Swami Abhedananda.

Vedanta philosophy Self-knowledge [atma-jnana] online

. (page 5 of 8)
Online LibrarySwami AbhedanandaVedanta philosophy Self-knowledge [atma-jnana] → online text (page 5 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

' powers begins we see their outward effects.


No one could have inferred what powers
exist in the Atman if the true Self had not
manifested through the body the powers of
seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, moving,
seizing, thinking, feeling, etc. They proceed
from the Atman, the self-intelligent center
within us. In the state of ignorance these
faculties of the soul appear as produced by
the body, which is mistaken for the Self;
but when the light of Sclf-lvnowlcdgc begins
to shine the Atman reveals itself in its true
nature as separate from the body and pos-
sessing all powers and intelligence. As an
ignoramus cannot distinguish the wind clouds
and electricity from etherial space, so a self-
deluded soul cannot distinguish the true Self
from the material organism. He who pos-
sesses Self-knowledge, realizes that the Atman
is the Highest Being (Purusha). He is al-
ways happy, enjoying the play of life's sports
under all conditions and never thinking of the
material body, which is the mere abode of

the intelligent Self.



The true Self, as we have already seen, ^
possesses Prajna, intelligence, and Prana, |
activity, these two will be found at the founda- j
tion of the phenomenal universe. When
these are latent or potential there is no evolu-
tion. Vibrations of all kinds, cosmic or
molecular, and all kinds of motion are but
the expressions of the activity of Prana. In-
telligence h manifested by human beings, as
also by lower animals, the difference being
only in degree and not in kind of manifesta-
tion. Wherever intelligence, life-force or any \
kind of activity is to be found, there is the ■
expression of the SeK. No knowledge is pos-
sible without self-consciousness. First w^e must
know ourselves before we can know any-
thing. We may not know our real Self on
account of imperfect understanding, still we
possess some kind of self -consciousness. In
Vedanta these two, intelligence and Prana
are described as the uhimate generalizations
of all phenomena of the universe; and they

proceed from the Cosmic Self or Brahman,



which is the source of all knowledge and of the
activity of mind and senses.

Indra said: "The Self is the greatest Being
in tlie universe." When properly understood
we cannot separate this Atman or true Self
from the universal or Cosmic Being, because
there exists only one ocean of the absolute
Being or substance which is called by various
names, such as God, Brahman, Atman, Self,
When that absolute Being expresses itself
through our forms it becomes our true Self,
the source of mental and physical activity,
as well as of intelligence and consciousness.
All desires are certain forms of mental activity;
they could neither rise nor exist if the self-
conscious entity were not at the foundation
of all activities. He who has acquired Self-
Knowledge can live in the world performing
all kinds of works, enjoying all pleasures, but
at the same time without being affected or
disturbed by any unpleasant condition of
this world. The knowledge of Self protects

the soul from being agitated by phenomenal


changes. "As a horse, being yoked to a
carriage makes it move, so this conscious Self,
being attached to the chariot of the body,
makes it perform its functions by the power
of Prana and intelhgence." Or we may com-
pare the body to an automobile, the propel-
ling powder of which proceeds from the true
Self. If the Self be separated or discon-
nected from the organs of the senses the
eyes will see no sight, the ears will hear no
sound, the nose will smell no odor, the tongue
will taste nothing, the hands and feet will
perform no work. Indra continued: "The
eye itself is only an instrument, the seer is
behind the pupil of the eye. The real seer
and knower of sight is the true Self. The
nose is the instrument, but the knower of
smell is the true Self. The tongue is the in-
strument of speech, but the knower of speech
is the conscious Self; the ear is the instrument
of hearing, but he who hears is the true Self.
He who thinks is the true Self, and the mind

