The following article is based on a presentation made during the
Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001.
The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.
Models of consciousness
V. George Mathew
The Western perspective starts from the external material reality while the Oriental approach regards consciousness as the base and material reality as an experience in consciousness. According to the Western point of view consciousness is the product of matter and consciousness exists in matter. From the perspective of Eastern spirituality, matter exists in consciousness and matter is the product of consciousness. Consciousness is primary; time, space and matter originate and exist in consciousness.
There is an absolute view in the East which says that only consciousness is real. Consciousness is consciousness and it cannot have a model and it cannot be transformed. According to this view, this is a bogus paper. However, there is a relative view which conceives different gradations of reality. There is an apparent transformation of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo belongs to this category.
Reality is a continuum extending from absolute pure consciousness (beyond time and space) to the gross physical plane. This distance can be divided into several planes, like physical, astral, causal, etc. Ordinarily a man is fully aware only of his gross physical body, but his personality extends to all planes. The notion of mind derives from our subtle awareness of those aspects of personality which are in the subtler planes. Here the term awareness is used in a relative sense as awareness of something; consciousness is awareness of awareness or pure awareness.
Mind can be conceived as a band of vibrations (in consciousness). Ordinarily, this has a main (average) vibration and a number of smaller constituent vibrations. This can be understood in analogy with the speaking voice of a person which has an average frequency band with a number of sub-frequencies giving it a uniqueness.
Qualities of mind
Ancient Indian thought, particularly Sankhya Yoga, speaks of three qualities (gunas) in all nature: Inertia (Thamas), Activation (Rajas) and Stability (Sathwa). An individual's mind also can be described and differentiated from minds of other people in terms of the extent to which it has these three components. No doubt, there are contrasted brain processes going parallel with the contrasted behavioral inhibition (resulting from fear) in Inertia and behavioral excitation (resulting from compensatory aggressiveness) in Activation. Stability (freedom from both fear as well as need for compensatory aggression) possibly involves brain transcendence through quiescence. Fear is responsible for dissociation, rigidity, defensive ego and compensatory desires. Freedom from fear leads to flexibility, spontaneity and unitiveness which is the same as self-control or will. In terms of the analogy of vibrations, “I” (Thamas) may be regarded as a band of consciousness constituted by a few independent weak vibrations of high frequency, “A” (Rajas) one strong predominant medium frequency vibration and “S” (Sathwa) several well integrated weak low frequency vibrations. S involves greater sensitivity (similar to Weber-Fechner law which postulates greater differential sensitivity at lower levels of sensation), awareness, flexibility and control). SS (Gunatheetha state) is the absence of any particular vibration at all. An SS individual, can at will create any vibration in his mind and usually, when he functions in the relative plane, creates a network of low frequency vibrations.
S generally involves maximum capacity with minimum of desire, dependence or involvement (in the matter of sex or any other activity or work). I involves minimum capacity with wishful thinking. A is medium capacity with maximum desire, egoistic effort or indulgence.
According to the Sankhya concept, the sum of the three qualities is always a constant; differences are in terms of the relative strengths of the three components. The IAS Rating Scale (Mathew, 1995) measures the relative predominance of these three characteristics in an individual.
1. I: Inertia Root fear (death or survival anxiety, existential insecurity) at this level or type of personality is accompanied by defensive non-awareness or inhibition. Inertia is introverted instability or proneness to develop introverted type of maladjustment under stress.
This is characterized by lethargy, laziness, fear, inhibition, anxiety, shallowness of emotions, low initiative, low self-confidence, low self-respect, etc. People having a large degree of I lack energy; they are slow, late, not venturing, shy, withdrawn, weak-willed, suggestible, submissive, masochistic, intropunitive, and so on. They are unable to refuse, assert or argue individually; but are collectivistic and show hysteric collective aggression. They show blind conformity and inability to mix with strangers. They do not have strong emotional ties. The strong emotion they show is fear. They believe in fate and luck (external locus of control) and are superstitious. They have least awareness and show poor moral control and they have simple sensuous values only.
Mentality characterized by high I is most susceptible to dissociation, as the vibrations are not well integrated by the unitive overall awareness process. Ordinarily, each constituent vibration is modified by the general vibrational quality of the mind and each new experience modifies the total vibrational quality a little bit. The person with high I has a loosely structured mind and it may have more than one relatively independent component. He has least control of his own mind and therefore may function like different persons (multiple personality) in different situations with different patterns of memory and action tendencies. He is also capable of having circumscribed amnesia for events.
