Sunday 31 December 2006

Consciousness and time

With reference to the coming new year, someone remarked that like consciousness time has no divisions to mark its passage, meaning that all divisions of time, such as weeks, months, years and centuries, are entirely arbitrary and mind-made. However, though the implied meaning of this remark is true in general, the specific comparison of time with consciousness is not so apt.

The one crucial division or dividing point in time is the present moment, which is experienced by us as present due to the presence of our own consciousness. We always experience consciousness as being here and now, so our consciousness is what defines both the present place and the present moment.

So long as we experience ourself as being the object-knowing consciousness that we call 'mind', our consciousness does appear to be divided or interrupted by sleep and by the separation between waking and dream. However, underlying this transitory object-knowing consciousness, which appears in waking and dream and disappears in sleep, we also experience a more subtle form of consciousness, namely our consciousness of our own being, 'I am', which is permanent, undivided and non-dual.

This non-dual and indivisible consciousness of our own being is our true consciousness — indeed it is our true self, our essential being, what we really are. It is always present, in all our three states, waking, dream and sleep, and in all the three divisions of time, past, present and future, and it is what lends reality to all that we experience in these three transitory states and in the passing of time. Without this fundamental consciousness 'I am', we could not experience or be conscious of any other thing.

Our mind, which experiences the passing of time and our three states, is a transient and ever-changing form of consciousness that appears in and is supported by our fundamental consciousness of just being. Since it is a phenomenon that we experience only at certain times and in certain states, and that vanishes at other times and in other states, such as sleep, swoon, coma or death, this mind cannot be our real self.

We cannot be anything that we experience only temporarily. Since the only thing that we experience permanently, even in sleep and other such states in which our mind has disappeared, is our consciousness of our own being, 'I am', it alone can be our real self.

Therefore, if we wish to know our real self, which is the one enduring reality that underlies the ephemeral appearance of our mind and everything that we know through the medium of our mind, we must turn our attention away from our mind, its thoughts and all the other objects that it knows, and must focus it keenly upon our mere non-dual consciousness of being — our essential self-consciousness 'I am'. Only by means of such self-attentiveness can we experience our real self, our essential being, which is the one absolute reality that underlies the appearance of all other things, which are only relatively real.

This simple practice of self-attentiveness is the path of atma-vichara, 'self-enquiry' or self-investigation, which Sri Ramana taught us as the only means by which we can experience the perfect peace and joy that is our own true nature, our own real being.


Sankarraman said...

Through the many months, years, ages and world cycles, past and future, consciousness is the same; it neither rises nor sets ( unlike the sun ); it is self-revealing.
Verse 7 of the first chapter of Pancadasi.
Time cannot be equated with consciousness. Its infinity is only in terms of the unreal process of becoming.

Anonymous said...

In the Upanishads and the Brahmasutras, as found in the Bashya of Sankaracharya, there seems to be some reality attached to waking state as against dream state which alone is branded as unreal. Further, the dream state is described as containing the impressions of the waking state. This seems to embrace only the common sense viewpoint, and does not conform to the teachings of Bhaghavan that both the states are unreal, the one not being superior to the other, and that there is no comparison of one state from the context of the other. Do the Upanishads subscribe to this idea or this constitutes the interpretation of the Acharya to negate the nihilistic doctrine of Buddhism?

Sankarraman said...

There is the idea of the Witness in Vedanta being termed as the Kutastha Chaitanya. Bhaghavan says that even for the witness to be some object has to be there for being witnessed, but the self is the sole reality. In another place Bhaghavan says that without Sannidhi there can be no Sakshi. I think Vedanta cannot have meant by the term witness in a dualistic sense, that essentially being the one Light of the Self in which all illusory objects exist. Bhaghavan did not, to my knowledge, talk about taking the witness attitude. Further, in traditional vedanta, there is the positing of the four aspects of Brahman, that is the jiva, Iswara, Iswara-Sakshi and Jiva-sakshi. All these terminologies seem to confuse one even distracting one from any intuitive understanding of truth. Would you please explain the implication and relevance of all these vis-a-vis the teachings of Bhaghavan?

Sankarraman said...

A traditional advaitin argued with me that in so far as the deep sleep is concerned, both the jnanis and the anjanis have the same experience of not seeing anything, quoting some verse from Pancadasi, which is not agreeable to me. I am sure that the jnani does not suffer break in his consciousness either in the form of apprehending anything alien to the Self or having the experience of nothingness. One can substantiate the view of the traditional advaitin only from the standpoint that the jnani and the ajnani are only their psyco-somatic apparatus. But unlike the ajnani, the jnanis do not suffer from this delusion. Further, some say that the jnani has to use the mind for relative activities like reading, writing etc. But I feel even here there is no deliberation on the part of the jnanis, they being mere witness of all these actions, and that these conclusions are from the viewpoint of the ajnanis. Would you, if you do not kind this an intrusion in your preoccupations, be kind enough to offer your clarification?

Sankarraman said...

I like this forum more than anything else. One feels the kinship with the self. That is because of Bhaghavan's extraordinary teaching of self-enquiry, bereft of all intellectual digressions. Please be kind enough to elucidate all subtle aspects if time permits.

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely explanation. I read in the "Power of Now", a book by Eckhart Tolle that the concept of time is imagined only by humans. Animals and other beings are truly present, meaning they do not function with the concepts of past and future.

I am giving a link from my blog in which I posted a humourous piece by Eckhart Tolle on the concept of "clock time". The link is:


Michael James said...

A brief reply to Ganesan, Anonymous, Vivek and others who have posted comments on this and other posts:

Thank you for all your comments and useful questions. I will try to answer all your questions as and when I find time, but since my time is limited, please bear with me if I am not able to reply immediately.

However, even if I delay to reply, please continue adding any other questions or comments that you may have, since these all add to the value of this discussion forum.

SaVinA said...

"Time like 'Awareness' has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols" - Anil Sharma

" When one tracks the pulse of the rise and fall of time within one self - the timeless entity in which it breathes is reached - Awareness- Self is arrived at.....' Anil Sharma 2/7/06

Anonymous said...

I am using some of the words used by Mchael for clarity,hope he wont mind.
In imaginary self-ignorance(Pramada)we forget what we really are and imagine the insentient body
to be ourself,which we are not.Then
the self consciousness is seemingly distorted as object knowing consciousness with apparent separation of mind as the subject and all other it knows other than itself as the objective
reality separate from it,resulting in the concept of relativity and
time.Any form of object knowing is
an action or doing which involves change and change requires someduration of time.We can experience action or doing only in the flow of time from the past to future.In the precise present moment we cannot do anything,we can just"be".Action involves seeming movement of attention away
from ourselves towards the other thing which involves time.If the consciousness does not move anywhere but rests only in itself
there is no concept of time.So mind and time are concepts created in the imaginary duality resulting from imaginary self-forgetfulness.
Because they are imaginary they cease to exist with advent of reality in the form of self-knowledge.

Anonymous said...

It is Time that is the mover of all beings that move. It is Time that destroys all beings

The character speaking is Vali (Mahabali), the King of Underworld, the legend.