15. jIva and jagat are Notional (Contd):
When Arjuna laments at the prospect of killing his loved ones in the war, Krishna tells him, “It was not that I was not existing before nor will I stop existing in the future.” That means there is no beginning or end, nor do the birth and death exist. Life is merely a transitional form that arises in between the unreal appearance of birth and death. Since birth and death are unreal, we (as the Self) are already liberated.
न त्वेवाहं जातु नासं न त्वं नेमे जनाधिपा |
न चैव न भविष्याम: सर्वे वयमत: परम् || — 2:12, Bhagavad-Gita.
[Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.]
In the very next verse, Krishna, however, says:
देहिनोऽस्मिन्यथा देहे कौमारं यौवनं जरा |
तथा देहान्तरप्राप्तिर्धीरस्तत्र न मुह्यति || — 2:13, Bhagavad-Gita.
[Just as the embodied self continuously passes from childhood to youth to old age, similarly, at the time of death, the self passes into another body. The wise are not deluded by this.]
These two verses sound contradictory to each other. But the essence of Krishna’s message is that if the individual identifies with the Supreme Self, then the individual Self is no different from the Supreme Self. He will remain as the Absolute Consciousness that is not subject to birth or death.
In contrast, if we identify with the various appearances (forms) of the Supreme Self, we will continue to form and deform, die and be reborn again and again. If we rise above relativity (particulars) and cultivate a vision that sees Universality and not particulars, we will experience our Self as pure Consciousness and become free of vikAra-s (modifications). Instead, if we identify with appearances (mAyA), we will continue to be caught up in the snares of samsAra.
16. Knowledge and the Knower:
Everything that Self perceives is an object that is known. Objects undergo change (vikAra). They are perceived as “mine,” and not as “Me.” They cannot touch our essential nature, which is pure Consciousness. For an object to be known to the Self, it must be separate from the Self. For an object to lose its separate existence, it must dissolve completely into the “Me” (Self as pure Consciousness). It must become “Me”, not “mine.” If it continues to appear separate from me, it will continue to change in form and can never be “me.”
Hence, our minds need to be still, devoid of vikAra-s, in order to experience Self as pure Consciousness.
17. Self is Pure Knowledge:
The substance, the primary nature of the Self, is Pure Knowledge (vignAna swarUpa). The “knowing” aspect of the Self is its secondary nature. When we say fire and rain do not affect space in any way, it is we who say so on behalf of space in order to establish the fact that space is formless and changeless. Space itself does not make any such claims.
When the Upanishad says that the Self is “satyam jnAnam anantam, the word jnAnam (Knowingness) is used and not the word jnAta (Knower). If the Self were to be the Knower, it would have had some relationship with the object that It knows. It would then imply that the Self had undergone some change. But Self is Pure Knowingness. It does not undergo any change.
Therefore, when we refer to the Self as the Knower, it is only a manner of speaking. For example, if we throw a piece of paper into the fire, we see the paper burning. We attribute in our common parlance the act of burning (doer-ship) to the fire and say that the fire burns the paper. But it is the paper that burns. Heat is the intrinsic nature of the fire. Fire simply stands as itself in its essential nature while the paper burns. Irrespective of the piece of paper being thrown into it or not, the fire remains to be hot. Fire does not undergo any change (vikAra), but the paper does. The statement, “fire burns,” is just a metaphorical expression. Burning is a secondary nature that is superimposed on fire.
Likewise, Self is pure Awareness-Beingness. It is changeless and unmoving. It is the upAdhis (body/mind adjuncts) that are superimposed on the Self that change continuously.
18. Knowledgeable Seeker and Ritualistic Action:
Shankara before concluding his commentary at 13.2, Bhagavad-Gita answers one more question by the Discussant.
Discussant: हन्त । तर्हि आत्मनि क्रियाकारकफलात्मतायाः स्वतः अभावे, अविद्यया च अध्यारोपितत्वे, कर्माणि अविद्वत्कर्तव्यान्येव, न विदुषाम् इति प्राप्तम् ।
Well, if the Self has in Himself no concern with action or with its accessories (instruments like the body, life-force, mind etc.) or with the results (of the actions), and if these are ascribed (to the Self) by avidyA, then it would follow that the rituals ( karmas ) are intended only for the ignorant, not for the wise. (Would this not be violating the shAstra which tells us that one should perform the sacrificial rituals with knowledge?)
