Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Self-knowledge and the Mind

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The following is based upon a discussion between myself (as Q) and Dhanya (A), with two timely additions from posts to the Advaitin Egroup (all July 2006).

Q: When one says "knowing the true nature of the Self," what is meant?

A: It seems to me that the mind can perform various functions. And one of the functions the mind can perform is to differentiate itself from the Self. In fact, the mind's making this thorough and complete differentiation is what Self knowledge truly is.

Everything having to do with the mind comes and goes and changes. What does not? The Self which I am. So clearly the mind can make the differentiation between what changes and what does not.

What does not change is not an object of knowledge. It is my Self, and is indeed that by which all is known, and which shines unchanging to every experience.

So it is the mind which has ignorance and the mind which gains the Knowledge by making the complete differentiation between itself and the Self.

That Self which I am is 100% totally present at all times. It does not need to be (and indeed cannot be) objectified.

What happens in the moment of Self-knowledge is not an objective knowing but a recognition of what is always self-evident (the Self). In Sanskrit, it is said that the mind takes on an akhaNDAkAra vRRitti. This is a vRRitti (thought) in the form of (AkAra) the formless or undivided (akhaNDa).  This is an ati sUkShma (very subtle) vRRitti. If everything is in the Self, then the Self shines in and through everything.  So this vRRitti occurs when the mind has no 'content' other than the Self which is always shining and illuminating everything. 

At that point the mind is convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not the Self, that my Self 'experience' is in no way dependent on or a product of the mind, and that the Self which I am always shines with or without the presence of the mind and its thoughts moods and emotions.

The Self can be said to have an 'affect.' What is that? What is beloved? What do you never want to die? What are you most attached to? What do you want to stay even if everything else goes? Me! And in fact, that is who you are right now at this very moment and actually take yourself to be, bottom line.

So if the mind knows that that which is most beloved can never die, never go away, is always present, what would the effect of that knowing be to the mind? What sort of mind would one have then? A happy mind most likely. So Self-knowledge takes place in the mind because that is where the ignorance is, and Knowledge removes ignorance. Where else would Self-knowledge occur? In the never changing, always present Self which cannot modify in any way?

While I am not an object of knowledge, I cannot say that I am not always present. I clearly am always present and my mind knows that. And while I am not a j~nAnI and my mind has not made this thorough and complete differentiation, still my mind does know that I am here, that I exist no matter what.

Q: I don’t quite agree with what (I think) you are saying here. Certainly the ignorance is in the mind and knowledge is required by the mind in order to neutralise the ignorance. When this occurs, there is realisation. However, it is not the ‘mind making the differentiation’ that is the realisation but the mind giving up, as it were, surely. After all, since the mind cannot know the Self, it cannot really make this final differentiation other than intellectually. The mind moves (constantly!) while the Self is without movement. As I see it, once the recognition is made, the mind is able to make the final surrender to the ineffable.

I don’t see how the mind can have the Self as its only content though. Do you mean have the ‘idea’ of the Self as its content? The Self cannot be in the mind when everything is ‘in’ the Self.

A: It is the mind making the differentiation. Although the Self is not an object of the mind, the mind can make the differentiation between itself and the Self, and this is not intellectual.  It is the mind giving up the notion that it is the Self, by directly seeing that it is not the Self. It is the mind no longer taking itself to be the Self.  It is the removal of the superimposition, which creates the dehAtmabuddhi (the belief that ‘I am the body’), the source of all the trouble, so that is the differentiation.

In terms of the mind giving up, the mind actually surrenders to Ishvara.  That is, it comes to understand that it is part of the functioning of the whole.  The mind doesn't surrender to the Self, but rather to Ishvara of which it is a part. 

It is the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti which destroys ignorance.  It convinces the mind once and for all that it is not the Self.  This is different from an absorption samAdhi because the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti is a  'Knowledge' vRRitti, whereas the experiences of nirvikalpa or savikalpa samAdhi are not Knowledge vRRitti-s.  One can have either of those experiences and not have Knowledge. If I am the Self, and the mind knows (the mind has clearly seen) that I am always present, and who the word 'I' actually means or points to, then the mind has recognized the Self.  But recognition of the Self by the mind is only the beginning of the mind's coming to understand the true nature of the Self.  That ‘I am’, that ‘I am always present’, that ‘that I which I truly am is the Self’ the mind can know. 

