Consciousness begins as Absolute Consciousness, pure "I" or infinite Subject, which is the essential nature of the Absolute Reality. All manifestation then is a movement from that Infinite consciousness or Self to Its own Objects of Consciousness or Non-Self. Originally the individualisation is a valid part of the Absolute itself, and Self and Non-self coexist as equal aspects of the Supreme. But with the appearace of multiplicity this unity is lost and Self and Non-Self become a dualistic dichotomy, described in Samkhya as purusha and prakriti. Note that non-seplf can include mind as well as body, so this is not the western duality of spirit and matter.
Levels of Selfhood or the self-not-self axis constitutes a distinct ontological parameter, defined by subjectivity and the activity of consciousness. It is a central theme in Eastern Philosophy and Phenomenology. Consciousness is here distinguished from Mind and Psyche. Because of a lack of precision in understanding the various aspects of being and ontological axii, the self-not-self axis is very often usually confused or combined with either or both the "horizontal" inner-outer psychological series (psychology), or the physical-spiritual "vertical" series (occultism and theosophy). This confusion arises because the conventional current western religious and philosophical position involves a choice between Materialism (including variants such as Judeo-Christian resurrectionism - as they are unable to conceive of a soul apart from the body) and some sort of Cartesian, spiritualist, or natural-supernatural religious dualism. But these materialistic, holistic, or dualistic interpretations ignore all the manifold aspects and dimensions that human consciousness includes.
The much more sophisticated understanding of ancient India is based not on the dichotomy of soul/mind/spoirit and body/matter, but of Pure Consciousness or Witness and the Objects of Consciousness. This latter includes both mind and matter; in other words, thoughts are just as much non-self as the physical body. This simple yet profound observation can be confirmed or proved by any decent meditation practice. Thoughts are distinctly experienced as something different from the core-awareness, the "I" or "knower" or "witness" or Self (or "non-Self" - i.e., non-Ego - if you are a Buddhist, for the experience also proves to you that there is no persisting ego or outer personality self).
The study of consciousness is also considered in Husserlian phenomenology, where the static cartesian subject-object is replaced by the more dynamic polarity of noesis-noemata. However this only refers to the Mental or Noetic aspect of the Self-Not-self axis. In the following ontology, both eastern and phenomenological perspectives are integrated.
From a dualistic perspective, there is the distinction between the Absolute Self or Consciousness, and the not-self, whether the latter is conceived of as maya (according to Advaita), prakriti (according to Samkhya), cosmic matter (according to Theon), or Inconscience (according to Sri Aurobindo). The illumination of or reflection upon nonconsciousness by consciousness is what we experience as ordinary consciousness. Most spiritual paths are concerned with the yoga of ascent, the return to the Source of Absolute Consciousness, the true self; this is the "Yoga of Ascent". These dualistic or acosmist teachings reject the world because it is so difficult to transform things here. In this regard, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were almost unique in teaching the transformation of this world (Integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo's philosophy also became the foundation for the Integral Paradigm, although very few there even understand what he actually said)
A distinction can however be made between the individual and universal transcendent Higher Self; the former is the Paramatma, the Supreme Self Buddhists aren't allowed to believe in a transcendent Self (due to a misunderstanding of the Buddha's teaching in this regard (see material on the Attan site), so some Mahayanists (especially of the Chinese Yogachara/Vijnanavada tradition) refer to an original "Buddjha Nature", which means the same thing; both refering to nondual Reality that is the source of all being.
Further detail emerges if we consider the specific gradations of consciousness, from the Inconscient non-self below, through the subconscious to the conscious, then upto to the Superconscious Higher and Supreme Self. Our ordinary consciousness is just one small aspect spectrum of levels of consciousness.
images not loading? | error messages? | broken links? | suggestions? | criticism?