In recent years, consciousness has become a significant area of research in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and metaphysics. Consciousness studies have also branched into several subsets like animal consciousness, artificial consciousness, the consciousness of trees and plants (However minimal it may be), measurement of consciousness and the factors that contribute to consciousness.
In the 17th century, western scholars- metaphysics turned philosophers- Des Cartes (1596-1650) and Locke (1632-1704) tried to comprehend the nature of consciousness, Thereafter, several studies followed on the same line (Sir. Roger Penrose et al). But in India such ruminations date right back to the Vedic Days,
Five sheaths cover the self of a human being, Yama tells Nachiketa in Katha Upanishad. They are Annamaya (the Gross Body), Pranamaya (The layer of Vital energy), Manomaya (The layer of Mind), Vijnanamaya (The realm of intelligence) and Ananadamaya (The Realm of bliss).
For the eternal question of "Who Am I?", the seeker was given proper guidance when the sages of yore differentiated the Self that interacts with the outside world in the wakeful state ('Jagrat'), from the self that indulges in the inner world in the dream state ('Swapna') and the self that draws a total blank during the dreamless Sleep ('Sushupthi'). These are the three different states of consciousness of an ordinary human being.
But a spiritual seeker with his regular practice or 'Sadhana' might be able to reach a state beyond these three called 'Turiya' (Transcendental State). It is on state that the American philosopher Henry Thoreau expounded his theory of Transcendentalism that motivated Mahatma Gandhi. In 'Turya' consciousness in its pristine purity merges with the all pervading universal or Cosmic consciousness called Brahman in Indian philosophy. Mandukya Upanishad gives us a detailed account of the pursuit of liberation or 'Moksha' through these steps.
Patanjali starts Yoga Sutra with the statement that yoga is 'Chittavritti Nirodha' i.e., the elimination of turbulence of the mind. This is the path of a yogi to reach he cosmic source of wisdom and energy. The yogic exercises are based on the concept of the seven 'Chakras' or centres where the cosmic energy in a human body whirls constantly.
Yogic anatomy identifies 5 of these lower chakras with a corresponding nerve plexus on the central channel of spinal cord called Sushumna Nadi starting from the base of the spine (Mooladhara) where the 'Kundalini' lies in a state of stupor. When aroused through yoga, it moves up through the spots slightly above the base (Swadishtana), at the level of the navel (Manipura), at the level of the heart (Anahata), and at the neck (Vishuddha). And the the uppermost two, the Ajna, (between the twi eyebrows) and Sahasraara (Below the top central scalp of the head) are intimately connected with the functioning of the two tiny ductless glands, the pituitary and pineal glands in the brain.
The Ajna chakra is used by an accomplished yogi as a transmitting station to send messages in the form of thought waves to other humans and 'Sahasrara' is the receiving station wherein cosmic uplink is possible for him. Sree M, in his book Jewel in the Lotus gives us a lucid description of all these. In Shri M. K Ramachandran's travelogue Thapobhumi Utharakhand, he tells us how, near Gomugh, he saw a young sanyasin belonging to navanath sadhu sangam receiving messages like this. Paramahamsa yogananda also gives us an account of this in his 'Autibiography of a Yogi'. All these provide us the evidence of the presence of being with such superhuman consciousness even in todays world although they are very rare now.
Contemplation and meditation are the processes by which we bring about the sublimation of our consciousness, elevating it to higher levels of awareness. In this process man's knowledge also gets transformed. At the lowest , there is 'Ajnana' or ignorance when one's impressions are restricted to those obtained through the sensors. Higher than that there is Jnana or knowledge of the Self and other things acquired through intellect , scriptures and teachers. Still higher is 'Vijnana' discriminative knowledge that is able to differentiate the veiled but real (Truth) from the apparent but the unreal illusion.
Reaching out towards greater perfection, one attains the intuitive experience of Brahman where the duality of the knower and the known ceases to exist. This relationship is achieved when the mind which is only a continuous stream of thoughts is transcended. "I am daily making myself what I am", says Robert Thurman, the eminent Buddhist scholar at Columbia University.
To the question "Where does the soul go after it leaves the body?" Dr. Brian Weiss gives the following answer: "I see the soul as a body of energy, the splits off again, intact, when it returns to a new life". This doctor, who runs the Weiss Institute, Florida, is the author of a series of books beginning with Many Lives, Many Masters. He uses regression therapy- helping a patient through hypnosis to go back to his earlier births- as a tool to heal his present ailments.
He tries progression therapy too by enabling people to peep into the various options that future births offer them and to exercise their choice by regulating their present action. For him, hypnosis is a technique of meditation to gain access to the subconscious. Dr. Larry Dossey, in his book Reinventing Medicine, observes that among heart patients, those who were prayed for from a distant place by their kith and kin had better clinical recovery that those who received only medical attention. This well-connectedness is the principle behind empathy too.
Dr. Weiss' conception of God is as a loving, wise energy that is in every cell of our body. In India, Dr. B M Hegde, through his innumerable articles and lectures propagates his contention that the human body is a huge colony of lakhs of cells which are conscious individually and ready to work in unison for the well being of the whole body. 'Deepak Chopra', the author of 'Quantum Healing' started as an endocrinologist but ended up founding the Chopra centre of wellbeing based on Ayurveda and on his ideas of mind-body relationship. Opposing the reductionist thinking modern medicine, he argues that it is consciousness that is the key to evolution and feels confident that it will soon be proved.
With consciousness studies thus embracing a whole spectrum of human activity, time is ripe enough for us to use their insights for the betterment of the present human predicament on earth. We realise that prayer helps us to be at peace with ourselves, our vibrations improve and our judgement becomes sounder. We feel a sense of security and our spiritual quotient improves. The world now is torn with divisive tendencies arising from freaks and cranks with a variety of psychological abnormalities like lopsided notions and frenzied ideas. The ultimate solution for their malady lies in the sublimation of human consciousness through a collective effort to build a society of greater sanity and perfect mental health.
Ms. P Latha
Compiled from Bhavan's Journal,