International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Consciousness Studies: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

by K. Ramakrishna Rao

Introductory Essay by Sangeetha Menon

What is consciousness? Does it include multiple kinds of awareness, some available for our introspection and some not? What are the major contributions of eastern traditions such as Yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism in understanding consciousness? If these are some of the questions that you are seeking answers for, “Consciousness studies: Cross-cultural perspectives” is a must-read book, written in a lucid fashion by K Ramakrishna Rao, a psychologist and philosopher from India.

The cross-cultural examination in this book first explores the varieties of conscious experience and reflects on attempts to understand and explain consciousness in the Western scholarly and scientific tradition. The next section deals with Eastern spiritual traditions and how they differ with and complement Western viewpoints. In the final chapters, the author reconciles the two traditions, seeking a comprehensive understanding of what consciousness is and considers how such an understanding may be helpful for a cross-cultural assessment of behaviour, as well as for enhancing human abilities and wellness.

Consciousness studies is a broad field drawing from such diverse subjects such as neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive sciences, philosophy, physics and religion. The author believes that there are at least some aspects to consciousness that cannot be fit in straightjacketed physical and reductionistic explanations. Spiritual and mystical traditions, along with findings in parapsychology encourage enlarging the scope of its study.

The primary difference between the Eastern and Western approaches is one of focus – inward or outward. In the East the focus is on the person having the experience, and the method is based on first- person introspection. In the West, the focus is on the object of experience and the method is based on third-person observation and measurement. At the same time, the author contends that, these two approaches need not be seen in opposition. They only point to the possibility of understanding consciousness from many perspectives. Thought, objectivity, and subjectivity can be (and are) conceptually distinguished but they blend harmoniously in human experience.

This book. apart from a serious engagement with some of the contemporary issues that engage all researchers of consciousness studies, shines a light on often ignored topics such as the relevance of meditation and parapsychological research. The concept of consciousness is given approached holistically while maintaining its physical connotations. The author helps the novice and the scholar in this field to ask fundamental questions in conceptualising consciousness as well as helping to place it in a larger context. With growing interest in Vedanta and Buddhism this book provides a cross-cultural perspective from which to build a rich background for presenting the most important feature of (human) life, namely ‘consciousness’.

A noticeable attraction of this book is its capacity to maintain rigor in a clear and simple style of writing. The extensive Bibliography serves an aid for extensive research and wide reading.