by Swami Krishnananda
Pārokṣeṇa vibudhyendro ya ātmetyādi lakṣaṇāt, aparoksī kartum icchan ścantur vāraṁ guruṁ yayau (67). Indra went to Prajapati four times to know the Atman. Once Prajapati made a declaration in his hall: This Atman is immortal. Whoever knows it shall have everything that he wants. Indra, the ruler of the gods, and Virochana, the ruler of the demons, both heard this and wanted to obtain everything they desired, so they went to Prajapati to get initiation into the nature of this Atman.
As mentioned earlier, Virochana was satisfied with just one instruction. Indra was also given the same instruction: “For thirty-two years you must stay here, observing self-restraint.” He stayed with Brahma for thirty-two years, observing self-restraint. After that, the initiation that was given was strange: “The Atman is that which you see when you look at yourself in water.” This was the instruction.
Virochana, the demon king, took this instruction as relating to the physical body, and thought that the physical body is the Atman. He never had any doubt afterward. He proclaimed to all his associates, “Now I know the Atman. The physical body is the Atman. Eat well, be happy, and keep this body secure.”
Indra also got this instruction, but when he was halfway home, he had a difficulty. How could the physical body be the Atman? This question never arose in the case of Virochana, the demon king. Indra had a doubt. “The Atman is said to be immortal. If this body is to be identified with the Atman, the Atman also would be perishable, like the body. The body has illnesses; the Atman will also have illness. The body has many defects; those defects will be in the Atman also. The body dies; the Atman also will die. No, I do not think this instruction is all right. I will go back.”
So again he went to Brahma, and Brahma said, “How do you come again, sir, after receiving instruction on the Atman? What is the matter?” “Great master, this instruction does not seem to be all right, because this physical body cannot be the Atman. If that is the case, the Atman will die with the body.” “Alright, stay here another thirty-two years, with restraint.” After the second thirty-two years, Brahma said, “What you see in dream, that is the Atman. Now go....”
Indra left, and he went on brooding over this matter. “What is the good of this Atman that I see in dream? It is all chaos, confusion, mutilation, transmutation, change. Even death can take place in dream. I don't think this instruction is all right.” So he went back to Brahma.
Brahma said, “Why have you come again?” “This instruction does not seem to be all right, master, because even in dream, one can die. If that is the case, the Atman dies.” “Ok,” said Brahma, and for a third time he said, “Stay here for thirty-two years more, with self-restraint.” And what was the instruction? “That which you see in deep sleep is the Atman.” Indra left, feeling happy. On the way, he had a doubt: “What kind of Atman is this that knows nothing about itself or others? In sleep one neither knows oneself nor anybody else. What is the good of this Atman? It is as if it is dead. We feel as if we are dead in the state of deep sleep. This kind of Atman is no good.”
He went back to Prajapati. Prajapati said, “Again you have come?” He said, “Sir, this instruction too seems to have some defect because in sleep we seem to be nothing, so the Atman would be nothing.” “Oh. Stay here another five years.” Prajapati reduced the punishment from thirty-two years to five. Indra had to stay for a hundred and one years for this final instruction. “Now I shall tell you what the Atman is.”
This story appears in the Chhandogya Upanishad. It is not the physical body, not the dream world, and not the sleep. It is a transcendent radiance from which one attains everything that one wants and which rises above the three bodies – physical, vital, subtle and causal. Immortal is this essence, and it cannot be identified with either the waking, the dreaming or the sleep states. Several times Indra went to Prajapati and got this direct experience of the Atman, as we have it in the Chhandogya Upanishad.
Ātma vā idam ityādau parokṣam brahma lakṣitam, adhyā ropāpa vādābhyāṁ prajñānaṁ brahma darśitam (68). “The Atman alone was in the beginning,” is the statement made in the Aitareya Upanishad. This statement is paroksa jnana because what is said is that Atman exists and it has been there for ever and ever, and prior to creation, nothing was except the Atman. This kind of knowledge that we have about the Atman in regard to its existence is indirect knowledge. We have only a faith that it exists, but we do not have direct knowledge – experience – of it.
After having made this statement, the Aitareya Upanishad goes deeper and deeper. We have to read the Aitareya Upanishad to understand the implication of this statement. By the description of an entire process of the creation of the world, and pointing out how the Universal, or Virat, enters into every detail of creation as the immanent principle therein, it finally proclaims that consciousness is Brahman. The pervading consciousness in everything, in the whole cosmos, is Brahman, the Absolute. This is the final instruction of the Aitareya Upanishad after a long, long story of the creative process described therein, subsequent to the original statement, “The Atman alone was, and nothing else was, prior to the creation of the cosmos.”
Avānareṇa vākyena parokṣā brahma dhīr bhavet, sarvatraiva manāvākya vicāra daparokṣa dhīḥ (69). Avantara vakya is the introductory statement, like sarvaṁ khalvidaṁ brahma: All indeed is Brahman. Satyaṁ jñānam anantam brahma: Truth-Knowledge-Infinity is Brahman. In the beginning, prior to creation, the Atman alone was. These statements are avantara vakyas, definitive statements introducing the mind of the student to the main subject of discussion. Afterwards, through the mahavakyas which we have studied in the fifth chapter of this book, direct experience is entered into.
Brahmā parokṣya sidhdyarthyaṁ mahā vākya mitī ritam, vākya vṛttā vato brahmā parokṣye vimatir na hi (70). Vakya-vritti is one of the small treatises attributed to the authorship of Adi Sankaracharya. In that work, the author says the mahavakyas of the Upanishads intend to create in the mind of the student a direct experience of Brahman. A school of thought in the Vedanta holds that mere repetition of this mantra aham brahmasmi, tat tvam asi will lead to actual realisation, provided the meaning of it is clear to the mind of the student – as has been explained in the fifth chapter of the Panchadasi. It should not be a mere parrot-like repetition, but a heartfelt, feeling-filled concentration.
