Consciousness, Brahman and the Vedanta8 min read

Brahman and the Vedanta.

Vedanta is a system of thought and an art of living. It has an ideal, a system of logic which examines the ideal, and a discipline-which is essential to the realisation of the ideal. Its philosophy in the form of speculative thinking is not only profound, satisfying all the demands of the intellect, but also highly instructive. The premise of life it holds is most inspiring, and as a solace in case of affliction it is an unfailing consolation.

There are some passages in the Upanishads which, recognising fear to be a basic element in life and its effects to restrict the flow of life in the right direction – ethical, aesthetical – prescribe the philosophy as a sure means to the elimination of fear. Release means freedom from fear and the consequent tranquillity of the soul and the enlightenment of the spirit. It sanctions a code of morality which is of the highest order and gives reasons for it which are perhaps unique. Virtue, according to the Adwaita, is not the end but a means to the great end – enlightenment of the spirit, a consciousness of Perfection and self-sufficiency of the spirit.

Vedanta is chiefly a search for the spirit. The unconditional and all-abiding Truth is man’s spirit, the real Being, and the purpose of philosophy is to reveal to man what he 1(really is. The body and the mind are adjuncts, the necessary means to the achievement of the spiritual element; but beyond them is the ever-shining light of man’s consciousness, his “I am”.

Self-consciousness is God consciousness. Dr. Otto insists on nearness to God, a sense of dependence, and prescribes fellowship with God as a means to security. But in the philosophy of Shri Shankara the goal of spiritual life is identity-consciousness expressed in the Vedic formula “I am Shiva”.

The consciousness is immanent and also transcendental. The divided consciousness is not denied by Shri Shankara. The duality of subject and object, the existence of the delight and sweetness of the higher love, the sense of devotion and surrender of the personality to God are fully recognised by the great Acharya. But these experiences are all tentative and not ultimate. The Ultimate is Transcendence which is called Vidya, the fullest vision of Truth, “All is Brahman”; though the Self has the individual consciousness as its accompaniment, it soars far beyond it; it is all- inclusive and yet exclusive.

To confound the empirical consciousness with the Absolute ‘I’ is called Avidya, The cosmic experience is in Avidya, It spins a universe out of itself under the direction of its Lord, the cosmic subject Ishwara. This is all in Maya, Complete freedom and absolute joy are found in the transcendental Consciousness. All intuition is Avidya. Brahman is absolute; It can be called by no other term except Sat-Chit-Ananda.

Self is non-relational and opposed to all determinations.

Thought is relational and therefore not competent to establish or prove the Self. “How can the knower be known?” says the Rishi in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The changing character of thought cannot be adequate to establish the immutable. Thought is merely analytical or synthetical. It pre-supposes something which illumines it and reveals its own existence and its objects.

These views are not held by Ramanuja and Jiva Goswami who have tried to refute them. They have not satisfied us. Those who feel inclined to accept the views of Ramanuja and the Vaishnavas of the Bengal school may do so, Shri Chitsukhacharya, a philosopher of the highest eminence, has examined and refuted these views. Besides, Shri Madhusudana Saraswati has exposed the irrational character of the views of Ramanuja and others by his relentless and dizzy logic in Adwaita Siddhi. In short, cognition is cognition and both subject and object are revealed in it.

Is there any basis of our experience or is it all haphazard ideation like snow falling on a wood or a lake of water? There is reality underlying experience. Under the varying experience of pleasure and pain, “unity and multiplicity, there is a Reality which combines them into a whole. To determine the nature of this Reality, which in Shri Shankara’s philosophy is called self or Atman, is one of the advanced functions of the mind. The urges and range of knowledge also claim discussion. The system of Vedanta offers a reasoned consideration of this great problem.

Another problem which must be met by an intelligent man is that of duty and the ultimate ideal of human life. The orthodox theological basis can hardly help us in the solution of these great problems or riddles of life. The claim of Vedanta, to man in

general, is based not on its reference to Shruti but on the great dialectic and independent reasoning which the Acharyas have used in the consideration of the thesis.

