PART I: THE FOUNDATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY
Chapter 4: The Atman
The Indubitability of the Self
Man’s life on earth is a continuous flow of events, and no event seems to be lasting. There is always a desire to grasp and hold something else, something different from and better than what is possessed at the present. This longing appears to have no end, and it does not seem to lead one to any definite goal. There are only anxiety, vexation, craving and dissatisfaction visible everywhere. Unrest and pain are seen riding over all things in the world. The drama of life is but a show of shifting scenes, and no amount of worldly satisfaction does appear to save one from this ceaseless anguish which follows every failure in the achievement of one’s desired end. Youth fades like the evening flower, strength vanishes like the rent cloud, and the beauty of the body quickly gives way to the ugliness of death. All things are certain to pass away either today or tomorrow. Nothing will live. The man of now is not seen in the next moment. The pleasure-centres of the human being mock at him for his folly, and he realises that all that he enjoys is not worth the striving. Earthly prosperity is not free from the tyranny of subsequent misery, and only after several kicks and blows is life learnt to be an essenceless desert where water is not to be found to quench one’s thirst. There are occasions when one feels that no increase in health or wealth, no gain and no profit here can be a reason for one to rejoice. In the sorrow of the quest for the transient joys of life, man seems to die every moment and quickly regain his identity now and then, only to repeat the unhappy process endlessly. He is whirled round in the storm of life’s turmoils, and tormented by the substanceless appearances of his erroneous perceptions. Tons of the loads of life seem to be weighing heavy upon his weak shoulders, and he sits forlorn contemplating his unknown future. He is gripped by fear, desire, worry and uneasiness continually. Everything hurries forward; now it is, now not.
The way out of this deplorable predicament is not clearly seen by man who has mistaken the love of the tantalising semblances of pleasure for the delights that he is seeking in his life’s endeavours, though the presence of such a way is implied in the griping dissatisfaction which he feels with whatever is presented to him in experience, and the consequent urge towards something more than all that he can ever hope to think. But is there any such way, really? Yes; it lies in the turning of the tables round, the directing of our search inwards, from things that pass away from the scene quickly, to that which promises greater permanency, wider freedom and deeper satisfaction. This inward quest for the permanent is the march of man towards Truth, which is changeless existence. “It is in the nature of man to strive for happiness, but all the happiness which he can gain by his actions is only of limited duration. The enjoyments of the senses are transient, and the senses themselves are worn out by too much enjoyment; further, sin generally accompanies these enjoyments and makes man unhappy beyond comparison. Even if the pleasures of the world are enjoyed as much as their nature permits, if they are as intense, as various and as uninterrupted as possible, yet old age approaches, and with it death. And the enjoyments of heaven are in reality not more enviable than these pleasures of the senses; they are of the same nature, although more unmixed and durable. Moreover, they come to an end; for they are gained by actions, and as these latter are finite, their effect must also be finite. In one word, there is necessarily an end to all those enjoyments and what avails us beyond the moment of enjoyment. It is therefore in the nature of man to look out for an unchangeable, infinite happiness which must come from a being in which there is no change—if such a being can be found, it is only from it that man attains an unalterable happiness, and if this be so, this being must become the sole object of all his aspiration and actions. This being is not very far. It resides in your heart” (Lectures on Yoga and Vedanta, p.97).
Human life is a process of knowledge. All knowledge implies a subject or a knower, whose relation to an object manifests knowledge. The existence of the knower in an act of knowledge cannot be doubted, for without a knower there is no knowledge, and without knowledge there is no experience. The whole of one’s life is constituted of various forms of experience, and all experience is attended with consciousness. Consciousness has always to be in relation with the subject or the knower. Without a knowing self there is no objective knowledge. The experience of a world outside would become impossible if it is not to be given to a knowing subject. The fact of the known implies the truth of a knower. Even thinking would lose its meaning without our tacitly admitting the existence of our own self. This self reveals itself as the centre of all the knowledge which illumines every form of human activity. “All activities can, ultimately, be reduced to a kind of knowledge. It is some form of knowledge that fulfils itself through external action. Knowledge determines the texture of action, the course of action and even the nature of the end aimed at by action. Knowledge, here, becomes a stimulus to action, a means to the achievement of a goal beyond, and so something not valuable in itself, but valuable in relation to some other thing which it subserves. Such is the character of human knowledge. And even in human knowledge there are degrees. Some possess more of it, some less. By knowledge we evidently mean here knowledge of something other than knowledge itself. When we have more knowledge about the nature of a thing, we have also more control over it; our activity in the form of the effort of conquering it is less encumbered and so less difficult; our relation to that thing is more intimate, i.e., the psychic distance between us and the thing becomes less; and we enjoy it more fully and really. We possess the thing securely, to some extent, and are free from all anxiety about the thing when the thing is nearest to us,—not merely physically but psychically, and this latter aspect is more important than the former; perhaps it is the only important factor,—and it is here that our knowledge of the thing is widest and deepest. Logically, we should have the greatest knowledge of and power over a thing when it is non-distinguished from our existence, and we enjoy it the best when we become it. The thing may be any particular entity—one thing, two things, a thousand things, or even the whole universe itself. Thingness is only a synecdochical expression for the entire mass of objective existence. Here the knowledge of the thing is really not of it, but is the knowledge of our own widened and expanded self. Our knowledge and our existence are one. Hence the highest knowledge of anything consists in Self-knowledge, in the knowledge of the Self which is higher than the natural and the narrow individual self. Knowledge is not a means to some other end, but it is the end itself. Knowing is being” (The Divine Life, Vol. XVI, p.148).
Human consciousness at once presupposes the authenticity of the existence of a personal being, which is the root of this consciousness. The very meaning of human consciousness is objectivity which sets in opposition the subject or the self against the non-subject or the not-self. The individuality of the subject and the object is the necessary condition of all forms of perception or knowledge in the world. Individual consciousness and individual existence are inseparable. The very first truism that the individual is faced with in experience is the awareness of the existence of something which it cannot consider as its own self. This is the starting point of active thinking and action.
The subject is confronted with an urgent need of developing a relationship with the universe which seems to stare at it as the not-self. This need marks the nature of the struggle of life as a whole,—its purpose, method and goal. The need for external relation, however, is the outcome of a practical want felt in oneself, a want of thoroughness and genuineness in one’s own being. This is the basic hypothesis upon which is constructed the edifice of philosophical speculation. Self-consciousness refuses to rest blind and idle. It stimulates mental and physical activity, a postulate which demands no reason. The value of life is determined by the characteristics of the effects of this activity. The sense of value is based on the extent, the depth and, consequently, the longevity of the experience of satisfaction in the self. The worth and the righteous nature of all activity is, therefore, dependent on how far it nears the supreme form of knowledge and happiness which is the standard set by the results of the computation of the degrees of perfection as determined by the urge for completeness felt within. The nature of this knowledge and happiness remains to be found out.
The acts of life show that the individual consciously and voluntarily acts because of the joys which are felt by the self as their consequence. An action is a transformation of a being from one condition to another, which, naturally, is the effect of the inability of the individual to rest perpetually in any given condition. It is observed that all actions, mental or physical, have a special nature of being directed to some one or the other of the forms in which the not-self appears. The impossibility to withhold conscious action leads us to the conclusion that there must be an intimate and permanent connection between the subjective conscious being and objective existence. The fact that the vaster the subjective form included in the self’s relations and the nearer it is to the self, the greater is the intensity of consciousness and happiness experienced by the self, points the way to the true nature of Reality. The highest knowledge and bliss must be thus the result of a self-merging of existence in consciousness. This is tantamount to a dissolution of the not-self in an all-comprehensive Self, the disappearance of objectivity in self-identical awareness (Vide, The Divine Life, Vol. XII, p.149). The Self is thus beyond all proof, it being the basis of proof. None can ever doubt its existence, for the acceptance of it is the foundation of all knowledge and action. The one who attempts to deny it asserts it unconsciously by the very act of such a denial, for it is the essence of the denier himself. The denier cannot deny himself, and the doubter cannot doubt his own existence. Thinking implies a thinker, doubting a doubter, and knowledge a knower.
