SELF AS KNOWER IN VISISHTADVAITA
By P.Govindarajan

              Sri Adi Shankara hails Srimad Bhagawad Gita as the quintessence of the Vedas.  One of the invocatory songs on the Gita describes it as the essence of the Upanishads.  In the colophon to the Gita, the Song Celestial, which serves as the Gospel of Mankind, it is described as the Brahma Vidya, Upanishad and Yoga Sashtra.  The Brahma Sutras of Sage Badarayana furnishes in aphoristic form the philosophy of the Upanishads bringing out their cogency and consistency.  The foundational texts of Vedanta called the Prasthana Traya or Scriptural Trinity are the Upanishads, Gita and the Brahma Sutras.  The Brahma Sutras quotes two important passages in the Katha and the Mundaka Upanishads, which refer to two selves in the heart of the human body.  Likewise, the Gita also refers to two knowers in the field or khsetra of human body.  It will be useful to understand the purport and inner significance of the two selves and the two knowers referred to in the Prasthana Traya, the scriptural trinity of the Vedanta.

                In the very first verse of the third Valli of the first chapter, the Katha Upanishad speaks of two selves that have entered the cave of the human heart.  This verse reads as under:

        ``(There are two selves) enjoying the fruit of their Karma (actions) in this body, having entered the cave, the chief seat of the Supreme.  They are shadow and light-so say the knowers of Brahman as also those who worship the five fires and have sacrificed thrice to Nachiketas.``

                Commenting on this verse, Sri Adi Shankara says that the two selves are disparate as shadow and light because one of them enjoys the fruit of actions and transmigrates while the other does not.  In his comments on the very next verse, he adds that the purport is that one should know both the lower and higher Brahman, which are respectively the refuge and goal of sacrificers and knowers.  For it is these that have been referred to in the Mantra.  Of the two selves the one that transmigrates is limited by adjuncts and is fit to follow either the path of knowledge or that of Karma according as it seeks liberation or worldly prosperity.  Sage Badarayana, in Aphorism 11 of Pada ii of Chapter I of his Brahma Sutras refers to this verse of the Katha Upanishad and says that the two selves referred to are the individual self (Jivatma) and Brahman (Paramatma).  Though it is only the individual self that enjoys the fruits of its actions, both the selves are spoken of here but the enjoyment of fruits of actions cannot apply to the Supreme Brahman.

                The first section of the Third Mundaka of Mundaka Upanishad refers to two birds bound to one another in close friendship, perching on the self- same tree.  The two birds are the Jivatma (individual soul) and the Paramatma (Supreme Brahman).  This verse is referred in Aphorism 7 of the third Pada of chapter I of the Brahma Sutras of Sage Badarayana.  Here Brahman is described as the witness and the individual soul as experiencing the fruits of good and bad actions.  This description distinguishes the two selves as basically different in nature.

                Keeping in view the above two verses from the two different Upanishads, thequestion that is often asked is whether there are two souls in the human heart viz.  the individual soul (Jivatman) and the All-pervading Supreme Self (Paramatman) or one self only.  Dealing with this question in his bhashya (commentary) on Sariraka Mimamsa (Brahma Sutras of sage Badarayana) verse I-ii-12 of Guhadikarana, Sri Adi Shankara states it as his final opinion that both these Upanishadic passages should be understood  according to the interpretation given of the Katha Upanishad passage by the Paingi Rahasya Brahmana which states that only SATYAKSHETRAJNYOU                         i.e. the mind and the knower of the field (Atma) have entered into the human heart - not two Atmans.  In accordance with the interpretation of a Sruti (Vedic) passage, Sri Adi Shankara gives his own view in the following words:         ``this fact of being a doer and enjoyer is only fancifully put forth as due to the want of discriminative knowledge, by the mind and the knower of the  body (Atman), of each other`s nature.  In truth, it cannot apply to either, for the mind is non-intelligent (Achetana) and the knower of the body (Kshetrajna) is without any modification or change (i.e. absolute). `` He, therefore, concludes by stating that there is one Atman only who appears either as the All-pervading Iswara or the limited Jive and it is stated to reside in the heart.

