Self, the Ever Existing Reality

Janaka was the King of Mithila. One afternoon, when he was taking rest, a messenger came and announced that the neighboring ruler has made an invasion into his kingdom. King Janaka got up and ordered mobilization of the troops and went to the border and faced the enemy. In the war that followed, Janaka was defeated and taken prisoner. However, the invading army showed some sympathy and released Janaka. Wandering in the street, his clothes torn, Janaka felt deeply hungry and even started begging for food. When a kind hearted man volunteered to offer some food, another man came in between and snatched the food. Due to intense agony, Janaka shouted. Then suddenly he got up from his royal bed and realized that it was all a dream. Since he went to bed after a sumptuous dinner, he did not feel hungry now. Though he was happy to realize that he was lying comfortably in his soft bed, the dream experience disturbed him. Just as the hunger he felt while dreaming was real, the absence of hunger he felt in the waking state was also real. The images he saw during his dream state appeared real and the images he saw during the waking state also appeared equally real. He then pondered over the question what is real; the dream state or the waking state. He then called for an assembly of pundits in which saint Ashtavakra (having eight deformities), son of Uddalaka also participated. When the King explained his dream experience and expressed his doubt, saint Ashtavakra posed a counter question: “When you were begging in the street, have you seen this royal court? Were the queen, the ministers and servants present at that time?” King replied: “None of these were there at that time. I alone was there begging.” The saint again questioned: “On waking up, you found yourself in your royal court, lying in the luxurious cot. At that time, did you find the man offering the food or the man snatching the food?” “No, they were not present when I woke up.” Astavakra said: “Oh King! That which is there at one time and not there at another time cannot be real. While you are awake that dream state is not there and so the dream state is not real. While you were dreaming, the waking state was not there. Therefore, neither this waking state nor the dream state is real. Astavakra asked: “When you were begging in the street, stretching your hands, were you there?” “Yes, I was there,” replied King. “Now, in this royal palace, are you there,” asked the saint. “Yes, I am very much here” replied the King. Astavakra then said: “Oh King, you are always there as the witness of waking (Jagrata), dream (Swapna) and deep sleep (Sushupti) states. The states change but you who perceive these changing states never change. You are there in all these states. Therefore, you, the Supreme Self alone is real.”

“The greatest wonder”, Sri Ramana Maharshi declared, is that, being always the Self, one is striving to realize the Self”. One need not make much effort towards ‘Self-realization’ because realization is already there. No effort is needed ‘to be what you are’. No effort is needed to know one’s own essential nature (Nitya Swarupa). If realization has to be dawned afresh, it implies that realization was not there before and it comes subsequently. Anything that comes and goes is unreal. The Self is ever present and ever experienced. There is no time when one does not exist. The Self (Atman) is the ever existing reality (Satya), non-dual (Adwiteeyam), infinite (Ananta), pure (Sudha) and ever revealing itself (Nitya Chaitanya).

A person may be sitting in a dark room. Even though he is not able to see himself in the pitch of darkness, when someone calls him, he spontaneously says: “I am here”. He does not touch his body to make sure that he is present. He does not need a mirror to see that he exists. He is aware of his being there, without the help of any light or the help of his body or Indriyas (senses). Though he cannot see himself as an object, he is aware that he exists. Though he sees the objects of the world through the aids of his senses, he is aware of his existence without any aid or help. “The power within each one of us, that is, the seer behind our eyes, the listener behind our ears, the smeller behind the nose, the feeler in the skin is the Self, the Atman.

It is doubtful whether there is any other term that is so widely used and misused as the term “I”. The term ‘I’ is often used for what it does not represent. When he says ‘I am the Manager of this Bank” it refers to the functions of his intellectual knowledge. When he says “I am sad” or ‘I am happy’, it refers to the conditions of his mind. When he says “I am the son of so and so” it refers to his bodily relation. Though the conditions relating to the intellect, mind and body change, the true identity of “I” does not change and remains ever as an unaffected witness.

While the ‘I’ is the physical element, ‘am’ is divine element. While the ‘I’ denotes the matter, the ‘am’ denotes the spirit. Though the ‘I’ gets different experiences, like “I am a writer, ‘I am a singer’ and ‘I am a devotee’ and so on, the word ‘am’ remains unchanged in all experiences. The real “I” or ‘I-consciousness, is not related to any function of the mind or body but only to the consciousness of “I am”. It is devoid of any identity other than itself. If a person objectifies the “I” and says; “I am this’ or “I am that”, he is only limiting the vast, all- pervasive ‘I’ to the confines of his body. ‘I am’ is related not to anything but ‘I am’. The “I” stands for “I” alone and that is why Bhagavan referred it as ‘I am that I am”.