A Consideration of Different Theories of Self
The knower or the self cannot be a thing subject to development or process of evolution, as some thinkers opine, for development would mean the cessation of the self at some particular instant of time. Change means the ending of one condition and the beginning of another different from the previous one. If the self is to undergo change, it has to modify its essence in the course of time, so that there would be nothing like a permanently enduring subject of knowledge. That the essence of the self cannot be changed or developed becomes clear from the fact that even change or development would not be known without the assumption of a synthesising consciousness behind the process of change. If the self is to be accepted to be changeless and an ever-enduring being, it ought to mean naturally that it is different from process or development or evolution. The self is non-temporal, is not involved in the time-process, for time is an object of its knowledge.
The self is not a product of past development. The view of Prof. Taylor that the self has for its exclusive material our emotional interests and purposive attitudes towards the various constituents of our surroundings cannot be accepted for the reason that no kind of process can be admitted into the self. A purposive attitude is a psychical condition, changing, and so dying to itself, and not identical with the self. Even the continuity of a pervading purpose has to become the object of consciousness, for, otherwise, such a purpose cannot exist as a reality. We know of no reality which is unrelated to consciousness in some way or the other. There cannot be a process without something in which it appears or of which it is a temporal condition. A purpose or interest is a temporal flow which ought to become an object of knowledge. There is no flowing without something that flows, or without a ground on which there is a flow. There cannot be mere flying without something that flies. A sustained purpose or an interest is only the maintenance of a continuous psychic function animated by an underlying consciousness which is different from it. Else, when interests change, the self would also change. There would not be the continuity of the I-consciousness in a person, if a consciousness does not persist in all the changes that the personality undergoes in the course of life. The self is not a mere organisation of mental acts, or a bundle of feelings and volitions, but a consciousness that is indivisible. One cannot be aware of an organised system unless the elements or parts constituting it are brought together by a relation of consciousness which itself is not one of the elements forming the system. The self is, therefore, a transcendent consciousness bringing order to all relational phenomena, but itself remaining beyond all relations.
The view that the self is a monad, spiritual in nature but different from other monads forming the psycho-physical organism, does not stand scrutiny. If the self is a unit centralised among diverse psychic contents or the parts constituting the body, its relation to the latter becomes unintelligible. Is the spiritual monad identical with the contents of the organism, or different from them? If it is different from the organismic contents, it cannot be called the self of man, for then it would remain unrelated to the other parts which are equally essential to the personality of man. Moreover, one could not know that one has an individual organ, for it would lie outside the knowledge of the monad, it having been supposed that it has no relation to the outward organism. If the monad has a relation to the psychical and the physical contents, it would cease to be a simple monad, self-existing and unrelated, so that we would have to accept that the self pervades the entire organism, and that the latter has no existence independent of the former.
The philosopher Bradley supposes that the self and its object are interchangeable, that any particular appearance of the Absolute can be either a subject or an object according to the standpoint from which we judge a particular appearance and the emphasis which we lay by making it the exclusive subject of our consideration. It does not require much thinking to understand that the true self can never become an object, for the object is always insentient in nature, and the self is always sentient. The two are opposed to each other in their constitution and mode of operation in the process of perception. Further, the self and its object are two different appearances whose difference may have to be known by another larger self which would be required to synthesise by a relation the self and its object. To reduce the self to the state of an object would be to make it one of the appearances themselves. If the self is a phenomenon, there ought to be a knower of it; otherwise even the phenomenon cannot be known to exist. The self is not a phenomenon among phenomena, but a unity through which phenomena are presented as a connected system, in which is reflected a perfect order, a rhythm and symmetry which really belong to the transcendent self. The ordered nature of the world owes its existence to an indivisible self which is its knower. The self is, therefore, not an empirical subject; it is beyond the space-time manifold. Even space-time is what is presented as an object to a knowing subject. It refuses to be grasped by knowledge through the categories in terms of which the senses and the mind operate. The existence of the self is established negatively by the predicates of experience and positively by the self-evident consciousness which one has of oneself at all times. All things and relations, space and time are known to a single subject, because they are all equally present to consciousness. The objects of knowledge may be different from one another, but they are present to a common subject which knows them all in one synthesised perception. The subject, the object and their relation have to be comprehended in a universal Self, which would mean that the true Self of man is not the empirical bundle of psychic contents, which is interchangeable with other such congeries and which one, by mistake, confuses with the real Self.
The realist view that the mind and its objects are on par with each other, differing only in their properties and functions, again, commits the same mistake of not detecting the necessity of a unifying self above the mind and its objects. It cannot be said that cognition is a mere relation and that the mind and its objects are known to be related to one another in a compresence in which the related terms stand to each other in the position of objects having the same reality. But it will be found that the compresence of the mind and the objects is possible only if there is a self which knows them both in a single act of perception. Neither the mind nor the objects can be known to exist if they are entirely different from one another. A knowledge of two different entities implies a consciousness obtaining between them, without which not only their relation but even their being itself can be doubted. The existence of a permanent self beyond the mind and the objects remains self-proved by the fact that without it none of our experiences can be satisfactorily accounted for. The self is not merely one among the many items of relational experience, but the centre to which all the items of experience are referred, the source of being, making all understanding and explanation possible, the life, light and love of the whole world. The self is spiritual being, the precondition of knowledge. Objects, facts and conditions cannot be posited unless they are known to a subject which rises above them in knowing and being. Even in ordinary perception the self remains an unaffected witness uniting all relations, but existing unrelated to the related terms. The self is the Absolute. If knowledge is a relation by compresence, this knowledge cannot know the terms related, unless it transcends them.
The self is different from the assemblage of the psychical functions and conditions which contribute to the manifestation of knowledge. It is not a product of any collocation of circumstances externally related to one another. It is not also a totality of situations or a series of appearances or of the nature of difference itself without a unifying subject existing independently of its terms. The view that every passing thought can be considered as the true subject of knowledge cannot be accepted. If any particular thought is to be considered as the ultimate knowing subject, it would be unrelated to the other thoughts that occur in the mind. Further, it would be impossible on this hypothesis to account for memory of the past or anticipation of the future. The self cannot be identified with a stream of consciousness, for a stream is a movement, and a movement cannot know movement, as its very essence is change. We do not know of a flow or a stream without assuming a permanent bed on which the flow or the stream can be possible. The self cannot be any kind of process, for every process is an object of knowledge. Any part or item of a process cannot itself be aware of the entire process. A process has a meaning only when it is known by a being which is not involved in the process but remains as its witness. The self is not analysable into further constituents, for anything that is subject to division is temporal and perishable.
