This paper was presented at
Psychology: The Indian Contribution
National Conference on
Indian Psychology, Yoga and Consciousness
organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research
at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education
Pondicherry, India, 10-13 December 2004

(click to enlarge)

Indigenous approaches to self and consciousness

Prof. G.N. Prakash Srivastava

Psychology as science of psyche has been narrowly conceived by occidental psychologists. The greatness and sovereignty of India over world-civilization lie in its depth in the field of spiritual realization, which is the summum-bonum of human life. All the physical and biological sciences of the West have been busy with the study of unconscious monads (inanimate objects) and conscious monads (animate objects), whereas India concentrated on the study and unfoldment of the mystery of the self-conscious monad (man). This process of unfoldment or manifestation is self-realization. This self realization became the ultimate goal of life by realizing the Spirit, Soul or Atman for dissolving the riddle of miserable cycle of birth and death by getting salvation or Moksha the dissolution of individual self in the Universal Being, the Virat. With this objective in mind Indian Rishis, saints, philosophers and Metaphysicians concentrated on the study of Self or Atman through the methods of Yoga and Meditation which is yet a mystery to the western materialistic world.

‘Self’ and ‘Consciousness’: The Indigenous Views

Self has been conceived as Empirical, Psychological and Transcendental. Self-realization in empirical sense is the unfoldment of all the abilities and potentialities for worldly prosperity. Realization of the psychological self is concerned with the understanding of the laws, forces and processes of mind. The realization of the transcendental self is the spiritual realization i.e. realization of the Self. This self is the Reality the Eternal, Ever Blessed, Ever Pure and Ever Perfect. It is the Atman, the Soul. ‘The Vedas say that the whole world is a mixture of independence and dependence, of freedom and slavery, but through it all shines the Soul independent, immortal, pure, perfect, and holy. The realization of this Atman is the highest goal of human life. It is knowledge, it is happiness, it is God. It is Infinite, Absolute Bliss, and Existence. All glory, power and purity are within the soul [self]. Besides mind and body, the soul that reigns within is independent, and creates the desire for freedom. This Atman or self is not to be reached by too much talking [Saastrartha] , nor is it to be reached by the power of the intellect [Budhi],nor by much study of the scriptures (Saastra Addyayan) but by dissolving one’s ego in the universal being by the practice of Yoga and Meditation.

The study of consciousness has been approached by Indian seers, saints, philosophers, Yogis and metaphysicians from the point of view of the development of consciousness, its expansion, and its ultimate reach and goal through Sadhana the spritual discipline to probe into its depth and its ultimate limit. Sometimes we call consciousness as mind, sometimes Chitta and so on. Our Vedic Rishis in Upanishad look upon to this Chitta or consciousness as some power so subtle that it can concentrate itself on a single point , a pin-point or it can expand itself to the whole of the cosmos: Anoraniyan mahato mahiyan. It dwells in some secret chamber of the brain and is called Atman. It can very well be described as the chitkan a point of consciousness, the coordinating force, the Spiriton. It coordinates all the experiences and activities of a personality or a person or a Purusa.

The study of the states of our consciousness is meant for the healthy growth of consciousness with a view to attain, the highest state called Moksha or Anand of causeless joy and delight, the supernal blissful condition which a man can attain by sadhna that is the highest attainment of the present humanity. The approach of the ancient seers and saints was always for trying to attain the highest state of consciousness within themselves, apart from the mastery that they wanted to have on material life, on their body and on other forces. Man has been trying for both these masteries, mastery over what exists outside his own body and his own mind, and mastery also over the inner force which makes him live, makes him conscious, gives him the capacity for experiences of different types. Here we are dealing with the mastery of the inner power which is called the power of consciousness.

