The difference between the higher and the lower consciousness is that the former sees things directly as they are, whereas the latter depends upon the senses, testimony and inference. Knowledge based on information, whether it is from a person or from a book, is not enough. This is indirect knowledge, a lower kind of knowledge. The second type is direct knowledge. It is not classical but actual. He who has seen the self cannot speak about it although he has direct knowledge of atman, because it is not a subject of speech and mind. The spiritual nature of consciousness can be known through self-experience. Lower consciousness has two phases, the indriyas or senses, and buddhi.
– Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Commentary on Yoga Sutra 1:49
Four Chapters of Freedom
There is immense truth and wisdom in these words.
First, for those unfamiliar with Sanskrit language, let us be reminded that buddhi means ‘intellect’. Intellectualization is a pretty popularized thing the developed, Western world.
School teaches us to intellectualize. Work expects us to intellectualize. Society tells us to intellectualize.
There is nothing wrong with intellect; it is pivotal to knowledge and experience. The trouble begins when we begin to limit ourselves to nothing but our intellectualization or the data we obtain from our indriyas, our abilities to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.
As we all know, senses and intellect – while reliable and useful for the most part – can trick or limit us. We have all seen, heard, felt, or even smelled or tasted things that were not really there. And intellect is bound to the limits of our own knowledge and experience; how can we ever say there is nothing beyond what we ourselves already know and have experienced?
The lower consciousness spoken of here is an ordinary type of consciousness that most people live and work in. There is nothing inherently wrong with living or working from that state of consciousness. However, we must realize that there is also a higher consciousness we can aspire to, if we choose, and that this higher consciousness liberates us from the conditional suffering of lower conscious and vibrational states.
“In Vedanta it is said that the body, the senses and buddhi have their limitations; beyond them there is one consciousness.” – Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Commentary on Yoga Sutra 2:5, Four Chapters of Freedom
To limit ourselves to our senses and intellect is to limit ourselves to living in lower states of consciousness. Both of these can be transcended.
But how does one transcend the senses? the intellect?
This is an answer I do not yet know how to put into words, but it is part of the reason I share so much Zen Buddhist philosophy with my QOTD posts – at any moment, one of those quotes could spark within you a brief yet limitless glimpse of the interconnectedness of the entire universe! An experience which one may try to describe, but one that is beyond the limits of words and thoughts.
In that momentary experience, once you allow a thought, a word, or a concept to enter the mind, you have once again moved back into the phenomenal realm. Higher consciousness lays beyond the world of words, thoughts, and concepts; it exists both before and after the appearance of words or thoughts in our minds.
I have experienced glimpses of what I will call ‘universal truth’ or ‘universal consciousness’ on my personal journey (these are called satori and are signs of your growth and expansion), but I am also still working to cut many of the ties that bind me to the phenomenal world.
Truth is in the moment; transcending intellect and senses is to experience that moment without thought, without word, without feeling, without judgment.
Transcending indriyas and buddhi requires a stopping of the intellect and of the senses; and this is what meditation teaches our bodies and minds to do.