To know the Self, Atman, as the essence and substratum of the universe9 min read

“Ashtavakra Gita”, Chapter 2 verses 1-16: To know the Self, Atman, as the essence and substratum of the universe, including the mind individual and cosmic, two methods are recommended as preliminary ones.

The first is: Control the mind, and prevent it from going towards tamas and rajas. To control the mind means to prevent the mind from falling into lassitude, anger, a state of coma, a mood of “let it alone, all will be all right.” Another thing, also to prevent it from falling into the state of ambition, fulfilment of pleasure desires, desire to be respected, to be loved, to be treated with reverence, to be called wonderful, a conqueror of the world.

It is essential that the mind should be controlled in this way and not in any other way. Self-control does not mean hypocrisy, not to show one’s feelings and keep them bottled up in one’s own self and keep the surface very nice. This is called dambha, hypocrisy. Self-control means attacking the root cause of ignorance, both lassitude and activity. Now, what is the use of this mind? The use is sattva, a balanced mind. Selfless charity, study with a view to know the truth, generosity, liberality, fraternity to all, worship of Jesus with a one-pointed mind, devotion, meditation, serviceful company of the teacher.

These are to be encouraged, and tamas and rajas to be discouraged. This is right living, but it is not the end, it is a preparatory mode. When this is matured, the mind forms the habit of not running after pleasure desires, of not courting favour, fame, name. When it becomes a habit (please note the word “habit”, which is at the root of biological evolution: in the evolutionary science habit plays a most important part and it is called adaptability, which is habit-forming of a particular nature; our habit should be love of truth, brotherliness to all, prayer and devotion) to keep the mind in a state of balance, this is one mode of the right type of living.

The other method is: Do not mind the mind. Not easy, but it can be done. Know the mind to be unreal and all it desires. Then the mind does not run after a thing which is shadowy. King Bhartrihari, who had given up his kingdom and begun to live the life of a recluse, was one day walking in a street under the moonlight. He saw something red and bright on the pavement and bent down to pick it up, thinking it was a ruby. But it was the spittle of one who had been chewing betel leaves. When his fingers were soiled he said: “Alas! I gave up my kingdom to become a recluse, but I have not given up the root-cause of my misery.”

If he had known what it was, he would never have bent down to touch it. As long as wealth, health, power, pleasure, appear real, we are in a state of sleep though we may appear to be awake. By the practice of “Brahman sattyam jagan mithya, Brahman sattyam jagan mithya” give up attributing reality to the mind and mature the mood “Shivoham, Shivoham, Shivoham. Thirst and hunger are the qualities of prana. Love and hate exist in the buddhi. I am above prana and buddhi. Shivoham, Shivoham, Shivoham.”

In the new psychology, the consciousness of guilt is responsible for nine-tenths of our ills. Let us give up the consciousness of guilt by using the means of propitiation; then give up both and mature the mood of truth “Shiovham, Shivoham”

We can adopt either of the two practices. The strongest drive in man, as strong if not stronger than the drive of hunger and sex, is to know. The word “man” is derived from the root which in Sanskrit means mentation, to know. Then know what is “Shivoham, Shivoham, Shivoham.” Let us fling aside the heavy quilt of guilt, because it causes bitter dreams in the morning, and wake up to the sunlight of “Shivoham, Shivoham, Shivoham.” The Shruti says: “Yatra yatra mano yati tatra tatra samadhayah. When the nature of self is recognised, then wherever the mind goes it is samadhi.” (“Drig-drishya-viveka” verse 30). As the potter’s wheel continues to revolve when the staff which gives it motion has been withdrawn, by the force of inertia, so after jnana the mind will continue to function for some time. And in what state? “Wherever the mind goes that is the state of samadhi.”

Shri Swami Nirbhayanandaji says: “O my mind, I do not want to control you; go wherever you like. As a wave cannot outrun the boundary of the river (wherever it goes it will be in the water of the river), so wherever you go, O mind, whether to Heaven or Hell, raga or dvesha, I do not care because wherever you go I anticipate you as knowledge and Atman.”

There is a famous verse of Shri Swami Nirbhayananda: “The son of a barren woman is terrified of the horns of a hare. Such is the bondage of the world. There is no need to repent or to rejoice.” This verse is the second mood. One can mature either or, as Swami Rama Tirtha says, alternate them, sometimes one and sometimes the other. The ordinary mood in which mind indulges in likes and dislikes, in desires of rest, etc., is fatal. The bird of mind wants to fly towards Atman, but the stones of raga and dvesha keep it down. They are imaginary; either cast them off, or think that they do not exist.

