- P.R. Kannan
Sanatana dharma declares repeatedly and unequivocally that the one and only purpose of human birth is to realise Paramatma. ADI SANKARACHARYA, who established the primacy of Advaita Vedanta, realised in his own experience and taught that Brahman is the only truth; Jagat, the phenomenal world, is only a false superimposed appearance; Jivatma is none other than Brahman. He commented extensively on Prasthanatraya, the three basic scriptures - Upanishads, Brahma sutras and Bhagavad Gita. As these commentaries were appropriate only for scholars, he authored for the benefit of the common man a number of Prakarana Granthas – explanatory manuals on Advaita Vedanta. One such text is ‘Advaitanubhuti’, meaning experiencing non-dualism, oneness with the Self of all beings. It is believed that the Acharya wrote this book at the age of eight when he had just taken sanyasa under his Guru, Govinda Bhagavatpada. This book explains beautifully the basic tenets of Advaita with a plethora of simple and telling examples from every-day life, leads the reader to contemplate on the deeper aspects of human life and takes him to the lofty heights of Advaitic experience.
Sankara asserts in this text: I am Siva, I am alone, I am manifestation of bliss and truth, permanent, immutable; Whatever is not bliss does not touch me. Just as moon, though one, appears as two owing to disease in the eye, Atman, though one, shines as two (Iswara and Jagat) due to the false maya. Just as moon appears as only one to those who have no disease in the eye, Atman always appears as only one to those who do not suffer from the disease of maya.
Atman is the cause of Akasa, the space; without Atman, space cannot come into being. The palpability, the fullness of the effect is seen; where is then the doubt about the efficacy of Atman, the cause? Water assumes the shape of the hailstone because of association with cloud. By destroying hailstone, water does not get destroyed. Take the case of the bubble which arises from water and glows in several hues appearing different from water. Destroying the bubble does not cause destruction of water. Likewise Atman assumes the appearance of the Prapancha (so called because Jagat is made of the five elements, the pancha bhutas) by associating with maya, which is nothing but the power of Atman. Hence this world appears in multifarious hues as different from Atman. On destruction of prapancha, Atman is not destroyed.
Just as the lifeless slough of a snake cannot become a real snake, the apparent world of objects cannot be called Atman. As the snake does not consider the cast-away skin as its own, the enlightened person does not associate Atman with the three bodies from which he has detached himself. (The three bodies are the sthula, sukshma and karana, ie. gross, subtle and causal. The causal body is responsible for the unending series of births and deaths. The three bodies can also refer to the waking body, dreaming body and body in deep sleep). Just as destruction of the snake’s skin does not cause destruction of snake, so also annihilation of the three bodies does not destroy Atman.
The ignorant ones mistake buttermilk containing salt as salt water of the sea. Likewise Atman in association with gross objects is mistaken as those objects which are seen. Iron, wood etc. in the fire give the appearance of fire itself. (A red hot piece of iron in the fire is mistaken for fire itself and not perceived as iron). Similarly gross objects appear as Atman by association with it. The fire is not the object it burns; the burning object is not the fire. Equally Atman is not Anatma; Anatma is not Atman. (Anatma means objects other than Atman, chiefly the body, mind, intellect and ego). Objects like pot etc. flash in the light of the sun. (You cannot see any object in the absence of sun, ie. in darkness). Atman lights up all finite objects, which are perceived. It is only one space that occupies different pots. It is only one Self that lives in various bodies. The multiplicity of pots does not affect the space inside or outside; the Self is not affected by the multiplicity of bodies. When the pots are destroyed, the space inside the pots does not undergo destruction. Similarly when bodies are dead, I, the all-pervasive Self do not get destroyed. Just as flowers, best or otherwise, of different varieties are joined in one thread, bodies, excellent or otherwise, of different types always abide in Me. The quality of flowers does not affect the thread; so also the superiority etc. of bodies does not affect the all-pervasive Self. When flowers are destroyed, the thread is not destroyed; I am not destroyed on death of bodies.
