Consciousness and Awareness

A spirited discussion about these two ideas triggered off a few thoughts today in training. What I realized is that there are two different meanings for the word consciousness, a western and an eastern one. The western freudian inspired idea of it kind of sounds like this:

Consciousness is defined as a state of awareness, or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. Awareness, on the other hand, is described as the state or ability to perceive. Awareness is the ability to feel, to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns.

Whereas the eastern idea is the one that I had been using in the context of my words and it goes something more like this

Consciousness is not the mind or the senses. Consciousness utilizes the mind, heart, and senses to perceive, but can perceive levels of existence that are beyond our mind, heart and physical senses.

In some ways, awareness, shows intent, a direction, a focus, a need for a response. When you ask “Are you aware that/of….?”, you are expecting something that indicates readiness to respond to something, someone or an idea. You would never ask “Are you conscious of…?”. But you might say “I was conscious of ….”, indicating a state where you can perceive a situation, idea or circumstance but without an immediate intent to respond. Consciousness has a kind of latency to its need for your response. This is not to say you will not respond. When you want to indicate urgency to act or react, you would rather say “Beware (be aware)” than “be Conscious”.

In many ways consciousness is extending beyond your own physical and metaphysical self. It can be used in a context much larger than factually comprehensible. You could talk about “universal consciousness” as a state of connectedness that allows awareness of things that are beyond immediate perception. Without this consciousness, the corresponding awareness would not exist.

It sound like awareness might be more settled in the realm of the mind and consciousness in the realm of the heart.

Or perhaps the definition of consciousness used here is not really what can be totally agreed upon in the context of words available in the languages of the west due to the linguistic inconsistencies that are presented by diversity of culture. In that case we might be better off using a more eastern term… perhaps “sthitha prajna”.

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