“The position of ishvara is that of supreme consciousness. The jivas, or the living entities, being parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, are also conscious. Both the living entity and material nature are explained as prakriti, the energy of the Supreme Lord, but one of the two, the jiva, is conscious. The other prakriti is not conscious. That is the difference. Therefore the jiva-prakriti is called superior because the jiva has consciousness which is similar to the Lord’s.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
1. What is consciousness?
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada provides many wonderful explanations for consciousness, with the goal of easy understanding, in a universally applicable way. No matter the audience, the people hearing will be able to grasp a complex subject matter, without necessarily sitting down for formal educational study.
One of the ways to explain consciousness is to understand the workings of the body. We choose an arbitrary starting point, such as eating. The food goes in through the mouth. It eventually reaches the stomach. From there, the body knows what to do.
There is no external configuration. There is no course to chart or map to follow. There is no conductor making the proper turns as a choice in the path approaches. There is not an on/off switch, either. The body triggers the necessary mechanisms as soon as food arrives.
The role of consciousness is evident through the requirement of presence. When consciousness is no longer there, the body stops functioning. The same mechanisms are there. The roads are free and clear. There are no obstructions. Everything else might be exactly the same as it was previously.
The difference is that consciousness has left. Consciousness is therefore the indication of life. When a person is conscious, they are living. Without consciousness, they are considered dead.
2. What is individual consciousness?
This consciousness is not limited to a particular species. The process of eating followed by the proper delivery of nutrients to the component parts of the body can be found in the animal kingdom, as well. Plants know what to do when water reaches the roots. Plants know how to utilize sunlight for maintaining proper health.
Individual consciousness is the presence of the animating factor within a specific area. It is like the single candle burning through with fire. Candles might be large or small. Candles might be different colors. They might emit different fragrances. Nevertheless, each candle has its own existence.
This is the meaning to individual consciousness. The mechanism that transports food and allows other functions to complete might be similar across different instances, but one consciousness is different from another. That is why the departure of a single consciousness does not necessarily cause death in related or nearby beings.
3. What is the Supreme Consciousness?
The Supreme Consciousness is one way to understand God. We know the individual through the influence of consciousness on the body. It is the consciousness which identifies them, which is tied to the individual atomic unit known as spirit soul, or atma in Sanskrit.
Just as the mechanisms cease to operate without the animating force inside, so the entire universe has a similar dependency. The stars, the planets, the sunlight, the clouds – these various aspects of nature require a consciousness in order to exist in truth.
That required consciousness is one way to understand God. Without ever picking up a book or hearing a lecture from a wise speaker, the individual consciousness is able to understand and acknowledge the presence of a higher force.
The distinction with the Supreme Consciousness is that it is singular. There is only one. The same consciousness is responsible for the entirety of nature. The entire universe exists because of this consciousness. As effortless as breathing in and out is how the Supreme Consciousness enters and exits these universes.
The connection of individual consciousness to Supreme Consciousness is what is known as spiritual life. This is the real meaning to religion. The sacred discourse known as Bhagavad-gita has these important entities symbolized through the bow-warrior Arjuna and the charioteer named Krishna.
The meeting of disciple and guru is similar. The guru is a representative of the Supreme Consciousness. They teach the student, who is individual consciousness, how to make the connection. That connection is known as yoga. Yoga is the way to lasting happiness, from birth to birth.
An individual is he,
Consciousness can see.
From body functioning right,
But stopped even when similar sight.
Because consciousness elsewhere gone,
In this way knowledge to think upon.
Supreme Consciousness one and controlling all,
When connected then yoga to call.
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