Q.467 Clarifying pratibimba

Q: I’ve recently been reading about the reflection theory (pratibimba vAda). I’ve gone through a few articles that explain the theory, but still find the ‘bimba’ aspect confusing. I know it’s the pure original consciousness Brahman but what is its actual location? Is bimba (the original consciousness) located in the body or outside the body?

A: The bimba is Consciousness, with a capital ‘C’ – the non-dual reality. In reality there is only Consciousness; all seeming ‘things’ are just name and form of it. But, for the purposes of ‘explaining’ the empirical reality (vyavahAra), we say that each jIva has a ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in their mind. This is called chidAbhAsa or pratibimba. The ‘bimba’ is not located anywhere. If you like, everything is located in the bimba. Think of ‘space’ and ‘jar space’.

Read the essay and discussions at the site:
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/

Q: In your article ChidAbhAsa, you’ve added a passage from Shankara’s Brahma Sutra commentary, where he has said the following:

“The individual soul is not directly the highest Atman, because it is seen to be different on account of the upAdhi-s; nor is it different from the Atman, because it is the Atman who has entered as the jIvAtman in all the bodies. We may call the jIva as a mere reflection of the Atman. But just as when one image of the sun in some water trembles, the other image in other portions of water need not, even so if one soul is connected with actions and fruits thereof, the others need not be so connected.”

Here he says it’s the Atman that has entered in all the bodies as the jIvAtman/individual soul. So, If we take the example of the space in a jar, then the spirit inside us is called jIvAtman the soul, which is actually Atman the cosmic spirit but in an embodied condition or with limitations. I hope I’m right about this.

Shankara then says in his passage above, that we jIva-s are mere reflections of the Atman. I’m assuming that the two words jIvAtman and jIva means the same thing, that is individual self or soul.

In your reply to my original e-mail you said – “For the purposes of ‘explaining’ the empirical reality (vyavahAra), we say that each jIva has a ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in their mind. This is called chidAbhAsa or pratibimba.”

Here you’ve said that each jIva HAS a reflection, implying that the reflected consciousness is a separate entity from the jIva-s. But Shankara in his passage above says that souls/jIva-s ARE themselves reflections. So which one is it?

In another excerpt from your ‘chidAbhAsa’ article, the reflected consciousness is said to be the ahaMkAra or Ego.

“The pratibimba or reflection is the ‘I’ that we start off presuming ourselves to be. But this is only the empirical or vyAvahArika reflection, otherwise known as the ego or ahaMkAra.”

Now I’m a little confused here. We all know ego is a part of antaHkaraNa or subtle body.  So is jIva/soul another term for the subtle body?

A: First of all, you must ALWAYS bear in mind that there is only Brahman. The aim of all the teachings of Advaita is to lead you to this understanding. These teachings can often be contradictory. As long as they move you forward they are serving their purpose. All have to be dropped in the end.

The pratibimba prakriyA is one interim explanation for the nature of the jIva. There are several others. In the many-jIva situation (aneka-jIva-vAda), each jIva has a body and a mind, both of which are inert – the body is gross and the mind subtle. The one Consciousness is reflected in the mind of each jIva. The purity of the mind determines the quality of the reflection, in the way that a tarnished mirror does not reflect light as well as a polished mirror. Each jIva functions separately though all function only as a result of the one Consciousness that animates them. The ahaMkAra is an aspect of the mind, so is different for each jIva. But, again, all that is inanimate; the animating aspect is Atman-Brahman. Atman is not ‘in the mind’ – the mind is in Atman; just as space is not in the jar – jar is in space. If you move the jar from A to B, the air inside the jar moves with it but the jar moves through space.

The way that you phrase it is up to you, really – whichever makes the reality clearer. There is a reflection in each jIva; each jIva has a reflection; each jIva is a reflection. All explanations (and all jIva-s) are mithyA in reality.