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Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 56


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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VIII - What is ätmänubhava?

The question now arises as to why the çästra speaks of ätmänubhava when ätmä cannot be experienced [341]. This problem arises when ‘anubhava is taken to mean experience. In certain contexts, the word anubhava means pratyakña or aparokña-jïäna or direct knowledge. The word ‘experience’ does not convey the same sense and causes this confusion. Ätmä is consciousness and its presence is never lost in any form of experience. In seeing, hearing, thinking, the presence of consciousness is never missed. The svarüpa of ätmä is this anubhüti, the content of every experience. Consciousness, the content of experience, is recognized as Brahman, the limitless, which fact çästra reveals in sentences such as ‘Tat tvam asi’.

 

To reiterate, the thinking that the self is to be experienced is ridiculous since the experiencer, the experienced and the experience are all dependent on consciousness and the truth of their existence is only consciousness. But consciousness, which is the self, is not the experiencer, the experienced or the experience. It is like the different roles being the same person but the person not being any of the roles. But the problem is that the self, is mistaken to be the experiencer, different from the object of experience.  This duality is an error imposed upon the self. Vedänta negates this error and makes us recognise the self as being free from this duality. This recognition is ätmänubhava or ätmajïäna. (It is also referred to as ätma-säkñätkära or brahma-säkñätkära.)  The word ‘experience’ fails to convey the meaning of self-knowledge and misguides the person to the pursuit of gaining the experience of the self. If a person after systematically listening to the çästra from a competent guru still seeks experience of ätmä-Brahman, it means that he is still to understand the teaching.

 

GAINING JÏÄNA-NIÑÖHÄ

 

I - The mahaväkya gives direct knowledge

 

When we are a fully qualified seeker and are told about our true nature through any of the mahaväkyas after preparing the ground for it, the våtti caused by hearing it provides immediate recognition of ourselves as Brahman [342]. It is instantaneous [343] and çästra elucidates it through the example of the “tenth man”. A guru entrusted to his senior çiñya the responsibility of conducting a group of çiñyas to a place across the river and bringing them back. He told him: “You are ten in all. Ensure that all the ten return”. The group left and chose to swim across the swollen river after discarding the ferry. After they reached the other bank, the senior çiñya lined them up and counted them. Being engrossed in the counting of others, he missed counting himself and counted only up to nine. Filled with the worry as to whether one had not been swept away in the river, he asked another to check. But he committed the same mistake as he was also in a similar mental frame. They concluded that one has been lost in the waters of the river and were in tears. An old man who was passing by enquired about the problem and when appraised of it counted them and found that they were ten. He told them that they were ten in all and that no one has been lost. Trust in the words of the passer-by gave them the indirect knowledge of the existence of the tenth man. They stopped weeping and the old man asked the senior çiñya to count them again to know it by himself. But he missed counting himself, as before. Then the old man revealed to him, “You are the tenth man”. The senior çiñya instantly had direct knowledge of the missing man and jumped with joy. The problem was the ignorance of the tenth man and when the çiñya was told in the proper context that he was himself the solution to his problem, the dropping of ignorance and solving of the problem were immediate. So is the dropping of being a saàsäri-jéva by the eligible person on his being told, after creating the context for it, that he is none other than Brahman.

 

The nature of this situation has to be clearly grasped. Even without the help of the old man, the tenth man had a store of knowledge about himself. He could describe himself physically. He knew his mental condition. He knew that he was the leader of the group and was standing on the bank of the river looking for the tenth man. He had general knowledge of himself or sämänya jïänam. What the lacked was the particular knowledge or viçeña jïänam of himself that he was the tenth man.

 

When the old man revealed this knowledge, he did not make the bald statement that he was the tenth man. He first gave the knowledge that the tenth man existed. The leader had trust in the correctness of the words of the old man, pending its confirmation by personal verification. The indirect knowledge that he so gained calmed his mind making it ready for knowledge. For gaining it, the old man made him count again and commit the same mistake and created the context for revealing that he is the tenth man. Thus, the leader was led to see himself through the words spoken in a carefully created context that he was the missing man that he sought. The state of mind and the interrelated condition surrounding the words are, therefore, important factors in the ability of the words to convey the meaning intended by the teacher.

 

341. This section is based on Arsha Vidya Bharati, December, 1997, pp. 1 –2
342. This is called aparokña-jñänam.
343. Sa yo ha vai tatparamaà brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati| Anyone who knows that supreme Brahman becomes Brahman indeed. Muëdaka Upaniñad, 3.2.9.

To be continued...

 

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