by Swami Krishnananda
Brahmaṇyā ropita tvena brahmā vasthe ime iti, na śaṅka nīyaṁ sarvaṣāṁ brahmaṇye vādhi ropaṇāt (40). The seven stages – namely, ignorance, veil, vikshepa or distraction, indirect knowledge, direct knowledge, freedom from sorrow, and attainment of bliss – these seven stages are the stages through which the jiva has to pass. They are superimposed on the jiva, and there is tadatmya adhyasa – mutual superimposition – between the condition of the jiva and the stages mentioned.
It should not be supposed that Brahman, the Absolute, has anything to do with these stages. We may not argue that the stages are superimposed on the imperishable Brahman. That would be to argue that clouds are obstructing the sun. The clouds are not obstructing the sun at all. They are obstructing our vision of the sun. The clouds are not superimposed on the sun so that the sun may be affected by the clouds. Hence, in spite of the fact that there is a complete darkness, as it were, as sometimes when there are thick monsoon clouds during the day, we cannot say that these clouds have affected the sun in any way whatsoever. The sun may not even be aware of what is happening in the world.
Thus, these processes, these seven stages – ignorance onwards until liberation – are conditioning factors of the jiva only and are not to be imagined as being superimposed on Brahman because in that case the whole universe is superimposed on Brahman. There is nothing special about it.
Saṁsārya haṁ vibuddho’haṁ niḥśoka stuṣṭa ityapi, jīvagā uttarā vasthā bhānti na brahmagā yadi. (41). Tarhyajño’haṁ brahma sattva bhāne maddṛṣṭito na hi, iti pūrve avasthe ca bhāsete jīvage khalu (42). All these stages, such as the feeling, "I am samsari, I am bound to earthly existence" and "I am liberated, I am free, I am endowed with knowledge, I am now free from sorrow and I am enjoying bliss or happiness" – are subsequent stages of the jiva only. They are subsequent to the preceding stages, namely, ajnana and avarana, ignorance and veiling. They may appear to be superimposed on Brahman, yet they should not be considered as really connected with Brahman in any way whatsoever because the feelings "I am ignorant" and "I am free" cannot arise in Brahman. Even if there is an eclipse of the sun, the sun is not affected by it. The eclipse is only for us who perceive it.
It is a very difficult situation before us when we have to face this quandary of finding a location for these seven stages. All these arguments of the verses arise on account of this peculiar difficulty, namely, where do these seven stages find their location? They must be existing somewhere. Even a process should have some background in order that the process may have some meaning. If the river is flowing, there must be a riverbed that is not flowing.
Now, these seven stages are like processes. They cannot be considered to be moving as processes on Brahman as the base – though, in a way, we may say Brahman is the substratum for all things. To bring the analogy of the sun and the clouds, etc., we may say that everything is caused by the sun. Even the movement of the clouds and the darkening that is caused by the movement of the clouds are all to be attributed only to the sun, of course. Yet nothing is to be attributed to the sun.
Though nothing can exist here in this world – neither bondage nor freedom can exist without Brahman's existence – yet Brahman is uncontaminated with these processes. They are connected only with the jiva. As there are only two principles before us, Brahman and jiva, the processes should belong to one of them. As it is not possible to attribute these stages to Brahman, they have to be attributed only to the jiva. There is no other alternative for us.
Ajñāna syāśrayo brahmeti adhiṣṭhān tayā jaguḥ, jīvā vasthātvam ajñānā bhimā nitvā davā diṣam (43). Is not ignorance rooted in Brahman? Is Brahman not the source of avidya? Where is avidya located? Where is its support? We accept that even ignorance has to find a support; and the ultimate support being Brahman itself for all things, we may in a way concede that Brahman is the support even of ignorance. Yet, it is only a theoretical concession given to Brahman being the substratum of ignorance. Direct organic connection between ignorance and Brahman cannot be there because if a real connection is to be established between ignorance and Brahman, Brahman would be ignorant. It wouldn't be conscious of anything whatsoever.
In order to consider Brahman as the ultimate source of all things, including the jiva and its seven stages, we have said that Brahman is the source of all; but when we say that Brahman is the source of all, we do not actually mean that it is contaminated by the seven stages. Neither is Brahman bound, nor does it aspire for liberation. It only has a relation with jiva. Inasmuch as ultimately everything has to be based on Brahman, we said everything, including the jiva and its ignorance, are also rooted in Brahman. But this is a theoretical concession. Practically, they are not related.
