by Swami Krishnananda
One can conceive anything but the finitude of consciousness. It is impossible to imagine that consciousness can be limited by anything external to it. In fact, the concept of there being something external to consciousness is itself an unwarranted intervention of a total impossibility, for that which is external to consciousness has also to become a content of consciousness; else, there could not be even a consciousness that there is something external to consciousness. It is also not possible that what is alien to consciousness in character can be its content, for the content of consciousness has to be related to consciousness in order to become its content at all. Now, this relation between the content and consciousness is again a questionable proposition, inasmuch as any relation between consciousness and its content should again be related to consciousness in some way or the other. It is impossible to hold the notion of anything which is unrelated to consciousness, also what is not a content of consciousness or what is dissimilar to consciousness in character. That which is dissimilar to consciousness would be an ‘external’ to consciousness, which means to say that this so-called ‘external’ has to be brought in relation to consciousness in order that it may become a content of consciousness. The outcome of this analysis would naturally be that (1) the content of consciousness should be similar to consciousness in character in order that it may bear some sort of a relation to consciousness; (2) the relation of the content to consciousness should also have some sort of a connection to consciousness, that is, the relation itself should be related to consciousness. If this relation is regarded as external to consciousness, the initial problem would once again crop up, namely, the problem of the relation of an external to consciousness. Under these circumstances, it would be untenable to hold that anything that consciousness knows can either be unrelated to it or be dissimilar to it in character. Inasmuch as anything perceivable or conceivable has to become a content of consciousness, it would mean that the comprehensiveness of consciousness would be so vast that it should include within its gamut the whole of existence. Is existence, then, a content of consciousness? If so, this content, namely, existence, would have to be related to consciousness in a similarity of character. Existence must be consciousness and consciousness must be existence. (Sattaiva bodho, bodha eva cha satta.)
If existence and consciousness have to be one and the same, how do we explain the anxiety of consciousness to desire objects which have an existence of their own? If the objects of the world have no existence of their own, it would be impossible for consciousness to desire them. On the other hand, if they have an existence of their own, what is the relation of this existence to the existence of consciousness which desires them? Are these objects external to consciousness, or are they involved in the very constitution of consciousness? On the second alternative, it would follow that it would be meaningless for consciousness to desire objects, because they are supposed to be already involved in its very structure. But, if they are not so involved, the desire of consciousness for the objects would be understandable. And if the existence of objects is not involved in consciousness, it would also mean that this existence is bereft of all consciousness; not only that, this existence would be an external to consciousness. But we have already seen that a total externality to consciousness is inconceivable, and is an indefensible position. Hence it has to be concluded that the desire of consciousness for objects outside is a peculiar kind of error that seems to have crept into it, and there would be no justification for consciousness in desiring objects at all.
Though this is the logical analysis of the whole position, the involvement of consciousness in a desire for objects is so much taken for granted that it may be said for all practical purposes that the desire of consciousness is inseparable from the desiring consciousness. Desire, in fact, is a mode of consciousness itself, a mode characterised by what may be called a spatio-temporal externalisation, notwithstanding the fact that such an externalisation is ruled out on logical grounds, as we have already seen.
The practical involvement of consciousness in a desire for objects is the problem of man, in spite of the logical grounds which do not permit the possibility of consciousness desiring anything at all. The cosmological theories of the Upanishads as well as those propounded in the standard philosophies in the world make out that though consciousness cannot be regarded as finite—that is, it has to be infinite—the notion of finitude has entered it by a mystery—a mystery to consciousness itself. In this mysterious descent of consciousness from infinitude to finitude, an awful catastrophe might be said to have taken place. And it is this. Since consciousness has to be accepted to be infinite, the existence of objects external to it would be conceivable only on the acceptance of there having taken place a division of consciousness within itself, though this dividing factor itself cannot be outside consciousness. Nonetheless, the concession to this division is the explanation of human life in everyone of its aspects, for life’s processes cannot be explained without such division between the subject and the object. These processes of life have therefore to be ‘conditions’ of consciousness, processes within itself—a veritable history of consciousness.
The processes of life are, broadly speaking, those which are studied in the fields of politics, world-history, sociology, ethics, economics, aesthetics, psychology, biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy. Everything connected with man can be said to be comprehended within this outline of the framework of life’s activity. But all this has to be ‘related’ to consciousness; else, they would not exist even as subjects of study or objects of experience. The problem of man is therefore the problem of consciousness. The study of man is the study of consciousness.