is his spiritual eye. Through this spiritual


or divine eye the Self or Atman sees all pleas-
ures and rejoices." The mind, intellect,
heart, are the instruments of the true Self,
which is the knowcr of all mental activities.
"The Devas, who arc in the highest heaven,
worship and meditate upon this Self; there-
fore, all worlds belong to them and they have
obtained the fulfiknent of all desires. He who
knows this Self and realizes it obtains all
worlds and all desires." He who possesses
Self-knowledge is the master of the world and
lord of ever}-thing, like the gods of the highest
heaven. In him all desires are fulfilled. He
no longer desires anything of the world, nor
does he seek happiness from outside. He
possesses all powers; in short, he is omnipo-
tent, omniscient and ever blissful. Thus the
great master explained the mystery of the
true Self; and the earnest, sincere and pure-
hearted disciple realized it through his bless-
ing. Indra served Praja,pati one hundred
and one years, as it is said in the stor}-. This

shows that knowledge of the true Self cannot


be easily acquired. Patience, perseverance,

and earnest and sincere longing are the steps

toward the attainment of Self-knowledge.

Indra became happy, and with gratitude in

heart and salutations to his Divine master,

he went home and gave the fruit of his hard

labor to the Devas. All of them followed his

directions, realized the Self and became

masters of the worlds. Such is the power

and greatness of Self-knowledge.

"May the DmNE Self protect the teacher

AND the student. MaY HE FEED OUR SOULS

"Peace, Peace, Peace be unto us and to

ALL LIVING creatures."

Kena Upanishad.


A seeker after Self-knowledge, having per-
formed all the duties of his life, discovered
that the performance of duty could not bring
peace to his mind. He had worshipped all
the Devas or bright spirits, and had served
the gods, but he had not received the knowl-
edge of his real Self. Nor had he found satis-
faction, although he had spent most of his
time in devotion to the Supreme. Thus learn-
ing that happiness, peace and knowledge can-
not be obtained from sense-objects or from
earthly relations, and realizing the ephemeral
character of the phenomenal world, he could
no longer remain content with the pleasures
of a worldly life, so he renounced all his
attachment to earthly things.

He also gave up all studies, because he had


discovered thai the readini:^ of the Scriptures
couUi not give Self- know led <:^c or absolute
happiness; for books and Scriptures simply
remind us of the hii^^her tniths, but they
cannot brinir the hi;,')K'st Truth within the
reach of our soul. Those who think that
spiritual realization will come from the study
of the Scriptures and sacred books are mis-
taken. The Scriptures describe certain spiritual
truths, such as the existence of God, Divine
Love, salvation, but by squeezing the pages
of the book no one can gain the realization of
these truths any more than one can get a
drop of water by squeezing the pages of the
almanac, in which the annual rainfall is
mentioned. Before we can comprehend the
spirit of any Scriptural text we shall have
to realize the tmth described in it.

This seeker after Self-knowledge, therefore,
abandoned all studies, and went to a spiritual
teacher who had knowTi the Self. He ap-
proached him like a humble pupil, longing

to acquire Self-knowledge. He had no other


desire; he did not care to go to heaven or to

enjoy celestial pleasures; his sole aim and

ideal in life was to know the true nature of

the Self. Nothing else could please him or

make him happy; his heart was longing for

that nectar of wisdom which flows in the

soul of a knower of the Atman. Though he

had come to understand that the physical body

was not all in all, that the mind, the director

of the senses, was not the unchangeable

Reality, but was subject to constant change,

yet his thirst for knowledge was un quenched.

Now he was eager to search after that un

changeable and absolute Truth, which is the

Soul of our souls and the Ruler of all. Having

bowed his head with deep reverence at the

feet of the great spiritual teacher, the pupil

asked: "Revered Sir, who is it that governs

the mind, and by what power is the mind

directed to perform its functions? WTiat

force guides the Prana and the sense-powers?

Why is it that we are so active, what is the

cause of our activity ? Who is this speaker of


words? Who is the sccr of sights? Who
is the hcariT of sounds? What power con-
trols the organs of sight, hearing, and the
other senses?"

