Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 27

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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Go to Part 26


I - The presence of consciousness in the jéva

We may now look further into the presence of consciousness in the body-mind-sense-complex. It is usually explained in three different ways. In one, consciousness is compared to space, and consciousness in the body-mind-sense-complex is compared to the space inside a pot. [182] The space is all pervading. But when there is a pot in it, the all-pervading space (mahä-äkäça) appears to be confined to the pot as pot-space (ghaöa-äkäça). The fact is that the pot is itself in space and is occupying space. There is space inside the pot, in the material constituting the pot and outside the pot. Regardless of the presence of the pot, space is present everywhere without any division. Even so, the pot makes the space appear to be divided and makes the space inside the pot appear as limited to its own dimension [183]. Similarly, the ignorance that leads us to consider ätmä to be the body-mind-sense-complex, makes consciousness appear to be confined in it.


Another method of explaining this situation is through the example of a reflecting medium like the mirror [184]. When a reflecting medium reflects the light incident on it, the reflecting medium, which has no illumination of its own, appears to become a source of illumination by illumining the surroundings. Similarly, when buddhi reflects consciousness, it appears to become the source of consciousness by providing it to the entire body-mind-sense-complex. Consciousness is the source and consciousness available in the body-mind-sense-complex is the reflected consciousness. The truth is the original. If we mistake the reflection to be the original, it will appear to be limited to the body-mind-sense-complex.


Still another method of explanation is that consciousness available in the body-mind-sense-complex is the semblance or äbhäsa of consciousness, i.e., cidäbhasa. Äbhäsa is what appears to be the original even when it is different from it. It is like the appearance of a person seeming to have entered into a mirror or like the sun appearing to be present in the surface of the water contained in a pot. Like the person in the mirror and the sun in the water surface, what is within the body-mind-sense-complex is the semblance of consciousness. In the semblance explanation, the semblance is different from the original. In the reflection explanation, the reflection is considered to be the same as the original except for the features imposed on it by the reflecting medium. [185]


All these explanations have the following in common:

• Consciousness;

• Availability of consciousness in the body-mind-sense-complex either as a limitation or reflection or semblance of consciousness;

• The consciousness available in the body-mind-sense-complex does not affect the source-consciousness in any way. The apparent delimitation of space by the pot does not affect the space; the reflection of the illumination does not affect the source of illumination; and the image of the person appearing in the mirror does not affect the person;

• The availability of consciousness in the body-mind-sense-complex provides the clue to recognise the source, which is consciousness, as the reality. In the limitation explanation, we recognize the original by knowing that the limitation is only apparent like the limitless space appearing as limited inside the pot. In the reflection explanation, we recognise the original, through the knowledge that what is seen is only the reflection and in the semblance explanation that it is only the semblance of the original.


II - The place where ätmä is recognized by the jéva

Çruti states that ätmä resides in the cave of the being and describes it as the (self-effulgent) light within the hådaya (heart). [186] Hådaya refers to the buddhi or the intellect, which is considered to be in the physical heart [187]. Buddhi is not the gross physical brain but is the subtle organ where the discriminative understanding takes place. In the waking state, the antaù-karaëa, which includes the buddhi, functions throughout the body including the brain. The brain in the body is only a field of its expression [188].


In the antaù-karaëa, buddhi, being the subtlest, gets illumined by consciousness. Buddhi consists of three components: (i) consciousness (cit); (ii) the insentient subtle matter of the buddhi; and (iii) the cidäbhasa or consciousness as available in the buddhi. Buddhi is comparable to the iron ball that is glowing because of the heat. In the glowing iron ball, the heat, the iron ball and the red glow are different from each other but exist together.


In Taittiréya Upaniçad, it is stated, “That (Brahman-ätmä) having created, entered into that very thing (the cavity of the heart)”. [189] Even as light enters into the water surface to produce reflection, Brahman-ätmä enters, as though, into the buddhi and buddhi becomes sentient. It is a matter of experience that knowledge of a thing is dependent on its particular associations. In the present case, the buddhi is, as it were, proximate to consciousness. The association of ätmä with the buddhi causes in the buddhi the knowledge of ätmä owing to its proximity and the nature of illumination. [190] Just as the pot is perceived when it is in contact with the light, so also ätmä is recognized when in contact with the light of intellectual conviction. However, owing to inborn ignorance (avidyä or ajïäna), the “I-sense”, which develops in the buddhi, wrongly identifies itself with the body-mind-sense-complex. Thus, all of us initially consider ätmä to be the body-mind-sense-complex. This wrong notion is dropped by the buddhi only when it gains knowledge of the self through the Vedänta-pramäëa. Thus, buddhi is the place where both the erroneous notion and the correct knowledge of ätmä take place [191].


No jéva is initially free from avidyä. Avidyä is not just lack of correct knowledge. It is opposed to knowledge [192] as it not only conceals the true nature but also presents the false in its place. Avidyä is treated as bhävarüpa or as somewhat existent since it causes the appearance of the erroneous. Avidyä is seen as one or many according to the way of looking at it. If it is seen individually, it becomes as many as the individuals. Since all jévas are affected by avidyä, if it is seen collectively, avidyä is one. It is not possible to determine the beginning of avidyä and it is called anädi. It is also not possible to investigate anädi avidyä through our own erroneous knowledge since it is like looking into darkness with the help of darkness. To know avidyä by correct knowledge would be like seeing darkness through light. The characteristic of avidyä is its lack of intelligibility.


182. This method of explaining is adopted by Väcaspati Miçra in Bhämaté and is called avaccheda-väda.
183. The original consciousness is called bimba and the reflected consciousness is called pratibimba. This is called pratibimba-väda and is based on the explanation given by Padmapäda who is one of the direct disciples of Çaìkaräcärya.
184. This explanation is given by Sureçvara who is one of the direct disciples of Çaìkaräcärya. This is called äbhäsa-väda.
185. ätmäsya jantor nihito guhäyäm (Kaöha Upaniñad, 1.2.20.)
hådyantajyotiù puruñaù (Båhadäraëyaka Upaniñad, 4.3.7.)

186. Çaìkaräcärya in his commentary on 4.3.7 of Båhadäraëyaka Upaniñad states: Heart is primarily the lotus-shaped lump of flesh; here it means the intellect, which has its seat in the heart. The expression therefore means ‘within the intellect’. (Translation)
187. Swami Paramarthananda, class 27 (2010) of Kaöha Upaniñad.
188. Tatsåñtvä| Tadevänupräviçat|Having created this, he entered this itself. (Taittiréya Upaniñad, 2.6.)
189. Çaìkaräcärya’s commentary on Taittiréya Upaniñad, 2.6.
190. Manasaivänudrañövyam ..Through the mind alone, it is to be recognized. (Bṛhadäraëyaka Upaniñad, 4.4.19.)
191. Jñäna-virodhi.
192. Samépavartini vastuni svadharmän ädadhäti| Places its own attributes on something that is nearby.

Go to Part 28


Page last updated: 01-Apr-2016