Consciousness and Knowledge

Consciousness and Knowledge
By Swami Rama


The word consciousness is often used in modern psychology and philosophical literature. It is used for Atmajnana, the direct knowledge that we receive from our Atman. Jiva Atma is the individual soul, and Param Atma is pure consciousness.

From the center of consciousness flows the life force in various degrees and grades. With the following simile, you will clearly understand. When a lamp has many shades, the light is very dim. When you take off the shades, one by one, finally you find the center of light.

Similarly, the soul is the center of consciousness and the knowledge that flows through manas, chitta, buddhi and ahamkara, and then through the senses, is called consciousness. This is the light of knowledge that flows from its source, the fountainhead of light and life, the Atman.

I have a firm faith that here, in life on earth where opposites clash together, the general level of consciousness can be raised. The development of intelligence and physical power and moral ethics are equally necessary for a human being to grow and unfold himself for the purpose of living.

That which obstructs the human being is the mind and the wall created by individual habits and superficial conventions; otherwise the human being is complete.

What is unique in the human being is the development of consciousness that gradually expands and deepens the realization of his immortal being, the limitless eternal and perfect.


There are two ways of gaining knowledge: through direct experience, and from external sources. The knowledge gained from direct experience is complete, self-evident, and fulfilling. The knowledge gained from external sources is incomplete, fragmented, requires evidence for its validity, and is not satisfying. Direct knowledge alone should be considered valid. Direct experience is the highest of all ways of gaining knowledge. All other means are only fragmentary.

On the path of Self-realization, purity, one-pointedness, and control of the mind are essentials. An impure mind hallucinates and creates obstacles, but an orderly mind is an instrument for direct experience.

Generally we keep gathering knowledge from the external world in the form of information. The world around us is an ever present teacher. Our mother is our first teacher, then our father, and then our brothers and sisters. Later we learn from the children with whom we play, from teachers at school, and from the writers of books. No matter what we have learned, we have not learned a single thing independently. Still we call ourselves learned. Realized sages pity us because we have not learned anything independently. All our ideas are the ideas of others.

It is shocking to realize that whatever we have learned so far is not ours. That is why it is not satisfying. Even if we have mastered an entire library, still it doesn’t satisfy us. However, by experimenting with the knowledge that we have acquired from outside, we can move a step toward enlightenment.

By gaining worldly knowledge, we develop the skills that are useful for gathering means and resources. A resourceful person can then have a better chance to direct his energies inward to explore the subtler and more glorious dimensions of life. The knowledge gained in the form of information serves a noble purpose as long as it inspires us to gain direct experience.

No matter how impressive it may appear, if knowledge gained from the external world doesn’t help us loosen the knots of worldly snares, it is in vain. In most cases, the more information we gain, the more burdened our life becomes. By gaining such knowledge we become educated, but not enlightened. The indirect knowledge that we gain from years of studies and vocational training is of course informative, and to some extent, useful, but not fulfilling.

All wise people throughout history have gone through great pains in order to know Truth directly. They were not satisfied by the mere opinions of others. They were not frightened away from this quest by the defenders of orthodoxy and dogma who persecuted, and sometimes even executed them, because their conclusions were different.

Direct experience is the final test of the validity of knowledge. When you have known the Truth directly, you have the best kind of confirmation. Most of you go to your friends and give your viewpoint. You are seeking confirmation in their opinions. Whatever you think, you want others to confirm it by agreeing with you, to say, “Yes, what you think is right.” Someone else’s opinion is no test of truth.

When you know Truth directly you do not need to ask your neighbors or your teacher. You don’t have to seek confirmation in books.

Spiritual Truth does not need an external witness. As long as you doubt, it means you have yet to know. Tread the path of direct experience until you attain that state where everything is clear, until all of your doubts are resolved. Direct experience alone has access to the source of real knowledge.

We all know what to do and what not to do, but it is very difficult to learn how to be. Real knowledge is found not in knowing, but rather in being. Knowing is mere information. Practice leads to direct experience and valid knowledge.

The outside world can soothe and stimulate your mind and senses, but peace, wisdom, and knowledge come from within. That knowledge that we gain through books is valid in the mundane world, but the real knowledge is found within.

The best of knowledge comes through revelations, not through the mind. It is a flood of knowledge that overwhelms the whole being. When you can calm the mind, then that knowledge will come to you.

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of Swami Rama of the Himalayas