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By: Shankaracharya
Commentary: Swami Ranganathananda
Edited: Swami Shuddhidananda
Summary: Satyendra Nath Dwivedi

Part 3


All knowledge begins as a subject knowing an object. At the farthest reach of this
process, through the entire gamut of acquiring positive knowledge. Vedanta
discovered that the mystery of man and nature could be solved first through an
inner penetration to understand the nature of the objective world, followed by a
daring investigation into the nature of knowledge itself. Among the experienced,
the experiencer, and the experience, Vedanta conducted an enquiry into the
nature of ‘experience’ itself. The Sanskrit word for experience is ‘anubhava’,
while the word for knowledge is ‘jnana’. The word for the knower is ‘jnata’, and
that for the object of knowledge is ‘jneya’. In Vedanta ‘jnana’, ‘jneya’ and ‘jnata’
are designated as ‘triputi’, the triple group. Vedanta discovered ‘anubhava’ or
‘jnana’ as the ‘Consciousness-Field’ and all objects (jneyas) and all subjects
(jnatas) as its passing configurations, and this resolved the ‘triputi’ distinction.
And according to it the ultimate reality of Atman or Brahman is of the very nature
of Experience (anubhava-svarupa), of the very nature of knowledge (jnana-
svarupa), of the very nature of consciousness (cit-svarupa).

Some of the greatest utterances of the Upanishads convey this Truth:

“Brahman is Pure Consciousness” [Aitareya Upanishad 5.3]

“Brahman is Truth, Consciousness, and Infinity.” [Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1]

“All this manifested universe is Brahman, this Self is Brahman.” [Mandukya
Upanishad 2]

“There is some entity, eternal by nature, the basis of the experience of ego-
sense, the witness of the three states (of waking, dream and sleep) and distinct
from the five sheaths; which knows everything that happens in the waking state,
in dream and in profound sleep; which is aware of the presence or absence of
the mind and its functions; and which is the background of the notion of egos.
This is That. ”

We read in our schoolbooks that God is omniscient. What does it mean?

Vedanta alone answers this question. Yes, here, in this very human system,
there is a divine reality, which knows everything, which sees everything, and that
is our true nature, and that is God. That is how God is presented in the
Upanishads. That omniscient ‘I’ is the Atman.

Atman is that which is aware of the presence or the absence of the ‘buddhi’ and
its functions. That is the eternally existing ‘I’ watching the buddhi’s functions and
also its disappearance during sleep. The real ‘I’ always exists.

God in Vedanta ceases to be external. He is our own Self. We cannot affirm Him,
and also we cannot deny Him. Our affirmation as well as denial does not make
any difference to the ever-existing entity. It is the witness of both our affirmation
as well as negation. We can just experience Him. That’s something wonderful.
That’s why in Advaita Vedanta there is no fear of God suffering at the hands of
rebellious subjects. God in Advaita Vedanta stands on the solid rock of direct

In the Upanishads our sages subjected the God concepts to a thorough

investigation, turning it upside down, as it were. The God-concepts could not
stand this enquiry at all and vanished one by one. But the real God can never
vanish by such questioning. That questioning turned the vision of our sages
inward. They then discovered the God always available to us directly in our
experience as our eternal Self – the Self of all. It is ever the Self and never the
non-Self. It is the centre of the infinite energies pulsating throughout this
universe. That is God as given in the Upanishads, and later also in Gita and
other Indian books.

Krishna says in the Gita:

“I am the Self in all people.”

“I am the thread that runs through everything in this universe.”

All beautiful ideas have their root in the great investigations of the

“Which itself sees all, but which no one beholds, which illumines the intellect,
etc., but which they cannot illumine. This is That.”

“By which this universe is pervaded, but which nothing pervades, which shining,
all this (universe) shines as its reflection. This is That.

“By whose very presence the body, the organs, mind and intellect keep to their
respective spheres of action, like servants.”

“By which everything from egoism down to the body, the sense objects and
pleasures are known as palpably as a jar – for it is the essence of eternal

When we penetrate into the human system, searching for the true Self, we come
across many pretenders to selfhood. The body, the senses, the mind, and the
intellect – all these are not the Self.

