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woven together of sensations and sense-powers
is identical with them. The threads of sen-
sations and sense-powers, again, are twisted
out of the forces of Pr^na. The whole uni-
verse, therefore, depends upon Prana or self-
consciousness; Self is the center of the uni-
verse as well as the center of each one of
us. It is the foundation of life, inseparable
from, and the producer of all sense-
powers. Indeed, Self is the origin of the
phenomenal universe.
\y Again it is said that this or sclf-
consciousness is not many, but it is one.
The life-force in you is the same as the life-
force in me and in others. As life-force is
one, so self-consciousness is one. The self-
consciousness in you is also the same as it
is in me and in all living creatures. It is
one throughout the universe. We can only

infer from external signs the nature of self-


consciousness in other individuals and com-
pare it with our own.

Self-consciousness lies at the root of all
knowledge. For without self -consciousness
speech does not make known any word; we
do not perceive it. Without self-consciousness
the ear cannot reveal any sound. When our
self-consciousness is centered upon one par-
ticular object we do not see things which
may lie in close contact with our eyes. For
instance, when you are looking at something
intently on the street, other objects may pass
by in front of you, but you do not notice them
though your eyes are there. So with sounds,
when your mind is concentrated on one par-
ticular sound you do not hear other sounds;
a person may be calling, but you do not hear
it; so when your mind is concentrated on
any particular thought or idea, you do not
see, hear, smell or taste or have any other
sensation. In short, without self-conscious-
ness, no thoughts can rise in succession and

nothing can be known. Therefore, it is said:


"That which is the real seer wc must know;
we must not try to know the speech or the
words, we must know the speaker, the Self.
Where is the speaker? Find it out. Who
is the seer? Find it out. Let no man
find out what speech is, but let him find out
the speaker. Let no man find out what sight
is, but let him find out the seer. Let no man
find out what sound is, but let him know the

Scientists are trj-ing to find out what sound
is, but they do not care to know who is the
hearer. Vedanta philosophers, on the con-
trary, go to the bottom of things; they do
not care whether or not sound is the vibra-
tion of air. In order to become a sound any
kind of vibration must be related to our
power of hearing; if our power of hearing
be withdrawn who will hear the sound? So
what is the use of wasting our time in trying
to know what sound is? First let us know
the true nature of the sense-powers, then

their source, and ultimately the Knower of


all sense-objects. "Let no man try to find

out tastes of food, let him know the knower

of tastes. Let no man try to know what

pleasure and pain are, let him know the

knower of pleasure and pain. Let no man

try to discover what joy or happiness is, let

him know the knower of joy and happiness.

Let no man try to know the thought, let him

know the thinker. These objects of percep- >;A,^ ,

tion have reference to Prajna or self-conscious- ^,^ y/ f-i

ness, and the subjects or sense-powers have

reference to objects. Objects have relation to

subjects, subjects are related to objects; if

there were no objects there would be no

subjects, and vice versa. For on either side

alone nothing can be achieved."

Self-consciousness is described by Indra as
the center of the wheel of a chariot. This
body is the chariot and the outer circumfer-
ence of the wheel is made up of sense-objects,
the spokes are the sense-powers, which reveal
these objects, and the nave, on which the

spokes are fixed, is the Pr^na, the life-force.




Thus the objects arc placed on the subjects
(spokes) and the subjects on Pr^na. The
Prdna or life-force, which is inseparable from
intelligence and self-consciousness, is im-
perishable, immortal, and blessed, that is the
true Self. True Self is not increased by good
acts, or decreased by evil deeds. The sins of
the world do not corrupt or change the nature
of this true Self. The true Self is neither
virtuous nor sinful, but it is always Divine
and perfect. Good and evil deeds affect the
ego, the doer and actor, and bring in return
the results which the ego reaps. We shall
have to understand that all good and evil
works are dependent upon self-consciousness
and life-force or Prina. The source of con-
sciousness and intclhgence is the guardian of
the world, the producer of all phenomena of
the universe, and that is "my true Self."

