Q. 429 Discussion on ‘I am That’

Q: I have a couple of questions about ‘I Am That’.

As I understand it, this essentially says: Atman = brahman. So the ‘I’ is not the ahaMkAra ‘I’, rather the Atman ‘I’.

1. Did I get that right?

2. When one begins to reflect upon ‘I Am That’, is one expected to feel the I as the ahaMkAra I? And then move, gradually, towards realizing the I is in fact Atman?

3. The reason I ask (2) is because I have a great deal of difficulty ‘feeling’ my ahaMkAra I. It just doesn’t ‘compute’ with me. Does this brain/body sense things, have feelings, emotions, thoughts; am I aware of external and internal things? Yes! All the time. But are these sensations, feelings, thoughts, etc. = ahaMkAra ‘I-me’? No. They’re just… stuff that happens, electrochemical dances in a brain in a skull in a body that is identified as ‘Jack’ Is this a problem – that I can’t consciously/directly feel my ahaMkAra I? That when I look for it, I see mithyA, nothing of essential substance? Could my not being able to directly experience my ahaMkAra I be a stumbling block?

A: Perhaps the first thing to recognize is the paramArtha-vyavahAra distinction. Speaking from the pAramArthika ‘viewpoint’ there is only brahman, i.e. no ‘I’ or ‘That’. Everything within vyavahAra is mithyA.

So let’s now talk vyavahAra! When you say tat tvam asi, you are saying that you are Ishvara; ‘who you really are’ is not the body-mind but the all-knowing, all-powerful, limitless creator of the universe. The mind – antaHkaraNa – consists of manas, buddhi, chitta and ahaMkAra. So when it is said that you are not the mind, it is also implicit that you are not the ahaMkAra either.

When it is said that Atman is brahman, that of course is true. Everything is brahman – sarvaM khalvidam brahma. But what does it mean? A good metaphor is the wave-ocean-water one. The wave is name and form of water; the ocean is name and form of water. Both wave and ocean are mithyA; water is the only satyam. Wave is part of the ocean and cannot exist in isolation from it. Similarly, the jIva is the mithyA aspect of brahman from the vyaShTi or individual aspect; Ishvara is the mithyA aspect of brahman from the samaShTi or universal aspect. The reality of the jIva is Atman; the reality of Ishvara is brahman. And Atman is brahman.

If by ‘reflect upon’ ‘I am That’, you mean nididhyAsana, this entails that you already have no doubt about the truth of what I have said. You have already done the shravaNa of hearing all of this explained. And you have done the manana of asking ‘what the hell does it all mean?’ and having all your questions answered so that you have no further doubts. The nididhyAsana is then the reflection, re-reading, discussion and so on until the truth is firmly fixed in your mind.

None of this has anything to do with ‘feeling’ or ‘moving’ or indeed ‘doing’ anything. Trying to ‘feel’ the ahaMkAra shows that you have still not understood these things. The Atman does not do anything. The Atman does not do anything. (Repetition intentional!) ‘Doing’ relates to the mithyA aspects only. As the Gita puts it, “The one who is together, who knows the truth, thinks, ‘I do not do anything at all,’ even while seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing, talking, releasing, grasping, opening and closing the eyes, (the person) knowing (full well that) the organs are engaged in their objects.” (V.8-9) It is all just movement of names and forms.

So, yes, you sum it up quite nicely when you say: “They’re just … stuff that happens, electrochemical dances in a brain in a skull in a body that is identified as Jack.” And, no, it is not a problem! Again, as you say, all that you see is mithyA. But the essential (ultimate) observer is not mithyA; it is Atman. Then you just have to sort out the business of witnessing and reflected consciousness (https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/).

One thought on “Q. 429 Discussion on ‘I am That’

  1. Dear Dennis

    Suresvara deals with ‘tat twam asi’ quite neatly in Naiskarmyasiddhi. He essentially and quite extensively writes that proper reasoning through discrimination between the Self and the not-Self is what is essential for the understanding of the meaning of tat twam asi. And that that will lead to the destruction of the intellect that is doing the reasoning. He then goes on to equate deep sleep with ‘that’.

    Some pertinent and striking verses:

    3.1: The fact that ‘thou’ is not the sufferer (jiva) is conveyed by being qualified as the Absolute through the word ‘that’; and the fact that the ‘that’ (ie the Absolute) is the innermost Self is conveyed by the presence of the word ‘thou’ next to it.

    3.28 The more a man turns inward and negates the body, etc, so much ore does the meaning of the word ‘that’ tend to enter into the meaning of the word ‘thou’ for him.

    3.78 ‘That’ when completely identified with the meaning of ‘thou’ negates all plurality: thou cannot mingle with the meaning of that unless the latter has been shorn of its meaning as ‘not immediately evident’

    4.14 Discrimination belongs to the intellect alone, for it is only because the intellect is not-self that distinctions arise at all. Finally discrimination destroys the intellect as the plantain-fruit destroys the parent tree.

    4.47-4.49: The state of deep sleep is changeless, and the changing has disappeared. Here the Self remains as pure luminosity, but is not in contact with any second thing. Just as in deep sleep, so also in dream and waking, the Self, though (in these latter two states apparently) seeing, in fact see no second thing, because it is immutable. For him who knows the Self thus there is no more ‘I’ and ‘mine’ any more than there is darkness in front of one who carries in his hand a lighted lamp.

    Finally he writes that one who has achieved such enlightenment can no longer have any self-willed activity.

    Sri Atmananda summarised this aptly in the following from Notes:

    “Thou art that”. “Thou”: you are first told you are not the body, senses or mind. “That”: you know you are there in deep sleep, without a body, senses or mind. That which you are in deep sleep is shown to you to be the meaning and goal of “that”. Thus you are made to visualize – not merely to understand – what you really are.

    All the best for 2018,


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