The western approach towards consciousness may be said to be peripheral, not central; an approach from outside to see what is happening to our brain or to our mind. While probing into the diseased or abnormal, the pathological condition of mind, the western psychologists have approached through curative method into the mysteries of consciousness and its conditions and have been trying to see how the diseased mind could be cured and brought to normality. Both normal and abnormal Psychology are necessary for the purpose of studying whole nature and activities of our consciousness. One is the approach to see what our consciousness tries to reach the highest pinnacle. The other is to use whatever diseases or abnormalities have crept in and how to bring the patient back to normal condition.

Man has reached in the evolutionary process a stage where he has become conscious of his own consciousness, i.e. state of self-consciousness. Self-consciousness always gives man a kind of lever for developing the power of improving the functions of his consciousness. He can see what is going on in his mind and judge right from the wrong. Even conscience is the result of a development along that line. This development of conscience is itself the result of self-consciousness and maturity.

Thus self-consciousness leads to self-introspection. Conscience which is the faculty of discrimination between right and wrong, good and bad is the result of introspection. The ‘will’ to follow our conscience as the guide in all matters gives us the power to control our inner powers and mastery over ourselves, The proper use of the knowledge or information received through senses depends upon our faculty of conscience (antaratma) and our control over our inner urges and elemental tendencies. It is in this sense that knowledge is power and self-knowledge leading to self-control or Samyama which is the highest power for the preservation and advance of the humanity.

In the Mandukyopanishad, our states of consciousness have been enumerated, namely, Jagrit, Swapna, Susupti and Turiya. Jagri means the waking state when our mind and intellect are active and we have the full awareness of our surrounding. The second state, Swapna is somewhere between the waking and the sleeping state. It is a dream state. Susupti is supposed to be deep sleep where there are no dreams and no wakefulness. There is a kind of restfulness. Then there is Turiya a Yogic condition. Turiyavastha is described as a state of supreme joy in which individual is merged in the universal. There is no consciousness of one’s self separate from the universal self. According to all systems Jivatama experiences a kind of union, a communion and oneness with Parmatama in Turiyavastha. So Turitya is that state of consciousness in which individual consciousness merges into universal consciousness which is one and indivisible. No doubt our ancients came to this conclusion by intuition, by Sadhana, by Dhyana (meditation) and by experience of a unique kind of ecstasy.

Turiyavastha is really that state of condition of consciousness where separateness is not experienced, but only oneness is experienced. Saksatkara i.e., seeing God face to face is this Turiyavastha and its experience. This is an Avastha which really the Sadhus and Saints try to attain by meditation or Yoga.

There might be a Turiyatitavastha a state of consciousness beyond Turiya. In the Taittiriyopanishad, Panchakosas (five sheaths) have been described as existing in man. One is Annamayakosa which means the material, physical body; another Pranamayakosa means the vital sheath third is Manomayakosa that sheath which causes cerebration, thinking , then Vijnanmayakosa is responsible for pure objective thinking and the grasp of direct Truth, then Anandamayakosa the sheath of pure joy. At the end in the Taittiriypoanishad there is an attainment which is beyond the Anandamayakosa. That is the possibility of Turiyatitavastha.

In this Turiyatitavastha there might be a simultaneous double consciousness of being one and at the same time many. In this simultaneous consciousness there could be pure delight, joy and supernal bliss of merger in the Universal along with the creative ecstasy of manifestation.

The study of the states of our consciousness is very important if we want to make conscious progress in our evolution. Unconscious progress and evolution is going on as a part of the cosmic process. The study of one’s own consciousness, its potentiality, its power and its workings are required to participate in the cosmic evolution as a conscious and a self conscious being so as to know the laws of its evolution and to be able to control and master the powers within himself. The Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, one of the best minds and the latest seer of modern India concerns itself not merely with the maintenance of health of the human mind but leads man in his further progress towards the highest reaches of his consciousness. Integral Yoga is a pointer to Life Divine through the establishment of a link between the consciousness of man and the super conscious forces presiding over the destinies of cosmic evolution.

