Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Mandukya part 3

Commentary by JAMES SWARTZ


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An ancient Sanskrit text on the nature of Reality
James Swartz © 1996

Read Part 2


The answer to “Who am I” is that I am not any of these egos or ego states. If I’m real I have to exist all the time. I can’t suddenly be one thing one minute and something else the next; I experience life as a simple single complete conscious being. In fact I exist in the waking, dream, and deep sleep states independent of the waker, dreamer and deep sleeper.

As what?

As the limitless I, the Awareness, the common factor and witness [23] to the three states. (Note in fig.1 that the Self, the white circle in the center of all the states, exists in all three states without modifying it’s nature.) Outside of meditation,[24] the Self is probably easiest to recognize in the dream state because the physical senses are inactive. The dream is playing on the screen of the mind like a movie and even though physical light is absent and the eyes closed, the dream ego and the events in which it is participating are clearly illumined, a phenomenon referred to as “lucid” dreaming. The lucidity is the limitless I temporarily functioning as the dreamer, “the shining one.” However, identification with the dream ego and its doings prevents us from properly appreciating the dream light, the Self.

The Self is unknown in the waking state for the same reason. Preoccupied with the happenings in our worlds and minds, we are completely unaware that both the sense objects and our thoughts and feelings are bathed in the subtle light of Awareness.

In deep sleep the ego/intellect is dissolved into its source, the dormant seeds of its past actions, so it isn’t aware of either the Self or anything external.

The three ego’s are called upahdis, limiting adjuncts, in Vedanta. An upadhi is something that apparently covers or conceals the nature of something else. If I put clear water in a colored glass, the water, seen through the glass, appears colored. Similarly when I look at myself through my waking, dream, and sleep personalities, I seem to be three distinct personalities. However, when I remove the upadhi I can see what I really am. The removal or negation of the upahdis is simply knowing they are unreal, not going into some high or “spiritual” state to get rid of them. The Yoga shastra [25] says liberation depends on destruction of the mind but Vedanta says that the more one struggles to remove the thoughts the more one lends them reality, reinforcing one’s Self ignorance.

The waker and the dreamer, which are just different ways of discussing a Self-ignorant person, are fractured into many sub-identities, upadhis within an upadhi, so that most of us are dealing with a confusing array of selves, none of which are real. Remember, ‘real’ in metaphysics means enduring, unchanging, unlimited. Because something is experienced does not make it real, the snake in the rope, the blue sky, and the rising sun, for example.

With reference to my son, I’m a father. With reference to my father, a son. With reference to my wife, I’m a husband. To my boss I’m an employee. I’m a devotee with reference to God and a taxpayer with reference to the government. With reference to myself I’m a success, failure, victim, victimizer, sports fan, audiophile or any of the thousands of ready-made identities available today. The many often conflicting roles we play as waking and dream state egos are limited by each other, other selves playing similar or different roles, and our ideas about the meaning of these selves. Caught in this thicket of identities, is it any wonder I suffer? In the end, spiritual life, no matter what the path, always boils down finding out who one is minus all one’s roles and experiences.

Not that there’s anything “wrong” with role playing. Society only functions efficiently when our roles are well-defined and we play them impeccably. But when we identify ourselves completely with our roles we suffer. Spiritually, identification with the role, not the role itself, is the problem. For example, though an actress identifies herself with the character, she seamlessly returns to her original identity when the curtain falls. Even though the audience completely believes her illusion, she remembers her real self throughout.

After patient analysis I can see I’m not any of these personalities. What am I then? The limitless I. And what is the limitless I? The limitless I is called the substrate [27] in Vedanta. A substrate makes the error that I’m limited possible. The rope in our example, is a substrate, something whose nature is so subtle it is possible to mistake it for something else. The fact that I’m formless Consciousness makes the playing of myriad roles possible.

A substrate is also the essence, a form reduced to its ultimate nature. For example, a ring, a bracelet, and a necklace are three forms into which gold can be crafted. If the three are melted down, their forms are destroyed but nothing substantial is lost because the gold, their essence, remains. Meditation on the nature of ourselves melts down the waker, dreamer, and sleeper destroying the relative I’s and leaving the limitless I shining as the innermost Self of the seeker.

When I look more carefully into this conscious being I find that I’m whole and complete. Nothing is missing. Because nothing is missing I’m peaceful and desireless. If I’m peaceful and desireless I never change. When I look into my limitlessness I discover that I’m free of everything. Being free of limitation means that I’m eternally blissful, as I am in sleep. When I look into my bliss I see that my nature is pure love.

If my real Self is like this, what need is there to assume limited identities? Or, better yet, knowing who I am, I won’t get caught up in the limited identities life asks me to play. Self-Realization, enlightenment, liberation, salvation is not a mind-blowing mystical state but simply the condition of someone abiding in his or her real nature. To suppose that one must enter a transcendental superconscious state to lose the waker, dreamer, sleeper identities is untrue. The enlightened sleep, dream, and carry on a normal waking life -minus the feeling of limitation bedeviling the unenlightened. Free of the expectation that experience should bring lasting happiness, they never deny duality, only its apparent reality, because, like the snake in the rope, it isn’t actually there.


Even a careful reading of the Mandukya or a few teachings at the feet of a scriptural master would probably not produce the firm and lasting knowledge of oneself as the limitless I. So in the eighth century a great sage, Gaudapada, added a meditation to the verses to help the seeker realize the Self. In this meditation the three states are symbolized by three sounds and the “forth state,” [28] the limitless I, is referred to as soundless. Meditation on the three states confers certain benefits, but meditation on the Silence with right understanding [29] produces liberation.

Silence is twofold. Relative silence, a negative state, is merely the absence of sound and not the Self. Because sound is so distracting, spiritual literature often prescribes cultivating relative silence. But the Upanishad’s definition of sound includes mental and emotional noise. Often, only in relative silence do we realize how disturbed our consciousness is. The absence of thought is also relative silence. This is why a blank mind is not enlightenment.

The second kind of silence is “absolute.” Absolute means not opposed to sound. Absolute Silence is best realized in relative silence and could profitably be described as the Silence/Awareness because of which both sound and relative silence are known. The absolute Silence is the Self, the Limitless I.

So how to get to absolute Silence?


23 Although from It’s standpoint there are no states to illumine, the apparently real states are only known because they are illumined by the Self.
24 An example of a meditation to contact the Self is given later.
25 The Patanjali Yoga Sutras
27 Aadisthanam
28 Nowhere does the Upanishad refer to a “forth” state of consciousness. The Self, to set it off from the waker, dreamer, and sleeper is referred to as “turiya,” the forth.
29 That I am the Silence, limitless Awareness.

Read Part 4...


Page last updated: 14-Mar-2013