Consciousness: A Cosmic Perspective

By T. Subba Row
From his Notes on the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 1

There is hardly a system of philosophy which has ever denied the existence of the First Cause or Parabrahman. All sectarian disputes and differences have arisen, not from a difference of opinion as to the existence of the First Cause, but from the differences of the attributes that man's intellect has constantly tried to impose upon it. Is it possible to know anything of the First Cause? It is possible to know all about its manifestations, though it is next to impossible for human knowledge to penetrate into its inmost essence and say what it really is in itself. All religious philosophers are agreed that this First Cause is omnipresent and eternal. Further, it is subject to periods of activity and passivity.

But even the real reason for this activity and passivity is unintelligible to our minds. It is not matter or anything like matter. It is not even consciousness, because all that we know of consciousness is with reference to a definite organism. What consciousness is or will be when entirely separated from upadhi [form] is a thing utterly inconceivable not only to us, but to any other intelligence which has the notion of self or ego in it, or which has a distinct individualized existence. Again, it is not even atman; the word is constantly associated with the idea of self. But Parabrahman is not so associated; so it is not ego, it is not non-ego, nor is it consciousness.

In the case of every objective consciousness, we know that what we call matter or non-ego is a mere bundle of attributes. But whether we arrive at our conclusion by logical inference, or whether we derive it from innate consciousness, we always suppose that there is an entity -- the real essence of the thing upon which all these attributes are placed -- which bears these attributes, as it were, the essence itself being unknown to us. All Vedantic writers of old have formulated the principle that Parabrahman is the one essence of almost everything in the cosmos. The real thing in the bundle of attributes that our consciousness takes note of, the essence which seems to be the bottom and the foundation of all phenomena, is Parabrahman which, though not itself an object of knowledge, is yet capable of supporting and giving rise to every kind of object and every kind of existence which becomes an object of knowledge.

This Parabrahman, which exists before all things in the cosmos, is the one essence from which starts into existence a center of energy, which I shall call the Logos. This Logos may be called Isvara, Pratyagatman, or Sabda Brahman. It is called the Verbum or Word by Christians, and is the divine Christos who is eternally in the bosom of his father. It is called Avalokitesvara by the Buddhists, though no doubt in the Chinese doctrine there are also other ideas with which it is associated. It is the first ego in the cosmos, and every other ego and every other self is but its reflection or manifestation. In its inmost nature it is not unknowable, but it is an object of the highest knowledge that man is capable of acquiring. It is the one great mystery in the cosmos, with reference to which all the initiations and all the systems of philosophy have been devised.

This principle is not material or physical in its constitution, and it is not objective; it is not different in substance or in essence from Parabrahman, and yet at the same time it is different from it in having an individualized existence. It exists in a latent condition in the bosom of Parabrahman at the time of pralaya [cosmic rest] just, for instance, as the sense of ego is latent at the time of sleep. It has consciousness and an individuality of its own. It is the only personal God, perhaps, that exists in the cosmos. But such centers of energy are almost innumerable in the bosom of Parabrahman. Their number is almost infinite. Perhaps even in this center of energy called the Logos there may be differences; that is to say, Parabrahman can manifest itself as a Logos not only in one particular, definite form, but in various forms. This is the first manifestation of Parabrahman, the first ego that appears in the cosmos, the beginning of all creation and the end of all evolution. It is the one source of all energy in the cosmos, and the basis of all branches of knowledge, and what is more, it is the tree of life, because the chaitanya [consciousness] which animates the whole cosmos springs from it. When once this ego starts into existence as a conscious being having objective consciousness of its own, we shall have to see what the result of this objective consciousness will be with reference to the one absolute and unconditioned existence from which it starts into manifested existence. From its objective standpoint, Parabrahman appears to it as Mulaprakriti [primordial substance]. Of course this Mulaprakriti is material to it, as any material object is material to us. This Mulaprakriti is no more Parabrahman than the bundle of attributes of this pillar is the pillar itself; Parabrahman is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and by itself cannot be seen as it is. It is seen by the Logos with a veil thrown over it, and that veil is the mighty expanse of cosmic matter. It is the basis of all material manifestations in the cosmos.

Again, Parabrahman, after having appeared on the one hand as the ego, and on the other as Mulaprakriti, acts as the one energy through the Logos. The sun may be compared with the Logos: light and heat radiate from it, but its heat and energy exist in some unknown condition in space, and are diffused throughout space as visible light and heat through its instrumentality. In the same manner Parabrahman radiates from the Logos, and manifests itself as the light and energy of the Logos. Now we see the first manifestation of Parabrahman is the highest Trinity that we are capable of understanding. It consists of Mulaprakriti, the Logos, and the conscious energy of the Logos, which is its power and light; and here we have the three principles upon which the whole cosmos seems to be based. First, we have matter; secondly, we have the foundation of all the forces in the cosmos; and thirdly, we have the ego or the one root of self, of which every other kind of self is but a manifestation or a reflection.

You must bear in mind that there is a clear line of distinction drawn between Mulaprakriti (which is, as it were, the veil thrown over Parabrahman from the objective point of view of the Logos) and this energy which is radiated from it. This light from the Logos is called Daiviprakriti in the Bhagavad-Gita; it is the Gnostic Sophia and the Holy Ghost of the Christians. This light is symbolized as Gayatri. It is considered as the light of the Logos, and in order to convey to our minds a definite image, it is represented as the light of the sun. But the sun from which it springs is not the physical sun that we see, but the central sun of the light of wisdom. The light is the life of the whole of nature. What manifests itself as light, as consciousness, and as force, is just one and the same energy. All the various kinds of forces that we know of, all the various modes of consciousness with which we are acquainted, and life manifested in every kind of organism, are but the manifestations of one and the same power, that power being the one that springs from the Logos originally.

Now creation or evolution is commenced by the intellectual energy of the Logos. The universe in its infinite details and with its wonderful laws does not spring into existence by mere chance, nor merely on account of the potentialities locked up in Mulaprakriti. It comes into existence mainly through the instrumentality of the one source of energy and power existing in the cosmos, which we have named the Logos, and which is the one existing representative of the power and wisdom of Parabrahman. Matter acquires all its attributes and all its powers which, in course of time, give such wonderful results in the course of evolution, by the action of this light that emanates from the Logos upon Mulaprakriti. From our standpoint, it will be very difficult to conceive what kind of matter that may be which has none of those tendencies which are commonly associated with all kinds of matter, and which only acquires all the various properties manifested by it on receiving this light and energy from the Logos. This light of the Logos is the link between objective matter and the subjective thought of Isvara. It is called in several Buddhist books fohat. It is the one instrument with which the Logos works.

What springs up in the Logos at first is simply an image, a conception of what it is to be in the cosmos. This light or energy catches the image and impresses it upon the cosmic matter which is already manifested. Thus spring into existence all the manifested solar systems.

  (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2002; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)

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