Evolution of Consciousness

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

From the yogic perspective, creation begins with sphota or the Big Bang. According to science, from the Big Bang emerged many different things: clouds, dust, light, rays, waves, and so on. They spread and gradually formed stars, planets, galaxies and eventually life forms.

When life forms were created, a different kind of energy manifested. It was in the form of awareness, or consciousness. The elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether were already there as energy, but now there was positive energy and negative energy. Just as there are positive ions and negative ions, there is positive energy and negative energy, plus and minus.

The plus or positive energy is experienced as vitality, and it expresses through the senses, the body and the elements. What is experienced as thought, mind, awareness and consciousness is the minus energy; it is not expressing itself outwardly yet it is there. The two energies coexist, just as negative and positive ions can coexist in the same space. Similarly, these two energies, defined as prana and chitta, stay together. Prana represents the vital, dynamic, active energy, and chitta represents the passive, dormant, inactive energy. They are the positive and negative poles.

Scientifically, consciousness and mind have not yet been defined. In a Time magazine issue of the 1980s there was an article stating that there is no mind, only electrical inputs in the brain. Science is looking at the physical or material component. However, not everything is physical and material, there is also the subtle dimension. It is the sentient energy that gives us the experience and understanding of life, while vital energy carries the movements and motions of the elements forward.

Through permutation and combination of different elements and chemicals over a period of millions of years, nature and life-form came about. This life-form was guided by a component, which was later identified as the mind. It was the awareness of ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I?’ ‘What is this?’ ‘What is this fruit?’ The word fruit did not exist, it was simply ‘What is this?’ Everything was enquiry, to know one’s place in creation. The life-form had never been exposed to cold, heat, water or air. It had not even been exposed to the body, to walking, to thirst or hunger. Yet, instinctively it had the understanding of self preservation, the knowledge of how to survive.

To instinctively know self-preservation is chitta shakti. The sentient energy begins to operate. If toddlers are thrown into water, they try to move their arms and legs to remain afloat, and that is how they learn to swim. They develop a skill, which they did not have before, by being placed in a special condition. The same thing happens here: when placed in a situation, a skill, an awareness, an understanding develops, which people did not have before. It is not logical, it is instinctive.

Instinct became the first kick of the sentient energy. It manifested as instinct. You see that instinct in everything, in every life form. Even a single cell amoeba has the survival instinct. In all life forms, from animal, insect, bird, reptile to quadrupeds and bipeds, that shakti, that awareness, understanding and instinct is expressed. There was a time when this instinct was the main function in life. Today it is relegated to the background since the faculty of buddhi, logic and intelligence, has come forward.

When we were living in the Stone Age, we were expressing our instincts. When we were living in the Industrial Age and the age of discoveries, we were living our buddhi, logic and intelligence. This progression from instinct to logic is the development of awareness, of consciousness and of knowing.

21 October 2019, published in Progressive Yoga Vidya Training Series 5, Understanding Yoga Vidya