Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 21

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.




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III – We mix up the known with the knower

All these are based on the reasoning that “I am the physical body”. Taking the body as I is quite different from having a relationship with it. There are houses and houses and we can have relationship with a particular house and say: “This is my house.” Similarly, there are bodies and bodies and we can say: “This body is mine”. But to say that the body is I is altogether different and this assumption does not stand scrutiny. When we say, “I am tall”, it is because we know that the body is tall. Knowing the body as tall is the same as knowing that the tree is tall. They are not any different from each other, as we are the knower of the tree as much as we are the knower of the body. But when we know that the tree is tall, we do not say that we are tall. Even so, when we know that the body is tall, we say that we are tall even though the body is as much an object of knowledge as the tree.


This is because of the mixing up of the known object with the knower subject [147]. This is caused by ignorance or avidyä [148]. It is through the mental separation of the known from the knower that this conclusion can be set right. The separation is done through the basic principle that for something to be perceived, it has to be different from the knower and that whatever is known through perception is a known-object and cannot be the knower-subject. And when the knower and the known are different from each other, it follows that the attributes of the known object cannot be ascribed to the knower subject. We may now apply this reasoning to identify the subject.


IV - Mental separation of the known from the knower

Let us start with the body, which we consider to be the subject. We perceive the body and are aware of the changes that it undergoes. It is a distinctly known entity and I, the knower, cannot be the body, which is the known. Tallness is the attribute of the known object, the body. Since the knower subject is different from the known object, not only the tallness but also all the other attributes of the known body are not the attributes of the knower subject. The conclusions are therefore that I, the knower subject, am neither the body nor do I possess its attributes.


Then, am I the sense organs, since I say, “I see”, “I hear”, “I smell”? This conclusion is again not correct. I very well know the condition of my sense organs. I know that my eyes are sharp and that my nose, skin and tongue are sensitive. I am also aware of their functioning. They are all objects of my knowledge. So, I cannot be the sense organs that I know.


Am I then the mind, since I say, “I am at peace” when the mind is at peace and say that “I am agitated” when the mind is agitated. Applying the same test, calmness and restlessness also belong to the known category, since it is only through knowing the mind that I am able to say that I feel that I am peaceful or disturbed. In fact, I am aware of the arrival and departure of various thoughts. Since I cannot take the known objects to be the knower subject, I cannot also be the mind.


Am I then the intellect, which analyses and decides? Again, I am aware of the process of reasoning done by the intellect and so I cannot be the known object, which is the intellect.


Am I then the memory that constitutes my autobiography? Again, I am aware of the coming and going of thoughts relating to the past and I cannot be the memory that becomes known to me. Is it that I am the I-sense because of which I say, “I work”, “I experience” or “I know”. But, this I-sense also belongs to the category of the known, as I know that I have the I-sense except in moments of joy, the state of deep sleep and in the state of absorption during meditation. So, I cannot also be the I-sense, which I know.


Now, there is nothing left to negate. Am I then the void or nothingness? This is ridiculous, since, if there is anything that cannot be negated, it is that I am aware and that I exist. The very fact that I am making the enquiry shows that I exist.


V - I am the awareness or consciousness


Who am I then? We have so far negated what we are not. In the negative conclusions “I am aware that I am not the body”, “I am aware that I am not the sense organs”, “I am aware that I am not the mind”, “I am aware that I am not the intellect”, “I am aware that I am not the memory”, “I am aware that I am not the I-sense” and “I am aware that I am not nothingness”, there is a common, unnegated positive component, which is that “I am aware”. The one who is aware is called the awarer. Thus the process of separation of the known from the knower has brought us to the awarer as the subject.


“Awarer” reveals a person with reference to the function of being aware of objects. We have now to know as to what is intrinsic in the awarer. This is done by removing the object and inquiring into the awarer. If the object is removed, the awarer loses his status as the awarer and what remains of him without the function of being the awarer is awareness.


Çruti provides the next crucial step, which is unknown to us. It reveals that the awareness in the body-mind-sense-complex that makes it sentient does not belong to it and that it is borrowed. It reveals that the self is not the borrowed awareness but is the awareness, which is the source of awareness in the mind, the senses and the body. We shall refer to the source awareness merely as awareness.


This awareness and the awarer are crucially different. For functioning as the awarer with borrowed awareness, the awarer is connected both with awareness for borrowing it and with the object of which it is aware. Awarer is thus an entity with borrowed awareness, which belongs to the relative realm of the subject-object. It is not an independent entity, since it is dependent on awareness. But, awareness is not dependent on anything, as it exists by itself. It is also of the non-relative realm. It is so because, while the relative awarer is connected to the non-relative awareness, non-relative awareness is not related to the relative awarer. The relationship between them is not reciprocal. That is, while awarer exists entirely due to awareness with which it is connected, non-relative awareness is not the relative awarer. This is like the relationship between the light and the objects that it illumines. While the objects are linked to the light, the light is entirely unrelated to and unaffected by what it illumines. Light remains the same regardless of whether it lights up the holy water of the river Ganges or the dirty water of the drain. And light is independent of the objects and exists even when there are no objects.


The word that is usually used for this non-relative awareness is “consciousness”. The other words used for consciousness, which is non-relative are: original consciousness, pure consciousness, principle of consciousness and the absolute. We will refer to it merely as either consciousness or awareness. The net result of this enquiry made with the help of logic and the çruti is that consciousness is the self.


Knowing the self as consciousness leads to further discoveries about it. When we hear anything, awareness or consciousness is; otherwise, we cannot hear. When nothing is uttered, we know that nothing is uttered. Knowing this is possible only if consciousness is there, as otherwise we would not know that nothing is uttered. The same position holds good when we see or do not see, when we taste or do not taste, when we smell or do not smell, when we touch or do not touch. Similarly, when a thought comes, consciousness is, as otherwise we cannot know the thought. When thought goes, consciousness is, as without it we would not know the absence of thought. Thus, consciousness always exists regardless of the presence or absence of any object. It always exists as awareness.


We also find that there is no distance between consciousness and any object. When we are looking at our hand that is nearby, we find that there is zero distance between the hand in consciousness and consciousness. If we see the most distant star, we find that there is no distance between it and consciousness. We are aware of space; so, space is also within consciousness. As such, the concept of space and the limitation of space cannot arise for consciousness. Since everything is in consciousness, consciousness can have no form, dimension or boundaries. The statement that consciousness is all-pervasive inadequately expresses this fact.


The question now arises as to why we are not aware of all the objects when everything is in consciousness. It is because we perceive only those objects that are within the reach of our sense organs through our mind. Everything, even though it is unperceived by us, is not outside consciousness. It is like some persons being inside with reference to the space within the house but everyone without any exception being inside with reference to the entire space. Similar is the position with the objects cognized by the mind and the objects in consciousness. Some are in our minds and are known; everything else is out of our minds and remains unknown; but everything known and unknown to us are always in consciousness.


As regards the presence of consciousness in terms of time, we may apply the same logic. Since we are aware of time, it is also within consciousness. Hence, the concept of time and the question of limitation of time cannot arise for consciousness.


Thus, we arrive at the conclusion that we are consciousness to which no limitation can apply. So, when we say, “I am”, it means “Consciousness is”. This consciousness, which is the self, is called as ätmä [150].


147. This is known as dåg-dåçya-aviveka.
148. This is also called as mäyä. This is dealt with in detail later.
149. This teaching method (prakriyä) is called dåg-dåçya-viveka and is explained in the text of the same name, which is ascribed to Çaìkaräcärya.
150. Äpnoti iti ätmä| That which includes all.

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