by Swami Krishnananda
All that we appear to be in our own selves, such as the body, the vital breath, the mind, the intellect and the causal body, have been proved to be outside consciousness. These apparent sheaths of personality are not our essential nature. They are contents of consciousness, but they are not consciousness itself. They stand outside consciousness; therefore, they are known by consciousness as existing. Consciousness knows that there is a body and that there are other similar sheaths, but there is no one who can know consciousness. It stands by itself, unrelated to anything else – pure subjectivity, totally independent, and immortal in its nature.
When we gradually isolate the association of consciousness with the five sheaths, we may feel that there is nothing left afterwards. If we analyse the detached state of consciousness as isolated from the five sheaths, we will not be able to know that there is a consciousness at all. When all things have gone, nothing remains. We will feel that nothing in us remains, because everything that we considered ourselves to be has gone. We have been under the impression throughout our lives that we are this body, and if it has gone, we have also gone; so, we cannot come to any other conclusion other than, that when we eliminate from consciousness all contact with the five sheaths, we will arrive at some kind of self-annihilation, as it were.
The feeling of nothingness, or a kind of vacuum within ourselves, arises on account of our habit of being conscious only of something, and never being adequately self-consciousness. All our consciousness is ‘of’ something. There is a word ‘of’. “I am aware of something.” But who are ‘we’? That is the question. We are aware of something. Are we that thing of which we are aware? Are we the object which is the content of our awareness? Can we say that we are the object? If not, what are we?
The thing that is aware is different from that of which one is aware. The body, the vital breath, the mind, intellect and the causal body are known by consciousness; therefore, they stand external to consciousness. How could we be outside our own self? We cannot be anything other than what we really are. And yet, because of the habit of consciousness getting identified with what it knows, and there being nothing here, in this case, of which it can be aware, there is a temporary lull and the negation of all existence, as it were; and we feel deprived of the very support even to think.
It is not that there is nothing. There is everything there. It is only the inability of the mind to think its own source. We are unable to assert that there is something other than the five sheaths – because there is no means of knowledge adequate enough to be aware of what there is, that is independent of the five sheaths. How can we know – by what means can we know – whether there is something or not, independent of the five sheaths? The faculty of knowledge – which is the reason, the mind and the intellect – comes under the sheaths, which have been eliminated.
So the highest faculty of knowledge is also gone. Therefore, there is a feeling of nothingness. When the faculty of knowledge itself has gone, knowledge of everything has also gone. So it is that we feel a kind of darkness, a kind of emptiness, as if we have ceased to be, while really we are very, very much there – only, as they say, due to the excess of light, everything looks dark. If the light frequency rises beyond a certain limit, we will see only pitch darkness, and light will not be there. Only a low frequency light can be caught by the retina of our eyes.
Nanu deham upakramya nidrā nandānta vastuṣu, mā bhūdā-tmatvam-anyastu na kaścid-anubhūyate (11). The disciple is telling the Guru, “I am not seeing anything, if everything has gone. If the five sheaths have gone, I don’t see anything there.”
Bāḍhaṁ nidrādayaḥ sarve’nubhūyante na cetaraḥ, tathā’pyete’nubhūyante yena taṁ ko nivārayet (12). The Guru says, “My dear boy, you are saying that you know nothing, but do you know that you know nothing? Or do you not know even that? Are you aware that you are not aware of anything? Do you know the contradiction involved in your statement? You said, ‘In deep sleep I did not know anything’; but are you making a statement that you did not know anything? Who is making this statement? You are aware of the fact that you are not aware of anything. This is what you are not able to catch. So even in the deep sleep state, where abolition of consciousness apparently takes place, there is something remaining which makes you subsequently feel that you did sleep.” Even the negation of consciousness requires a consciousness to negate it and, therefore, nobody can negate consciousness. It is an untenability.
Svaya-mevā-nubhūti-tvād-vidyate nānu-bhāvyatā, jñātṛ-jñānān-tarā bhāvāḍ-ajñeyo na tva-sattayā (13). We are unable to locate the existence of something independent of the five sheaths on account of there being no process of knowing. This is a mass of knowledge, but not a process of knowledge. In our normal waking condition, there is a process of knowledge. Somebody is there, knowing that there is something which is to be known. And also, there is a process which is the intellect operating in connection with the subject of knowledge and also the object outside. But where the knower alone is, as the very essence of consciousness, how would that knower know anything other than itself? Therefore, the apparent fear that nothing seems to be there upon the elimination of contact with the five sheaths arises because the knowledge process has been shut out, together with all the faculties that caused this process of knowledge. There is no knowledge of anything there; it is only a sea of knowledge.
