Knower of the Field: A Perspective on Consciousness

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No one besides you can understand your unique experience of the world. Well, almost no one.

Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (13.2–3):

idam shariram kaunteya
kshetram ity abhidhiyate
etad yo vetti tam prahuh
kshetra-jña iti tad-vidah

“This body, O son of Kunti, is called the field, and one who knows this body is called the knower of the field.”

kshetra-jñam chapi mam viddhi
sarva-kshetreshu bharata
kshetra-kshetrajñayor jñanam
yat taj jñanam matam mama

“O scion of Bharata, you should understand that I am also the knower in all bodies, and to understand this body and its knower is called knowledge. That is My opinion.”

In these verses Krishna says that in every body there exist two knowers – the primary occupant and Krishna Himself. As a knower of my body, I am aware of the activities and experiences within it. And along with me, Krishna is also aware of my activities and experiences. Although this philosophy sounds simple, its implications are deep and often overlooked.

I have a PhD in cell biology and have been researching the subject of consciousness and its relation to the mind. The above verses intrigued me, and I wondered how they were related to our experiences of the world. In my research I came across a concept that provided valuable insights – the concept of subjective experience. 

I am an individual with my own likes and dislikes. My individuality, with its preferences, applies to all sectors of my life, to every single activity I do, be it in regard to my eating or clothing or colors or car – the list is endless. It applies to my emotions as well. The things that make me happy, sad, exhilarated, or angry differ from what makes others feel the way they feel. Individuals are unique, and their preferences are different. Indeed, we see discord in relationships – between spouses, between lovers, between parents and children – because each member of the relationship cannot fully understand the other person’s preferences and may have a hard time accepting those preferences even when they are stated. I’ve had heated arguments with my parents or my husband over trivial matters simply because we could neither understand nor accept our differences in preferences.

Why are there so many differences in preferences among people? Are they desirable? Would life not be easier without any differences?

It has taken me a long time to find suitable answers to these questions. In my reading of the literature in consciousness research, I was struck with the concept of subjective experience. Any experience a person has is totally subjective because it is personal, qualitative, and unique to that person. No one else can understand what another person is experiencing, and no words can explain the experience. For example, when I see a red ball, I alone have access to the experience of the redness of the ball. I may try to explain what I am seeing, but no one else can see the color I am seeing. Each person perceives red according to his or her own field of knowledge – i.e., their senses and mental interpretation. People may be seeing the same shade or a different shade, but there is no way to decipher what each person is seeing. 

Consider the bitter gourd. Some people develop a liking for this bitter vegetable; others, myself included, never do. Why does this difference exist? It is because our preferences develop based on our experience of the flavor. Everyone perceives flavor within their field of knowledge; no one has access to the flavor being experienced by another person.

This uniqueness and subjectivity applies to every sensory experience we have: seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, or touching. It is also applicable to all internal sensations, such as hunger, pain, and thoughts, and to all emotions, such as fear or love. We all have access to these experiences only within our field of knowledge, and have no access to the experiences within someone else’s field of knowledge.

The Fully Cognizant One

The Bhagavad-gita, however, tells us that there is one person who is fully cognizant of all our experiences. That person is Krishna. In sharp contrast to the soul’s limited knowledge, Krishna’s knowledge is unlimited, and He is the knower of all fields. He knows what each person experiences when seeing a red ball or tasting bitter gourd or feeling love, anger, or anxiety. Being the source of everything (aham sarvasya prabhavah, Gita 10.8) and the all-knowing person, Krishna is fully aware of everything we experience or feel.   

Why does Krishna have access to everything an embodied soul experiences? He says in the Bhagavad-gita (7.4),

bhumir apo ’nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva cha
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakritir ashtadha

“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.” Everything within the creation is Krishna’s energy, whether it is the color red or bitter gourd or anything else. Our body and senses are also His energy. Thus both the senses and their sense objects are energies of Krishna. In fact, the experiences emerging from their interaction are also His energy. How then is it possible for us to have any experience without His knowing about it?

That our experiences are fully known to Krishna implies there is nothing we have that is hidden from Him. Does that not sound like a breach of privacy? Contrary to being a breach, it tells us something very significant about our relationship with Krishna. If Krishna is aware of all our experiences, then He is the only person who knows us fully, inside out. Literally. He knows our experiences, likes, dislikes, preferences. He knows how we feel in love, pain, hunger, and thirst. He is fully cognizant of our thoughts and desires. How does that make you feel? Each one of us has been looking everywhere for a friend with whom we can share everything. Only Krishna can be that best and dearmost friend. And we each have a unique, private, and confidential relationship with Him.

The goal of bhakti-yoga is to revive this relationship and be united with Him without any inhibitions. All living entities are individuals, and chief among us all is Krishna, the maintainer of all others. The Katha Upanishad (2.2.13) states, nityo nityanam cetanash cetananam eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman: “There is one supreme eternal entity among all eternal entities and one supreme conscious entity among all conscious entities. The ‘one’ is supplying the needs of everyone else.”

Variety in Krishna’s Creation

Furthermore, we tiny souls can never become Krishna. Our knowledge is limited and will always remain so. Which means we can never truly understand what another person is tasting, smelling, seeing, feeling, liking, thinking, and so on. Each one of us has access only to the experiences within our field of knowledge, and these experiences dictate our preferences, likes, dislikes, and so on. On account of this, it is no surprise that people have widely different preferences and misunderstand each other, which sometimes ends up in terrorism, violence, and wars. But when understood properly, these differences are not a drawback. They are special mercy from Krishna because every single soul in His creation is different and can offer Him a unique service. Surely Krishna has not failed to amaze us at every step of His creation.

About the Author: 

Soumya Gupta

Soumya Gupta worked as a medical writer for several years. She now collaborates with the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies (bihstudies.org) and the Atma Paradigm from the Science-Philosophy Initiative (s-pi.org). She is dovetailing her background in science and medicine to share spiritual knowledge with a wider audience. Her field of interest includes the mind-brain problem and consciousness in human and nonhuman life forms. She is based in Perth, Australia.