June 29, 1966
This morning I got a letter from a little girl who asks me, “What is consciousness? I asked my teachers, they answered me it was very hard to explain”! (Mother laughs) So she's asking me. And since she asked me, I've been looking at it. How can we express it?
Do YOU know how it can be explained? Because the words we use are meaningless.
Spontaneously, I'd say it's the fire or the breath that carries the whole world. It's the fire that makes everything live – that makes the chest breathe, that makes the sea heave...
That's not bad!
What would YOU say?
Here is what I found: it's the cause of existence – the cause and the effect at the same time. But that's not it.
Your explanation is more poetic, it's more literary, but still I am not sure that's it.
It's the substance of the world, what constitutes the world.
Yes. If we say, “Without consciousness there is no world,” it's much truer, but it doesn't explain. That was my first answer: without consciousness, no world, no existence.
It's the breath or the force that carries the world – that makes it be.
That's not bad, let's note it down!
Oh no! You are the one who must find it.
I have to answer this child.
Because otherwise, we are lost in abstractions.
Yes, and with abstractions, you use words that mean something else, that's all.
But how do YOU perceive consciousness?
Without consciousness, you can't feel anything. Consciousness is indeed the basis of all things.
(Mother looks at the child's letter and hands it to Satprem)
I'd like to know: What is consciousness? I asked a teacher, but they said, ‘It's very hard to explain.’
I want your blessing so I do my exams well.
You take my Pranams.1
Your little daughter.”
Without consciousness, no existence, that's perfectly true, but it doesn't explain what consciousness is. But your explanation is poetic enough, at any rate!
In Indian philosophy, they put Existence before Consciousness. They say Sat-Chit-Ananda.2 So if we say, Chit-Sat-Ananda...! And it's not true.
It's not true, the Rishis always spoke of Fire, “Agni,” which is the primordial substance.
But is “fire” consciousness?
Yes, it becomes consciousness – it is consciousness. It's consciousness-force. The Rishis said, “Even in the stone he is there, even in the waters he is there.”
Yes, when I had that experience of the pulsations of Love creating the world, the pulsation came first, and afterwards the consciousness – the consciousness of the pulsation.
So we could define it like this: when the... the... (I never know which name to use!) became conscious of Himself, that created the world.
In the Upanishads, they say “tapas”3 created the world.
Yes, tapas is Power.
It's fire, too.
No, tapas is Power.
Chit-Tapas is heat.
They say, Sat, Chit-Tapas, Ananda. They put Chit-Tapas together. And it's Chit first, then Tapas. It's the creative power of consciousness.
But Sri Aurobindo always said “Consciousness-Force,” indissolubly. We can't separate one from the other. There is no consciousness without force and no force without consciousness – it's Consciousness-Force. That's what the world is!
At any rate, it's not a very philosophical way to put it at all, it's very childlike, but it's much truer than metaphysical sentences: When the Lord became conscious of Himself, that created the world.
So, let's note down your definition for the child.
No, your definition first, that's the first stage! Then the second stage, the human.
(Mother laughs and writes:)
“When the Lord became conscious of Himself, that created the world.”
Now your turn to say!
It's for you to say.
No, no! Let me hear it.
I don't know.... Consciousness is the breath or the fire that carries everything.
But if I say “fire,” they'll immediately say, “Ah, consciousness is fire, then!”
The breath that carries everything, that makes everything breathe?
“Consciousness is the breath that is the life of everything.”
“that makes everything live.”
You understand, it's going to go all around the School from one class to another! (Laughing) I know what's going to happen!
“Consciousness is the breath that makes everything live.”
She is lucky, that little one.
Children are amusing!
(Soon afterwards, Mother looks at a stack of English texts that have to be translated into French.)
It would be far easier if those things were written in large characters.... It's a pity about my eyes. I waste a lot of time, quite a lot. I am forced to ask, or else to take a magnifying glass. What I used to do in three minutes takes me half an hour. That's how it is. But to recover my sight (that would be possible, nothing is damaged, it's only worn), I would have to spend a lot of time on it; it would take me a lot of time in exercises, concentrations.... I don't have the time.
But the promptness of the consciousness when I used to see!... I don't find it with other eyes. That was so convenient.
We must have patience. It's no use groaning, I must either do something about it or not bother about it! And I don't have the time to do anything – I am waiting for my sight to be given back to me.
1 Pranam: salutation, prostration.
2 Sat-Chit-Ananda: existence-consciousness-bliss.
3 Tapas: energy or heat, or also the concentration of the power of consciousness.