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A Note on Consciousness

Ramesh S. Balsekar

Ramesh S. Balsekar is a devotee of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (see notes), and is a well-respected spiritual teacher in his own right. He has written numerous books about his teaching. The selection on this page is an excerpt from his book Pointers From Nisargadatta Maharaj. In the introduction to the book, Balsekar writes, “I had no intention of writing a book on the teachng of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. The material that appears in this volume emerged spontaneously, dictated, in a fine frenzy that surcharged my being, by a compulsive power that could not be denied”. A few pages later, he tells us that when he asked Nisargadatta whether or not he should publish this book, and if so, whether or not he should do so under his own name, Nisargadatta replied affirmatively to both questions, adding “I know that you are aware that all writing originates in consciousness, that there is writing but no authors”.

Nisargadatta is one of our all-time favorite Teachers! His words, as reported in the book I Am That, from which there is an excerpt on Ampers&nd (please click here), consistently awaken and inspire their readers. This book by Ramesh Balsekar expands upon Nisargadatta’s Teachings with clarity, depth, and force. So well written is this book that it stands well on its own; but it may be best read as an accompaniment to the earlier book.

This selection from “Pointers From Nisargadatta Maharaj” by Ramesh S. Balsekar is an excerpt from the book’s Appendix II, which is entitled “A Note on Consciousness”. It is respectfully and gratefully reproduced here with permission from the publisher, The Acorn Press, Post Office Box 3279, Durham, North Carolina, 27715-3279, USA. The publisher’s website is www.acornpressonline.com

The Editor’s Notes that appear at the end of the selection are ours.

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It would perhaps be a truism to say that any kind of confusion regarding the concept of consciousness arises because, and only because the essential nature of consciousness has not been apprehended. But it is necessary to say so. This confusion is somewhat comparable to the classic case of the confusion created in the minds of the group of blind men when each of them touched and felt only one part of the elephant and decided what the elephant was like.

In trying to get a clear idea of what Maharaj (see Notes) intends to convey by the word ‘consciousness’, it would help us if at the very outset we would bear in mind the basic fact that in the absence of consciousness there cannot be existence of any kind, and consciousness itself is merely the thought — I am. Therefore whatever arises in consciousness — and appears as a thing, an object, or an event or a feeling — can also only be of the nature of thought, i.e. without existence on its own. This means in effect that man himself, being only an appearance in the consciousness of another, can have no substance as such. Maharaj sets the whole problem in perspective by saying that the entire manifested universe is ‘like the child of a barren woman’ — an illusion. All further elucidation of the problem must therefore be considered in this perspective.

In deep sleep, when consciousness is resting and the mind is utterly still, there is no question of the existence either of the individual concerned or of other individuals and objects comprising the ‘world’. In deep sleep one does not undergo any experience, either of pain or of pleasure, because any experience can arise only as a movement in consciousness. One’s miseries arise only when deep sleep is over and consciousness stirs either into dreams or into full wakefulness. It is from this point of view that Maharaj talks of consciousness as being ‘the culprit’: man suffers any experience only when there is the sense of conscious presence.

Awareness, Consciousness, the ‘Individual’

‘Awareness’ is the name given to that state of absolute perfection when consciousness is at total rest and is not aware of its own beingness. (Whatever words are used to indicate it, they can only be a concept because in that state it cannot perceive itself.)

Consciousness becomes conscious of itself only when it begins to stir, and the thought, I am, arises. Why does consciousness arise at all? For no apparent reason other than it is its nature — like the wave on an expanse of water: ‘the causeless cause’, says Maharaj. Simultaneously, along with the primal thought I am, springs into existence the entire manifested universe in a split-second. When consciousness, which is impersonal in rest, manifests itself by objectifying itself as phenomena, it identifies itself with each sentient object and thus arises the concept of a separable personal individual ‘I’ which treats all other phenomena as its objects, and each sentient being becomes the subject vis-a-vis all other sentient objects, although all are really objects appearing in consciousness.

