The laws of Karma – life driven by cause–effect chain – implies that existence as such needs to be seen in continuation. It means that memory impressions from the past birth will influence the ongoing course of life. In this scheme of things, the going at this moment is the culmination of doing and undoing in the past. And seeded in the doings at this moment, is the way future is likely to unfold. All through the run of life, what we come across, small or big, good, or bad, their impressions make their presence in our memory bank. These imprints have future ramifications in terms of mind’s working. In apparent terms, most of the memory impressions from the past may not be directly accessible, but they continue to have their bearing on mind’s functionalities.
It is again pertinent to recall here that the singular ‘fundamental element of consciousness’ commonly available to one and all, grants us with the ‘power of knowing’. But to what extent the ‘consciousness element’ manifests on a being, or how much one would avail of in applied sense, would vary from person-to-person, according as each mind is inherently framed. And this depends on how much evolved or clouded the individual mind is. That is subject to how much one would have strived to rise above the limitations of mind in the past. Accordingly, one’s awareness level would vary.
It is thus obvious that it is the premise laid down in the past on which our life as on date stands, especially in terms of level of awareness. And to chart out how our sense of awareness plays out in real terms, Indian philosophy has identified primarily four operational layers of mind - conscious, subconscious, unconscious, and super-conscious. Contextually, they are also termed as the levels of awareness.
Conscious mind is literally ego-consciousness, which works from the front. It is aware of what is happening now – outside or inside. It communicates with the outer world as also one’s inner self. The way it wills and directs, is where you get focused. Conscious mind is comparable to waking state of experience.
The subconscious relates to subtle level of mind, which primarily draws its succour from impressions of immediate past and the persistent desires. This state is comparable to dream state of experience. Like dreams, during this state too, though not operating in visible terms, inlaid impressions keep chasing within the mind. It, however, remains the prerogative of the conscious mind, whether to translate the callings of subconscious into action on visible plane, or leave them aside. So, the subconscious obeys the conscious. Sub-conscious also contains such impressions as would be needed for quick recall to one’s asking, like someone’s telephone number. It does also carry such impressions that hold the key to spontaneously carry on many routine functions as a reflex action. It is something like somebody driving a car shuffling his foot spontaneously on the accelerator, break, clutch, and navigating the car, while the mind may be simultaneously engaged in some other thoughts.
The Unconscious state is a still deeper layer than the sub-conscious, and ordinarily not accessible by the conscious. The impressions laid down there, however, often influence our mind-trends. Many of instinctive acts on our part, having no scope for having learnt any way during the present time, such as an infant child instinctively being drawn to mother’s breast for feed, fall under this category. Or for that matter eye lid sensing fear instinctively closes. One would have had those experiences in previous birth, the impressions of which are in store at the unconscious level that come into play as and when occasion arises.
Through a continued course of learning and unlearning, when a being rises above the sense of relative perception, the Super-Conscious stage is arrived at. Having gained this status, one would be in tune with the ‘true seer’ – the consciousness element. Obviously then, the wholesome and omniscient ‘light principle’ intrinsic to consciousness element lead us through. One may then know no limits. Standing on this plane of consciousness, one becomes aware of even the ideal on which the phenomenal world is premised, where after one realises unity underlying all diverse existences. The sense of duality and thereby divide, then gets resolved for once and for ever. A pure uncorrupted and un-fluttering mind comes into play with its wholesome power and would thereby know no limits. Modern psychology, however, acknowledges only three operational layers of mind. The super-conscious state doesn’t seem to be in their reckoning.