Copyright
Swami Abhedananda.

Vedanta philosophy Self-knowledge [atma-jnana] online

. (page 3 of 8)
Online LibrarySwami AbhedanandaVedanta philosophy Self-knowledge [atma-jnana] → online text (page 3 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


me shine the sun, moon, stars and the light-
ening. I have realized my true Self. I have
realized the true Self of the universe and

therefore I am one v.ith the Absolute."
60



"May my speech be established in my
mind; may my mind be fixed in my speech.
O Divine Word! Thou hast manifested
Thyself in the form of wisdom. Do Thou
SPREAD Thy powers through my words. Do
not deprive me of the truth. ]\Iay I always
dvv'ell in the truth. My salutations to the
fire of wisdom, to the seers of Truth and
to the Devas (bright spirits).

"O Divine Word! be propitious to us;

STAY in our spiritual SPACE AND BE HAPPY.

Like the lord of light (the sun) constantly
purify our hearts and reveal to our eyes

THAT which is AUSPICIOUS FOR US. Do NOT

leave US.

"Peace, Peace, Peace to all living crea-
tures."

Kaushitaki Upanishad.
61



PRANA AND THE SELF.

Since the Vedic period, at least two thou-
sand years before Christ, Self-knowledge has
been in India not only the theme of sages
and philosophers, but also the highest ideal
of kings. Most of the early Hindu monarchs
were, indeed, the great spiritual teachers of
the country, although they did not belong to
the Brahmin caste. There is a prevailing
idea that the Brahmins were the only teachers
of spiritual Truth in the beginning, while
the duties of ruling and fighting were con-
fined to the Kshatriya or warrior caste. Yet
in the great epic Mahabharata it is told that
some of the Brahmins fought battles, com-
manded the army and showed remarkable
powers, courage and ability, though they did

not become rulers of the country. As in
63

7i.«\> T-TSl- A^C^ >K*^



VEDANTA PHILOSOPHY.

llio Bhagavad Gilfl. \vc read of Drona and
Krip&ch^rya, who were Brahmins by birlh,
yet who became noted generals, ser\'ed on
the battlefield, and were the teachers of the
Kshatriyas in mih'lar}- science as it was known
at that lime. On the other hand, we find
in the Upanishads and in the epics that
the Kshatriyas were the first teachers of the
Brahmins in higher spiritual truths; Krishna,
Rama, Buddha were all Kshatriyas. The
Kshatriyas, being of the warrior caste, were
bound by duly to protect the country, govern
the nation, fight the enemies and establish
the reign of peace, justice and righteousness
among the people. They were entitled, how-
ever, not only to become soldiers, commanders
of the army and to sit on the throne, but
likewise to impart Self-knowledge to all sin-
cere and earnest souls.

The Hindu rulers of those early days were
not like the monarchs of to-day. They re-
garded life as something that had a meaning,
and for thcra this early existence w-as not worth
/ 64






PRANA AND TFIE SELF.

living until that meaning had been realized.
Even in that early age these royal seekers
after truth felt that those who perform the
duties of their daily lives without knowing
who they are and what they are in reality,
are dwelling in absolute darkness. There-
fore, after fulfiUing their duties as Kshatriyas
and rulers of the country, they still found time
enough to devote themselves to the pursuit
of Self-knowledge.

There Vv-as a great Hindu monarch of
ancient India, by name Divodisa, who lived
in Benares. Benares was the Indian Athens
of those days. It was the seat of education,
and the center of religion, science and philos-
ophy. From prehistoric ages it had been
the cradle of oriental civilization and culture.
Even at the time of Buddha, five hundred
years before Christ, it was the stronghold
of Hindu philosophy and religion; and
Buddha could not have done anything if he
had not been able to convince the learned

scholars of Benares. Divod^a, this famous
65



VEDAXTA nilLOSOPHY.

and powerful ruler of Benares, had a son,
who became renowned by defeating his
fiercest enemies. It is said that he even con-
quered the Dcvas, the mythological gods or
bright spirits. In the third chapter of the
Kaushitaki Upanishad there is a story which
describes how this young prince, Pratardana,
by his wonderful courage and prowess con-
quered all the great ones on the human plane
and then came to the abode of the ruler of
the Devas.

