AtmA anubhava / anubhUti:

Telugu is a very ancient Indian language that has its roots in Sanskrit. The total number of the letters as well as the letters in the Alphabets of  both the languages are the same. Almost 90 % of the nouns and adjectives in Telugu come from Sanskrit. Moreover, any of the Sanskrit words can be translated into Telugu easily by adopting the Telugu equivalents of the “case” suffixes (vibhakti pratyaya-s).

With all the above given, however, when I was rendering into English some of the Vedantic texts, I found to my dismay, that over time, the meanings of the some of the words in Telugu got transformed into a different sense than the exact phonetically sounding original Sanskrit word! It was a task for me as a Telugu speaker to get instilled into my brain that a particular Sanskrit word, though the same as in Telugu, connotes a different meaning than what I am accustomed to.

That being the case, it is not difficult for me to imagine how arduous it would be for an Englishman to appreciate the native meaning of certain words in the Sanskrit language when they are rendered into the English language using the popular dictionaries.

“Experience,” perhaps is such a vexatious word. English, being an Agentative language, demands always a ‘subject’ in its sentence structure. It would be unimaginable for a native Englishman where a sentence could exist without a subject. They have to bring in a fictitious “It” to say that it is raining. Just ‘raining” does not make sense to them 🙂

Likewise, a normal Englishman demands that “experience” can happen only if and if a subject (an experiencer) is present. While that is very much true in a Vedantic sense when the experiencing happens in a dualistic world, Sanskrit will not disallow experiencing even when there is no tangible experiencer. The ‘experiencing’ in a Non-dual situation becomes “Awaring,” a word that does not exist in English, but can convey what it means to a Vedantin! Some authors resort to the use of distinguishing the experience into two kinds – the “objective experience” when it happens in a dualistic environment WITH the presence of “tripuTi” (observer-observing-observed) and the “intuitive experience” when it happens in a Non-dual environment.

We have two words in Sanskrit, namely, anubhava and anubhUti which are rendered into English as experience.

The prefix “anu” means ‘after’ or ‘following’ or ‘alongside’ etc. It comes often prefixed to verbs and nouns. Both the Sanskrit words ‘bhava‘ and ‘bhUti‘ mean ‘being’ or ‘coming into existence.’ Therefore, when the prefix ‘anu’ is added, they indicate what happens after something “is” or following something happening. To whom does it happen or what is the ‘subject’ is not relevant.

Tagging these words to Atman or brahman, the phrase AtmAnubhUti and AtmAnubhava get coined to indicate the Experiencing of the Self. None questions to whom this ‘experiencing’ happened. There can be ‘raining’ anywhere without having to invoke a fictitious “it” as in English.

Here is an example where Shankara uses the word “AtmAnubhava” and incidentally defines it too:

तस्मात् सर्वदुःखविनिर्मुक्तैकचैतन्यात्मकोऽहमित्येष आत्मानुभवः । न च एवम् आत्मानमनुभवतः किञ्चिदन्यत्कृत्यमवशिष्यते — 4.1.2, BSB.

[ tasmaat sarvadu.hkhavinirmuktaikacaitanyaatmako’hamitye.sa aatmaanubhava.h | na ca evam aatmaanamanubhavata.h ki~ncidanyatk.rtyamava”si.syate ]

Meaning: Hence the realization of the Self means the realization that “I am the Self which is one and is characterized as consciousness and freedom from all sorrow”. A man who realizes the Self thus can have no other duty. Translation: – Swami Gambhirananda.

Here is another example from Gita bhAShya:

ज्ञानस्य स्वात्मोत्पत्तिपरिपाकहेतुयुक्तस्य प्रतिपक्षविहीनस्य यत् आत्मानुभवनिश्चयावसानत्वं तस्य निष्ठाशब्दाभिलापात् ।  — 18.55, BGB.

[ j~naanasya svaatmotpattiparipaakahetuyuktasya pratipak.savihiinasya yat aatmaanubhavani”scayaavasaanatva.m tasya ni.s.thaa”sabdaabhilaapaat | ]

Meaning:  The word “nishtha” means that the knowledge aided by all the favourable conditions of its rise and development and freed from obstacles culminates in a firm conviction by one’s own experience. Translation: Alladi M. Sastri.

Here are a couple of examples of the usage of “anubhUti“:

विशुद्धसत्त्वस्य गुणाः प्रसादः
स्वात्मानुभूतिः परमा प्रशान्तिः ।
तृप्तिः प्रहर्षः परमात्मनिष्ठा
यया सदानन्दरसं समृच्छति ॥  119, vivekacUDAmaNi.

