The Knower and the Known are One

The Knower And The Known Are One


After travelling long distances and trekking difficult terrains, Ayyappa pilgrims reach the Sabari Hill. On climbing the sacred eighteen steps, the first thing they see is the mahavakya displayed above: ‘Tatvamasi’, ‘You are That’. This indicates that your Self is Parabrahmn, the eternal reality.  This teaching which underlines the truth of your oneness or non-dual existence is revealed in the dialogue between Sage Uddalaka and his son, Svetaketu in the Chandogya Upanishad. The seeker-son asks. “How can ‘Tat’ which means ‘Brahmn’ and ‘Tvam’ which means ‘you’, the individual, be one and the same?  While Brahmn is the universal Self, the knowledge-absolute, the individual self is the limited being, groping in the darkness of ignorance.

The difference lies in your perception.  The statement underlines the basic identity of Brahmn in both cases.  Since Atman or Self  is the reflection of Brahmn, the all-pervading reality, the individual is asked to find his identity with Brahmn.  While reminding him that the reality behind the universal Self and the individual self is the same, the Mahavakya exhorts the individual to seek his true identity with Brahmn, the eternal reality.  His liberation lies in realising this truth.

Despite the upanishad’s assertion, the individual jiva, who identifies himself with his body and mind, is not convinced.  Living in the world of maya or illusion and limited by various upadhis or obstacles, he seems to have lost his identity.  Unaware of his inherent power, he goes with a begging bowl seeking limited favours.  He seems to be rotting in the quagmire of samsara while destined to be the embodiment of  sat-chit-ananda — knowledge, consciousness and bliss.

The Kathopanishad says:  “Arise, awake; reach the learned advice of the guru and walk the path towards realisation.”  “Turn your attention away from the world”, the scriptures say “and direct it inward so that you recognise your innate power and realize that you are infinite, perfect and poornam or complete.”

Most problems can be traced to one single cause.  It is his eagerness to know everything about the world except about himself.  Unless he knows about himself, he cannot know anything about others.  Unless he knows the subject first, he cannot know the object.  Rather than engaging himself exclusively to gain knowledge of the world or science and technology, he needs to strive for complete knowledge that deals not only with material but also spiritual aspects.  Only that knowledge of the Self is complete and self-sufficient by knowing which all the un-knowable can be known.

Uddalaka asked his son Svetaketu, “What is that one should know beyond which there is nothing else to be known?”  When Svetaketu had no answer, his father asked him to bring the seed of a pipal tree and then break it. And what did he see inside? When the son said that he found only small particles, he was asked to break the small particles also, till at last the son said that he could find nothing.  Uddalaka then said:  “Though you say you could see nothing, understand that it is from nothing that the great pipal tree formed.  Though you see yourself as a mere individual, you have great power within; of Self-knowledge, similar to the power inherent in the seed, to become a great tree.  Realise this and your potential to rise up to the level of Brahmn.”

Modern instruments of knowledge cannot know Brahmn because Brahmajnana is Self knowledge gained from contemplation and experience; there is neither knower nor known. Only he who has discarded his ego, who has come out of his attachments and bondages, can attain the state of Brahmn.  Then, ‘You are That’.


PS:  Published in all the issues of the Times of India, dated December 18, 2012 under the column Speaking Tree.  Also appeared as blog in  Speaking Tree and received 11361 views and 187 responses.