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Thoughts About Consciousness, While Being Present in the Moment

Karnamrita Das

(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
When we see our life as a part of the greater cosmos, individual, but always in relationship to both the world, and the consciousness that animates it, we find important lessons everywhere and clues pointing to our Source. In North Carolina, on the East Coast of the USA, we are presently in full blown autumn. Changes in Nature are a frequent source of thoughtful reflections by writers and philosophers, and autumn is an interesting juncture between two very different seasons, summer and winter. Autumn is harvest time for some crops, so it is natural to think of this time of year in terms of what we are harvesting in our life, both in the immediate present, and in the larger picture of a lifetime. This season is also unpredictable in regards to the weather and may fluctuate 50 degrees in a single day, so we might see this as an opportunity to go within to find the everlasting principle which brings about these changes, and yet is changeless. If we are interested in spiritual growth, transformation, and a rebirth, we are taught to shed our old ways of thinking—like the leaves falling—to make way for luxurious growth—in the spring.

As I sit on our deck I listen to the soothing swishing, and watch the gentle flight actions, of the wind with the leaves—one of my favorite experiences in Nature. During the autumn the wind carries the special sound of crisp leaves blowing, falling, and rustling on the ground. As the wind escorts the leaves from up to down, so we are carried by the unseen hand of destiny, which gives both welcome and regrettable changes. Nature’s effects are endlessly mutable, plastic, and changeable, while the spiritual consciousness whose laws govern it is constant and unchanging in constitution—yet simultaneously dynamic and blissfully increasing in love. Everyday we have the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life and our place in the world and Universe, especially if we are familiar with spiritually philosophical texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, which explain how to live in the world for a transcendent purpose. While there are ideal conditions for contemplation, by practice, we can experience a spiritual outlook under any circumstances, whether at work or educational pursuits, amidst family, or what have you. Every person, or every situation, can be our teacher.

As I feel the brilliant, yet uniquely autumn light of the sun upon my face, lady bugs buzz around my head, and do their work of trying to find shelter for the winter, or for whatever reason they are driven to find their way in our house through cracks or any opening in the building. This year they are extremely plentiful, which has surprised me, since for the last two years, they were much fewer. Some locals are predicting a very cold winter and perhaps this is the reason for their huge numbers. In any case, the lady bugs are driven—forced to be driven—by the laws of their bodily being. Looking at the guest bedroom with the ceiling covered in lady bugs, I reflect about how we are all compelled to act in various ways, due to our conditioned mind and body.
Human life is special, because it can be self-aware, with the intelligence to discriminate the best course of action, ponder philosophical/spiritual questions, and most importantly from a bhakti perspective, to love or give selflessly to our Source, or Krishna. In a sense human life is like Nature waking up to itself, that it has a soul, with the potential to see that the soul is categorically different from matter. We notice in Nature that birds want to soar high in the sky, while fish want to swim deep in the ocean. Although the birds and fish are satisfied within their respective domains, humans sense that they are more than the limited confines physically imposed upon them and so want to do everything other life forms do—and more—to explore outer and inner space. The attempt of human beings to dominate and exploit Nature for selfish ends is a misuse of the underlying purpose of this propensity. At least if we are going to be selfish, we need to know what the self actually is! Our desire to become more is due to fact that we are much more than the body and its limited parameters. We are consciousness, or the spiritual animating principle upon which matter appears to grow and interact. Due to ignorance we try to be best physically, or at least believe that our tiny selfish interest, or survival, is most important even if it’s at the cost of others, or the whole planet.

Although in the past material science has ignored consciousness, today it is considered to be the last frontier by some. Unfortunately most scientists believe that consciousness is a result of the brain, and thus begin with this assumption in their research. They are asking, “At what stage does matter begin to become conscious?”, rather than posing the question “DOES matter gives rise to consciousness, or does it have another source?” , which would show less bias and be more scientific. At the very least both questions should be pondered equally in the spirit of understanding the truth.
The subject matter of Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, etc, is consciousness, so according to the current trends in science to explain consciousness, they are very relevant to the times we live in. Vedic literature doesn’t go into as much detail about how the Natural world works because they consider consciousness much more important and primary—that Nature has meaning and utility only in relationship to revealing spiritual truth. They deal with the material world only in as much as it can facilitate reviving our spiritual awareness. In India, philosophy was never separated from revelation or spirituality like in the West, so it is very spiritually developed and helpful for going deeper into consciousness. Such philosophy has a natural bias toward spirit and God due to the realization of the authors, rather than toward a materialistic, physical world view as science does.

If we do study Nature, we will not find her secrets if we approach Her with an exploitive attitude. Only if we study Nature as a steward, in a mood of love to use Her resources to foster spiritual growth and service to the Divine will She reveal Her most important secret that She is an energy and servant of Bhagavan, or Shri Krishna. Her ultimate purpose is to help awaken us to our eternal nature. As above, so below, so we can get hints which help us to understand the consciousness of consciousness (the Supreme Spirit, or God) by studying the bhakti Vedic scriptures with advanced spiritual practitioners and realized souls. Then, by watching the wind, and wondering about the lady bug, we will find answers that science misses. Rather than the quest to be the best, we will be on the quest to serve the (Supreme) Best. We become “the best” by surrendering to and serving the ultimate Best. That is the fulfillment of all our (re)search and aspirations, the happiness our heart yearns for.
Falling leavesBalarama and Krishna with cows