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Consciousness: A Definition and a Myth Buster

By Sadhguru Email By Sadhguru
May 2021
Consciousness: A Definition and a Myth Buster

(The following is a transcription of a spoken discourse. To maintain the style and authenticity of Sadhguru’s spoken words, we have retained the original language instead of conforming it to our standard style book.)

“Consciousness” is a highly abused word. It is used in many different ways. Let me define what we refer to as sciousness. As a piece of life, as a body, you are a certain amount of earth, water, air, fire and ether or akash. And there is a fundamental intelligence that puts all these things together in a particular way to make life out of it. The same ingredients that are lying there as mud sit here as the life you are. What an incredible transformation! There is a profound and unimaginable level of intelligence that can make simple things like air into life.

Whether it is a tree, a bird, an insect, a worm, an elephant or a human being—everything is made up of the same intelligence; that is what we refer to as “consciousness.”


Sadhguru Dispels Myths About Consciousness

Myth Buster 1: Wakefulness Is Not Consciousness

The nature of English language is that it is very good for describing and defining external things, but is very limited when it comes to internal dimensions of many aspects of who we are. To use Yogic terminology, what is generally being referred to as consciousness is jagruti—that means wakefulness. But we do not consider wakefulness as consciousness. Wakefulness is a state of the body, mind and the bio-energies within us, but that is not consciousness.

Myth Buster 2: Self-consciousness Is Not Consciousness

Consciousness does not mean becoming self-conscious. Self-consciousness is sickness; unconsciousness is death. Being conscious just means that you are in touch with the root of who you are. What you call as consciousness is not an act, an idea or even a quality—it is the very basis of creation.

Myth Buster 3: Consciousness Cannot Be “Done”

Consciousness happens not because you are doing something, but simply because you have allowed it. Life is happening to you, but it is not your doing. What we are calling consciousness is the basis of your life and your existence. It is not something that you can do or not do at a particular time. Consciousness is still on whether you are in this body or you are disembodied. The question is only whether it is available to you or not. You are always available to consciousness—you cannot escape that—but is it available to you?

Myth Buster 4: Consciousness Is Not Alertness

If we say your consciousness has risen, it does not mean that you are more alert than your German Shepherd. Alertness is of the mind. Consciousness is not of the mind, but if consciousness is on, it clears the mind. It forcefully finds its expression through the mind and body, and through every cell of your living being.

Myth Buster 5: Consciousness Is Not a Mental Understanding

Consciousness is not a bunch of thoughts or a certain level of understanding, it is a boundless dimension. We have different aspects or dimensions of intelligence functioning within us. Our body and cellular structure has its own intelligence, there is a conscious level of intelligence, of intellect which is discerning in nature; there is an emotional intelligence and a genetic intelligence. All these dimensions of intelligence are ruled by the memory that we have accumulated. Our genetics, intellect, emotions and the very way our body functions is ruled by the memory that it carries. What you call as memory is a certain kind of boundary. For example, “This is my friend, that is a stranger,” how did this happen? This person is in my memory, that person is not in my memory, that is what differentiates the two. Memory creates possibilities, but a limited possibility within the boundary. What we are referring to as consciousness is a dimension of intelligence which is free from memory. It is boundless in its nature.

Myth Buster 6: Anesthesia Has Nothing to Do with Consciousness

Anesthesia has nothing to do with consciousness; it has something to do with body and various functions of the body. You are shutting down certain aspects of the bodily functions like transmission of pain, which is the main interest when someone is going to surgery. Not just in medical terminology but generally in English language, there is no distinction between “He became conscious” and “consciousness” as a larger possibility.

Consciousness and Brain: Are they Related?


In the Yogic sciences, there is no such thing as brain. Brain is just body. Like there is heart and liver, there is brain. This overly exaggerated sense of what brain is comes because our education systems have become purely intellectual. In the Yogic system, we are looking at the human mind as sixteen parts and four categories.

The first one is buddhi which means the intellect. Intellect is essentially like a knife. You use a knife to cut things open. This is the nature of the intellect: that it will dissect whatever you give it. The entire modern science is coming out of human intellect—so everything is by dissection. What you can know by dissection is only the material aspect of life. You cannot know life by dissection.

The intellect is a survival instrument. If you did not have a discriminatory intellect, you could not survive on this planet. It is very vital. But intellect cannot function unless there is a certain volume of memory. If you wipe out all your memory, you will suddenly look stupid. Intellect looks smart only when you back it up with information.

Today, there is too much orientation towards intellect and the other dimensions of intelligence are completely uncultivated.

The next dimension of the mind is referred to as ahankara which we have completely ignored. Ahankara does not mean ego as most people are beginning to think. It means identity. Intellect is an instrument which protects the identity. Identity is that instrument which allows the intellect to function in a certain way. Now if you say, “My identity is my family,” your intellect will do everything to protect that. In the name of race, religion and nation, we have done many things which are utterly idiotic and inhuman, but we do them with great pride because we are identified. If intellect is the knife, the hand that holds it is the identity.