The self is of the nature of self-luminosity and intelligence. If the self were something other than a self-illumined or self-conscious being, it would have to he known as an object by another being which ought to be self-luminous. But if the self is not at all to be self-luminous, we would be led to an infinite regress of positing a self behind self, so that there would be no end of our search for the origin of knowledge. The self is not momentary in nature, for what is momentary is destructible and cannot be the source of knowledge. The perception of momentariness is due to a succession of the appearance of objects at different instants of time. It is not the self or the consciousness that is momentary, but the perception of objects determined by the nature of the appearance of objects to consciousness. Momentary elements are what are known by consciousness as its objects. The self is not made manifest by external proofs as outward things are. The proofs by which objects are known are based on the self-evident consciousness of the self. As light illumines others but does not stand in need of another light to illumine itself, so does the self, being the source and essence of consciousness, illumine the whole world, but is not in need of another self or proof to know itself or determine its existence. The self is not one with the objects which it knows and is not on the same level of reality with them, forming an organism or an organ. If it were so, there would be darkness enveloping all things, for want of a knowing self. The objects do not determine the self, for it ranges beyond them in every way. It is not of the nature of difference,—in fact it has no relation to difference—and the differences that are observed in the forms of knowledge are due to the difference in the structure and conditions of objects presented to consciousness, but not of consciousness itself. Consciousness does not create objects but reveals them in perception. They appear to be related to consciousness on account of their apparent association with it through a Vritti or a mental modification. The self and its object are opposed to each other as light and darkness. Their difference is not usually known because of the delusion of Adhyasa by which one superimposes the attributes of the self on the objects and of the objects on the self. The objects are not also modes in the perceiving consciousness: they are different from it, and it becomes aware of them, though the essence of both is the Absolute.
Though the objects that are known in consciousness are different and of various kinds, consciousness is one. It is what integrates all sensations and perceptions into a coherent whole. If consciousness were a changing phenomenon, such a synthesis of knowledge would be impossible, and there would arise the contingency of introducing different consciousnesses at different times. Such consciousnesses, in order that their existences might be justified, may have to be known by another consciousness, which, after all, we have to admit as the real self. That the self is one and not more than one need not be proved, for no one ever feels that one is divided, that one is two or more. Everyone knows that one’s self cannot be cut or divided into segments but always retains its unity. Even supposing that the self can be manifold, we would be led to the necessity of asserting a unitary consciousness knowing the difference between the parts assumed in the self. If the self were not self-luminous and non-dual, there would be, when it manifests objects, a doubt as to whether the cognition of the objects is there or not, whether or not the objects are really known to exist. But no one at the time of cognition ever doubts the fact of cognition. The self knows the objects and it is not the objects that know it. The self is different from the very notion of difference, while it knows different objects and their differences. Memory and cognition also establish the self-identity of knowledge. The passing forms of perception are not the self, for they require another self to know them as mutually related.
The self never becomes an object. If it could become an object, one would feel the ‘I’ at the time of a particular cognition of a ‘this’ or a ‘that,’ and there would be no such thing as an I-consciousness or self-consciousness. Moreover, the self, while becoming an object, would also become inert and a transient material entity like the other objects of the world. The very admission of a world-process requires as its justification a consciousness which is not determined by anything outside it.
The view that there can be many selves is involved in a difficulty. If selves were many, they could not be known to exist for want of a knower of their existence and difference. The moment we assert the plurality of selves, we admit unconsciously that our consciousness is superior to and knows the plural selves. Plurality is rooted in unity. A division of consciousness is never possible. A consciousness that is divided is not really consciousness but an object, isolated and changing. Division and limitation are known to consciousness which itself is not divided or limited. Division is the same as finitude, and if consciousness cannot be divided, it cannot be finite, also. The self is infinite and so it cannot be many. Consciousness can be conscious of finitude, but, thereby, it does not become the finite. If there were many selves, their manifoldness would be a truth, their relations would be real. To know their many-ness a larger consciousness would have to be introduced, for without it there would be no knowledge of many-ness. Somehow, we are thrown back upon an absolute Self, unrelated and supremely real. The position of many selves would give rise to the difficulty of there being no common world to all selves, for their worlds would differ from one another and have no link to connect them. Every limit has to become a content of knowledge, and the knowledge of limit would only prove that knowledge is limitless.
The self cannot be identified with the principle of life or an elan vital considered as supreme in experience, of which matter and consciousness are only expressions or to which they are subsidiary or adventitious. It is held that matter is but a self-created obstruction to the march of the elan vital, and consciousness is only a self-created light for illuminating the path of its evolution. It cannot be said that consciousness is a product of the life-principle, for even the life-principle can be known to exist only on the assumption of a consciousness already. If consciousness is a product, it is subject to destruction, and it cannot be the reality underlying the life-process. Also, matter is not an auxiliary to consciousness, for it is an object of consciousness. What we call the life-principle is but the bond that subsists between the body and the mind. Life is above matter, but below mind, intellect and consciousness. Matter, life, mind and intellect are empirical categories, and so they cannot be identified with the self.
Attempts were also made to reduce consciousness to a kind of expression of some neutral stuff existing as its raw material. According to William James, experience is a relation which has subject and object as its terms. Knower and known are divisions within a primordial experience. He says: “There is only one primal stuff or material in the world, a stuff of which everything is composed, and if we call that stuff ‘pure experience,’ then knowing can easily be explained as a particular sort of relation towards one another, into which portions of pure experience may enter. The relation itself is a part of pure experience; one of its ‘terms’ becomes the subject or bearer of knowledge, the knower; the other becomes the object known.” Mind and matter are constructed out of neutral stuff and entities. The same difficulty noted above once again presents itself in this view of consciousness. The neutral stuff of pure experience has to be either consciousness or non-consciousness. lf it is the former, then, there cannot be another consciousness proceeding from it, as there cannot be two consciousnesses existing in the relation of cause and effect. If it is the latter, it is unconscious, and the production of consciousness from it becomes unintelligible. What is present in the effect has to be contained in the cause. When the effect is consciousness, the cause cannot be unconsciousness, and if the cause is unconsciousness, the effect also would be of the same nature. Either the pure experience of James has to be identical with conscious, or it has to be admitted to be only the primordial condition of the manifestation of an empirical consciousness behind which there is a universal intelligence of which even the pure experience is a kind of object.
Consciousness is also held to be the result of aggregates of physical and physiological motions or external behaviour. This is tantamount to the materialist theory that consciousness can be a product or a mixture of unconscious elements. External behaviour observed in bodies moved by the nervous system cannot be supposed to be the source of consciousness. Behaviour is what is observed as a function of the psycho-physical organism, and not merely of the body. Behaviour is external, it is an object known; and the observer of the behaviour cannot be its product. It is consciousness that is presupposed even in the observation of the behaviour. What is called behaviour is the visible physical manifestation of the manner in which the internal psyche works through the instrumentality of the body and the nervous system. This controlling system is as much physical as the outer body, and so it cannot be the source of consciousness. The behaviourists think that sensations, perceptions, thoughts, emotions and the like are reducible to physical or physiological reflexes. But they forget that the physical and the physiological phenomena are external to consciousness and cannot be identified with it or considered to be its origin. Behaviour is regulated by physical functions, while the reverse is not always the truth. Though it is true that the appearance of intellect or conscious functions is seen to be invariably concomitant with an observable behaviour of the nervous and the bodily expressions, it does not mean that consciousness is an effect of physical conditions. It is natural that external behaviour should appear simultaneously with a function of consciousness, as the former is governed by the latter, but it cannot be the cause of the latter. It is a wrong application of the scientific method of observation and experiment that has led to the belief that observable behaviour is the cause of all conscious operations. Consciousness is never observed, but is at the root of even the endeavour to conduct the observation or perform the experiment.