With this inquir)' begins the Kena Upani-
shad, which had been handed down through
memory for generations before the art of
writing was known in India. It shows how
old and sublime are the teachings of Vedanta.
Think of the antiquity and the deep meaning
of these questions! We know that our mind
is constantly active; new thoughts and ideas
are rising and going down. Mind wanders
from here to there; sometimes it is in Eng-
land, or in India, sometimes it runs to the
sun, moon, stars or other planets; hence the
seeker after Self-knowledge asked: "WTio is
the director of this constant activity of the
mind?" The master answered: "That which
is the hearer of hearing, the thinker of thoughts,
the speaker of words, the mover of all activ-
ities of the sense-organs, the seer of sights."
Let us understand the meaning of "That



which is the hearer of hearing." First of
all we must inquire, What is meant by hear-
ing? Hearing signifies that power by which
we perceive the existence of what we call
sound, or in other words, that organic activ-
ity which illumines the vibration of sound;
so the hearer of hearing refers to the illuminator
of the power of hearing, without which no
sound can be heard. The spirit of the master's
reply was, The director of the mind is that
which illuminates the powers of hearing,
seeing, thinking, and of speech, as well as the
knower of all the activities of our sense-organs.
The power of seeing, again, means that
organic function by which the object of sight
is illuminated or made known to us. The
organ of sight, however, has not the power
to produce consciousness or intelligence. The
power of seeing exists so long as there is Self-
consciousness behind it. The organs of vision,
as the eye, the retina, the optic nerve, the
brain cells, together with all their activities, do

not produce the consciousness of color or the


object of vision. In a dead person all these
orj^ans may be in a perfect condition, but the
perception of sight or the sensation of color will
not be felt by the body. The body itself has
not the power to see or perceive any external
object. Thus by analyzing our perceptions we
can understand that the activities of the sense-
organs are unconscious by nature. The con-
scious Self which illumines the organic func-
tions is the seer of sights, the hearer of sounds,
and the knowcr of all sensations. It is also
the thinker of thoughts within us. That
intelligent Self, which is the source of con-
sciousness and knowledge, must be known as
the director of the mind and senses. When
we have realized the cause of self-conscious-
ness, we have understood the power which
directs the mind.

According to Vedanta, mind is "finer
matter in vibration." The vibration of the
mind substance produces perceptions and sen-
sations, and reveals things which cannot be

revealed by vibrations of grosser matter. The


functions of the mind are nothing but the
vibrations of the finer particles of the etherial
substance called in Sanskrit Sattwa. But the
vibration of this substance does not produce
intelligence or consciousness. It is insen-
tient by nature. The mind substance appears
as intelligent when it is in close contact with
the conscious Self or Atman, just as a piece
of iron, having absorbed the heat of a furnace,
appears as red-hot and is able to bum. The
conscious Self may be compared to a magnet
which attracts the iron of the mind substance.
When a piece of iron, being attracted by a
magnet, moves, that motion is not natural
with the iron, but is caused by its proximity
and close contact with the magnet. As the
very presence of the magnet produces activity
in the iron, so the very presence of the Self
(Atman) creates the activity of the mind
substance; but the Self is not confined within
the limits of the mind substance, because the
true Self is beyond all relations of space and




The master continued: " Knowi:^,^ this Self,
the wise, bcinc^ freed from this world, become
immortal." Those who have known that
source of intelligence, the true Self, attain to
immortality, but those who have not known
it remain attached to the material body and
senses, and arc therefore subject to birth and
death. This is one of the results of Self-
knowled/re, — kr.ov/ing our true Self we be-
come immortal. Altlioufrh tlie tnie nature of
the soul, according to Vedanta, is immortal,
and immortality is our birthright, still we
do not attain it until wc have become con-
scious of our immortal Self. So long as wc
think that we are mortal we have fear of
death. When the consciousness of the im-
mortal Self is gained all fear vanishes. Fear
of death rises from ignorance, which makes
us forget our immortal nature and i<lentify
ourselves with the material body, which is
subject to death. [Thus, becoming one with
the mortal body, we begin to fear death and

suffer from anxiety and misery, j How can


we expect to be free from fear of death when
we have identified our Self with the body,
which will surely die? This fear, however,
ceases to trouble him who has realized that
the body is like a shell, a house, or a recep-
tacle of the soul, which is deathless by nature.
The soul manufactures the physical body in
order to fulfill certain desires and purposes
of life. He who has known this truth has
risen above all fear. Therefore, it is said:
"Those who have obtained the knowledge of
the real Self are called the wise, and after
the death of the body they transcend the
realm of birth and death. This is the greatest
object to be achieved in this world of rela-