Vedantin: सत्यम् एवं प्राप्तम् , एतदेव च, 18.11 इत्यत्र दर्शयिष्यामः । सर्वशास्त्रार्थोपसंहारप्रकरणे च (18.50) इत्यत्र विशेषतः दर्शयिष्यामः । अलम् इह बहुप्रपञ्चनेन, इति उपसंह्रियते ॥
Yes. It does follow, as we shall explain when commenting on 18.11 and in the section at 18.50 where the teaching of the whole shAstra is summed up. We shall dwell more particularly on this point. No need here to expatiate further on the subject; so, we conclude for the present.
Shankara is very categorical and does not mince his words in his expression at the end of the verse 18.50. He observes:
“Those who hold that cognition (jnAna) is formless and is not known by immediate perception must admit that, since an object of knowledge is apprehended through cognition, cognition is quite as immediately known as pleasure or the like.
Moreover, it cannot be maintained that cognition is a thing which one seeks to know. If cognition were unknown, it would be a thing which has to be sought after just as an object of cognition is sought after. Just as, for example, a man seeks to reach by cognition the cognizable object such as a pot, so also would he have to seek to reach cognition by means of another cognition. But the fact is otherwise. Wherefore cognition is self-revealed, and therefore, also, is the cognizer self-revealed.
Therefore, it is not for the knowledge (of brahman or the Self) that any effort (with a view to bring into existence something that does not already exist by means of an act enjoined in the shruti) is needed; it is needed only to prevent us from regarding the not-Self as the Self. Therefore, Devotion to Knowledge (jnAna–niShTha) is easily attainable.” (Translation: A.M. Sastri, 1923).
Advaita Vedanta tells us that we are not the Gross, the Subtle or the Causal body with which we mistakenly identify ourselves and consequently suffer their fate as ours. It reminds us that what we are in truth is the Self, the Pure Consciousness. For some inexplicable reason, the Self appears as though contaminated and fallen from Its pristine nature. 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.” Shankara avers that ignorance really cannot exist. He leaves no scope to doubt if ignorance is more than anything but a convenient placeholder to explain the appearance of the One Self as a multiplicity. Because of our inability to discern the Self from not-Self, we attribute the qualities of Consciousness, the subject onto the objects that are perceived.
Shankara says that if we stop identifying with the not-Self, ignorance will not affect us. Ignorance is not inherent to us; it is imagined. It cannot exist in the subject that is perceiving an object.
Knowingness and ignorance are like “Illumination and darkness” – ignorance cannot be present in Knowingness or the Self. No spiritual practices are required to get rid of ignorance; Self-inquiry alone will lead to Self-Knowledge.
Both jIva and jagat are notional; everything we perceive including the jIva and jagat is anAntmA. ‘jagat’ is nothing but an ensemble of variable forms; ‘jIva’ is a collection of thoughts and feelings along with a sense of doership and experiencership. Atma is sat-cit (Presence-Awareness) that permeates the entire universe of infinite forms. If we recognize that Universal that is all-pervasive as what “I” truly am, we will be free from sorrow and fears.
prANa (life-force) entices manas (mind) to act. Mind thinks of myriad ways to act (kriyA shakti) and experiences the results of its actions. It is samsAra. It is ignorance to identify oneself with the body and mind and assume doership for the actions. One would then necessarily become the experiencer of the consequences of the action done. If one does not identify with the body/mind, and stands as the unconcerned witness to the changes that the body and mind undergo, with a firm conviction that “I am not the doer or the experiencer,” the separate self (jIvAtma) expands into being the Supreme Self (paramAtma). Shankara impresses on us that no effort is needed for obtaining Self-knowledge. What is needed is to prevent ourselves from regarding the not-Self as the Self. He assures us that abidance as “the Self (jnAna-niShTha) is easily attainable.”