What is Pure Consciousness?


by Jayaram V

Question: Our scriptures state that the Self is pure consciousness. It also said to be essential nature of God. What is pure consciousness? Can you please explain in simple terms what pure consciousness means?

Simply speaking, pure consciousness is that consciousness which is free from all the impurities, which prevent you from being and knowing who you are. What are the impurities? They are thoughts, feelings, emotions, disturbances, memorial and perceptual knowledge, modifications, desires, attachments, egoism, qualities, attributes, perceptions, cognition, delusion, ignorance, states, duality, division, objectivity, and so on. They arise from the field (kshetra) of the mind and body, which represents Nature (Prakriti) in our microcosm.

Why do they matter? They are the cause of suffering and bondage to the cycle of births and deaths. You can trace every trouble in your life to the impurities or imperfections that are present in you. They do not let you experience peace and stability, or be self-aware and self-satisfied. In short, they do not let you be your true self, the enlightened knower (Jina) or the lonely seer (Kevala). If you take them all out of your consciousness or your being, what remains is the pure subjective, silent, witnessing Self (atma-sakshi), which is described in the Vedas as an infinite ocean of pure consciousness and bliss.

Pure consciousness is like pure water, which is indistinguishable and completely still, with no movements and pollutants. It is devoid of taste, quality, shape or distinction. Just as water has many grades according to its purity, consciousness also has many grades. Human consciousness is like the polluted water in a pond or in any water body, where you can find dirt, mud, weeds and different types of life forms, including insects, birds and animals such as crocodiles, sharks, poisonous snakes, frogs, etc. The water in them is also subject to impermanence and motion due to the activity of the water, the sun, reflection of light, waves, whirls, currents, etc.

There is no better analogy or example than pure water to explain pure consciousness. Hence, I have used it here. The Puranas do the same. They describe the whole existence as water only. It is in the waters, creation manifests. It is from water the golden egg arises, and it is in waters Lord Vishnu resides and keeps a watch on the worlds. Again, it was from the waters that the gods managed to extract the elixir (amritam) with the help of the demons, which made them immortal.

The water in the pond can be cleaned and made pure, just as you can clean your mind and body to let the pure consciousness shine itself through you. In spiritual practice, you do it using several techniques and methods such as Yoga. When your mind and body are pure and filled with Sattva, they reflect the light of soul’s pure consciousness and sanctify everything that touches them. In that state you will be in union with it and reflect it in your thinking and actions.

Another good example is the lamp. You may compare pure consciousness to the light in the lamp, and the soot on the glass to the impurities that obstruct it. If the body is covered with the impurities, the light of the soul does not radiate in the person. In the presence of pure soul, you feel the divinity because their purity radiates, whereas in the presence of impure souls you feel their darkness or fear, since their consciousness is filled with them.

If your mind is not pure or still, pure consciousness is beyond you grasp. In other words, until you bridge the gap between your pure and impure consciousness, extinguishing all the objectivity, duality or otherness that exists in you, you cannot be a pure soul. Even if you have a little trace of objectivity or duality in your awareness, you cannot be in the realm of pure consciousness. When you attain it, you become self-aware, which means your knowing does not depend upon any external source or support, as you become a witness to everything that happens to you and in you.

Knowledge of pure consciousness is important for our spiritual good and for the preservation of the best and the purest in us. Conceptually and experientially, we need to know and understand what pure consciousness means and why it is important, because it is supposed to be the ultimate goal (parandhama) or the highest aim of our lives. We are not truly free.

This is the reality. To be truly free from all the constraints which life imposes upon us, we need to purify our minds and body and become established in the purest aspect of our beingness as well as consciousness. Our suffering grows to the extent we are displaced and distant from it or the extent we become involved with the impurities of life.

