The term “consciousness” is one of the most ill-defined and unclear word in the English vocabulary. Many authors and writers use the word without telling what they mean by the word. However, we need not strive towards a precise and dogmatic definition of the concept of consciousness. There can be many definitions of consciousness depending on the stand point, context or way of looking at it. This article presents a paradigm of consciousness based on the integral psychology of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. But we accept that there can be other equally valid ways of looking at the concept of consciousness. In this Integral paradigm, the concept of consciousness may be viewed in three dimensions: first is the metaphysical or spiritual or transcendent dimension; second is the cosmic or universal; third is the individual or psychological.
The Spiritual Dimension
In a metaphysical perspective Consciousness is the fundamental Reality behind all existence. The eternal Consciousness of the divine Reality, beyond time and space and beyond Mind, is the Alpha and Omega of all creation, and the source, ground and the underlying unity which links all life.
Consciousness has two aspects: Awareness and Energy. The divine Reality knows itself and all that exists within itself through an intrinsic self-evident identity, as Itself within Itself. This is the highest essence of consciousness which can be described as the supreme and eternal light of Awareness. All forms of consciousness are partial and limited expression of this supreme Consiousness. All knowledge of the self or the world are the partial, limited or broken reflections of this eternal Awareness of Consciousness. The other aspect of consciousness is Energy. There is an eternal Energy inherent within the supreme Consciousness of the divine Reality, one with it, a supreme Consciousness-force, which is the source of all energies- spiritual, mental, vital and physical- in the individual and the universe. If the awareness-aspect of consciousness may be regarded as the Light by which the divine Reality knows itself, the Energy- aspect is the Power by which the timeless Reality manifests itself in space and time as the universe. If the Awareness aspect is viewed as the source of all knowledge, Energy aspect is the source of all movement, action, expression and creation. In the Indian spiritual tradition this Energy aspect of consciousness is called as Shakthi or Prakrithi, Nature.
The Cosmic Dimension
The process of creation is the descent of this Supreme Consciousness from its highest supramental station through various stages, through Mind, Life, Matter, becoming them, and finally involving itself in the apparent unconsciousness of Matter. Thus, in this perspective, Matter is a dense outwardly unconscious and mechanical whirl of consciousness. The fundamental unit of Matter is a point of consciousness lost in its own whirl.
These descending layers of consciousness creates another dimension between the transcendent and the individual. It is the cosmic or universal dimension-universal Mind, Universal Vital and Universal Matter, which may be regarded as the cosmic poises of the transcendent Consciousness. Our individual mind, life and body are made of and derived from the corresponding substance and energy of the universal mind, Life and Body. Our individual mind is a receptacle of the Universal Mind; our individual life is a channel of the universal Life; and our individual body is a formation of the universal Matter.
Evolution is the reverse of this process of creation or involution of consciousness, first liberating itself from the dense, unconscious, mechanical whirl of matter and becoming the more sensitive vital response of the plant to the environment; moving further, it becomes the sense-conscious mind of the animal; progressing beyond, it becomes the self-conscious rational mind in man. But, according to the spiritual paradigm of evolution, the rational mind of man is not the last summit of evolution. The evolutionary force in consciousness is moving forward from the imperfect, half-conscious rational mind of man towards a perfect, integral and total consciousness of the supramental being.
Thus, Consciousness may be viewed in the form of a spectrum, the self-conscious rational mind of humans coming in the middle of the spectrum. Above the rational mind of humans are the many levels of the spiritual mind and at the summit of it is the supramental consciousness of the divine Reality. Below the human mind there are many levels of the submental or subrational consciousness of the atom, plant, and the animal.
The Psychological Dimension
In a psychological perspective, the transcendent and universal Consciousness expresses itself in the individual as a four-fold being made of Body, Life, Mind and Soul or to be more precise physical, vital and mental consciousness and the consciousness of the soul. In this perspective, our body is not a mere inanimate matter but an expression of consciousness or in other words it has its own consciousness. The vital consciousness is the source of our sensations, emotions, desire, vital energy and the dynamic faculties action. The mental consciousness is the source of our thoughts, perceptions, ideas, reason, discrimination and judgement. The consciousness of the soul or what is called as “psychic being” in integral psychology, is a direct emanation or spark of the transcendent and universal Consciousness. In our human organism, this soul or divine element in us, which is beyond our body, life and mind, may be regarded as the essence of consciousness. Our body, life and mind are the instruments of our soul or consciousness.
Our thinking mind has the capacity or a faculty which the animal doesn’t have; it is the ability to turn upon itself and watch its own movements and also that of the vital and the body as an aloof and detached witness. There is a ray of the pure awareness-aspect of consciousness in this faculty of our mind. By this faculty, our human consciousness acquires the ability to separate the awareness-aspect from the energy aspect of consciousness. In Indian Raja Yoga, this faculty is used as the main lever for liberating the soul from its identification with the body, life and mind, and recover its original nature as the pure unalloyed Awareness of the Soul.