One often has 'Knowledge' vRRitti-s during the time of teaching.  But these are not the final vRRitti, as is the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti.  'Gaining' Knowledge is actually a process.  At the time of teaching, the mind sees.  And then it doesn't see.  Finally there does come a time when one sees absolutely and one cannot get the 'projection' or superimposition back.  It is forever gone.  And all of this has a lot to do with the mind's making the differentiation between itself and the Self. 

So I think that to say that the mind cannot know the Self is not correct.  The mind can know the Self.  Perhaps because the Self is not an object of perception in the same way that sense objects are, there is the saying or conclusion that the mind cannot know the Self.  But it seems quite evident to me that the mind can indeed know the Self, because after all the Self is always present and who I actually am. 

The mind cannot point to the Self, as my finger might point out a book, or a sunset or some such object in the creation.  Yet the Self is clearly existent for the mind to recognize.  But the mind does not form a vRRitti of it, the way the mind forms vRRitti-s of objects of perception. The mind just knows that the Self is and what it is, and the mind can say, "Yes, that is my Self," and know clearly what that means, although the individual body cannot 'show' it to another, as the Self cannot be seen.

Q: I feel that there is confusion in the use of the word ‘know’ here. How can the finite know the infinite? Also, as Shankara points out in his bhAShya on the kenopaniShad, the knower cannot be known by the knower (just as the fire cannot be consumed by the consuming fire) and there is no other knower than Brahman to whom Brahman could become knowable. He says in his commentary on II.1: “The purport is that the Brahman, that is free from all distinctions, that is one without a second, and that is known as bhUmA (great) and eternal, cannot be known as a fully comprehended object.” The kena goes on to say that it is known only to the one who does not know; the one who knows (via mind, intellect etc.) still does not really know. It seems to me that this is the meaning of the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti: that the mind finally surrenders its ‘impossibility of ever knowing’ in the final realisation (and, in doing so, then *effectively* knows, but not in the usual sense of the word).

He (Shankara) goes on to say that pratibodhaviditam (the Self is known to oneself) is possible ‘where difference is imagined in a context in which the Self appears as a conditioned thing through identification with the limiting adjunct, intellect’ but ‘in a context where the unconditioned Self is one, there can neither be knowing by oneself nor by another’.

A: I don't really disagree with what you have written, and yet I 'know' that the Self can be known by the mind, but not as an object.  How does this mind know that?  Because it does.   Because Brahman is self-evident, it is known.  Brahman does not know Brahman because Brahman is not a knower.  Brahman is only a 'knower' in relation to duality, (and that is where the concept of 'sAkShi' comes in).   I agree that as Shankara says, Brahman cannot be known as an object. What the Kena is saying is that Brahman cannot be known as an object, but it is not saying that Brahman cannot be known.

The akhaNDAkAra vRRitti convinces the mind that it is not the Self.  The Self shines through the mind, and in the mind, and illumines everything, whether the mind has any other content or not. The Self can be known but not in the way that all objects in the creation are known as separate 'things,'  which the mind perceives through the sense organs, and in the form of vRRitti-s, because your Self is not an object of perception perceivable through the sense organs. Nor is the Self an object of perception such as an emotion or thought which comes and goes.

akhaNDAkAra vRRitti exactly translated means the vRRitti (thought), in the form of (AkAra),  the undivided (akhaNDa).  When the mind has no other content, (when it is not perceiving an object in duality) then what is the content of the mind?  The Self.  Because the Self is actually always the content of the mind.  The Self plus (ordinarily) an object of perception.  So when there is no other content of the mind other than the Self (which Self is actually the mind's constant content) that is the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti. 

How can the Self not be known when it is the mind's ever present experience?  It is true that the Self is not an object of knowledge and yet it is known because it is.  It is Self-shining, and once seen, it is clearly seen that it has always been known by the mind as 'me,'  but previously taken to be something else.  This is why it is said it is closer than your breath.  Because your breath is an object of perception, but it is not you.  Whereas you are you.  You are Brahman, and the mind can know that.

