The phenomenon of consciousness has not been able to be explained by modern science. Philosopher Philip Goff said:
Despite great progress in our scientific understanding of the brain, we still don’t have even the beginnings of an explanation of how complex electrochemical signaling is somehow able to give rise to the inner subjective world of colors, sounds, smells and tastes that each of us knows in our own case. There is a deep mystery in understanding how what we know about ourselves from the inside fits together with what science tells us about matter from the outside.
In the Theosophical view, consciousness is an intrinsic feature of the universe, which means that everything around shows some kind of consciousness. However, as H. P. Blavatsky wrote:
Esoteric philosophy teaches that everything lives and is conscious, but not that all life and consciousness are similar to those of human or even animal beings.
In the Theosophical view consciousness is not a single faculty but it is the result of the interaction between the seven principles that compose a human being. As to its mechanism, H. P. Blavatsky wrote:
In the normal or natural state, the sensations are transmitted from the lowest physical to the highest spiritual body, i.e., from the first to the 6th principle (the 7th being no organized or conditioned body, but an infinite, hence unconditioned principle or state), the faculties of each body having to awaken the faculties of the next higher one, to transmit the message in succession, until they reach the last, when, having received the impression, the latter (the spiritual soul) sends it back in an inverse order to the body. Hence, the faculties of some of the “bodies” (we use this word for want of a better term) being less developed, they fail to transmit the message correctly to the highest principle, and thus also fail to produce the right impression upon the physical senses, as a telegram may have started for the place of its destination faultless, and have been bungled up and misinterpreted by the telegraph operator at some intermediate station. This is why some people, otherwise endowed with great intellectual powers and perceptive faculties, are often utterly unable to appreciate—say, the beauties of nature, or some particular moral quality; as, however perfect their physical intellect—unless the original, material or rough physical impression conveyed has passed in a circuit through the sieve of every “principle”—(from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, up to 7, and down again from 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, to No. 1)—and that every “sieve” is in good order—the spiritual perception will always be imperfect. The Yogi, who, by a constant training and incessant watchfulness, keeps his septenary instrument in good tune and whose spirit has obtained a perfect control over all, can, at will, and by paralysing the functions of the four intermediate principles, communicate from body to spirit and vice versa—direct.
When talking about consciousness in its absolute quality, Mme. Blavatsky wrote:
To know itself or oneself, necessitates consciousness and perception (both limited faculties in relation to any subject except Parabrahm), to be cognized. Hence the “Eternal Breath which knows itself not.” Infinity cannot comprehend Finiteness. The Boundless can have no relation to the bounded and the conditioned. In the occult teachings, the Unknown and the Unknowable mover, or the Self-Existing, is the absolute divine Essence. And thus being Absolute Consciousness, and Absolute Motion—to the limited senses of those who describe this indescribable—it is unconsciousness and immoveableness. Concrete consciousness cannot be predicated of abstract Consciousness, any more than the quality wet can be predicated of water—wetness being its own attribute and the cause of the wet quality in other things. Consciousness implies limitations and qualifications; something to be conscious of, and someone to be conscious of it. But Absolute Consciousness contains the cognizer, the thing cognized and the cognition, all three in itself and all three one. . . . It must not be forgotten, also, that we give names to things according to the appearances they assume for ourselves. We call absolute consciousness “unconsciousness,” because it seems to us that it must necessarily be so, just as we call the Absolute, “Darkness,” because to our finite understanding it appears quite impenetrable, yet we recognize fully that our perception of such things does not do them justice. We involuntarily distinguish in our minds, for instance, between unconscious absolute consciousness, and unconsciousness, by secretly endowing the former with some indefinite quality that corresponds, on a higher plane than our thoughts can reach, with what we know as consciousness in ourselves. But this is not any kind of consciousness that we can manage to distinguish from what appears to us as unconsciousness.
States of consciousness
Self-consciousness or self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. It is not to be confused with consciousness. While consciousness is a term given to being aware of one’s environment, self-consciousness is the recognition of that awareness.
Ego (Lat.) "I"; the consciousness in man of the "I am I," or the feeling of I-am-ship. Esoteric philosophy teaches the existence of two Egos in man, the mortal or personal, and the higher, the divine or impersonal, calling the former "personality", and the latter "individuality".
- Consciousness at Theosophy World
Articles and pamphlets
- Intuitional Consciousness by Francesca Arundale
- Man's Waking Consciousness by G.S. Arundale
- Emotion, Intellect and Spirituality by Annie Besant
- On Moods by Annie Besant
- The Self Is the Friend of Self and also its Enemy by W. Q. Judge
- The Subjective and the Objective by W. Q. Judge
- Dimensions of Consciousness by Dora Kunz
- What Is Consciousness? by Richard Smoley
- The Nature of Consciousness in the Upanishads by Michael Gomes
- Man's Experience at Different Levels of Consciousness by Dora Kunz
- The Origin and Development of Consciousness by Joy Mills
- The Nature of Consciousness, Part 1 and Part 2 by N. Sri Ram
- The Significance of Each Present Moment by N. Sri Ram
- Spiritual Consciousness by N. Sri Ram
- The Cosmological Aspects of Consciousness by Will Ross and Emily Sellon
- A Map of the Field of Consciousness by Pablo Sender
- The Expansion of Awareness by Helen Zahara
- What Is Consciousness? by Richard Smoley
- Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe? An Interview with Philip Goff Scientific American.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 49.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 101-102.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 56.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 249.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 111.