One of the curious things about the spiritual journey is that the reality of one stage is not the reality of another. As each stage is a shift in being, it brings its own sense of self and the world. As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used to say, “Knowledge is different in different states of consciousness.” For example, we can easily compare waking and dreaming states. The reality in each is quite distinct.
This also means that terminology that well-suits one stage doesn’t work as well for another. My book editor, for example, steered me away from a few phrasings like using “here” as a personal pronoun. (laughs)
Another example would be transcendence. When we first learn to meditate, we discover a space beyond the mind that is silent, joyful, and peaceful. For some time, we step beyond the mind into simple being. We transcend.
But at a certain point that inner sense of Amness becomes ongoing. Meditation doesn’t take us beyond anymore as we’re already there. We just turn the attention within. Words like presence become more suitable for that growing inner being.
And then with awakening or Self Realization that presence becomes who we are. We shift from being aware of it to being it. It is lived 24/7 and we enjoy an inner continuity of silent, universal Self. We are the detached observing presence to life’s unfolding.
In Sanskrit, that universal Self is known as Atman. Ayurveda tells us that our development of presence or Self is cumulative. We pick up where we left off from prior lifetimes. It will vary when that kicks in during this life, depending on various dynamics. But it often waits for some physical maturity to embody it stably.
We continue to develop in Atman throughout Self Realization and Unity. We come to embody all aspects of consciousness and the wholeness of Atman.
Ayurveda also tells us that sattva development is cumulative. Sattva is one of the three gunas or qualities that gives objects their basic characteristics. Sattva is the most subtle of the three, being the quality of clarity or purity. It brings clarity of perception, refinement of the means of experiencing (via soma), and the awakening heart.
The balance of development of these two, atman and sattva, is the greatest influence on the style of an awakening. Established Atman or presence but with less sattva and there can be a clear awakening but more world-as-illusion and inner emptiness. There is also less likely to be a God Consciousness phase that follows. Lack of sattva may even hinder later stages like Unity.
But if there is more refinement of the physiology then there is a much richer, clearer unfolding with fullness rather than emptiness and world-as-divinity rather than illusion.
This points to the value of good practices. They culture both presence and refinement.
Even Yoga chimes in on this:
“Through samyama on the distinction between sattva and purusha* comes knowledge of purusha.”
– Yoga Sutra, 3v35 part
Knowledge of purusha doesn’t mean awakening. It means knowing about the cosmic Self and its distinction from what arises within it.
But what is sattva purity or clarity of? This is a rather interesting exploration as the answer depends on our stage of development. From one perspective, it is clarity of each of the layers of our being. Clarity of the body, emotions, mind, intellect, bliss, and consciousness itself. And clarity that arises from refinement of the means of experiencing, our physiology. It allows recognizing the distinction between sattva and purusha mentioned above.
From another perspective, it is simply clarity of consciousness itself. In other words, atman and sattva are both ways of knowing one thing, consciousness; by its nature and by its qualities.
And yet consciousness itself is beyond the gunas, beyond sattva. Only in expression does it gain qualities. Here we can refer to the quote on the foot of this blog:
“The face of truth is hidden by a covering of gold.”
– Isha Upanishad 15
Gold is the colour of sattva. The face of truth is beyond the gunas, even beyond the quality of clarity.
It may seem odd that a quality of clarity has a colour but if you think of sattva as an influence that clarifies or a quality of flowing consciousness, it makes more sense. The flow gains the colour of its dominant quality.
And yes, you can quite literally see sattva. You see it as living things having a golden glow or halo or the world immersed in a sea of gold or the ocean from which all form arises or as hiranya garbha, the golden egg/seed form of the universe.
What does it mean that consciousness will “gain qualities?” Our experience of pure consciousness will at first be a field of silent being, an apparently empty void. But later, we come to know the lively aspect of consciousness which brings out its intelligence and qualities. This distinction points us deep into the origins of consciousness. At its root, it is composed of alertness and liveliness. Liveliness stirs alertness, and it becomes consciousness. Further stirring and alertness flows, curving back on itself and becoming self-aware. From self-awareness, distinctions become conscious and qualities emerge.
Personified, this is Shiva and Shakti, the Observer and Observed, the silent witness and the alive flow.
And yet all of this is a perspective of duality, a perspective of Self Realization. In Unity, there is no separation of observer and observed. There is only flowing consciousness. There is no inner silence and outer expression; it is all one flow.
And yet, sometimes when describing the nature of consciousness and the world, it’s easier to use dualistic terms and context to communicate. Words require distinctions. Perception of the world does too but seeing isn’t believing if an inner reality overshadows surface perception. We see yet know that seeing is just an appearance. In the same way, we use words as pointers to what we know within.
*Purusha can be translated as cosmic ego (cosmic I sense) or the observer aspect of consciousness, an aspect of Atman (observer, process and observed)