Shri Shankara in his commentary on the thirteenth chapter of the Gita says:
“There is a view (he says) which holds: ‘I am a sansarin subject to pleasure and pain. To bring about the cessation of sansara I should first acquire a discriminative knowledge of the field and the knower of the field. And then attain a direct perception of the knower, the Lord, by means of dhyana or meditation on the Lord…
He who holds this view… is the meanest of the pundits. He is the slayer of the self. Ignorant in himself he confounds others,… devoid as he is of the traditional key (sampradaya) to the teaching of the shastras…”
Why is Shri Shankara so down on this view? To the one living immersed in the dream-world of Maya, it seems eminently reasonable. But it is all really part of the fantasy, the hard-luck story of the one who supposes himself a sansarin. He thinks himself a sansarin because he imagines that Atman does not exist—that there is nothing there! Perhaps there may be something sometime in the future, when he has found it, but there is certainly nothing to be seen of it here and now!
Shri Shankara says that the ignorant man is guilty of killing Atman in two different ways. Firstly he ignores the ever-present Atman, whose light makes all experience possible, and regards what is not-Self, the physical body and the ego, as himself. And he then compounds his felony by killing one body after another by performing good and evil works. He is a destroyer even of what he wrongly regards as himself! And all the while the real Atman has been apparently eliminated inasmuch as he is unaware of its existence. So he murders himself twice over!
“Demoniac, verily, are those worlds enveloped in blinding darkness, to which after death, go those people who are slayers of the Self.”, says the Isha Upanishad.
But it is really a form of spiritual blindness. He does not see the supreme Lord, remaining the same in all beings, the undying in the dying, of which the thirteenth chapter of the Gita speaks, and because he does not see the Lord, seated the same everywhere, he “destroys” the Self and does not reach the supreme goal.
If we are to be cured of all these wrong ideas, it is necessary to understand the basis on which they rest? As Swami Vidyaranya tells us:
“The jiva, as a result of the practice (abhyasa) of many births, has the idea that the body is the self and that the world is real. This erroneous idea recurs moment by moment through the force of bad habit.”
This is the root cause of our troubles, and we shall not become free Jivas until we have cured ourselves of this habit. But note that it is only a wrong idea
We are wrong if we think that avidya is a solid, tangible principle which makes it impossible for us to see the spiritual truth. It is simply a complex of mistaken ideas that we have picked up through long habit, and our inability, wilful neglect or carelessness in paying attention to what the jnanis tell us about it. It is a misinterpretation of empirical experience, part of the dream created by the drug of desire-imagination, which leads us into the habit of resorting to the fantasy life of Maya and avidya.
We are not the body and never have been the body. But we have got into the habit of assuming, without thinking, that we are. The world is not real, and never has been, but we go on believing that it is. While preparing for this holy Sharavana, how often we have heard from the Blessed Shri Bodharanya himself of the importance of disidentifying ourselves from the body and recognizing it, not as ourself, but as an object among objects:
“When the identity with the body has perished (that is to say, when the interests of the body are not considered as supreme, and [we are] not telling everybody: ‘I didn’t sleep well last night…’
To be the subject or witness of the body, and to note all its conditions, as conditions of an object, is essential for spiritual living; every day attempts should be made”
And he goes on to say that the supreme self, Paramatman, will not be achieved as long as the body occupies the throne of consciousness and usurps the place of Atman.
Does it mean then that we should try and eliminate or destroy the body? No! that is to misunderstand the position. We do not have to eliminate the body any more than we have to eliminate the world. We simply have to recognize it for what it is, an object among objects, part of the Not-Self which (as the holy philosophy tells us, does not exist in its own right but for the sake of another, the Witness-consciousness. As Viveka Chudamani puts it:
“Liberation is not liberation from the body any more than it is liberation from the staff and the water pot. Liberation from the knot in the heart formed by metaphysical ignorance is the only true liberation.”
It is not the body itself that has to be eliminated, but the wrong idea about it. If we see the body itself as being our self, we shall never escape anxiety about its welfare. We shall never be able to guarantee its safety or to adequately defend it against illness or accident, let alone the dangers of enemy attack. And we shall become like Don Quixote, a prey to irrational hopes and fears and determined to defend it against all comers, imagining the windmill to be a giant which has to be fought, only to be finally vanquished by age and senility.
As Viveka Chudamani says:
“Let the body of the disciplined one who has realised the Absolute fall down dead anywhere at the moment of final decay, like a leaf falling from a tree. (There is no need to bum it in a funeral pyre since) it has already been burnt away by the fire of pure consciousness.”
While we still live in the fantasy world, one of the ways recommended by the wise for getting rid of the body is to offer it for the service of God.. But in reality it is like the staff or the water pot and what really matters is the disidentification of the self with the ego, the unknotting of the knot of the heart. Why is it called the knot of the heart? Because the witness and its reflection, the ego consciousness, appear to be tightly bound together so long as we have not carried out vichara. But when the two threads in the knot (the real and the unreal) have been picked apart through discrimination and the grace of God, then the ego and the body are known to be part of the fantasy world of Maya, while the Atman is known to be one without a second and associationless.