Difference between consciousness and awareness

suzame's picture

Average: 4.3 (9 votes)

I encounter "consciousness" and "awareness" quite often in texts and I am not sure I fully grasp the pricse meaning and difference between these two central terms.

Anyone knows the exact difference, if any, between what is meant by "consciousness" and by "awareness" in Indian spiritual literature and scriptures?

What are the corresponding terms in Sanskrit?

Any different meanings by different Indian gurus?

I am especially interested in the exact meaning in Advaita

shira's picture

Good question!

I used to ignore any semantic differences while I was reading spiritual stuff (and I think many teachers do mean the same thing when they use any of the two terms).

But I have noticed by context that sometimes there is a clear difference in texts.

To start with: I think awareness in sanskrit is "chidakasha" while conciseness is "chetana"

shira | Tue, 08/26/2008 - 10:32
Omkaradatta's picture

Nisargadatta's take...

Nisargadatta Maharaj: "Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginningless, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change. Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful, awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. And it is the common matrix of every experience." (from "I Am That", chapter 11)


Omkaradatta | Tue, 08/26/2008 - 13:51
leo's picture

consciousness with capital "C" vs. small "c" a la maharaj

Omkaradatta, you have a wonderful gift of sorting out and bringing exactly the right words of Maharaj relevant to a certain discussed issue. Sometimes, quoting the right things is of more value and importance than formulating them a new. Thanks!

Note that Maharaj uses the word "consciousness" in two different ways:

"Consciousness (with capital "C") denotes the Supreme Self or the Absolute. The terms "consciousness" (with a small "c"), I amness, beingness, and knowingness, which are often used interchangeably, indicate the sense of "I am" - the ordinary awareness that makes us conscious beings."

(From "The Wisdom Teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj - a Visual Journey", edited by Matthew Greenblatt, page 13)

leo | Tue, 08/26/2008 - 14:41
Omkaradatta's picture


Thanks, Leo... I feel as though I 'absorbed' N's teachings in a way, almost as though I spoke/wrote them myself, and his own saying "the words of my guru are timelessly with me" fits very well, which is why I refer to him as my guru (despite never meeting him in the body).

P.S. I find the above quote to be strange though, as N. didn't write any books directly (that I'm aware of) but spoke 'live' to people, so how can 'capital C' and 'small C' mean anything? Perhaps this was the translator's interpretation of his discourses? If so, in which book(s) is this convention used?


Omkaradatta | Tue, 08/26/2008 - 15:41
leo's picture

My understanding

First of all, there is a book written by Maharaj himself. It is called "Self Knowledge and Self Realization" (edited by Jean Dunn, published in 1963, and printed in 100 copies only).

But the underlying text we talk about is a translation of notes recorded during meetings by a disciple called Kshirsagar.

Based on the same facts that you mention, I understood that remark as the denotation of the translators, translating two different terms in Marathi to "Consciousness" and "consciousness" in English.

So to trace a possible usage of this denotation, we must inspect who were involved and especially who the translators were:

The text in the underlying book was obtained from Dinkar Keshav Kshirsagar, a close disciple of Maharaj (the one who recorded the underlying original dialogues during a series of talks in the years 1977-1979, he used to visit Maharaj twice a week during these years). The original Marathi text was approved by Maharaj himself who glanced through these notes and asked Kshirsagar to distribute them to fellow devotees.

The text was then initially translated by Dr. Mrs. Damayanti Dungaji (a disciple of Maharaj who sometimes served also as his translator during meetings, she also translated from Marathi to English a book by Siddharameshwar Maharaj (Nisargadatta's guru) under the instruction of Ranjit Maharaj (also a disciple of Siddharameshwar Maharaj)).

Later, with the guidance of Jean Dunn (a very close American disciple of Maharaj who served under his instructions as an editor of his English texts), the translation was revised by Suresh Metha (a disciple of Maharaj) with a thorough review by Kshirsagar. It is said in the acknowledgments of the book that it was also reviewed by S. K. Mullarpattan (Maharaj's primary translator).

Hence, I adopted a habit over the years when reading texts of Maharaj translated by these fellows, to be attentive to the usage of the word "consciousness" and to check if there is a consistency within the text to the usage of capital or small "c".

leo | Tue, 08/26/2008 - 17:30
shishmanidov35's picture

In psychology and spirtuality

In western psychology and in many spiritual traditions, consciousness usually refers to the psyche who is present as the person, this mental center (e.g. "stream of consciousness" and so on).

Awareness is more of being attentive, and to objects - external and internal - mental and physical through the senses.

But they are many times used interchangeably.

shishmanidov35 | Fri, 12/04/2009 - 21:59
Elijah_NatureBoy's picture

Awareness & Consciousness!

My use of awareness is the same as when I use know, it means to recognize that it is but without comprehending it. My use of Conscious is interchangeable with understanding or comprehending, they mean to have a knowledge of the functioning, purpose and symbolic meaning.

Say I am walking through a familiar place, unless something arrest my attention I am only aware of what is happening around me, that is aware. When something arrests my attention I look for cause, effect and possible consequences of not giving it my full attention, that is conscious. As a nomad I continue to observe all things within range of my senses being conscious of any possible danger I may have to face, that is also consciousness, although aware is often used there.
Have you questioned your beliefs? Reason the different concepts until all pros and cons are integrated into the 64,800 degrees of your vision.
--Elijah "NatureBoy"--

Elijah_NatureBoy | Fri, 03/05/2010 - 21:24
anderlaus's picture

The difference

The definition sometimes varies according to the tradition and teacher.

But in the case of most of them, the difference is clear -

There is awareness - the ever present you that is aware, even in deep sleep.

Awareness identifying with body and mind gives birth to consciousness, being in this world. Consciousness is activated when you wake up.

anderlaus | Fri, 05/06/2011 - 06:50
Bhagavan Narayana's picture

The unit of “0”energy

The unit of “0”energy (stillness) has two directions – one leads to become an information (thoughts - "consciousness" ) and the other leads to an essence of life – to become “the IS-ness”, the sense of being unaffected by any information, as the opposite, in reverse (again that one).
There are two fields of “0” energy in Universe flowing in two directions and forming the space itself for each divine, human and non-human being individually… exactly from their mental state exactly right now, and continuously right now…
One field is information (IF) and the other - Self (SF), where IF will form the material parts and SF will increase an awareness..., so, in practice, every thought will indicate that you are going in the direction of your embodiment and, in opposite, your awareness with the hint of happiness or bliss will indicate you uplift in spiritual domain.
Basically, when the thought will come - means you lost some inspiration right now, and if you smile and say - "I'm not that", you will be flying upwards up again..

Nobody ever born should ever die!
Narayana(Valentin Mazlov)Moscow 89099544022
site: http://slavmed.0lx.org/slavmed/na-anglijskom

Bhagavan Narayana | Sun, 01/25/2015 - 22:39