Knowledge of its real nature liberates us from bondage
Sankaracharya clearly established in the immediately preceding chapters that the Self (Atma) is of the nature of Witness Consciousness (Sakshi). It has also been shown that the Self is free from all modifications (nirvikara), is all-knowing (sarvajna), all-pervasive (sarvagata), pure (suddha), real (satya) and unattached (asanga), (not available for rejection or acceptance) and, therefore, is only the Supreme Brahman.
This knowledge of the real nature of the Self liberates us from bondage caused by Self-ignorance. A spiritual seeker has to gain this knowledge revealed by scriptures from a competent Acharya, by a process technically called Jnana Yoga, involving sravanam (listening or study), mananam (reflection) and nididha-yasanam (vedantic meditation).
The first two stages--sravanam and mananam--help the seeker gain the knowledge free from all doubts and become fully convinced of the validity of the teaching received. Nididhyasanam is an exercise aimed at assimilating and internalising the knowledge so that one can abide in one’s own real nature. The knowledge is available to be accessed all the time to handle emotional turbulences whenever these arise in the course of our worldly transactions and life experiences (loka vyavahara).
A Dialogue Form
In Chapter 8 the author presents the essential Vedantic teaching in the form of an imaginary dialogue between the Sakshi (Witness Consciousness) and the mind. This dialogue serves as an excellent form of nididhyasanam as it helps us recollect and dwell on the teaching and focus and abide in our real nature of the Sakshi.
The very concept of dialogue will help us appreciate that I, the Sakshi, am different from the mind, as the dialogue can happen only between two separate entities. Due to the intimate association of the Sakshi and the mind (which can be taken as ahankara--ego or the “I” notion) in all our vyavahara, we make the error of superimposing on the Sakshi the attributes and problems of the mind.
Once we learn to develop a dialogue with our mind in our capacity as Sakshi, we can easily grasp the teaching that the Sakshi is a distinct and conscious entity different from the mind (and, therefore, the body and sense organs) and not subject to modifications and the attributes of the mind. Acharayas in our tradition have developed this style of dialogue with the mind to convey important and useful spiritual lessons.
Mind Has Limitations
The purpose or objective of the dialogue the author has in mind is to enable us to clearly understand the limitations of the mind (what it can and cannot do), which will help us in eventually ascertaining the relative reality of the mind (mano mithyatva nischayam).
Mind (and for that matter the physical body and the sense organs as well) is a highly valuable gift and blessing from the Lord and enables us to handle a variety of activities in the course of our day-to-day transactions in the world (vyavahara). It can know, desire and act (jnana, icheha and kriya sakti) resulting in physical, emotional and intellectual experiences.
The mind is an instrument by which we can achieve material accomplishments, though even in this area there are limits beyond which the mind cannot be relied upon. In the spiritual field also, the mind can assist us greatly in the performance of spiritual sadhanas. However, all of these will fall within the fold of anatma (the non-Self).
But it needs to be clearly understood that the mind cannot effect any improvement in me, the Sakshi, which is free from any modifications and being none other than the Supreme Brahman. The mind cannot help in achieving purnatva (wholeness), security and happiness, as I am already complete, secure and of the very nature of happiness (ananda). The mind thus has no role to play in the field of Atma (the Sakshi).
The dialogue set out in this chapter will thus help us meditate on the mind as an object totally different from me and not contributing to any of my natural characteristics, such as purnatvam, satyatvam, suddhatvam, amrutatvam, asangatvam and nirvikaratvam. It will also help us in falsifying the mind as part of the anatma prapancha, thus preventing any superimposition of the attributes and experiences of the mind on me, the Pure Self. It will become clear to the meditator that even notions, such as bondage and freedom, do not belong to the Sakshi. He will be in a position to negate the mind itself in terms of understanding. He will, however, continue to utilise the mind for worldly transactions (depending on his prarabdha) as a manifestation of his compassion (loka sangraha), but with no expectations of purnatvam. Such an attitude to worldly activities will not bind the wise man.
In the first verse, the mind is told by Sakshi that it is only because of the confused thinking of the mind the Sakshi is said to be associated with raga/dvesha (desire/ hatred). The Sakshi, which is of the nature of Pure Consciousness, cannot be affected by raga/dvesha which, due to ignorance of the mind,
have been erroneously superimposed on the Sakshi.
Therefore, any efforts on the part of the mind to improve the Sakshi and free it from raga/dvesha will be of no avail as the Sakshi is ever free of all attributes. Any improvement can arise only by addition of attributes (guna adhanam) or by removal of attributes (guna apahanam), both of which are impossible in the case of Sakshi, which has no attributes whatsoever.
In the second verse, the author describes the efforts by the mind to improve the status of the Sakshi as “false” (mithya), as these are born of ignorance of the real nature of Sakshi, which is ever free and complete.
The mind is exhorted to give up these fruitless exercises and to abide in the Sakshi, which is uncreated and non-dual (free from sajatiya, vijatiya and svagata bheda) Supreme Brahman.
As Brahman is never bound, the author uses the expression, vimuktavat (“as if free from bondage”) as notions of bondage and liberation are relevant only from the prism of the mind and as the Sakshi from its own standpoint is neither bound nor free. A non-dual entity is not available for any kind of modification.
A possible question whether the mind can work for improvement of somebody else in the family or society is being answered in the third verse. The mind is told by Sakshi that being Supreme Brahman, the Sakshi is the same behind all beings, free from all attributes, all pervading, imperishable, free from impurity, homogeneous, spotless and free from action, like space and, therefore, there is no benefit to the Sakshi from the efforts of the mind.
Does Not Belong to Anybody
The reasoning given in the third verse is further elaborated in the fourth verse where the author makes the point that Sakshi being non-dual and unattached, there can be no one other than the Sakshi at all. Thus, Sakshi does not belong to anybody and nobody can belong to the Sakshi either.
Therefore, the mind’s endeavours can bring no benefits to the Sakshi. Also, as the mind has no existence independent of the Sakshi, there is no question of any effort on the part of the mind, not to speak of the results of such efforts. The advitatvam and asangatvam of the Sakshi are highlighted in this verse.
The author explains in the fifth verse why he has composed this dialogue between the Sakshi and the mind. He says that he is concerned about people being caught up in the vicious cycle of cause and effect (action and results) with the objective of improving the status of Sakshi.
Taking to actions by itself is not a problem, but when one links the results of action to peace and security, it leads to frustration and needless stress. With a view to freeing the people from this cycle of action and results which is a manifestation of bondage, this dialogue has been presented, It will help the people to get proper understanding of the real nature of the Self and thereby gain liberation.
In the concluding verse (6), the author presents the benefit of this Vedantic meditation on the lines of the dialogue between the Sakshi and the mind set out in the first four verses of this chapter.
Knower of Self
One who has assimilated this Vedantic teaching by reflecting on the contents of this dialogue, whom the author calls “the knower of the Self,” will be free from fear born of Self-ignorance. He will also be free from all binding desires, as he knows he is an already fulfilled person and enjoys happiness and security. He will have the vision of the Self in all beings.
This chapter has been titled Mativilapana Prakaranam (topic of resolving the mind). “Resolving” in this context has to be understood in the sense of falsifying the mind. The chapter could, therefore, be named as Mano mithyatva nischaya Prakarnam”. Alternatively, it could be called Sakshi mano samvadam.
Read Part 9 of the series...
Compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.