                Sri Adi Shankara also expressly states in his bhashya  (comments) on the Sutra I-ii-20 that there is only one interior Atman; it is impossible that there can be two souls; the one only is spoken of differently according to different limiting conditions, just as ether in the pot and the ether that fills all space.  The Adwaita school of philosophy, therefore, feels that it is not reasonable to maintain that there are two souls immanent in the human body.

                The word KSHETRAJNA occurs in verses 1 and 2 of Chapter XIII of Srimad Bhagawad Gita, which reads as under:

        ``(1)  This body, O Arjuna, is called the field and he who knows it is called the knower of the field by those who know them; (2)     Also, know Me as the Knower of the field in all fields.  O Arjuna, the knowledge of the field and its knowers do I consider as true knowledge.`        In the Supreme Lordís view, the knowledge of the field and its knowers is the whole crux of true knowledge.  In fact, the whole of Vedanta is based on a proper understanding of the truth relating to human individual soul and its relation to the All-pervading Supreme Self.  Both Sri Adi Shankara and Sri Ramanuja have recorded elaborate comments on the second verse and the latter strongly and vehemently refutes the former`s view.   Sri Adi Shankara himself, in his comments refers to several objections raised by his opponents who do not agree with his interpretation of verse 2 of chapter XIII of Gita.  From the objections it is quite evident that dualism seems to have been widely prevalent before the advent of Adwaita.  The most important of the numerous objections are furnished below:

        ``Objection:  Well, if it be that in all fields, there exists God alone and none else other than Him as the enjoyer or due to the absence of any mundane creature other than God, there will arise the contingency of negation of mundane existence.  And both these are undesirable since the scriptures dealing with bondage, liberation and their causes will become useless and also because they contradict such valid means of knowledge as direct perception.``        What the dualists object to is the doctrine of non-dualism.  If God is all that exists and nothing else, where is the need for creation of the physical universe and conscious selves?  Creation can have no meaning at all and the scriptures cannot serve their purpose as the most authoritative guide to attain Moksha or release.  The existence of an individual knower who uses his particular field (Kshetra) for his own ends cannot be denied as this is a self-evident and axiomatic truth needing no outside proof or testimony of any kind.  The Lordís Divine presence as the One Supreme Knower in all the fields is to help, inspire and guide the individual knowers on the path of purity, perfection and salvation.  Creation can have fruitful purpose and definite meaning only if God as the One Supreme Knower of all knowers is distinct and different from the individual knowers of particular fields.  The Lord very clearly says that He is the One Knower of all the fields.

               The strongest, most serious and highly vehement of all objections raised by the opponents to non-dualism comes under verse 31 of the same chapter of the Gita in the following form:

        ``Objection: Who is it again that acts in the body and becomes affected?  On the one hand, if there is to be some embodied being other than the Supreme Self who acts and becomes affected then it has been improper to say ``And also understand Me to be the Knower of the field in all fields `` etc that the knower of the field and God are one.  Again, if there be no embodied being who is different from God, then it has to be stated who is it that acts and gets affected.  Or it has to be asserted that the Supreme One does not exist (for if the SupremeOne also acts like all the mundane beings, then He can be no different from the ordinary human beings).  Thus, since the Upanishadic philosophy as stated by the Lord is in every way difficult to understand and difficult to explain, it has, therefore, been abandoned by the Vaisheshikas, the Sankhyas, the Jainas and Buddhists.``

