Difference Between Consciousness and Awareness (Non-Duality)

Dr. Sundar: I read today that Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “Consciousness is an attribute while awareness is not; one can be aware of being conscious, but not conscious of awareness. God is the totality of consciousness, but awareness is beyond all — being as well as not-being.” I would like to learn the full import of the above.

Jagjot: What a wonderful quote from the revered master! I don’t know if I can do justice to these words from the great master, but I’ll try to do my best.

While in appearance you and I may be different, the consciousness or aliveness that powers all beings in the universe is the same. You and I are simply the instruments through which the divine consciousness creates expressions (or Leela).

It is not that my consciousness is different from yours. So when Maharaj says that God is the totality of consciousness, he means that the same consciousness runs through all of us just like electricity runs through different gadgets designed to produce specific functions. The gadgets may break but nothing affects the consciousness.

However, the consciousness is a movement in duality, which creates the illusion of separation. You can only become “conscious” of “something.” Consciousness needs an object of experience. In deep sleep (without dreams), there are no objects (no world and no time), hence, there’s no movement. 

In deep sleep, you don’t experience yourself as the sleeping individual, only on waking up does the mind say that “I” slept. So then how do you know that you slept? Because the pure awareness or knowing, which is our true nature was/is always there. A jnani, even in the waking state, rests in the bliss of pure awareness.

Think of consciousness as the movement or energy, whereas, the awareness is the potential. The potential contains both the manifest and the unmanifest, or being and non-being. Awareness is the potential from which consciousness emanates and creates the world of names and forms.

Therefore, you can experience yourself as consciousness. How? Through your own experience of aliveness. You say, “I exist.” But awareness, projecting itself as consciousness, is not an object.

It is the primordial subject, and therefore, it is NOT possible to “know” awareness as an object of your experience. The awareness, by itself, is the pure knowing. If you remember, in our last discussion, I mentioned the experience of my three spiritual understandings:

  1. I don’t know” – The individual cannot “know” what the truth is.
  2. I can’t know” – Awareness is something I cannot “know” either through sensory experience or psychological inference.
  3. There is no individual knower, KNOWING is all there is” – The existence of Individual consciousness is an illusion, pure awareness or “knowing” is all there is.

Please note that the third and final understanding is not of the individual or “me.” It is not “mine,” but the impersonal awareness whose nature is pure knowing. If you notice, I refrain from using words like Brahman and Chaitanyam because these words can become objects of your desire. The object itself has no truth in it. It is merely an appearance in the consciousness.

The above quote from Shri. Nisargadatta Maharaj is the highest realization of the nature of reality. All the knowledge of Vedas is condensed into these few words. This understanding is freedom from all bondage. It is the final liberation.

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