Nochur Acharya, Sri Venkataraman said: “We have two qualities; one is Swabavam, our character shaped by Karma Vasanas which differs from person to person and the other is Swarupam, our real nature, which is same for all. While Swabavam (Karma Vasana) is apparent, Swarupam (Self) is the real nature. In other words, Swabavam which relates to body, symbolizes death and Swarupam which relates to Self symbolizes immortality (Amritatvam).” If we have to transcend death and attain immortality, we have to come out of the domain of body-mind-intellect which forms our character or swabavam.

Just as one forgets himself in dream and takes the dream images as real, he forgets his real nature in the waking state and identifies himself with his body and mind. Since he performs various activities by means of his body, he grows up with the notion, “I am the body”. Over the years, this notion of ‘I am the body’ becomes stronger and it builds a wall of resistance around him. The real Sadhana or Upasana should be to break this wall of resistance created by mind, reach and realize one’s true nature (swarupam). Self Enquiry advised by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi is the ideal way to dispel all wrong notions and attain the state of realization.

Vichara or Self enquiry is a direct method by which one seeks to find his essential nature, his unconditioned and unlimited state, (Nitya Sidha Chitha Swarupa), his real Self. It means turning the attention away from external objects and directing it within. It is an attempt to identify those elements which do not constitute the ‘I’, eliminate them and realize one’s true state. It is an attempt to seek the source where the ‘I-thought’ or the ego originates. The mind would repulse the very idea of Vichara because Vichara is a direct pointer or threat to its existence. It would create strong walls of resistance. While the Advocate questions the reluctant witness in the Court, the witness creates walls of resistance around him and does not easily respond. As the questioning becomes intense, the walls of resistance crumble. Every time the seeker questions, different thoughts come before him. Every time thoughts come, one should continue to question: “For whom the thoughts occur?” It does not matter how different thoughts are and how frequently they arise, but one should keep on questioning; ‘”for whom the thoughts occur?” The obvious answer will be ‘to me’. The next question should be “Who is ‘me’? This will lead to further question “who is me or who am I?” The ‘I-thought’ or ego is not ‘me”.

Bhagavan had said: “When we question the mind, generally, it is the mind that answers. The mind cannot seek the same mind. If we want to extinguish the mind, we cannot take the mind’s help. The mind cannot destroy itself on our command. We see the sun by means of the light provided by the same sun. Similarly, we should seek to realize the Atman with the power provided by the Atman and not through the body, mind or intellect. In other words, the consciousness itself helps us to be conscious of the Self. So long, one goes along with the mind and its thoughts, it suits the mind, but the moment the focus is turned from thoughts to the mind itself, the mind loses its very base and to use Bhagavan’s words runs away like a thief afraid of being caught. The mind is like a horse which resists the rider first but when the rider prevails over it, the horse disciplines itself, becomes quiet and proves to be of good service.

This Sadhana of Self-enquiry may appear to be difficult but if there is Shradha (earnestness, involvement and self-attentiveness),it is very easy. It is ‘Adi Sulabham” (very easy) to quote Bhagavan’s words. “Atman is like a powerful magnet. Hiding itself in the recess of the heart, it slowly draws the individual towards it. The individual feels as if he is striving to seek the Atman. Actually, when the individual reaches near the magnet, it takes him away from all his worldly activities and makes him still. If he moves a little closer towards the magnet (Atman), it will swallow his whole individuality. The individual, now fully submerged in the Atman, ceases to exist. Overwhelmed by such experience, he becomes conscious of his Self. In fact, our effort at self-knowledge is like a divine magnetic action where the individual Jiva, the needle, is caught by Supreme Atman, the magnet. The individual is striving to reach only up to the sphere where the magnetic force extends. Once he reaches there, the magnetic force draws him towards it and integrates him. Bhagavan says: ”Oh Arunachala, driven by hunger, I came to you with the hope that you would provide me the food but instead, you took me as your food and swallowed me altogether. Having lost my individual identity, I became one with you.” (Sappadunnai saarnthuna vaayyan, Santhamai povan Arunachala. (Aksharamana Malai 21)