On account of there being no distinction between the knower and the known, between the seer and the seen, it is impossible for anyone to know that anything is existing there at all. The apparent non-existence of things is a consequence that follows from the absence of the usual empirical processes of knowledge, and not that knowledge is not there.
Mādhuryādi-svabhāvānām-anyatra sva-guṇār piṇām, svasmin-stad-arpaṇā-pekṣā no na cā-stya nyadar pakam (14). Sugar, which is very sweet, can make other things sweet. But it does not require any other substance to make itself sweet. In a similar way, consciousness can render consciousness to other things which have no consciousness, but nobody can give consciousness to consciousness. Nobody can know consciousness. Consciousness can know everything, but the things which consciousness knows cannot render any assistance to consciousness. It is independent, as sugar does not require the assistance of something else in order to make it sweet.
Arpakāntara-rāhityepi astyeṣāṁ tat svabhāvatā, mā bhūttathā’nubhāvyatvaṁ bodhātmā tu na hītyate (15). Even if there is no element which can increase the sweetness of sugar, the sweetness of sugar continues. Even if there is no object of which consciousness may be aware of, still consciousness remains, independent of objects.
The usual identification of consciousness with objects and the wrong notion that knowledge is always of something other than consciousness is the reason why we feel helpless when we eliminate the object from pure subjective awareness. After eliminating all things, even going to the extent of accepting that there is nothing whatsoever after the elimination of the five sheaths, there remains the consciousness that makes this statement. So there is an undeniable reality at the back of all things, even if we suppose for a moment that we ourselves do not exist. If we can stretch our imagination to that extent and strongly imagine that we do not exist, we will feel that there is a consciousness which is affirming that we do not exist. So nobody can go behind consciousness. It is the last, ultimate residuum of reality.
Svayaṁ jyotir-bhavateṣa puro’smād bhāsate’khilāt, tameva bhāntam-anveti taḍ-bhāsā bhāsyate jagat (16). Self-luminous is consciousness, like the sun. The sun is self-luminous. It does not require another candle to illumine it. No oil lamp is necessary to increase or reveal the light of the sun. Self-conscious and self-luminous is consciousness. It knows not only others, but it knows itself also. It is self-conscious, and also other-conscious. It is aware that it is there, and it is aware that other things also are there.
This is a quotation from the Katha Upanishad and the Mundaka Upanishad. Na tatra sūrya bhāti, na candra-tārakam (Katha 2.3.15, Mundaka 2.2.11): In that state of absolute luminosity, the sun and the moon and the stars do not shine. All the greatest radiance that we can think of in this world is like darkness before that supernal light. All the light that we can imagine in our mind is borrowed light – borrowed from that eternal light. The eternity itself does not require any light from the world. All light comes from that Supreme Being, and by Itself It is self-luminous. The whole world is illuminated by Its existence.
Yenedaṁ jānate sarvaṁ tatkenānyena jānatam, vijñātāraṁ kena vidyāt-śaktaṁ vedye tu sādhanam (17). Yajnavalkya, the great seer of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, is quoted here in this verse. He declares that, “Where there is another, other than oneself, one can see the other. Where there is something other than oneself, one can hear the other, touch the other, taste the other, smell the other, and so on. Where there is nothing outside one’s own consciousness, what will be seen there in front of oneself? Who will see what? Who will hear what? Who will touch what? The universality of consciousness precludes any possibility of knowing that something is there outside.
While all things can be known by the knower, who can know the knower? If we say that the knower is known by another knower behind – the consciousness that knows the world is perhaps having another consciousness behind it – then who will be aware of that second consciousness? So we can go on arguing indefinitely by way of an infinite regress, where we will come to no conclusion. There is a consciousness behind consciousness; ultimately there is only consciousness, and nothing else.
Who can know That, with the help of which everything else is known here? Who can know the knower? Vijñātāraṁ kena vidyāt-śaktaṁ vedye tu sādhanam: Knowledge is possible only when there is something other than the principle of knowledge. When the principle of knowledge has flooded the whole cosmos, who will know what? There is just pure Eternal Subjectivity, the nature of consciousness.