Q.399 – Self-evident Atma

Q: I want to ask about the following quotation from your series on upadesha sAhasrI – part 19 (upadesha sAhasrI compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda):

Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham)Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.

We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless.  Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself. 

As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof.  That I am conscious is evident to me.  The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious.  Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything.  This Atma is my real nature.  All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness).”

My question is:

Atma cannot know Atma (Atma cannot be known), but Atma is said to be self-evident ( I know I  am conscious) also. So does it mean, the self-evident Atma is due to the chidAbhAsa?

I know my face only because I can see my face on the mirror and recognize it. Though my face can exist without mirror and its reflection. Like the Tenth Man Story, he couldn’t know himself until the guru told him.

Mind, which is acting like a mirror, is only mithyA, its substratum is Brahman/Pure Consciousness only. So the self-evident quality is also mithyA.  When the body and mind are destroyed, there will be no chidAbhAsa; after that nothing can be said or known or thought or described. A videha mukta will never say ” I am self evident, I am Pure Consciousness, I exist”. Although, ultimately, there is no videha mukti or liberation either (because, since beginingless time, there is only brahman), body and mind are like the golden ring and golden bangle.

Is this understanding correct?

A (Dennis): There is always a problem when trying to talk about absolute reality, because the reality is the non-dual brahman. ALL discussions, explanations, rationalizations etc take place in vyavahAra, which is dualistic and mithyA. chidAbhAsa is a metaphor, and a very useful one; it can ‘explain’ aspects which are otherwise difficult to rationalize. But the bottom line is that All those explanations etc have to be dropped in the end. This is why the key methodology of advaita is pointed out as being adhyAropa-apavAda.

Most of what you say looks ok but the answer to the question “So does it mean, the self-evident Atma is due to the chidabhasa?” is No. You can say ‘Atma is self-evident’, as in ‘I know I exist’. In reality, there is no such thing as chidAbhAsa because there is no world and no jIva. At the level of the empirical world, you can say ‘that the Atma is self-evident is realized by the intellect of the jIva. chidAbhAsa provides a sort-of-explanation for how this operates if one assumes a real world and jIva’.

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