Written by Shalini Gagoomal & Shivina Harjani
On June 5, Vedanta Teacher Shubhraji was invited as the keynote speaker to the gala opening of the 1st Asia Consciousness Festival, hosted at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Along with Dr. Stuart Hameroff from the Center for Consciousness Studies in Tucson, the Venerable Hin Hung Sik from the Hong Kong Centre of Buddhist Studies and Dr. Eric Pearl, an internationally recognised healer, Shubhraji participated in a panel discussion that was driven by a range of views on the nature of Consciousness and how it arises.
During a separate address on June 7, Shubhraji was asked to expand her previous convictions by considering three questions: What is Consciousness? Is there a way to know it? Can it be experienced in a way that enhances our lives?
What is Consciousness?
Shubhraji drew from Advaita Vedanta, the ageless and universal philosophy of the Vedas which teaches the science of living. As she defined Consciousness in her delivery, she often quoted the Upanishads:
Yan mansa na manute Yenahur mano matam Tadeva brahma tvam vidhi Nedam yad idam upasate – (Kenopanishad 1/5)
Shubhraji explained the meaning of the verse in simple terms, “Consciousness is that which one cannot feel by the mind but because of which the mind feels.” Consciousness, she elaborated, is the ever-present Awareness from which the mind itself arises; it is the very source and substratum of the mind. She pointed out that this Consciousness, or Life principle, is none other than the constant centre that runs through all beings, eternally, self-luminously, and changelessly.
Shubhraji recalled an illustration from a famous story in Upanishadic literature to further these ideas. Consider a lump of clay moulded into several clay pots. “How many clays are there?” she asked. One. Undoubtedly, though the pots may be many, the clay itself is one, unifying essence. Consciousness, like the clay, she expounded, is a non-dual unity that births many forms but which is nonetheless constant and absolute despite the apparent separation of the forms it gives rise to.
Shubhraji continued, deepening her insights. Three elements are required for creation: an efficient cause, a material cause and an instrumental cause, which we may see as a potter, clay and a pottery wheel. She pointed out that Consciousness is all three causes. If Consciousness created the universe, out of what did it create if not Consciousness? If the material of creation was separate from the Creator, this would imply more than one Consciousness. There can be no such duality.
Is there a way to know it?
Is there a way to realise this all-pervading Consciousness? Is there a way for the mind to seek its own source? “You are already that which you seek” Shubhraji exclaimed, because the infinitude of joy that we endlessly search for is inherent in our own Being. It is the spiritual ignorance of our true nature and our perpetual identification with limited things such as the body, mind and intellect that provoke a feeling of incompleteness and which divert us from our blissful nature.
Consciousness alone is the Absolute Reality. It is a truth which never ceases to be. It must be conceived as the source of all things and beings, whose existence does not depend upon anything but on whom all other things depend on for their existence.
Shubhraji explained that our current concepts of ourselves amount to relative identities: son, father, brother, photographer, lawyer, comedian, Wimbledon champion. But, she persisted to ask, without such relationships, occupations or awards, who are we?
One man in her captivated audience responded, “That”. She elaborated, that we are Consciousness that is beyond words, objects, emotions and thoughts. A Consciousness which the Vedas point out through the language of negation, because any description of what it really is would be insufficient. Shubhraji expounded, our true identity rests in the Absolute Reality or Consciousness that forms the substratum of our Being. This identity by its very nature is free.
Can it be experienced in a way that enhances our lives?
So central to Vedanta is the assertion that one must abide in this Consciousness, the Absolute which is our true nature. In light of this, Shubhraji offered a practical approach to experiencing the freedom and joy that is the essence of this Self. There is no need to empty the mind of thoughts, as if often pointed out in meditation techniques. Instead, we must learn to recognise this Consciousness in spite of the torrent of thoughts that we experience. The task is not to empty the mind of thoughts, but to observe, silently and without attachment, the rise and fall of thought in our minds. Only if we find such quietude can we have a chance of acquiring a glimpse of the Truth.
Shubhraji talked us through a thought experiment: Think of a table and on it put an orange cloth. Now, place a crystal over the orange cloth. The crystal will appear orange, but its apparent orange colour belongs to the cloth and not to the crystal. In a similar way, though various qualities appear on Pure Consciousness or on the Self, they are mere appearances and are not actually there.
The recognition of Consciousness requires a subtle shift in our perception, for it is the recognition of that which we already are. Shubhraji gave yet another example. “What is the state of your mind between the fulfillment of one desire and the beginning of the next?” It is a state of silence and contentment, a state of joyfulness- that, is none other than your true Self. A state which we so endlessly seek everywhere but where it resides, that is, within our Self.
As Shubhraji often says, “Test this knowledge for yourself! If it doesn’t work, throw it out the window”, but if it does work, you know you have in your hands the tools for something great.
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