An ancient Sanskrit text on the nature of Reality
James Swartz © 1996
The question of what illumines the blissful, silent, peaceful Presence needs to be answered. How is this Self, which is routinely ignored in the waking, dream, and deep sleep states suddenly available for experience? It can’t be known through the senses, or through the mind in its normal thought and emotion-dominated state, so how is it known? Is there someone other than It illumining It or is It illumining Itself? What is the nature of the Self and how does it relate to the “me” I think I am?
Meditation, all the little tricks, working with the breath and mind, simply creates an inner environment conducive to the exploration of the Self.
As mentioned, most seekers have an exaggerated and fantastic notion of enlightenment. Because their views are so unrealistic they’re not going to get it even when it’s staring them straight in the face.
The best source of knowledge on the nature of the Self is scripture, particularly very old texts, the Mandukya and other Upanishads, for example. These sources, representing purified, factual, collective knowledge can be trusted because no specific ego is responsible for them. For example, the following verses from an Eighth Century text, Atma Bodh, by Shankaracharya, a reformulation of Upanishadic ideas written in the first person, presents the Self as pure knowledge.
“By negating conditionings with the knowledge “I am not this” realize your identity as the Self as indicated in scripture.
"The three bodies are perceived objects and as perishable as bubbles. Realize through pure discrimination I am not them.
"I am infinite non-dual pure Consciousness.
"Because I am other than the body I don’t suffer its changes. I am not born nor do I die. I have no sense organs so I am uninvolved in the world.
"Because I am other than the mind, I am free from sorrow, attachment, malice and fear. Scripture says I am pure, without thought and desire and so I am.
"I have no attributes. I live without breathing. I am eternal, formless and ever-free. I am the same in all, filling all things with being. I am infinite non-dual pure Consciousness."
The seventh of the Mandukya’s twelve mantras describes the Self like this: “It is neither conscious of the external or internal worlds (because from its standpoint there are no worlds), nor is it a mass of consciousness (because it is uniform throughout, like space).” This description is designed to negate the waker, dreamer, and sleeper.
The text continues: “It is not simple (as opposed to complex, made of parts) consciousness. Nor is it unconscious (inert, insentient). It cannot be seen by the senses, is incomprehensible to the mind, uninferable, unthinkable, and indescribable. Its nature is pure consciousness, negating all phenomena, non-dual, blissful, and peaceful.”
EXPERIENCE VERSUS KNOWLEDGE
While we can’t avoid it, using the language of experience to describe the Self or enlightenment can be potentially misleading. People customarily talk from the point of view of a subject looking out at an object. The objects, one’s experiences, are invariably the points of interest to them and others, not the subject, the one reporting them. If someone says they saw a blazing light without limit, the ‘blazing limitless light’ captures one’s attention and will be assumed to be the content of the experience. However, the Consciousness, referred to as “knowledge” in Vedantic literature, witnessing the light is the essential ingredient, and the light is nonessential because without Consciousness nothing is experienced. Were the light the Self, it would be conscious that it was being witnessed, but subtle objects of experience, like dreams and visions, are never conscious.
Seeing a light or lights is a common experience which should stimulate inquiry. What ‘light’ is illumining the light? Who saw the light? That ‘who’ is you, the Self, whose existence is in no way validated by a particular experience. In fact, without knowledge of what we’re seeking the meditator can easily become addicted, living from experience to experience, craving more and more, building a grotesque spiritual ego. Aside from an irrefutable proof that one is not who one thinks one is, which should pique curiosity about one’s real nature, the Mandukya’s three-state analysis might be profitably employed in meditation to discriminate the three egos and their states from the Self. After the detailed analysis of the three states, Gaudapada says that waking and dream are really dream states, because both the waker and the dreamer, who are merely egos experiencing thoughts and feelings as their primary realities, are Self ignorant, the only difference being that the physical body is active in the waking and not in the dream.
Still, thought and feeling is Consciousness in form, just like waves are the ocean. By tracing the thoughts to their source, the waker/dreamer entity, the thinker/feeler can be separated from the Illuminator and negated. Occasionally in meditation, the mind empties sufficiently and the waker/dreamer becomes a sleeper. Extreme vigilance is required to allow the waker/dreamer to become the sleeper without losing contact with the basis of the discrimination, the limitless I. However, the experience of watching the sleeper allows the meditator to understand the sleeper as an object, not-self.
The following is an English translation of the Mandukya Upanishad.
(1) Om, the Word, is all this, a clear explanation of which follows: all that is past, present, and future is Om. Whatever is before the past and after the future is Om.
(2) All this is the Limitless I. This Self is the limitless I.
(3) The first quarter (of the Self) is the waker whose field is the waking state, who is conscious of the external world of objects, who has seven limbs and nineteen mouths, and who enjoys the world’s gross objects.
(4) The second quarter is the dreamer whose field of experience is the dream state, who is conscious of the internal world of objects, who has seven limbs and nineteen mouths and who enjoys the subtle objects of the dream world.
(5) The third quarter is the sleeper in whom all experiences become undifferentiated into a mass of consciousness, and who is the gateway to the waking and dream states. In the deep sleep state the sleeper neither sees or desires subtle or gross objects.
(6) The sleeper is the Lord of all manifest existence. It is the knower of all, the inner controller, and the source of all. The sleep state is that from which all things originate and into which they all dissolve.
(7) The Self is known as “the forth” and is to be realized. It is neither conscious of the external or internal worlds, nor is it a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness, nor is it unconscious. It cannot be seen by the senses, is unrelated to anything, incomprehensible to the mind, uninferable, unthinkable, and indescribable. It’s nature is pure consciousness, the negation of all phenomena, non-dual, blissful, and peaceful.
(8) Viewed as sounds the Self is A, U, M.
(9) The one who meditates on the waking state as “A,” the first and most pervasive, fulfills all desires and becomes a leader.
(10) The one who meditates on the dream state as “U” because it is between and superior, attains superior knowledge and is treated fairly by all. In his line of descendants everyone attains Self knowledge.
(11) The one who meditates on the sleep state as “M”, as the measure and that wherein all things become one, is able to realize the nature of things and beings and understand all things within himself.
(12) That which is partless, soundless, incomprehensible, beyond the senses, blissful, non-dual and that wherein all phenomena are resolved is the “fourth,” the Self. The one who knows It dissolves the self in It.