Vivekachutamani says… It is rare to be born as a human. Its rarer to want to reach God. That spiritual thought does not come to all. Its rarer still to get a guru.These three are possible only by the grace of God. Extremely rare to get these, so do not waste this grand opportunity. Atma Bodha has 65 verses and we go through ten verses at a time.
Atma Bodha ~ Verses 1-10
The beauty of this text is that every verse is explained with a pertinent example for easy understanding.
‘I’m going to explain Atman bodha’, says Adi Sankara… Self knowledge. Introduction of the subject is presented so only those interested students can choose to study this. Not everyone is interested in scriptural studies. Only the qualified students are drawn to it just like those who are interested in biomed or Chemistry, don’t apply to engineering college.
Spiritual studies is open to all but not pursued by all. The prime requirement to grasp would be a pure mind by tapas, (without negative emotions), shatanam, (quiet mind without agitation), Control the thoughts, (observing the flow of thoughts in the mind).
When I’m attracted to something, my mind is constantly thinking of it. When I’m afraid of someone, my mind is constantly thinking of that person. We’re full of likes and dislikes..whether it is food or objects or possessions or relationships,our mind is fully focused on those. So also, ‘Mumukshunam’, means ‘focused on that One divine presence’, which is in all appearing beings.
Those who do not have attachment, who are are objective, with a burning desire to want to attain the supreme Truth, alone qualifies to get this Self knowledge. But this statement does not prohibit or prevent anyone else to pursue this path. It simply means, the path is not easy, one must have a strong desire to learn the scriptures and humble enough to trust the teacher, along with a deep conviction to pursue this path. The seeker must be disciplined, committed and consistent in sadanas.
In the previous verse having discussed so much about the need for the practice of austerity and self control, one could misunderstand that discipline may lead one to divine goal. Not so! Knowledge alone can remove misunderstanding and lead to direct means for liberation.
For example, to cook food, all necessary items are contributory causes, by themselves they cannot constitute food. Fire alone accomplish cooking. Fire is the direct cause! Similarly performing of rituals, offering of gifts, practice of austerities, controlling mind, study of scriptures, the use of discriminative intellect are all helpful factors towards spiritual growth but ‘knowledge of who am I’ alone can bring about liberation.
‘Bodha’ means knowledge. Knowledge here is ‘Self Knowledge’, rediscovery of the Self which exists in trikale, three stages of existence waking, dream and deep sleep.
Only upon waking up, you can end the fearful dream. As long as you’re asleep the dream would continue to scare you.
Scriptures teach us that inner presence, Atman is all pervasive, ever present and complete. There’s no need to strive to obtain, attain, go or do as it is already with us, the Atman.
Divine actions like prayers, offering, chanting, yajnas, yogas, tapas, doing daily duties, actions are all important to purify one’s mind, only help us to clean the inner equipment as a clean mirror, to be able to see our own Self. No amount of actions can destroy ignorance except knowledge of the Self.Karma/ actions can only produce, procure and purify.
Actions cannot remove ignorance. Example referred here is darkness & light. No amount of dusting, sweeping, spray washing would remove darkness except for the light! The knowledge is compared to the brightness of the Sun, that removes darkness. So also the enveloping ignorance can only be removed by Self knowledge.
The seeker has a doubt to clarifies and presents it acharya. ‘When I experience that there are many people and beings around me, the diversity in existence, how can we say there’s only one atma? Ekathatvam? Oneness? leads to the next verse.
We see the various forms and names because the inner Self is veiled by our ignorance, which is an attachment to this body.
Identification with the body, mind & intellect limits us from knowing the true Self, which is all pervading, beyond time and space.
These bodies are transportation vehicles but we think I’m the Lexus, BMW, Toyota & Camry! Those are nothing but names and forms. When in fact the driver alone exists! Without the driver nothing can happen by themselves. The body, a bundle of flesh is nothing but an inert equipment to purge vasanas. Once you remove all the paraphernalia of this body, the supreme Self reveals itself.
Thus due to the ignorance of this Self, we see the differences. When ignorance is destroyed the atma is self illuminating.