The Upanishads remind us that we are not helpless creatures born to be slaves
to gods. We are one with the Supreme, and even gods cannot prevail over one
who realizes this great truth.

Therefore, the Vedantic message to everyone is that of freedom. Be free!

Freedom is our birthright. That is our true nature. The body, the senses, the
mind, the intellect, and even the ego – none of these are free. The only

source of freedom is the infinite Atman – our true nature. We are the eternal
Knower, the Self, the Seer, and not the known, the non-Self, the object.

“This is the innermost Self, the primeval ‘Purusha’ (Being), whose essence is the
constant realization of infinite Bliss, which is ever the same, yet reflecting
through the different mental modifications, and commanded by which the organs
and ‘Pranas’ perform their functions.”

“In this very body, in the mind full of ‘sattva’, in the secret chamber of intellect, in
the ‘akasha’ known as the un-manifest, the Atman, of charming splendor, shines
like the sun aloft, manifesting this universe through its own effulgence.”

“It is neither born nor dies, It neither grows nor decays, nor does It undergo any
change, being eternal. It does not cease to exist when this body is destroyed,
like the sky in a jar (after it breaks), for It is independent.”

“By means of a regulated mind and the purified intellect (buddhi), realize directly
thy own Self in the body so as to identify yourself with It; cross the boundless
ocean of ‘samsara’ whose waves are birth and death, and firmly established in
Brahman as thy essence, be blessed.”

“Identifying the Self with the non-Self – this is the bondage of man, which is due
to his ignorance and brings in its train the miseries of birth and death. It is
through this that one considers this evanescent body as real, and identifying
oneself with it, nourishes, bathes, and preserves it by means of (agreeable)
sense-objects, by which he becomes bound as caterpillar by threads of its

“As layers of clouds generated by the sun’s rays cover the sun and alone appear
in the sky, so ‘ego’ generated by the Self, covers the reality of the Self and
appears by itself.”

The cloud makes us think that there is no sun in the sky. The cloud then appears
to be the master of the sky. Similarly, the ego, an offshoot of the Atman, hides
the Atman and rules as if there is no Atman at all.

“This bondage of the non-Self springs from ignorance, is self-caused, and is

described as without beginning and end. It subjects one to long train of miseries
such as birth, death, disease, and decrepitude.”

“This bondage can be destroyed neither by weapons, nor by wind, nor by fire,
nor by millions of acts – by nothing except the wonderful sword of knowledge
that comes of discrimination, sharpened by the grace of Lord.”

“One who is passionately devoted to the authority of the ‘Shrutis’ acquires
steadfastness in his ‘svadharma’, which alone conduces to the purity of his mind.
The man of pure mind realizes the Supreme Self, and by this alone ‘samsara’
with its root is destroyed.”

Truth is truth because we can verify it. So when the Upanishads say that we are
the Self, we have to check it for ourselves. And this can be done only with the
help of discrimination between the Self and the non-Self.

“The stupid man thinks he is the body, the book-learned man identifies himself
with the mixture of the body and soul, while the sage possessed of realization
due to discrimination looks upon the eternal Ataman as his Self, and thinks, ‘I am

These are the three levels of consciousness, viz. the body consciousness, the
soul consciousness, and the Brahman or universal consciousness. The tyranny
of the body on the mind and consciousness of man makes for his stagnation in
life. When we are not tied down to the body, we expand. To the extent we are
liberated from the thralldom to the body and the genetic system, we expand,
attaining more subtler and pervasive levels of awareness. Our awareness then
progressively grows in largeness and fullness. We grow from a circumscribed
vision of ourselves to a universal vision. Such a growth is the outcome of the
scientific and moral discipline of detachment. The more we are detached from
our gross personality, the more we expand into the subtler realms.

“O foolish person, cease to identify yourself with this bundle of skin, flesh, fat,
bones, and filth, and identify yourself instead with the Absolute Brahman, the
Self of all, and thus attain to Supreme Peace.”

