Tat Twam Asi: Self is Brahman

Etymologically speaking, the word Brahman has been traditionally derived from the verb ‘brh’, meaning to grow, to swell; as it highlights greatness and integrity. It could be related to ‘bherg’ which stands for, to rise high and eminent.

During the close end of Samhita period, the conception of a single creator, preserver,  and  destroyer of the universe developed. Prajapati, Vishvakarma, Brahma, and Purush were thought of as God. Some people looked at Sun or the Wind as the Supreme. In Aranyakas, the Prana, the vital Breath, was regarded as the Super most and was manifested upon as Brahman. Even the omnipotence of Akash (Space) was accepted. Manas, Aditya, Moon, Sun, Prana, Akash, with Lightning and fire were considered as Supreme powers. The fact stands that the human spirit remained unsatisfied with these assumptions and strived for more knowledge.

It was in the Upanishads that in the Atman vidya, Brahman Vidya (self–Knowledge), the satisfying conception was realized. It was considered that it was not possible to give any positive or definite form to the supreme Reality. The mystical doctrine of indestructibility was found in the utterance of Yajnavalikya "Neti; Neti" (Not this; Not this)  It is easier to express the Impersonal Brahman as ‘Not this; Not this”. 

Platinus says, ‘We can say what He is not, but we cannot say what God is.’ The Brahman, without any attribute, cannot be described. It may be Shunya of Buddha. Negative language does not suggest that Brahman is non-existent. He is and is beyond words of expression. This reminds us of the ‘Nescio of Bernard, of the dim of silence where all lovers lose themselves,’ of  Ruysbroeck, of the negative descriptions of Dionysius, the Areopagite, Meister Eckhart and Boehime. ’(Radhakrishnan: Hindu Way of Life P 21)

Brahman is not the gross body which is composed of humors as blood, flesh, veins, arteries, nerves etc., nor the composition of five sense organs of perception as hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell which apprehend their respective objects of speech, touch, color, taste and odor. Brahman is neither the five organs of action as speech, locomotion, grasping, excretion and enjoyment. It is also absolutely clear that Brahman is not even the five vital airs of Prana, Apana, Nidana, Udana and Samana with their respective functions of breathing, inhaling and retention etc. Brahman is stated not to be the mind which thinks, nor the nescience which is treasure of residual impressions of objects with no functioning. 

Brahman is the supreme Reality. It is pure Awareness, Sat, Chit Anand. Sat stands for the Being, called the Adhar or substratum. Nothing can obstruct it. Chit is knowledge and Ananda is bliss. Both are called Visheshas, as they are differentiated by Maya in the natural world and in the multiplicity of creation. It is Infinite Existence, Infinite Knowledge, Infinite Bliss. Brahman is impersonal transcendental power responsible for all creation and the cosmos.  It is without any attribute, without any form and particularity or limitation. It is nirvikalpka and nirupadhi. It is absolute Truth.

Brahman is the supreme universal spirit, organ and support of the phenomenal universe. It is the one God, the only God, the essence of everything in this universe. It is the Absolute Godhead, divine ground of the primordial being Hiranyagarbha, and subsequent creation.

Taittariya Upanishad says, ‘Brahman is the nature of Truth, knowledge and Infinity.'  Satyam jnaman anantam Brahman.  “Brahman is Reality Eternal, fully independent, non-contigent and source and ground of all things.”

Brahman is Reality. The nature of Reality is that 

  1. It is Eternal Anadi. It has existence without beginning and end.
  2. It is  endless and exists everywhere, so It  is Infinite.
  3. It has existence underlying all forms ,all changes, all forces, all matter, and all spirit.
  4. It is the one that displaces the Triads – knower, knowledge and known. 

The Triads appear in time and space. Reality lies beyond and behind it as these are mirage and delusions. Reality is that which transcends all concepts including that of God. Brahaman is Impersonal, Absolute Pure awareness. He is called Akshara (Imperishable). He is neither big nor small; neither hot nor cold; neither air nor space but beyond organs of perception and action. 

Vedanta believes that the Supreme Brahman is to be adored with love and deep devotion, with reverence and faith. It holds that the Absolute and God are identical. When one lays emphasis on transcendence of Infinite, it is Brahman, the all comprehensive. It is Ishwara when one emphasise upon the personal aspect which is inevitable part of common man’s religion. In any divine manifestation, there is no sense of separateness, and duality or any difference between personal and impersonal God. When Absolute is in inaction, he is styled as Impersonal God; when in action, He is the Personal God. As almost every Hindu has a God of his own, an Ishta Devata, to worship and in Him, he sees the Absolute Self and nothing but the Absolute, he worships the same power.

