Over the course of your life you may have found yourself contemplating the dimensions of your experience of existence and embodiment, asking questions like “Who am I?” And “What am I?” Not only will these questions open doorways to deeper understanding of the nature of embodied being, they will simultaneously guide one down a path of negation, pealing away the layers of what one is not. In non-dual tantric yogic philosophy one can mine their way to the heart of who and what humans are, as well as an understanding of the of individual self by unfolding the five layers of consciousness.
These five layers of consciousness or five strata of self are much like a matryoshka doll. Within which nested layers of being and suffering reveal themselves proceeding from the gross to the subtle. From the grossest layer of Vastu, the stuff we accumulate to the subtlest layer of Cit, divine consciousness, we can map, almost with simplicity the ontology of the makeup of our reality.
The most outer layer is not considered one of the five. This layer is Vastu, the stuff we accumulate over the course of our lives. Vastu, or stuff, reveals itself as a part of personal identity in statements like “I am rich” or “I am poor”. Such identification has little to do with what is at the heart of conscious being and more to do with the identity and value of that identity placed on the object. Making an association to self identity based on things in which we attach an “I am” or “I have” or “my” concept almost always leads to suffering. Such suffering, and the causes of such suffering, are the first point of negation of self awareness to face while journeying to the true heart of what is.
Passing though the gate of new awareness of self beyond ones stuff and things, one arrives at the true fifth layer of consciousness Deha. Deha, the physical body, is much like the Vastu layer in that there is an “I am” identification associated to it. Perceptions of awareness such as, “I am tall” or “I am short” and so on are cognitive identifications with the layer of consciousness that is the physical body. Again, associating with the body, just like associating with ones stuff in such a way leads to suffering. Suffering arises as a result of attachment. In similarity to the attachment and value we place on the things we possess, we place value and attachment on our physical identities. And like our stuff which will fade, break down, and decrease in value, our bodies too will fade and over time wither and die. In the search for the truth of what lies at the heart of the dimensions of self, one finds themselves on an adventure through the layers of their self awareness not only in relation to their perceptions of being, but also of suffering. Where there is attachment there is the potential to suffer. In the concept of “I am thin” there is the converse of “I am fat” each carrying a weight of attachment, each a false layer of true identity.
As the layers of stuff and physical body are negated as the source of true identity, the next layer of Citta, the pure consciousness of thoughts and feelings is revealed. This layer of consciousness is expressed in statements such as “I am smart”, “I am stupid”, “I am happy”, and “I am sad”. In non-dual tantric philosophy the mind and heart are not two things, they are two ends of a single spectrum. The difference between thoughts and feelings is that thoughts are vibrations with a cognitive expression of language and explanation. In contrast, feelings are vibrations that are felt and with a greater affective charge. This difference is not absolute but rather one of degree. Again, like the previous layers of being that one can identify with, here too, arises the great potential to suffer. As the mind is so active and quick to change, identifying with the mind can lead not only to suffering by believing illusion but also by locking into a thought pattern that is destructive. Such mental rigidity often is the result of the fear of not being in control. Yet nothing is certain and we are very much not in control, not even of our own minds. Once we learn to ride the waves of thought in our minds, we come to experience less suffering. Such mindfulness sometimes leads us to a state of amused observer watching our minds pettiness, quickness to irritation, and desire to attach itself to fleeting emotions. The emotional body, much like the mind is flippant and fleeting. Like the mind, when we learn how to ride the waves of the vibrations of our emotional experience without becoming attached to a story around such emotions, not only do we experience more peace, we also become closer to the truth of what and who any of us actually are.
Digging deeper and pulling back ever more veils of perception we arrive at the layer of Prana. Prana is the vital energy of the body often called the life force, and is the layer at which individuality is transcended. The movement of prana is intimately connected to breath and it is vital for life to continue. Prana serves as the interface between the body and the mind, though it is more subtle, and fundamental than either. As the first layer of the subtle body, prana reveals itself in statements such as “I am tired”, “I am energized”, “I feel wired”, and “I feel blah”. The amplification of, and depletion of prana is responsible for our general energy levels, and many of our moods. The levels of prana in our body are affected by the food we eat, activities we participate in, the sleep we get, and thoughts we think. Though it is easy to identify with the pranic body, over-identifying with the pranic body can put us at the mercy of our moods, which in turn can prompt impulsive action that our mental, physical, or emotional body may not benefit from. Identifying that pranic changes arise from energy stores, and changes in our moods are a result of such changes in the pranic body, enables us to not attach our identities to our mood-based experiences. Rather than be the mood we are experiencing we can respond to the change in the pranic body with some good nourishing food, or sleep and avoid snapping at our loved ones.
Moving more deeply into the subtle body we are invited to move more deeply into subtle perception as well, as we arrive at Sunya, the layer of the transcendent void. This is the layer of awareness that is all pervasive and formless. The most familiar state in which our awareness occupies this realm is in deep dreamless sleep. Most people do not identify with this layer in their conscious awareness. However, this is the layer many meditators refer to as “the gap”, and can become more of a known territory to anyone through regular mediation. Too much time here, however, may draw one out of the ability to function well and with ease in the world. Leaving one failing to adequately take care of their body, and becoming unable to easily relate to others. Penetrating to the heart of the void we arrive at the heart of absolute and divine consciousness, Cit. Cit is beyond all other layers, yet pervades them. Cit is the core of all existence and remains mysterious because it is omnipresent while completely unnoticed. It is all embracing and existent in all forms of awareness, including the most contracted forms of awareness in the previous layers. It is because this core of being is simultaneously transcendent and immanent that when we identify with it we can experience any state as divine. In other words, identification with the heart of divine absolute consciousness enables us to experience everything as divine and eliminates the expression of one way of being topping the pyramid of divinity. As consciousness at this level is all-pervasive it subsumes such hierarchal status.
In non-dual tantric philosophy this state of liberated awareness is the one in which we know our true nature. It is being the mantra~
I am that which encompasses all things.
When we realize ourselves as divine consciousness then we also realize that we are in fact all the layers of the self that we had previously negated as well. Negation in this way is a tool used to reach a deeper affirmation at the heart of I.
With Love, Always, In All Ways,