The students of Vedanta must remember that the problems they have to solve are:

  1. the ontological problem of Reality,
  2. cosmology,
  3. psychology, and
  4. the problem of striving to realise the ideal, final liberation from nescience, limitations in general.


Having stated the problems which are to be solved under the light of the philosophy of Shri Shankara, we ask the reader to study them in the great classics of the Acharyas and apply their independent reasoning in the examination of the dialectics of the great philosophers.

None but the dull-headed will take life at its face value.

In the depth of the life of thought and pure emotions, inspiration and intuition, are hidden the springs of the water of immortality, peace, good behaviour, enjoyment of beauty and Truth. These are open to a serious student of Adwaita and to the one who experiments in the methods with a serene mind and a loveful heart.

This is as practical a philosophy as the Judo system exercise in Japan. The assaults of ignorance upset the balance of our soul and make us foolish enough to rim after the bubbles of the world – wealth, name, false ideologies, sex, fanaticism and so forth. Is there any defence against nescience? Not our untrained and agitated intellect. Not our hope-laden soul. Not our narrow nationalism. Not the false and deceptive excitement of drink and gambling. There is a sure shield against ignorance and it is the discipline of Vairagya, elimination of all non-essential desires and training of the heart in devotion. The final note is Mukti is absolute deliverance.

Meditation is the key to liberation. Meditation on what? Is it to be on a supposed deity who lives in the clouds and whose realm, under the light of science, is shrinking daily? No; on the Self as Truth and Bliss.

A simple-minded man went to a fair on the bank of the holy Ganges. He saw the shops,’ the abbots riding elephants, and the ascetics delighting in dirt and dust. He worshipped at a temple and, at the injunction of the priest, offered his head to the deity; that is, he believed that his head was no longer on his shoulders. He told the people of the offering he had made: “Look my friends, I have no head now. I have offered it to the deity in the great temple”. They laughed. They tried to convince him that he had his head as ever. “No, no, you do not know. I have no head. It is in the temple”, he cried. His wife was alarmed when he told her of the offering he had made of his head. “But you speak, you hear, you see, how could you do so without your head?” she asked. “You do not know” the man repeated, “I have no head”.

The Veda and the Guru, the great seers and the Mahatmas, declare “That thou art, “That thou art”. They insist and say “That thou art”. “Thou art not the mind and the body. Thou art pure consciousness. There is no sin and no merit in thee. Free from grief and all duties, Shiva art thou”.

You reason that you are the body. You think of the individuality and the personality and insist you are a crying mortal, that your happiness depends on the favour of a king or a youthful woman. Like the man who had offered his head, you believe in the reality of the body and the mind and not in Consciousness, under which perception and cognition are made possible, the absence of which cannot be imagined.

“He shining, all else shines” says the Shruti. Ask yourself “What is it that illumines the subject-object relationship?”

“Prompted by whom does the mind think?” says the Shruti, It is Atman, the Self, the attributeless Consciousness – CHIT. Who confers interest on an object? Who creates values? The Self, It is rightly called Shiva, the highest Good,

You cannot know the majestic, the immortal, the all-blissful Self by logic or by silly Hatha Yoga methods. What logic could convince the simple man who believed he had offered his head? The intellect in its quest of Self, the one and the only Reality – SAT – turns away baffled from its door. That is Sat. That is Self.

Will you believe the deluded David Hume? He says you have no abiding Self. Dada says:    “You are Chit, You are Ishwara.” Think who is reliable.

What logic can establish the existence of Self as Consciousness? Can the sun be lit or made known by the light of a candle? According to the Sankhya doctrine, the purpose of Nature (Prakriti) is to help the release of the soul from the bondage of ignorance.

The earth with its changing seasons, the rolling Heaven with its stars and planets, the dawns and the sunsets, proclaim His glory, and That Purusha thou art.’