Do you know yourself or not?  Are you here or not?  Do you exist or not? If the answer to those questions is 'Yes,' then your mind knows your Self.  But for many this is not clear Knowledge.  This is where it might be said that the mind can have 'general' knowledge of the Self, but not 'particular' knowledge of what that Self is, because for most people that Self is, as if, entirely mixed up and taken to be one with objects of perception, namely the body and the mind.  Undoing this mutual superimposition is what Self-knowledge is all about, and once undone, the thoughts are seen to be thoughts (the objects of knowledge), and the Self seen to be substrate and present to all of that.  And it is the mind which makes the differentiation and sees this.

Prior to this one's mind may take that Self to be dependent upon it for its existence, and take that Self to be modified by the workings of the body/mind, but truly the mind has always known the Self.  I exist.  I am present to whatever is occurring.

You are.  You exist.  That existent being is the Self.  Once the mind recognizes that there is much much more to be understood and assimilated in the light of that recognition.  What is all of this?  Who am I in relation to it?   Who am I in relation to everyone else?  These are the questions which Vedanta goes on to answer until the mind is fully satisfied and relaxes into Ishvara and the happiness of the Self from which it never has been and can never be apart, and which shines in every experience as 'me.'

Swami Dayananda makes the following comments on Verse 1 of the Vivekachudamani (referring to the Self as ‘Govinda’) [Note: this is from his highly recommended book, p.3]:

“ What is the nature of Govinda? He is agochara. The one who is an object of senses is called gochara. Therefore any object is gochara. Sound is gochara, touch is gochara, taste, smell, any form seen is gochara. An object of inference, being an object, is also gochara. Again whatever happens in your mind is not seen by the senses; it is not inferred either but directly perceived by you, the witness, sAkShi. Therefore what is perceived by the witness is also gochara. But this Govinda is agochara, not available for sense perception or inference or witness perception. He is said to be aprameya, not available for objectification.

If the Lord is aprameya then how am I going to know him? The modern Vedantins commit a mistake here. They say, the Lord, the vastu is a matter of experience and not of knowledge. If the Lord is a matter of experience, one should set oneself up for that experience; why should one study the shAstra?... The paramAnanda is not a matter of experience. It is to be recognized, for which you require a means of knowledge, pramANa. When it is said Govinda is agochara, it means it is not available for the means of knowledge at your disposal, but at the same time it is available for Vedanta… And the subject matter of Vedanta is the knowledge of the Sself… The self is revealed to you because it is self-evident… a self-evident thing is always self-existent.

Anything that is evident may be subject to error, adhyAsa. Anything that reveals its existence to you can be taken as it is or it can be taken wrongly… Now the Atma is self-evident and at the same time I am born with self-ignorance, therefore I can commit a mistake about it… The attributes of the body-mind-complex are taken to be the Self, the Atma. This is self-confusion… So the self-evident Self is mistaken for whatever you think about yourself. To correct this mistake you require a means of knowledge, because correction means knowledge and knowledge is born of means of knowledge. "

[So then Swamiji goes on to speak of dRRig-dRRishya-viveka ]…." I can negate what is not-Self. But to know the Self, to know that the Self is paramesvara, I have no means of knowledge except the sruti….

In the wake of negation what is left is the self-evident, self-existent “I” which is revealed as the limitless Brahman by lakShaNa vRRitti, implied meaning of the words of the shruti

What Swamiji is saying is that the Self is self-evident and self-existent. But because it is evident it can be taken to be something else, in this case the body/mind.  So through the process of dRRig-dRRishya-viveka those things which the Self is not are seen to be not ‘I’, and what is left, (that which does not change, and is self-evident) is seen to be ‘I’.

So in this sense, the mind recognizes the Self because it is self-evident, and in fact, always has been.

Because our minds cannot know this on their own, they require a means of knowledge, a pramANa, which the shruti provides. And that is the teaching methodology, which "leads the mind step by step to the clear recognition of the Self." And I would add, which can be recognized by the mind because it is entirely self-evident.

So the Self is not any type of object to be known by the mind. It is not gochara, any type of object of sense perception, or known by the mind as other ‘things’ are known which can be objectified, but rather it is known or recognized by the mind because it is self-revealing and self-evident.