We have come here to fulfill a certain pur-
pose. At present we may think that the
highest purpose of earthly life is to gain
material prosperity, success in business, ful-
filment of ambition and sense desires; but
the time is sure to come when we shall realize

that all these are momentary, that the real


VEDANTA IM III/ )Sopi i y.

purpose of life is much higher and more per-
manent. It is vcr}' difTicult to understand
the true purpose of life. Few people in this
world have found a perfect standard by
which they can measure correctly whether
or not they have fulfilled that puqiose. Each
one of us will have to find out what is the
highest ideal of life. It is the attainment of

Self-knowledge brings to the soul absolute
freedom. It is by Self-knowledge that we
can obtain cver}'thing we desire. In this
world there is nothing higher than the knowl-
edge of the true Self. The knowledge which
we now possess is imperfect, it is only a
partial expression of the all-knowing nature
of the Divine Self. That imperfection is
due to the limitations or imperfect conditions
of the Buddhi or intellect which reflects the
Divine wisdom. But when the limitations are
removed and the intellect is purified tme and
perfect wisdom begins to shine within. If

the mirror be covered with mud, it will not


have the power to reflect the light of the sun;
so when the mirror of the intellect or Buddhi
is covered with the mud of worldliness, it
does not reflect the light of wisdom which
emanates from Atman the Divine Sun. In
order to learn this truth and the method by
which our intellect and heart may be puri-
fied we need the help of a Guru or spiritual
master. Elnowledge is one, not many. The
same knowledge which we now possess will
be the highest knowledge when it will reveal
our immortal Self. Therefore, the wise men
who know the true Self, attain to immor-
tality even during this lifetime.

The pupil desired to see that Self, which
is the director of the mind and the seer of
the sight, and by knowing which one becomes
immortal. The master said: "The power of
seeing cannot reveal the Self." The dis-
ciple thought: "If the eye cannot reveal the
Self its nature may be described. " To this
the teacher replied: "Words fail to describe
it; the mind cannot reach it. We cannot


,t-* <V- , clt^/^^ ■_ ^^L-e-

''yt^<::^>'V't^lCt..iXi^^ y^Vj'^t- ^v*A. fyUfCL^ '>->- i^t-tduC


know it by mind, intellect or understanding
how can anyone teach it?" Thv Self is the*
thinker of thoughts. Mind can only think
when directed by the Self who is beyond all
thoughts. The very act of thinking presup-
poses self-consciousness, and all tlioughts arc
onlv possible through self-consciousness;
therefore, that which is above and beyond all
thoughts cannot be revealed by the mind or
intellect. When the mind cannot think of it
how is it possible for the eye to see the tnie
Self? The power of sight can reveal that
which is in relation to our eyesight. The
true Self can never be brought within the
reach of sense-perceptions. The master con-
tinued: "It is far from the known and also
it is above the unknown. Thus wc have
heard from the ancient sages who taught us
this." From ancient times the great sccrs of
Tmth have declared that the real Self is
neither kno^\Tl nor knowablc, and yet it is
neither unknown nor unknowable. Ordi-
narily we say, "We know a thing," "the


knowledge of this book," etc. In this sense
the Atman can never be kno^^'n or made an
object of knowledge.

Let us understand this clearly. When we . j^-u^
speak of knowing a thing we mean relative
knowledge by intellect; and we convey the
same idea w^hen we say "we do not know a
thing." Again, intellect can reveal those
things which are related to the senses or are
subject to sense-perception. It is more or
less dependent upon sense-powers; conse-
quently its sphere is very limited, for the
senses can reach only within a small circle.
For instance, we hear sound through our ears.
The sound is audible within a certain degree
of vibration; if the vibration of air be above
or below that scale we cannot hear; although
there may be a tremendous noise, still our
ears are deaf to it. The same may be said
of the eye; the range of sight is equally nar-
row. Now we can see how very limited that
intellect must be which depends upon these