It is something like saying that the sun is the cause of theft taking place in a house. Because there was sunlight, the thief had free access into someone's house. If it was pitch darkness, midnight, it would have been difficult. The sun has contributed to the theft that took place in the house because without its light, the thief would not have succeeded. Can we say the thief has collaborated with the sun? Can we say that some part of the offense goes to the sun because he gave the light? Such is the argument here when we impose the qualities of jiva, such as the seven stages, on Brahman, though without Brahman the stages cannot be there.
Jñāna dvayen naṣṭe’sminn ajñāne tat kṛtāvṛtiḥ, na bhāti nāsti cetyeṣā dvividhāpi vinaṣyati (44). When the two types of knowledge arise in a person, namely indirect knowledge and direct knowledge – that is to say, knowledge derived through study of scriptures and knowledge derived from instruction through a Guru, which is called indirect knowledge, which is to be succeeded by direct knowledge or actual experience – when these two types of knowledge properly take effect, ajnana and all its effects, such as avarana, are destroyed. Then that original ignorance which caused the feeling that Brahman does not exist or Brahman is not known at all – these two types of erroneous feelings also go away, together with the ignorance which was their cause. The two types of knowledge, indirect and direct, dispel ignorance and all the effects of ignorance, such as the wrong notion that God does not exist or that there is no proof for the existence of God because God is not visible. This kind of erroneous argument based on ignorance also gets dispelled when knowledge dawns in a person in both indirect and direct forms.
Parokṣa jñānato naśyet asattvā vṛti hetutā, aparokṣa jñāna nāśyā hyabhāna vṛti hetutā (45). There are two kinds of ignorance, two phases of ignorance, rather: asattavarana and abhana avarana. Due to the avarana of maya, known as asattavarana, one has no consciousness of even the existence of Brahman. Even the remote idea of their being such a thing as Brahman cannot arise in the mind due to this avarana called asattavarana. Avarana, or veil, instils the wrong notion into the mind so that one is made to feel it does not exist. The indirect knowledge which is obtained through study as well as instruction from a Guru is capable of destroying that secondary ignorance which makes us feel that God does not exist, Brahman does not exist, etc. The proper instruction received from the Guru will dispel this peculiar secondary ignorance which is the cause of the feeling that God does not exist or Brahman is not there.
The other one is abhana avarana, the veil that covers the consciousness of there being such a thing at all called Brahman. Direct knowledge or actual experience of Brahman dispels the other kind of ignorance which covers the consciousness of Brahman. That is to say, direct knowledge or experience makes one immediately conscious of Brahman as identical with one's own self.
Abhānā varaṇe naṣṭe jīvatvā ropa saṁkṣayāt, kartṛtvā dyakhilaḥ śokaḥ saṁsārākhyo nivartate (46). This great problem of life, which is called samsara with all its concomitants like the feeling of agency in action, kartritva, and bhoktritva or enjoyment of fruits of action – all these appurtenances connected with the very existence of people in the world, samsara, all vanish in one minute when abhana avarana, the veil that covers the consciousness in respect of Brahman's existence, is dispelled by direct experience.
Nivṛtte sarva saṁsāre nitya muktatva bhāsanāt, niraṅkuśā bhavet tṛptiḥ punaḥ śokā samudbhavāt (47). When the entanglement of the jiva in the world and the feeling that one is entangled in samsara vanishes on account of the other feeling that one is now free from all these entanglements, unlimited bliss arises inside because no sorrow can once again inflict the person. Once ignorance has vanished, it cannot come again. Then the happiness that we experience at that time, the bliss of experience, is indescribable, unthinkable, passing understanding.
Aparokṣa jñāna śoka nivṛttyākhya ubhe ime, avasthe jīvage brute ātmānaṁ cediti śrutiḥ (48). If the verse that was quoted in the beginning of this chapter from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: ātmānaṁ cet vijānīyāt ayam asmīti pūrusaḥ, kimicchan kasya kāmāya śarīram anu sanjvaret is understood and appreciated in its true meaning, the meaning that comes out is this: The Atman that is referred to in this verse of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, indicated by the word purusha, is the same jiva about which we have been talking about and describing in the earlier verses, whose ignorance is to be dispelled by indirect knowledge derived from scripture, Guru’s instruction, and direct experience. The conditions of sorrow which are supposed to be dispelled by the indirect knowledge derived from scripture and the grace of the Guru are associates of the jiva consciousness only.