2. A: Activation This is characterized by restless overactivity, uncontrolled energy, high drive, and inability to remain alone or silent. Activation is extraverted instability or proneness to develop extraverted types of maladjustment under stress.
Persons having high A are compulsive mixers, impatient, hasty, risk taking, rash, adventurous, analytical, efficient in planning practical things for the future, competitive, go-getting, assertive, aggressive, maniacal, proud, egoistic, rebellious, dominant, individualistic, greedy, possessive, dogmatic, etc. They show considerable sportsman spirit. They recognize, admire and encourage excellence in others, and allow others to keep the benefits and earnings of rightful effort. Their predominant emotions are anger and passionate, possessive love. They often show intense ambivalence. They have a high degree of practical intelligence and mechanical ability. They show organizational abilities and strong group identifications. They show inability to be restful. They value power, are autocratic, need rigid external moral control, have moral conflicts, and so on. They are ready to die to defend their honour or the group. They believe in self-effort and freedom of the will (internal locus of control). They are usually struggling all the time and have mental conflicts. They are sadistic or extra-punitive; they have good anticipation and awareness of material things. The two sub-types of A are the physically aggressive type (manifested often as interest in sports or war) and the hyperintellectual type (showing interest in science and technology). The A type person has more awareness (of physical, practical things) than the pure I type person but less than the pure S type. His mind has more integration than the I type. However, he also experiences some dissociative tendencies like often losing temper or getting into mood swings altering the mode of functioning; but he will have at least some awareness or memory of his experiences when he changes the mode of functioning.
3. S: Stability Stability is characterized by high self-awareness, sensitivity, freedom, flexibility and control. Stability is stress tolerance and freedom from fear and maladjustment tendencies. People having a high degree of S are present centred, egoless and non-conventional.
Persons having a high degree of S can be fast or slow, can work or rest as they choose or as the situation demands. They can be very sociable or be alone with equal ease. They can assert if they want to. They show meta-motivation and are capable of detached action. They are wise, mature and intuitive. They are creative, self-actualizing, holistic, balanced, even-tempered and dispassionate. They are capable of the deepest (at the same time detached) emotion and their predominant emotion is altruistic love or compassion. They are relaxed, peaceful, self-sufficient, democratic, fair, unselfish, tolerant, altruistic, transcending, and broad-minded. They have a natural moral sense based on mature love. Their autonomy operates within their awareness of inherent morality. They believe in the value of self-effort, which results from will which in turn is regarded as part of the predetermined chain of events in nature. They are impunitive.
The two sub-types are artistic and philosophical. The pure S type person has a very well integrated personality. He may be able to function differently in different situations, but with full control, awareness and memory. From the holistic point of view, cognitive (intellectual), affective (emotional) and volitional (will) capacities are mutually dependent and a Stable person has all these potentialities though for the actual skills (ex. mechanical ability or musical talent) he has to depend on specific ancestral experiences as well as practical training. Usually high S persons find more satisfaction in actualizing their artistic or philosophical potentialities than in exercising practical skills in dealing with material things.
Formation and dissolution of mind
The mind is formed as result of the formation of the three qualities I, A and S. Gradual dissolution of the three qualities through personality change results in pure consciousness. The Poorna Chakra (Fig.1) gives a model of the formation and dissolution of mind including both the materialization phase and the spiritualisation phase.
Figure 1. Poorna Chakra
Pure consciousness or the pure field (Picture 0) is the absolute state and it forms the basis of all relative experience. Therefore it is given at the centre also. The pure field is also the field of all possibilities. Accessing the pure field makes paranormal intervention possible. Individual consciousness (ego) or experience of the separate limited self (P. 1) is a superimposition on the pure field. The first quality to be formed is Inertia (I) (P. 2). The second quality to be formed is Activation (A) (P. 3). The position of a person on each of these two can be marked on the two axes. Stability (S) is the central point and this can be obtained by subtraction of the other two from a constant.