                The question that arises in regard to the verses from the Katha and the Mundaka Upanishads and the Gita quoted above is- How many selves or knowers are there in the body or the field?  Is there only one self or knower as asserted by Sri Adi Shankara or are there two selves or knowers in the body or field as maintained by dualists like Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madwa and several others who followed them?  In Sri Adi Shankara`s view, the Supreme Lord is the one and only Self and knower and there is no second knower.  Sri Ramanuja, however, vehemently opposes this single self or knower theory of Adwaita quoting several relevant passages from the Upanishads and the Purana Ratna Sri Vishnu Purana to support his view that the knower of the field is the individual self who knows only his particular field whereas the All-knowing SARVAJNAHA, the All-pervading VISHNU  is the one Supreme Knower of all the individual knowers in all the fields.  The key words used by the Lord in the Gita are CHA API i.e. `and also` and SARVA KSHETRESHU i.e. in all the fields.   What the Lord declares is that He also is the One Knower of all the knowers of the individual fields.  Verse 7 of section ii of the second Mundaka of the Mundaka Upanishad also declares YAHA SARVAJNAHA SARVAVIT i.e. The Supreme Lord is Omniscient and all knowing.

                The distinctive qualities of the two selves are specifically mentioned in the subsequent passages of the Katha Upanishad through the words `` Know that the soul is the charioteer `` and ``He attains the end of the journey, that Supreme state of Vishnu VISHNOR YAD PARAMAM PADAM.  The two selves i.e. the Jivatman or individual self and the Paramatman the Supreme Brahman are mentioned as the attainer and the Supreme Goal to be attained.  In a previous passage also the two selves are spoken of as the meditator and the object of meditation through the words: ``The sage relinquishes joy and sorrow having realized by meditation ---that Effulgent One seated in the heart (Katha Upanishad I-ii-12).

                Mundane existence is characterized by happiness, sorrow and their cause is apprehended through direct perception.  Besides, from the perception of variety in the world, it can be inferred that mundane existence results from virtue and vice or the moral law of causation.  All this will become illogical if the individual self or knower does not exist and the Supreme Lord is the One and the only Knower.  The physical body cannot be said to be the knower, as such a view would be patently absurd as the body is made of inert, non-intelligent and unconscious matter.

                The perishable body bereft of consciousness cannot generate, on its own, thoughts or feelings or exercise willpower, which are the functions of only the mind of the individual knowers.  Consciousness, which illumines the knower to perceive and cognize, is an attribute of the being or self who experiences pain or pleasure or suffers from ignorance and gets enlightened with the truth of things with the help of consciousness.  The existence of an individual knower who utilizes the perishable body for his own narrow and selfish ends cannot, therefore, be denied as this is a self-evident and axiomatic truth.  If the term knower is applied to the One Supreme All-knowing Lord without a second, such a narrow and in fact, perverted interpretation of the scriptural truth would be preposterous and even absurd. The All-knowing perfect Lord who is pure, perfect and immutable cannot suffer even temporarily, any limitations or weaknesses to become ignorant, weak, finite mundane beings to suffer bondage and the indignities of the worldly life.

                It is a self-evident fact that all living beings from microorganisms to man possess both life and consciousness.  Life without consciousness can only result in vegetative existence as in coma whereas consciousness without life is a physical and psychological impossibility.  The physical body will become inanimate in the absence of consciousness and will get decomposed in the absence of life.  The inert physical body and the conscious self have no independent existence of their own, apart from the inner controlling Life Spirit.  Life and consciousness are the two inseparable aspects of human life and like space and air and the two always go inalienably together.  In fact, it is the Life Spirit that provides the Light of cognition to consciousness and energy to activate the physical body.  The Mundaka Upanishad (III-I-1) says the two birds are closely united (SAYUJYA) and bound together in close friendship (SAKHYA).  The Jivatman or individual conscious self is inseparable from Paramatama or the Supreme Self i.e.the Life Spirit.