The next dimension of the mind is called manas, which is a silo of memory. There are many states of memory. The Yogic system is focused on how to activate different dimensions of memory because with a limited amount of memory, you are bound to act in immature ways. If your intellect becomes super capable, it is very important that your identity is cosmic or limitless and your memory is so evolved that all dimensions of memory are active.

The fourth dimension of intelligence is referred to as chitta. This is a dimension of intelligence which is unsullied by memory. It is the memory stored in this body which is deciding the color of our skin, or whether we are male or female, a human being or some other creature. The boundary between what is you and what is me is just memory.

But chitta has no memory. No memory means no boundary. In the Yogic culture there is a mischievous way of expressing this. We say, “If you touch your chitta, god will become your slave,” because if your intelligence becomes boundless, everything becomes accessible.

Four Dimensions of Conscious States

For wakefulness, we have a word called jagruti. If you are in a state of jagruti, it means you are awake. If ten people fell asleep and they came awake: when they come awake, all of them will not be equally awake. One person may be instantly awake, another person may take two minutes, another person will take an hour to wake up. Like this there are different levels of wakefulness, too. This is jagruti. This wakefulness is not consciousness.

The next dimension of consciousness is called swapna, which means a dream state. It is like going to a cinema. If you go to a cinema, the key factor in the impact the cinema has on you is turning off the lights. If you do not turn off the lights, the cinema will be no good, no matter how well it is made. So, a dream state is like a cinema. Turning off the lights in our experience is the eyelids. If you close your eyes, the lights should be off, the world should be closed. Jagruti or wakefulness is important for performing action in the world but for human consciousness, in terms of profoundness of experience, a dream is always more profound than walking on the street.

The next state is called as sushupti which means a dreamless state, but there are dimensions of consciousness that you are aware of. It is a totally dreamless sleep state, but you are aware. There is no picturization or video running in your mind, there are no people or words, but you are conscious in your sleep. This is a very powerful state if you really want to manifest something in your life.

The last state is called turya. This is consciousness, where there is no memory of any kind. In the Yogic sciences, we are looking at consciousness essentially as an intelligence beyond memory. Memory does not mean just what I remember, and what you remember. There is genetic, evolutionary, elemental, atomic, karmic, inarticulate and articulate memory. These different dimensions of memory are playing on a daily basis. For example, today, if we eat dog food, we will not become dogs. Something within us remembers, no matter what you eat, this has to be transformed only into a human being—the evolutionary memory is absolute.

People think that their thoughts are free. This is a joke because your memory is determining everything. In one word, we call this karma. Karma is the residual impact of all the memory that you have. It is impacting your every thought, emotion and action. The very way you sit, stand, breathe, understand and perceive life is determined by this memory. But there is an intelligence beyond memory which we call as turya or chitta. This is consciousness.

Degrees of Consciousness

All of us—even a rock, a dog, and a pig—are conscious, the question is only of degree. Even among humans, how conscious we are is different from person to person. To give an analogy, when you blow a soap bubble, the soap part of it is very little; the large part of it is the air that it captures. But when the bubble bursts, there is no such thing as your air and my air. There is something called as your body and my body, your memory and my memory, your intellect and my intellect, but there is nothing called as your consciousness and my consciousness. How much of it did you capture or how big is your bubble will determine the scale and possibilities of your life.

How to Raise Consciousness

You can neither raise consciousness, nor can you bring it down. We only use the expression of “raising consciousness” against the following background: if you are strongly identified with your physical body, the boundaries of what is you and what is not you are distinctly clear.

Even in the physical realm, the more subtle something is, the more the boundaries disappear. We are breathing the same air, which also includes some moisture. As we breathe, we constantly exchange air and water. We have no problems with this exchange between us because we are not identified with the air and the water. But we are identified with our body and consider it as ourselves, so we do not want anyone to transgress the boundaries of our body.

What we refer to as consciousness is a much subtler dimension of who you are, and it is commonly shared by everyone. It is the same intelligence that is turning food into flesh in me, in you, in everyone. If we move people from being identified with the boundaries of their physical body to a deeper dimension within themselves, their sense of “me” and “you” decreases.

Essentially, we do not raise consciousness. We raise your experience so that you become more conscious. Consciousness is there all the time. If it was not, you would not be able to convert your breath and your food into life. You are alive—that means you are conscious. But so far, you only have minimal access. As your access improves, your sense of boundary expands. If you become identified with consciousness, you will experience everyone as yourself. This is what Yoga means.


Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic, and visionary, and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally renowned speaker, Sadhguru is the founder of Isha Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to human wellbeing. (www.isha.sadhguru.org)


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