The light of Sun, though one, shines in different openings between the ropes of the cot and gives the appearance of many suns. The omnipresent Atman, though one, similarly shines in different bodies (kshetras, fields of action) giving rise to the misconception of multiplicity. The defects in the openings formed between the ropes do not affect the sunlight; the faults in the bodies do not affect the all-pervasive Me, the kshetragna. On removal of the openings between the ropes, sunlight does not get destroyed. Destruction of bodies does not bring about destruction of the omnipresent Self.
I am not the body, as body is seen. I am not the sense-organ, as it is physical. I am not Prana, the life-breath, as it is multiple. (Prana is said to be tenfold, each being identified with a name and a function in the body). I am not mind, as it is fickle. I am not intellect, as it undergoes transformation (Intellect is associated with reason and reason changes with new knowledge). I am not darkness, as it is dull and lifeless. (Darkness is ignorance, which leads to dullness). I am not body, sense-organ etc., as they are all subject to destruction similar to gross objects like the pot. I shine lighting up the body, sense-organ, prana, mind, intellect and ignorance; I also illumine the fundamental ego, ahankara, which is attached to the above body etc.
I am not the Jagat, the ever-changing world, as it is an object for cognisance. I am not the state of sleep etc., as I am the witness of them. During deep sleep, I remain immutable; I continue to be immutable in the other two states also, viz. dream state and waking state. In these two states, due to close association with objects of the outside world, I appear to be subject to change. The crystal is not affected by objects of various colours held near it, though it appears to assume those colours. Likewise Atman remains unsullied by products like desire of various koshas, ie. sheaths. (The five sheaths in the body are annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vignanamaya and anandamaya, ie. sheaths of food, vital air, mental, intellectual and bliss).
When the head turns, the objects around appear to travel. Though Atman is immovable, it appears to the ignorant to be moving. (In ‘Atmabodha’, another Prakarana text, the Acharya says: The moon appears to be running when the clouds move in the sky. Likewise to the non-discriminating person the Atman appears to be active when It is observed through the functions of the sense-organs). As long as man considers the three bodies (gross, subtle and causal or waking, dreaming and sleeping bodies) as everlasting and identifies them with Atman, he, being ignorant, is born in different forms. Feelings like sorrow experienced in sleep (referring to dream) do not affect man during waking state. Similarly feelings like misery experienced during waking state do not sully the Atman. During sleep, the body looks as if in the waking state. On abandoning the state of sleep, the body in waking state remains unaffected. In the same manner, the body in waking state shines as if it were Atman. On death of the waking body, Atman never dies. On abandoning the dreaming body, man goes into the waking body. The enlightened one abandons the waking body and identifies with Atman. On waking up from dream, man does not care for objects of pleasure experienced in dream. Similarly the sage does not care for transient pleasures of heaven etc.
Just as the one sun appears as many in several water-bodies, Atman, though one, shines as if it has many forms when It illumines different bodies. In the water, there is another sun shining as it were. Atman shines in the intellect as if it were different. How can there be a reflection of the sun in water if there were no sun? How can there be consciousness in the inert intellect if there were no Atman? The movements etc. of the reflected sun do not in the least affect the original sun. The actions etc. of the reflected awareness, ie. jiva do not affect Atman. The coolness etc. of the water do not affect the reflected sun. Actions etc. of the intellect do not likewise affect the jiva. Associated with the doership, enjoyership, sorrowfulness etc. of the intellect, the conscious jiva appears as constantly changing. This is like the drop of water at the end of an arrow. When this drop of water falls off, the reflected sun is gone. Similarly, when the intellect is withdrawn (like in the Samadhi state) or during deep sleep, the jiva appears to have disappeared. The sunshine makes the reflected sun, the waves etc. of the water (in a water-body like the sea) glow. In the same manner, the ever-brilliant Atman makes the jiva (the reflection), the doership of the intellect etc glow. The sun hidden behind the clouds is perceived through the glow of the clouds. The shine of Atman hidden behind delusion is perceived through the illumined delusion. The sun shines brightly making clouds etc. glow. Atman shines brilliantly making gross objects (like body) glow in turn. The sun, which lights up all objects, is not affected by those objects. Atman, which lights up the entire phenomenal universe, is not sullied by the universe.
