Encountering Consciousness - Abstract

Published: 16.12.2010
Updated: 02.07.2015


Series of 3 seminars on

Integrating Modern Science and Spirituality for Social Wellness:
A Challenge of 21st Century

Seminar "A"

Consciousness and Knowledge: Scientific and Spiritual Perspectives


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Session II:  14.15-14.45


Encountering Consciousness

Consciousness is a unique phenomenon that is experienced in reflective awareness by a human being. Human being is conscious of one’s own self as also of other conscious and non-conscious existences. Of course we are indubitable sure of our own conscious existence and therefore we say “I know” but so far as other conscious existences are concerned we are aware of them only inferentially in our interaction with them. The existence of consciousness is most intimately felt whatever be its nature and the form of its experience. Wondrous is its nature and wonderful has been its functioning. All achievements of culture and civilization are experienced as manifestations of consciousness. All domains of cognition, volition and affection are its expressions. But in spite of all this precise understanding of its nature and modes of functioning has been enigmatic, problematic and elusive. The issues concerning consciousness in general and human consciousness in particular are no doubt puzzling yet they are very significant for our understanding its nature and modes of functioning in so far as they are helpful in molding our worldly life. That is why persistent efforts are made by human mind in this direction though with limited success. However this built-in cognitive limitation of human mind need not deter us to undertake more and more investigative enterprises as they reveal newer forms and facets of consciousness and enrich our awareness about it.

There have been theories upholding consciousness to be the proto-reality or the sole reality. But there have also been contrary views regarding it as an epiphenomenon of matter. At the present state of our knowledge nothing can be said conclusively.

In the history of ideas there has been a dominant view that there is a fundamental unity of all existences and the ultimate datum of reality is consciousness. But here again whether it is unitary or multiple has remained controversial. One line of reasoning leads us to postulate that at the bottom consciousness is unitary or self-same and it gets diversified in manifold ways in the cosmic process.. Different from this it has also been argued that there has been manifoldness in the beginning but unifying organizations occur, mechanically or teleologically in the cosmic process. In cosmological thinking we find theories of evolution as well of creation. Some advocate cosmic process as centri-fugal and some as centri-petel. Whatever be the real nature of consciousness and modes of its manifestations, it is experienced as multi-layered, multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and multi-relational. Its diversified richness is astonishing but useful.

Consciousness has been approached in two broad forms, empirical and trans-empirical. In natural sciences and worldly transactions empirical approach is taken and for spiritual realizations trans-empirical approach is adopted. Accordingly a two-fold distinction is drawn in the context of reality, knowledge and values. About reality levels of empirical and transcendental, about knowledge types of empirical and trans-empirical and about values spheres of material and spiritual are put forth. In Indian cultural traditions very exhaustive thinking has been done in this regard.  The analysis of consciousness in the Vedas, Upanishads and other literature is astonishing and worth noticing.

In the field of natural sciences there is gradual realization of the primacy of consciousness over matter. Researches in the field of quantum physics are leading to this effect. In spiritual approach this is well recognized. These days there is a need felt to reconcile the findings of science and spirituality to their mutual benefit. It seems that a holistic approach is more fruitful and rewarding. Cooperation between science and spirituality can help in solving many cosmic riddles and redeeming human tribulations. For this holistic system of education is the need of the day.

Another valuable distinction can be in terms of pure consciousness and relational consciousness. Pure consciousness can be regarded as the ultimate nature of reality and relational one is the empirical consciousness which can be trifurcated as subject-consciousness, object-consciousness and knowledge-consciousness. In this respect consciousness is a function of a knower in relation to an object that is known in an act of consciousness. Here consciousness is both a function and a property. It is a function directed towards an object and a property possessed by a knower. This function takes place whenever the subject, of which consciousness is a property, cognizes an object. Those who entertain this distinction between pure and relational consciousness would argue that intentionality or object-directness is not essential to consciousness and it is not a permanent feature or function of consciousness.  It arises only when subject-object distinction obtains and a subject cognizes an object under certain conditions or circumstances.



Prof. S.R. Bhatt



Prof. D.C. Jain (chair)

Dr. Rudi Jansma
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  1. Consciousness
  2. Cooperation
  3. Delhi
  4. Dr. Rudi Jansma
  5. ISJS
  6. Prof. S.R. Bhatt
  7. Quantum Physics
  8. Science
  9. Upanishads
  10. Vedas
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