Matter and Consciousness
Life (āyus) means the union of body, mind and soul. The great teacher and expert of Ayurveda, Punarvasu Atreya, defines life in the Caraka-Saṃhitā by means of the following synonyms: cetananuvṛtti (continuance of consciousness), jīvita (animation), anubandha (constant flow) and dhāri (preservation of the body). Ayurveda is the science through which ayus, life, is understood.
A body cannot exist without consciousness, but what is consciousness and where does it come from? Materialistic scientists who research the origin of consciousness ask themselves the question: “how does consciousness arise from matter, how does consciousness develop in the living being?” To this question they will only be able to provide useless speculations even if they get ten Nobel Prizes for it. In Vedic scriptures, especially in the Sankhya philosophy, the question is asked and answered the other way round: “how does matter arise from consciousness?”
Consciousness in the living being is spiritual energy, a symptom of the spiritual soul. There are two main energies in this world: prakṛti (material energy) and brahman (spiritual energy). Material energy, matter, is without consciousness and spiritual energy possesses consciousness. Life means a combination of these two energies and is activated by the presence of the Supreme Consciousness in the form of paramātmā (Supersoul) in the living being. That is why it is said in Caraka-Saṃhitā, Sūtrasthana 1.48: “sendriyam cetanam dravyam nirindriyam acetanam – dravya with sense organs (living body) is conscious and dravya without sense organs (dead matter) is unconscious”.
Jivātmā (the spiritual soul) is a tiny particle of brahman, just as a particle of light is a tiny particle of the sun or a tiny spark in an infinite fire is a tiny particle of that fire. The source of brahman is parabrahman, the Supreme Personality of Godhead; brahman is the glittering emanation of His transcendental body. The Supreme Lord and jivātmā are one in the sense that both are spiritual in nature, just as sparks of a fire or rays of the sun are one in terms of light and heat.
The Personality of God is the reservoir of unlimited energies. He possesses unlimited power, is totally independent, all-knowing, all-pervading, infallible, absolute. The spiritual souls are by their nature His servants. They possess a minute independence, which is that they can serve Him or turn away from Him. Those of the innumerable jīvas who turn away from Him enter the material world and take on one body after another according to their desires and deeds. When they become aware of their true nature and engage in the service of the Lord, they are liberated and enter the spiritual world where there is neither birth nor death, nor disease, nor old age, nor the slightest trace of suffering and ignorance.
The Vedic scriptures explain how matter is created from consciousness, i.e. from the consciousness of the Supreme Lord. The Supreme Lord in the form of Mahā-Viṣṇu first creates pradhana or mahat-tattva, the unmanifested totality of all material elements, from His māyā-śakti (“shadow energy”). From this – stimulated by the time factor – the three guṇas (sattva, rajas, tamas – modes of material nature) and the 24 elements of the body manifest: ahankāra (false ego), manas (mind), buddhi (intelligence), avyakta (the unmanifested state of prakṛti, the material nature), the 5 tanmatras (sense objects), the 5 knowledge-acquiring senses, the 5 working senses and the 5 mahābhūtas (great elements – earth, fire, water, air and space). Ahankāra has three aspects: vaikarika (purity, goodness), taijasa (passion) and tamasa (ignorance, sloth).
The moment ātmān (spiritual soul; conscious spiritual spark) enters into a material union – e.g. of seed and ovum – through its karma and its material desires under higher control, a living being develops. The consciousness of the living being is filtered through its material body. According to Vedic philosophy, there are 8,400,000 life forms, which means that there are as many filters of the consciousness of spiritual souls. Within the human life form, consciousness is again filtered many times, e.g. a child has a different consciousness than an infant and an adult has a different consciousness than a child. Moreover, a person's consciousness is conditioned by sattva, rajas and tamas or a combination of these guṇas.
The scriptures distinguish 5 stages of consciousness: 1. acchadita-cetana (covered consciousness), 2. sankucita-cetana (limited consciousness), 3. mukulita-cetana (budding consciousness), 4. vikacita-cetana (blossoming consciousness), 5. purna-vikacita-cetana (fully blossomed consciousness).
- The spiritual souls that reside in trees, herbs, grasses etc. and in stones exist in covered consciousness. They are almost unconscious.
- Animals, birds, snakes, fish, worms, insects, etc. are living beings with limited consciousness. Their consciousness is somewhat open and their activities are mainly fixed on eating, sleeping, defence, sex, play, and other activities that relate only to the body. They are not aware of the existence of a world beyond matter. Some animals have knowledge about the different properties of different objects. They may also show signs of gratitude and other feelings, but do not seek God, do not strive for knowledge of the Absolute Truth. That is why their consciousness is called limited.
