The Ignorance that Isn’t – 1/8

1.  Introduction:

We are all familiar with our gross physical body. It is available to our direct perception and it gives us our ID. Vedanta tells us that we are blessed with two more bodies — the subtle body comprising life-force, the mind and the intellect, and a totally imperceptible third body, subtler than the subtle body. It is called the causal body, the source of the other two bodies. Advaita Vedanta avers, as we all know, that what we truly are is Pure Consciousness. Consciousness is our nature. It is the very Self that knows “I AM.” It is not that the Self possesses Consciousness. Self is Consciousness. We are actually none of these bodies.

But for some unknown and indeterminate reason, the Self, instead of being the Subject, the Knower or the Seer, got contaminated. We superimposed the Self with the known and the seen, the objects.  We shifted our ID from being the Self to being a body – mostly as the gross physical body, and sometimes as the subtle body. That is a great fall for the Self – from Self to not-Self because the bodies are insentient (anAtma). The strong association we experience with the three bodies stands as a proof of the apparent fall. The severity of the fall could have been far less had we considered the bodies to be “mine” instead of taking them to be “me,” identifying ourselves with them as “I am my body.”

The apparent fall of the Self to not-Self is described in the Vedantic literature as a veiling of the self-effulgent Consciousness by “ignorance.” Much like the Sun being obscured by a cloud. The name given to that apparent veiling is “ignorance.” One cannot for sure say, though, that ignorance does exist, as we shall see a little later. However, the “concept of ignorance” has become central to the teaching of Advaita doctrine. It turned out to be a useful explanatory device. As already said, we are the Pure Self and our nature is Knowledge that shines like light. Ignorance, comparable to darkness, cannot exist in the presence of Self-knowledge. Nevertheless, the moment we become unaware or forgetful of our true nature, ignorance takes over and rules the roost.

Consequently, we face the unavoidable decay (ageing) and death because of the physical body. We experience the inescapable hunger and thirst because of the subtle body. The inexorable delusion and grief haunt us because of the causal body. Using the famous maha vAkya (Great Statement) “tat tvam asi” from 6.8.7, chAndogya Upanishad, Shankara reassuringly reminds us that what in truth we are is brahman which is beyond the three bodies. Therefore, we do not have to suffer those indignities resulting from our misidentification with the bodies. He says in his short treatise, vivekacUDAmaNi:

षड्भिरूर्मिभिरयोगि योगिहृद्भावितं न करणैर्विभावितम् ।
बुद्ध्यवेद्यमनवद्यभूति यद्ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ॥  — 257, vivekacUDAmaNi.

[Meaning: That which is untouched by the Six Waves of Affliction; which is realized in the heart of Yogis; which cannot be grasped by the sense organs; nor the intellect can know; and which is of flawless excellence, that brahman are you. Meditate on That in your mind.]

Taking help of the “neti; neti” (Not thus; Not thus) technique provided by 4.5.15, brihadAraNyaka Upanishad, an earnest seeker, through diligent inquiry and contemplative meditation can relatively easily discover that s/he is neither the gross body nor the subtle body. However, we find the causal body (kAraNa sharIra), which is the seat of ignorance, to be not so easy to negate.

2.  Purpose, Sources and Acknowledgements:

The discussion in this article is focused on appreciating that we are not the causal body also. Hopefully it will be found useful in negating the causal body and to understand that our true nature is Pure Consciousness. The arguments and reasoning used in this discussion are centered on Shankara’s detailed commentary on the verse 13.2 of Bhagavad-Gita. This write-up itself is based on the three 90-Min talks by Shri Yellamraju Srinivasa Rao (YSR).  The three talks are a part of his Series on “Advaita SiddhAnta SamIkSha” (A Review of the Advaita Doctrine). The links to the YouTube Audios in Telugu for the three Talks (91- 93/192) are given at the end. We have taken considerable liberty in editing and rearranging the material, while adhering to his text. If any errors have crept in because of this process, they will entirely be our responsibility and may not be attributed to Shri YSR. This article is prepared by Smt. Neppalli Padma and Ramesam Vemuri. We are grateful to Vijay Pargaonkar who read through the initial versions and offered valuable inputs.

3.  The Causal Body:

Sri Krishna says in the Gita that we are deluded because our Knowledge, which is our intrinsic nature, is covered by ignorance. At another place, he even says that it looks as though the Knowledge is stolen by mAyA.

अज्ञानेनावृतं ज्ञानं तेन मुह्यन्ति जन्तवः 5.15, Bhagavad-Gita

[Meaning: Knowledge is enveloped by ignorance; thereby mortals are deluded.]

माययापहृतज्ञाना आसुरं भावमाश्रिताः  7.15, Bhagavad-Gita

[Meaning: Having Knowledge stolen by Illusion, following the ways of the Demons…]

Strictly speaking, Knowledge can neither be stolen nor destroyed. It is only from the viewpoint of our intellect (buddhi), it appears as though we have lost the Knowledge. We have to be very vigilant not to forget who we are in order to avoid being entrapped by ignorance.

Sage Sanatkumara tells Dhritarashtra in the text “sanat sujAtIyam” that death is forgetfulness (pramAda) and forgetfulness itself is ignorance. For eons, we have forgotten our real and original nature. All we have are the memories from the relative world we are in now. These worldly object-oriented memories are like the treasures accumulated in a dream. Objective knowledge, worldly expertise, and accumulated information are no better than ignorance. What is important is to remember the Self-knowledge, our real intrinsic nature. Bhagavad-Gita in a preliminary manner and brihadAraNyaka Upanishad more exhaustively explain the nature of ignorance.

