by Swami Krishnananda
The world consists of objects, and every object is a content of positive or negative perception and cognition. The special feature of each object is that it is distinguished from the other by characteristics that are ingrained in it in a particular manner. This is why we see the world variegated in colours, sounds, tastes, touches, and smells. The difference is in the existence somewhere of some characteristics outside the range of others at other places. Thus, for example, we mark a difference between a cow and a tree, because we do not find in a cow the features of a tree, and those of a cow in a tree. Objects manifest a mutual exclusion of one another. It is this that enables us to know the multitudinousness that the world is.
We also conceive such difference as that between God and the individual, God and the world, one individual and another, the individual and the world, in addition to the differences among the various contents of the world. There is a difference of limbs in the body. There is difference among individuals of the same species as also individuals of different species. There is external and internal variety. We may here raise a question as to what it is that knows that there is difference, and how is difference known at all? We have an immediate answer that a kind of consciousness in us is the knower of the different objects outside as also inside, and this difference is also known by consciousness itself. The world can be known by nothing other than consciousness. Though the objects differ in their external features, we do not find any difference among the various types of consciousness. There is distinction of sounds, colours, etc., but there is no distinction between the consciousness of sound and the consciousness of colour, and so on. This, then, means that the knowing consciousness is one and the same, though things are multifarious and possess changing characters. One and the same consciousness sees, hears, tastes, touches and smells, and it is also possible to be conscious of the consciousness of all these. Consciousness is a synthetic unity of apperception, it is all at once. Though the eyes cannot hear and ears cannot see, etc., and each sense has one particular function to perform, consciousness is the unity of them all. It is one and indivisible, and it is responsible for all the experiences in the world.
This same predicament is observed in the state of dream, also. The difference of the waking state is only in the permanency of experience which it reveals. While dream experience is short, the waking one is comparatively long. But there is no difference in the constitution, the make-up, or the construction of the two states. Yet, it is seen that the consciousness does not differ. Though there is difference between waking and dreaming, there is no difference between the consciousness of waking and the consciousness of dreaming. This is testified by the experience that one and the same individual wakes and dreams, and asserts: “I dreamt.” While the waking state is due to actual perception through senses, dream is brought about by the memory of waking state on account of the impressions of the latter imbedded in the mind, which manifest themselves on suitable occasions. Consciousness has no forms or shapes.
Also, taking into consideration the condition of deep sleep, it is seen that there is, in it, for all practical purposes, no consciousness at all. One wakes up from sleep and exclaims: “I knew nothing, but I enjoyed happiness, I had wonderful rest.” Notwithstanding that there was no consciousness or knowing in deep sleep, there is a persistent memory of one’s having slept and experienced joy therein. There is a total absence of experience from the point of view of consciousness, but the effect in the form of memory of having slept is enough evidence that there was some sort of experience even in deep sleep. The continuance of impression is the outcome of a continuity in basic being. When there is no experience, there is no memory, too. But it cannot be denied that we have a memory of sleep. This leads to the conclusion that the condition of deep sleep is one of a conscious experience, though this consciousness is not to be construed in the ordinary sense of the term. When we affirm that there was all darkness in sleep, it means, we knew darkness. Else, we would not be making such an assertion. To know darkness there must be knowledge, and knowledge is identical with the luminous intelligence with which the states of waking and dreaming are also experienced. There is, therefore, an unbroken continuity of consciousness in the states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. And, as it is different from the objects it knew in waking and dreaming, it is also different from the darkness or ignorance which it knew in deep sleep. But, it never differs from the consciousness of either state. From this it may be concluded that the same consciousness persists for days and nights together, for months and years and centuries and aeons, for ever and ever. It has no beginning, middle or end. It is absolute.
One cannot conceive of the cessation of consciousness, since it is impossible to conceive of one’s own destruction. There is the persistence of consciousness even when one imagines that there is total annihilation. Consciousness precedes thought, volition and feeling. There is an immediacy in consciousness and it never becomes an object. The knower, knowledge and the known are one and the same and inseparable. There is not in it the opposition of subject and object, as in the case of the various things of the world. It is not known by itself, nor known by another; the former case is impossible, and the latter leads to infinite regress in argument. It is best defined as That which Is.
This consciousness is the Atman, and is the repository of supreme bliss. The bliss of the Atman is unvarying, as different from the pleasure that one feels with any set of objects which are changeful in nature. All things are dear and lovable for the sake of this Self, and hence all things are subservient to the Self. Nothing in this universe is pleasurable for its own sake, but for the sake of the Atman. When the loves in regard to objects change due to changing circumstances in life, one realises at the background of all these that the love of the Atman stands unbroken and persists through change. Even displeasure with oneself is not in regard to the essential Atman within, but with certain painful conditions in life which are repulsive to one’s tastes, inclinations or desires. It is not existence that is hated, but certain forms of existence. None ever condemns or tries to negate oneself. There is an inner prayer from everyone that one may live for ever. ‘May I not cease to be; may I exist always’ is the deepest wish in every living being. This love is ingrained in the bottom of one’s existence.
