On Awareness


Tiny Mushrooms, Roan Mountain, NC
 
from Topic 5, Awareness: An Introduction, in the book A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
 

[Awareness] lies at the very basis of yoga and yogic techniques. It is essential to understand what [is meant] by awareness… This is the biggest problem for beginners; they are told to be aware but they are not really sure what it means or what the point of it is. As such, they miss the essence of their yoga practices. For this reason we will attempt to explain what is meant by awareness so that you can realize what we are aiming at, even if it is only at an intellectual level. Intellectual understanding of awareness is at least better than no understanding. Eventually, as you progress in your practices, you will come to know the meaning of awareness, not through words but by personal experience.

For most people, awareness means mere knowledge. We often say, “I am aware of that,” meaning that we know something. In yoga it also means knowledge but it simultaneously means far more. Awareness in a general sense means to comprehend, to know, to feel what is happening around us. It also means to know what is happening within us. Most people comprehend very little of what is occurring around and within them. This is a low state of awareness. As we realize and relate to more things internally as well as externally, and see the underlying unity in everything, we naturally develop more awareness. As this happens we break down the limitations of the mind…

Awareness is the ability to stand back to and to observe one’s mental and physical activities. If man is aware then he becomes a spectator of his activities both internally and externally. Those who have never experienced this will not really understand, but those who have experienced it, even for a few seconds, will know what we are trying to say…If you are able to watch what your body and mind do, then this means that your nature transcends the body and mind. It means that there is something that is able to watch what is occurring; there is something in the background that witnesses the actions of the mind and body. This experience alone is enough to alter your conception of yourself. It wakes us up to the fact that there is something in the background – a witnessing principle. Few of us, however, have this experience naturally for we tend to lose ourselves in the actions of the body and mind. This witnessing principle in man is called awareness in yoga…

Most of us are totally absorbed in our thoughts and physical bodies. So much so that we regard our actions as our nature… Awareness leads us to the understanding that our nature is something else other than mind and body. The mind and body are our grosser vehicles.

Yoga tries to increase awareness so that a person can actually watch himself, his bodily activities and mental processes… We see the mind, its activities and the body as the totality of our being. Yet we have this ability to stand back from the mental show and watch it as an impartial witness. Each of us has the potential, this ability, yet few of us know it or utilize it. Yoga specifically tries to flower this witnessing principle…

It is a common misconception that consciousness is a function of the brain and is dependent on it… The consciousness must be beyond the brain in order to be able to watch the activities of the brain and mind. Usually the consciousness is associated with and tied to the activities of the brain and sensory organs through our ignorance of its nature… In themselves, the sensory organs and the brain are no more than receivers, transformers, and transmitters. Let us take the analogy of the radio… The radio picks up electromagnetic waves and converts them to sound vibrations which we can hear. The radio itself cannot hear, it acts as a mediator that picks up the waves and converts them to a suitable form that we can hear. The sensory organs and the brain are exactly the same; they cannot hear, see, taste, smell, or feel. They can only pick up the sensations, convert them to suitable signals for utilization by the brain from where they are perceived by consciousness. Without consciousness each one of us would be incapable of doing anything…

Man has the potential to function from consciousness by liberating himself from the shackles of mind and body. Of course, the mind and body perform the same functions; nothing changes in this respect. But a person who becomes more aware knows himself to be consciousness and nothing else. He identifies himself with consciousness and not mind and body…

If you practise (sic) yoga then [awareness] will automatically show itself or to be more exact, if you do your practices correctly then awareness will gradually develop. There are many different methods to increase awareness. In fact all the diffeerent methods of yoga… are designed for this purpose. They all use different methods to achieve the same end.

When you do asanas and pranayama, as well as meditational techniques… the emphasis should be on awareness. This awareness implies that your attention is directed to a specific function or activity. It means that your attention is on something very specific, perhaps breath, and that you simultaneously know that your attention is on that particular activity. In other words, if you are aware of your breath it means that you know that you are breathing and you are witnessing the breathing process. You are standing back and watching something that is occurring within you. It is the first step up the ladder to higher awareness. You are becoming a witness to all the activities of the body. This will lead eventually to the ability to witness the actions of the mind and then gradually the deeper aspects of the mind which you may now think impossible.

This is the essence of awareness – the fact that you know that you are doing something and that you are observing the action… To be a witness is to be aware. To be totally lost, involved and identified with an action is to be unaware…

The practice of asanas, pranayama, and meditational practices develops awareness on a temporary basis. They give one a taste of what awareness means at a rudimentary level. From them, it is possible with effort to be a witness to your thoughts and physical actions throughout the day…

So when doing yoga practices be aware of what you are doing. The whole point of yoga is to unfold and make you aware of your deeper aspects.

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