The Reality of Consciousness
The word “consciousness” comes from the Latin root scio, which means “to know.” Consequently, consciousness can be defined as that abstract and mysterious something that has the potential to know.
Without consciousness there would be no knowledge at all—whether philosophical, religious, or scientific. In other words, knowledge is structured in consciousness. This is not a matter of debate. It is a matter of common experience.
However, there are two different perspectives about the reality of consciousness, which amount to fundamentally different paradigms, or ways of thinking, about the world.
The objective paradigm, which provides the basis for modern scientific thinking, suggests that everything that exists, including all forms of consciousness, arise from complex interactions among fundamental fields of force and matter.
From this perspective, consciousness is nothing fundamental to nature. It is a mere epiphenomenon produced in the brains and nervous systems of biological organisms.
The subjective paradigm, which provides the basis for ancient spiritual thinking, presents a very different view. It suggests that everything that exists, including all forms of force and matter, arise from complex interactions among fundamental fields of consciousness. In this case, the brain must be viewed as product of consciousness, and not the other way around.
The Field of Pure Consciousness
In the ancient wisdom traditions, the fundamental fields of consciousness were called the gods, and the unity of these fields was called God, the Supreme Being. Alternately, in some traditions, the fundamental fields of consciousness were called selves, and the unity of these fields was called the Supreme Self.
In both cases, the Supreme Being or the Supreme Self was viewed as the ultimate origin of creation—the one thing from which everything originates.
The Supreme Being or Supreme Self can thus be equated with an unbounded and all-pervading field of pure consciousness, which operates non-locally on the basis of self-conception and free will choice.
The field of pure consciousness can be understood as the subjective essence of the unified field, which acts as the ultimate origin of creation. It not only acts as the origin of all individual thoughts, but also all of the forms and phenomena in nature.
In Sanskrit the word for pure consciousness is chit. The ancient Vedic texts tell us that pure consciousness is capable of knowing itself, by itself, through itself alone. without any dependence upon the empirical world, and that all subject-object relations arise as mere vibrations of consciousness.
“This duality, which consists of subject and object, is a mere vibration of consciousness. Pure consciousness is ultimately objectless; hence, it is declared to be eternally without relations.” (Mandukya Karika IV.72)
In Greek pure consciousness is denoted by the term nous, a term that is often translated as “intellect” or “intelligence” or “mind.” However, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, born about 500 BC, defined this term as follows:
“All other things partake in a portion of everything, while nous is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing, but is alone, itself by itself. For if it were not by itself, but were mixed with anything else, it would partake in all things if it were mixed with any…For it is the thinnest of all things and the purest, and it has all knowledge about everything and the greatest strength; and nous has power over all things, both greater and smaller, that have soul.” (Anaxagoras, DK B 12, trans. by J. Burnet)
That which is infinite, self-ruled, and mixed with nothing but itself, is none other than the field of pure consciousness. That field, which is the one eternal Self of all beings, is also the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Ruler, the Supreme Being, who acts as the ultimate origin of all things by merely knowing itself—that is, by merely vibrating within itself.
This is the essential teaching of the perennial wisdom, which has been bestowed upon mankind by the divine messengers since time immemorial.
Empirical Consciousness and Pure Consciousness
To more fully understand this teaching a distinction must be drawn between two different types of consciousness and two distinct types of knowledge, which can be called empirical and pure.
Empirical consciousness refers to the type of consciousness whose knowledge is born of empirical experience. This can be called empirical knowledge. It pertains to the phenomenal forms of created existence that abide within the physical Cosmos.
Pure consciousness refers to the type of consciousness whose knowledge is born from pure intuition. This can be called pure knowledge. It pertains to the non-phenomenal forms of uncreated existence that abide within the metaphysical Logos.
Whereas empirical consciousness depends upon the created existence of the physical Cosmos, pure consciousness does not. The field of pure consciousness has the potential to know itself, by itself, through itself alone, whether the physical Cosmos exists or not.
When pure consciousness knows itself in the absence of the physical Cosmos, it conceives itself as the metaphysical Logos—the imperishable field of pure knowledge that underlies all things in creation.
Human Consciousness and Divine Consciousness
Human consciousness is a manifestation of the field of pure consciousness. It is but an expression of universal divine consciousness. Prior to enlightenment, human consciousness is restricted to empirical consciousness and the forms of empirical knowledge that are born from it.
To obtain the state of pure consciousness, one must transcend the process of thinking. One must transcend the activity of the mind, body, and senses and experience the underlying basis of the mind.
This can be compared to a wave settling down on the ocean. In this analogy, the wave corresponds to a thought. When a wave settles down in the ocean, it expands and becomes indistinguishable from the ocean.
Similarly, when a thought settles down in the mind, it expands and becomes indistinguishable from the unbounded field of pure consciousness, which lies at the basis of the mind, and is infinite and eternal.
By experiencing the field of pure consciousness, directly and intuitively, without any active involvement on the part of the individual mind and intellect, one comes to know the one eternal Self—which is the very essence of God, the Supreme Being. The Scriptures thus state:
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46.10)
This type of Self-knowledge, rooted in pure consciousness, is called gnosis. Those who obtain it more closely resemble immortal gods than mortal men. In this regard, the Hermetic sages declared:
“These men got a share of gnosis; they received nous, and so became complete men…these, my son, in comparison with the others, are as immortal gods to mortal men. They embrace in their own mind all things that are, the things on earth and the things in heaven, and even what is above heaven, if there is aught above heaven, and raising themselves to that height, they see the Good….Such, my son, is the work that mind does; it throws open the way to knowledge of things divine, and enables us to apprehend God.” (Corpus Hermeticum, translated by Walter Scott, Shambala, 1993, p. 151-3)
This type of all-embracing knowledge (gnosis), rooted in the experience of pure consciousness (nous), is required to make the journey back Home. It is required to obtain the mystical visions of the starry heavens, and of what lies above the heavens, deep in the bosom of the infinite.
Before one can even begin the journey, one must come to know the Self—the universal field of pure consciousness that lies at the basis of the individual mind. The Self is the one thing by knowing which everything else becomes known, because it is the universal Knower.
Hence, we should seek to know the Self—by transcending thought and becoming one with the field of pure consciousness. That is the Portal to worlds unknown, horizons unseen, and possibilities undreamt.
BY Robert E. Cox