Due to ignorance people’s thoughts are impure. What’s impurity? ‘Ahankaram, mamakaram’ – ‘I and mine’, ‘I’m the doer, I’m the enjoyer’. If that jivan needs to purify the mind, the Self knowledge (jnanam) that’s understood intellectually must be practiced consistently. Spiritual ignorance causes agitation in the mind. Such a mind becomes nirmalam. Without malam, dirt, the mind attains ekathava jnanam, also referred to as ‘jivatma, paramatma eikya jnanam’ called akandakaram. Aham Brahmasmi! Self realization!
What’s Knowledge, ‘jnanam’? Once I see an object, an image is formed in the mind and next time when I see the same object, the mind recognizes that object to be a chair or tree. This is called Vritthi jnanam, leads to the question below.
To know anything or to gain knowledge of anything, the Knower, the known object, and the experience of Knowing, the three aspects are required even in the transactional life. Together these three are called ‘Triputi’.
When these three are there, the question posed here is, how can you say there’s only one?
Whatever jiva, being is here, is there, whatever is there is here, meaning all beings are the same. That ‘eikya jnanam’ should be practiced again and again, meaning all is One. The presence in me in the same in all beings. This is more challenging concept to grasp for the majority of humans.
Even if the akanda jynam(Aham Brahmasmi) is attained, this eiikya jnanam (Brahman alone IS) cannot happen… Without that, how is liberation (moksham) possible?
The response to this question is given by an example.
‘Bhedam’, not differences but diversity. In the universe there appears to be three distinct diversity.
‘Vijata bhedam’ where the distinct difference is between humans & animals (species),
‘Sajatiya bhedam’ where the difference is within humans (gender, height, weight, color, position, status)
‘Svagata bhedam’ difference is within one body (body parts), hands differ from legs, ears differ from nose.
Ajnana kalusham… Kataka renuvat (kataka-nut, Alum)
To realize the Self, all these appearing differences need to dissolve. The example given for this verse is Alum, the kataka nut, camphor, candle… They dissolve completely so also the Jivan, the individuality, upon realization of the Self has to completely dissolve in the supreme without any bhedam, differences. This logical explanation removes the ignorance and imparts Self Knowledge.
Samsaram, the world is like a dream because the entire life is due to samskaram, impressions, vasanai, just like in a dream where all the memories arise from the subconscious mind, so also our life from birth to death of the body.
A dream cannot appear without a base, some incident, situation faced, experienced that’s buried in the subconscious mind, manifests in a dream. They could even be from previous lives. Without that original existence in the mind, it just cannot come out.
Here the guru explains, Vivartha vadham… ‘One alone IS’. The world appears to be! Universe was not born out of Brahman..Not a parinama vadam meaning modification like a curd from milk.
The entire universe appears to be true as long as we’re in this realm, once the wisdom dawns, everything withers away, just like the waker is no longer connected with the dream, once awake. Unfulfilled desires, passions and emotions which we carry in our mind, projects in our dream. The agitations like fear, anger, worry, pride, likes and dislikes cause dreams.
A balanced mind who has brought the mind under control is not tossed by these emotions, wander away in dreams created by the feeble mind. Just like that dream state, the waking state is but a prolonged dream but we’re not prepared to accept it due to ignorance. We have not qualified ourselves to realize the ephemeral, temporary existence of everything around us including relationships, objects, body, mind.
The dream is quite real as long as the dreamer is there. Once he’s awake, the dream no longer exists. Similarly once we understand the all pervading Self, the pluralistic existence rolls off!
The world appears as long as we have not realized the substratum. The ‘world’ here refers to ‘total experiences in waking, dream and deep sleep states.’
Once, you get up from the dream, you don’t mourn for something that you lost in the dream. Waking up dissolves the dream state, so too the spiritual awakening removes the plurality, differences merge into One supreme substratum. Then we don’t mistake the world to be different from THAT One Supreme.
The example given here is when you see a snake at dusk, instantly the fear emotion creeps up and the seer looks for ways to eliminate the snake. Once the seer realizes it’s a rope, appears to be a snake, not only the fear but also the apparent snake also dissolves. Another example specified is when we see ghost on a pole, upon realization of the pole the ghost disappears, which also brought fear in you.