powers of perception. Therefore, that intel-


locliial knowledge, which is rtlatcd to sense-
perceptions, is secondary knowledge; it can-
not reveal the Self; hence it is said that the
"Self is far from tho known," Furthermore,
when wc say "we do not know this thing"
we mean that wc arc conscious of our ignor-
ance, we liavc the knowledge of tlic fact that
we do not understand it or know it by intel-
lect. This ignorance is nothing but the lack
of the intellectual apprehension of the thing,
which we have called secondary knowledge.
It is, however, revealed to us by another
knowledge which does not depend upon in-
tellect or upon sense-perception. That ap-
perception by which we know that wc do not
know this thing proceeds from the Self.
Therefore, the Self is neither known nor un-
known, but beyond relative knowledge and
ignorance. "We have heard it from our
great masters which passed away before us."
Although this Upanishad of the Sama Veda
is ver)^ old, still the teacher here refers to the

authority of other seers of Truth who pre-


ceded him and from whom Self-knowledge
had been handed down through generations.
The master said: "That which cannot be
expressed by speech, but which is the speaker
and director of speech, that alone Imow as the
highest SeK (the Brahman); not that which
people worship here." Ever}- attribute that
we give to God is not His attribute in reality.
We call Him good, but He is not merely good; 'i^
strictly speaking, He is beyond good and evil.
We project our idea of good, mentally separate
it from evil, and increasing its dimension,
attribute it to the Infinite Being and call Him
good. At the same time we forget that that
which is good demands something better,
and that better again requires something
which is best. This shows how foolish we
are when we seem to be contented after call-
ing Him good. God is in reality beyond
our conception of good, which is relative and
limited. In this manner it can be shown
that ever}^ attribute which we can think of,

nay, every word which we can utter is finite


in its meaning and idea. Yet if wc go a
little deeper we shall find that no thought can
exist and no word can be uttered unless there
]x the self-conscious thinker and speaker
l^ehind. This self-consciousness is caused by
the light of intelligence which proceeds from
the Self. Therefore, the Self is the absolute
Truth inexpressible by speech. It is the
illuminator of speech, but it can never be
illumined by words.

Is Self (Atman) the same thing which is
worshipped by all the great devotees and wor-
shippers of God? Is it some Personal God
dwelling outside of us and directing our minds
and senses by will and command? Is Self
the same Being who is called by different
names, as Father in heaven, or Allah, whom
we worship with prayers and offerings? Is
the Atman the same as an angel or bright spirit ?
What is it? Reading the mental question of
his pupil the master said: "Not that which
people worship here." The worshipper of a

Personal God with a name and form is not


the worshipper of the absolute Truth, because
he worships the phenomenal God. Name and
form being both phenomenal, our conception
of the Divinity with a name and form is
phenomenal and anthropomorphic, or in other
words, we create an ideal God by projecting
our ideas, give Him attributes according to
our conception and then worship Him by
offering Him our prayers. Prayers are noth-
ing but words; we send these words to the
Personal God in order to obtain certain results,
but He, to whom we pray with words, is not
the director of speech. That Self which is
in us and makes us speak and pray is differ-
ent from that which we worship with prayers.
The Personal God with a form and a name
is not the highest. This may seem strange
to us, but we cannot deny it. God with a
name and form, who can be described by
words and thought of by our minds, is
not the Absolute. There is a saying,
"\\Tien God is knowTi He is no longer God, i

He is our imagination." The Absolute /


Divinity is difTcrent from that which is

Again, that which can be thought of l)v the
mind is not the Absolute Truth or Brahman.
Therefore, the master said: "That which can-
not be cognized by the mind but by which
all mental functions are cognized, know that
to be your true Self (Brahman), but not that
which people worship." "That which can-
not be perceived by the eye, but by which the
eyes are made to see, know that to be the
Self (the Absolute Brahman), not that which
people worship." "That which cannot be
heard by the ear, but by which the ear is
made capable of hearing a sound, know that
to be the Self (the Absolute Brahman), not
that which people worship." "That which
cannot be perceived by the power of smell,
but by which the organ of smell perceives
odor, know that to be the Self (the Absolute
Brahman) not that which people worship."
These verses show that the true Self, who is

the director of the mind and senses, is not the


1 2 3 5 7 8

Online LibrarySwami AbhedanandaVedanta philosophy Self-knowledge [atma-jnana] → online text (page 5 of 8)