Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

upadesha sAhasrI part 15

Sense Perceptions: Do Not Belong to Atma


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Read Part 14 of the series...

It is free from the gross and subtle bodies and their actions.

In Upadesa Sahasri, Chapter 13 focuses on Atma and ahankara. Containing 27 verses, it is named Achakshushtva prakaranam following the first word in the first verse.  For purposes of study, it can be broadly divided into five portions:

1. Verses 1 to 8 dealing with the nature of Atma, as the primary illuminator, distinguishing it from ahankara.
2. Verses 9 and 10 presenting the cause of bondage (samsara), as the mixing up of atma and ahankara (annyonya adhyasa).
3. Verse 11: Solution to the problem of samsara is indicated in the form of atma vichara under a competent teacher involving sravanam and mananam.
4. Verses 12 to 24 serve the purpose of nididhyasana, helping the seeker to internalise and assimilate the scriptural teaching related to the proper sorting out of Atma from ahankara by way of a clear appreciation of the distinguishing features between the two.
5. Verses 25 to 27: Verses 25 and 26 deal with the benefit of knowledge of Atma as revealed in the earlier verses.  In the concluding verse (27), the author wants this teaching, ascertained from the scriptures after proper analysis and presented briefly by him, to be imparted by competent teachers to qualified students.

Atma and Ahankara

It has already been established in the earlier chapters that ‘I,’ Atma, am different from everything in creation based on the logic that the experiencer is different from whatever is experienced. 

In Verses 1 to 8 of this chapter, the author wants to give scriptural support (sruti pramanam) to show that I, Atma, am different from ahankara.  There is a reference to three mantras, one each from the Brihadaranyaka, Mundaka and Katha Upanishads.  The first verse (and, in fact, the first word Acakshushtva) is based on a mantra from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.8.8) dealing with Atma.  There is again an expression in the second verse--aprana--which has been used in a Mundaka Upanishad mantra (2.1.2) to reveal Atma. We find another expression, asparsam, which has been employed in a mantra from the Kathopanishad (1.3.15) while discussing the nature of Atma. 

Based on these three mantras, the author points out that the sense perceptions in our wordly transactions, such as sound, touch, form, taste and smell (jnana indriya vyapara) do not belong to Atma but relate only to ahankara.  Similiarly, all actions performed by the organs of action (karmendriya vyapara) also belong only to ahankara and not Atma.  In the same way the functions of prana (vital force) belong only to ahankara and not Atma. 

Again, I, the Atma, am not even a knower, as the functions of knowing belong to the intellect (buddhi).  The mental modifications (Vrittis) belong to the mind and I, Atma, am different from these as well.  Thus, the author shows how Atma is free from the gross and subtle bodies and their actions, which are relevant only to ahankara.  Even physical urges--appetite and thirst, mental afflictions--grief and delusions, and emotional factors--fear of old age and death (collectively called in scriptures as shad-urmi) belong to the body-mind complex and Atma is free from all of them.  Further, notions of knowledge and ignorance belong to ahankara and not to Atma.  Thus, I am of the nature of Pure Consciousness, eternal, ever liberated, free from modifications, motionless and non-dual.

Temporary Perceptions

Ahankara’s perceptions through the operation of various sense organs and mind are temporary (anityam), as these are possible only in the waking state (jagrat avastha) and as in deep sleep state (sushupti avastha) the sense organs along with ahankara are resolved.  On the other hand, I, Atma, am a permanent seer, witnessing both the active ahankara and passive ahankara.  Really speaking, even perceptions in the jagrat avastha are possible only because of Atma lending consciousness to ahankara, which is by itself inert.  The perceptions in dream, which are only mental projections, are also enlivened only by Atma the Pure Consciousness.  Thus, I, Atma, am a permanent knower, by my mere presence and without any will or deliberate action.  Ahankara’s perceptions are dependent on the operation of various sense organs and mind, while Atma’s perceptions are independent and do not need the intervention of any organ.   