"And this Self-knowledge will help all
humanity in the path of immortality and
perfection, which leads to the abode of peace

and happiness."


"May all the functions of our minds,
works of our bodies and activities of our


FORGET Him; may we realize His presence
IN us; may we not be forsaken by Him; may
all Divine qualities adorn our souls and
bring peace to our minds.
"Peace, Peace, Peace be unto us all."

Chkndogya Upanishad.


The ancient mythology of the Hindus, which
resembles in many respects Greek mythology',
describes how gods and demons took human
forms and lived like human beings on this
earth. Even in the earliest Upanishads we
find accounts of such Devas (gods) and Asuras
(demons) Hving together and fighting. It is
told that the first-bom Lord of the universe,
Prajapati, once said to the gods and demons:
"Why are you fighting for power and suprem-
acy? The knowledge of the Self alone
brings peace to the knower. The Self or
Atman is sinless, free from old age and death,
sorrow and suffering, hunger and thirst. Its
desires are true and never unfulfilled; and
its thoughts are always true. This Self must

be sought after by all. Whosoever realizes


the Self obtains whatever he wishes, his de-
sires arc fulfilled, all powers come to him,
and he becomes master of all worlds and of
all the realms that exist on this earth as well
as in the heavens."

The gods and demons, who were am-
bitious and unhappy, thought after hearing
this that it was a very easy thing then to
become lord of the world and master of every-
thing. Here begins the stor}-, given in the
Chandogya Upanishad, one of the oldest and
most authentic writings on Vedanta. It be-
longs to the SsLma-Veda, that portion of the
Vedas which laid the foundation of the
science of music in India. The scale of
seven notes was first used in the hymns of the
Sima-Veda, which were put into music and
chanted or sung during religious rites and
sacrifices. The narrative tells that the gods
and demons, being thus instructed by Pra-
j^pati, the first-born Lord of all creatures,
were awakened to a desire to attain Self-
knowledge. They inquired among themselves


how they could gain that knowledge, which
would make them the most powerful of all
beings, and they were determined to search
for that Self (Atman), by knowing which
all worlds and all desires are obtained.

Here we should understand that demons
are not evil spirits, but they are like human
beings, strongly attached to the pleasures of
the sense- world. They know nothing of the
higher ideals of life, they are materialistic in
their views, and think that the body is all
in all, and that everything is finished with
the death of the body. They wish to rule
over the whole universe, and their desires are
never satiated; they always want more and
more, and struggle constantly for power and
strength. Human beings with such tendencies
are described in the Vedas as Asuras or de-
mons; while Devas, or gods, are those who
are spiritual, righteous, self-sacrificing, who
do not consider earthly enjoyments and
worldly pleasures to be the final aim of life,

and whose ideal is to gain spiritual strength


and spiritual power and to realize the Abso-
lute Truth.

These Devas and Asuras thought that if they
could send their leaders to some seer of Truth,
then from them they could gather Self-knowl-
edge. So the gods and demons went to their
respective leaders, Indra and Virochana, and
requested them to go in search after Self-
knowledge. Although they had all the pleas-
ures and comforts of life and whatever human
beings could wish for; although they pos-
sessed all psychic powers, property, wealth,
luxur\', and could get everything they de-
sired, still they were not satisfied. They
coveted more strength, more power, and
when they heard from Prajapati that there
was something through v.-hich they could
really become masters of the whole universe,
they longed for it and were anxious to obtain
it immediately.

Indra and Virochana, the rulers of the
Devas and Asuras, set out separately to seek
for a knower of Absolute Truth, who had


realized the Self and who could impart his
knowledge to others. They gave up their
luxuries and pleasures, left their fine raiment
and other possessions behind. With modesty
and simplicity of manner, the two leaders,
without communicating with each other,
sought out the greatest of all the knowers of
Self, and approached him with offerings in their
hands in accordance with the custom of the
country, for in India people do not visit a
temple, king or spiritual teacher (Gum)
empty-handed. So they took fuel, butter,
fruit with them, and with due reverence of-
fered these to him, regarding him as their
spiritual master. Having received his per-
mission, they became his pupils and lived the
life of purity and righteousness like Brah-
macharins, or students, for thirty-two years,
always serving him and obeying his wishes.
One day this holy master asked them why
they had come to him and what they wanted.
They replied: "We have heard from Pra-