What is the best time for Vichara? Nochur Acharya says”: “During the deep sleep stage, the notion of “I” was not there. The mind was resting at its original source. Only the Self Consciousness remained. It was a perfect state of bliss. But when the individual awakens, he does not rise up to the waking stage instantly. It takes some time for him to leave the state of sleep and get into the state of awakening, which we may call the transition stage. This is the time when a vacuum or stillness prevails; where he is in between two stages, the state of bliss which he is about to leave and the domain of body and mind he is about to enter, the state where the “I” notion has not yet set in. This is the transition stage. It is the time when the sun rises on the eastern horizon, the Brahma Muhurt. This is the ideal time to dive deep into the Self. As one slowly awakes, there would be cluster of thoughts like what happened yesterday, what is to be done today, the guy who misbehaved and the need to teach him a lesson etc. One should discard all these thoughts and hold on to this transition movement and remain in this way for as long as possible. It would be possible to stick on to this ‘in between’ stage when the stillness of sleep has not gone and the waking awareness has not set in. In short, it is an endeavor to attain the deep sleep state (Sushupti) even while being awake. It is an endeavor to attain the deep sleep characteristics of bodyless-ness and mindlessness and at the same time to attain the waking state characteristics of full consciousness.

However, Vichara is a continuous process and can go on even when the seeker is performing his normal duties. Wherever he is; whatever work he is doing, he can keep enquiring about his true nature. This is known as Anusandhana, the practice of continuously asking the question even while engaged in other activities. “Who is the person working”? “Who is being appreciated?” “Who is being insulted?” “Who is feeling sad?” “Not I”. This constant reminder helps the Sadhaka in distancing himself from the limiting factors of mind, body and senses. To the outsiders, he might appear to be deeply engaged in doing many functions but deep within him, he would be totally detached, with his attention centered on Self abidance
While the musician performs at stage, the song would change, the Raaga (tune) and thala (beating in time measure) would also change. Though he keeps changing the song, the Raag and Thala, he makes sure that he never deviates from Sruti (the scale or pitch). Just as his attention is always centered on Sruti even when song changes, the Sadhaka’s attention should always be focused on Self though he may be doing Vyavahara (worldly activities) outwardly. Even if the I-abidance or Self-attentiveness occurs infrequently, the Sadhaka can gradually increase the duration. Once he reaches the state of stillness and peace, he should repeatedly try to regain it and sustain it forever. Once the Sadhaka has tasted the bliss, he would never like to be out of it. It is as difficult for a Jnani to engage in thoughts as it is for an Ajnani to be free from thought.

As the questioning continues and Sadhaka eliminates all that are unreal, he finds the ‘I-thought’ disappearing and the pure, supreme and sublime ‘I-I’ remaining. He realizes that something else from the inner depth has taken hold of him. He finds that the ‘I’ he finds now is not the ‘I’ which was prevalent when he commenced his enquiry. He realizes that something else from the inner depth has taken hold of him. As his individuality (‘I’ notion) disappears, the mind that functioned through intellect and senses would now function through the divine heart. The mind lights up when it functions through the heart. We would see objects with the reflected light radiated from Self. Just as the moon is useful for revealing objects during the night, the mind also becomes useful when it functions from the heart and shines by the reflected light of the Self. There is no need for the moon’s light when the sun rises and similarly the mind should be turned inward when the Self shines forth by itself.

A Sadhaka, having an extrovert mind, might find Vichara Marga difficult because whenever he starts the process of questioning, the mind comes in between. Bhagavan has prescribed an ideal alternative; the Bhakti Yoga, the path of surrender. Bhakti Yoga helps us to keep the mind away from the world and near to our heart. Surrender means dedicating all actions to God. He does not merely worship God. He does not merely offer obeisance to God; he offers himself to God, without retaining any part of his individuality. He has no desires and aspirations of his own. When he surrenders, he experiences God not external to him but within. When he finds the God within, he attains Self realization. He gladly accepts whatever that befalls him; happiness or misery. He continues to do the duties assigned to him without the sense of doer-ship. When the devotee identifies himself with God, he reaches a state where there is no distinction between God and devotee. Gradually, he becomes conscious of his non-dual entity. He finds God as the reflection of his own Self. After long walk and after long wait in the queue, when we reach the top of Sabari Hill, we find the message “Tatwamasi’ (You are that) and realize the God within us. When at last our turn comes and we get few seconds to see Lord Ayyappa, we close our eyes and visualize God within us as the Self within.

By surrendering unconditionally to the higher power by means of devotion, the Sadhaka attains what one attains by means of Vichara Marga. While the Vichara Marga is the path of knowledge (Jnana), surrender is the path of devotion (Bhakti). Though the two appears different, they converge at one end, Self-realization. In devotion (Bhakti Yoga), surrender paves the way for enlightenment. In Jnana Yoga, enlightenment comes first and then surrender takes place. He who surrenders would ultimately know and he who knows would ultimately surrender. In case of devotion, the knowledge comes after surrender and in case of Jnana Marga, knowledge comes before surrender.