19. Know who am I – Jnana Yoga
Most people, whenever they refer to themselves as “I’, refer to their body and mind complex. But we can reason that the true identity cannot be either body or mind. This is because the body is changing, growing from infancy to adulthood and then deteriorating with old age. For instance, when “I” was an infant, I was one feet tall. Now “I” am five feet tall. Hence body cannot be “I’. Body is an accumulation of food turned into flesh.
Similarly, mind is also changing, from gathering memories in childhood to losing memory in old age. Hence mind cannot be “I”. There must be a constant factor that is changeless and witness to the changes in body and mind.
Sages have explained the above truth in various puranas and Upanishads. In Markandeya purana queen Madalasa sings to her child explaining that he is neither body nor mind.
Practitioners of jnana Yoga do self-enquiry to distinguish themselves from body, mind, senses, and intellect until they know that they are nothing but the Self. This is also called “Neti Neti (Not this Not this)” approach which is understanding Brahman by first understanding what is not Brahman, as under.
- The gross body which is composed of the seven dhatus (plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow and reproductive fluid), I am not;
- the five cognitive sense organs, viz. the senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell, which apprehend their respective objects, viz. sound, touch, colour, taste, and odour, I am not;
- the five cognitive sense organs, viz. the organs of speech, locomotion, grasping, excretion, and procreation, which have as their respective functions speaking, moving, grasping, excreting, and enjoying, I am not;
- the five vital airs, prana, etc., which perform respectively the five functions of in-breathing, etc., I am not;
- even the mind which thinks, I am not;
- the nescience or ignorance too, which is endowed only with the residual impressions of objects, and in which there are no objects and no functioning’s, I am not.
After negating all of the above-mentioned as ‘not this’, ‘not this’, that Awareness which alone remains as witness – that I am
- The Shruti refers to the body of most authoritative texts not authored by any person and hence called apauruṣeyas. They are considered revelations received by sages in intense meditation. They include the four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. Each Veda has been subclassified into four major text types – the Samhitas (mantras), the Aranyakas (text on rituals), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals), and the Upanishads (philosophy and spiritual knowledge).
‘Veda’ means knowledge and ‘Anta’ means end. Because the Upanishads are the final or end part of vedas, they are also called Vedanta. There are 108 main Upanishads, of which the above ten are the most important.
- The Smriti are a specific body of texts attributed to an author. As a derivative work they are considered less authoritative than Shruti. They include the epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata), the Sutras and Shastras, the Puranas, shad darshanas or six philosophies (Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta) and so on.
When a scholar asked Gandhiji if the scriptures or Shastras are infallible guides, he answered as under.
We have in Hinduism hundreds and thousands of books- whose names we do not even know which go under the short name of Shastras. Now when we want to find out whether a thing is good or bad, I do not go to a particular book, but I look to the sum total of the effect of Hinduism.
In Hinduism we have got an admirable foot-rule to measure every Shastra and every rule of conduct, and that is Truth. Whatever falls from Truth should be rejected, no matter wherever it comes from, and therefore the burden lies on the shoulders of that person who upholds a practice which is inconsistent with Truth, so that if a man wants to defend, for instance, untouchability, he has to show that it is consistent with Truth. Unless he shows that, all the authorities that he may cite in support of it are to me irrelevant. – Gandhiji
The Three Bodies (Sariras) & Five Sheaths (Koshas):
Taittiriya Upanishad mentions that every one of us has five koshas or sheaths. These can be grouped into three bodies. The first two – physical body and vital force are called the sthula sarira (gross body). The next two – mental body and intellect are called sukshma sarira (subtle or astral body). The last one – bliss sheath is called the karana sarira (casual body).
Each kosha‘s name contains the word ‘maya’, which here doesn’t mean ‘illusion’, but means ‘consisting of’.
- Gross Body (Sthula Sarira)
- Annamaya Kosha (food sheath): This sheath is our physical body and is the densest of all the koshas. It includes our flesh, bones and also the tissues which make up our muscles and organs. Here, energy is solidified into matter and it is made of the five elements, of which the earth element is the dominant one. It is called the food layer because it is created by the food that we eat.
- Pranamaya Kosha (energy sheath): This kosha is the vital life force that moves through the body. It literally consists of the breath and the five pranas, namely: prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana. These forms of prana control various functions within the physical body, and without prana, the body would be lifeless, and unable to move or think. It is the prana that makes the blood flow, carries impulses through the nerves from our body, to the brain and back.
- Subtle Body (Suksma Sarira)
- Manomaya Kosha (mind sheath): This kosha is made up of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is through the prism of this dimension that we perceive the world and our likes and dislikes (raga and dvesha) via the agency of the five senses.
- Vijnanamaya Kosha) (wisdom sheath): In this kosha we reach intuitive knowing and higher levels of consciousness. In this sheath the awareness of the body and mind is lost, and awareness is established as the ‘higher‘ mind. We know, decide, judge, and discriminate from the wisdom part of ourselves, our higher consciousness. Consequently, the higher mind turns
within towards the soul, seeking the Truth, and searching for the eternal center of consciousness.