japati, the Lord of all creatures, that Scir-


knowledge can make one extremely happy and

bring all powers and all objects of desire to

the knower; that the real Self is free from

sin and old age, unborn and deathless, un-

aflcctcd by hunger and thirst; that its desires

are ever fulfilled and its thoughts are true and

perfect. This Self must be searched after

and realized. We have come to thee, O

Lord, to acquire Self-knowledge."

The great master, wishing to examine

whether the understanding of these pupils was

purified or not, did not instruct them in the

highest Truth at the outset, but gave some

suggestions, by which they could search out

and discover the real Self that dwells within

all. The best teacher is he who directs his

students step by step in the path of reaHza-

tion and who makes them investigate the

Truth by their own exertion. So the Divine

master, who was Praj^pati himself in the

form of a Guru, said to them: "The person

that is seen in the eye is the real Self (Atman).

He is free from sin, sorrow, suffering, and


birth; immortal and fearless. By knowing
him one can obtain all worlds and all desires."
Hearing this, the minds of the pupils were
confused. They could not understand what
the master meant by the expression, "The
person that is seen in the eye is the Atman,
the true Self." They thought that he must
mean the shadow that is seen in the pupil of
the eye. WTien we look at a person's eye we
see in it the image of a small figure, the re-
flection of ourself; the master, however, did
not mean that. He referred to the real agent
of seeing, the ruler of all the senses, who is
seen through the senses by the pure-hearted
Yogis alone. Thus misunderstanding the
true meaning, the disciples asked: "Bhagavan,
who is that which is seen in a mirror and
perceived in the water? Is he the same
person as the one who is seen in the eye?"
The master, knowing that his pupils had not
understood the true spirit, replied: "That
real Self indeed is seen in all these." Know
it and realize it. Furthermore, to test his



pupils' power of understanding, he continued:
"Go and look at yourselves in a bowl of water,
and whatever you do not understand about
the Self come and tell me." The obedient
pupils went and looked in the water, and
seeing the reflection of their bodies they
came back and said: "Yes, sir, we have seen
what you meant." The master asked:
"Have you seen the Self or what?" The
disciples answered: "We have seen ourselves
altogether from head to foot, a perfect picture
even to the hair and nails." In order to
bring them out of this confusion the master
said: "After having your hair and nails cut,
put on your best garments, adorn yourselves
with ornaments and look again in the bowl
of water." Following his instructions, they
cleaned themselves, and wearing beautiful
dresses and rich ornaments, they looked at
their own reflection in the water. The spir-
itual master then asked: "Do you see the
Self?" They said: "Revered sir, we see

ourselves just as we are now, clean, well-


dressed and well-adorned." The master re-
plied: "That is the Self, the immortal Atman,
which is free from fear and sorrow." Know
it and realize it. The disciples went away
satisfied in their hearts. Praj&pati, seeing
them at a distance, cried out: "You have
departed without acquiring the knowledge of
the true Self; whoever among you, whether
gods or demons, will follow this doctrine will
perish." But Indra and Virochana paid no
heed to his words. They thought that they
had realized the Self and went home feeling

Now Virochana, who had understood that
the body was the Self, went to the Asuras,
the demons, and preached the doctrine which
he had learned. He taught them the most
materialistic ideas, like those of the atheists
and agnostics, вАФ "The body is the Self; the
body alone is to be worshipped and serv^ed.
By glorifying the self and serving the body
one becomes master of the worlds and obtains

ever)^hing." The demons, following his in-


structions, became absolutely niaU-rialistic in
llu-ir views and began to decorate and worship
their gross physical forms.

