Part V – You are not what you take yourself to be
Vedanta is unique and it provides a daring declaration that differs from all others. It says you are trying to solve a problem where is no problem to start with - and that becomes a problem. The fundamental conclusion that you reached about yourself is fundamentally wrong. You are not mortal, you are not unhappy and you are not ignorant. You take yourself to be what you are not and try to solve a problem which is not there, and therefore there cannot be any solution to that problem other than the recognition that the original conclusions about yourself are wrong. The problem is unreal and therefore any number of pursuits will not solve a non-existent problem; hence all human pursuits fail miserably. Vedanta says: You are immortal (sat), you are happy (Ananda or limitless) and you are knowledge itself (chit) – your nature is sat-chit-Ananda.
How can that be? I feel I am a limited mortal who is unhappy; I am born on a particular day and will die one day. How can I be immortal? I do not know many things – I do not know many subjects starting from physics to chemistry to astrology to many other -ologies. How I can be knowledgeable entity. Apart from the occasional happiness that I get when my desires are fulfilled, I am miserable most of the time. How can I be happy? Vedanta says that the fundamental problem is that you do not know your true nature and, because of that ignorance of your true nature, you take yourself to be other than your true nature. This is what is called adhyAsa – a superimposed error. You do not know what you are or who you are; you take yourself to be what you are not and suffer the consequences of that identification.
It is like this: I am relaxing after a scrumptious dinner sitting on a lazy-boy chair in an air conditioned room and intently watching a movie on TV. I am so involved in the movie that I start sweating and crying since the hero and heroine in the movie are miserably suffering, running away to save their lives in the hot sun without food and shelter. There is no reason for me to cry since I just finished my dinner and the lazy-boy chair in the air conditioned room is very comfortable – but yet I am crying. This is what is called adhyAsa. I have nothing to do with the story on the TV but I superimpose the problems of the hero and heroine on myself by identifying with them and suffer the consequences of this identification. First it is a just a story, second the problems belong to the hero and heroine and third I have nothing to do with their problems. But the identification is so intense that I am unable to separate the problems of the seen from that of seer, myself. I am the seer, the subject and the movie; the hero and heroine are the seen, the objects. The seer is different from the seen. Yet, because of intense identification with the characters that are seen, I superimpose their problems as my problems. I am not even aware that I am superimposing that which does not belong to me.
In the same way, Vedanta says that you are the subject - the seer - and the rest of the world, that includes whatever is seen, are objects. Objects are limited – time-wise and space-wise and of course object-wise. I am not an object but a subject. Whatever I see, what ever I have, whatever I transact with are all objects. That includes this body that I claim as my body, my mind and my intellect. Whatever is mine is not me, the subject. I have a car, but I am not the car. I have a body but I am not the body. The subject I is different from the object ‘this’. Yet I transact in the world fully and consciously as though I am the body. The body is born and the body dies. The modification of the body I take as my modifications, due to intense identification of myself with the body. The body continuously changes - the body that I had when I was a child is different from that when I was youth and that when I am old. But I am the same entity who claims that this is my body when I had child body, or that this is my body when the body slowly changed into a youth and that this is my body when it becomes old. The body changes but I am the changeless entity in the changing body. I am the owner who is different from the owned and I am a conscious entity (chit svarUpa) different from the body, which is matter and is an unconscious entity.
How can I be ‘this’, the object of my perception? Yet I take the qualities or attributes of the body as my attributes. The body is limited, therefore I feel I am limited. And any limitation is a source of unhappiness. I do not like to be limited and I try to solve this superimposed problem by acquiring this or that to make myself limitless, without realizing that any amount of limited additions cannot change a limited I into an unlimited I. That is I cannot become infinite by adding finite things. Therefore any amount of addition will not result in the eternal infinite happiness that I am seeking. Vedanta says that you are limitless or infinite (Brahman) and that is your essential nature. Seeking your essential nature is natural and therefore seeking happiness, assuming you are unhappy, becomes a natural struggle. But any amount of seeking will not solve the problem; in fact it will aggravate the problem, since in the very seeking you are solidifying the problem. Therefore, the solution to the problem is to recognize your true identity. You are that sat chit Ananda that you are seeking in terms of immortality, knowability and happiness – the three fundamental universal pursuits of all beings. This is the essence of Vedanta as explained by Advaitic doctrine.
Although this is revealed, I am still not ready to accept the teaching. Here are my problems in my understanding; here are some questions that I have: Sir, I can appreciate the fact I am the subject and not an object. I do not need Vedanta to tell me that. I can also logically understand that happiness does not really come with any object per se but is my intrinsic nature. I can understand that happiness is not an object out there and also it cannot come with any object either. If I am happy with a hot cup of coffee in the morning, this does not mean that happiness is in the coffee. I can understand the fact that, with a hot cup of coffee, my longing mind is no longer wanting or demanding in those moments and is contented with itself until another desire pops in. I can appreciate all that teaching. However, how can you prove that I am infinite even if I am not the body?
How about the other beings? They should also be infinite and we cannot have two infinities, or multiple infinites, can we? How about the knowledge? I somehow managed to graduate with minimum grades and you say I am all knowledge – you should have been my examiner. Let’s face it. What I know is limited and I cannot believe myself my true nature is that I am an all-knower. You say that ‘if I know myself, I have solved all my problems’. What about the problems that I have right now? I am worried about tomorrow’s dinner on the table. If I am worried about the education of my children, the health of my nearest and dearest, my bank balance, my mortgage and worried about whether I have enough insurance to cover all this when I die (even though you think I am eternal). I am happy if all these problems are solved and yet you say I am trying to solve problems that I do not really have. Sir, these are real problems! I can sit and dream that I have no problems, if I keep getting my pay checks regularly without working. And what about the world? You have not explained to me how the world came about for me to deal with. Why am I born to these particular parents with this particular body, even though you say I am not the body? Why have I got this body and not the body of Mr. /Miss Universe? Can Vedanta provide answers to all these?
Proceed to the next essay.