Birth and death pertain to the gross body and not to the individual (jIva). The life-force (prANa) and mind are merely instruments available in the service of the individual. Not knowing who we are in Reality because of ignorance, we become everything else which we are not. A discrete analysis of our deep-sleep state shows us that the causal body is responsible for veiling our Knowledge of the Self.

Therefore, we have to understand the role of the causal body and its relation to ignorance.

(To Continue …  Part 2/8)


  1. Talk 91/192 – 1 Hr 33 Min 59 Sec.
  2. Talk 92/192 – 1 Hr 32 Min 37 Sec.
  3. Talk 93/192 – 1 Hr 35 Min 56 Sec.

8 thoughts on “The Ignorance that Isn’t – 1/8

  1. Promises to be a great series, Ramesam, thank you! Unfortunately, the ‘Ignorance’ topic is not scheduled until Volume 2 of my ‘Confusions’ book. So I haven’t yet researched and written this and will not be able to contribute as much as i would have liked. (I think I made the same excuse to Venkat regarding the saMnyAsa topic!)

    Still, on the bright side, I will be able to draw on your prior research and writing when I get around to it. 😉

    Best wishes,

  2. Thank you very much for the encouraging words, Dennis.

    As you may know, I made an Announcement about the article at the FaceBook Groups I am a Member of. It is already buzzing there and I am responding to many questions.

    I have to admit that the later parts are still in a sort of fluid condition and therefore, I will be very happy to have your comments so that I can improve on the text as we keep publishing each part.

    Looking forward to your observations,


  3. I don’t have anything at all to do with FaceBook (the root of many evils apparently!). I hope you will be able to ensure that any useful points that emerge will be passed on in your later posts.

    I forgot to remind (or inform new visitors) of my 2016 post on the subject, which may be relevant:

    Best wishes,

    • Hi David
      I recently discovered this site.
      Im looking for recommendation in reading materials or online swami talks and practices for my current state, any advice is appreciated.
      Few years ago i experienced a spontaneous awakening feeling the bliss of whole ocean, tho returning to limiting glass meat suit prison was depressive. There was a shift from body identity to witnessing awareness.
      I have realized the atman, knower and known are not separate but my mind is still run by conditioned habitual patterns ,not quite so strongly as before . I have removed most of fear,anxiety,insecurity etc but sometimes anger arises strongly that i let it play out with awareness of it. My mind feels quite chained and tired.There is still stuck trauma energy in me manifesting in ocd compulsions , and some vague sense of earthly desires also to mention im in my 20s so some desires are stronger than others.

      What do i do from here?
      My current practice is just dissolving thoughts and emotions as they arise and resting in Self.
      There is also longing in me for those higher states of consciousness of great bliss and infinity.
      Would love to hear from you.
      Best wishes.

  4. Hi Dennis,

    Thank you for your Comment and observations.

    About FB:

    The Groups I am associated with use the FB just as a platform for social interaction. They are selective groups with dedicated people interested in Non-duality only.

    You will be happy to know that one British gentleman, a Musician by profession, recently told me that he has a collection of all your books and has been reading them. What can be better than that!

    About your 2016 Post on “Ignorance”:

    Thank you very much for linking your article here.
    It complements well what I am presenting in the current Series. Our focus on ignorance is more from a “sAdhana” point of view. I hope to touch on the “ontological” issues toward the end.

    While at this, allow me please to suggest that the Readers may also go through the two comments at the end of Dennis’ article. Martin summarizes very well the view of SSSS on Ignorance and Charles brings to light the apt words of Dr Karl Potter. Martin has been kind to mention about my own observations too with regard to the play of our ‘mind’ in concocting ignorance.


  5. Hello Eternal,

    You wanted to perhaps address “Dennis Waite” who is the Admin and Owner of the Website.

    I trust he will respond to your question.

    In the meanwhile, I may intervene to say that you appear to be on the correct approach. The only appeal I would like to submit for your consideration is not to make “those higher states of consciousness of great bliss and infinity” as a goal to be achieved by you. What you may find ultimately could be plain ordinary.

    In additon, permit me to say:

    1. The Scriptures and Shankara suggest that only knowledge (jnAna), i.e. “understanding ” is the way. There is no “doing.”

    2. It will not be possible to try dissolving all the multiple objects of the world and the diverse thoughts that arise into a homogeneous Oneness starting at the object end. It will be far easier to do at the subject, the ‘me’ end, i.e. the chidAbhAsa end. Every time the ‘idea’ of I or me arises, counter it saying within yourself “Hahn, there is no me.”

    3. No harm practicing # 2 with effort to start with and slowly letting it become a habit. Eventually the chidAbhAsa ‘I’ stops rising due to it being neglected.


    • Thank you for reply ramesan.
      Its not thoughts of I,me im good in that regard but more of an unpleasant thought followed by a body sensation that disrupts the equanimity (im not completely merged in it there is still underlying awareness above thought/sensation)and i try to remove it and get back to cloudless being.

      Apologies if i didnt understand something correctly i have only recently ventured into advaita vendanta as i enjoyed swami talks, i was mostly guided by intuition in my journey.

      Im also at a loss as to what do now in life ,there isint much attraction to doing anything in particular. Im also exploring occult methods for increasing energy/vitality/better fortune in material reality to make this stay in conditional reality a bit more pleasurable.
      There is no strong desire but there is still some weakened desires, im not particularly attached to them.


  6. Hi Eternal,

    Thank you.
    I understand that Dennis has already responded to your inquiry.
    It may be useful for you to get a proper and complete picture of the philosophy of Advaita from a study of books and interactions with a teacher. It may not be possible to say more at this stage.


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