According to Hindu mythology, Indra, the
god of Thunder, became the ruler of the
Devas through his righteous works and wis-
dom. Pratardana, the son of the mighty
king Divodasa, went to the abode of Indra,
dwelling in his heaven, with a desire to con-
quer him. He told how he had destroyed
his enemies and vanquished the Devas. Indra
was somewhat dismayed at the sight of so
great a hero, and did not know how he ought
to receive him and what he should do to

please him. So, after hearing the descrip-
G6



PRANA AND THE SELF

tion of his powers and victories, Indra said
to Pratardana: *'I am well pleased with
thee and wish to give thee a boon. Choose
a boon and I will be happy to grant it to thee."
The prince answered: "Do thou thyself
choose that boon for me which thou deemest
most beneficial for a man." He did not
know for what to ask, but he knew that
there was something v/hich would be most
helpful to ail. Having in his mind the
thought that people v/ho are dwelling in
iomorance and self-delusion and who do not

O

understand the true nature of Being, ought

to have something that would make their

life worth living, he said: '* Grant me that

boon which thou thinkest best for a man."

Indra rephed: "That is not right; thou must

choose thine own boon; no one who chooses,

chooses for another." The prince insisted,

saying: "The boon chosen by me is no boon

for me." He would not choose because he

did not know what would be most helpful

to mankind, therefore he left it to Indra.
67



VEDANTA rillLOSOPIIY.

Then Indra said to him, "I am bound by
my promise and I must be true to my words,
so I must grant thee the highest boon that
would be helpful and useful to all mankind."
"Know me only; that is the highest and
most helpful for man. Know me, my true
Self." He meant by this, not his powers,
not his glory, but his real Self — that which is
signified by all such expressions as "I, me,
mine," and "thou, thee, thine." He who
has known this tnie Self gains unbounded
power. If he commits any wrong, that wrong
does not alTect him. The knower of Self
is the greatest of all, he is greater than kings,
greater than the mightiest emperor; he pos-
sesses all the virtues that are described in the
Scriptures of the world and nothing can
make him fall from the glor>' of Self-knowl-
edge. Then Indra praised Self-knowledge
by saying: "I have conquered all the de-
mons, I have destroyed those demons who
had three heads, one hundred heads. I

have done many cruel deeds, but all these
68



PRANA AND THE SELF.

horrible acts could not affect me, because I

possess the knowledge of the Supreme Self.

Although I have performed many inhuman

deeds, yet see my glory, strength, and power;

not a single hair of my head has been injured

by them. He who knows me thus is never

harmed in his life by any sinful act, neither

by theft nor by the murder of his father,

mother or a wise Brahmin. If he is about

to commit a terrible sin, the expression of

his face does not change." Thus Indra

praised Self-knowledge. He did not mean

that the knower of Self should ever perform

all such sinful, cruel and inhuman deeds.

He wanted to show that the power of Self-

knov/ledge is greater than any other power

that exists anywhere in the world; that it

purifies the heart and soul of the worst sinner

and washes off the most horrible sins that

a human being can commit. The murder of

either father, mother, or both, or the revered

spiritual master, all these unpardonable sins

cannot corrupt the Divine power of Self-
G9



VEDANTA PHILOSOPHY.

knowledge, which purifies tlic souls of all
who possess it.

After praising Self-knowledge, Indra said:
"I am Prina, know me as Prana, life. Wor-
ship me as the conscious Self, the source of
intelligence." Priina is the Sanskrit word for
life-force; life and intelligence arc insepa-
rable; wherever there is life, there is intelli-
gence in some form or other. "Meditate on
me as life and inteUigcnce. Life is Pr&na,
Prana is life; life is immortahty and im-
mortality is life." Here we must understand
that life never dies. Life in itself is immor-
tal and indestructible; it cannot change. We
do not see life growing from less life. Life
in the abstract is always the same whether or
not it expresses itself outwardly. The ex-
pressions may var}', but the life-force is one
and unchangeable. When we do not see the
manifestation of life we say it is dead; but
life-force does not die. Ver)' few people can
understand this. Where life is, death can-
not exist. We may say a child is bom, a
70



PRANA AXD THE SELF.

child grows, but the h'fe of the child is not
subject to growth; if it were subject to birth
and growth, it would be changeable, it would
be mortal. That which we call life-force is
free from birth, decay and death; all these
changes take place in the forms through
which the immortal life-force manifests itself.
We speak of a child or a plant as growing,
but from the very beginning the life-force is
the same; the manifestations of some other
powers with which life is attended, appear
in different ways at various stages of the
evolution or growth of the animal or vegetable
organism.

