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What is Consciousness?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ता: शरीरिण: |
अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद्युध्यस्व भारत || 18||

Only the material body is perishable; the embodied soul within is indestructible, immeasurable, and eternal. Therefore, fight, O descendent of Bharat.

Bhagvad Gita 2.18

य एनं वेत्ति हन्तारं यश्चैनं मन्यते हतम् |
उभौ तौ न विजानीतो नायं हन्ति न हन्यते || 19||

Neither of them is in knowledge—the one who thinks the soul can slay and the one who thinks the soul can be slain. For truly, the soul neither kills nor can it be killed.

Bhagvad Gita 2.19

न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचि
नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूय: |
अजो नित्य: शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे || 20||

The soul is neither born, nor does it ever die; nor having once existed, does it ever cease to be. The soul is without birth, eternal, immortal, and ageless. It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.

Bhagvad Gita 2.20

वेदाविनाशिनं नित्यं य एनमजमव्ययम् |
कथं स पुरुष: पार्थ कं घातयति हन्ति कम् || 21||

O Parth, how can one who knows the soul to be imperishable, eternal, unborn, and immutable kill anyone or cause anyone to kill?

Bhagvad Gita 2.21

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय
नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि |
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा
न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही || 22||

As a person sheds worn-out garments and wears new ones, likewise, at the time of death, the soul casts off its worn-out body and enters a new one.

Bhagvad Gita 2.22

“Atma” represents the spiritual self or consciousness. It is the eternal, unchanging reality that underlies all of the temporary changing aspects of life. The physical body, emotions, thoughts, and experiences are all transitory phenomena that come and go. “Atma” (consciousness) is the constant factor that witnesses all of these changes.

“Atma” (consciousness) is unknowable as an object. Unlike a chair or a piece of clothing,  “Atma” (consciousness) cannot be measured or quantified in any way.

Consciousness is Utterly Unaffected on the Battlefield

“Atma” (consciousness) is neither a killer nor can be killed.  It is the eternal witness of all the activities on the battlefield. Your physical body and subtle body are involved in action, but not consciousness. Consciousness illuminates the activities in your mind,  body, and brain. No material object can affect consciousness in any way.

That which is beyond the mundane world belongs to a different level of reality.  Inner divinity, or the soul, is the essence of consciousness and does not kill, nor is it subject to being killed.

Your Consciousness Was Never Born

Your body was born. But “Atma”, or consciousness, was never born. It has always existed and will continue to exist long after your body dies.  Consciousness is eternal, unchanging, and separate from the material world.

Consider a computer with both hardware and software. The hardware is the physical component,  while the software is the intangible code that makes the computer run. The body is like the hardware, and the mind is like the software. The electricity is what makes the work of both the hardware and the software possible.

In the same way, consciousness makes the activity of your body and mind possible. 

Another metaphor is the lamp on the stage of a theatre. In ancient times, theatres were lit by lights. The presence of the light enabled the actors to perform and the audience to watch. Without lights, there would be neither action nor reaction. Consider the light as consciousness; it enables everything to happen.

What We Learn from the Gita

Consciousness is the fundamental principle that makes life possible. That which is in the physical world is engaged in activities, whereas what is transcendent is not. Consciousness is not born, and at no time will it cease to be. It has no birth; it is eternal, unchanging, and everlasting.