Yoga and Dhyana (Meditation): Approaches to Realization of self and Consciousness

Yoga is a philosophy of life based on certain psychological facts, and its aim is the development of a perfect balance between the body and the mind that permits union with the divine, i.e., a perfect harmony between the individual and the cosmos. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root Yuj, as the English Yoke meaning to join, to join us to our reality, God. It designates the joining of the lower human nature to the higher in such a manner as to allow the higher to direct the ‘lower’ or ‘union with the Self’. It also signifies communion with the supreme Universal Spirit to obtain relief from pain and suffering. It is said in Bhagawad Gita :

One who controls his mind, intellect and ego, being absorbed in the spirit within him, finds fulfillment and internal bliss which is beyond the pale senses and reasoning’.

The different forms of Yoga are adapted to the different natures and temperaments of men. Yoga as communion is a great science and an art as well. Ultimately, Yoga is a science and art of control and mastery of consciousness with a view to elevate human consciousness and try to reach the highest. Sri Aurobindo says that all life is Yoga, i.e., the whole process of cosmic activity of progress towards higher dimension of existence.

Yoga is the experience of complete peace of mind and self-knowledge. It trains the mind psychologically and increases the power of perception. Due to concentration, Yoga helps us perceive the subtle realities of life, illuminating our existence and moral sense. It directs our lives and spiritual aspirations towards their perfect self-expression and an accomplishment where knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

The tradition of yoga was developed in India several thousand years ago by Rishis and Maharishis, great saints and sages. They were genuine Yogis with complete mastery of the mind and body, supernatural powers and arts. They realized a meaning to life and some purpose beyond suffering. They were convinced that there was a way of escaping the tragic problems of life. So, through their unceasing efforts they crossed the frontiers of mind, the limits of senses and those intellectual reasoning. The sages saw the most secret truths of life through their super sensuous perceptions and concentration of powers of the mind. They wanted to deliver man from ignorance to set him on the road to freedom. The Yogis gave rational interpretations of their experiences and brought within every one’s reach a practical, scientifically prepared methods leading to the final goal of life: the realization of the Self [illumination]. This science developed in several ways. Among the most important works on this subject are the Yoga Sutra or Aphorisms of Patanjali with a commentary by Vyasa.

Just as an image cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror or crystal bowl full of muddy water, so the mind of an average person is habitually obscured by ignorance, illusion and egocentricity, The various Yogas represent all the means allowing man to raise the veil of ignorance and illusion (Maya) so that his mind may reflect the light of the Ultimate Reality.

The great sages of India have perfected several methods, each adapted to a different temperament, mental and physical capacities. All the ways of Yoga teach discipline and self –control.The various types of yoga i.e. Jnana yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Hath Yoga are recommended as per temperament of persons. Those who are intellectual may follow Jnana Yoga, the way of wisdom and discrimination. It leads man to the realization of divinity through knowledge. Those who are active follow the way of Karma Yoga, the way of action and service rendered without selfish motive. Here man realizes his own divinity through work and duty. Those who are emotional follow the way of Bhakti Yoga; the path of devotion and love, where the personality is dissolved and the individual becomes completely unselfish. It is the realization of the divinity through devotion to, and love of a Personal God. Those who attach the greatest importance to contemplation follow the path of Raja Yoga, i.e. the way designed to control and master the mind by mental concentration. Raja Yoga recommends suitable methods and the practice of postures Asanas and breathing control, called Hatha-Yoga, with a view to finding calm, mental balance and peace of mind. It is the realization of divinity through the control of mind.

Meditation [Dhyana] is the power and process which enable us to resist all our slavery to nature. Meditation is the gate that opens the Infinite joy to us. Dhyana or the state of meditation is obtained when the mind is trained to concentrate on an object, and when the stream of thought flows in a single direction without interruption. During meditation thought is absorbed into Prana [vital force]. Here the only sign of life is breathing. The hypothalamus recharges its energy during meditation, as it does during sleep. Whereas sleep is a compensating form of rest, meditation is a conscious one, and hence, contains important therapeutic characteristics. Meditation helps us to rid ourselves of emotional conflict, inner discord and psychological tension. It completely purifies the mind and frees it from unconscious conflicts. Meditation enables the inner light to manifest itself. This is responsible for the awakening of Self-consciousness, hence one may penetrate to the very center of life’s highest values.