[ vi”suddhasattvasya gu.naa.h prasaada.h
svaatmaanubhuuti.h paramaa pra”saanti.h |
t.rpti.h prahar.sa.h paramaatmani.s.thaa
yayaa sadaanandarasa.m sam.rcchati || ]

The characteristics of pure sattva are cheerfulness, selfrealization, supreme peace, contentment, bliss, and a steady
abidance in the supreme Self, by which the aspirant comes to
enjoy everlasting bliss. Translation: Pranipata Chaitanya.

अपरोक्षानुभूतिर्वै प्रोच्यते मोक्षसिद्धये 

सद्भिरेषा प्रयत्नेन वीक्षणीया मुहुर्मुहुः    —   2, aparokShAnubhUti.

[ aparok.saanubhuutirvai procyate mok.sasiddhaye |

sadbhire.saa prayatnena viik.sa.niiyaa muhurmuhu.h ]

Now “aparokShAnubhUti” (immediated and direct Self-realization) is being expounded for obtaining Liberation. The pure in heart should repeatedly and with effort meditate on the Truth herein taught. Tanslation: Swami Vimuktananda.

In conclusion, it is my humble submission that the meaning of the word “experience” has to be contextually understood when it occurs in a Vedantic text translated from the original Sanskrit and the reader cannot insist on a meaning as per her/his own native understanding and idiom.

6 thoughts on “AtmA anubhava / anubhUti:

  1. Anyone interested in this important subject should read Wilhelm Halbfass’s seminal study “The Concept of Experience in the Encounter Between India and the West” which illuminates the philosophical ambiguities of the term and its recent appropriations by some neo-Advaitins to serve apologetic ends. Halbfass discusses how Shankara himself deals with experience and his use of the terms “anubhava”, “anubhuti”, “saksatkara”, “darsana”, and so on.

    Bina Gupta’s discussion of the concept of “experience” in Indian and Western thought in her book “Reason and Experience in Indian Philosophy” is also enlightening.

  2. Halfass’ study is chapter 21 of his “India and Europe: An Essay in Philosophical
    Understanding”. The full text of his and Bina Gupta’s book can be found at ‘archive.org’.

    • Just went through Chapter 21 in Halbfass’ book as suggested by Rick Riekert and found myself applauding almost every paragraph with of course, some disagreements.

      I think RR has done this board a great service by introducing WH to those who did not already know of him (Martin knew, for sure ?!!) but unfortunately has misspelled the author’s name above as single-buttock, heh, heh.

      Many thanks,
      Shishya

  3. An interesting and enlightening exposition of the language, Ramesam!

    But what on earth could “happening in a Non-dual environment” mean?? And how exactly do “cheerfulness, selfrealization, supreme peace, contentment” apply in this non-dual sense?

    I suggest that words such as ‘understanding’ and ‘apprehension’ (given in Monier-Williams for anubhava) are much closer to the intended meaning.

    We can never (and do not need to) ‘experience’ Brahman because we ARE Brahman. But language is necessarily dualistic so, if we want to convey any of this to another apparent person then we are obliged to use it and put up with its shortcomings.

  4. Dear Dennis,

    Thank you for your kind words.

    You ask me: ” But what on earth could “happening in a Non-dual environment” mean?? ”

    I agree that is a bit awkward way of saying on my part because, as you know very well, we are referring to “something” that is admittedly not expressible by words (vide 2.4.1, taittirIya).

    The phrase “Non-dual environment” is obviously that where the dualistic “tripuTi” is absent. Perhaps, the best possible expression of it is captured by the 3rd shloka of ancient origin quoted by Shankara at the end of catussUtri.

    It runs as follows:

    देहात्मप्रत्ययो यद्वत्प्रमाणत्वेन कल्पितः ।
    लौकिकं तद्वदेवेदं प्रमाणं त्वाऽऽत्मनिश्चयात् ||

    dehAtma pratyayaH yadvat pramANatvena kalpitaH |
    laukikaM tadvad evedaM prmANaM tu AtmanishcayAt ||

    Meaning: Just as the idea of the Self being the body is assumed as valid (in ordinary life), so all the ordinary sources of knowledge (perception and the like) are valid only until the one Self is ascertained.

    IOW, as Shri Y. Srinivasa Rao explicates, “Under the influence of ignorance, the Infinite, Eternal Consciousness or AtmA, gets split into the trio of pramAta, prameya and pramANa, and thereby shackles us to this samsAra. In contrast, under the blessings of the Enlightenment, the above trio synthesize into the Eternal True Self, and bestow on us MokSha (or Mukti).” That stands for the situation when the triad is not present anymore.

    Next you raise the point: “And how exactly do “cheerfulness, selfrealization, supreme peace, contentment” apply in this non-dual sense?”

    The best way to understand the above, IMHO, is that all those alternate descriptors listed may be taken as synonyms for Liberation and hence all those attributes will automatically be present the moment the “Realization” dawns on the seeker.

    I fully concur with what you say in the last para of your comment above.

    regards,

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