Ayamitya parokṣatvam uktaṁ tad dvividhaṁ bhavet, viṣaya svaprakāśatvāt dhiyā pyevaṁ tadīkṣanāt (49). Ayam asmīti pūrusaḥ: The word ‘ayam’ is used in this verse of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. What is “this purusha”? Who is “this”? The word ‘this’ here indicates the direct awareness of the jiva's experience, which is of a twofold character. The experience of the Atman in us is of a twofold nature – that is, it is indirect sometimes and direct at other times. It is impossible to gain its meaning through intellectual arguments. When the intellect tries to comprehend the nature of the Atman, the Atman looks like something paroksa – that is, an object of consciousness to be known in the future – and that is why we, who use our reason and argument and study, etc., for the purpose of knowing the truth, still have the feeling that it is a future experience that is going to take place. That is, God-realisation is something that is yet to take place, either tomorrow or the day after, or later.
The idea itself is unfounded because the idea of tomorrow or the day after cannot arise in Brahman, because it is eternity. Ideas of tomorrow, etc., are connected with the time process. Timeless eternity does not have ‘tomorrow’, etc.; therefore, the experience of Brahman is not a future experience that is yet to come. It is an indescribable at-one-ment now, here, and not somewhere else and not tomorrow. It is just now.
But also, at the same time, we feel it is identical with our own selves – sva-prakasa. We cannot alienate ourselves into something else. We always feel that we are what we are. The consciousness that I am is so very intensely felt by me that it cannot be an object of my intellectual argument or ratiocination. It is a direct, immediate experience.
So the Atman consciousness even here is partially a direct experience in the case of our own feeling of identity with ourselves and per se it is indirect also, when the intellect begins to feel that it has to be realised sometime in the future.
Parokṣa jñāna kāle’pi viṣaya svaprakāśatā, samā brahma svaprakāśam astī tyevaṁ vibodhanāt (50). Even when we receive instruction from a Guru or study a scripture, some kind of illumination takes place. It is not that study is entirely useless or satsanga is useless or instruction from the Guru is useless. That is not the case. They have the capacity to create in us an indirect apprehension of the nature of reality. Though it is indirect, it is an apprehension nevertheless. We believe that God exists. We have not contacted God, no doubt, but our belief is so firm that it has become a conviction in us and it is certainly a knowledge.
The indubitable conviction that is in our mind that God must exist and is certainly there – Brahman is there, and has to be there – is not, of course, direct experience, yet it is a kind of experience. It is of great utility in further progress because even in this indirect stage of knowledge, the light of Brahman illumines itself through the words of the Guru on the one hand, and manana – the intellectual investigative process – and nididhyasana conducted by the disciple.
Ahaṁ brahme tyanullikhya brahmā stītyeva mullikhet, parokṣa jñāna metanna bhrāntaṁ bādhānirūpaṇāt (51). "God exists. God is inseparable from me." These two statements have two different meanings. God may exist, and yet He may be separable from us. He may be very far away, so many light years distant from us that he may look like an unreachable Being; yet the belief that God exists, persists. But that God's existence is inseparable from our existence is a greater consolation to us than merely the knowledge that God exists. Asti Brahma means Brahman exists. Aham Brahma means I am verily that. After the assertion or the conviction that Brahman is, the other experience has to dawn in the person – namely, "I am that very thing. I am that."
This kind of experience which is for the time being designated as indirect knowledge is not to be shunned as of no utility, because this indirect knowledge itself gradually ripens into direct experience. The direct experience does not negate the indirect knowledge that we have already acquired. It only fructifies in a more mature manner. The earlier experience of the fact that Brahman exists will become more mature and get fructified in the subsequent experience, "I am verily that." Asti Brahma and Aham Brahma –"Brahman is" and "I am verily that" – are not two contradictory experiences. The one leads to the other.
