Any feelings, like joys or sorrows, that we experience are not what we are. They are experienced by us. Everything is known by that one no-thing thing which is the Knower (Knowingness). It is we who experience even birth and death. After all, death does not experience its death, nor does birth experience its birth. Whatever experiences the birth and death cannot Itself be born nor can that die. Once we are able to clearly discriminate and understand this truth, we will stop identifying ourselves with the wrong entities like the body. Knowing clearly who we are, and abiding as that Knowledge is liberation from ignorance. Liberation is not something that we attain in some heavenly abode, a remote Vaikunta or Kailasha. Nor it is to be attained sometime in the future. It is right here and right now.
There is no separate self within us waiting to be liberated. Liberation is our very nature. Joys and sorrows are not our nature. That which comes (Agama) and goes (apAya) is not what we are. That which we perceive is not us. We perceive a thing only if it is different from us. What is inherent to us, what we are, namely the Self, cannot be perceived, nor is It something we can add on to nor can be gotten rid of. We are It, spacelike, all-pervasive, formless, and blemishless.
There is no samsAra for the one who is liberated. Scriptures and spiritual practices are of no use for a liberated individual. samsAra will continue for people who are still deluded by ignorance. samsAra will not impact the liberated being.
Knowingness and ignorance are like illumination and darkness. Darkness cannot exist in light. So also, ignorance cannot be present in the Self which by Its very nature is Knowingness. As ignorance cannot exist in the Self, there is neither bondage nor liberation for the Self. Nothing can stick to AtmA nor does It undergo any change.
Could it be assumed that the Self has to “attain” liberation getting rid of Its bondage? Shankara examines the various logical possibilities of this issue in his commentary at the verse 13.2, Bhagavad-Gita. He observes that it is not possible for both bondage and liberation could co-exist in the Self just like one cannot stand still and also be moving at the same time. The other possibility is that the Self is in bondage to start with and is looking for liberation. But Atma is only a witness. The witness cannot have either bondage or liberation. Moreover, if bondage were to have preceded liberation, it would mean that bondage has no beginning, but has an end after the liberation is obtained. It would also imply that liberation will have a beginning and has no end; and, bondage which has no beginning has an end. This would take us to an illogical situation that bondage will continue forever and Liberation will disappear just as suddenly as it appeared because whatever has a beginning will have an end, and whatever has no beginning will never end!
Moreover, anything that has a beginning and an end cannot be the Self. That which is Real must be eternal, without a beginning or an end. Atma does not have a beginning, a middle, or an end. It is unborn and immortal. It is Pure Beingness Itself.
An ignorant individual runs after actions that produce specific desired results. Actions and results are not-Self. The seeker on the Knowledge path does not look for material gains. He is unconcerned with the do’s and don’ts of the scriptures dealing with the ritualistic actions (karma). His interest is in the Self only. Driven by fear and insecurity, it is the ignorant individuals who take recourse to astrology, rituals, worship etc. Knowledge of the Self is secondary for them.
Shankara says that only one among a million will be interested and qualified to follow the path of Knowledge. Amongst them, only those who are fully eligible with a mature and ripened mind, and have overcome their likes and dislikes will be ready to renounce the material world and seek the Self.
Karma is of two types — shAstra vihita (actions prescribed by scripture) and laukika (actions done as per natural instincts). The laukika karma arises as a result of the prArabhdha, the carry-forward effect of the past actions (genetic, epigenetic and memetic) and includes all activities that are naturally required for the sustenance of life, such as eating, clothing, breathing, speaking, moving, natural calls and so on. Even a liberated individual has to perform them. What a Knower (jnAni) has to renounce are the shAstra vihita karmas. A jnAni is one who has realized the truth declared by the mahAvakyas – tat tvam asi (You are that, 6.8.7, chAndogya upanishad), aham brahmAsmi (I Am brahman, 1.4.7, brihadAraNyaka upanishad), ayam AtmA brahma (This Self is brahman, 1.2, mANDUkya upanishad), pragyAnam brahma (Absolute Knowledge is brahman, (alternate translation is Consciousness is brahman)” 3.3, aitareya upanishad).
The path of Knowledge is not for those who are swayed by likes and dislikes, nor for those who are deeply attached to karma. Ritualists, worshippers, yogis, and others attached to worldly objects get caught up in the vicious cycle of performing karmas and reaping the results there of. Karmic actions originate in ignorance. Only after several life times, one among a million may cultivate a desire for Self-Knowledge and follow the path of Knowledge.
The Supreme Self is one without a second. There is not a trace of avidyA nor of any of its by products in the Supreme Self. The causal body, which is the source of ignorance (avidyA), drives the individual to perform actions in accordance with his karmic vAsanA-s (tendencies / impressions). However, like the waters in a mirage that do not muddy the earth, actions performed in avidyA (ignorance) do not touch the formless and undifferentiated Supreme Self.
The kaTha Upanishad compares the path of Knowledge to a razor’s edge.
क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति ॥ — 1.3.14, kaTha Upanishad.
The path of Knowledge is like walking on the sharp edge of a knife – a single false or wavering step, the seeker is sure to lose his way.
(To Continue …. Part – 5/8)