Psychoanalysis considers consciousness as only a partial censored expression of the vast reservoir of the unconscious which is the ultimate cause of all individual functions and activities. Intellectual activity is said to be an expression of hidden unconscious impulses. Consciousness and reason are subordinated to unconscious urges, cravings, appetites, all which are expressions of man’s natural biological interests like sex, hunger, the instinct of self-preservation, love for power, etc. The essence of consciousness is thus traced back to the unconscious. The difficulty that the psychoanalyst presents is that even the existence of the unconscious is discovered only by the operations of consciousness. It was already observed that an unconscious cause cannot bring forth a conscious effort, for cause and effect are mutually related. What is not in the cause cannot be present in the effect. If the unconscious is devoid of the element of consciousness, it cannot be the cause of consciousness. It may be considered that the individual consciousness and reason exhibit elements drawn from an unconscious matrix of instinctive urges, but the innermost consciousness that is behind the instinctive operations, even when rationalised, is not the same as the contents of the unconscious. If consciousness were an effect, it would be an object known externally; but we find that it ever remains the knowing subject of which everything else, even the unconscious, stands in the position of an object.
Consciousness is not a mere property, a quality or an attribute of the Self. If consciousness is a quality of the Self, what is the essential nature of the Self? It, then, should be different from consciousness, i.e., an unconscious entity. On such a supposition, we cannot account for the subject-nature of consciousness and the object-nature of all else. An attribute is not identical with the substance in which it inheres, and so the Self would stand apart as an object of consciousness. It is absurd to think that the Self can be an object, for if it were so, there would be no subject to know it. And yet this is what happens when consciousness is considered to be an adjective of the Self. All attempts to give the Self a tinge of objectivity end in failure, for it is impossible to distinguish between consciousness and the Self.
The Atman is different from activity, and has no relation to activity, for the latter is an external relation, and so non-eternal, while the Atman is eternal. There cannot be action without a spatial and temporal existence of its subject, but the Atman is non-spatial and non-temporal. All actions modify their subject, while Atman is not subject to modification. Action can abide in an individual, but not in the Atman. There cannot be action without duality, a distinction between the agent, the action and its purpose, but the Atman is non-dual. The Atman is ever perfect, but action is an indication of imperfection, an effort to overcome an existing defect. The Atman is different from activities like desire, volition, etc., for they are as external and as much in need of the phenomenon of duality as physical actions.
Consciousness cannot be a property of the body, for the latter is its object. Consciousness is not subservient to its own object. The body never becomes the knower; it always remains the known. If consciousness were the essence of the body, then, as the essence of a thing cannot cease to be, there would be no death of the body, or its bereavement from consciousness. It is seen that the body is used as an instrument of action by internal conscious functions which are all illuminated by the Self. Further, on the assumption that consciousness is the essence of the body, there would not be a disintegration of the parts of the body, for consciousness cannot be divided. If it could be divided, a part of it would stand ‘out there,’ as an object capable of being perceived. But we see that this is never done. The body is inert and perishable, and its consciousness is borrowed from the Self through the mind and the senses.
The senses, again, are not conscious by themselves, for they are instruments of knowledge. The senses are objective and only bring about a relation of the subject with the object. An instrument is always used by another different from it. The functions of the senses are diverse. The sensations which they carry have to be synthesised into perceptions and concepts by an intelligent principle different from them. If the senses are to be regarded as the Self, there would be many selves, and no knowledge of the kind ‘I who see, smell and taste, also’ etc. would be possible. Plurality cannot be explained without unity. Even when objects are destroyed and the senses are suspended, there remains the consciousness of one’s having felt externality. Hence consciousness is not the senses. There is the knowledge: ‘I am deaf, I am blind,’ etc., which implies the existence of a common subject relating together the functions of the different senses. One can also imagine that the body and the senses are not, but one cannot think away self-consciousness. It is also observed that in the state of dream the sense-organs do not have their usual activity, and yet one’s consciousness does not cease to be. The Self can never be diversified and changeful like the senses.
The Nature of the Atman
The fact of the existence of an immutable consciousness is known from the implications of our experience in the three phenomenal states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. In the waking state, the individual identifies itself with the physical body and feels: ‘I am the body.’ If a question is put to a person as to who he is, he will normally describe the relative characteristics of his physical personality. This means that he feels his essence and existence to be identical with the visible gross vesture. But this assertion of the oneness of one’s essence and existence with the physical body is contradicted and disproved in dream. The individual in dream exists, and has various kinds of experience. But the physical body then is disconnected from consciousness. If we gently touch the body of a dreaming person, he will not be aware of this, our act of touching him. All his senses are deprived of consciousness when he is not awake. A few particles of sugar placed on the tongue, the organ of taste, of a person who is dreaming will not produce any conscious reaction from him. He will hear no sounds, see no forms, understand nothing. This shows that the real senses, the avenues of the perception of objects, are not the external organs of sense but certain internal forces which dissociate themselves from the physical body when one is in the state of dream. The fact that these forces responsible for the perception of the world are in conjunction with the body in the waking state explains sense-experience in waking life. And their disconnection from the body in the dreaming state accounts for the impossibility of having any physical experience in that state.
Now, is the dreaming person who is differentiated from his physical body in the dreaming state the real person identical with this body, or not? We are forced to believe that we are not in fact the physical body. Else, we would be in eternal conjunction with it, and we should experience it even in dream. But the fact being different we have to conclude that the real person is not identical with the physical body. Not even the dreaming person, nor even the dream-body can be identified with the highest reaches of consciousness. In deep sleep, even the dreaming personality is separated from experience and there it appears to be nothing at all—not even fit to be equated with being. The person seems to be bereft of the value and content of all conscious experience. Everything that is known in the state of dream is cast aside and the personality withdraws itself from all objective conditions.
What, then, is the nature of the person who is the real experiencer of things? What is the ultimate principle underlying life in the state of deep sleep? We have, perforce, to admit, perhaps, that what is experienced in deep sleep is the ultimate reality. But are we prepared to accept this position? Are we conscious in that state? The answer is, no. We seem to be merely a mass of ignorance. Are we, then, ignorance essentially? Perhaps no one would agree with this proposition. Everyone instinctively feels that he is intelligent, not ignorant, not a bundle of stupidity or a bankrupt in understanding. Further, what is the experience which one has when one wakes up from deep sleep? One remembers that one had sound sleep, that one did exist even when fast asleep. How does one know one’s existence in a state where there is no consciousness at all? This is possible due to the subsequent memory which one retains of having slept soundly previous to this conscious state of remembrance. But as remembrance or memory of anything is not possible unless that thing had been the object of one’s conscious experience, we have to conclude that the experience of which we have a memory subsequently was one of consciousness sometime back. In other words, we had in the state of deep sleep conscious experience. But does this not contradict the blatant truth that we had no consciousness whatsoever when we were asleep? Here we are led to a dilemma wherein with one breath we have to hold that we did not have any consciousness and also that we did have it at one and the same time.
We can extricate ourselves from this apparent quandary regarding the nature of consciousness in deep sleep by admitting that we existed as conscious experiencers then, though we did not have any such experience. This has to be admitted, for there is no other way of explaining this baffling predicament. But this absence of the experience of consciousness has to be explained. From the nature of the case we argue that consciousness must have been covered by some obstructing factor in deep sleep, but consciousness as such was never non-existent. If it had been non-existent, we could not have a memory of having slept soundly, i.e., our personality posterior to the state of deep sleep would have been entirely cut off from the preceding state. Consciousness seems to be a continuous element in our life. It persists in all states of experience. Even in swoon it exists. Even if we think that we are dead, it exists. Behind every thought, even the thought of the non-existence of everything, there is consciousness. Something exists. Something persists always. And even the one who denies the existence of all things does exist. Even the nihilist exists. Denial is preceded by the consciousness of denial. This conscious is the ultimate reality. It is the only existence, for it is the sole unchanging being which survives all change, surpasses all that we know, and while everything that we consider our own leaves us at some time or the other, it never deserts us. The essence of the personality and individuality of man is consciousness. This is true existence. This alone can be eternal.