Verse 8 & verse 9 (repetition for emphasis)
Nothing new is ever created. Reconversion alone is creation. Scientifically later Einstein proved that matter can neither be created not destroyed only be converted, which is mentioned in scriptures eons ago.
In any creation, we need Efficient cause, Instrumental cause and Material cause like a potter, wheel and the mud! In infinite creation they all are one! There’s no actual creation..It’s only an appearance as a reflection in a clear mirror. When you see a reflection, you know there are no two of you!
Example presented for this verse is like bubbles in the water, everything evolves from the substratum sustains in IT and dissolves in IT. The word ‘Vibhuhu’, ‘Vishnu’ refers to ‘vyapaka sheelaha’, ‘all pervading’.
In any creation the fundamental cause are three separate materials.
The Material cause, is the raw material, the Instrumental cause is the equipment that’s used to create the object and the Efficient cause, is the intelligence, that works on the material to create an object. (Upadana karana is clay, nimitta karana, pot maker, sahakari karana, is equipment, the wheel used to create). The efficient (or intelligence) cannot be inert..
In the case of the creation of the world, the objects created are not separate from the creator. The word creation is used when it really refers to the manifestation as different objects and not created. Creation involves two, which defeats the concept of Advaita, non duality.
For example: Waves cannot claim separate existence,
Similarly the outer world and our physical, mental intellectual spheres, rise from, exist in and dissolve into that One supreme consciousness.
Just like our shadow cannot claim a separate existence, it’s not created but it appears to be! That’s why it is neither real not unreal, scriptures call it Mithya.
If you know the metal as iron or gold, which is the basis, then you can recognize everything that is made of iron or gold! Similarly know the substratum of this universe.
Everything is made of five elementals, (Pancha bhootam), Space, Air, Fire, Water & Earth and veils us from realizing brahmam.
Differences are but diversity..They all appear different but the foundation, the substratum is brahman, One Supreme. ‘Appearance’ itself means not real!
Everything that has name and form, don’t have separate existence, they lean on the substratum like the mud pots, they’re dependent on the clay. Clay exists before the clay pots are made, during the existence of clay pot and even after the clay pot is broken. Clay alone exists, pot is leaning on the clay. So too, the entire universe is dependent on One Supreme Brahman.
The student asks, when I see so many people, bodies, beings, diversity, how do you say only one exists?
The teacher answers with pertinent example. When four blindfolded individuals are asked to touch different parts of an elephant, each one describes based on their perception. One who touched the belly from underneath said it a ceiling, another touching the leg said, it’s a soft pillar, third one touched the trunk said its a huge rope, another one who touched the elephant’s said, its a grain winnowing tray. Just like all these parts and perceptions are put together and explained to each of them, that whatever each one saw is but one elephant, here acharya brings in a variety of examples to point out that everything is Brahman alone.
The Atma, by IT’s mere presence activates the senses, mind and intellect It’s like a mere presence of the boss in the office, everything else happens, everyone works. His presence alone activates all performances. So also, the entire universe is operating because of that One Supreme presence, that we can name as we please, God, Consciousness, Brahman, Atman, inner presence.
That parabrahman (Supreme Brahman) reflects in all conditionings. For ex: in temples you can see many mirrors present multiple reflection of the deity, so also that parabrahman reflects in various conditionings (like many mirrors) One appears as many.
Another example is the Sun reflects in all types of water – lake, pond, pots, mirror, concave, convex, showing different shape, size, height, weight, even though the source is one bright Sun, the diversity appears in multiplicity from One Brahman. It appears as though there’s multiplicity.
Conditionings (body, mind and intellect) is the cause for multiple appearance. When these conditionings dissolve, the jivatma (Atman in individual being) and paramatma (Brahman, the substratum of the universe) are one and the same. ‘Tan nashe sathi’, ‘the ego dissolves’ and the realization of atman is Brahman, sparks.
Acharya adds to clarify that One, without a second, alone exists. The space is all rooms are the same, the space is divided by the walls, when the walls are demolished there’s only One space.
This verse also suggests the seeker go deeper inside the five kosas, five layers. ‘I’, is not the body, breath, mind, intellect. IT’s everywhere! All pervading like space.
~ to be continued..