Upanishads speak about three demeanours of Brahman - Impersonal with non-attributes and the Personal with attributes. We accept it as Sapadhi and Nirupadhi Brahman or Sagun and Nirgun Brahaman. Then again there is Ishta Devata of each devotee.  Unfortunately the western philosophers unknown to oriental ideas were confounded and painted this practice as Henotheism ore kethenotheism. They outwardly noticed different gods from hymn to hymn though through their description they addressed to one and only the one God, the Supreme Reality. They failed to notice the underlying  oneness and whatever god was before the singers mind at the moment was God, the Eternal Absolute and none else but God Supreme. 

Gonda says, ‘succinct and carefully worded, yet bold and poetical, it heralds highly important systematically elaborated ideas of the later period tracing all things to one principle and declaring opposites as day and night, death and continuance of life to be self-enfoldment of this One, it expresses the quintessence of monism.”

The monism of Vedanta has been greatly extolled by ALBasham who says, ‘The monism of Fichte and Hegel might never had taken the form they did, if it had not been for Anqueitil Buperron.” It was Buperron who got the Upanishad translated for the westerners.
Brahman is accepted as the First Cause and the causeless cause. He is the creator of the universe. All that exists is alienated from Brahman in time and space; Brahman being the cause of time and space. The Absolute is independent of causation as no law of cause and effect operate in His case. Shvetashvatara Upanishad says that time nature, necessity, accident, elements, energy and intelligence –none of these can be the First Cause. They are affects with the purpose of helping the Self to rise above dualities of pleasure and pain. The Lord Of Love, who dwells in the heart of every creature, hidden behind the three gunas of Law, energy and inertia is the First Cause. He rules over Time Space and Causation. Brahman is all-pervading and nothing pervades Him. He dwells in the womb of the cosmos. He is which is born or to be born. He is the creator who is in all the creation and in all the creatures. His face is everywhere. He is enshrined in the hearts of all.

Rig Veda describes of a cosmic egg from which all creation sprang up. Then there is the description of Hiranyagarbha or Akash Purush (the person imperishable) from which the Energy shoots forth. Vishwakarma as creator has also been named. In reality the many manifested forces of nature have been united into a single source of creator and stand synonym with Rudra, Indra, Prajapati, Prakriti, Hiranyagarbha, Vishwaakrma –all merging eventually with Brahman. By different use of words the same Brahman has been mentioned without any diversity. “O Shweketu, Proceed from effect to cause and leave the solid earth proceed from liquid; apah (water) and Tejah, (Agni) whose properties are heat and light etc. and Tejah from the uncreated Prakriti. This practice is the source of all universe.”

Sat Path Brahman says, “It was all God and by His own will God transferred Himself into the multifarious universe.” Verily this whole universe is God. In fact, the creators thought was the cause of this multifold universe. The Infinite Self conceived with itself the duality of oneself and the other. Thence arose mind; as a wave arises when the surface of the calm ocean is disturbed.

We all know that a bracelet of gold is but gold and the gold exists even without the form of bracelet, although the bracelet cannot be conceived without gold or any other metal. Thus what we witness is that the quality and nature of the created and the potential of the creator is inherent in the creator.  God exists in the world and the world is not God. The Creator has no physical body, being formless but is the nature of thought without materiality.
A thought arose in the Creator. In the Lord of Love, a throbbing arose and His thought spread at as the Universe. This thought brought into being the subtle body of all of us. This body is made of thought and produced through the energy of mind, it being not real only appears as real. The creator has dual nature—Consciousness and thought. it is the one that supports the universe and the other gives rise to forms and appearances. But all these forms are of the nature of pure intelligence. In fact the whole universe is the eternal effulgence of the Infinite Consciousness.
Brahman is Satyam Janami anantam Brahman. Brahman is the very nature of Truth. It is Infinite knowledge, origin and end of all things; material and otherwise. Brahman has been imagined in three demeanors, all the three in one. The relational character of Brahman is sometimes treated as dipolar where opposites are united into one single character and action. This brings forth the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, though apparently looking as separate, in reality are one and the same and inseparable; yet needed for the necessary interaction of creation, preservation and destruction or change. Vishnu embodies Rajas; Brahma Sattva; and Mahesh or Shiva Tamas. The universe is the creation of these three combined.

It is not the same as is found in Christianity. There is the Trinity of Godhead, of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. They believe in analytical relationship between God and the Manifested world of beings. The Father is Love and the Son is the loved one and the Holy Ghost is the love between them. Later on Virgin Mary is attached to Holy Ghost and she gives birth to Jesus. The Vedanta says that gods do not have any sex. Any birth is instant and untouched.  The difference is obvious.

