The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’
While the body-mind remains alive (i.e. continues to be animated by Consciousness), the person is a mixture, as it were, of both. If I am enlightened, I know that I am really the original Consciousness, Brahman, but I cannot escape the fact that I am also still a jIvAtman, with that same Consciousness reflecting in the intellect. If I am unenlightened, I either do not know about paramAtman or do not believe that this is who I really am. Instead, I identify with body, mind, attributes or functions. I mistakenly superimpose (adhyAsa) the properties of the mithyA body-mind onto the paramAtman.
The same applies even to ‘knowing’. When we say ‘I know’, whether or not we are enlightened, it has to be the reflected ‘I’ that is speaking. Shankara says in his bhAShya on Bhagavad Gita 2.21:
“ …the Self, though verily immutable, is imagined through ignorance to be the perceiver of objects like sound etc. presented by the intellect etc.; in this very way, the Self, which in reality is immutable, is said to be the ‘knower’ because of Its association with the knowledge of the distinction between the Self and non-Self, which (knowledge) is a modification of the intellect and is unreal by nature.” (Ref. 6)
Thus, it can be seen, that this provides an explanation for the fact that I may be enlightened and yet the mind can still be affected by pratibandha-s. It there are none, because the mind was purified prior to enlightenment, then I am a jIvanmukta, enjoying all of the benefits of a mind unsullied by negative emotions. Otherwise, I must continue to perform those sAdhana-s that will eliminate such tendencies before I can reap the ‘fruits’ of enlightenment, j~nAna phalam. Whilst both are still inevitably a ‘mixture’, the one with pratibandha-s still says ‘I’ with a significant element of jIvAtman; the one who has purified the mind says ‘I’ with a predominant element of paramAtman.
The vivekachUDAmaNi (188) says:
“The reflection of the Atman is here [i.e. in the vij~nAnamaya kosha) more than anywhere else, because it is very near to the Atman. And it is the upAdhi [superimposed adjunct] of the Atman. In this sheath, the Atman manifests itself as the doer, though it is the anvil that gives shape to all, but takes no shape – being all the time the same.” (Ref. 62)
Someone might object here that, having said that vivekachUDAmaNi was not authored by Shankara and that one should authenticate teachings by seeing what Shankara said, I am now using vivekachUDAmaNi myself. Well, the same ideas are given by Shankara in his bhAShya on Bhagavad Gita 2.21. shloka-s 2.19 and 20 say that the Self does not kill, nor is killed; is not born and does not die; it is eternal and changeless.
Because the Self is changeless (nirvikAra), it cannot be a ‘doer’ (kartA). But, in 2.21, Shankara has a pUrvapakShin ask again for the explanation of this ‘actionless-ness’. He points out that 2.21 is not saying that Atman is a non-doer (akartA), it is saying that the knower of Atman is akartA (“he who knows of this One as indestructible etc; how and whom does that person kill?”). If knower and known are different, why should the knower be akartA as well as Atman? In fact, 2.20 has already pointed out that a knower has to be subject to change so it should follow that the knower of Atman cannot be changeless and therefore has to be a kartA.
(na, viduSha AtmatvAt |
na dehAdi-saMghAtasya vidvattA |
ataH pArisheShyAd asaMhata AtmA vidvAn avikriya iti, tasya viduShaH karmAsambhavAd, AkShepo
yuktaH – ‘kathaM sa puruShaH’ iti |)
Shankara responds (Sanskrit above) that we have to say that, in this particular case, the knower of Atman is also Atman. If we insist that knower and known are different, we would have to conclude that the knower was anAtman, i.e. inert (jaDa). Clearly an inert object cannot know anything. Therefore the knower has to be Atman also. How can this be reconciled with the fact that a knower must be subject to change (vikAra)?
The only explanation is that who-I-really-am, Atman, becomes associated with the inert intellect and the now-conscious buddhi is the one that becomes the knower. The knower is ‘I’, the real Consciousness, as if reflected in the intellect (chidAbhAsa). Or the knower is effectively a ‘mixture’ of Consciousness and intellect. I, the Atman, become a figurative knower by virtue of my association with the buddhi. It is in this sense that the ‘knower’ of Atman is none other than the Atman Itself.
It follows that the wise man having realized that he is really Atman, also knows that he is really akartA, abhoktA – neither a ‘doer’ nor an ‘enjoyer’. It is the ‘mixture’ of Atman and buddhi, the ‘reflected’ Consciousness and intellect that gives him the ability to be a knower that performs actions and enjoys the results.
So what distinguishes the j~nAnI in this context is that, when he or she says ‘I’, it is known that ‘I’ really refers to Atman but that the ability to think and say this is due to the ‘reflected’ mixture of Consciousness and buddhi. It is effectively the Atman that says ‘aham brahmAsmi’ but it is able to do so only because of its association with buddhi. Failure to acknowledge this means that you will be unable to justify the recognition of this mahAvAkya when we know that Atman cannot be a ‘knower’ (because it is changeless), yet buddhi cannot truthfully say ‘I am Brahman’.
There is an interesting clash of levels here. The pAramArthika truth is that Atman is not a knower. Owing to its vyAvahArika association with buddhi, it becomes an empirical knower of the fact that I am really Atman. Swami Paramarthananda puts it amusingly when he says: “This mithyA knowledge I gain with mithyA knower-hood; with the help of mithyA buddhi I get mithyA knowledge and, through that mithyA knowledge, I get mithyA liberation, which is more than enough to negate mithyA bondage.” (Ref. 191)
Shankara goes on to say that, because of false knowledge, the ignorant person thinks that it is the Atman that really knows, whereas the wise person realizes that the Atman is not really a knower.
(yathA buddhyAdyAhRRitasya shabdAdyarthasya avikriya eva san buddhivRRittyavivekavij~nAnena avidyayA upalabdhA AtmA kalpyate)
[Shankara’s principal objective in this dialog was to be able to show that there is no difference between Atman and the knower of Atman and that therefore the knower is ‘also’ not a doer. This will then lead on to his demonstration that mokSha is the result of knowledge alone and not a combination of knowledge and action. But that is the separate topic of samuchchaya vAda, which is the subject of Section 6, ‘Action and its relation to Knowledge’.]
As a final point, lest there should still be any doubt regarding this idea of ‘mixing up’ the real ‘I’ and the mind in the metaphorical ‘reflected I’ of the intellect, the topic also appears under another guise and has been written about extensively. Most importantly of all, it occurs as Shankara’s introduction to his bhAShya on the brahmasUtra – the notion is called adhyAsa.
No one is ever liberated
A consequence of this ‘mixture’ of Consciousness and intellect is that pedantically one has to say that no one is ever liberated. Clearly, the Atman cannot be liberated, being ever-free, never-bound or limited in any way. Equally clearly, the inert body-mind cannot be liberated. Both are effectively destroyed – by death and disintegration for the body; by the final exhaustion of karma for the mind. This leaves the metaphorical reflection of Consciousness in the intellect – the ego. Since the intellect is an intrinsic part of the mind, it too must continue to exist until the mind ceases to exist.
Accordingly, even when that intellect has realized the truth of all this – that ‘who-I-really-am’ is the Atman, it is still going to be this ‘mixture’ of inert, subtle elements and Consciousness; the ‘mixture’ of bimba and pratibimba. As such, it is going to remain inescapably influenced by its prArabdha karma until this is exhausted. Depending upon the nature of this karma, this influence will be minimal and transparent, or it will provide an obstacle to a greater or lesser extent, impacting upon the vyAvahArika degree of ‘happiness’, feeling of fulfilment etc. This brings us full circle to the logical acceptance of the concept of pratibandha.