to me, just as the entire dream world owes its existence to the sleeping person. The difference here is that when the sleeping person wakes up, the dream world disappears. Whereas, in this case, even after I know that the world depends on me for its existence, the world continues to appear. However, the world will no longer threaten me or cause anxiety to me, because I know that I am greater than the world. The world rests on me and appears in me. Just as movies are projected on a screen, the varied world appears in me. Just as the fire and water in the movie will not burn or wet the screen, the world cannot affect me. I am a greater reality than the world.

A thousand salutations to Swami Paramarthanandaji for explaining the subtle concept of Advaita Vedanta in an understandable way using effective examples.

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