The following detailed account of the nature of Atman as Existence, Consciousness and Bliss is given by Swami Sivananda in his Jnana-Yoga (pp.137-146).
The Atman as Existence
Sat is existence. It is what is in past, present and future alike, without a beginning, middle or end, unchanging in nature, not conditioned by space, time and causation, which endures during waking, dream and deep sleep, which is of the nature of one homogeneous essence. Such an existence can be only the Atman. Existence is not an attribute of the Atman, but is its essence. The Atman is not existent but existence. This general existence is commonly predicated of all things when we make statements like ‘the table is, the cloth is, the pot is,’ etc. It is our experience, rather an inherent feeling, that we never were not, and that we never shall cease to be, though our physical bodies may disappear. This feeling is a reflection of the existence of an eternal Atman in us. We all know that we are here in this world, that we exist, and this knowledge of existence asserts itself independent of all mental endeavour. We also know that our bodies exist. No one ever doubts the existence of one’s body. But whence came this body? There must definitely be some cause for our acquiring this body, for it is observed to be an effect, constantly changing and pointing to something else by its modifications. It is well known that the body is a configuration or materialisation of the results of past Karma. It is our Karma that gives birth to our body. The Karma which generated this body ought to have been performed through another body which existed in our past birth, for the present body cannot be the effect of the actions done through it in this birth. This very soul ought to have existed in the past life, too, which worked through the instrumentality of the body which existed prior to this; else, the soul in this birth could not experience the consequences of actions done in the past birth. The body of the past life, again, should be the result of actions done in a life anterior to the one that precedes the present. This very soul ought to exist in this life, also. Thus we are obliged to posit the existence of the Atman in the eternal past, by the contemplation of the fact that Karmas and bodies are beginningless, of the nature of an unceasing flow, the source of which is unknown. The Atman which subsists and forms the substratum for this change of past lives must be beginningless. Just as the seed which can generate a tree cannot generate the very same tree which is the cause of its birth, the works performed by the present body have to produce a new body in the next birth, but cannot be said to be the cause of this very body.
The Karma which generates our body belongs to us and not to others. One cannot enjoy the fruits of actions performed by another. Virtue and vice bring their own reward to the person who is their cause. The Karma that we perform now in this birth cannot go in vain, for every action produces a result which has necessarily to be experienced by the agent of the action. The power of an a action is indestructible and will generate fresh bodies in the future. We will again do fresh Karmas with these new bodies which will form the seed for bodies of a further future, and so on ad infinitum. Karma never ceases until the rise of the knowledge of the Self. In order to undergo the results of actions which appear in the form of a continuous change, the same soul has to be admitted to exist in the infinite future. The Atman, therefore, ought to exist as the underlying consciousness of the Jiva, equally in the past, present and future. The Atman is the only existence, and the outward phenomena of the world can have no existence of their own. The Atman is also eternal, as it is observed by an examination of the operation of the law of action and reaction. The Atman is absolute existence. It is the only reality.
The Atman as Consciousness
Chit is consciousness. It shines by itself unaided by any other light and illumines the whole world by its light. It may be asked, how we can be said to illumine the world when we are ignorant, and when we receive light from outside. The universe, we know, is of two kinds, viz., the external and the internal. The external universe embraces the five elements, viz., ether, air, fire, water and earth with their properties of sound, touch, form, taste and smell and the combinations of these elements in various ways, in different names and forms possessing infinite qualities and shapes. The external universe being presented as an object to consciousness is observed to be inert. It cannot be the object of our perception unless we throw upon it the flood of the light of our consciousness. It is we that know the universe; the universe does not know us. The internal universe consists of the five sheaths, viz., the physic, vital, mental, intellectual and the blissful; the three bodies, viz., the gross, subtle and causal; the six changes, viz., relativity of existence, birth, growth, change, decay and destruction; and the six waves in the ocean of Samsara, viz., birth and death, hunger and thirst, grief and delusion. This entire inward world, also, is inert, for it exhibits such a nature in the state of dreamless sleep, when the Atman shines independent of all external phenomena. This inward world, too, is external to the Atman and can never be identified with it. It is illuminated and known by the Atman. The only self-luminous consciousness is the Atman in us and in the world. It is by the light of the Atman that everything shines and appears to be possessed of intelligence. All things are in the position of the seen, while the Atman alone is the seer and the witness. Gold shines with splendour when molten and purified by fire in a crucible. Whence is this lustre in gold? It is not the fire that imparts this glitter to gold. Fire is only an instrument in removing the dross from the gold which existed in the ore. The luminosity of gold is inherent in itself; it is only manifest by the removal of the impurities in it through the action of fire. In the same manner, when the Brahmakara-Vritti dispels Ajnana, the Atman shines in its native glory and unsurpassed splendour. Even this power of dispelling ignorance is borrowed by the Vritti from the Atman alone. It is generally said that a lamp dispels darkness in a room; but the can, the oil or the wick has no power in itself, independently, to remove darkness. It is only when fire manifests itself in a combined action of these materials that there is the removal of darkness. In the lamp of the body filled with the oil of Karma, the fire of the Atman lighting up the wick of the mind acquires the name of the Jiva and removes the darkness of ignorance. This power is really in the Atman and not in anything else. The Atman alone is real consciousness. The Upanishad declares: “There the sun does not shine, nor the moon, nor the stars; there these lightnings do not shine; what to speak of this fire! Everything shines after Him that shines; all this is illuminated by His light.”
The Atman as Bliss
Ananda is bliss. It is what is eternal, uncaused and unexcelled. Bliss is the real nature of the Atman. The pleasure that we derive from objects, such as flowers, scents, women, etc. is temporary and subject to the limiting adjunct or vehicle of the five sheaths, and it has degrees. Such an inconstant character which is seen in the pleasure that is supposed to originate from the object cannot belong to the Atman. When a desired object is possessed and enjoyed, what really happens is that the mind which was previously hankering after the object, and was thus removed from the Self temporarily, ceases to function objectively on account of the feeling that the purpose of its externalised movement is fulfilled, and so, turning back to its source, which is the Atman, experiences the bliss thereof. The greatest happiness that man knows is in the state of deep sleep. Here the happiness is not caused by any external object, but is the spontaneous manifestation of the Atman. Hence the happiness of deep sleep is far superior to the other forms of happiness which one enjoys in the state of waking. It is not mere absence of pain that one feels in deep sleep, but positive peace independent of all external causes. It is this happiness that everyone eagerly longs for above all pleasures, and one even dislikes those causes which may stand in the way of one’s enjoying such happiness. One prepares soft beds, pillows, etc. to induce the mind to go to sleep. The bliss of the Atman has no degrees, while the relative happiness beginning from the state of man to that of Hiranyagarbha has degrees and admits of differences.
It may be argued that the bliss of dreamless sleep cannot be eternal, as we do not experience it in the states of waking and dream. But this is not so, for the bliss of the Atman which is fully manifest in dreamless sleep partially expresses itself through the psychoses of the mind in waking and dream also. But the spiritual bliss is not fully manifest in these two states, because it is restricted by the channels of the mental operations. The experience of the finite sense-pleasures obscures the ever-shining bliss of the Atman. Though the sense-pleasures caused by objects of desire seem to veil the bliss of the Atman, they really owe their origin to the Atman. This bliss shines unobstructed at all times, but it is not always known to be such on account of the modifications of the mind. The happiness born of contact with objects is known empirically, for here happiness is objectified. But the bliss of the Atman is not thus known, for in the Atman-experience one becomes the embodiment of bliss. Here one does not so much enjoy bliss as exist as bliss and know it eternally.