It is never seen that the Self is subservient to objects. On the other hand it is seen that objects are subservient to the Self. On a careful psychological analysis it is observable that the love which people have for things outside is the outcome of a confused mixing up of the bliss of the Atman with the changing names and forms that make up what we call the world. Hence, in loving an object, the confused mind attaches itself to the changing names and forms in its ignorance and the false notion that its love is deposited in the objects, while in truth it is in the Atman, and even when we love objects we are unwittingly loving the universal Atman. Hence the Atman is Supreme Bliss, which is the only natural condition of spiritual existence, while all other conditions with which it associates itself are transitory phenomena, and unnatural.
From the above it would be clear that the Atman eternally exists as consciousness and is absolute bliss. It is Sat-Chit-Ananda, which fact is demonstrated both by reason and intuition. The identity of the Atman with Brahman or the Absolute Being is declared in the Vedanta texts such as the Upanishads, which is also established by reason. But this Atman is not seen, it is not visible to the eyes, and hence all the misery of individual existence. Nor can it be said that it is entirely invisible, else there would be no love or pleasure. That there is a faint recognition of the existence of the Atman is proved beyond doubt by the unparalleled affection which one has towards one’s own Self. But it is also true that it is not properly seen or known; otherwise, one would not be clinging to objects, the perishable forms of the world, which have neither reality in them nor the happiness which one is seeking. Thus there is a peculiar situation in which we find ourselves where we seem to know it and yet not know it. There is a muddle of intelligence and torpidity of understanding due to which there is a perpetually disturbed feeling and distracted knowledge. It is that which is responsible for our partially evincing love for ourselves and partially clinging to things that perish. The beauty and the joy are not in things but in the Atman. And this is not known. It is falsely imagined to be in objects; hence the attachment that we cherish in regard to them.
Just as in a large group of students, who are chanting the Veda in a chorus, and where every kind of voice can be heard, it is possible for the father of one particular student in that group to hear the voice of his own son, due to his familiarity with it, though this voice is mixed up with the voices of others, the Atman with concentration on its nature can recognise itself in the midst of the millions of things of the world, amidst the deafening clamour of the senses, because its presence in them is natural and eternal. Just as the obstruction in the case of the father’s properly hearing the voice his son, is the crowd of the voices of others, so in the case of the Atman, the obstruction to its recognition is Avidya or Nescience, which has the twofold function of veiling and distracting consciousness. The veiling is effected by suppressing the character of existence and revelation in regard to Reality, and then manifesting opposite characters, viz., that it dies not exist and it is not revealed. Hence we all feel that the Atman is not, and it is not known. This conviction which is brought about by Avidya is the deluding factor in the case of every individual. There is not only the veiling of Reality, but also the projection of phenomenality in the form of the universe outside, and the bodily layers inside. (Verses 3-14)
Prakriti or the matrix of the universe, animated by a reflection of Consciousness or Brahman, divides itself in the beginning into the cosmic forces called Sattva (equilibrium), Rajas (distraction) and Tamas (inertia). These three properties of Prakriti are really its very constituents, not merely qualifications or adjuncts, and stand to Prakriti in the relation of the three strands of a rope to the rope itself. Cosmic Sattva is called Maya. On account of its transparency and the absence of the property of Rajas in it, it is omnipresent and reflects in its essence Brahman in a universal manner. The cosmic reflection of Brahman in the Sattva aspect of Prakriti is called Isvara, the Sovereign of the universe. It is Isvara who is the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the universe. In Isvara the universe exists in a seed-form, and all the Jivas who had not the opportunity to attain Self-realisation at the time of Pralaya or cosmic dissolution, lie latent in Isvara prior to the subsequent creation. This condition may be compared to a cosmic sleep (Yoganidra), where everything lies dormant as the tree exists in a seed. When the cosmic seed slightly manifests itself, showing symptoms of creation, the faint outlines of the universe, it goes by the name of Hiranyagarbha. The fully manifested aspect of this universe as informed by the presence of Brahman, is called Virat. Thus, Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat are manifestations in Cosmic Sattva, and are Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent.
