The Nature of Consciousness

To speak the truth about the nature of consciousness, we would really have to remain silent, for it is the highest teaching.

Consciousness as defined by Rupert Spira, a British potter and teacher of the Advaita Vedanta direct path method, as “that in which all experience appears, in which all experience is known, and out of which all experience is made. All experience is mind, thinking, imagining, sensing, perceiving, and the mind’s knowledge of whatever it knows or perceives is only ever as good as its knowledge itself. The highest endeavor the mind can ever embark on is an investigation into its own essential nature.”

So what is the essential nature of mind? It must be that aspect of the mind which remains consistently present throughout all its knowledge and experience. It must be that aspect of mind that cannot be removed or separated under any circumstances. What aspect of your mind is present when you are deeply depressed or when you are experiencing ecstatic joy? Knowing or being aware of consciousness itself – whatever it is that knows the experience of depression or the experience of ecstasy and joy – all experience is mind. The essential nature of mind is consciousness. So the only question that remains is: what is the nature of consciousness?

In this context, anything objective – thoughts, memories, ideas, concepts, feelings, sensations of the body, sights, sounds, tastes, textures, smells, etc. all of these appear in consciousness or awareness. The common name for it is “I” or “myself”. From a conventional viewpoint, our thoughts and feelings appear within our “self”. What is not so obvious is the experience of the body which we experience as “sensation” also appears in consciousness and our perceptions also appear in this same field in which our thoughts, feelings and sensations appear.

For a moment, close your eyes and establish that your thoughts are appearing in an awareness field. Now with your eyes still closed, listen to whatever sounds are present. With your attention, go back and forth between the thought and the sound. Ask yourself the question: does my attention ever leave the field of awareness? The sound appears in the same field as the thought. Next allow your attention to go wherever it wants and let your attention reign freely. Have a single question in mind. Does your attention ever leave the field of awareness? Next try to come into contact with something that appears just outside consciousness that is not in your present experience – for instance, you might imagine that you have just travelled in space to another planet. Then a completely new set of perceptions appear to you. Do those perceptions appear in consciousness or outside of consciousness?

So now the picture becomes very interesting. In the recognition that form andemptiness are one and not two, we realize that we don’t have to escape the world or the body to become aware of its ultimate nature. No matter how it may seem in any given moment, the ultimate nature of reality is a nondual ground or infinite experience! When the mind is relieved of its limitations, it ceases to be mind and stands revealed as the eternal, infinite consciousness. Thus, with this knowledge of consciousness in non-duality, we have the experience of peace, happiness, and love.

Mohandas K. Gandhi exemplified the belief in universal love and the identification that all living beings can coexist. Through this awareness, he shifted the paradigm of his time and the world. He was resolved in his belief in a nondual ground or infinite experience to always do the right thing – “as soon as (we) do it … belief rights itself.” Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the Persian poet and Sufi master in his writings 207 years ago: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

These masters of non-duality realized the infinite nature of consciousness is fundamental to understanding who we are, and essential for us to understand as a culture if we are to evolve. Ignorance of this reality is a state of being ignorant of heart – which may sooner or later rise up and turn people against each other, and their planet. The realization that peace, happiness and love are ever-present within our own being, and completely available at every moment of the experience, under all conditions, is the most important discovery that anyone can make.

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