The subject of meditation may be the Supreme-self, Pure-existence or Universal Value. Each person, according to his faith may choose and elevate thought or spiritual symbol upon which he prefers to meditate. Every meditation is super consciousness. In perfect concentration the soul becomes actually free from the bonds of the gross body and knows itself as it is.

Within there is the lion-the eternally pure, illuminated and ever free Atman; and directly one realises Him through meditation and concentration, this world of Maya vanishes.

Swami Vivekanand [Vol.VII P.253]

Sometimes the mind is concentrated on a set of ideas- this is called meditation with Vikalpa or oscillation. But when the mind becomes almost free from all activities, it melts in the inner Self, which is the essence of infinite knowledge, One and Itself Its own support.

Swami Vivekanand (Vol.VII,P.253-54)

Practice of Yoga and Meditation

The practice of Yoga be done under the guidance of a competent Guru or teacher. Ignorance of practices and its requirement may prove harmful to both mind and body. Medical experiments and psychological researches have shown that negative mental attitudes are dangerous and lead to illness. Again extremes should be avoided; too much fasting or too little sleep weakens the body and is detrimental to nervous system. If we practice moderation and discipline, balance of eating and sleeping habits along with our work and the lime we spend awake we shall reach perfect harmony with the self. For the perfect harmony and equilibrium we must have control of both mind and body.


The best time for Yoga and Meditation is early morning and evening [twilight] with clean body and mind.The place should be neat and clean[better it is surrounded by nature i.e. plants, grass, flowers etc., with fresh natural air]. Flowers are the best surroundings for a Yogi, also the pictures that are pleasing. Burn incense morning and evening. Have no quarrelling, nor anger nor unholy thoughts at that place. The place becomes and remains illuminated. One should solute ancient Yogis, Guru and God and then begin the practice of Yoga or Meditation.

Physiological Factors

A comfortable and firm posture, in such a way that one is conscious of the body, must be adopted. One should choose the position that allows one to remain still for a long time without feeling discomfort. The spine and head should be kept very straight, in Meditation, without being strained. The mind can be directed inwordly in complete tranquility. It must be practiced in a state of relaxation. It should never require abrupt movements, violent inhalations or exhalation, nor should it provoke a felling of suffocation. The body must not be forced nor fatigued during the execution of Yogic postures [Asanas]. One should stop the practice as soon as there is any pain. Each Asana [posture] should be performed slowly, carefully, gradually and patiently. Postures may be simplified according to individual needs. Asanas should be practised on an empty stomach.

Psychological Factors

One must keep the mind fixed on one object, in Meditation, like an unbroken stream of oil. Let any desire whatever arise in the mind, one must sit calmly and watch what sort of ideas are coming. By continuing to watch in that way, the mind becomes calm, and there are no thought - waves in it. These waves represent the thought activity of the mind. Those things that one has previously thought too deeply, have transformed themselves into a subconscious current and, therefore, these come up in the mind in meditation. The rise of these waves, or thoughts, during meditation is an evidence that the mind is tending towards concentration. There are three stages in meditation. The first is what is called Dharna, concentrating the mind upon an object excluding every other object from the mind. But the mind is wavering. When it has become strong and does not waver so much, it is called Dhyana, meditation. And there is a still higher state when the differentiation between the object and the mind is lost- Samadhi or absorption. The mind and the object are identical. All the senses stop and all powers that have been working through other channels of other senses are focused in the mind.

Significance to Human Life and spiritual Well-being

All the books on Yoga Shastra, Hatha-Yoga Pradeepik, and Yogasutra by Patanjali state that the steps of Yoga like Yamas [mental discipline], and the Niyamas [mental purification], should be practiced, and only then followed by Asanas. The Yamas and Niyamas are principles of good conduct, which if followed correctly, bring supreme peace of mind. The individual will then be freed from all emotions, he will develop faith in himself, preserving an indestructible optimism and clearsightedness.

