These are the words of Shri Shankara (“Five Couplets on the Atman” 2.): “The ignorance of the rope makes it appear as a snake. The erroneous knowledge of Atman makes jivahood appear as an illusion in it.” Atman is Sacchidananda but Atman’s nature is erroneously known. You cannot say “not known” for it is ever-known. No one denies his own existence. No one says: “I am not”. The guest ion is “I am; what is this I?” It is to determine this that the first Sutra is given: “Athato Brahman jignasa”. The existence of Brahman is beyond the least doubt because who can deny his own existence? If he says he is not, then who is the sayer? It is self-contradiction. The existence of Atman needs no establishment; it is self-evident and non-contradictable. Jivahood appears. Therefore there can be two alternatives; Atman is either erroneously known or rightly known. In the first case, man says: ” I am jiva I was born, I aim a sinner, I shall die, I have this duty and that duty, I aim in bondage. ” A man says all that when he is jiva. But, as when the rope is known the snake disappears, when by the statement of a competent authority we know that it is a rope, so also here. The man comes and says he himself placed the rope there and forgot it, and says: “How stupid of me! I thought it was a snake and was calling the neighbours for help!”
The illusion is removed on the authority of a competent man (apta). Why not on any other authority? Direct perception, inference, analogy, implication – these are also instruments of valid knowledge (prama jnana) surely? No instrument of valid knowledge is necessary to establish the existence of the rope. What more direct perception can you have? You have direct perception and that says: “It is a snake.” Where is there room for inference, which applies where there is a multiplicity of objects? Where is there room for implication, where for presupposition? “Take nothing for granted”, they say in Western philosophy; but authority must be recognized. Without authority, by what proof do they know that the man they call their father is their father, or their date of birth? There is only the authority of the mother.
In order to negate the illusion, you need only one authority and that one is apta, a competent authority. By his words the illusion is dispelled and you know that it is a rope. On the authority of a daishika, the Guru, who says: “Thou art not jiva. Thou art Brahman.” we should believe “Shivoham. Shivoham.” Therefore “I am Brahman”, not that “I shall be Brahman after doing this or that”, not that silly notion that: “When I have samadhi, I shall know I am Brahman!” It is foolish to think that samadhi establishes the truth of Atman; if this were so, Atman would not be svayamprakasha, self-revealed. Shri Sureshvara has broken these theories by his arguments. In the “Chandogya Upanishad” (6.8.7.) Uddalaka says nine times to Svetaketu: “Tat tvam asi.”
Every part is an integral fraction of the whole. This truth needs no further logic to be established. Now let us be Aristotelian for the time being; we have been Platonic enough. The enquiry of Aristotle is: “What is the good?” Is the highest good of the part to emphasize its individuality, to keep itself apart – ” I am English; therefore you are nothing.” “I am a Brahmin; you are a Shudra”? No! The highest good of the part is to feel unity with the whole. Imagine two waves rising in water. One knows itself to be water and the other does not. The second says: “Sister, how miserable I sun! I am going to be demolished. I am moving towards the rock. Then, I am so tiny compared with the big waves.” The other laughs and says: “I am water. I am not wave. A thousand times I may be dashed against the rock but I shall only be boring tiny holes in it. I cannot be lost at all.” The highest good of the miserable wave is to know: “I aim water.” When the branch thinks it is isolated, it is always in a state of terror -“A storm will bend me or break me” – but when it thinks “I am the tree”, there is no fear of breaking.
The body of man is united with Virat, that aspect of the Lord which Arjuna was allowed to see, as described in the eleventh chapter of the Gita. The mind of man is at one with Hiranyagarbha, the totality of all minds. The Atman of man is ever united with Brahman. “How can that union be felt?” is the guest ion. By standing on one leg from morning till night, facing the sun? Nonsense. By consulting mediums? Madness. How? By vichara, by meditation, by nididhyasana. As soon as a man thinks of an object, he is united with it by subtle semi-material ties. In order to delude him, Mephistopheles produces an illusion so that Faust forgets the episode of Gretchen; it is only in the dance that he sees someone and thinks of her, but Mephistopheles says: “There is no Margaret!” Mephistopheles is avidya. It is after a long long time that the consciousness of Faust is awakened, as Goethe so beautifully expresses in the last scenes of Faust. Let us connect the mind with Brahman; and it is connected by “Chidananda rupah, Shivoham, Shivoham.”