Ālambanatyā bhāti yo’smat pratyaya śabda yoḥ, antaḥ karaṇa saṁbhinna bodhaḥ sa tvaṁ padābhidhaḥ (71). Tat tvam asi : Thou art That. In this statement of the Chhandogya Upanishad, the word ‘tvam’ – or ‘thou’, ‘yourself’ – means that individualised consciousness which stands in between, as it were, the consciousness of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and is defined by the qualities of the internal organ, antahkarana – which means to say, the indication of the term ‘I’ or ‘you’ is that it is a state of consciousness which is defined by the circumference of the mental activity of the person. ‘Thou’, ‘you’, ‘I’ imply an individual. The individuality is nothing but the assumed finitude of consciousness on account of its being limited to the mental functions. The mental functions are limited. They are not all-pervading and, therefore, the reflection of the consciousness through the mental functions also appears to be limited to that extent. This limited consciousness operating through the internal organ or the psyche is the indication of the terms ‘I’ or ‘you’.
Māyopādhir jagadyonih sarva jñātvādi lakṣaṇaḥ, parokṣya śabalaḥ satyādya ātmakas tat padābhidhaḥ (72). Tat means That. ‘That’ means Ishvara, the god of creation who wields maya as his instrument of action through the sattva guna of maya, shuddha sattva pradhan of prakriti. By this, Brahman reflected through the pure sattva of prakriti becomes the creation, sustenance and the dissolution of the universe in Himself. God becomes the creator, destroyer, the preserver, and everything connected with the world by His transcendence on the one hand and immanence in the world on the other hand. As God is not exhausted in this world, He is transcendent. But as He is present in every atom of creation, He is also immanent. He is omniscient. Sarvajnatvadi means ‘omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence’. God is all-pervading, so we call Him omnipresent. He is all-knowing, so we call Him omniscient. He is all-powerful, so we call Him omnipotent.
To the jiva, Ishvara appears as a remote object, impossible of accession – impossible even to conceive in the mind. The remoteness of Ishvara is the result that follows from the consciousness in the jiva operating through its own finitude. Because of the location of the individual in that structure of finitude, consciousness operating through that finitude makes it a single entity located somewhere, and Ishvara is made to appear as a universal, remote existence beyond space and time. So the Ishvara of this character as described here is the indicative meaning of the word ‘tat’ in that statement tat tvam asi, Thou art That.
Pratyak parokṣatai kasya sadvitīyata pūrṇatā, virudhyete yatas tasmā llakṣaṇā saṁpra vartate (73). The identity of Ishvara and jiva is difficult to explain because of the dissimilar characters of Ishvara and jiva. Remote is Ishvara; immediately experienceable is the jiva. There is a second to the individual finitude. There is no second to Ishvara. These are the dissimilarities observable in Ishvara and jiva. How could one be the same as the other? The identity of these two can be explained only by analogies, illustrations. And one of the illustrations is called bhagatyaga-lakshana.
The definition of an object is metaphorically possible in three ways. Let us see them. “There is a village in the Ganges.” Sometimes we make statements of this kind. We know that a village cannot be in the Ganges, because the Ganges is water. What we actually mean is that the village is on the bank of the Ganges. Here we reject some word and add another word in coming to a correct apprehension of the meaning of that statement. This way of understanding the meaning of a sentence where we reject something and add something else is called jahat-lakshana. In Sanskrit, the word ‘jahat’ means abandoning something. The word ‘Ganges’ has to be abandoned because the village cannot be on the Ganges. It has to be implied that the village is on the bank, jahat.
There is another way of speaking where we do not abandon some word, but simply add something non-existent, such as when we say “umbrellas are going”. When we say “umbrellas are going”, we actually mean that people holding umbrellas are going. But we make statements, “The caps are going; the umbrellas are going; the red is running.” It means the red horse is running. We add one word which was absent. This is ajahat, which means non-abandoning but actually taking in some other word. These are the two ways of describing two different types of expression – jahat-lakshana and ajahat-lakshana.
The third way is jahat-ajahat-lakshana, where we abandon something and, at the same time, take something else – as is the well-known example of someone being the same person who was seen a long time ago in some other place and is now seen here at another place, with such a difference of space and time. We abandon the limiting characters of space and time, and then we say, “This is that person.”
This cannot be that. The demonstrative pronouns ‘this’ and ‘that’ mean different things. ‘That’ is a remote thing and ‘this’ is an immediate thing. How could this be that? It is like saying ‘A’ is ‘B’. ‘A’ can be ‘B’, provided the limiting characters of the two terms are lifted up and their essentiality is taken up. This is done in the case of the understanding of the true meaning of the great mahavakya sentence, tat tvam asi: thou art that.
The remoteness of Ishvara is caused by our assumption that Ishvara is involved in space and time. The fact is that Ishvara is not involved in space and time because space creates distance and time creates the idea of duration. Ishvara controls space and time. And because of the same operation, the jiva also looks finite. The all-pervadingness of Ishvara is due to the spatial character of Ishvara, and the omniscience of Ishvara is due to His non-temporality, eternity.
But the opposite is the case with the jiva, or the individual. The individual has no such powers. It is located only in one place in space, and it can exist only for some time and not for all times. The rejection of the spatio-temporal limitations and the taking in of only the essential consciousness is called bhagatyaga-lakshana or jahat-ajahat-lakshana, dividing and abandoning – abandoning and taking in. We abandon spatio-temporal distinctions and take in only Pure Consciousness. Then, in the light of Pure Consciousness, which is the substance of both Ishvara and jiva, we find that they are non-separate.