It is an oft-quoted saying that philosophy begins in wonder. The mystery of the Universe with all its changes strikes the reflective temper of human beings. Through this reflective temper, human beings constantly question their experiences. The Vedic philosophy grew out of a demand for the explanation of actual experiences of an individual.
One of the fundamental laws of Vedanta is “ I am different from whatever I experience”. In general, this whole world that I experience therefore, comes under the Category – “The experienced” or in other words “The object” and I come under the category “The experiencer” or “The subject”.
Now, start the reflective temper by dismissing the object and the subject only remains. In this world I interact with persons and I clearly say that “I am not like this person; I am not like these group of persons; I am not this animal; I am not this; I am not that, I won’t be like that, I am different etc.”….and the list goes on. This way you go on dismissing everything that you experience as an object different from you and finally dismissing the world itself as an object. This is the first level of reflection. The next level is to look at yourselves, since you ruled out the world.
I am not the world that I experience ; but then who am I ? To my limited knowledge, there cannot be any other question other than this simple question which evoked such a vast, deep and wide analysis of the individual experiences by the Saints & Philosophers of Hinduism/Sanatana Dharma. One lifetime to understand the material available may not be adequate. Yet from this ocean of information and knowledge I will venture out and reproduce what is quoted in the basic source book on Vedanta “Tattva Bodha”.
स्थूलसूक्ष्मकारणशरीराद्व्यतिरिक्तः पञ्चकोशातीतः सन् अवस्थात्रयसाक्षी सच्चिदानन्दस्वरूपः सन् यस्तिष्ठति स आत्मा ।
‘I’ (addressed as Atma) am the one who is distinctly different from the gross, subtle and causal bodies; who is beyond the five layers (kośas); who abides as the self-evident witness to the three states of experience (of the nature of existence/awake-awareness/dream-fullness/deep sleep).
Vedanta identifies the features of a human body-mind-intellect complex with three types of bodies, 5 types of sheaths/layers, 5 sense organs 5 action organs , the mind the intellect and the three states of the consciousness (viz, wake, dream and deep sleep). This means that the “Atma (“I”) ” is beyond all these 21 seamlessly integrated features of body-mind-intellect complex.
“I” am not the world; “I” am not the body, “I” am not the mind/intellect. If “I” am different from all these three; then “I” must be a conscious principle, because I am experiencing them.
Thus the entire object or anātmā consists of three factors, the world, the body and the mind; and “I”, the ātmā, the observer consists of the consciousness principle called chaitanyam. This is the fundamental concept that we are trying to grapple with in Vedanta
At this stage I am again reminded of this excellent poem “Master Piece” by “Author Anonymous” which I posted in my blog on June 12, 2020 (Masterpiece – Prabhu’s Ponder (prabhusponder.com)). It simply moved me – what deep understanding of the subject and what an expression! The author wanted to remain Anonymous and clearly stated that “spirituality decreases when it is attributed to a person. I was but a scribe.”
This master piece is what “I” am and can only be experienced rather than be defined.
Now in the first Sloka, the subject matter is: What is the relationship between I, the consciousness principle, and the entire universe; the inert matter. What is the relationship between I the ātmā, the consciousness principle, and the world, the inert principle called anātmā.
So अत्म–अनात्म सम्भन्दः atma-anātma sambhandaḥ “ஆன்மாவும் அண்டமும்” “Jivatma and the Jagat” is the subject matter of the first verse; and Sankaracharya beautifully explains this with the help of two examples of mirror and dream, about which we will see in the coming blogs.
Throughout the blogs, you will see fair mix of words in Sanskrit and Tamil. Wherever possible, I will try to use the transliterated/ words with verbatim letters in English for easy understanding based on my elementary knowledge.
As each Sloka brings out the essence of Vedanta, it is necessary that some basic concepts of the Vedanta is discussed first before dwelling into the Sloka. As such there will be introductory blogs which will cover the concepts before taking up the Sloka and its meaning. With my limited understanding I will try and make these conceptual blogs simple through day to day examples. If you find them too elementary, please bear with my ignorance. It will turn out that we may need a minimum of 4-5 blogs to cover each Sloka. Get ready for a long haul.