Conditioned souls in human bodies show three stages of consciousness: budding, blossoming and fully blossomed consciousness. In this respect, the scriptures distinguish five types of human beings:
- (1) immoral people,
- (2) atheists who follow moral principles,
- (3) people who believe in God and follow moral principles,
- (4) People who engage in practical devotional service to God (sadhana-bhakti), and
- (5) Persons engaged in loving devotional service (bhava-bhakti).
- People who believe in God and follow moral principles and people who engage in practical devotional service to God are in the stage of blossoming consciousness.
- People engaged in loving devotional service to God are situated in fully blossomed consciousness.
Matter or the material body consisting of 24 elements is a covering of the spiritual soul, just as different clothes are different coverings of the body. If I wear a blue shirt today and a green one tomorrow, it does not mean that I have assumed a different consciousness. In the same way, the original consciousness of the living being remains unchanged, no matter in which body ātmān is currently dwelling.
From a spiritual point of view, material existence is like a dream. I may see myself in the dream as a king or a beggar or anything else that I am not in day-consciousness. In the same way, the spiritual soul identifies with its respective covering, the material body, and thinks “I am male, I am female; I am human, I am horse, I am dog, I am cat; I am German, I am American; I am Hindu, I am Muslim; I am beautiful, I am ugly, I am wise, I am stupid" etc., although she has basically nothing to do with these designations. As long as the spiritual soul cherishes material desires, it is caught in a dream and experiences birth, old age, illness and death again and again. The dream of material existence ends when the living being awakens to its original nature, to its original consciousness, and this is only possible in the human form of life. An intelligent human being should make use of this possibility. If he does not and degrades himself by his actions, jivātmān may have to be reborn in 8,400,000 life forms before he again gets the opportunity in a human life form to turn to the Supreme Lord and escape the cycle of birth and death (saṃsāra).
Material consciousness, in which the spiritual soul identifies with its respective body and desires are directed towards sense gratification, is a derangement from the original spiritual consciousness. In spiritual consciousness, the desires of the living entity are directed towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, Narayana or Kṛṣṇa, and it experiences ever-increasing bliss in loving service to Kṛṣṇa. Joy or bliss is experienced in material consciousness only conditionally as a temporary absence of suffering in various material circumstances. Therefore, most people consider that there can be no ever-increasing joy and that joy can be experienced only in relation to suffering. This view is correct for joy in material consciousness, but not for joy in spiritual consciousness. From a material point of view, constantly growing bliss is not conceivable.
Constantly increasing bliss, which is independent of life circumstances and material conditions, can be experienced even in this life if the consciousness is immovably fixed on the Supreme Lord. Many Vedic scriptures describe saints, their lives and characteristics, behaviour, etc., who have attained the spiritual level of consciousness, and one can also meet people today – if one is favoured by fortune – who are anchored on the spiritual level of consciousness (brahma-bhuta). To gross materialists, their behaviour seems crazy, whereas from a spiritual point of view, the materialists' behaviour is crazy.
To conclude this topic, a word on the usefulness of technology for development of spiritual consciousness: Technical achievements are based on inventions of materialists, since transcendentalists meditating on the Supreme Lord according to the instructions of the Vedic scriptures have no material desires for improvement of their living conditions and are satisfied with a minimum of so-called standard of living. But – and this is an important point – technical devices can be used for spiritual advancement in loving service to the Supreme Lord.
Spiritual consciousness is not about distinguishing between material things and spiritual things, but about engaging everything in the service of the Supreme. The whole material world is a manifestation of the material energy of the Supreme Lord, and since the energy is not different from its origin, the material world is not different from the Supreme. Acintya bhedabheda tattva – the Supreme Lord is one with everything and yet different from everything. Whether a thing is material or spiritual depends on how the thing is used. For example, if I use an MP3 player to listen to pop songs and pop music etc. during a train journey, the MP3 player and its use is material, and if I use the same MP3 player to listen to spiritual sound vibrations (kṛṣṇa-kirtan, readings of Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam etc.), that device and its use is spiritual.
A wonderful technical achievement is, for example, the MP3 player – if the device is used spiritually – because through it anyone can listen to kṛṣṇa-kirtan and other spiritual sound vibrations anywhere and at any time, thus reawakening the original pure consciousness. Of course – and this is clear – before the invention of the MP3 player, many other technical inventions had to be made in order to bring the spiritual sound vibrations to the MP3 player at all. A well-meaning advice: use this technology for your spiritual progress. For example, download the kirtana files from the download page and copy them to your MP3 player and listen to this as often as possible, e.g. while jogging, shopping, on the tram, etc. Just drown out disturbing noises such as music blaring in supermarkets, street noise etc. with the spiritual chants in your ears, sing along and enjoy true happiness. . . . .