Atman (Self)

The concept of Atman is the glory of the Upanishads. The westerners could not understand the concept and failed to explain it in proper oriental perspective. In their translation work of the Upanishads, some mistook it for breath, some for mind, some for fire and body and some for the Supreme Being and tried to justify it but all in vain. For Vedanta, Atman just means Self, so simple. But it conveys a lot. In the most verified hypothesis, it is that, Self is God.
The etymology of Atman is not certain. Derived from the root “an’, it means to breath; it is the breath of life. Gradually the meaning came to suggest breath of life for the western people. In reality, it shares linguistic and philosophical connection with Prana (life) It is the life-breath, as there exists no life without it. Self exists in every living being and without it, that is lifeless, inert but even in that destruction there exists the Atman.
Vedanta regards Self as Brahman. Atman is the inner most essence in the being. Chandogya, viii-12-1 says, It is true that the body is perishable but within dwells the imperishable Self but no one who identifies the Self with the body can escape from duality of pleasure and pain. Only those who know that they are not the body go beyond the duality of life. Those who rise above the body-consciousness reach the transcendental Light in their real form, the Self. The Atman is in all living objects in this universe and even in the sun and the moon and in the entire world.  This Atman is Brahman, the Infinite Self. It is the essence in all things of the universe and it is the same, so there is non-duality. Nature of being, nature of soul, soul’s relation to God; the nature of God and His relation with the creation and so on becomes the principle of cosmology. We notice that there is a relationship between His nature and that He has projected or produced. So He is the unproduced producer of all and nothing can be without Him.

Deussen points out that Brahman is regarded as the cause of antecedent in time and the universe is the effect proceeding from it. The inner dependence of universe on Brahma and its essential identity with Him was represented as creation of universe by and out of Brahman. The Infinite Absolute governs and controls both the nature and soul, soul being fragment of God and having affinity with God.

God and soul are distinguished in Upanishads. Thus 

Like two golden birds
Perched on the self-same tree
Intimate friends, the Ego and the Self
Dwell in the same body,
The former eats
The sweet and the sour fruits
Of the tree of life
While the latter looks on with detachment

The one Self, present in all beings, appear as many, just as the moon reflected in water appears as many. The embodied self here appears as ego of the individual, where as the other one is the Real Self.

What is Self?

Self is immortal. It is not composed of any material and is neither fragment of the world. It is indeed the physical body that consists of five elements ether, water, air, earth and fire but these are part of the gross world. These elements remain ever changing. Self is not the gross or subtle body as are the other parts of the body; we call as mind and intellect. It is only the causal body that remains unchanged. The Self remains unchanged, unaffected and untouched altogether. Self is the driving force. This very Self, identical with the super Self called Brahman, remains as a fragment of God, filled with affinity with God. God is transcendental; the soul of being is embodied and bound by error as it assumes affinity with gross and subtle body or with the world of senses , matter, body, mind and intellect. The gross and subtle body get attached and become cause of ego, causing tension of iness, I am the doer etc.

Swami Vivekananda says, ‘The body is here, beyond it lies the mind yet the mind is not the Atman. It is the fin e body, the sukshma sarira, made of fine particles which goes from birth to death and on and on but behind the mind is Atman, the soul,  the Self of man. Atman is separate from mind as well as from the body.’ 

The change in physical gross body is perceived by sex organs—ear , nose, eye, skin and tongue. The change in the sense organs is perceived by mind and the change in mind by intellect. Any change in intellect is known by the Self which is unchanging. The Self is the driving force, the real onlooker and perceiver, independently of all that which others cannot. Brihad says that ‘Self is indeed Brahman but through  ignorance it is identified  with mind, senses, passions, and the five elements of water, air, fire, space and earth. When the Self takes on a body, it seems to assume the body’s frailties and limitations. It is said to consist of this and that and appears to be everything.’
The thought of ‘I’ in what is not the Self brings the spirit of bondage. This bondage springs from un-wisdom and brings on us the idea of death, birth and weariness. He who is subject to this illusion suffers many sorrows. He takes the unreal as real and that is the very cause of sorrow. When the true Self is concealed, the deluded being thinks of body as the Self, which in reality is not so and thinks that he is the doer and as I am or I do. As a result, the far reaching power of desire causes great disintegration in the personal Self as the true Self is concealed. This is the bondage of that which is not self, which has its root in un-wisdom.  It causes a flood of sorrow, succession of birth and death, sickness and decay.

The great saint Shankara says, "Brahm Satyam, Jagat Mithya" (Brahman is real; the universe is not.) It is true that what is real always exists, and so is Brahman. On this point the universe is eliminated as unreal because it is ever changing. The seers of Upanishad also say Not this, Not this and thus eliminate others except Brahman which alone is. Then in this process, the Self is realized. Self is Brahman. Self is one. In the unitive state, the self is seen to be one, the same Self in everyone, but there is a self in all beings. Self is the inner-most essence, identical with Brahman; relationship being not different from the Reality called God. The same Self dwells in all beings. 