Even in the present age many such demons
arc to be found in this world. Those who
uphold atheistic, agnostic and selfish doctrines
possess demoniac tendencies. They care for
nothing but their own bodies and do not feel
for others. They are not charitable, neither
do they give alms to the poor. They have
no faith in anything higher than their owti
material form. The demons of to-day o(Ter
no sacrifice to God. They decorate the body
of the living or of the dead with flowers, per-
fumes, ornaments, and fine raiment, and
vainly imagine that by thus worshipping the
body they will conquer the worlds.

The lord of the Devas, Indra, however,

had better sense than the ruler of the demons;

he went home, but he hesitated to preach before

the gods. Remembering what the Lord of

all creatures had described, that "the Atman

or Self must be free from hunger, thirst, birth,


death and sorrow, that it is immortal and
fearless," he said to himself: "This body
cannot be the true Self, because it is subject
to hunger and thirst, and is not free from
any of these imperfections. How could the
master have meant by true Self the shadow
of this body, when the body is subject to
birth, disease and death? I see no good re-
sult from this doctrine." Thus dissatisfied
Indra determined to return to his master as
a pupil with offerings in his hand. When
he came again the master said to him: "You
went away with Virochana satisfied in your
mind that you had learned the truth and gained
the knowledge of the Self; for what purpose
have you returned?" Indra replied: "Bha-
gavan, how can the shadow of the body be
the true Self when it goes through constant
changes? If the body is well-decorated with
flowers and beautiful costumes the Self
(shadow) has a different appearance. If one
loses ones eyes the shadow (the Self) will

look as though blind, that Self (shadow) will


be lame if the body is lame, crippled if the
body is crippled, and will perish with the
deatli of the body. Therefore, that change-
able shadow cannot be the unchangeable
Self. I do not see any good result from such
a doctrine. Please explain my dilTiculty and
make me understand the true Self." The
master replied: "O, Indra, so it is indeed.
I shall explain to you the true Self. Live
with me as my disciple for another thirty-
two years."

Indra lived with his master and served him
for another thirty-two years. One day the
master, being pleased with the purity, chastity
and devotion of his pupil, instructed him thus:
"That which enjoys all dreams during sleep
is the true Self. It is the immortal and
fearless Brahman (the Absolute). " Know it,
realize it, and be conscious of it. Hearing
this, Indra went home satisfied in his lieart.
But before speaking to the Devas he found
another difficuhy. He understood, The Self

(Atman) which enjoys dreams is not the same


as the shadow of the body, it is not affected
by physical changes. It is true that this
Self is not blind when the body is blind, or
lame when the body is lame, nor is it injured
if the body be injured ; but how can the seer
of dreams be immortal when it is subject to
change and fear, and suffers pain in un-
pleasant dreams? Thus thinking, he said:
"I do not see good in this doctrine; I must go
again and ask my master concerning this
perplexity." Indra went to Prajapati, his
spiritual teacher, the third time and questioned
him thus: "How could that changeable seer of
dreams be the true Self, which is unchange-
able, immortal, free from sin, hunger, sorrow,
suffering, birth, and death?" The master
replied: "O, Indra, you are right. I will
explain to you again, stay with me another
thirty-two years. "

At the end of that time the master said:
"In sound sleep that w'hich enjoys perfect
rest and sees no dreams is the tme Self or

Atman, which is immortal." Indra thought,


how can that be the immortal Self, which is
not conscious of itself or of anything else?
No knowledge or consciousness remains in
this state, Everj'thing is destroyed then. Did
the master mean by Self the destruction of
all thoughts, feelings, sensation, consciousness
and knowledge? In deep sleep state we have
neither feelings, nor dreams, nor sensations,
nor consciousness of the body or of the ex-
ternal world. He could not understand how
that state of annihilation could be the true
Self, so he came back and asked the question :
"Bhagavan, dost thou mean that true Self
is the state of absolute annihilation of con-
sciousness, knowledge, sensation and feel-
ings?" The master answered: "No, that is
not true Self." Here we should notice how
the great spiritual master gradually directs
the mind of the disciple from the gross physi-
cal body through the abstract to the Absolute.
True Self is the Absolute beyond all com-
prehension. If we start from this state of

dreamless sleep, rising above all feelings,


thoughts and sensations, and if we can go
still further we shall find our true Self. Now
the master was extremely gratified to see his
return and said: "Your understanding is
profound; I will explain to you what true
Self is. Live with me for another five years
and no more."

