The Ring of Consciousness

By D. K. Titchenell

Upon awakening from a dream, we find ourselves on the threshold between two worlds. The dream world we quitted is still a clear picture in our minds, a picture as real as any other while we were experiencing it; yet to our waking mind the dream may be filled with absurdity and it rapidly fades into forgetfulness. If one, however, reviews the flow of dream events while still straddling the two worlds, those images may be made to remain and become part of the memory of the waking mind. How natural it seems to us to think of this waking consciousness as the more real of the two; how reasonable to assume that this brain-bond of matter which blocks out the dreamstuff of our minds is somehow more substantial and permanent -- reasonable at least while we are functioning entirely within it. To regard this orb, our earth, as flat from the perspective of a life form moving upon its surface, and in absence of further evidence, might well seem equally reasonable until investigation brings greater understanding. Sealed as we are in this material form, the true nature of consciousness is necessarily obscured and will remain so until the astronaut of our soaring soul yields us a larger perspective.

Our need for understanding -- and our desire for a complete understanding -- often leads us to work from two directions to form a total vision of existence: on the one hand, we strive to increase our knowledge; on other, we often work to reduce nature to the compass of that which is known or at least knowable. Both religion and science have made considerable contributions in endeavoring to reduce our universal model of existence to fit into prescribed and definable bounds. So much so that there remains relatively little overlap within the limits imposed by the two disciplines. But are we justified in imposing such limits? Unfortunately, one effect of this reduced model is to deny that such a narrowing process is taking place at all, in that the assumption is made that there is nothing beyond that need be considered -- which would render the premise of the question erroneous. But assuming the question to be valid, and assuming our goal to be truth rather than comfort and convenience, the answer should be "no." Is it so dreadful to recognize the existence of realms of understanding that are beyond our abilities to conceive at present? Does denial of their existence bring us any closer to truth?

That we should consider our waking consciousness to be the most permanent of our consciousness states is perhaps strange, in that it is the only one we know with any certainty to be of finite duration. The fact that little if any memory of previous lives remains accessible to our waking minds is a barrier to many who ponder the possibility of reincarnation. But one could hardly expect such memories to remain; we have enough difficulty transferring dream images only a few moments old over into a fully mature waking mind for retention, while the physical consciousness of a newborn child is not yet ready to retain much of anything.

An interesting exercise is to talk with a good friend and to try earnestly to imagine that he or she is actually the end result of a random assemblage of atoms; that this person sitting before you has in all his or her facets -- character, conscience, passions, aspirations, etc. been brought into existence purely as a product of chemical and biological interactions. Indeed, when one considers seriously the person within the body, it is hard to believe that such attributes as nobility, sympathy, generosity found in a child, could have been suddenly created from a vacuum of nonexistence by any process whatsoever.

The realm of our human understanding of nature spans a minuscule segment of the totality. In some respects we are able to see how small that segment is relative to the whole. We know, for example, that the range of visible light is but a tiny slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, and through scientific instrumentation we can see a great deal further into it in both directions than the limited sensory organs of our bodies would allow. Similarly, science has endowed us with the ability to see ourselves in size perspective, with the immensity of the cosmos at one extreme and the world of subatomic particles at the other, and we know that the duration of our present civilization is but a brief moment in the vastness of eternity. But though we are ever learning more about how limited our understanding was in the past, we seem to dwell more on the knowledge we have attained than on the pattern behind these stages of revelation -- a pattern which might indicate that, though we know more than we did (at least in a few directions), we are still only scratching the surface of a greater mystery.

Certainly no proof in a matter-bound form can be given for the existence of consciousness beyond the sphere of matter, but we should avoid regarding this fact as disproof thereof. In knowing that there is nothing in the universe that is ever destroyed but that all is in some form recycled into new forms and new life, why should we assume that consciousness follows another set of rules? Is it not more reasonable to view the myriad qualities within man as attributes reaped and gathered from countless ages of experience than as by-products of chemical interactions? We accept and believe only that for which we are prepared, that which strikes within us a chord of recognition -- the only real proof we can ever really have, and yet one we cannot share with anyone else.

That there is more to the universe, more to us, than we can see and feel is clear, but "how much?" and "what?" are questions answered only by slow degrees of widening perceptions, occasionally hampered by our desire to deny that there is anything beyond.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1985. Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press.)

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