"Prana is life, life is immortality; as long
as the Prana dwells in the body, so long there
is life. By Prana one obtains immortality in
the other world." If we know what true
life is, and feel that we are one with life and
inseparable from it, then we can realize that
we are immortal, because life does not die,
it does not proceed from non-life. If we trj;
to trace the origin of life, going back in im-

71



VEDANTA IMIILOSOPIIY.

agination as far as wc can, wc shall never
be able to discover as its cause non-life or
something dead. Life always proceeds from
life. It has existed from the beginningless
past, and we cannot think of its ever being
siil)jcct to death or destruction; therefore it
is eternal. But so long as life-force mani-
fests itself through a body, the body appears
as living; this is the sccondar}' expression of
true life-force. Here we do not think of the
life-force or Prana, but of the form which
moves and does certain work. \\c sav, "lie
lived so long," "His lifetime consisted of
so many years, three or four score;" all these
expressions, however, signify the secondary
manifestation of Prana. Life in its primar}''
sense is immortal. When that Prana or life-
force expresses itself, tlicn tlic organs are
alive, the senses perform their functions, the
mind thinks, and the intellect acts.

Again this Prana or life-force is inseparable
from intelligence; we cannot separate intel-
ligence from the force which makes every-
72



PRANA AND THE SELF.

thing of the universe move. The Self has
two powers, which express themselves as intel-
ligence and as the activity of Prana or life-
force. Intelligence is that which is the
source of consciousness; there is no English
term by which we can express it. It is called
in Sanskrit "Prajna." It cannot be trans-
lated as "knowledge," because knowledge
means understanding, which is a function of
the intellect; but Prajna refers to the source
of all knowledge and consciousness.

Indra continued: "He who knows me as
one with life (Prana) and intelligence (Prajna),
as immortal, indestructible and unchange-
able, has Hfe to its fullest extent on this earth,
and after death resides in heaven and enjovs
everlasting life. " Here Indra used the word
"Prana" for life-force, but the young prmce
thought that he must have meant sense-powers,
because Pra.na is also used to signify the
power of seeing, hearing, smeUing tasting or
touching, the power of speech, the powers of

seizing, moving, excreting and generating, and
73



^'^^



VliDANTA I'HILOSOI'HV.

that by whicli all the organs of the body per-
form their functions. Therefore, he said:
"Some say that all the Prinas or sense-powers
become one; for otherwise no one could see,
hear, speak, and think, at the same time.
After having become one, each of the senses
perceives separately." Thinking that by
Prina was signified the activities of the sense-
organs, he wanted to know which of these
was particularly meant by Indra. He main-
tained that although hfe or Prana was one,
still the sense-organs performed their func-
tions separately in succession. Two sense-
perceptions do not occur at the same mo-
ment, there must be a minute interval of time
between them. For instance, when we see a
sight and hear a sound apparently at the
same time, proper analysis will show that
the one sensation is followed by the other;
we cannot have various perceptions simul-
taneously. According to the phychologists of
ancient India, mind perceives the objects of

sensation one at a time. When one scnse-
74



PRANA AND THE SELF.

organ performs its function, others remain
quiet; the interval may be infinitesimally
small, we may not grasp it with ordinary
attention, still they rise in succession leaving
between them a very minute interval of time.
So the young prince did not understand what
particular sense-activity was referred to by
Indra. After raising this question, he kept
silence.

Indra replied: "It is true that all these
senses perform their functions at certain inter-
vals and that each one of them is great; but
nevertheless there is another force which is
higher than all the sense-powers. That force
is preeminent among all other powers." It
is not the power of seeing or hearing that
makes us alive. Blind and deaf persons do
not see and hear, but still they live. The
power of speech does not manifest itself in a
dumb man, yet he is alive. A man may live
having lost the power of smelling, tasting or
touching. Infants and idiots live though de-
prived of the thinking-power of the mind.
75



VEDAXTA rillLOSOrHY

One may not liavc memory, still one ^vill bo
called living. All tiiis shows that that which
makes one alive i.s not the same as the power
of seeing, hearing, speaking, smelling, lasting,
touching or thinking. Again, a man may
lose his arms and may not be able to seize
anything, still we do not call him dead. The
loss of one's legs or other organs of work does
not, as we see around us, destroy the life-force
or the }Inkhya (higher) Pr^na. Therefore,
the life-force is distinct from the power of
perception or sense-activnty. Yet at the same
time these sense-organs will not perform their
functions if they are separated from the life-
force.

