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Levels of consciousness – a Buddhist perspective
Throughout the ages all cultures and religions throughout the world have struggled with the question of how we can grow and develop as individuals. Modern psychology has brought us ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’, the middle ages brought us Bunyan’s “the Pilgrim’s Progress’ and there are many others. There are many examples in non-Western cultures also, including the Buddhist theory of Levels of Consciousness.
9 levels of consciousness
Buddhism teaches that there are 9 levels of Consciousness. The teaching offers a means of understanding of human awareness and how we are connected to the world and the wider universe. The theory has come about from 2500 years of study and investigation into the nature of our inner selves and the endless cycle of birth, life and death.
The first 5 levels – using our senses
The first 5 levels of consciousnesses are your bodily senses. In order these are sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Depending on the strength of the input of these senses, you will have differing awareness of these consciousnesses at different times.
The 6th Level – the mind
The 6th level of consciousness is the layer that integrates and processes the information from the various senses into a coherent whole – this level corresponds closely with the western concept of ‘the mind’. For most people, these first 6 levels of consciousness are where we spend most of our time in performing daily activities.
The 7th level – your inner life
This is the first level of consciousness that is inner looking rather than focused outwards. This 7th level or ‘mano’ (Sanskrit) is concerned with the sense of self, and of your ability to distinguish between good and evil.
The 8th level – where karma resides
Below these 7 levels, Buddhists believe that there is an 8th level – the ‘alaya’ consciousness. This correlates with what modern psychology would call the unconscious mind. In this level is stored all the good and the evil deeds, as well as all the experiences of past and present lifetimes – the karma. Unlike the first 7 levels of consciousness, which are destroyed upon death of the physical body, the alaya persists past death. It is also called the ‘storehouse’ or never-perishing consciousness. It is at this level that spiritual phenomena occur.
The 9th level – pure consciousness
Deeper even than the alaya consciousness there exists a layer of consciousness termed the ‘amala’ consciousness. This level is free from the impurities of karma and is therefore called the fundamental pure consciousness. This is the fundamental basis of all life. In this amala consciousness the true eternal self can exist in harmony with the life of the cosmos itself. This level is greatly powerful and attained by reaching enlightenment.
The Buddhist concept of the 9 levels of consciousness gives a great template for living your life and for transformative change. The Buddhist teaching of the close interconnectedness of all living things shows also how changes you make for the better in your life lead to positive changes in others – as we are all connected like myriad cogwheels.
How can you progress through the 9 levels of consciousness?
Buddhism comes from a long history of introspection and personal growth. This tradition has many spiritual techniques that have been developed over the millennia, but the most accessible to most people is meditation. To learn meditation you do not have to be a practicing Buddhist – meditation is practiced these days by people from all walks of life and all cultural backgrounds and has many benefits which have been backed up by modern scientific study as well.
Meditation allows you to deepen your level of consciousness. In the beginning you will start at level 7, but with meditation you will soon find yourself being able to move into the 8th level. The 8th level of consciousness transcends the limits of the individual as you begin to access the energy of karma. Changing your karmic energy for the better will have a positive impact on those around you too and you will find yourself growing in compassion and self-awareness.
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