Suggesting a way out of this quagmire of samsAra, Shankara observes:
तं पुनर्देहाभिमानादशरीरस्वरूपविज्ञानेन निवर्तिताविवेकज्ञानमशरीरं सन्तं प्रियाप्रिये न स्पृशतः ।
Meaning: The same Being, however, when, Its “ignorance in the shape of Its notion of the body being the Self” has been set aside by Its Knowledge of its real “unbodied” nature, then pleasure and pain do not touch It.
धर्माधर्मकार्ये हि ते ; अशरीरता तु स्वरूपमिति तत्र धर्माधर्मयोरसम्भवात् तत्कार्यभावो दूरत एवेत्यतो न प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः ॥
Meaning: The reason for this (i.e., the absence of pleasure and pain) lies in the fact that pleasure and pain are the effects of merit and demerit, while the real nature of the Self is being unbodied, so, that merit and demerit being impossible in the latter, the appearance of their effect is still further off. Hence, the pleasure and pain do not touch It.
It is important to understand here that unlike the bodily pleasure and pain, the Bliss of the Self is something inherent to It. That Bliss is not a transient feature like ‘touch’ which appears and disappears. We have support for this contention from other shruti mantras too. Shankara writes:
न त्वग्नेरुष्णप्रकाशयोः स्वभावभूतयोरग्निना स्पर्श इति भवति ; तथा अग्नेः सवितुर्वा उष्णप्रकाशवत् स्वरूपभूतस्य आनन्दस्य प्रियस्यापि नेह प्रतिषेधः, ‘विज्ञानमानन्दं ब्रह्म’ (3.9.28, br.U) ‘आनन्दो ब्रह्म’ (3.6.1, taittirIya) इत्यादिश्रुतिभ्यः ।
This term ‘touch’ is not used in connection with what forms the very nature of things, in such as the heat and brightness of Fire, which form its very nature, which are not spoken of as ‘Touch of fire.’ Commonly like the Heat and Brightness of fire and the Sun, the ‘pleasure’ in the form of Bliss which forms the very nature of Being, is not denied here (by the denial of pleasure); because that Bliss is the very nature of the Self has been taught in many Vedic texts, such as: ‘brahman is Consciousness, Bliss’ (br.U., 3.9.28.); and ‘brahman is Bliss’ (taittirIya 3.6.1).
इहापि भूमैव सुखमित्युक्तत्वात् ।
In fact, in this Upanishad also ‘It has been declared that ‘The Infinite Itself is Bliss’ (7.23.1, chAn.).
Instead of appreciating the above fact that his own (disembodied) Self is Itself “the Bliss,” Indra, like almost all of us, seeks to keep one foot (literally along with one’s body) entrenched firmly in the visible world and reach for guaranteed unending pleasure.
That simply will not work!
The Teacher Brahma felt that Indra did not know what is truly good for him. Indra needed to be educated first on that. It reminds us the mantra 1.2.2, kaTha, where the God of Death speaks about the Path of Welfare and the Path of pleasure. Shankara clarifies to us on the viewpoint of Brahma as follows:
व्योमवदशरीरात्मतया सर्वभूतलोककामात्मत्वोपगमेन या प्राप्तिः, तद्धितमिन्द्राय वक्तव्यमिति प्रजापतिना अभिप्रेतम् । न तु राज्ञो राज्याप्तिवदन्यत्वेन ।
Meaning: What Prajapati wishes to explain for the good of lndra is the idea that the Self is unbodied like the Akasha and when the text speaks of ‘The attainment of all regions and desires,’ what is meant is the realization of the Truth that all these are Self Itself and not that the attainment of something other than the Self, like the attainment of a ‘kingdom’ by a King.
तत्रैवं सति कं केन विजानीयादात्मैकत्वे इमानि भूतान्ययमहमस्मीति ।
Meaning: This being so, and the Self being One, who will know and through what, that ‘I am this,’ and all these are creatures? – (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).
Thus, the attainment of Self is NOT like acquiring of a new property or skill or asset or authority, but the “realization” that everything that IS is already the Self. We can infer from this that the negation of the world as ‘mithya’ is a halfway mark. It has to be augmented through a positive understanding that all is Self and everything is only “Me,” for full-fledged “Realization of the Self” in line with 2.2.12, muNDaka and 1.4.10, br.U.