The Cosmic Rajas creates variety in form, and manifests the various individuals constituting the universe in the different stages of evolution. Each individual goes by the name of a Jiva, affected and conditioned by Avidya or nescience. Corresponding to the three cosmic states, the Jiva has also three states which are called Prajna, Taijasa and Visva, wherein it sleeps, dreams or wakes into world life. The Jiva stands in the status of an inverted reflection or image of Isvara and the highest in Isvara appears as the lowest in the Jiva, so that though the condition of cosmic sleep is the highest from the point of view of Isvara, the state of sleep is the lowest from the point of view of the Jiva, because in the state of sleep the Jiva is deprived of consciousness and is rendered incapable of any personal effort or understanding; the highest for the Jiva is the waking state in which it becomes possible for it to contemplate Reality in the form of Virat. While Isvara controlling Maya is omniscient, Jiva controlled by Avidya is ignorant and powerless.
The Cosmic Tamas, which is called Tamasi, divides itself into two powers called Avarana and Vikshepa, which respectively mean ‘veiling’ and ‘projecting’. This power not only veils the existence and consciousness aspect of Brahman, through Avarana, but also projects the objective universe by Vikshepa. The Vikshepa-Sakti or the projecting power appears in five forms as Sabda, or the principle of sound, Sparsa, or the principle of touch, Rupa, or the principle of sight or colour, Rasa, or the principle of taste, and Gandha or the principle of smell. These principles have in them again the subsidiary qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. The Sattva of Sabda becomes the sense of hearing; the Sattva of Sparsa, the sense of touch; the Sattva of Rupa, the sense of sight; the Sattva of Rasa, the sense of taste; and the Sattva of Gandha, the sense of smell. These Sattva properties taken together constitute the internal organ or the Antahkarana. The Antahkarana has four aspects, viz., Manas, Buddhi, Ahamkara and Chitta. Manas does the function of general indeterminate thinking; Buddhi functions as intellect with the character of determination and will; Ahamkara is the individual or ego which asserts and distinguishes itself from others. Chitta constitutes the conscience, and the subconscious level, and is the seat of memory.
The Rajas aspect of the five principles of Sabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha become the organs of action. The Rajas of Sabda becomes the organ of speech; of Sparsa the organ of grasping; of Rupa the organ of locomotion; of Rasa the organ of generation, and of Gandha the organ of excretion. These Rajas forms taken together constitute the Prana or the total energy of the system. The Prana as five main functional variations: Prana which causes expiration, Apana which causes inspiration, Udana which separates the physical and subtle bodies at death, Samana which digests the food taken in, and Vyana which causes circulation of blood in the body.
The Tamas aspects of the these five principles become the gross universe consisting of the five elements, Akasa or ether, Vayu or air, Tejas or fire, Apas or water, and Prithvi or earth, by means of the process of Panchikarana or quintuplication of elements. This process is thus: Half of the Tamas of Sabda mixed with one-eighths of each of the other four principles in their Tamas states becomes ether. Half of the Tamas of Sparsa in combination with one-eighths of the Tamas of each of the other four principles is air. Similar is the way of the formation of the remaining elements.
Isvara has mastery over Maya, because the latter is undivided Sattva, with no individualisation while Jiva has no control over Avidya as the Jiva is an effect of the latter. Avidya qualifies and modifies Jiva. The individual thinking principle with a personalistic consciousness is distinct from the object perceived. Avidya being many, Jivas, too, are many. The Jiva goes by the names of Prajna, Taijasa and Visva, when it associates itself with the bodies: causal, subtle and physical. These names are not of the bodies but of the consciousness which knows them and experiences them. The causal body of the Jiva, consisting of nescience, further expresses itself as the subtle body which consists of the five senses of knowledge, five organs of action, five Pranas and the fourfold Antahkarana. This subtle body also called Linga-Sarira, or insignia and symbol, and it is so called because it is the mark or indication of one’s individuality, it being entirely responsible for the multifarious experiences which the Jiva has in the form of a subject isolated from the differing objects. Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat are Samashti-Abhimanis or Cosmic Existences seeped in a simultaneous association with the totality of the universe in all its states, while the Jiva’s states have only a consciousness segregated by individuality. Isvara has the instantaneous knowledge of everything as identical with the knowledge of His own Self. For Him there is no such thing as subject or object – the two are one, and they form His very being. His knowledge is Aparoksha or immediate, while that of the Jiva is Paroksha or mediate. The Jiva has only a relativistic knowledge born out of contact through sense-organs, and there is no such thing as eternal knowledge in a Jiva. It is for the sake of experience by the Jivas that the world is manifested for providing them with various conditions to work out their destiny in accordance with the nature of the groups of unfulfilled desires that are yet to be fulfilled in a practical life or birth. Thus the world is a training ground to the Jivas for their higher evolution.