Sharing My Knowledge on Vedanta – Nature of the Self (Atman)

Advaita Vedanta does not say that we should not earn or enjoy but enjoy it with the conscious thought that you’re part of this world and nothing is permanent except the Self in you. Remember and be prepared to let go of anything at any time. Understand all relationships are temporal and enjoy what you have when you have and do not regret when you lose. That is why the term ‘relatives’, the Self alone is ever existent and everything else is relative to Self.

‘Self’ is the Atman, which is a speck of Brahman at the micro level. A simple example would be each speck coming out of a firework in the sky is the same as that of the original even though each one appears separate, color, shape and size. All the specks that we see from that one firework are the same appearing as many. Similarly, we all are that ONE Brahman, appearing in many different forms, sizes and colors. This article describes the nature of ‘Self’ in us.

The Self in all of us is without attributes:

Nirguna – Without Qualities

Nishkriya – Action less

Nirvikara -Without modifications

Nirakara – Without Form

Nirvikalpa – Without thoughts

Niranjana – Taintless

As per Advaitha Vedana, we are NOT the Body, Mind or Intellect. The ever present ‘Self’ in us animates the body and the Ego in this body veils the ‘Self’. Ego is nothing but the thought that we carry around about us. (Edged God Out). We are not what we think we are. Even though we have a name, academic qualification, professional title, someone’s spouse, sister, brother, daughter, son, father or mother. These are relative titles. Only the Self present in us that animates us is reality and has no attributes. The Self is ever present without a beginning or an end. Only the body disintegrates into five elements.

What is an Upadhi?

Upadhis are the conditioning’ or ‘delimiter’. The Body, mind and intellect delimits the Atman (more like claustrophobic of the Atman within their perimeter); though in reality they exist in Atman.

A beautiful example often used in Vedantic studies is of the pot space & the room space. Even though they appear to limit the space within their border or boundaries, the simple fact is the pot or the room exists in the broad space and appears to limit the space within their boundaries. Similarly, the Atman appears to be within the three sariras (sthula, suksma, karana) when in actuality these three anatman (non- atman) exist in Atman. Without the power or illumination of Atman none of these can function. These are Upadhis of Atman, dependents of Atman.

Self is the Saksi or the Witness

Atman is the saksi or witness of the three states of awareness – waking, dream and deep sleep state. Therefore Atman is different and distinct from all three.

Since the existence of these three states is temporary, the relationship of Atman with all three cannot be permanent and is temporary as a witness.

The mind-body equipment gains knowledge about he external objects only through’ the senses whereas the ‘Self’ does not need any external instrument to gain knowledge. It is self-luminous and absorbs immediately. Therefore this knowledge is also called as direct knowledge. This is termed as immediate non-instrumental (instrumentated) knowledge.

A very important difference in the possession of knowledge by the body-mind equipment vs. the possession of knowledge by the ‘Self’ is that the mind-body undergoes a modification by taking the form of the object as it comes to know of one (thought of an object) but the Self does not go through this process. IT just perceives and remains changeless through out the process. It is a mere witness of all activities of mind, body and intellect.

Finally, the ‘Self’ also does not undergo any after effect of knowledge meaning there is no like, dislike or indifference when the ‘Self’ gets a knowledge of anything. Self illumines all thought forms without intrinsically undergoing any modification and remains unaffected during the process of knowledge and thereafter. Therefore it is described as ‘saksi’.

1. Svarupa laksana is the nature of the object based on its intrinsic quality like the sweetness of sugar. Vedantic texts describes the intrinsic qualities of ‘Self’ as Sat-Cit-Ananda.

Sat- Eternal existence – changeless

Cit – self-effulgent – self-luminous

Ananda is absolute Bliss

Since these are considered as the intrinsic qualities of Atman, these descriptions are called as Svarupa-laksana of Atman.

2. Atman is the Enlivener of the inert conditionings – ‘tatastha-laksana’ is the definition of Atman based on its extrinsic associates.

Ex:1. Atman is the enlivener of the Upadhis

2. Atman is the saksi of the three states of awareness.

The three states of awareness waking state, dream state and the deep sleep states are Upadhis of Atman. Atman is the enlivener of the Upadhis Even though Atman appears to be in them, in reality these three states are confined within Atman. Without the illumination of Atman these three are functionless. Atman alone gives them the power to operate. Not knowing this, not realizing this, we think Atman lives in this body!!

‘I’, the Ego creates all sorts of thoughts like “I am so and so, I am from this university, I am in this position…etc” literally limits one towards Self-realization just like the pot appear to limit the space that it confines when in reality the pot exists in the realm of space.

3. Atad-vyavritti-laksana is nothing but the description of an object through the mode of negation. For ex: It is not this, not that…When Sita was asked who her husband was in a crowd in Ramayana text, she said ‘not him’, ‘not him’ and finally kept quiet accepting he was the one when Sri Rama was pointed.

Sankaracharya describes the ‘Self’ in Atma bodha in a glorious way by the method of negation.

“I am without attributes (nirguna), and actions (niskriya), eternal (nitya) without any desire and thought (nirvikalpa), without any taint (niranjana), without any change (nirvikara), without any form (nirakara), ever liberated (nitya mukta), and ever without impurity (nirmala)”

1. Nirakara: (without form) The stula sarira is with a definite form but the ‘Self’ is nirakara – without any form. Therefore the Self is not the gross body.

2. Nirvikara: (without modifications) The stula sarira undergoes six different changes – foetus, birth, growth, disease, decay & death. Atman is nirvikara, without any modifications. Therefore Atman is not of the gross body.

Nirakara & Nirvikara together negate that the ‘Self’ being the sthula sarira.

3. Niskriya: (without action) Actions are undertaken by karmendriyas and pranas of suksma sarira. When the Self is Niskriya (without action), it is described as different from karmendriyas and pranas.

4. Nirvikalpa: (without any desire and thought) Desires and thoughts are performed by the mind, intellect, ego & memory. Again since Atman is described as Nirvikalpa (without any desire and thought), it signifies that Atman is not the mind, intellect, ego or memory.

Niskriya and Nirvikalpa together negate the ‘Self’ being the suksma sarira.

5. Nirguna: (without gunas) Sattva, Rajas and tamas are the gunas of karana sarira (causal body). Since Atman is Nirguna, it is certain that the Atman is different from karana sarira

6. Niranjana; (without taint) Vasanas are the taints of the inner personality. Since Atman is described as niranjana (without any taint), it is beyond vasanas.

7. Nirmala: (without any dirt) In spiritual context, vasanas are considered as impure for they smear the inner personality. The ‘Self’ is described as Nirmala (pure) and is therefore beyond vasanas.

Nirguna, Niranjana and Nirmala show the Self as being different from the karana sarira (causal Body)

We therefore see that the terms Nirakara, Nirvikara, Niskriya, Nirvikalpa, Nirguna, Niranjana & Nirmala collectively deny that the Self is sthula-suksma-karana sarira.

These descriptions of negation are all examples of Atad-vyavritti-lakshana.