Everyone believes they are ‘conscious’. Spiritual seekers, especially, having awakened from the purely mechanical, habitual processes of the external life, certainly believe they are conscious. Those who believe in various religious traditions, by virtue of that belief, accept that they are conscious. This belief, however, does not change the facts of their lives, or the numerous areas where their lives are purely based in habit and a form of dull sleepwalking.

Sometimes an individual has an experience that shocks him out of the comfort zone of his daily beliefs, acts and perceptions. An intense spiritual experience can do that. Based on this experience, the seeker now believes that he is conscious. In some religious traditions he will understand that he has been “born again into the spirit”. However, the experience is a momentary phenomenon and generally the seeker quickly reverts to established patterns, habits and ways of seeing, thinking, acting and interacting.

It is possible also to be relatively conscious in one aspect or part of the being, while remaining unconscious in other parts of the being. The human being is a complex amalgam of physical, vital, mental and psycho-spiritual elements and they do not all progress in the same way or at the same time, or at the same speed.

The Mother was asked the question: When can that one say one is conscious?

The Mother responds: “That is always a relative question. One is never altogether unconscious and one is never completely conscious. It is a progressive state. … But a time comes when instead of doing things automatically, impelled by a consciousness and force of which one is quite unaware — a time comes when one can observe what goes on in oneself, study one’s movements, find their causes, and at the same time begin to exercise a control first over what goes on within us, then on the influence cast on us from outside which makes us act, in the beginning altogether unconsciously and almost involuntarily, but gradually more and more consciously; and then will can wake up and react. Then at that moment, the moment there is a conscious will capable of reacting, one may say, ‘I have become conscious.’ This does not mean that it is a total and perfect consciousness, it means that it is a beginning: for example, when one is able to observe all the reactions in one’s being and to have a certain control over them, to let those one approves of have play, and to control, stop, annul those one doesn’t approve of. … Besides, you must become aware within of something like a goal or a purpose or an ideal you want to realise; something other than the mere instinct which impels you to live without your knowing why or how. At that time you may say you are conscious, but it doesn’t mean you are perfectly conscious. And moreover, this perfection is so progressive that I believe nobody can say he is perfectly conscious; he is on the way to becoming perfectly conscious, but he isn’t yet.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pp. 6-8

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.