At the end of the last five years the master
imparted the highest knowledge to his faith-
ful pupil: "This gross physical body cannot
be the Self, it is subject to death, in fact, it
is constantly attacked by death." The life
of the body is nothing but a series of deaths
or changes. Every particle of the body is
continually changing, and if that change stops
for a second the body will live no more.
"By death this body is perpetually attacked;
death is always working in the body." The
word "body" here includes all the sense-
organs. The organs of the senses are also
subject to similar changes, consequently they
arc dying at every moment. "The body is

the abode or instrument of the Self, which is


immortal and without body." Through this
instrument the Self or Atman comes in con-
tact with the gross material world. If the
true Self does not manufacture the body it
cannot come in direct touch with the objects
of the senses. The body, therefore, exists
for the enjo)Tnent of the Self; it is the me-
dium with which the Self being identified,
it thinks "I am the bofJy" and experiences
heat and cold, pleasure and pain. But the
ruler of this body is the Self, while the body
is its abode.

The real agent that perceives through the
senses is the true Self within us. Sensations
are produced by the contact of material
objects with the sense-organs. The gross
objects, having forms, cannot directly come
in close contact with the Self unless it mani-
fests itself through the physical form of the
body. But formless is the true nature of the
Self, who is the knowcr of this body, the en-
joyer of sensations, the doer of all actions.

"The Self," said the master, "has no par-


ticular form." It dwells within the body
without having any special shape. We should
bear in mind that our true Self is formless,
although our body is with form; then we
should understand that the changes of the
body do not affect the Self. Since the Self
is formless, how can it be the same as the
shadow of the body ? The lord of the demons,
having his intellect covered with Tamas, the
darkness of ignorance, and having an impure
mind and an imperfect understanding, could
not grasp the true meaning of the Self. The
master waited for him to ask further ques-
tions, but as he went away satisfied in his
heart that he had learned everything regard-
ing the Self, Prajapati was not anxious to
force upon him his knowledge of the Abso-
lute Self or Atman, which he was utterly
incapable of receiving. Virochana, there-
fore, did not acquire the knowledge of the
true Self, which is formless and immortal.
All the organs of the senses, all sensations,

in fact everything connected with the body, is


transl/on"; if we can realize this we can
know that the immortal Self cannot be one
with the body. This formless Self dwells
in the body for a time, and after leaving it
remains formless. "So long as the Self (At-
man) lives in the body and is identified with
it, it is not free from pleasure and pain, but
he who knows the Self as separate from the
physical abode, is untouched by pleasure and
pain." It may be asked. How can the form-
less Atman manifest itself through the body
which has a form? Wind has no form,
steam has no particular form, electricity is
formless, but still they appear through forms.
When the wind blows, although it is formless,
it comes in direct contact with objects with
form, and shows its form and power by
moving them ; so, also, steam is without form,
but think how it manifests its gigantic force
through engines and locomotives. The at-
mosphere is filled with electricity, which is
imperceptible to our eyes and senses, yet it

takes various forms, such as lightning and


thunder. We do not feel the presence of
atmospheric electricity; it required a ]Mar-
coni to make us realize the value and im-
portance of this invisible current in the
atmosphere. The forces of nature are always
invisible and formless. No one has ever seen
or touched a force per se. Its existence can
only be inferred by seeing its manifestation
through forms. As all the imperceptible
forces can be perceived by the senses under
certain conditions, so the Atman or true Self,
although imperceptible by nature, manifests
its power and intelligence through the form
of the physical body. How can we know the
power of thinking except by its manifestation
as thoughts? In the same manner the ex-
istence of the powers of seeing and feeling is
inferred from their expressions. If the sight
remains unmanifested in a man w^e call him
blind; and he is known as an idiot whose
mental and intellectual powers have become
latent; but when the expression of these

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Online LibrarySwami AbhedanandaVedanta philosophy Self-knowledge [atma-jnana] → online text (page 4 of 8)