Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 25

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 - The invariable in all the states of experience

Every day, we pass through the different states of the waker, the dreamer and the sleeper. Nevertheless, we take ourselves to be essentially the waker who sleeps regularly and dreams frequently. Çästra enquires into this assumption by employing the principle of anvaya-vyatireka [172]. Anvaya is invariable concomitance or co-existence of two or more things. If one is there, the others are also there. Vyatireka is invariable co-absence. If one is not there, the others are also not there. Through this test, we determine what is intrinsic and what is incidental in an entity. What is intrinsic should have both anvaya and vyatireka with the entity. For example, in the case of gold ornament, let us see whether being the ornament is intrinsic to gold. When the gold ornament is there, gold is always there since the ornament is made of gold. Therefore, there is anvaya. As for vyatireka, however, if the gold ornament is not there, gold can exist in forms other than an ornament like, a mere lump, or a bangle, or a ring. So the vyatikreka test fails. Since both conditions are not fulfilled, being an ornament is not intrinsic to gold.


Let us apply the above reasoning to see as to which of our three states, waking, dreaming and sleeping is intrinsic to ourselves. As for invariable co-presence, when we as the waker are there, we as the dreamer and the sleeper are not there. When we as the dreamer are there, we as the waker and the sleeper are not there. When we as the sleeper are there, we as the waker and the dreamer are not there. So there is no invariable co-existence or anvaya between ourselves in any one of the three states and ourselves in the other states. As for invariable co-absence, when we as the waker are not there, we as either the dreamer or the sleeper are there. When we as the dreamer are not there, we as either the waker or the sleeper are there. When we as the sleeper are not there, we as either the waker or the dreamer are there. So there is no invariable co-absence or vyatireka also between ourselves in any of the three states with ourselves in the other states. Therefore, both tests fail in respect of ourselves as the waker, dreamer or sleeper. So, we are intrinsically neither the waker nor the dreamer nor the sleeper. The failure of both tests also indicates that we were analyzing an entirely untenable proposition.


Coming back to the rule, what is it that is present in all the three states? If we were asked, “Are you conscious?” we do not have to check, as we have no doubt whatever that we are aware. That we hear the very question is because we are conscious. That we think is because we are. [173]. Before a thought arises, we are. When the thought is there, we are. After the thought has gone, we are. Therefore, consciousness is there before the thought, during the thought and after the thought. In the same way, consciousness is the awareness in the waking state, the dream state and in the deep sleep state. A doubt may arise in respect of the presence of consciousness in the deep sleep state; but it is because of consciousness we were aware that we were blissfully ignorant of everything while we were asleep. It is owing to consciousness that the experience of three different states is recognized as the varying experience of the same person. So, what is invariably present in all the three states is consciousness that witnesses all of them. As for invariable co-absence, if consciousness were not there, the three different states cannot be there, as without consciousness nothing can be known to exist. So there is invariable co-absence of consciousness in all the three states. Since both tests of anvaya vyatireka reasoning are successful, we can conclude that what is intrinsic in all the states of experience is consciousness.


IV - The witness-consciousness or säkñé

Another name for the self in the context of these three states is säkñé or the witness-consciousness. The word “witness” is used to indicate that consciousness is not the subject in relationship with any object. It has no connection either with the subject or with the objects in the waking or dreaming state or lack of any tangible object in the sleep state. It has no link with anything at any time nor is it the waker, the dreamer or the sleeper. It is just awareness or presence. The nearest comparisons are the light, which reveals but does not participate in any manner with what it reveals, and space, which accommodates but has no relationship with anything that it accommodates.


Witnessing by consciousness and the seeing done by the individual are very different from each other. Explaining this, Saìkaräcärya points out that the illumining or witnessing by consciousness is not an action on its part like seeing. It is like the burning by the fire. Even when we say, “fire burns the finger”, there is no will involved on the part of fire to burn, as the fire does not decide to burn the finger as soon as the finger is put into it. On the part of the fire, burning is not a process with a beginning and an end. When fire burns, the beginning of burning is only for the finger, which is the time at which it is put into the fire. The end is again only for the finger, being the time at which it is taken out of fire. As far as the fire is concerned, burning is its intrinsic nature that has neither a beginning nor an end. The verb “burns” in the expression “Fire burns the finger” is thus only figuratively a verb [174] and does not connote action on the part of the fire. Similarly, illumining or witnessing the mind is not an action on the part of consciousness even though the verbal form “consciousness illumines” and “consciousness witnesses” are used. Illumining or witnessing is intrinsic to consciousness. As for the jéva, it is through his mind with its borrowed consciousness that he becomes the knower. This knowing by the mind is an action that has a beginning and an end.


There is also another difference between witnessing and knowing. Knowing takes place through the mental mode (våtti) that corresponds to the object of perception. The mental mode keeps on changing from moment to moment in keeping with the perceived object. In the case of witness consciousness, knowing is intrinsic to it. It is not a process involving change. Thus, the witness consciousness undergoes no change at all at any time. Like the anvil in the blacksmith’s shop that serves as the base for the beating the metal into different shapes, consciousness remains as the unchanging witness of all the changes that continuously take place. It is for this reason that it is also referred to as the küöastha, the anvil.


The mind has two roles. With reference to the world, it is the knower and with reference to the witness consciousness, it is the witnessed. Witness consciousness, on the other hand, is ever the witness.


172. Tadbhäve bhävät tadabhävät ca abhävät| Present when the other is present, absent when the other is absent.
173. It is not that we think and therefore, we are.
174.It is called aupacärika kriyäpadam.

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