What is consciousness?

What is consciousness?

What is consciousness? It is our power of knowing, or our power to know. Or more precisely, it is the power within us that knows. However, since that which knows is only we ourself, our consciousness is not something other than ourself, but is our very being or essence.


Of all the things that we know, the first is our own being, which we always know as ‘I am’. All our other knowledge comes and goes, but this first and most basic knowledge ‘I am’ neither comes nor goes, but is experienced by us constantly, in all times and in all states. Thus our very nature as consciousness is to know ourself. Consciousness is always self-conscious, and it cannot but be conscious of itself, its own essential being or ‘am’-ness.


The original and primary form of our consciousness is therefore our self-consciousness ‘I am’. Whether or not our consciousness knows any other thing, it always knows itself. In every knowledge that it experiences, its basic knowledge ‘I am’ is mixed. All its knowledge of anything other than itself is experienced by it as ‘I am knowing this’. Whereas it knows itself only as ‘I am’, it knows other things as ‘I am knowing this’. However, though it always knows itself as ‘I am’, when it knows other things in addition to itself, it seems to ignore or overlook its own basic knowledge ‘I am’, and to give prominence instead to whatever else it is knowing.


Though our consciousness sometimes appear to be knowing things other than itself, its knowledge of those other things is only temporary, and hence that knowledge of otherness is not an essential part of its being. In sleep we know that we are, but we do not know anything else, so our knowledge of otherness is extraneous to our essential consciousness of our own being. Since our consciousness of our own being is permanent, whereas our consciousness of otherness is temporary, there is a clear distinction between these two forms of our consciousness. The former is our essential consciousness, while the latter is a mere adjunct that is temporarily superimposed upon it. This temporary adjunct, which rises from our essential consciousness of our own being as a consciousness of otherness, and which thereby appears to be superimposed upon and intimately mixed with our essential consciousness, is the limited and relative form of consciousness that we call our ‘mind’.


In order to know things other than itself, our mind must limit itself. But how can consciousness limit itself? Only that which has a definable or measurable extent is limited. Since consciousness has no boundaries, it has no such definable extent, so it is unlimited. A limitation of any sort requires one or more dimensions within which it can set defined boundaries. But consciousness is not confined within any dimension, and therefore it does not have any boundaries that could limit it in any way. Since all dimensions, boundaries, limits and extents are concepts or thoughts that are known only by our mind after it has risen to know otherness, they are contained only within our mind and have no existence independent of it. How then does our mind confine itself within any limit?


Our mind limits itself by imagining itself to be one of the objects that it knows. That is, it first imagines itself to be a form, and then only does it know the forms of other things. A form is anything that is contained within boundaries, and that therefore has a definable extent in one or more dimensions. Every finite thing has a form of one type or another, because without a form a thing would have no limits and would therefore be infinite. Everything that we know as other than ourself is a form. Our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, our perceptions and all other things that are known by our mind are forms, except of course our essential consciousness of our own being, which is formless and therefore infinite.





Michael James





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