Pure consciousness is the sanctuary, from where you can draw strength and energy. You may get a glimpse of it in deep meditation or when you are silent and attentive. It nourishes and supports life and keep the mind refreshed. It is why we need sleep and rest. In sleep we enter the domain of pure consciousness and recover from the exhaustion and wear and tear caused by the impurities of Nature. When we are peaceful, we are closer to our divinity and humanity. Hence, we have to seek peace before we seek anything else.

Your thinking and attitude may either help you or hinder you from being the pure consciousness which you are. The masters tell us that one must at least try to achieve nearness (samipyam) to it through devotion and surrender to the inner Lord. Nearness means, to be more like what you are aiming to achieve. You should be careful with whom you want to identify yourself in the world. If you want to emulate a film star or a politician or identify with their causes, your life will be ruined as you gather similar impurities.

Therefore, try to be as if you are rooted in your pure consciousness. Try to be as calm and detached as you can be. Avoid becoming involved with the world and people. Keep some distance from the things that try to draw you into themselves. You are closer to the Self when you are passive than active, when you listen to others rather than speak to them and dominate them, when you are withdrawn rather than drawn out, and when you observe the world with detachment and disinterest rather than when you become involved with desire and attachment. They are the same conditions that lead to peace and stability and bring you closer to the truth in you. They set you free from your own sins and awaken you to your own true nature.

The Self is not separate or distinct from you. It is your deepest identity, which becomes lost in your pursuit of the world. If you live in the surface consciousness of your mind and body, you will not experience the deeper aspects of your own being. You are one being, with different modes of thinking and awareness. You true nature, or what they call your essential truth, manifests by itself when you silence all those modes.

Just as the sun manifests by itself when the clouds are removed, the truth of you manifests by itself when you purge all the falsehood from your being. There was not time when the Self did not exist, nor will there ever be an occasion when it is nonexistent. The Self is always awake. It has always been there, shining its light upon the field of Nature, behind layers of gross materiality and physical nature, just as the sun shines in the sky behind a thick layer of dark clouds. The scriptures affirm this truth. The Upanishads state that the seer (the seeing one) remains awake, when the world is asleep. You do not see it, because it cannot be seen; you do not hear it because it cannot be heard and you cannot experience it, because you cannot objectively possess it. You can only be it, when there is no otherness or duality in you.

We identify the pure consciousness and the impure ego consciousness with Purusha and Prakriti. They are personified in the scriptures as Father God (Mahadeva) and Mother Goddess (Mahadevi), who are believed to be the two primal, eternal entities, who are responsible for creation. As the Bhagavadgita declares, when they come together, life manifests upon earth and elsewhere. In other words, life is a mixture light and darkness or pure and impure. The mind and body are sources of impurity. The soul is eternally pure. They are the two selves which are described in the scripture. They can be friends or enemies to each other.

Even science acknowledges the universal presence of matter and energy. Everything here is its play. Through successive stages of causes, effects, modifications and transformation, the inert and inconscient matter found in the elemental world of fire, water, earth, etc., eventually evolves into self-aware, conscious entities who possess consciousness and intelligence.

However, according to science, consciousness is an aspect of energy or Nature. It does not speak about God consciousness or soul consciousness because it cannot apply its methods to discern it. Also, it does not acknowledge any creator as the source of all, nor any definitive and predictable pattern in the evolution of life. Instead, it traces the causes to the mathematical possibility of predictable order and patterns randomly emerging out of unpredictable and unchartered chaos.

However, in Hinduism we believe that the consciousness of Nature is ego consciousness, and behind and beyond that is an eternal pure consciousness which is not subject to any of the physical or natural laws. We believe that life and existence tend to be chaotic, but God imparts to it order and regularity through his direct and indirect intervention.

We identify the whole process as the Dharma, the regulating power of God. He is its upholder and enforcer. Upon earth, as his representatives and servants, human beings have the responsibility. They have to uphold Dharma and ensure the order and regularity of the world through their selfless and sacrificial actions. They may do so with pure or impure intentions, and each lead to different consequences.

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