Sansara is like the clouds of May. They form, they disperse, they constantly change. But Self is like the blue sky. The Self is like the sun which lights up the clouds. It is the support of the clouds, it is ever the same, it is never changed by the clouds, never tainted by them. Therefore “Ayam Atma Brahma” (“Brihadaranyaka Upanishad” 4.4.5.). “Verily this Self is infinite and Brahman”, says Shruti (“Chandogya Upanishad”

The threefold method of realisation is: Shruti, reasoning and contemplation. Shruti is to be listened to, and it is called shravana. Shravana differs from other sermons or preachings or Arabian Nights tales, healing etc., because in shravana the main theme is Shruti. Shruti is to be listened to with faith, attention and in a spirit of renunciation. Listened to from whom? From him who knows the truth, who has realised the contents of the Shruti, him who has acquainted himself with the interpretation of the Shruti according to the holy Commentaries of the greatest Rishis like Shankara, Vyasa, Madhusudana, Mandana and others.

Shruti first: then manana, a synthesis of what we have heard under a rational process, resolving of the difficulties which arise for want of full comprehension of the meaning of Shruti. What does Shruti teach? “Brahman sattyam jagan mithya.”

After reasoning, contemplation. Contemplation means to encourage those thoughts which are helpful to the realisation of Atman and to dissipate (not suppress, but dissipate) those thoughts or notions which produce obstacles in the way of realization. Nididhyasana is not just mere meditation but an all-time process, to keep a rigid watch on the thoughts.

Here is a true man who can say to his mind: “Do not think this; enough!” It a man has not practised to acquire this control over his self, he is yet a child. Shridhara says: “Thou art blind though thou hast eyes.” We do not know how to think, though we may be thinking, unless we can think constructively, set a limit to the mind, then guide the mind aright in the search after truth.

The end of Shruti is, go on listening, go on listening till you hear from the loving lips of a teacher “Tat tvam asi” . There is magic in this sentence. These three words were uttered in the “Chandogya Upanishad” (6.8.7.) some tens of thousands of years ago and their light is still influencing and still conquering the sages and philosophers. The ego surrendered to the Guru and to God makes the comprehension of Shruti easier.

What is the meaning of manana? If we have heard from the Guru “Tat tvam asi”, let us think: What is “That”? What is indicated by the word “That”? It is a demonstrative pronoun? what does it demonstrate? What is the meaning of “Thou”? This is manana. Manana is of a much lower kind if we say: “Bradley’s conception of reality is such-and-such and Shankara’s is otherwise. I wonder which is right.” It is not manana. It is not useless, but it is a preliminary state. It does not go very far. Therefore manana is to reason what is the meaning of “Tat” and what is “tvam”. The last part of the book “Upadesha Sahasri” by Shri Shankara has about two hundred verses on “Tat tvam asi”.

Contemplation is “I am Shiva”.

“How can I be Shiva?”, one may ask. Tagore, who had no comprehension whatsoever of the philosophy of India, says in one of his stories: “Only fools will say I am Shiva. I become ill and cry in pain. How can I be Shiva?” They do not understand and do not try to understand. In spite of the contrary experience, let us say “Shivoham, Shivoham, Shivoham, Shivoham.” The Maharajah of Chitor lost his kingdom when the Mohammedans invaded his palace and capital. He lived in a forest, hotly pursued by his enemies; his Queen and his youthful daughter were with him and also one or two courtiers who were still loyal.

Every evening they sat down together and offered worship to the Maharajah and treated him still as if he were King; and he was a King even then. No one is defeated unless he accepts defeat- He had lost everything, but did not accept defeat. He did not sue for peace to Akbar and surrender himself, and he still had the pride “I am the King”. And every evening he met in a Court. So in any adverse condition, morning or day or evening, let us affirm what is truth and only truth “Shivoham”.

Shri Swami Sacchidananda said: “There are three means to Self-realization and they are tyaga (renunciation), vairagya (enlightened indifference towards the objects of pleasure, not merely indifference but reasoned, enlightened indifference), and vichara (reasoning). When these three are practised, then follows jnana.