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Is Existence Synonymous with Consciousness?
Arlindo: Hi, Jeanne. First of all, the paragraph in discussion refers to part of Ramji’s commentary on Vivekachudamani, verse 98, by Shankaracharya. These commentaries are found in the book recently edited and compiled by Edwin Faust, The Crest Jewel of Discrimination. By the way, this book is recommended reading for those coming to participate in my seminar on Vivekachudamani in Tiruvannamalai next January.
To answer your question: yes, “existence” is synonymous with “consciousness”; the one cannot be without the other. Just like the two faces of a coin, they “belong” to the same order of reality, satya. Consciousness cannot be unless it exists. In the same way, existence must be there for consciousness to be conscious of. How would consciousness be self-conscious unless “It” exists?
Existence ever-exists because existence is its very nature. If it did not always exist, it wouldn’t be called real or “existence,” because it would be coming out of non-existence to “become” existent. The nature of something is “that” without which “It” cannot be what it is. Likewise, consciousness is ever-present and ever-conscious because conscious existence is its very nature, the “is-ness” of all sentient and insentient objects. In our own jiva experience we can say that in order for us to be conscious we need to exist, and in order for us exist we need consciousness to “illumine” our minds, which in turn “illumines” and knows the world of objects. But this is a more philosophical aspect of the teachings, which is good for sharpening the mind, but not really indispensable for self-knowledge.
But it is important to understand that consciousness/existence exists as the very fabric of everything, and at all times. It is easier to recognize consciousness in the objects endowed with enough sattvaguna to make them reflect awareness as well as behave as conscious beings or sentient objects.
But it is equally important to recognize consciousness/existence in the non-sentient objects in Creation. Due to the dominance of tamoguna we cannot see the reflection of consciousness on insentient objects, but the fact is that they too are of the nature of consciousness alone, and we can know that by witnessing their “existence.” All that exists is of the nature of consciousness.
Ramji sometimes says that most people in Vedanta are two-thirds enlightened. Why? Because we will easily accept the fact that we exist at all times (sat) – and that we are conscious (chit) – but how about anantan? “Anantan” is the third aspect of the attributeless Self, which we all are. It means that we are of the nature of “limitlessness.” Once we know for sure that we are the “light” of pure consciousness and that our nature is “limitlessness,” we can say that we have got 100% enlightenment. ☺
But that is only the beginning because Self-knowledge is only “good” to the degree that it neutralizes one’s adharmic binding “likes” and “dislikes” to convert them into dharmic unbinding desires. In other words, Self-knowledge needs to fructify as moksa, or freedom from Self-ignorance. It needs to be converted from a mere “intellectual” knowledge to an “actual” Self-knowledge. And what is an “actual” Self-knowledge? It is the knowledge that is firmly retained and never forgotten – such firm Self-knowledge does not require discipline in order to be remembered. Only a hard and fast Self-knowledge will produce the necessary mental-emotional strength to insulate the jivanmukta from most adversities and conflicts of life and the adharmic impulses to break the natural laws of the universe, dharma.