The Centrality of Consciousness - the Ego and the Self

This discovery of the centrality of Consciousness, and the identification of that Consciousness  with the Ground of Being, is actually an Indian one.  In monistic (Advaita) Vedantic meditation, contemplation of the "Witness self", the "I that is the same during waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep," is used to realise the Transcendent, the Absolute Self.

Speaking generally (for of course there are innumerable side-branches) the Indian spiritual and philosophical tradition sees the individual self or ego as the false, finite "I", which identifies with the finite body and mind, and so prevents us from realising our true, infinite, one with the Godhead, universal "I" or Self.  In monistic (Advaita) Vedanta this infinite Self is called the Atman ("Self") or Paramatman ("Supreme Self").

There two principles are generally mediated by a third, the "Witness self".  This is the Sakhsi of Advaita Vedantic monism and the Buddhi ("intellect") of Samkhyan dualism.  It is the reflection of the Absolute or Transcendent Consciousness (Atman; or purusha) in phenomenal existence (Maya or prakriti).  According to Samkhya, it is this "reflection" that is the impetus that initiates the unfolding of phenomenal reality.

At the centre of personal identity then is the witness-consciousness; the "I" which is the focal point of our individual nature.  This is pure Consciousness itself; the individual transcendent Consciousness or Awareness that illumines the ego, the unchanging basic "I"-awareness, the phenomenological foundation of existence.  It is not the Absolute Itself, but the reflection of the Absolute.  And as a reflection, it is also the door to the realisation of the Absolute.  Hence the Advaita meditation of contemplating the nature of the observing consciousness behind thoughts and sensations (the sakshi), through asking "what am "I"?  "I" am not the body; "I" am not the mind"  This is the Indian mystic path of jnana-yoga.  Through contemplating the individual observing Consciousness, one comes to the Universal observing Consciousness, or Atman.

This realisation of the distinction between the True or infinite, and the False or finite, self, with the individual Witness Consciousness as the mediating link,  was originally a very profound doctrine.  But unfortunately this has been greatly debased and cheapened by the various popular gurus to the West, who speak of "the ego" in the same way as the born-again Christians speak of "sin", as a horrid inner enemy, and claim that the sole goal of the spiritual path is to "destroy the ego".  They have this strange idea that by eliminating the personality-structure or the rational mind (e.g. Rajneesh's saying that "shoes and minds are to be left at the door") you automatically attain Universal Enlightenment.  All of which goes to show that spiritual stupidity is by no means limited to the fundamentalist religions of the West.

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this page uploaded 10 July 1999