Brahma nāstīti mānaṁ cet syāt bādhyet tata dhruvam, na caivaṁ prabalaṁ mānaṁ paśyāmo’to na bādhyate (52). The feeling that sometimes arises in people that Brahman does not exist is a feeling that is contradictable, but this feeling is not a real proof as to the non-existence of Brahman. We cannot deny Brahman merely because we have a feeling that it does not exist. The existence of Brahman is not denied or refuted by any kind of feeling that it may not exist at all. The feeling is refutable by the subsequent experience that is to follow – namely, that it does not merely exist, it is inseparable from the experiencer himself.
Vyaktya nullekha mātreṇa bramatve svarga dhīrapi, bhrānti syāt vyaktya nullekhāt sāmānyo lledha darśanāt (53). Indirect knowledge which only provides us information as to the existence of a thing is of great utility indeed. We cannot say it is useless. We hear from the scriptures that such a thing called swarga, or heaven, exists. This knowledge is not unreal merely because we have not reached heaven. Reaching heaven is a greater experience, no doubt, but the knowledge that such a thing as heaven exists is also useful.
Hence, the existence aspect of Brahman which becomes the content of indirect knowledge should not be considered as ignorance. Many people feel that intellectual knowledge, learning, are absolutely useless. It is not so because there is an organic connection between the lower knowledge and the higher knowledge. The genius that a person is when he grows into maturity may not reject the childhood in which he was once upon a time, though there is a world of difference between the babyhood that he was and the genius that he is today. That little baby grew into this genius.
Therefore, the great difference that is observable between the two states is no argument for the non-utility of the earlier stage. All knowledge which is rational, intellectual, scriptural and that which is obtained through the Guru is very useful. It will itself mature into direct experience later on. The lower knowledge becomes higher knowledge by growth in its dimension and in its quality.
Aparokṣatva yogyasya na parokṣa matir bhramaḥ, parokṣa mityanu llekhāt arthāt pārokṣya saṁbhavāt (54). The knowledge that God exists is a great solace even to the ignorant man. It gives us some comfort that there is a protecting force somewhere. Also, the conviction that God, wherever He be, is also omnipotent gives us a further comfort that He is capable of redressing our sorrows. The very existence of a protecting power and the existence in that power of the capacity to protect is a solace indeed. So the knowledge that is obtained through the Guru and the scripture is of great utility. It is not to be dubbed as indirect and paroksa. It is the pedestal on which we have to stand to rise above it, beyond its ken of experience. There is a higher knowledge which rises above it, no doubt, but does not contradict it. The higher rises above the lower, but the higher does not contradict or negate the lower.
Aṅśā gṛhīter bhrānti ścet ghaṭa jñānaṁ bhramo bhavet, niraṁśa syāpi sānśatvaṁ vyāvar tyāṁśa vibhedataḥ (55). One may feel that indirect knowledge is of not much use because it gives only partial knowledge; the entire knowledge is not available through indirect experience. This is also not true because if we have a partial perception of a pot that is placed in front of us, it does not mean that we are not seeing the pot. The partiality in perception does not negate the reality of the perception. And so, the argument that indirect knowledge will provide only a partial aspect of knowledge of Brahman is not an argument against its utility.
Even if Brahman has no parts, no phases, there are logical phases. Mathematically or geographically calculable phases are not there in Brahman. We cannot measure the length and breadth of Brahman, that is true. But we can conceive aspects of Brahman from the point of view of the degree in which we can comprehend the reality in accordance with our mental capacity.
Thus, the partial knowledge that the indirect knowledge provides us does not negate its utility. It is as good as the whole, just as the perception of a part of an object is not anything else than the perception of the object itself, though not of the entire object.
Asattvāṁśo nivarteta parokṣa jñānata stathā, abhānāṁśa nivṛttiḥ syāt aparokṣa dhiyā kṛta (56). Asattavarana and abhana avarana are the two kinds of veil, as I mentioned. The asatta aspect, or the non-existence aspect of Brahman, which is a part of the ignorance, is dispelled by indirect knowledge. But the unknowableness of Brahman, which is caused by the other aspect of ignorance – abhana avarana, is dispelled by direct knowledge. Asattavarana and abhana avarana are the two veils which are dispelled respectively by indirect knowledge and direct knowledge.