The following, relevant material was posted by V. Subrahmanian to the Advaitin Email group, July 2006:

Knowledge has to come only in the locus of ignorance. Ignorance is present in the False Self, also called jIva. In Vedantic terminology this is called the antaHkaraNa where the reflection of the Real Self, Pure Consciousness, is available. It is this admixture of the antaHkaraNa (mind) and the Pure Consciousness that is called jIva. This is the false self. It is this jIva that experiences ignorance, saMsAra. It is this jIva that strives for knowledge. Ultimately it is this jIva that gets the Realization. It happens through a peculiar vRRitti (transformation of the mind) called akhaNDAkAra vRRitti. When due to prolonged practice, the mind takes on the form of Brahman, there occurs the destruction of the ignorance located in the jIva and thereby the jIva gets liberated. Once this happens that person is no longer jIva, but Brahman.

If the above explanation is too complicated, just this much would suffice: It is the False Self that gets the realization. This marks the end of the 'false' and just the 'Self' remains.

The following, additional material was posted by Sunder Hattangadi to the Advaitin Email group, July 2006:

The word (akhaNDAkAra vRRitti) seems to have gained currency after Sadananda 's VedAntasAra, around the 15th century.

The following excerpts may be helpful in connecting the synonymous usages.

Sri Vidyaranya Swami's PANCHADASI: A Summary [Chapter by Chapter] By S. N. Sastri, available at

..."The mahAvAkya gives rise to Self-knowledge by making the mind take the form of Brahman. The question arises—since Brahman has no form, what is meant by saying that the mind takes the form of Brahman (akhaNDa-AkAra-vRRitti)? This is explained by VidyAraNya in Jivanmuktiviveka, chapter 3 by taking an example.

A pot made of clay is full of the all-pervading space as soon as it is made. Filling it afterwards with water, rice or any other substance is due to human effort. Though the water, etc, in the pot can be removed, the space inside can never be removed. It continues to be there even if the mouth of the pot is hermetically sealed. In the same manner, the mind, in the act of being born, comes into existence full of the consciousness of the self. It takes on, after its birth, due to the influence of virtue and vice, the form of pots, cloths, colour, taste, pleasure, pain, and other transformations, just like melted copper, cast into moulds. Of these, the transformations such as colour, taste and the like, which are not-self, can be removed from the mind, but the form of the self, which does not depend on any external cause, cannot be removed at all. Thus, when all other ideas are removed from the mind, the self is realized without any impediment.

It has been said: "One should cause the mind which, by its very nature, is ever prone to assume either of the two forms of the Self and the not-Self, to throw into the background the perception of the not-Self, by taking on the form of the Self alone". And also—"The mind takes on the form of pleasure, pain and the like, because of the influence of virtue and vice, whereas the form of the mind, in its native aspect, is not conditioned by any extraneous cause. To the mind devoid of all transformations is revealed the supreme Bliss". Thus, when the mind is emptied of all other thoughts Self-knowledge arises."....

...." There is a distinction between the cognition of an external object such as a pot, which is of the form `this is a pot' and the direct knowledge of Brahman, which is of the form `I am Brahman'. In the former case, the mind first becomes modified in the form of the pot. This modification is known as vRRitti. This vRRitti removes the ignorance covering the pot. Then the reflection of Brahman or pure Consciousness on the vRRitti produces the knowledge `this is a pot'. In the case of the knowledge of Brahman also, there is a vRRitti in the form of Brahman, known as akhaNDa-AkAra-vRRitti. After this, the second step of the reflection of Brahman falling on the vRRitti is not necessary here, because Brahman is self-luminous, unlike inert objects. This is similar to the difference between perceiving a pot and perceiving a lighted lamp. In the former case both the eye and a light are necessary, but in the latter case another light is not necessary. Therefore, while in the case of external objects the reflection of Brahman in the vRRitti is necessary, in the case of realization of Brahman it is not necessary. The reflection of Brahman or Consciousness in the vRRitti is known as `phala'. Thus the cognition of an external object is brought about by 'phala', but the direct knowledge (which is called realization) of Brahman is brought about by the vRRitti itself, without the aid of any phala. It is therefore said in Vedanta that all objects are `phala vyApya', while Brahman is `vRRitti vyApya'. (vyApya is ‘cause’ in a logical argument, such as ‘fire’ being the cause of the perceived ‘smoke’.)

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