Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

upadesha sAhasrI part 7

Witness Consciousness is Pure, Unalterable


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Read Part 6 of the series...

It enables the intellect to cognise objects and experiences

Sankara, the author, established in Chapter 6 that the Self (Atma) (Sakshi) is free from all attributes (atma nirviseshatvam).  He wants to show in Chapter 7 that this nirvisesha sakshi alone is the supreme Brahman (parambrahma).  As part of this exercise, he provides an analysis of the nature of the sakshi.  This is a small chapter with six verses and is titled Budhyaroodha Prakaranam (Topic of cognition or perception through the intellect).

If we analyse all transactions (vyavahara) in the world, it will be seen that every cognition (experience) in the creation becomes possible only when the related object or experience falls within the frame of the intellect. As intellect is inert by nature, it is I, Atma, who illumines everything that falls within the range of intellect.

This is what is brought out in the first verse, where the author affirms, “I am the all-knowing supreme Brahman, as I am the illuminator of all cognitions by the intellect. Therefore, I am the all-knowing (sarvajna) entity aware of any cognition that takes place in the intellect.” He also makes the point that as illumination presupposes pervasion, I am all-pervading, besides being all-knowing.

Sankara goes a step further in the second verse and reveals that just as I am the witness of all cognitions by my intellect, I am the witness of all cognitions of all other intellects, as there cannot be more than one witness and one illuminator who is different from everything in the creation cognised by all the intellects and from all the intellects as well.

Parallel in the Gita

A similar idea is found in Verse 2, Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita where Lord Krishna declares that he is the kshetrajna in all kshetras (kshetrajnam chapi mam viddhi sarvakshetreshu bharata). 

The author also points out that being the witness atma is not available either for rejection or acceptance, unlike any other entity in the creation which can either be accepted or rejected by some one or the other.

At the level of intellect, objects are taken on during waking and dream states, but in deep sleep when the intellect is resolved, there is no acceptance or rejection of objects.

I, the Sakshi, however, am always there illumining the presence or absence of objects in the intellect. The expressions, such as acceptance (upadheyam) or rejection (heyam) are not relevant in the case of witness. One of the Divine Mother’s names (nama) occurring in the Lalita Sahasra-nama Stotram, Heyo padeya varjita, exemplifies this aspect of the nature of the witness.

Antithesis to Intellect

A few more characteristics of Atma or Sakshi are highlighted in the third verse, as an antithesis to intellect, which suffers from four defects (the witness being totally free therefrom).

The defects in the intellect are (1) modifications (vikaratvam), (2) impurities, such as ignorance, doubt, error (asuddhatvam made up of ajnanam, samsaya and viparyaya) (3) born of elements (bhowtikatvam) (which implies inertness--jadatvam) and (4) limited knowledge (alpa vedana).

The intellect constantly undergoes modifications corresponding to the objects of perception. Ignorance, doubt and error located in the intellect and therefore cognitions at intellectual level are also influenced by these defects.  As the intellect is the product of the total satvaguna of all the five elements (samashti satvaguna), it is by itself inert (jada).

As a contrast, Atma is free from any modification or defects. As Atma is of the nature of consciousness, it is always sentient and as witness it is all-knowing. Thus, Atma has to be known as nirvikara, suddha, chetana and sarvajna.  

That the witness is free from any modification (nirvikaratvam) is established by the author in the fourth verse by using an example.

When we talk of illumination of the intellect by the witness, it is to be understood that the verb “illumine” is only figuratively used. In the mere presence of the sakshi,things which fall in the range of the intellect are illumined and come to be known, just as in the presence of sunlight attributes such as the colour, etc., of objects like flowers, are seen in a jewel or crystal. Sunlight does not deliberately reflect the colours on the jewel or crystal, but the entire process happens by the mere presence of sunlight. 

This verse thus establishes the nirvikaratvam or kutastvam of Atma and, therefore, only the akartrutvam (free from action) and the asangatvam (free from any association or connection).

Brahma Satyam, Jagat Mithya

The important Vedantic concept of Brahma Satyam, Jagat Mithya (Brahman alone is real and the perceived dualistic creation is only seemingly real) is brought out in the fifth verse. The author points out that only when the world of objects falls in the range of the intellect, it becomes known (illumined of course by the witness) and only then can one talk about the existence of world.

Thus, we can establish the existence of the world during the waking and dream states (jagrat and svapna avasthas) where the intellect is available but the world ceases to be there in deep sleep when the intellect is resolved.

Thus, the pluralistic world (dvaita prapancha) does not have an independent and innate existence (svabhavika satta) and has only dependent existence (agantuka satta). The witness, however, is always available and, therefore, the author concludes that Brahman alone is there and the jagat is only seemingly real (mithya) and is as good as non-existent. 

In the concluding verse (Verse 6), the author once again highlights the nirvakaratvam (free from modification) of the sakshi. It is pointed out that even the concepts of moksha (liberation) and bandha (bondage) do not cause any modification to the witness consciousness.

Sankara clarifies that these two notions apply only to the intellect or the ahankara (ego). When the intellect or ahankara is ignorant (ajnana avastha) it does not recognise the supreme Brahman as the real higher nature of the Self and this is responsible for bondage.

However, once the intellect or ahankara gains the knowledge of supreme Brahman as its real nature (jnana avastha), this wisdom results in liberation. The author concludes by saying that with the advent of such a knowledge, the enlightened intellect dismisses all notions of duality, even negating itself in the process.

To sum up, this chapter reveals that I, the witness Consciousness, am all-knowing, all-pervading, not available for acceptance or rejection, free from all modifications, pure, real and unattached and, therefore, only the supreme Brahman. Thus, this chapter could have been more appropriately titled either as “Mahavakya prakaranam” or “Sakshi svarupa nirupana prakaranam”.

Read Part 8 of the series...

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



Page last updated: 06-Feb-2013