The inevitable question that arises in our minds then is that if ‘All that IS is already the Self, ‘pain’ will exist eternally because pain will also be the Self.’ If that were to be true, it would make a mockery of the process of Self-inquiry searching for a way for redemption from the samsAra. Shankara answers the question as follows:
आत्मन्यविद्याकल्पनानिमित्तानि दुःखानि — रज्ज्वामिव सर्पादिकल्पनानिमित्तानि ।
Meaning: As a matter of fact, all pains are the effects of “imagination” (kaplanAni) due to ignorance imposed on the Self. Just as the idea of a serpent is imposed upon the rope.
सा च अविद्या अशरीरात्मैकत्वस्वरूपदर्शनेन दुःखनिमित्ता उच्छिन्नेति दुःखसम्बन्धाशङ्का न सम्भवति ।
Meaning: This ignorance, (as the cause of pain), having been destroyed by the perception of real nature of the unity of the body and all things in the Self, there can be no apprehension at all of the connection with pain.
The thrust of Shankara’s explanation can be expressed in the following two sentences of his:
न च आत्मनः संसारित्वम् , अविद्याध्यस्तत्वादात्मनि संसारस्य । न हि रज्जुशुक्तिकागगनादिषु सर्परजतमलादीनि मिथ्याज्ञानाध्यस्तानि तेषां भवन्तीति ।
Meaning: The Self Itself is not subject to the cycle of birth and rebirth (transmigration). Because, as a matter of fact, the birth and rebirth cycle is superimposed upon the Self by nescience (ignorance). For instance, the serpent, the silver and the darkness, imposed (respectively) upon the rope, the shell and the AkAsha, by wrong cognition, do not come to belong to these latter.
एतेन सशरीरस्य प्रियाप्रिययोरपहतिर्नास्तीति व्याख्यातम् ।
Meaning: This explains the statement ‘for the embodied Self, there is no freedom from pleasure and pain.’
The implication is that the whole enchilada beginning with samsAritva, world, body, intellect, mind etc. are all mere “imagination”; none of them exist unless viewed from their viewpoint. Abidance as “Me” (AtmA) dissolves all appearances into “Me” like illumination from a lamp dissolves all darkness into itself.
Towards the end of his commentary on 8.12.1, chAndogya, Shankara does admit that grasping of the Non-dual Knowledge is not easy. He writes:
तस्मादिदं त्यक्तसर्वबाह्यैषणैः अनन्यशरणैः परमहंसपरिव्राजकैः अत्याश्रमिभिर्वेदान्तविज्ञानपरैरेव वेदनीयं पूज्यतमैः प्राजापत्यं च इमं सम्प्रदायमनुसरद्भिः उपनिबद्धं प्रकरणचतुष्टयेन । — Shankara at 8.12.1, chAndogya.
Meaning: Therefore, this Knowledge, which can be realized only by those:
- who have nothing else to resort to,
- who belong to the class of mendicants called Paramahamsa-s,
- who have transcended the four stages of life,
- who are devoted to the realization (of the Self) arising from the Upanishads,
- who are the most adorable, and
- who are the followers of the tradition established by Prajapati,
has been presented by the Upanishad in four sections. (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).]
Shankara concludes with the unforgettable words:
तथा अनुशासति अद्यापि ‘त एव नान्ये’ इति ॥
Meaning: Therefore, even today, it is they who teach this and not others.
Some helpful comments about a jIvanmukta (One who is ‘liberated’ in this life itself):
Commenting on 8.12.3, chAndogya, Swami Krishnanda says: “That which is located in space and time is physical. This is the very meaning of physicality. There is no such thing as nonphysical thinking and, therefore, the Atman cannot be thought of by the mind. That is the reason also why we cannot imagine what this bodiless existence means.
“You see a world and the jIvanmukta also sees it, but he sees it differently from what you see it because of the difference of the instrument of perception. For him an instrument does not exist. He himself is the instrument and he himself is the object seen. He has become that which he is seeing and so it cannot be called seeing, but it is rather ‘being’. Seeing, he does not see. It appears that he does not see, because there is nothing outside him, and yet, he sees everything because he is himself that. He cannot be conscious of the body. He is not in one body only. He is in every body. Whatever you think is his thought and whatever anybody thinks also is his thought only. So, you cannot say whether he thinks, or I think, or you think. The consciousness of a particular body or object does not arise because all the bodies or objects are his, nay he himself. So, the Upanishad says that he has no awareness of a particular encasement in some individual body. Just as bulls may be yoked to drag a cart, this Supreme Self manifests itself as the prANa and is yoked to this cart of the body, as it were. “Whatever the eyes see when they are cast into space is something different in the case of this liberated soul from what our eyes see. From the point of view of the liberated soul, when the eyes perceive something outside, it is not the eyes that are seeing the object, but it is ‘something else’ that sees.”