What constitutes ‘bondage’ is precisely this limiting of the pure subjectivity and the unlimited potential of the Absolute into a single insignificant object calling itself ‘me’, as separate from others. It is this phenomenal object, a mere appearance in the consciousness of others, who comes to Maharaj for ‘liberation’, and it is to this individual that Maharaj tells, inter alia, that the only one who can help him is consciousness, which is the only ‘capital’ every sentient being is born with, the only link he has with the Absolute. Consciousness is the ‘culprit’ that has brought man the illusory bondage and it is only consciousness that can help him to attain the illusory liberation. Consciousness is the Maya (see Notes), says Maharaj, that produces the illusory bondage, and it is also consciousness the Ishvara (see Notes), that acts as the Sadguru (see Notes) and, if duly propitiated unfolds the secret of the universe and provides the illusory liberation in this play of the living-dream in which consciousness is the only actor enacting all the multifarious roles. Therefore, says Maharaj, there is no power on earth that is greater than this consciousness, this sense of presence — I am, to which the illusory individual must direct all his prayers; and then this very consciousness will provide the illusory liberation for the illusory bondage of the illusory individual by revealing its true nature — which is none other than the seeker himself, but not as an individual!

The Nature of Consciousness and Manifestation

When Maharaj asks us to consider consciousness as the highest God and pray to it for guidance, he assumes, of course, that we still identify ourselves with our bodies and consider ourselves as separate entities with independent choice of action. But on this basis of individuality and freedom of choice, the manifested universe cannot yield its secret. Therefore, says Maharaj, pray with sincerity and ardor to consciousness, the source of all sentience, so that this hold of entity-fication will gradually loosen itself and enable the purified psyche to receive the secret of its true nature from consciousness, the Sadguru.

The attachment of the human being to the body as a separate entity is due entirely to the conditioning he receives from the parents, elders and others, from the earliest moments of understanding, that he is the particular body with a particular name. Very soon he is convinced beyond any doubt that he is the body that is endowed both with the life force of breath, inhaling and exhaling continuously, and with consciousness or sentience which comes and goes with the waking and sleeping states. Actually, all that has happened is that the noumenon (see Notes) has objectified itself into millions of forms (including the human forms) as phenomena constituting the total manifestation and its functioning, and these phenomenal objects are continuously created and destroyed in the process of manifestation, and none has any choice of action. Indeed, therefore, instead of the various human beings each possessing consciousness, it is Consciousness which possesses the millions of forms through which the noumenon can objectify itself. If there is clear understanding and deep conviction about this process of the continuous appearance and disappearance of manifestation, as in the case of the Jnani (see Notes), consciousness is then seen in a totally different light. THEN, consciousness in action, i.e. the phenomena, are seen as the perishable instruments for manifestation to take place, although, of course, the manifestation is not different from the noumenon but only the objective aspect of the noumenon, the only subject.

This brings us to the point why Maharaj calls consciousness ‘time-bound’. The answer is that Consciousness needs a physical form to manifest itself in, and the manifested consciousness in that form can last only so long as the physical form lasts. The physical form is made of and sustained and nourished by food, which is only the essence of the five elements (the mix of the vital fluids of the parents which causes conception in the female womb is itself the essence of the food consumed by the parents). When the physical form ‘dies’, the breath leaves the body and mingles with the air outside, and consciousness leaves the body and merges with the unmanifested consciousness. Consciousness within the body is therefore limited for its manifestation in each case by the span of life which each physical form has been allotted, and, therefore, is time-bound.

Editor’s Notes:
 •  For informartion about Nisargadatta, please click here. For an excerpt from a book of his talks, please click here. (Return to Text)
 • Sri is a Sanskrit term of respect used before the names of persons, god or gods, sacred books, boats, places. Most commonly, it is like “mister” in English. (Return to Text)
 • Maharaj means “Great Prince”, and is a term of respect. Return to Text
 • Maya is that which produces the illusion of a separate and separative self (“I am me, and you aren’t me”). See also here. (Return to Text)
 • Ishvara is God with attributes; a personal God of the world. See also here. (Return to Text)
 • Sadguru is the true or perfect Guru or Teacher (see here) who points the seeker toward liberation from the illusion of bondage. (Return to Text)
 • Noumenon is pure subjectivity; a thing in itself; that than which there is no other. (Return to Text)
 • Jnani is a practitioner of jnana-yoga, the path of knowledge leading to discernment between the real and the unreal. (Return to Text)

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