Awareness and Consciousness

Corne van Nijhuis

Awareness and consciousness

A question which has kept me busy for some time is: Is consciousness the same as awareness, as this is mostly used interchangeable? In this article I will try to give my view on both concepts in more detail and conclude with my personal answer. 

The word conscious comes from the Latin conscius meaning “knowing”. It is the assimilated form of con meaning “with,” or “thoroughly” and scire meaning “to know” and ness is a word-forming element denoting action, quality, or state. So technically framed it means something like “state of knowing”. This means there is content like information in play. The word awareness comes from the Proto-Indo-European root wer meaning “perceive”. So technically framed it means something like the quality of perceiving and as such it is in itself contentless. So there can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep. 

To confront both concepts in more depth I will give a specification of the constituent elements of each.

Advaita Vedanta says this that the question “What is awareness?” Is one of the most important question. So here is what many thousands of years of this thinking has concluded:

Awareness is first — consciousness is derivative.
Awareness is pure — consciousness is mixed.
Awareness is immanent — consciousness is bounded.
Awareness is silence — consciousness is noise.
Awareness is truth — consciousness is illusory.
Awareness is one — consciousness is two.
Awareness is perfect — consciousness is lacking.
Awareness is immaterial — consciousness is matter.
Awareness is Self — consciousness is ego.
Awareness is God — consciousness is God’s manifestation.

Consciousness needs (1) a person who is conscious of a thing and (2) the thing that the person is conscious about. Awareness is consciousness in abstraction, that is devoid both of the person and the thing. In other words, awareness is the truth, the non-duality, the Atman. When the same is perceived in duality and through the mind, it is consciousness.

I hope I have given you some food for thought when speaking about consciousness and awareness. 

Nederlands version


About the Author

Corné van Nijhuis

Mr Corne van Nijhuis is a scholar, deeply involved in the scientific study of philosophy and spirituality. Having been successful in his field, Mr Corne van Nijhuis has dedicated his time to the study and practice of Vedanta. Readiness to help always, a seeking mind, are some of his outstanding qualities. He has been a regular contributor to this magazine.