The life-force or Miikhya Prana is some-
thing independent of the sense-powers, but
the sense-powers are dependent upon life-
giving Prana. Where life-force is unman i-
fest, the sense-organs may remain perfect,
but there will not be any expression of the
sense-powers in the form of perception of

sensation. The eye of a dead man may be
7G



PRANA AND THE SELF.

perfect, the optic nerve may be in good con-
dition, the brain cells may be in a normal
state, but as the life-force is not working in
that body, the sense-organs must remain dead,
without performing their functions, without
producing any sensation. Thus we can see
that all the sense-organs remain active in the
body because Prana, the source of all activity,
is there, and because the life-force governs
and regulates all the senses. Therefore, in
the Vedas it is said: "One should worship
Prana, the life-force, which keeps the universe
alive. " If you can understand what that life-
force is you have understood the secret of the
universe as well as that which keeps you alive.
All the scientists, anatomists, and evolu-
tionists are tr}dng to know the nature of that
life-force, but have they succeeded? No.
Some say it is a molecular attraction, others
believe that it is the result of physico-chemi-
cal forces; but are they sure of what they
say? What progress has science made in her

attempt to find out the source of life-force?
77



VKDANTA rillLOSOPHY.

Science has rejected the idea that the h"fe-
force is independent of the mechanical forces
of nature; but she cannot tell us definitely
the cause of vital cnerg}-. There have been
debates and discussions on this subject among
the scientists of different countries at all
times; still the problem is unsolved. If we
can understand the life-force of the universe
we have understood the living God; because,
says Vedanla, that life-force is inseparable
from the Being who is worshiped as God.

What is God ? He who keeps everj'thing
alive, and upon whom depend all other
activities, sense-powers and the functions- of
the gross physical body. Indra said: " Prana
alone having animated this body makes it
rise up. It alone is the conscious Self. What
is PrS.na is Prajna, self-consciousness; and
what is self-consciousness is also Prina.
They both live in the body together and to-
gether they pass out of it." "That life is the
same as our self-consciousness." Have you

seen self-consciousness where there was no

78



PR.\NA AND THE SELF.

life? It is impossible. Wherever there is
self-consciousness there must be hfe; self-
consciousness and life are inseparable. You
may say there is no self-consciousness in
trees and plants; how do you know it is
not there ? Is it because they have no brain ?
They may not have the same self-conscious-
ness as that of those who have brain, but
they have nerves of their kind. How do
you know a sensitive plant does not feel?
All such dogmas of the theologians as that
life is granted by the Creator to human beings
alone, who would glorify His name, no longer
appeal to us. Even the scientists of to-day,
like Ernst Haeckel, are beginning to realize that
every plant has its soul, that every cell has its
own life, that every atom has its soul; and
wherever there is soul there is also intelligence,
the source of self-consciousness. It may be ex-
pressed imperfectly, it may be latent or waiting
for proper manifestation ; still wherever there is
life there is some kind of intelligence; and

wherever there is intelligence there must be life.
79



VKDANTA I'lIII.oSorilY

As we sec in all living; creatures, when life*
is gone, self -consciousness is also j^onc, so
when life is in a state of abeyance, cither
in faintness or in swoon, when llie life-force
(Iocs not manifest itself in tlie form of orranic
functions or sense activities, self-conscious-
ness at that time remains latent. Then Indra
said: "When a man goes into the deep sleep
state, where he sees no dream whatever, his
mind is absolutely at rest, is enveloped, as it
were, with a veil of ipjiorance." Sometimes
Vshcn you wake up after dreamless sleep you
feel as thourrh you have come out of a realm
of deep ijmorar.cc ; in that state of sound sleep
(]o you know what becomes of your sense
activities,— the powers of sccin.r^, hearin,;:',
fm.cUinfT? They remain latent in Pi ana, they
ro back and take refuge in that life-force.
When the life-force remains inactive, then
other powers also become inactive. In deep
sleep we do not speak, see or smell anything.
If there be the noise of a am rinht near our
car we do not hear, neither does our mird
80



PRANA AND THE SELF.

think or imagine; all mental and physical
powers remain potential, and come out as
we wake up. The first awakening is visible
in vital actions. In dreamless sleep (Sus-
hupti), however, the life-force is not entirely
separated from the central part of the body,
because the subconscious activity of the
Prana is then manifested in the heart beat,
in the circulation, digestion and in the re-
spirator}- process. If that force which causes
the motion of the heart and lungs stops,
there is absolute separation of the Prana
from the organs, then we do not wake. This
is death. But in deep sleep we become one
with Prana, which absorbs all our conscious
activities, and in the waking state they all
return to their respective organs; the senses
then begin to perceive and perform their
functions.