Experiencing a set of characteristics of personality and identification with it, attachment to it and involvement with it produce feelings of limitation which induce fear of death as well as compensatory desire for unlimitedness (P. 4). Desire leads to dynamic effort and action (P. 5). Material aggrandisements only increase the desire and consequent struggle, making the person all the more restless and confused (P. 6). Finally the person reaches the point of rebirth or conversion from materialism to spiritualism (P. 7). The Materialism—Spiritualism Scale (Mathew, 1980) can be used to measure a person's materialistic vs. spiritualistic orientation. The momentum of materialistic desire and action cannot be nullified all on a sudden, but its direction gets reversed, the person directing his activation into spiritual quest (P. 8). Spiritual pursuits gradually reduce the confusion and the person gets some insight into his personality and condition (P. 9). Further personal growth leads to cessation of compulsive spiritual activities, but spiritual desires remain (P. 10). With further evolution, even spiritual desires disappear and the person becomes aware of his root personality (P. 11). Then he gradually loses A or the aggressive component of his personality (P. 12). This is frequently referred to as the aesthetic state. At last, with more spiritual awareness, he loses the I component also, but retaining the feeling of a separate limited self (P. 13). Further purification of awareness leads him back to the pure field (P. 0).
The aesthetic state of consciousness is associated with nullification of Activation (aggressiveness, masculinity). This is the reason why the aesthetic disposition is often accompanied by femininity, sex-role interchangeability, androgyny, unisex temperament, and the like. This may also, under some situations create sex-role confusion or lead to maladjustment or homosexuality. Absence of rigidity or dogmatism and the experiential orientation also make people with a moderate degree of S vulnerable to addictions (like alcoholism) which suppress the brain and deautomatise providing temporary release from instinctuality. These drugs in the long run damage the system. People with a very high degree of S do not need these drugs for achieving transcendence.
Beauty is close to truth because the aesthetic state comes close to pure consciousness, the absolute basis for all relative experience. Art also becomes a channel for the release of surplus energies resulting from unfinished sequences in a person who has partially transcended instincts and instinctual sequences. The aesthetic experience is also associated with the experience of increase of integration resulting from ego dissolution. Perceptions which reduce fear and increase security (now or in ancestral experience) and therefore make for real or symbolic integration or change towards purity of consciousness produce aesthetic feelings.
Identification with the limited self activates the self-processes of self-importance, self-value and self-centredness. All mental processes (like sensation, perception and memory) operate through this exaggerated picture of self (often called the ego). The ego identifies with the body at the conscious level; but the identification extends to all the subtle levels. All notion of external value derives from the basic self-value. Reality is experienced only when this personal equation is nullified through the dissolution of the ego. Figure 2 illustrates the different planes.
Figure 2. Self-processes across different planes
S is basically harmony across the different planes. I & A represent two types of disharmony. An individual is an apparent continuous projection across all the planes. Any disharmony increases rigidification. S increases flexibility of the point of operation across the planes. When a person is fully harmonized he can consciously and voluntarily shift the point of operation to any desired plane. Separate individuality increases as we proceed from pure consciousness towards the physical plane. Reharmonisation involves getting harmonized with the group mind, species consciousness, etc., step by step.
Group mind or collective consciousness
We appear to possess totally separate and independent bodies at the physical level. Our minds certainly overlap and as we move from the physical to the subtler layers of our being, our subtler bodies overlap more and more and when we reach the level of pure consciousness there is unity. Consciousness is always singular and there is only one consciousness and only one ultimate will. The overlapping nature of subtler parts of mind makes it justifiable to speak of a group mind. The group mind influences all individual minds, and changes in one mind in turn influences group mind also. A marked profound change in the mind of one member of a species can change an entire species and the course of its evolution. Therefore the sacrifice of Jesus or the bringing down of the supramental by Sri Aurobindo can be regarded as attempts to alter group mind by altering an individual mind.
Personal growth is the holistic and humanistic approach to personality development. Personal growth implies change from I or A to S. Contrary to some popular suppositions, the position taken here is that S is not the mid-point between I and A; it is transcendence of both. Also it is not necessary to go from I to A to go to S; it is possible to move from I to S directly. Many popular personality development programs like assertive training have exercises which seem to see A as the ideal position. Here I and A are seen as two deviations from the ideal state of S.