Cause of Bondage and Remedy

The author points out in Verse 9 and 10 that because of our inability to discriminate between Atma and ahankara (as both are physically inseparable and are in close proximity) we identify ourselves with ahankara instead of our real nature as Atma.  We are thus faced with notions of limitations, mortality, location, pain and sorrow, which are inherent in anatma ahankara. 

While cognition by Atma is pure and defect-free, ahankara’s cognition is affected by ignorance, doubt and misconception (ajnanam, samsaya, viparyaya).  We tend to superimpose on our free Atma the attributes of ahankara.  Such a mindset keeps us in bondage (samsara).

Solution to the problem of samsara is sorting out of Atma from ahankara and clearly understanding my higher nature as the eternal and ever free Atma.  This understanding can be gained only by a systematic study of Vedantic scriptures under the guidance of a competent teacher involving sravanam and mananam.

Assimilation of the Teaching

The author devotes much  attention to this topic and has chosen to write 13 verses (Verses 12 to 24) setting out the features of Atma, which is my real nature, clearly distinguished from the features of ahankara, which I have to use while transacting in the world. 

The contents of these verses need to be meditated upon by the spritual seeker to assimilate and internalise the Vedantic teaching particularly related to the sorting out of Atma from ahankara.  This process of meditation is known as nididhyasanam in our tradition.

Verses 12 and 13 convey the essence of the teaching in the three Upanishads referred to above, clarifying that I,  Atma, am different from the physical, subtle and causal bodies and their respective function and that I am free from all modifications. 

Again, concepts, such as distraction and focus are relevant only in the case of mind and do not concern me, the changless Atma which is all pervading and different from the body.  I am always free and pure. With the removal of Self-ignorance I have no more duties (karmas) to perform.  I am Self-effulgent, being of the nature of Pure Consciousness.  I remain the supreme goal of moksha (liberation) for all human beings as when I am meditated upon and known, liberation is attained. 

I am the supreme non-dual eternal Brahman, the substratum of everything in the universe, free from birth and death, old age and decay.  I am the only knower (illuminator) and I lend consciousness to the entire creation.  I am free from all attributes and without a second.  In my status as Isvara I alone am the controller managing the laws of karma and ensuring distribution of results of these karmas.

Different from Elements

I am different from the five elements and the body-mind complex born of these.  I am different from the manifest universe (murta prapancha) and the unmanifest universe (amurta prapancha) and am neither the combination of  both.  (The author has in mind the famous murta amurta brahmanam in the Briharadanyaka Upanishad where Atma is revealed as different from both the manifest and unmanifest universe.)

A similar revelation is made by Lord Krishna in the 15th chapter of the  Gita, where Brahman is referrred to as Uttama Purusha, the manifest and unmanifest universe referred to as kshara and akshara purusha:

I am free from the three gunas and any other attributes.  Notions of day and night are not relevant to me as I am the very source of light.  Just as the space is formless, subtle and non-dual, I am non-dual Brahman devoid of even the space. 

The mixing up of I, Atma and  ahankara is due to mutual superimposition of the attributes of one to the other because of the medium, just as non dual and indivisible space is taken as pot space, hall space, etc., depending on the container.  Notions, such as difference/non-difference (bheda/abheda), non-dual/dual (advaita/dvaita), knower/known (jnanam/jneyam), doer/results of action (karta/bhokta/karma phalam), cannot be attributed to me, the only reality without a second.  As I am the only entity around, there is nothing that I accept or reject. I am always free, pure, self evident, non dual and without any attributes.

In Verses 25 to 27 the author stresses the need to enquire and meditate upon the teaching and gain supreme knowledge and develop the vision of Self in all (sarvatma bhava).  The benefit of this knowledge is presented by the author as freedom from bondage and attainment of fulfilment.  He alone is called a brahmana.  One who has notions of Self different from what has been enshrined in the scriptural teaching is said to have committed spiritual destruction of himself.

Read Part 16 of the series...

Compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.



Page last updated: 06-Jan-2014