Indra illustrates this by saying: "And when
he awakes, then as from a blazing fire sparks
shoot forth in all directions, so the sparks of

the various sense-powers proceed each toward
SI



VEDANTA rHILOSOPIIY.

its place and come in contact with external
objects.*' When a spark takes possession of
the eye it illumines the object of sight, the
form and color; another spark comes out
and falls in the organ of hearing, it then
illumines what we call sound. Similarly
other sense-powers proceed from Pr^na like
sparks. The mind itself is another spark
which performs various mental functions."
But "when a person is going to die, being ill
and falling into weakness and faintness, all
the sense-powers go back to their source;
then people say 'His mind has departed,' he
cannot hear or see, speak or imagine. Then
he becomes one with Prana alone." As the
Pr^na leaves the body it takes with it all the
sense-powers, which arc dependent upon it.
The dying man carries with him the powers
of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching,
seizing, moving, speaking, excreting, generat-
ing and the power of thinking as well as self-
consciousness. All the vital forces and sub-
conscious activities of the organs are also
82



PRANA AXD THE SELF.

withdrawn when Prana leaves the body.
Along with these the objects, like color, sound,
odor, etc., that are illumined by the senses, are
also taken away. When the power of seeing, for
example, is drawn away all colors and all forms,
which can be perceived by the eye, go with it.
We shall see presently that the objects of
the senses are inseparable from these sense-
powers; when the latter are withdra\vn, the
objects are taken with them. If all the
sounds and words which we utter be stopped,
then the power of speech will remain latent,
and with it will go all the names which can
be illumined by the power of speech. For
the same reason, when the power of smell is
withdrawn, all the perception and sensation
of odor accompany it; and all thoughts,
percepts, concepts, memory, volition and
ideas disappear when mind and intellect cease
to be active. This absolute and complete one-
ness with Prana happens at the time of death.
Since Prana and self -consciousness are in-
separable, and since together they live in the
83



VEDANTA PHILOSOPHY.

body and top^cthcr Ihcy go out of it, a man
in this state is said to be dead.

All these organic powers which have been
withdrawn with Prdna remain with him after
death and he manifests them in another form.
As in the state of waking after deep sleep
mental and physical forces rise like sparks
from a burning fire, so after the sleep of
death all the latent powers come out from
Prina, manufacture other organs and per-
form their functions respectively. What is
that force which manufactures the sense- ^
organs? It is the Prina or life-force, which
contains in a potential form all the desires,
impressions and tendencies of the previous
existence.

When the activities of the senses, which
reveal their objects, become latent, all sen-
sations stop, and consequently ceases the
relative existence of sense-objects. The Self
is the center of intelligence and consciousness.
It is clothed with the Prana or life-force, a
portion of which manifests itself subjectively

84



'h^<?i^/x.^oT ^'



Fo



^^^-



PRANA AND THE SELF.

as sense-powers, while other portions express
themselves as objects of sensation. As the
objects of perception cannot exist without
being related to the perceiving sense-powers
or subjects, similarly the subjects only exist
as such so long as they are related to the
objects.

Here we should remember the truths which
we have already learned: that the sense-
powers depend upon Pr4na or life-force, that
Pr^na and self-consciousness are identical,
and that objects are related to sensations
because they cannot exist as independent of
the powers of perception. There will be no
color in relation to us if our power of sight be
dead. For the same reason that which we
call sound only exists in relation to the power
of hearing. Similarly it can be shown that
the external objects which we perceive are
inseparable from our sensations of them, and
these in turn depend upon our sense-powers.
An object of perception may be compared to

a piece of cloth. As a cloth which is made
85



VEDAXTA nilLOSOPHY.

out of threads is identical with the thread
(for what b a piece of cloth but threads woven
together?) so an object of perception, being


1 3 5 6 7 8

Online LibrarySwami AbhedanandaVedanta philosophy Self-knowledge [atma-jnana] → online text (page 3 of 8)