Tat tvam asi?

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Feb 7 14:46:12 CST 2002

I was going to write about some of these issues in my posts on mind and
the intellect but as that thread has digressed in many interesting ways I
might as well respond here.

On Sat, 26 Jan 2002, nanda chandran wrote:

> The fundamental doctrine of Advaita is “tat tvam asi” in its most
> personal sense. You are the Atman and it is because of ignorance that you
> are not aware of it. Though there’s the distinction between the
> phenomenal self (jiva) and the real self (atman), still Advaita advocates
> that even the atman is nothing but you in the deepest sense. You are pure
> consciousness and due to ignorance (avidya) you superimpose qualities of
> all the objects you experience (including the mind and body) on yourself
> and hence the case of mistaken identity where you who are the pure and
> free mistake yourself for the impure and bound. So Advaita without doubt
> teaches “aham brahmaasmi” or “I’m Brahman” in a personal sense and
> clearly advocates the link between the “I” and the Atman.
> I’d like to raise the following questions to question the “I”ness of the
> Atman :
>  1. The classical Advaita path of self-introspection, the neti, neti or
>     the subject versus the object approach, where we discriminate and
>     reject all that is not us also implies the “I”ness of the Atman. If
>     such a path is to be true then the path to liberation is very clear
>     and self-effort by itself should fetch liberation ie after rejecting
>     everything that’s not ourselves we should remain in the end as the
>     pure Atman. If that’s so then why does Shankara still assert that in
>     the ultimate moment liberation is only possible due to divine grace?

Let us take a look at that sentance neti neti.  The context in which it
appears is brhadaranyakopanishad 2.3.6.  In that adhyaya the two forms of
Brahman are spoken of--the manifest (murta) and the unmanifest (amurta).
They are described first as existing in the universe, and secondly as
existing in the individual.  How is the unmanifest Brahman manifest in a
person?  As truth which is revealed in various ways.  like dye on a cloth
(as mental impressions caused by sensory perception), like faded wool (as
memories picked up over time), like a firefly (intrinsic), like a flame
(as the result of dialectic), like a lotus (as a pure thought), or like a
flash of lightning (as a sudden burst of intuition).  He who knows the
nature of truth shines like lightning.  That person is capable of learning
the nature of Brahman.  The teaching is neti neti.  Brahmans name is the
truth of truth. Prana is truth and Brahman is the truth of that.

neti neti breaks down to na iti, na iti.  na~n in Sanskrit is a nipata
(particle) signifying negation. iti is also a nipata and is used to mark
the end of a speech or a quotation.  For instance if I was writing a
letter in sanskrit I would end it: iti jaladharena likhitam.  "Thus written
by Jaldhar."  It should be noted that there is no word "this" occurring in
the phrase.  A literal translation would be "not," "not".  The "this" is
supplied by the context.  According to Shankaracharya it is the dual
superimposition of the universe and the self on Brahman explained
earlier in the adhyaya which is being negated.  To say Brahman is like the
sun or the moon or wool or lightening is only to be understood as
metaphor.  The Vedantic method is to say it is like the sun but not this,
it is like lightning but is not this...etc.

Does this mean references to Brahman being the Self are also metaphor?
This is one of the most common misreadings of neti neti and Advaita
philosophy in general.  By this reading, Advaita Vedanta is at best a kind
of agnosticism.  There may be a supreme truth but we can never know it or
describe it.  Shankaracharya anticipates this and most emphatically denies
it.  First of all in the various descriptions of how the unmanifest Brahman is
indicated in the body, by body is meant the subtle body made of prana.
Brahman is revealed as impressions (vasanas) on that prana through mental
activity just as it is possible to perceive an object directly by its'
shadow.  And that is called truth but it is not Brahman anymore than a
shadow is the object itself.  Brahman is the "truth of truth" that
underlying substratum which makes it possible to call something true.  In
the same way the prana is truth but not the truth of truth.  So the whole
purpose of neti neti is to say don't confuse the subtle and gross bodies
with the "self" or atman.  Do not confuse names and forms with their
underlying reality for they cannot accurately convey the nature of that
reality.  But they can indirectly point to that reality so Brahman can be
known just not by conventional means.

So to get to back to your original question, negation is a path it is not
the goal and at the end of the path there is not void but the supreme
divine Self.  The nature of that self is known from other shastras.
Negation does not alter that.

