Is Consciousness Really Eternal?

Someone may object, “First we perceive a blue object, then a yellow one. This shows that consciousness is neither constant nor eternal.

Yes, blue objects and yellow objects appear and disappear, but the consciousness that perceives them is constant. Objects change, they come and go, but the consciousness that perceives objects does not. The observer “merely experiences changes in the things it observes. Our bodies, for example, are born, grow from childhood to youth, decay, die, and become replaced. Consciousness merely observes these changes. The observed is distinct from the observer, and thus changes in the observed do not necessitate changes in the observer.

“Individual consciousness experiences many different things through the senses, via the vital-airs. It only appears to be affected by changes experienced by the senses.”

— 11.3.38b – 39a

This indicates that consciousness is not only distinct from the objects it is conscious of; it is also distinct from the tools it uses to perceive those objects.

“When we are deeply asleep our senses shut down, and even our sense of Doership is lost. Yet something unchanging remains, distinct from all these – for when we wake up, we remember everything.”

— 11.3.39b

This illustrates that consciousness is even distinct from the mind, intellect and ahaṁkāra – the sense of Doeship at the root of our assumed identities.

While awake we are aware of external objects. While asleep this awareness disappears, but residual images of it remain in our mind and interact as dreams. While, deeply asleep, however, we have no dreams. In that state, we lose awareness of even the residual mental impressions of external objects, and we forget who we are, because we even lose awareness of the sense of Doership that forges our assumed identities. In deep, deep sleep all that remains is the changeless essence of individual consciousness itself – demonstrating that this changeless essence of self is distinct from all the changeable things that contain it.

If one adores blue and hates yellow, the presence of a blue object changes the emotional filters through which consciousness operates, but does not change consciousness itself.

One may object, “What is the need to suggest that some unchanging entity exists beyond even the sense of Doership?”

“Beacuase, when we wake up, we remember everything.” A constant sense of identity persists even through deep sleep or coma. If some level of consciousness did not remains even in such states, it would be unexpected to resume the same identity, intellectual outlooks, and emotional paradigms ever time we wake up; and it would be impossible to say, “I slept happily for a long time, unaware of anything.” No one can remember something it hasn’t witnessed. We remember being in deep sleep – so we must have witnessed it somehow, even though in that state we have no connection at all with external sense objects, our senses, our emotions, intellect, or sense of identity. In deep sleep we witness only the very essence of our own conscious self.

We must conclude that the self illuminates itself by its own consciousness. It is self-illuminating like the sun.

“In deep sleep he cannot see, yet still he sees! Even when he cannot see any visible object the observer cannot cease from observation.”

— Bṛhadāraṇyaka (4.3.23)

Here again, individual consciousness is essentially the same as the supreme consciousness. There is, however, one important distinction between individual consciousness and the supreme consciousness. Individual consciousness can divorce itself of explicit connection to the supreme consciousness, and in so doing can experience misery. Supreme consciousness, on the other hand, does not experience misery, being the intrinsic subject and object of ever-blissful, joy-awakening divine love.

An excerpt from

by Vraja Kishor

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