What happens to the Consciousness part after Self-realization (figurative merger)? – (Continued from Part – 2/3)
Shankara formulates our question in a slightly different manner in his introduction to the subject matter at the Section 4 of the Chapter 4, Vedanta sUtra-s. He states:
“The chAndogya Upanishad at 8.12.3 tells us that ‘after having risen from this body and after having reached the highest light, this serene happy being becomes established in Its own real form (i.e. Self or nature).’ Does that being become manifest with some adventitious distinction (as it may happen in a special region like heaven) or is It established as the Self alone? What could be the final conclusion?”
Shankara is very categorical and clear in his answer and commentary at the next three aphorisms (# 534-536). In the words of Swami Krishnananda, “Emancipation is a cessation of all bondage and not the accession of something new, just as health is merely the removal of illness and not a new acquisition. If release is nothing new that is acquired by the individual self, then what is its difference from bondage? The jIva was stained in the state of bondage by the three states, i.e., the state of waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep.”
The Swami continues, “According to chAndogya Upanishad 8.9.11, “It is blind”; “It weeps as it were”; “It goes to utter annihilation”. It imagines itself to be finite. It identifies itself with the illusory vehicles or upAdhi-s and experiences pleasure, pain, joy and sorrow. After Self-realization it realizes its true nature which is absolute Bliss. It is freed from all erroneous notions and misconceptions. It is freed from avidyA or ignorance and its effects. It is perfect, free, independent. This is the difference. Annihilation of ignorance is salvation. Eradication of all erroneous notions or misconceptions is liberation. Destruction of the veil of ignorance, that separates the individual self from the Supreme Self, is emancipation or the final beatitude.”
Reinforcing the position presented above, the aphorism # 537 at 4.4.4 Vedanta sutra-s says:
अविभागेन दृष्टत्वात् ॥ — 4.4.4, brahma sUtra-s.
Meaning and explanation: “In liberation the ‘self’ exists in a state of inseparableness from the Supreme Self, for, it is noticed so from the Upanishads.” (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).
In order to remove even the last bit of uncertainty on the part of doubting Thomases, Shankara raises once again at this aphorism the question saying: “One would like to know whether the entity which becomes established in its own Self after reaching the highest Light remains separate from the Supreme Self or continues in a state of identification?” He himself answers a little later:
“The text, ‘Oh Gautama, as pure water poured on pure water becomes verily the same, so also becomes the Self of the man of Knowledge who is given to deliberation (on the Supreme Self)’ (2.1.15, kaTha), and other texts which set forth the nature of the liberated ‘self,’ as also the illustrations like the river (merging with) the sea (3.2.8, muNDaka), reveal only the fact of non-difference.” (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).
What about some passages that don’t seem to imply non-difference (for example at 7.24.1, and 7.25.2, chAndogya). Shankara says that such statements do need to be explained and understood from a position of non-difference only.
The next three aphorisms (# 538 to 540) discuss the characteristic of the ‘self’ that has attained nirguNa brahman. After having asserted in the preceding aphorisms, with illustrations and Upanishadic quotes, about the non-difference between the Realized ‘self ‘and the Supreme Self, it does appear a bit strange that the topic of ‘characteristics’ of the ‘realized self’ are again discussed as though that ‘self’ retains some distinct (i. e., identifiable as its own) ‘characteristics.’
Curiously for us, the Stalwart Maharishis do not seem to speak in one voice. The three aphorisms give the viewpoints pronounced by three different Sages.
Sage Jaimini opines that the released ‘self’ attains the conditioned aspect of brahman. Why so?
“It has been stated that the released self attains brahman. But brahman has two aspects, viz., one the unconditioned aspect as pure Consciousness and the other as described in the 8.7.1, chAndogya Upanishad: “The Atman which is free from evil, not-decaying, undying, free from sorrow, hunger and thirst, with true desires (satyakAma) and true volitions (satyasankalpa).” Sage Jaimini maintains that the liberated self attains the conditioned aspect because this is known from reference to the nature of the self as being such in the text cited.”
Sage Audulomi says that the liberated ‘self’ becomes established in Consciousness as Consciousness Itself, that being Its true nature.
“This conclusion will also agree with other scriptural texts such as 4.5.13, brihadAraNyaka: ‘Thus this Self has neither inside nor outside, but is altogether a mass of Knowledge.’ Although the text enumerates different qualities such as freedom from sin, etc., these qualities rest only on fanciful conceptions due to difference of words; because what the text intimates is only absence in general of all qualities such as sin and the rest.”
Shankara explains further the position of Audulomi as follows: “Even though having true desires – satyakAma” etc. are spoken of as if they are real attributes belonging intrinsically to some entity in the derivative sense of ‘he that is possessed of the true desire,’ still such attributes are dependent on association with limiting adjuncts, so that they cannot constitute the true nature of the entity like the Consciousness; for the Self is denied to have many forms as much as a diversity of forms is denied about brahman in the aphorism “Even from a difference of place, a two-fold characteristic cannot be predicated on brahman (3.2.11).”
Hence, even the declaration about eating etc. (8.12.3, chAndogya) is made merely for praise, meaning thereby only an absence of sorrow; and this is just like the phrases “delighting within his own Self (7.25.2, chandogya) etc. For, any delight, play, or merrymaking can never be described as happening in the Self in the primary sense, since all these presuppose the presence of a second entity. Hence the teacher Audulomi thinks that the freed individual manifests itself as the Self in which there is no trace of phenomenal existence, which is Consciousness Itself, which is serene and happy, and which defies all verbal description.” (Trans: Swami Gambhirananda).
The aphorism # 540 at 4.4.7 presents the view of sUtrakAra, Sage Badarayana.
एवमप्युपन्यासात्पूर्वभावादविरोधं बादरायणः ॥ — 4.4.7, brahma sUtra-s.
Meaning: Sage Badarayana says that even so, there is no contradiction, since the earlier nature exists according to the Upanishadic reference. (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).
Shankara comments: “ ‘Even so,’ even though it be admitted that the ‘self’ manifests Itself in Its own real nature of pure Consciousness, still (its possession of) the earlier form, the divine majesty of (the qualified) brahman that is known from such reasons as the Upanishadic reference is not denied from the empirical point of view; and hence, there is no contradiction. This is what the Teacher Badarayana thinks.”
After all the 3-parts of this over 3,050-word essay giving citations from the prasthAna trayi and the long analytical discussion, I find myself not any wiser to spell a conclusive answer to the question we began the articles with! Intuitively for me, the position taken by Sage Audulomi appears more convincing and well supported by the scriptural statements.
Shankara says in vivekacUDAmaNi:
बन्धो मोक्षस्य तृप्तिश्च चिन्तारोग्यक्षुधादयः ।
स्वेनैव वेद्या यज्ज्ञानं परेषामानुमानिकम् ॥ — 476, vivekacUDAmaNi.
Meaning: Bondage and liberation, contentment and anxiety, health, hunger, etc. are directly known only by one’s own self; others have knowledge of these by mere inference.
Therefore, the easy and right answer to our question, “What happens after Self-realization,” though very unhelpful on the face of it, could be to say: “Realize first, then you yourself will know!”