We started this enquiry into identity by employing a simple piece of logic: you cannot be what you observe. From this point of view, the things we normally take ourselves to be, starting with the body, were systematically discounted because they turn out to be objects of perception, as covered in the first three parts of this series. Despite this reasoning, the tendency to believe our identity with the amalgam of body, senses and mind tends to remains very powerful: we continue to believe that we are these individuals bound by skin, with an experiential history and an instinctive, habitual mindset through which ‘I’ filter the world.
Identity with the body is evidenced by the vast cosmetic surgery industry today. People feel better with fewer wrinkles, larger breasts, drug-induced libido, less fat, etc. That’s the extreme end, but coming closer to the average person, we think of ourselves as too tall, too short, too hot or cold. If the body is in pain, we say: I am in pain. We really do mean ‘I’ when we say: I am hot, cold, ugly, beautiful, too short, too fat, too old. By employing the incontrovertible logic of ‘I cannot be what I can observe’, it does not take long for us to realise that the body is an object of perception: ‘I’ can experience my body using my five senses. We then ask: Who is observing the body? Continue reading →
When we analysed the world of objects in the waking state we came to the understanding that our experience of the variety of objects is due to the variety of corresponding mental impressions (covered in Part 2 of this series). If there isn’t a mental impression ‘this is a pot’ then, despite fully-functioning senses, the pot will be as good as non-existent. The perception of ‘is-ness’ is the single, unchanging common thread in all our worldly experiences. This perception is given the name, ‘consciousness’.
When we analysed our dream state experience we realised that the same observation holds true for the dream universe as for the universe we encounter when awake. This experience gives an added dimension to our understanding of consciousness: not only is it the one, unchanging basis of the varied, changing objects (gross and subtle), but now we see that it is also continuous through the changing states of experience. The ‘I’ that is awake is the same ‘I’ that dreamt: ‘I am awake, I had a dream’. Continue reading →
In the first part of this enquiry we saw how, by discriminating between the seer and what’s seen, we arrive at the understanding that ‘I’, the seer, am not the body, not the sense powers, not the thinking faculty, not even a combination of all of them. They are all objects of my perception and I am the perceiving subject. And I, the subject, cannot be what I can perceive as an object. In this logical way we arrived, step-by-step, at a final ‘knower’, which is given the name ‘pure consciousness’. This pure consciousness is what remains after thoughts, (which are the subtlest objects of perception), have been dismissed as the ultimate ‘I’. We know there’s something there but it is still a bit hazy. We now need to test the robustness of our new working conclusion that this ‘pure consciousness’ is the ‘I’ we are searching for and sharpen the understanding.
For this we need to understand the nature of consciousness and its relationship, if any, with ‘I’. A question might arise at this point: If ‘I’ is the pure consciousness that remains in the absence of vṛtti-s (thoughts), and no cognition is possible without vṛtti-s, then how can I ever know what I am? How do we go further with this enquiry if there are no thoughts? Continue reading →
Q : The second line in the first Shloka of Ishopanishad begins with ” Tena tyaktena Bhunjeeta”. The literal meaning appears to be ” therefore, enjoy with a sense of tyaga or renunciation (as everything created in this world is permeated by Ishwara) but Adi Shankaracharya has interpreted these words to mean ” protect ourselves”. Is there a satisfactory explanation for this interpretation?
Also, the second word of first verse of Ishopanishad: is it vasam (is full) or vasyam (should be considered full). Shankara says vasyam. Vasam appears more logical to me.
A (Ramesam): In order to fully appreciate and admire the beauty and profundity hidden behind the simplicity of a cryptic statement, one ought to know the background and the context against which that expression gets developed. It is as much true when we talk of an equation such as E = mc^2 or a routine proverb like ‘Still waters run deep.’ Continue reading →
At some time or other in every person’s life the question of identity arises in some form or other. For most people, the answer seems pretty obvious: I am a unique human being, a man/woman, in this body, with these parents, these siblings, and these ideas. I am defined by my wealth, my social class, my education, my tastes, my network of contacts, my race. I am shaped by my biology, my physiology, my psychology. Anything beyond this is ‘philosophy’, and one thing I am not is a philosopher!
If, however, people knew the life-changing value in finding the true answer to the question, ‘Who am I?’ they might be prepared to dig a bit deeper for that truth. Vedānta gives us a very good reason to pursue the question. It says that because we do not know the truth of who we are, we take ourselves to be an amalgam of the body and mind (thus pretty much confirming the majority view). The inevitable consequence of identifying with something that is as changeable, limited and vulnerable as the body and mind, is that ‘I’ is also taken to be changeable, limited and vulnerable. And it consumes a whole life of sweat and slog in trying to build up adequate self-protection. Continue reading →
So how do we know how Brahman is? The teacher says that each object of experience has 5 aspects: asti, bhāti, priyam, rūpam, nāma. Asti = ‘is’. You know the meaning of the word ‘cat’, but not pay attention to the meaning of the word ‘is’, which means ‘isness’, which means ‘existence’. When you say ‘cat is’ you mean that the existence of the cat is. Any object of experience you can name is.
Existence is the intrinsic nature of Brahman, the Reality. In what form is Brahman? Continue reading →
Part 9 of the serialization of the presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. This is the prakaraNa grantha which is agreed by most experts to have been written by Shankara himself and is an elaborate unfoldment of the essence of Advaita.
Samsāra, this life of limitations, this life of transmigration, is because of the lack of discriminative knowledge of what Self is and what it is not. That ignorance is caused by the covering power of māyā, which covers internally and externally: internally it covers the discrimination between the seer and the seen, and externally it covers discrimination between the Reality and the creation.
Internally, delusion causes error such as: ‘I am insecure, dependent, unhappy, limited, etc.’ These wrong notions are caused by lack of discriminative knowledge at the individual level. Externally it takes the form: ‘this universe is the source of happiness, it is responsible for my unhappiness, I am dependent on the universe, the universe will give me security, etc.’ (The universe includes friends, relatives, property etc).
One’s notion about the self (internal) is wrong and notion about the universe (external) is also wrong. Every human being makes this common error. These erroneous notions are caused by lack of discriminative knowledge. We do not have discrimination regarding what is absolutely true and what is ‘as though’ true in the universe, hence we have a wrong notion about the universe. Continue reading →