Krishna Prem on consciousness and form
From Sri Krishna Prem’s “The Yoga of the Bhavagad Gita”: APPENDIX A – NOTE ON THE TERMS CONSCIOUSNESS AND FORM
The two terms, consciousness and form, are in constant use throughout this book and an understanding of the sense in which they are used is of vital importance.
If any experience is analyzed – say, for example, the visual experience of a blue disc – two aspects can be distinguished. There is the content, a round blue shape in this instance, and the ‘awareness’ of that shape. The content is what I have termed form and the awareness consciousness.
It must be carefully noted that ‘form’ does not here mean outline, but filled-in content-shape, and the term must also be understood in the same way of other elements of experience, sensuous or non-sensuous. For instance we have the ‘form’ of a sound, a taste, a feeling, or a thought, which must be understood by analogy with the forms of visual experience.
In contrast with these forms, which are all different both as regards individual forms within one class and as regards different classes of forms, there is the awareness or consciousness, which is of the same sort throughout.
There are many drawbacks to the use of the word ‘consciousness.’ In the first place it is used in half a dozen different senses by philosophers and psychologists, and in the second place it suffers from the great drawback that it has no active verbal form. One can say ‘to be conscious of’ but not ‘to conscious’ such-and-such an object. There is the word ‘awareness’ and the dubious coined derivative ‘awaring,’ which I have also occasionally pressed into service, but it is ugly and not very current. The best term is one that was coined by E. D. Fawcett in his The World as Imagination, Zermatt Dialogues, etc. The term in question is consciring – i.e. “knowing together” – and has as its correlative, for the content-form, the word conscitum (plural, conscita. I should certainly have availed myself of these coinages but, unfortunately, they are not as yet sufficiently widely current to be generally understood and, moreover, a great deal of the book had been written before I came across Fawcett’s writings.
It should be clear from introspective meditation that all forms are sustained in consciousness, and that, apart from consciousness, we know nothing and can know nothing of forms. It is in fact meaningless to talk of forms as existing apart from consciousness [he adds this footnote: “This position must by no means be confused with that of subjective idealism. The consciousness spoken of is not ‘your’ or ‘my’ consciousenss, in fact ‘you’ and ‘I’ exist only as constellated form-sequences brought to foci in that consciousness which, in itself, is neither human nor individualized, but a pervading Light.”] The ojbecfts supposed by some to exist behind the forms are mere mental constructs devised fror dealing with experience in practice. No one knows them, no one can ever know them; to believe in their existence is a pure and quite uncalled-for act of faith.
It should not be supposed that by the forms are meant sensations, camera pictures of reality located somewhere in the brain. The brain itself (as an ‘object’) is one of the constructs of which mention has just been made. The usefulness of such constructs in certain realms of thought and study is not at all denied, but they are irrelevant here.
The primary bedrock of experience is not sensations in the eye, ear, or brain, but visual and other forms in space. All the rest is inference and construction. Materialistic science begins by abstracting consciousness from the forms in order to deal with them more objectively and impersonally and then, when analysis fails to reveal any life or conscious principle in those forms, triumphantly exclaims that all is mechanism, nowhere is there anything of a spiritual nature. Behaviorist psychology is an example of the same procedure applied to mental life. If you start by abstracting consciousness from phenomena it is obviously absurd to expect to find it as a term in your concluded analysis. For this reason no one should feel disappointed that science (as nowadays practised) does not know anything of the existence of the ‘soul.’ It is the old story of looking for one’s spectacles when they are on one’s nose.
To go into this subject fully would require a volume and not an appendix. Here I am only concerned to indicate the sense in which the word ‘consciousness’ has been used in this book. It follows from that sense that the modern term ‘unconscious’ mind can have no meaning. There is not the slightest reason for supposing that anything whatever, physical or mental, exists or can exist save as the content of consciousness. Hence we can talk of a sub- or a super-conscious mind, meaning by those terms mental processes that are sustained in consciousness below or above the level at which it is normally focused, processes which are not attended to by normal consciousness, but we cannot talk of an unconscious mind, for that would have no meaning.
It only remains to add that the Sanskrit term for hat is here termed consciousness is chit, as distinct from chitta, which means the mind. The Buddhists, on the other hand, speak of Vijnana (Pali – vinnana). Thus consciousness illuminating visual forms is called caksuh-vijnana (eye-consciousenss), illuminating thoughts, mano-vijnana (mind-consciousness), and so on. Beyond the sense and mind consciousness (at least in Mahayana systems) is the Alaya Vijnana or store-consciousness, corresponding to the Mahat Atman as used in this book. The Mahayanists also use the word chitta to do duty for consciousness as well as for mind. For instance they will speak indifferently of chitta-matra or Vijnana-matra, meaning by both terms pure consciousness.