- Causal Body (Karana Sarira)
- Anandamaya Kosha Ananda (bliss sheath): It is the spiritual or causal body, where, finally, you become one with the ‘divine spark’, which is your soul. Anandamaya kosha is connected to the unconscious or super conscious mind. It is only when the higher mind fuses with the super conscious mind, (or unconscious mind,) that one awakens to the Presence with a sense of connection to all. It is the highest level of vibration in this life.
Mundaka Upanishad illustrates the relationship between man and God as under, through two birds.
The bird which is eating the sweet fruits of good karma and bitter fruits of bad karma is the lower self (jiva).
The watching bird (sakshi or witness) is Ishwara – Lord. The relationship between two birds is given by the mahavakya (great sentence) as “Tatwamasi – You are That”.
The example of two birds – jiva and Ishwara applies only in the domain of Maya. In reality there are no two birds. There is Brahman alone – Absolute Being.
One may wonder, ‘what happens to our body after death?’
It is mind that makes a person believe he is body and not Atman. The gross body disintegrates at death. The subtle body disintegrates at rebirth, allowing a person to develop a new personality in his next life. The causal body reincarnates again and again, carrying the karma with it like luggage. It finally disintegrates at the time of liberation, when the Self disengages from the cycle of birth and death. A person graduated from a school wouldn’t be interested to sit in the same school again. Similarly enlightened beings know that life’s purpose is not to be born again and again, but ultimate liberation”.
To explain the relationship between two aspects – Atman (jiva) and Brahman (Ishwara), there are below three main schools of vedanta.
- Dvaita (dualism): The most famous exponent of this school is Madhva. Here, Brahman and the Atman are considered to be two separate entities and not related in any way. Brahman here is a purely personal God, usually worshipped in the form of Vishnu or his Avatars such as Rama and Krishna. This school appeals directly to the heart, in the desire of persons to have a God to worship and serve.
- Advaita (non-dualism): The most famous exponent of this school is Sankaracharya. He summarized the essence of his philosophy into three concise sentences. These are:
Jivo Brahmaiva Na Parah.”
These can be translated in English as ‘God only is real. The world is unreal. The individual is none other than God’.
The analogy given for Advaita is that of the snake and the rope. In the dark, we may mistake a rope for a snake and for a time take it to be a real snake. But soon we realize that it is in fact a rope only. Once we know it to be a rope, we do not see the snake anymore. The rope had never existed, it was purely in our minds. So also, although it is only the Brahman which exists all around us, we see the world which is only a reading of Brahman by our minds. But once we attain realization and see that it was Brahman all along, we do not see the world anymore.
- Vishista Advaita (qualified monism or qualified non-dualism): The most famous exponent of Vishista Advaita is Ramanuja. In this school, The Brahman and Atman are also considered two equally real entities, as in dualism, but here the Atman is not separate from Brahman but is formed out of Brahman.
Here also as in dualism, Brahman is a personal God with omniscient qualities. He has created the world, but He has created the world out of His own self. Thus the world bears to Brahman the relation of part to whole, or the relation of a ‘qualified effect‘ to the base (hence qualified monism). The famous analogy given for this is the sea and wave – Brahman is the sea and the objects of the world, both non-living and the living souls, are like waves upon this sea. All waves are ultimately the sea only, but as long as we see the wave we think it to be different from the sea. The wave is of name and form only. Other analogies given for this are gold and gold jewellery, clay and clay pots. The difference between these three levels of Vedanta can be better understood through below explanation given by Hanuman.
Oh Rama. When I am identified with body, I am your servant.
When I am identified with mind, I am part of you.
When I am identified with soul, I am you.
In the above three statements, the first one is dualism, second one is qualified dualism and third one is non-dualism. Thus all three are correct based on what level we are identifying with – body, mind or soul. At dualistic level we can call ourselves children of the loving Father or humble servants of the Lord.
All life is perfectly and purely divine and in our innermost spiritual being we are completely one with God, Truth, Consciousness. We are all sparks of the divine fire. Each divine spark, each one of us, is on an indescribably lengthy journey through the cycle of incarnation (birth, death, and rebirth) and this cycle or journey is governed by the law of karma, which is the law of self- created destiny. Gandhiji once said “I have travelled so far, and yet all I have done is, come home”.
A self-realized person is called ‘Dvija’ meaning ‘twice-born’. The first one is physical birth through his parents. The second ‘birth’ occurs during an initiation ceremony called Brahmopadesha in which the Acharya helps the student realize the Self.
For a beginner spiritual aspirant it can be very difficult to stay grounded in the awareness that he is Atman because there are three layers of ignorance which need to be removed in the below manner.
- For instance when he listens to or reads (Shravanam) the four great sentences (mahavakya) such as ‘Tat Tvam Asi (You are That), the first layer is removed and he ‘knows’.
- When he reflects (Mananam) on the meaning (the word ‘That’ indicates God or Brahman and ‘You’ indicates the individual or Jiva) the second layer is removed and he ‘understands’.
- When he meditates and applies (Nidhidhysanam) those teachings in life the third layer is removed and he experiences (Self-Realization)‘.
Hence Shravanam, Mananam and Nidhidhysanam all these three are very important to firmly grow in spirituality.