Since there is generally a lot of vagueness around the terms of awareness, consciousness and enlightenment, I wrote this post to bring more definition, distinction and clarity to these terms..
One could define without too much difficulty what a flower is, or even what a space shuttle is. These are objects of your awareness, as is any material object in our world. Even events – like rain or Christmas – are objects of your awareness, and are not too difficult to understand or describe.
Subtler still, understanding or explaining a principle or phenomenon, like the law of gravity, or thermodynamics is relatively within easy reach of the intellect. The concept of awareness, however, is far more difficult to grasp. This is because awareness is not a thing, nor an event, nor a principle per se.
Awareness is not the object of your conscious focus, but more so the space in which consciousness operates or the faculty which enables the process of cognition. The mind with which you seek to understand awareness exists in and through awareness. So your mind can understand and appreciate a flower, or rain, or gravity, but is taken to its limits when it tries to understand awareness.
Awareness can be liked to the phenomenon of light, as compared to darkness. Being ignorant is like being in a dark room, or ‘being in the dark’ about something, whereas becoming aware of something is like ‘throwing light on the subject’. Awareness implies a certain intelligence, having knowledge, or being conscious or cognizant of something. The word is often used interchangeably with consciousness. In fact different schools of thought may have different definitions of what awareness actually is. It remains a relatively elusive concept which is addressed mostly by philosophers, spiritual seekers, and ‘mind scientists’ like psychologists and psychiatrists.
Here I’d like to make a clear and useful distinction between consciousness and awareness.
While in some cases the words can be used interchangeably, consciousness can be described as the basic ‘stuff of the universe’, and being such, it is infinite, eternal and the source of all things, events, principles and phenomena. Consciousness is the source of time and space, and of all of life as we know it.
Awareness however is a phenomenon which implies a subject and object of knowing. Most often we use the word in relation to an object of awareness, eg: being aware of ones’ surroundings, being aware of the time, being aware of the consequences of one’s actions. In these instances, and even when we do not refer to any particular object of awareness, we still imply that there is the subject of awareness or the ‘one who is aware’ eg; a boy, a bird, or a congregation of people. In contrast word consciousness, can be used without implying a subject or object, as it can refer to the ‘intelligent matter’ in the universe.
By this definition, Awareness exists in Consciousness (as there is nowhere else to exist!), and is a function of consciousness. Philosophically we can understand awareness as a form of consciousness. It assumes the ‘form’ of time and space, and within space one form of consciousness (you) can become aware of its environment (your PC screen for now). And in this process awareness is born. You are a conscious being and you are aware. You are aware both generally and particularly.
When we think about the vast array of things we can be aware of, they are literally infinite, although we can work with certain classifications and types of awareness. We can be aware of everything we perceive through the senses, aware of our emotions, and of our thoughts. Our thoughts in turn can either be pure mental functioning – as in ideas, imagination, and memories, or they can be focused outwardly on what we perceive. We can focus on objects, or the qualities of objects, the relationships among objects, or entire sceneries. Then we can focus on events, or a string of events, or a long history of events. Beyond this we can be aware of facts, principles, phenomena, theories, energies, possibilities or even fictional stories or fallacies. The list is endless.
When we talk about raising our awareness in the context of human development, or becoming more aware in a spiritual sense (sometimes referred to as the purifying of consciousness) we do not mean becoming aware of more objects, events, or even scientific phenomena. Spiritual awareness is about becoming progressively more aware of the principles of life, of the truth behind appearances, and of the true nature of Self, which is also referred to as self-realisation.
There is value in becoming aware of more objects, events and phenomena. This has its place. It is through awareness and understanding of these aspects that we have taken life to advanced levels of experience, expression and enjoyment. If you wanted to become aware of more objects and events, all you need do is travel more, or spend more time surfing the internet! And if you put this phenomenal knowledge to use it can have real benefit in the world. To become more aware of scientific phenomena, you could sharpen your skills of observation and inquiry. You could also perform more experiments in your laboratory. This too can advance the collective human experience.
To become more aware of the principles of life and more self-aware, however, requires a different approach and a somewhat different focus. How do you raise your awareness and purify your consciousness? This involves delving into the realms of philosophy, spirituality, contemplation, intuition, meditation and other practices.
With this perspective, hopefully you would find more clarity and motivation to lift your individual experience and in turn our collective experience from relative confusion, conflict, disconnection, disease, and dysfunction progressively more into the realms of greater awareness, ease, creativity, joy, and love, light and freedom.