The love which people evince in regard to objects of desire is really an expression of the love for the infinite which is revealed through the objects. In objective love the infinite is summoning the infinite through a mental mode or Vritti. The bliss of the infinite which is the real object of love is not recognised due to the veiling of the consciousness by the Antahkarana-Vritti. The infinite is objectified, and it is the concentration of the mind on objectness that is the hideous error in all forms of love. True love is to point to the consciousness of the infinite which rests in itself without any objectification. The love which one has for one’s wife, children, property, and the like, can be reduced and traced back to the basic love of one’s self which is essentially universal. The pleasure that one wishes to have in one’s own consciousness is the determinant of all forms of external love. The Atman is the supreme bliss, and it is sought wrongly in objects appearing in space and time. The Atman is dearer than wife, dearer than children, dearer than all else. Everything is lovable on account of the love of the Atman. This spiritual love gets, by way of conditioning, dissipated in objectified forms and temporal states. One’s body is dearer than other objects. One’s life is dearer than the limbs of the body. The Atman is the highest object of love, beyond which there is not anything. There are cases where people have desired death because of having to suffer unbearable pain. This shows that one’s great desire is to overcome pain and enjoy unending freedom. As the Atman alone is indestructible, this freedom can be only in the Atman.
Sat, Chit and Ananda are One
The essential nature of the Atman is realised to be Satchidananda or absolute Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. These properties are not three different elements constituting the Atman. They form one indivisible whole. Existence is consciousness, and is bliss also. Consciousness is existence and bliss. Bliss is existence and consciousness. There cannot be any kind of limitation or division in Satchidananda. Limitation can be conceived of as being of three kinds: limitation by space, limitation by time and limitation by individuality. The body is limited by space. All objects of the world are of this nature, they are contained in space and divided by space. But space, being an effect, cannot condition the Atman which is the ultimate cause of all causes. Space has a beginning and an end, it originates at the time of creation, and is transcended in Self-realisation, and so it is not eternal. What is not eternal is different from the Atman, and can have no relation to it. The Atman is non-spatial. It is not also limited by time, as objects of the world are, for the time-process is but a consciousness of the succession of spatial events arisen in the temporary Vrittis of the internal organ. The Atman, being unconditioned by the mental processes, is beyond time. Whatever is conditioned by time is seen to be perishable, and so the Atman which is eternal ought to transcend time. The Atman is not limited by individualities or objects that fill the world and form its constituents. Limitation by individuality is of three kinds: limitation caused by the existence of a similar object, as the existence of a tree is limited by that of another tree; limitation caused by the existence of a dissimilar object, as the existence of a tree is limited by that of a stone; limitation caused by the existence of internal variety or differentiation within oneself, as a tree is limited by its being differentiated into parts, such as trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, fruits, etc. The Atman is free from internal variety and external differentiation, for anything that has these limitations has to be contained in space and conditioned by time, and so perishable. The eternal Atman is untouched by the three kinds of limitation which characterises the objects of the world.
Even the concept of Satchidananda is a provisional and negative definition of the Atman provided as an intellectual prop for understanding and meditation. The Atman is, in fact, beyond even the concept of Satchidananda. The world is found to be lacking the character of Sat or reality, it is Asat or unreal; and so, in contradistinction from it, the Atman is said to be Sat or existence and reality. The world exhibits the nature of being Jada or inert, objective and changing; and so the Atman, as different from the world, is declared to be Chit or consciousness which is self-luminous. The world is of the nature of Duhkha or pain and misery, and so the Atman which is the opposite of it is said to be Ananda or bliss. Satchidananda is thus a concept of the Eternal, born out of the perception and experience of the unreal, unconscious and painful world. Strictly speaking, even the notion of the Atman as Satchidananda has the characteristic of an explanation by differentiation (Vyavartaka-Lakshana). The Atman, in reality, is beyond all definition,—speech cannot express it, the mind cannot think it, the intellect cannot understand it, for all these faculties are of the nature of effects. If we insist on being given a definition of the Atman, approximating to it and yet true, it has to be presented as supreme existence, supreme consciousness and supreme bliss. As the rope exists as the reality behind the snake which is superimposed on it, the Atman exists as the reality behind the world that is superimposed on it. As the self-luminous sun illumines the insentient objects, like a pot, the Atman by its self-effulgent nature illumines the whole insentient world. As nectar is delightful as different from poison which is of the nature of pain, the Atman is blissful as distinguished from the world which is filled with misery. The world is unreal like the snake in the rope, inert like a pot and painful like poison, while the Atman is real like the rope behind the snake, self-luminous like the sun and blissful like nectar.
Sat cannot be limited by another Sat, for there cannot be two Sats or existences. Existence is general. The moment existence is limited by another existence it takes the form of temporal becoming and cannot any more be existence. If Sat is limited by Asat or non-existence, there cannot be any conceivable limitation at all, for non-existence cannot cause any real limitation. Chit, again, cannot be said to be different from Sat, for if it were so, Chit would be the only existence, and Sat would become a phenomenal object of Chit, a mere mode of the existence of Chit. This argument proves that Chit is one with Sat. And as in the existence of consciousness or Chit there is no want of any kind, there being no limitation, it is also perfect freedom and bliss.
Arguments for the Existence of the Atman
Some of the salient arguments advanced by Swami Sivananda in proving the existence of an eternal Self can be summarised as follows from his Practice of Vedanta (pp.23-37):
- If one closes one’s eyes and imagines for a moment that one is dead or is non-existent, one finds it impossible to do so. The body will be felt as lying down unconscious or dead outside, but one’s consciousness of existence will persist. Consciousness cannot be destroyed. It remains as the eternal Self of the one who tries to deny it. No one feels ‘I am not.’ The existence of the Absolute is known on the ground of its being the Self of everyone.
- All proofs are based on consciousness which itself requires no proof. The action of proving presupposes the indubitable presence of the Self. No argument is necessary to establish its existence, for it is the source of all thought and argumentation.
- Every effect must have a cause. The changing character of the world shows that it is an effect. It must, therefore, have a cause which contains it wholly. The intelligence that is manifest in the world proves that its cause must be supremely intelligent and unchanging.
- The thought of a finite thing implies the existence of the infinite. An idea of finitude cannot arise in the mind unless there is an unconscious acceptance of the presence of what transcends it. Duality presupposes unity. Mortality suggests the possibility of immortality. The relative establishes the Absolute.
- Unless there exists a continuous principle equally related to the past, present and future, which cognises everything, we cannot account for remembrance, recognition, etc., which are subject to mental impressions, with reference to place, time and cause. The perception of universal continuity or the presence of the idea of universal causality can be explained only on the basis of an unchanging consciousness which is not itself involved in space, time and causation.
- Every subject refers to itself as Aham or ‘I.’ The object is referred to as Idam or ‘this.’ From the point of view of the object it is not an object, but a subject. Objectness is attributed to things by the false ascription by the subject of an adjectival character to things seen outside and by arrogating to itself the position of a substantive. In fact, all things enjoy the character of being the Aham or the ‘I.’ Universal Selfhood is the reality. Objectness is the result of wrong perception caused by an abstraction from the Self of certain aspects of itself.
- To break through the cycle of cause and effect one finds it necessary to look for an existence which is essentially changeless and does not depend upon anything second to it. As the senses can perceive only that which is conditioned by space, time and cause, the being transcending these conditions of perception should be supersensible, attributeless, non-individual, supermental, Consciousness.