As the same fire assumes different shapes
when it consumes objects differing in shapes
so does the one Self take the shape
of every creature in whom He is present
.’( Katha 11-2-9 ) 

The prevailing note is the note of unity. The universe originally rejected as unreal is noticed with the Self as a part of unity. Being absorbed in unity, the world is also real. This is why Shankara says that the world is and is not. The world as it appears to the senses really exists as we see it. When the soul is illuminated and passes into transcendental consciousness as Bliss and Pure Intelligence, it merges with Brahman and no longer appears.( Mundak iii-2-9 ) It transcends the duality of life and enters into the unitive state.
To our common understanding, it has to be said that reality differs in its use as practical or Vyavaharik Satya of everyday life and as Pratibhasik Satya, which occurs at a point of time and under some circumstances. Then there is the Parmarthik Satya which is the ultimate.

Reality is that which remains the same always; without a change.

Self is one and one only. There is no plurality of selves though one self is differing from the other.  We do call self by different names but it is only one Self.  Do not we see the same moon reflecting differently in different forms of water waves? Moon is the same and one and one only but its reflections are many and various. This is exactly with the soul.  

How is the Self known?

The Atman, the Self cannot be known by external object or by any not-self. The inert cannot know anything. The Atman cannot be known by another Self too. In that case, there have to exist more Selves than one which is scientifically not possible. The simple conclusion is that we can only know the Self by the Self in the Self as the Self is one and only one only. There cannot exist more than one source of illumination. Self is both the knower and the known; the cogniser and the cognised at the same time. It has no parts. It is only one pure conscious, non-dual homogenous and indivisible. Self is Self-illuminating shining all the time, revealing its presence to one and all but Himself being not revealed by anything.
Self is the eternal Light. It reveals the world, the body, the senses and the mind. It is the eternal consciousness which both pre-exists and survives the body, as in deep sleep state and wakeful state. There is a continuity of Being; the Eternal Self in all the three states of waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep  while the body and the world only appear in waking and dreaming state which are ephemeral. The three states are super imposed. When the Self becomes conditioned by limitations, it appears in different names but the truth is that Self is one. It is the non-relational self that becomes the jeeva due to ignorance and body, mind and intellect concept. Separateness arises from identifying the Self with the body, which is made up of the elements.  The jeeva, the Self in the body, is called Atman or Soul. Being non-relational, it becomes relational with such association and exists as knower and enjoyer. But that Self! The truth is that Self is one and one only. It is the transcendental Self that is segmented into the three states where as the Self remains unchanged, uninvolved in all the three states in which it is respectively called as Vaiswanar,Tejas and Prajna.  In a nutshell, the Self or Brahman, from the acosmic standpoint, is the only Reality, self-effulgent and ever-luminous. 
Brihad says, “When the sun and the moon have set, the fire has gone out and speech has stopped, the self serves as his (jeeva) light. It is through the light of the self that he sits, goes out, works, and returns,”
The Self, appearing with attributes when embodied, is indeed Brahman, the Pure Awareness without any attribute. The four Vedas point at this clearly. Shukla Yajurveda says as mahavakya that I am Brahman; Samveda declares You are That; Rigveda speaks ‘Prajnanam Brahman’, and Atharveda says The soul is Brahman. There is no mahavakya in Krishna Yajurveda. It should be clearly observed that each Mahavakya consists of two main phrases – one with attribute the other without any attribute. The third phrase or pada stands for unity of both; for unitivity. 

I, You, Prajna are indicative of attributes and Brahman is the Eternal Impersonal Self. It is thus the apparent creation that dwells in all substances as one consciousness. Self or Brahman is the seed of all seeds , essence of all world appearance, cause  of all causes, greatness of actions and essence in all beings. The apparent creation is but a reflection of consciousness within Itself, which has apparently acquired a body in course of time.
The Self, unlike any other object, is never completely unknown but to everyone the Self is known. Do we all not know that we exist apart from physical body and mind as in deep sleep? Yes, beyond this, the real nature of the Self, the Self as Truth, consciousness and Bliss is unknown to us. The Self is not an object of knowledge like school subjects. It is in the world of duality that we can behave differently. When there is duality, one can perceive another, smell another, taste another, contact another but Atman or Self is non-dual. What is there to taste, think, talk, see and know?  The Self is alone as self-luminous shining all the time and revealing its presence. Self is Pure Consciousness.  It shines as a Light within the heart. It is surrounded by senses. It only seems to think, move, sleep but it neither sleeps, walks nor dreams. The Divine Self is the only Reality, ever present, eternal and ever shining like a sun in all our hearts. Through deep reflection on the nature of one’s Self and through constant meditation the Light can be found.

Image (c) Gettyimages.com 


More by :  Dr. R. K. Lahri

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