Ahimsa [non-violence], Satya [truth], Asteya [non-stealing], Brahmacharya [chastity] and Aparigraha [non-covetousness] are Yamas i.e. rules of good conduct for society and the individual. Saucha [purity of body and mind], Santosha [contentment], Tapas [self-discipline and austerity], Swadhyaya [study of scriptures] and Ishwara Pranidhana [worshipping God and contemplation] are the Niyamas, i.e., rules of self-purification to personal discipline.

Rigorous practice of the Yamas and Nityamas is essential for those following the spiritual path. Those who turn to Yoga regarding it as nothing more than physical health and mental peace, or as a method of healing, may practice the Yamas and Niyamas to keep their minds healthy and to augment their inner force. In everyday terms, this means that to practice them on a modest scale is quite sufficient, requiring only a change in one’s daily habits.

When our mental energy or consciousness is well disciplined, we can direct it to any part of the body, and immediately find a sensation of feeling better. This is due to the abundant flow of blood sent to part of the body. In this way we are gradually able to fortify and animate all the areas of the body.

After all, illness is nothing than the expression of the unequal distribution of vital forces through the human body. Whenever the currents of vital energy are unbalanced, the body’s stability is disturbed, and we fall victim of all kinds of irregularities. This state is called ‘illness’. If the current of vital force are consciously and equally directed to all parts of the body, we can recover by redressing our equilibrium and regaining perfect mental and physical harmony.

All experiences of Yoga confirm the fact that the mind, like the body, is nothing more than an instrument to be used in helping us reach a state of super-consciousness that is beyond mental thought, a state in which only pure knowledge and beatitude exist. Science depends on knowledge that is enlarged and confirmed by regular experimentation, practical analysis and unvarying result, whereas Yoga relies on direct perception and experience. It is a way perfecting oneself and developing the possibilities of one’s being. Yoga brings about individual evolution much more quickly than the slow process of nature.

Yoga should be taken as a method to obtain perfect health and maintain the physiological harmony of the body, as well as to achieve a state of mental perfection by progressing spiritually, as a result of complete self-control. It is a unique method for us to allow our personality to unfold to its fullest extent. Yoga teaches us to live reasonably and avoid uselessly squandering our energy; it also shows us how to exercise self-control and preserve a positive attitude towards life. In this way it leads us towards universal love, for it is love, alone that we may create a brotherhood of man between the various nations of the world.

Success in Yoga is not obtained by mere theoretical study, or talking about it or reading the sacred texts. Constant practice alone is secret of its success

Hath Yoga Pradeepika

Through constant practices of Yoga, one can overcome all difficulties and eradicate all weakness. Pain can be transmuted into bliss, sorrow into joy, failure into success and sickness into perfect health. Determination, patience, persistence lead us to the goal.

Bhagvad Gita

The most important factor in arriving at the desired results is one’s own determination, patience and perseverance.


Steps Ahead: Revival

It becomes obvious that Yoga and Meditation be made part and parcel of daily routine in all the educational institutions from Elementary to Higher education. Expert resource persons for Yoga and meditation be invited for orientation, training and practice in this field. A revival has to take place to put our young generation to right path of self-realization. Their vagabond tendencies are to be curbed and put to discipline through Yoga and Meditation . For teachers and educational authorities practice of Yoga and Meditation be made mandatory if we are seriously interested to revive our Indian system of education and self-discipline. Yoga and Meditation are not confined to any specific caste, creed, culture or religion. It is universal and may be practiced by all, whatever their age, status, belief or religion may be. Yoga and Meditation do not contain any mysteries and are accessible to every one. This intrinsic, indigenous spiritual treasure must be unearthed, enriched and extended to world culture through education, both formal and informal, to bring world peace and spiritual well-being of humanity.

The most important factor in arriving at the desired results is one’s own determination, patience and perseverance.