>  2. A thing in itself by logic should be true to its own nature and it
>     cannot have a nature in opposition to its own true nature ie light
>     cannot entertain darkness within itself nor vice versa. Even as
>     Gaudapaada says : “By the word nature is to be understood that which
>     is permanently acquired, or is intrinsic, instinctive, non-produced,
>     or unchanging in its character”. So if we are the Atman whose nature
>     is existence, knowledge and bliss (sat-chit-aananda), ignorance
>     cannot be an integral part of us – if that is so why are we not then
>     aware of our true nature?

You are right but logic is only as good as the data it is applied upon.
But because of ignorance the very data we are working on is not properly
understood so false premises lead to false conclusions.  Ignorance is not
an integral part of us.  Really it doesn't exit at all but we like to
think it does.

>  3. If ignorance is something apart from us and we are the
>     consciousness-in-itself, as is the import of the superimposition
>     theory which advocates that we as the consciousness superimpose on
>     ourselves the qualities of the objects that we experience, then we
>     should be fully aware of ourselves as the consciousness in itself
>     apart from the mind, body and senses – in short then we being the
>     pure consciousness should already be liberated and there should be no
>     question of seeking salvation. But not only are we not liberated but
>     also being consciousness itself is not common experience as nobody is
>     aware of consciousness in itself. All consciousness that we know is
>     only by its manifestations through the senses, mind and body. So how
>     can it be said that we are the consciousness who superimpose on
>     ourselves the qualities of all the objects that we perceive?

The problem is the frame of reference is changing.  It makes the idea of
the consciousness that "we" know to be problematic.  Earlier I gave the
example of my daughter who pulls her hair and cries because she doesn't
realize it is her own hand which is pulling.  Obviously her idea of "self"
and "consciousness" is different to yours?  How do you know that the
consciousness you know is the same as a jnanis?

>  4. The argument that we know ourselves as the same person who
>     experienced the past and the present ie the “I”ness of the
>     presentation continuum, is not a valid argument to prove “I”ness of
>     consciousness. Such an argument uses the faculty of memory as an
>     integral part of the self where the self recognizes itself as the
>     same witness which experienced the past and present events. But there
>     are cases of people who’ve lost their memory and have no recollection
>     of the past.

But do these people forget they are themselves?  From that moment on they
have a continuous recollection that they are a particular person even if
that is not the same person they were before they lost their memory.  In
no case do we hear of someone thinking they were Nanda one minue and
Jaldhar the next minute and Ravi the third minute...

>      If memory belonged to consciousness, it being the ever
>     present witness, such a thing as “loss of memory” would not be
>     possible. So how can it be said that we are the consciousness?

Loss of specific items of memory should be distinguished from loss of the
faculty of memory.  Consciousness is not memory it's true but it manifests
itself through memory (as explained in the upanishad.) Having a memory is
a hallmark of being conscious.

>  5. Man is a psycho/physical/spiritual being – he’s made up of the body,
>     mind, senses and consciousness or spirit. While he is a compound of
>     all these in the waking state, in the dream state the body and the
>     senses are absent. In the deep sleep state he is said to be one with
>     the spirit ie consciousness is said to abide in itself. But again
>     when there’s no I-consciousness in deep sleep ie we do not directly
>     experience the state of deep sleep as we do in the waking and dream
>     states and only know the “peace of deep sleep” when we come awake,
>     how can we say that we are the consciousness that experienced peace
>     in deep sleep?

We know only through indirect means.  But when it known that there was
consciousness before the deep sleep and the same consciousness is there
afterwards, what is the justification for _not_ accepting there was the
same consciousness in between?

>  6. Also it is said that knower, known and knowledge are all merged
>     together in deep sleep. If the knower also doesn’t exist by itself in
>     deep sleep then how can we claim to be that consciousness of that
>     state?

See above.

>  7. The presentation continuum which survives deep sleep and thus
>     facilitates the persistence of the individual identity need not
>     necessarily be the “I”. A logically consistent explanation can also
>     be provided using the permanence of consciousness and the memory as
>     part of the brain to sustain one’s identity through deep sleep and
>     waking.

That's fine.  The individual identity is a product of ahamakara not the

>  8. When we think about the states where we have the “I” consciousness ie
>     the state of waking and dream, we find that the “I” is always
>     associated with the body. For even in the state of dream though it is
>     purely a product of the mind, still we have a body with which we run,
>     jump etc. So can there be “I”ness without the body?