The reflected face in the mirror falsely gives the appearance of the real face. The reflected Atman, jiva in the intellect falsely appears like Atman. How does the destruction of the reflected face in the mirror affect the real face? The obliteration of the jivahood in the intellect does not tarnish the Atman. Take the case of the god perceived in the image of copper, which is distinctly distinguished from the original copper. Similarly the universe is experienced to be different from the Atman, which is its cause and where it actually inheres. Though the copper is basically a single material, it is perceived differently in different shapes. (It could be an image of god or a saint or any object). So the unchanging copper shines like Iswara and jiva. (Iswara is the image of the unqualified, unlimited Atman expressing Itself consciously for the good of jivas as god with auspicious attributes and associated with functions of creating, sustaining and destroying the phenomenal world. Jiva is the image of Atman expressing itself due to Avidya as individual part of the indivisible consciousness and associated with ego, intellect, mind and the body). Just like the copper, the Atman, though one, shines falsely as Iswara and jiva. When Iswara etc. are not identified with the copper piece, ie. detached from the copper, nothing is lost for the copper. Likewise when Iswara etc. are detached from the Atman, there is no diminution in the status or glory of Atman.
When the idea of snake is superimposed on a piece of rope, it looks like a real snake because of the basic truth of existence of the rope. (If there were no rope, there is no question of mistaking it for a snake). Similarly this world shines like real because of the inherent pervasive existence of Atman. If the superimposition of snake is removed, ie. if the rope is seen as rope and not mistaken for snake, rope alone is left. In the same manner, when the idea of the world is gone, Atman alone is left for ever. (In ‘Atmabodha’ Sankaracharya says: On the destruction of ignorance Atman is realised. It is like the missing ornament in one’s neck). Just as different colours like red etc. are seen in a colourless crystal and the colourless sky appears blue due to the quality of the adjunct, the changeless Atman appears like the ever-changing world (of objects and experiences). The ignorant man perceives differences like jiva, Iswara etc. How can there be true variation in the invariable, attributeless Atman? (The ‘Atmabodha’ says: The jagat appears to be true so long as Brahman, the substratum, the basis of all this creation, is not realised. It is like the illusion of silver in the mother-of-pearl).
Siva appears like a jiva by assuming the form of Linga, ie. Siva the limitless formless consciousness appears in a limited form in the Linga. On disappearance of Linga, where is Siva’s limited appearance? Siva is none other than jiva at all times; jiva is none other than Siva at all times. One who understands the unity of these two, he alone and no one else is Atmagna, knower of Atman. (We can again note in ‘Atmabodha: Brahman permeates everything as butter permeates milk). In union with milk, water puts on the false appearance of milk. Anatma (ie. body, mind, intellect and ego) falsely appears like Atman due to association with it. A swan is swan only when it separates milk from water. One becomes liberated only when he separates the Self (ie. the indwelling Atman, his true identification) from the gross body etc. (This is explained in greater detail in ‘Atmabodha’: By a process of negation of the conditionings, upadhis, through the help of Vedic statement ‘Not this, Not this’, the oneness of the individual soul and the Supreme Soul, as indicated by the great Mahavakyas, has to be realised).
I am that part- less whole, attributeless Atman in which the three attributes (satva, rajas and tamas) distinct from each other shine. I am that supreme Brahman, different from and unaffected by the three bodies (gross, subtle and causal) and at the same time illuminating those three bodies and making them appear real. I am that supreme Brahman, different from and unaffected by the three states of body, viz. waking, dream and deep sleep and at the same time I am the indwelling Atman, lighting up those three states and making them appear real. I am that supreme Atman, different from the three microcosmic worlds of experience, viz. visva, taijasa and pragna. (Visva, taijasa and pragna correspond to the three states of the indwelling Self during waking, dream and deep sleep). At the same time I am the life behind the three states, making them appear real. I am that self-luminous Existence-consciousness-bliss, being a witness to and illumining the three states of the macrocosmic Atman, viz. Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Iswara, making them appear real. (Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Iswara are the three states of the universal Atman representing the sum total of the gross, subtle and causal bodies). (The Acharya establishes the veracity of the Advaitic experience in the text ‘Brahmanuchintanam’ thus: This Prapancha is indeed false; I am the immutable Truth, Brahman. In this the proofs are Vedantas, the Gurus and one’s own experience)