Shankara points out that reality cannot be defined in words which are based on illusion3 min read

The Gītā has presented the supreme Self as unthinkable, but directly experienced. It has been hinted at as the end of all grief, fear, and delusion, and positively as the bliss of Brahman. When the word Brahman, absolute Reality, first comes in the Gītā, Śakara defines it by three Upanisadic texts, one of which is: ‘Brahman is consciousness-bliss.’

As Śakara points out, reality cannot be accurately defined in words which are based on illusion. The most they can do is to indicate the direction of search. The search is not for something altogether unknown. If anyone can sit still for a time, throw away desires and fears, and look steadily at the mind itself and then beyond the mind, he will find there is something in him that wants to be a god.

Freedom is not the same as the idea of freedom. Take the case of people who have been imprisoned under a harsh regime for a year, through no fault of their own. Very suddenly, through the fortunes of war, they are set free in a neutral country. Imagine a husband and wife who did not expect to see each other again, and a friend who has taken some risks to help them during the captivity. The morning after release, they go for a walk on the edge of the quiet town, with its friendly people. They come to a cross-roads. ‘Shall we go to the right?’ says one. ‘Yes, to the right, to the right.’ But when they have gone a few yards, another one says, ‘We could have gone straight on, couldn’t we? We’re free now to choose.’ They burst out laughing, go back to the cross-roads and then straight on a few yards. Again they stop, look at each other, and she says solemnly, ‘And what about the left one?’ By now they are laughing uncontrollably: ‘Yes, the left one.’ And then: ‘Let’s sit down on the grass!’ ‘Let’s stand up!’ Everything is enjoyable, everything is comical, everything is happy They are drunk on the idea of freedom. The fact of freedom is not affected by their laughter, but their minds are intensely aware of it, and this can go on for a time.

There are others who are equally free, but cannot free themselves from the memory of imprisonment. They are not necessarily the ones who have had objectively worse experiences; they have been more deeply affected. They look around and know they are free, but if they talk together they begin to become tense and apprehensive. Their friends try to keep them apart, and talk only about the new life. But some of them when they sleep have nightmares in which they are back in a worse prison, that of their imagination. Sometimes their friends make up a rota to sit in a comer of the bedroom with a small lamp and a book. If the sufferer begins to moan or sweat in sleep, the friend gently wakes him: ‘It’s all right, it’s all right. You’re with friends now. I’ll make us a coffee and we can talk for a bit about what we’re going to do tomorrow.’ Again the fact of freedom is not affected by the forgetfulness of it; but the latter too can go on for a time.

When Yoga is completed, ideas drop away, even the idea ‘I am Brahman’. There remains Brahman alone, the supreme Self, who as his sport projects and withdraws the seeming universes.

© Trevor Leggett