But you can aslo have dreams where you are not associated with a body.  I
know I do.  It might not be as common but it is possible.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/
>From ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG Fri Feb  8 20:34:15 2002
Message-Id: <FRI.8.FEB.2002.203415.0800.ADVAITAL at LISTS.ADVAITAVEDANTA.ORG>
Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2002 20:34:15 -0800
Reply-To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
From: Srikrishna Ghadiyaram <srikrishna_ghadiyaram at YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: Advaita terminology
In-Reply-To: <Pine.LNX.4.44.0201211639040.17908-100000 at samadhi.braincells.com>
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Hari Om !! Jaladhar.

Thank you for responding to my queries. I took some
time to consolidate my understanding. Your answers
have been truly helpful to me.

> > d) I assume 'Self' is the english equivalent for
> 'Atman'. Then what do the
> > words 'Individual Self' and 'Supreme Self'
> represent ?
> See above.

Can I understand that "Individual Self" and "Supreme
Self" are the same "Self" from different relative view
points of Vyasti and Samasti ?

> > e) What are the equivalents of 'Jivatman' and
> 'Paramatman' ?
> 'Individual self' and 'supreme self' are the usual
> translations.
> > f) Are 'Atman' and 'Jivatman' same ?
> Yes.  Atman and Paramatman are also the same.
> > g) Are 'Jiva' and 'Jivatman' same ?
> Atman is not always embodied.  During reincarnation
> for instance the atman
> may have feelings of distinctness but not yet be in
> a material form.

Can I understand as follows:

Atma in Vyasti is Jivatma.
Jivatma + Bodies = Jiva

(Sorry, if I am repeating the same question. I just
want to be sure of the correct import, so I do not
understand when I see these words again)

An additional question:

Is Kutastha-Atman same as "Jivatman" (as referred
above) ?

> > 2. I understand that Antahkarana Chatusthaya means
> 'Manas, budhi, Ahamkara,
> > Chitta'. These four are different functions of the
> same "MIND"
> > (collectively called). So, we can say Manas is
> Antahkarana; similarly Budhi
> > is Antahkarana; similarly Ahamkara is Antahkarana;
> similarly Chitta is
> > Antahkarana (based on the explanation of Swami
> Chandrasekhara Bharathi's
> > explanation in Vivekachudamani).
> >
> > I believe Ahamkara is translated as EGO, or
> I-Sense.
> >
> Yes.  Ahamkara is literally "I"-ness.
> > Based on the above I infer that "EGO" is the
> nature of MIND which is a
> > manifestation of Avidya.
> >
> Due to avidya, the mind develops false conclusions
> based on invalid
> perceptions and premises.
> > Now coming to my understanding of "Jiva", it is
> the same Atman with the
> > adjunct of Mind, and because of Superimposition
> with the Mental sheeth, it
> > acquires "EGO"
> >
> Yes but again bear in mind one does not have to be
> embodied to have ego.

Would  you please explain this .  Who is that 'One'
who can be un-embodied and have ego ?

Till now, I have been interpreting that the "Subtle
Body" (which does not include SELF) goes through
transmigration. As we say that Consciousness is all
pervading, whatever body + mind complex is there
"Self" will reflect in it, then how can we say that
"Jiva" will undergo transmigration ? If the above
statement is true, how can we attribute "WILL" to
reincarnate to the insentient "Subtle Body" ?

> > a) Is 'Jiva' different from 'Ego' or not ?
> Yes it is.
> > b) I understand 'Apavada' meaning removal of
> superimposition is the process
> > of realization. In that context where is "EGO"
> playing a role ?
> Suppression of ahamkara is a necessary step to lift
> the veil of maya.

Can we say that because MIND is Maya, suppression of
Ahamkara means separating the EGO from SELF (Jivatma).

And 'Suppression of Ahamkara' is another word to 'Lift
the Veil of Maya'

> > c) What is the root cause of this 'EGO', and what
> is its nature ? Why is
> > such a sense existing in the MIND/Maya ? What are
> the prescriptions of
> > Bhagavan Sankara?
> Ahamkar is caused by a false understanding of the
> facts of reality.  What
> is unreal is viewed as real.  To break free, the
> unreal must be shunned
> which is why Advaita Vedanta teaches Sannyasa as a
> necessary component of
> sadhana.

Om Namo Narayanaya !!


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