Vedanta starts the teaching of spirituality with the counsel that we have to detach
ourselves from the body and the little ego presiding over it. These are not our
true identity. We have to treat these as initial data. We need the body for the
investigations into the truth. We need it for dealing with other people in a happy
way. But let us not get stuck up there.

“In dreams, when there is no actual contact with the external world, the mind
alone creates the whole universe consisting of the experiences, etc. Similarly, in
the waking state also, there is no difference. Therefore, all this (phenomenal
universe) is the projection of the mind.”

This is a bold statement coming from Vedanta. Our mind creates our waking
world, its value systems, relationships and everything else. It is as much the
creator of our waking universe as it is of our dream universe. Both stand on the
same pedestal. Our waking world is just as real as our dream world.

A wave rises in the ocean of the universal mind. Its condensation is the world we
experience. Our individual minds are just the outposts of the universal mind.

“In dreamless sleep, when the mind is reduced to its causal state, there exists
nothing (for the person asleep), as is evident from universal experience. Hence
man’s relative existence is simply the creation of his mind, and has no objective

“Clouds are brought in by wind and again driven away by the same agency.
Similarly, man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and liberation is caused by that

“Therefore, the mind is the only cause that brings about man’s bondage or
liberation: when tainted by effects of ‘rajas’ it leads to bondage, and when pure
and divested of the ‘rajas’ and ‘tamas’ elements it conduces to liberation.”

The present verse is an adaptation from ‘Amritabindu’ Upanishad [2]: “Mind

alone is the cause of bondage and liberation of man. When the mind is attached
to the sensory world, it makes for bondage and when it is free from sensory
attachments, it brings freedom.”

“Attaining purity through a preponderance of discrimination and renunciation, the

mind makes for liberation. Hence the wise seeker after liberation must first
strengthen these two.”

“Therefore the seeker after liberation must carefully purify the mind. When this is
purified, liberation is as easy as a fruit on the palm of one’s hand.”

Today what goes in the name of education is mere stuffing of the brain and not
training the mind. And when we talk about training the mind, there in comes
discrimination. When we do not discriminate between real and unreal, good and
bad, right and wrong, we commit blunders and suffer.

For an untrained mind everything in this world seems to be a source of trouble.

With a little mental training, everything becomes wonderful, an occasion for our
spiritual growth and freedom. An undisciplined mind keeps us bound, whereas a
trained and pure mind immediately bestows on us the blessing of freedom.

The ‘Yajur-Veda’ describes man as a huge ocean of desires, always dissatisfied

with what he has and what he gets. When he gets one desired thing, he wants
something else. At the root of this is his sense of incompleteness. It makes him
seek and be attached to the sense objects.

“The buddhi with its modifications and the organs of knowledge forms the
‘knowledge sheath’ of the agent, having the characteristics which are the cause
of man’s transmigration.”

When our buddhi follows dictates of the mind yoked to the senses, it takes our
life’s journey towards bondage, transmigration and suffering. This is typical of an
untrained buddhi and mind. On the contrary, a mind that has been trained to be
detached from the sensory system and be subject to the dictates of the buddhi is
the best guide in our life’s journey. It is a fusion of intelligence, imagination, and
power of will in their purest forms. The impact of this type of buddhi in our life is
powerful and enlightening.

Buddhi is the medium reflecting light of the Atman. The light of the Atman
percolates into the psychophysical system through buddhi. In Vedanta buddhi is
called ‘Nedishtham Brahma’, that which is nearest to the Brahman. Just behind
the buddhi is the Atman. In the Atman’s light the buddhi appears to be illumined.

“The self-effulgent Atman, which is Pure Knowledge, shines in the midst of the
‘Pranas’, within the heart. Though immutable, It becomes the agent and
experiencer owing to Its superimposition, the knowledge sheath.”

“Owing to its connection with the superimpositions, the Supreme Self, even
though naturally perfect and eternally unchanging, assumes the qualities of the
superimpositions and appears to act just as they do – like the changeless fire
assuming the modifications of the iron which it turns red.”

No object can be undivided. This is the challenge of Vedanta. If there is anything

undivided, it is Pure Consciousness, our Self. The undivided reality appears to be
divided in all beings, says the Gita. Due to the Self’s association with the dividing
agents it takes up the features of the later and seems to be limited and divided.
Maya seems to split up the One Truth into many. But that Truth never gets split,
and that truth is consciousness, which alone remains undivided. Everything else
is divisible.

“The cessation of that superimposition takes place through perfect knowledge,
and by no other means. Perfect knowledge, according to the ‘Shrutis’, consists in
the realization of the identity of the individual soul and the Brahman.”

The ‘Anandamaya Kosha’ (blissful sheath) is that modification of nescience

which manifests itself catching a reflection of the Atman which is Bliss Absolute;
whose attributes are pleasure and the rest; and which appears in view when
some subject agreeable to oneself presents itself. It makes itself spontaneously
felt by the fortunate during the fruition of their virtuous deeds; from which every
corporeal being derives great joy without the least effort.”

Bliss is essentially the nature of the Self. There is no bliss anywhere in the
world. All bliss comes from the Self. The intense bliss experienced in deep
sleep is the reflection of the bliss of Self. It is this bliss that is further
experienced in lesser degrees and intensity in the dream and waking states
when our wished-for sensory appetites get fulfilled.

It is the sleep state from which spring the dream and the waking states. It is the
ocean in which our relative personality remains submerged and out of which it
emerges. It is full of bliss because of the complete suspension of the cause and
effect processes and the resultant effort seen in other sheaths. In the dream and
waking states the soul experiences fatigue caused by the careless interaction of
the ego with objects. Freed from such interactions, and consequently freed from
fatigue and tension, which is otherwise the characteristic of the other two states,
this state is marked by an effortless bliss experienced by the soul.

“The ‘blissful sheath’ has its fullest play during profound sleep, while in the
dreaming and waking states it has only a partial manifestation, occasioned by
the sight of agreeable objects and so forth.”

Whenever we desire some sensory gratification, the lake of our mind

breaks into waves. When the desire is gratified, the waves of the mind
subside and calm down, allowing the inherent joy of the Self to radiate.
Thus every time we desire joy from sensory gratification; the joy actually
comes not from the sense object but from deep within when the mind

becomes calm. But in ignorance we think the joy to be coming from the
object. All joy is within the Self. The disturbed state of mind obstructs the
manifestation of this joy, and a calm mind allows the inner joy to radiate
out. This is the psychology of happiness and joy.

By a process of deep enquiry, we negate the five sheaths one by one, saying, “I
am not this ‘physical sheath’, not the ‘sheath of bio-energy’, not the ‘mental
sheath’, not the ‘sheath of buddhi’, and not even the ‘sheath of bliss’. I cannot be
any of these objects. I am essentially, the Subject, the Self.” This is the method
described in the scriptures as far as realization of the Self is concerned. The
scriptures always describe the Self negatively as ‘not this’, ‘not this’. What the
Self is cannot be stated positively. It cannot be the subject of speech or words. It
is beyond verbal description.

Finally, we have to experience the Self. Scriptures are nothing but the
experiences of the sages who have realized the Self. Their experience is not
ours; we have to realize the Self ourselves. But the method they adopted will
help and guide us. The three steps are ‘Shruti’ (listening about the Self from
scriptures), then ‘Yukti’ (reasoning) and finally ‘Anubhuti’ (experiencing).

“This self-effulgent Atman which is distinct from the five sheaths, the Witness of
the here states, the Real, the Changeless, the Untainted, the everlasting Bliss –
is to be realized by the wise man as his own Self.”

Physics describes energy in two forms: ‘bottled-up energy’ and ‘released energy’.
Matter is bottled-up energy. When we break matter, we get released energy.
Similarly, we are all bottled-up Self. When we penetrate into ourselves through
the process of philosophical reasoning, the imprisoned splendor, our Self, is

God is not an object among objects. It is our Self, the eternal Subject,
which is the Self of all.

(To be Continued)

Summary: Satyendra Nath Dwivedi