- The senses are not independent perceivers. They require the assistance of the mind in all forms of perception. They act as channels for the mind to function in the reception of knowledge from outside. The mind too ceases to operate in the state of dreamless sleep, leaving the existence of the individual unaffected. The diverse phenomena experienced in the states of waking, dream and dreamless sleep can acquire consistency and meaning only with reference to some permanent element within us, to which all the modifications of knowledge refer. It is the Self which hears, feels, sees, tastes and smells, dreams and knows the phenomenon of sleep, without itself undergoing any modification when these states constantly change themselves. The Self remains as the silent witness of all change.
- The physical body cannot be considered to be the real ‘I,’ for it is seen that even if the legs or the hands or some other parts of the body are amputated, the ‘I’ remains still. The body is constituted of the inert elements and is dissociated from experience in dream. The senses, too, cannot be the ‘I,’ for they perform different functions independent of each other, and are synthesised by another unifying principle which cannot be attributed to any of the senses. The essence of the senses is activity, and activity is not being, and without the admission of being no activity can be explained. The vital energy or the Prana also is a state of motion. It is a process and not being. It is inert and has no consciousness. Further, it is seen that consciousness remains even when the vital breath is completely suspended. The mind, again, cannot be the Self, for it does not operate in deep sleep, though one exists in that state. The mind is not being but an activity, and so it cannot by itself account for continuity and uniformity in perception and experience. The mind is a bundle of ideas and is not indivisible. The intellect suffers from the same defects as the mind. It is overcome by delusion, shocked and clouded very often, and even suspended many times. Even under these circumstances one’s Self is seen to persist as an independent element. The intellect is a process of understanding and does not have the character of the Self. The causal body is a mass of ignorance which defies the qualities of intelligence that one always instinctively attributes to oneself. In this state of ignorance there is neither the experience of existence nor of consciousness, which two are the highest values giving meaning to life. Yogis experience in Samadhi a transcendence and overcoming of ignorance, a complete negation of the causal body. The Self reasserts itself in the act of denying it and of attributing its character to the not-self.
- In addition to the names and forms of objects we see that they have the character of existence, revelation and causation of joy. The name and the form differ in different objects. They are not uniformly present in all things. But the properties of existence, knowledge and bliss are uniformly associated with an impartial perception of things. Even if an object is cut into pieces or reduced to powder, the existence-knowledge-bliss in it cannot be destroyed, though the name and the form may disappear. The reality of things is Satchidananda. Name and form belong to the world of sense, but Satchidananda remains as eternal being.
- A person is loved not because of his body, but because of the Self within. One loves one’s wife and children in and through the Self hidden in the body. If it had been the physical body that was loved, one ought to love even the dead body which is in a cadaveric rigid state with ensuing decomposition. All values are cancelled when the Self is not associated with them.
- One’s love for oneself is superior to that which has for others. This fact will become clear when the phenomenon of love is examined carefully. It is directed to the Self ultimately and is subservient to the needs of the Self. Even the selfish love which one exhibits in regard to oneself when, for instance, one tries to save oneself when a house is on fire, by ignoring all property, is explicable only on the basis of the non-objective character of the Self. Even suicide committed on certain occasions proves only the intense attachment which one has to conditions that are supposed to bring satisfaction to the Self. The Self is the Adhishthana or the substratum of all.
- The different senses perform functions in accordance with their individual structure and constitution. The eye sees forms, but cannot hear sounds; the ear hears sounds, but cannot see forms, and so on. But all the functions of the various senses are brought together in an integrated perception. It is the Self which sees, hears, etc., through the senses. The world is in the end nothing but the Self manifesting itself. It is the Self that perceives itself in its objectified form as the world. As there cannot be any relation between entities of dissimilar character, the communion of the subject and the object which is the precondition of perception proves that it is the Self that knows itself as others.
- In dreamless sleep there are no senses, no objects and no mind, and yet there is the feeling of peace and bliss which is regarded as higher than all other kinds of happiness. How could there be such an intense bliss in sleep when there are no objects and no sensations? Only the Self which persists even in sleep can account for such wonderful experience.
- All thought presupposes a thinker. And all thinking implies a consciousness of thinking. We can doubt the validity of all thoughts, feelings and volitions, but we cannot doubt that we doubt. The consciousness behind the act of doubting is not a matter of doubt. This is the Self.
- It is seen that every action produces a reaction. Karmas bear fruit. But it is observed that many quit their bodies before enjoying the fructification of their actions. If their self does not continue to exist even after their death, there would be Kritanasa or destruction of merited results of actions. We also notice that there are persons in the world who suffer or enjoy certain states for no visible cause whatsoever. Some lead a happy life from their birth, while others suffer from childhood. If their self did not exist prior to the present birth of theirs, there would be Akritabhyagama or experience of unmerited results. The law of Karma makes us believe that the self ought to have existed eternally before the present birth of an individual, and should exist eternally even after death. The Self knows no cessation of itself.
- We observe that many a time what one proposes is disposed otherwise in a manner over which one seems to have no control. There are events which occur independent of human agency and appear to rule over human destiny. Individual caprice is overcome by a larger purpose. This clearly indicates that there is a superhuman power which controls and guides the world. The assertion of individuality brings in its train fear and misery, demonstrating thus the falsity of its character, while a movement towards the non-selfish end brings freedom and happiness, proving thereby the reality of a non-individual objective.
- The ordinary man has no restraint over his mind and the senses. This shows that the director of the mind and the senses is different from the individual personality which subjects itself as a slave to these powers. The whole being of man is seen to be commanded and directed by motives and purposes which surpass human understanding. The Kenopanishad declares that the mind and the Prana, together with the senses, are impelled by a supremely intelligent being from within.
- The senses appear to be the seers of the objects. But on careful analysis it is discovered that the mind is the seer of which even the senses are objects. A higher investigation of the conditions of unconsciousness, swoon, sleep and Samadhi brings out that the mind is not the real seer or experiencer. We are obliged to stumble upon a consciousness above the mind, to which even the mind is an object. Consciousness is the Self.
- The objects seen are many, but the eye which sees them is one. The senses are many, but the mind which knows things through them is one. The mental functions are many, but the consciousness which holds them in unity is one. There cannot be many consciousnesses, for if it were so, their difference would have to be known by another consciousness. Our last resort is an indivisibility of being.
- Even when we deny all things by exposing the self-contradictory nature of their appearance and come to a void, as it were, as the only reality, we find that the assertion of this void requires a consciousness of there being a void. Consciousness is the subliminal essence of experience.
- There is pain as long as a desire lurks in the mind and directs itself to an external object. The psychoses agitate the mind and peace ensues only when the psychosis of desire subsides on the possession and enjoyment of object of desire. The peace and joy that is thus felt is the consequence of the cessation of desire and the non-relatedness of the mind to external things, and not of the presence of certain pleasurable characters in them, as one ordinarily supposes; for it is seen that the object of one’s love may be a thing evoking hatred in another, and even to one and the same person the same object may appear to be desirable as well as undesirable under different conditions of mind. Freedom and happiness are rooted in one’s own Self, and all efforts to import them from outside prove futile.
- The interval between the cessation of a desire and the rise of another desire is felt to be a state of joy. The joy does not come from outside but is the revelation of the truth within. If this state of resting in oneself continues for a long time one would experience a bliss which is higher than all the pleasures of the world.
- Suppose there is a big light kept somewhere at night, and one happens to be standing at a distance from it. Suppose also that there stands between the observer and the light an obstruction, so that the observer cannot see the light. Yet he can see clearly the objects that are illumined by the light. Now, though one cannot see the light directly, one can conclude from the fact of the perception of objects that there must be a light somewhere on account of whose existence the objects are made visible. In a like manner, from the perception of the world with its variegated objects we infer the existence of the light of an intelligence by which alone will it be possible for us to account for the fact of perception.