Contrary to popular supposition, I is not inferior to A. High I people have simple minds and they do not have as much egoistic rigidity as the high A people (especially of the hyperintellectual type of A). The dissociability of high I people itself is a kind of flexibility. I people often have more artistic talents (particularly capacity to imitate) than A people, though the artistic nature of I people is very plain and not as spiritual as those of high S people. High I people are generally happy and contented so long as they do not have any immediate threat as their fears are kept in check by superstitious beliefs and ceremonies, unlike high A people who are generally discontented and restless. The main block for I people (to go to S) is lack of motivation and absence of the concept. The main block of A people is wrong concept of S as an egoistic achievement, overmotivation and inability to let go. I is low integration because of dissociability and A is low integration because of conflicts.
A diagrammatic representation of personal growth involving change from I or A to S is given in Fig.3. S involves high sensitivity and therefore some vulnerability to develop I or A. SS is Super Stability (the Gunatheetha state) which is the same as pure consciousness. SS may be regarded as absolute sensitivity at the same time with absolute integration, stress tolerance, invulnerability and transcendence. The zero point on S indicates maximum instability which has to express itself as deviations in the direction of either I or A. SS is the end-point of personal growth.
People with different initial personalities should emphasize different practices to change their personality. For example, a person with predominance of I, should take the required physical exercise, need to develop autonomy by learning to function independently of the group by moving away from the group periodically, learn new languages to come out of cultural conditioning and practise passive morality (honesty, dependability, etc.) to develop S. He may also need externalized ceremonial forms of religion for control. A person with high A should practice active morality (channellise his energies through social service activities) and gradually replace religious practices like ordinary prayer which partly reinforce insecurity, by the practice of mindfulness. Counselling and psychotherapy have become very popular in competitive A societies because of the need for social interaction to convert competitiveness to cooperation through personal interaction for growth. Meditation (direct increase of pure awareness) is the most important practice for an S person to increase S. Progress from high S to SS very often is by insight and not the result of any intentional, linear or effortful process. Existential questions arise naturally in the mind of a high S person leading to either gradual or sudden disappearance of self-processes. A high S person, as a result of the high degree of self-sufficiency, also reaches the “break off” point where he transcends the dependence on most of the conditions for the maintenance and development of personality. For example, he may be able to break off totally from society and live in a cave, without losing any S.
Figure 3. Model of personal growth
Personal growth essentially involves improving and purifying the vibrational quality of mind. Deliberately digging up the past (e.g.. reliving traumatic experiences) is not only unnecessary, but can even be harmful also. However, often there may be spontaneous revival of forgotten incidents when one gains stability and has the capacity to review them straight. Repression and dramatic revival of forgotten memories, however, occurs only for people with too much I in their root personality. Similarly deliberate cathartic exercises also can be harmful as they may strengthen the wrong kind of emotions. Spontaneous catharsis may occur when the personality changes as result of more acceptable naturalistic practices like cultivation of awareness.
The integral approach to personal growth
The quality of mind (in terms of the constituents I, A and S) are influenced by a large number of factors which can be classed into physical factors (closeness to nature, climate, food, exercise), social factors (population density, closeness to man's natural social environment, etc.), and psychological factors (degree of right company of right type of people, right type of social interaction, degree of availability of right extent of privacy, etc.). In fact any condition, influence or response makes for a change in personality in terms of I and A, or S. The integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo can be regarded as a holistic attempt at personal growth. Yoga involves a world view, a way of life, a style of life and an integral attempt to improve all aspects of one's life and environment. This involves identifying those aspects needing more attention and more emphasis at any point of time at a given level of growth. Reduction of I and A leads to increased S which is greater awareness and this awareness is awareness of one's total self (pure consciousness) and its transformation across all the different planes. The Sreechakra (traditional diagram) is a model of this awareness.
Figure 4. Sree chakra
The dot at the centre signifies pure consciousness. The diagram also brings out the holistic interconnected nature of personality or transformation across various planes as we move from the innermost point of pure consciousness to the outermost physical plane.
Mathew, V. George (1995). IAS Rating Scale . Department of Psychology, University of Kerala.
Mathew, V. George (1997). Integrative Psychology . Department of Psychology, University of Kerala.
Mathew, V. George (2001). “Mind in Integrative Psychology”. In V.M.D. Namboodiri (Ed.), Perspective on Mind. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi.