by Swami Krishnananda
“If one realises that one’s essential nature is the Atman, then, desiring what, and for what purpose, should one identify oneself with the body?” We shall discuss here the true import of this scriptural statement.
The entire creation is a joint action of Isvara and Jiva, one providing the material, and the other the means of experience. It was already noticed that the creation of Isvara extends from His original Will to diversify Himself to the act of His animation of all individualities; and the creation of Jiva commences from the waking consciousness and ends in final liberation from individuality (Vide, Aitareya Upanishad). The Jiva, which is the cause of its own bondage, is in essence the Kutastha-Atman, but, somehow, it begins to assume an independence and importance by mutual transference of attributes between the Atman and the Chidabhasa, and by considering that the intellect is its real form. There is no such thing as Jiva independent of the Kutastha, because the former cannot exist without the latter. The feeling of Jivahood arises when the Chidabhasa, which is an appearance of Kutasthta in the intellect, is identified with the three bodies, and gets used to feel that it is a part of Samsara. When the time comes for the Jiva, in a state of maturity, to discard its personality and individuality, and accept the presence of its own higher Self, then it is that it begins to feel its oneness with the unattached Atman.
Though the Atman has no feeling of ‘I’-ness, the feeling ‘I am the Atman’ is possible, as there are two subtle meanings of the term ‘I’, other than the ordinary one that is known in connection with the body by a mixing up of the natures of Kutastha and Chidabhasa. An illumined soul has a deep consciousness whereby there arises an occasional feeling of the body and the world, simultaneously with the constant feeling that he is the Atman. This is possible due to his being in a state of Sattva, where is a clear discernment of the presence of the original universality, though the limitation of the reflection is also felt together. Hence, while referring to bodily actions, the knower refers to the lower ‘I’ or Chidabhasa, and when feeling that he is the Absolute, he makes reference to the higher ‘I’, or Kutastha. It is not easily understandable as to how one and the same person has two feelings at the same time. But it is an uncommon possibility with a sage, due to the Jiva being an appearance and yet rooted in the Atman. The Chidabhasa asserts: ‘I am the Atman’, because its meaning is in the Atman, as a reflection has meaning only in its original.
As the Chidabhasa is entirely dependent on the Kutastha, it has no independent reality. Hence its activities, also, have no reality of their own. The efforts of the Chidabhasa are within Samsara, and even its lofty aspirations in the form of the spiritual quest are within phenomena, though this highest work on its part is capable of removing its ignorance and awakening it into a sublime Consciousness. As the movement of a rope-snake is not real, so are the changes of the Chidabhasa, by themselves. From this it would follow that the knowledge which the Chidabhasa is endeavouring to attain would also be unreal; but this is no fault; for, to dispel what is not really there, a knowledge which is of the same category of being would suffice. As a certain experience in dream may awaken the dreamer from the dream, though that experience is within the dream, the spiritual endeavour of the Chidabhasa in the form of meditation on the Kutastha-Atman brings about its liberation, though this process is within the realm of appearance in which the Chidabhasa is involved. It is in the culmination of this knowledge that the Chidabhasa begins to feel its identity with the Kutastha, by dissociating itself from the feeling of the body. Its liberation becomes complete when it reaches a certainty of consciousness that it is the Atman, as intensely as it feels that it is the body in the worldly state. It begins to realise: ‘I am this Atman’. (Verses 1-20)
A distinction between direct and indirect knowledge, as well as knowledge and ignorance, in the case of the Atman, is possible, as could be illustrated by the following analogy:
One of the ten persons that crossed a river, while counting the number among them that have safely reached the other bank, lost consciousness of one among them, namely himself, by forgetting himself in directing his attention entirely to the others whom he was counting. This state of not finding the tenth person out of the group, though he is really there, is Ajnana or ignorance of truth. The consequent feeling that the tenth person is not there, and is not seen, is Avarana or the veil that casts itself over one’s consciousness. The subsequent grief, due to the feeling that the tenth person is dead, is Vikshepa or the distraction that arises out of it. The faith that the tenth person is alive, which arises when they are told about the fact by a friend who passes by, is the indirect knowledge obtained through a teacher, that the object of quest is, after all, there. When the tenth man is told that he himself is the one whom he has been searching all the while, the knowledge that arises in him, then, indirect knowledge or experience. This leads to the satisfaction that the object sought for has been gained, and all sorrow departs.
The Chidabhasa is in a similar position. It is the tenth man struggling in ignorance and its effects. It is engrossed in the perception of the world of objects, and as its attention is completely lost in them, it never realises that there is the eternal Atman, which is itself in truth. This is Ajnana. It further feels that the Atman is not there, and is not seen. This is Avarana. It then feels, again, that it is the doer, enjoyer, and so on. This is Vikshepa. When a competent person instructs it that the Atman exists, it has Paroksha-Jnana, or indirect knowledge. When it is told that it is itself the Atman, and there comes about this realisation due to intense meditation, there is Aparoksha-Jnana or direct knowledge. Then the grief-ridden world, with agency, enjoyment, etc., vanishes, and it arrives at the supreme satisfaction that on the realisation of the Atman, everything necessary has been done, and obtained. Here the goal of life of the Chidabhasa is reached. (Verses 21-32)
The stages of knowledge mentioned above, are conditions of the Chidabhasa. Of these seven stages, viz., ignorance (Ajnana), veil (Avarana), distraction (Vikshepa), indirect knowledge (Paroksha-Jnana), direct knowledge (Aparoksha-Jnana), freedom from sorrow (Sokamoksha), and satisfaction (Tripti), the first three are the sources of bondage, while the later stages are processes of the liberation of the Chidabhasa. Ajnana or ignorance is the condition wherein seated the Jiva has no knowledge, at all, of there being such reality as the Atman. It is the state where there is not even the feeling that one is in a state of ignorance. It is complete obscuration of knowledge, and absence of an awakening into the true state of affairs. On account of restricting oneself entirely to the intellectual ways of approach and not receiving inspiration from the revelations of the scriptures and the words of saints and sages, the Jiva begins to feel, as a consequence of ignorance, that the Atman is not there and is not known. This is the effect of Ajnana. Its further effect is body-consciousness by which there is an intensification of Jivahood and engagement in actions with the notions of agency, or doership and enjoyership. This is the Samsara of the Jiva to which it gets bound. Though Ajnana and Avarana are prior to the active appearance of the Chidabhasa, they are to be regarded as its own conditions, since they cannot be states of the Atman, and, also, they are merely the causal conditions of the Chidabhasa, to sprout later. There is the Samskara or impression of the Vikshepa even before its actual rising into visibility. It is this Samskara that exists in a latent form as Ajnana and Avarana. Nor can it be thought that these are states of Brahman, just because they are superimposed on it, for, in fact, everything in this world is superimposed on Brahman. Hence, the Jiva’s subsequent feeling of being in bondage, having knowledge, getting freed, and attaining joy, as also its conditions of ignorance, and the feeling that there is neither existence nor knowledge of the Atman, are its own relative conditions, whether manifest or unmanifest. The superimposition on Brahman is made by the Jiva. Brahman, by itself, has nothing to do with this superimposition. Brahman is the final substratum of the appearance of Ajnana and its effects, while the Jiva is the experiencer of these, and is involved in their meshes. By the indirect knowledge received through a Teacher, the Jiva knows that the Atman is, and by the direct knowledge attained through realisation, it merges in the Atman. When knowledge of the Atman arises, the idea of Jivahood vanishes, and together with it the feelings of doership and enjoyership, etc., as well as the whole world of bondage and sorrow. On account of the complete removal of Samsara of the Jiva by the illumination of knowledge, there shines forth the experience of eternal freedom, and unfettered bliss which knows no end.
Aparoksha-Jnana, and the removal of sorrow by means of it, are the conditions of the Jiva. It is this truth that has been revealed in the verse quoted from the Upanishad, in the beginning of this section. Aparoksha-Jnana is only a continuation and deepening, and not a negation, of Paroksha-Jnana. As the Atman is self-luminous, and thereby its existence is recognised by the purified intellect, it can be said that knowledge of the Atman has two aspects or stages, in one of which there is immediate realisation of its essence, and in the other there is only a mediate knowledge in regard to its existence alone. The characters of reality known are the same both in indirect and direct knowledge. Notwithstanding that there is a difference in the quality of experience in the two stages, Paroksha-Jnana is valid, since it refers to certain facts about Brahman, and not unrealities.
It is not that the existence of Brahman as indirectly known in Paroksha-Jnana is contradicted in Aparoksha-Jnana, for what takes place in the latter is an intensification and exaltation of the contents of the former, but not a negation of them, since it is never seen that Brahman’s existence is subject to contradiction. Just as we have a real, though inadequate, knowledge of existence of heavenly regions, etc., from scriptures, there is an inadequacy, but not unreality, in Paroksha knowledge of Brahman. The aspect of Brahman that is known in Paroksha-Jnana is its existence, and the aspect that is realised in Aparoksha-Jnana is its essential nature as Consciousness. The veil over the ‘existence’ is removed in Paroksha-Jnana, while the observation of the ‘Consciousness’ is removed in Aparoksha-Jnana. As in the case of the tenth person in the analogy cited, the knowledge of the existence of the tenth person derived by hearing it from a friend is real and not invalid in any way, the knowledge that is derived from the Preceptor as to the existence of Brahman is a fact that is not going to be contradicted, later. As, when true knowledge dawns that the one who is counting is himself the tenth person, he would include himself in counting the members of the group, and would not forget himself as he did before, so the Chidabhasa which, in its state of ignorance, forgot itself while being engrossed in the objects of the world, would always take into consideration its essential universal nature in reckoning the five sheaths and in its dealings with anything in this world, when it awakens to the knowledge that what it sought for in the world of objects has been its own Self, and not anything lying away from it. After the dawn of knowledge, the forgetfulness of the Atman will never recur again, wherever one may find oneself in the world, and in whatever condition, and it would then be immaterial where and how one is, because of the certainty of realisation that the supreme objective of quest has been attained.