- A perfect law and order is seen to be working everywhere in the universe. Such uniformity as is observed in the operation of cosmic law can be accountable only if a unitary principle of consciousness exists as the unchanging substratum of the universe. Only an omniscient and omnipresent immanent principle existing everywhere can be responsible for the working of such a law.
- When the sun has set, when the moon and the stars have set, when fire does not burn, when there is no lightning and no kind of light anywhere at night, one recognises oneself and identifies oneself with the light which is unique and which comes from one’s own Self within. This light of the Self burns eternally.
- When, as a punishment for a certain crime committed by a person, he is informed that a limb of his body is to be cut off, he would rather prefer to have his hands cut off than the eyes removed. And if the time comes for it he would rather have his eyes removed than be executed. This indicates that the sense of knowledge is dearer to one than an organ of action. And dearer than even the senses is one’s own life. One wishes to live forever at any cost, for life eternal is the nature of the Self. But when one suffers from a very serious disease, a protracted ailment of a painful nature, when one sees gloom, and misery everywhere ahead, one wishes to give up one’s life, thereby demonstrating that happiness is superior to merely living somehow. The Self is not only eternal existence but eternal bliss.
- The law of Karma and reincarnation establishes the eternity of the Self. The soul of man which survives after death remembers in the next astral life, through the force of Samskaras, certain conditions of its previous existence even after its separation from the physical body. The Society of Psychical Research has performed several experiments and has come to the conclusion that the soul exists after death and puts on an astral body which can materialise itself on the earth plane. There are cases where persons have correctly given information regarding several things pertaining to their previous life. The soul is imperishable.
- Man generally argues at the time of his death: ‘I have undergone many sufferings, troubles and difficulties in life. I have done various good deeds. They may not go in vain. After all, is it for this one life alone that I have laboured so much? This cannot be. I shall be paid what is due to me.’ There is an urge from within which asserts itself in the form of an aspiration for immortal life. This immortal being is the Self.
- Man was a child once playing on his mother’s lap. Then he grew up into a school-going boy. Then he became an adolescent. He grew into an adult. Lastly he became a veteran with grey hair. Every moment of life there is change in the growth of the cells of the body. In spite of this incessant change in the constitution of the body one identifies oneself with the same personality. This is due to a continuous consciousness running through all change undergone by the body, without which there could not be a recognition of the personality. This consciousness persisting behind all change is the Self.
The philosopher Kant repudiates Hume’s view that impressions and ideas are related to one another by the laws of association, by urging that the fact of the association of ideas points to a deeper unifying function of self, which he terms the ‘transcendental unity of apperception.’ Only this transcendental self should not be supposed to be totally abstracted from the empirical self. The former is immanent in the appearance of the latter. The aim of the empirical self is self-transcendence. “In order to do this, we must negate the merely individual self, which is not the true self. We must realise ourselves by sacrificing ourselves. The more fully we so realise ourselves, the more do we reach a universal point of view—i.e. a point of view from which our own private good is no more to us than the good of any one else” (Mackenzie: Manual of Ethics, p.274). Green observes that the relation of events to each other as in time implies their equal presence to a subject which is not in time. There could be no such thing as time if there were not a self-consciousness which is not in time.
Anvaya and Vyatireka
The absolute independence of the Atman is proved by the method of synthesis and analysis, conjunction and disjunction, called Anvaya and Vyatireka. In his Essence of Vedanta (pp.147-149) Swami Sivananda gives the following description of this method:
Anvaya means the presence of one thing along with a particular another, and Vyatireka means its absence when that other is absent. It is synthesis and analysis (positive and negative method). The names and forms are different and unreal, but the one underlying essence of the Atman is the same in all forms. It is the only reality. The forms should be negated and the essence has to be grasped by meditation on the Atman. The Atman is to be separated from the five sheaths, just as one draws out the pith of the Munja grass or a reed. Just as one takes out the small diamond that is mixed with different kinds of pulses and cereals by separating it from them, this Atman is to be taken out by separating it from the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and blissful sheaths. Where these five sheaths exist, there the Atman also exists. Where these five sheaths do not exist, even there the Atman exists. Therefore, the Atman is independent of the five sheaths.
In the state of dream there is no consciousness of the existence of the material body, but the presence of the Atman is felt; as without the Atman it is not possible to have the consciousness of what occurs in a dream. It thus follows that in the state of dream there is the presence of the Atman and the absence of the material body. The coexistence of the Atman with the material body in the waking state is called Anvaya and the non-coexistence of the material body with the Atman in the state of dream is called Vyatireka.
In the state of sound sleep one is not conscious of the existence of the subtle body, but the presence of the Atman is proved by the fact that, after waking, everyone has the consciousness that during sound sleep one was perfectly ignorant of everything. This consciousness is the result of previous experience, and in sound sleep there is no one else than the Atman to receive that experience. The coexistence of the Atman with the subtle body in waking and dream is called Anvaya, and the non-coexistence of the subtle body with the Atman in the state of sound sleep is called Vyatireka.
In the state of Samadhi, i.e. perfect absorption of thought in the one object of meditation, viz. the Supreme Self, there is the absence of the causal body, which is the same as ignorance, but the presence of the Atman or the Self is experienced. The coexistence of the Atman with the causal body in waking, dream and deep sleep is called Anvaya, and the non-coexistence of the causal body with the Atman in Samadhi is called Vyatireka. It has thus been shown that the Atman exists independently of the several bodies under certain conditions. It is an axiom that whatever exists apart from certain things is different from those things. The difference of the Atman from the three bodies means also its difference from the five sheaths, for the sheaths are contained in these bodies. The Atman is absolutely unconditioned and independent.
The Upanishads declare that the Atman is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unknown knower. One cannot see the seer of seeing, one cannot hear the hearer of hearing, one cannot know the knower of knowing. The Atman has neither a subject nor an object. The subject and the object are both comprehended in the Atman in which all divisions appear and which is raised above them all. The ego and the non-ego have only a practical but not absolute reality, for they are contained in and appear on the basis of the Atman-consciousness. Consciousness is unconditioned, not limited by space, time, causality or individuality. The Mandukya Upanishad describes the Atman as that which is not internally conscious of the subjective world, not that which is externally conscious of the objective world, not that which is conscious of both simultaneously, not that which is a mass of consciousness, not that which is mere consciousness, not that which is unconsciousness. It is declared to be invisible, unapproachable, ungraspable, indefinable, unthinkable, indescribable, the sole essence of the consciousness of the one Self, the cessation of all phenomena, the peaceful, the blissful, the non-dual. It is extolled as the fourth state of consciousness, for from the point of view of the empirical subject it is the fourth, as distinguished from its manifestations in the three states of waking, dream and dreamless sleep. Acharya Sankara, in his invocatory verses to his commentary on this Upanishad, refers to this Turiya-consciousness in the following terms:
“I bow to that Brahman, which, after having experienced the gross by pervading all objects with its all-pervading consciousness-rays entering into the variety of all that is movable and immovable, and after again having drunk deep within itself all creations of the internal organ of knowledge propelled by the impressions of desires, sleeps ever soundly enjoying the sweetness of bliss, yet causing the fruition to us through Maya, and which, from the point of view of Maya, is reckoned as the fourth(state of consciousness). May that, the fourth, which, as the waking self, experiences the results of its actions in the form of gross objects, and then also the subtle ones called into being by its internal organs of knowledge and illumined by its own light, and lastly having drawn all these by degrees within itself, and casting aside all particularities, exists as the One free from all attributes,—may this protect us!”