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2.1 Value boundaries of individual consciousness
Before I elaborate what the Masters in some of the great religions conceived as collective consciousness, let us ourselves take a penetrating and direct look at this universal, cosmic phenomenology. We started with an apple as our example, and the experienced consciousness by an individual at a lower sensory level and a higher cognitive and knowledge level. We would invoke the same object again, only this time, to illustrate a collective mind necessarily of higher consciousness that can investigate it. My first attempt would be to transcend the 'value-boundary' of the apple in terms of nutrition and its physical wholesomeness so that we know we have come beyond the individual consciousness. One simple, hopefully not over-simple, example of collective consciousness that can unfold with an apple is to offer it to someone else, such as our mother or our teacher. If you are asking in what way this represents the collective mind and not the individual mind, then an answer is that the act of offering to someone represents a consciousness that is larger than the value-boundary associated with individual higher consciousness. So the emphasis here is not only in the root of generous offering, the emphasis is also on letting go of 'my' 'mine' and T consciousness.
By the virtue of transcending individual value-boundaries, the first level of collective consciousness is much larger than the highest level of individual consciousness. Perhaps this is the reason why the ultimate truth in Hinduism at its first collective level is known as 'Virata', meaning larger than large, or cosmic (Figure 2). The limitlessness of Virata transcends the value-boundaries of form in both materiality and mentality [3, 4]. The experience of Virata can be achieved also through meditation. Usually the feeling associated with experience of the Virata is one of ecstasy - pure joy. Sometimes the experience can be so boundless that the objective nature of Virata can disappear and only a glowing point very much like a fire-fly remains.The first level, the 'Virata' is simple in more than one way. The consciousness has freed itself from individual value-boundaries and has released onto the limitlessness of expansion. This could be freedom from form, time, space, or anything that creates a boundary on the individual consciousness. The second level that the collective consciousness manifests itself is very subtle and a little complex. However, it represents an emancipated super-consciousness that is further unfolded than Virata. Let's call this 'creative super- consciousnesses' at the collective level. Let's bring back our good old apple. We have, at the first level, learned to collectively offer it to the God of collective intelligence; at the second level, we experience the continuity of God as he enters the apple as the seed and the higher intelligence of all humans so that the offering to the limitless continues. Notice that you don't have to bring in God, if you don't like so; a friend, or a fellow living being is good enough for the unfoldment of this consciousness as long as this friend is real.
The emphasis in the second stage is not only the involution (collective consciousness entering the objects and processes), but also the continuity of the evolution of the first stage. This has been formalized to be called 'Hiranyagarbha' (see Figure 4) [3, 4, 5]. My spiritual Master calls it 'Retagarbha' meaning continuity of collective cosmic intelligence through genes and other modes of consciousness propagation in individual entities . One point of interest is that none of the first or second levels of consciousness is purely investigational in nature. The experience is pure bliss at the least. Sometimes the accompanying feeling at 'Hiranyagarbha' can be very intense and the preceding bliss can get worked up with a sense of achievement. If properly guided, the bliss or equanimity will re-establish.Another interesting aspect of the Hiranyagarbha reality is that it is not simply a superb understanding of some cryptic laws of cause and effect of the universe. Yes, there is that understanding that unfolds with a supreme clarity at this stage along with the knowledge of all conditions that are concomitant with universal cause and effects. In addition, (and also at a plane much higher and altogether different from normal understanding) is a deep compassion for the realities in the environment which unfolds at this stage. A somewhat simplified example may be an expert apple orchard farmer who is also a wise man in the neighborhood.
The third and so-called final stage in collective higher consciousness is 'Avyakrita' (Figure 5). A few synonyms exist for the experience of this consciousness, which are 'Ishvara', 'Sunya', 'Akshara' etc. [3, 4, 5, 7]. The term Avyakrita means the 'source element' or the 'Brahman element' from which everything including consciousness was created. This stage of consciousness is marked by an experience of faith and awareness which is indestructible. All these terms described above point to this meaning of indestructibility or lack of transience of the experience. The seeker still possesses a common sense and understanding of mundane concepts, forms, mental states and boundaries. At the same time, he transcends into an omnipresent consciousness where he appreciates the true nature of everything as it exists. This is a clear and contamination-free state of emancipation. In fact, this emancipation is so eminent at this state that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the knower and the knowable. The knower of the apple becomes one with the apple-ness in that his consciousness is entirely the source consciousness itself. This is where nothing further needs to be known about the apple or the consciousness that was investigating acting on all aspects of the intelligence associated with the apple. No dependent conditions apply here. If the knowable is Brahman, it is here where 'Brahmavid Brahmaiva Bhavati'. It is very difficult to say whether the accompanying feeling is a positive bliss or neutral equanimity here. Definitely, there is no affliction here, whatsoever.