Conscience and Consciousness

In Ouspensky’s teaching, the word ‘Conscience’ has a special meaning. Conscience is the emotional aspect of Consciousness. The whole aim of a school is to ‘bring man to Conscience’. When Conscience wakes up we see ‘what we are not’.

The awakening of Conscience opens the transformative relationship with the divine inner Self, portrayed here by Rembrandt’s ‘Prodigal’.

Conscience has nothing to do with guilt or remorse – Conscience is entirely positive. It is the inner capacity for the emotional realisation of truth. It is entirely personal and particular to oneself and has no negative aspect. Conscience must wake up before we can be Conscious. Ouspensky said:

Q. iiiiiiiHow can one tell what is truth?
Mr. O. Conscience knows.
Q. iiiiiiiThen you have to follow your own direction or someone will tell you?
Mr. O. Maybe you have to be told about it.
Q. iiiiiiiDon’t all people have Conscience?
Mr. O. Yes, but asleep. But if it awakes, people must understand things; must understand things in the same way.
Q. iiiiiiiCan we have Conscience without Consciousness?
Mr. O. Conscience comes before.

Conscience has no fixed relation to public morality which changes according to time and place. With full Consciousness we know everything about ourselves, all at once; with Conscience we feel everything about ourselves, all at once. Conscience feels simple truths about ourselves and other people, what we say and do. It sees the fundamental differences in things which we don’t usually notice.

In its purest form, Conscience is the silent voice of the Atman, the true Self within. By valuing it and paying attention to it when we hear it, we can develop a new, purified faculty of positive emotion that transcends the limitations of the ordinary mind and opens the heart to a new, inexpressible world where Love and Truth are one.

Conscience sometimes bites us painfully when we are awake enough to hear its voice. Even so, the message is always entirely positive. Hamlet’s cry of ‘Conscience doth make cowards of us all’ sprang from doubt and confusion, and the common negative idea of a guilty Conscience only comes from being too weak or too pig-headed to honour and obey the inner voice – which is always simple and directed to oneself alone, for this moment, now.

True Conscience arises from a pure emotion that is available when the constant bombardment of negative sensations is felt and understood to be distinct from emotion. Such sensations arising from the instinctive mechanisms of the body-mind are based on ancient and mostly redundant survival mechanisms which are habitually taken up and translated by the mind into a constant barrage of imaginary mental fears and anxieties. Emotions and sensations are two very different things but are often confused by using only one word, ‘feelings’, to describe them both.

Ultimately, only an awakened Conscience can distinguish between the true and the false both within ourselves and in the world – and waking up our innate Conscience, and keeping it awake, is the main task and the primary aim of any school. In fact, only when Conscience is awake can our aim become emotional and gain the necessary power to actually move us from where we are.