Forums Sāńkhya Philosophy Consciousness

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    Hare Krishna,

    Srila Prabhupada writes ‘consciousness is the symptom of soul’. What is this consciousness? When we are injected with anaesthesia we get unconscious….

    Consciousness is spiritual or material?


    The ātma or the self has three aspects called satchit, and ānanda. I call these relation, cognition, and emotion. Of these three, emotion and cognition constitute a soul. But relation is that which connects one soul to another. This relational power to connect one person to another is consciousness. It can be a connection between matter and soul because matter is yet another soul. Consciousness is sometimes called sambandha or relationship. It can be temporary or eternal. Krishna consciousness means eternal relationship to Krishna. Sri Krishna Chaitanya means one who is conscious of Krishna, or one perfectly Krishna conscious.

    This relational capacity has many kinds of relations within it in a potential form. At one moment, one such relation is activated, and thereby the ātma connects to one thing at a time. For example, when you have a plate of food in front of you, the consciousness moves between taste, touch, smell, sight, etc. Taste is some atoms, touch is another set of atoms, smell is yet another set of atoms. And consciousness moves from one type of atom to another, which is why you sometimes focus on smell, then on taste, then on shape and color, etc. It moves very fast, which is why you may not notice the effects. But you can slow it down by practice.

    During deep sleep, the the ātma stops connecting to other things. That is called the unconscious state. The ātma still exists, but it has no experience.

    The movement of consciousness in the material world is forced by material energy so material experience is the byproduct of both material energy and ātma. But the goal of religious practice is to stop this forced movement and restart the self-willed movement. So, it is correct to say that “consciousness is material” mostly in the current conditioned state, because the material energy is dragging the ātma like an animal tied by a rope. However, the movement can be freed from material control, and therefore it is correct to say that “consciousness is not material”.

    In simple words, consciousness means sambandha. There are temporary and eternal relationships. In this world, all relationships are temporary, which is why consciousness moves. In the spiritual world, the consciousness is always fixed on a form of the Lord, but there is movement on how to serve the Lord, focus on different qualities and activities of the Lord, etc. This is because the relational capacity has many potentials that are organized in a hierarchy. The root of this hierarchy is fixed on the Lord while the branches and leaves are activated one by one. Similarly, the root of this hierarchy is fixed on the ego in the material world while the branches and leaves are activated one by one. However, that ego is itself not fixed, hence all the relationships and experiences are temporary.

    The movement of consciousness is divided into five parts as inward, outward, upward, downward, and around. You can imagine upward and downward spirals. As it moves upward, it also goes around and moves inward. That inward movement is detaching oneself from the world. Then when it moves downward, initially it goes outward, which means we see our well-being as a part of worldly well-being. But eventually, it starts going inward again when a person only seeks to fulfill his self-interest, which is equated to the fulfillment of the ego, a false image of the self.

    Accordingly, there are three divisions of the ego. Under sattva, ego means doing my duties for my liberation. This is an inward-moving upward spiral, which means you do your duties but you are not concerned about results. Under rajas, ego means business transactions of giving and taking, ensuring the well-being of others to facilitate my well-being. This is an outward-moving downward spiral. Initially, this transactional ego expands to include the broader world. But over time, it narrows to constrain my well-being to the well-being of my nation, society, company, and family. Then it transitions to just the well-being of my body and mind. This is the ego under tamas. It entails exploitation, domination, and abuse of others to promote the well-being of my body and mind. This is further downward and inward compared to rajas, but the inwardness, in this case, is the fulfillment of the narrow ego, which means as long as I get what I want, everyone else can go to hell.

    Consciousness means these five kinds of changes in relationships. The “soul” or the cognitive and emotive aspect is not moving, but the relational aspect is moving. Hence the soul is fixed but its consciousness moves. During dreaming, for example, the consciousness leaves the awareness of this body and goes to another realm to see other things. The “soul” or the cognitive and emotive aspect, however, doesn’t move. This is why scientists can measure the effects of dreaming on the body, and during a bad dream, the body will start sweating or shivering.

    This is a complex subject and it is better to read some books. This is a high-level answer. In simple terms, we can say that there is a soul (cognition and emotion) and it has a consciousness (relation). This is what Prabhupada is referring to when he says that consciousness is the symptom of the soul. The symptom is the effect of the change of relations to other things, and its cause is emotion and cognition.


    ‘This is a complex subject and it is better to read some books.’
    Please recommend
    Hare Krishna


    The subject of consciousness includes all other subjects. All modern subjects have been created by the assumption that either consciousness does not exist, or it has no role in the subject. So, if consciousness exists, and it has a role in the subject, then the study of that subject also changes. How it changes varies from subject to subject. Those changes are the symptoms of consciousness or of the soul.

    Everything from logic to numbers to space and time to causality to matter to change and its laws is defined differently. Likewise, every subject from mathematics to physics to psychology to sociology to cosmology changes. If you are thinking that there is a specific subject called “consciousness”, then it is not true. It includes all subjects. Everything has to be studied as an organism rather than a thing.

    This organism connects to other organisms, acquires knowledge of those organisms, and uses that knowledge to fulfill its purpose of existence. If that purpose is good, connection is right, and knowledge is true, then it progresses through an upward spiral. If not, then it regresses through a downward spiral, until it finds the good purpose, the right connection, and the true knowledge. Depending on the level of detail, it can be very simple and it can be very complicated.

    So, you can start wherever it seems easier and postpone the harder subject to later. Take a look at the books and blogs, and you will find a lot of material to read. I don’t know enough about your background to guide you. You can search and decide.

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