                The exact nature and specific characteristics of both consciousness and life principle can be known only when a person is devoid of consciousness or in coma.  An unconscious person is unaware of his own existence and he does not also know what is happening around in the external world.  The presence of consciousness gives an awareness of one's individual existence and also enables him to know the objects and beings of the outside world.  Brain damage or head injury, which prevents the supply of blood as also oxygen and glucose to the brain, do affect the normal functioning of consciousness. In the state of coma,  the vital organs of the life support system like the heart, lungs, kidneys etc, continue to function despite the total loss of consciousness. The loss of consciousness beyond the possibility of revival is reckoned by some medical experts as Brain Death.  As the vital organs of the body continue to function, life cannot be considered as totally extinct.  Being or Life Spirit cannot, therefore, be equated with consciousness.  Consciousness depends for its very survival and existence on the Life Spirit but life can linger in the body even without consciousness such as in coma.

                Sri Adi Shankara was only an intellectual philosopher who did not concern himself much with the deeper aspects of psychology.  He seems to have gone more by the letter of the scriptures than on its spirit.  On the other hand, Sri Ramanuja with his brilliant exposition of Dharmi Jnana i.e. Substantive Consciousness and Dharmabhuta Jnana i.e. Attributive Consciousness reveals the depth of his knowledge of psychology in addition to his incisive philosophical comments on the Brahma Sutras in his Sri Bhashya.  In the Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahman has been described as SATYAM, JNANAM, ANANTHAM i.e. Existence, knowledge and infinity.  The term Satyam can have a variety of meanings like Truth, Existence, Being etc.  Obviously existence (Satyam) and knowledge (Jnanam) cannot mean one and the same thing.  Likewise, life principle and consciousness are not one and the same.  Existence refers to Life principle and knowledge refers to conscious awareness.  Consciousness and life principle are basically different but consciousness cannot exist independent of life principle.  Consciousness is a dependent attribute of the substantive life principle.  Chandogya Upanishad declares that in deep sleep the conscious self rests in Brahman or the Life Spirit.

                Mutually contradictory attributes of imperfection and perfection, unity and diversity etc, cannot exist in one and the same individual self.  In verse 20 of chapter X of the Gita, the Lord declares that He is the Atman (Self) in the heart of all beings.  In verse 7 of chapter XV of the Gita He further says that the Life Principle(JIVA BHUTA) in the body is an eternal portion of Himself.  The term JIVA BHUTA i.e. Life Principle finds a place also in verse 5 of chapter VII of the Gita.  While it will not be reasonable to maintain that there can be two souls immanent in the human body, there will be nothing wrong in presuming that the One Atma in the body may be having twin aspects viz. Life principle and consciousness.  It is the One Life Spirit as the substratum that possesses the attribute of consciousness of individuality.  The Katha and the Mundaka passages quoted at the beginning refers to Life Spirit and consciousness as the two separate selves as they are inalienable though two in number.  They are inseparably united and one cannot exist independent of the other. Though consciousness and life spirit may be distinct and separate as two entities like space and air, they constitute one single indivisible whole.  The life principle is the very same in all species from the microorganisms to man but the level of consciousness is different in different living beings depending on the type of body and the functions of senses.  The conscious self experiences the pleasure or pain and not the Life Principle, which is only a witness and passive spectator of the game of life.  The unity underlying the diversity is in Life Spirit and not in consciousness.

                One last point has to be dealt with in order to remove all misconceptions about One Atma with two selves.  On the basis of the Upanishadic passage PRAJNANAM BRAHMA i.e. consciousness is Brahman , Sri Adi Shankara defines the One Knower as formless, attributeless Pure Consciousness without clearly comprehending the nature and characteristics of consciousness.  Consciousness is Jada i.e. inert like light and cannot exist independently of Life Principle.  Shri Yamunacharya also known as Alavandar, in his Atma Siddhi translates Prajnanam Brahma as Brahman the Knower possessing consciousness.  The Sanskrit word Prajna occurs several times in verses 56 to 68 of Chapter II of the Gita.  The Lord refers in these verses to the Sthitha Prajna or the knower with steady wisdom and not to mere consciousness.

                In the light of the above, the Maha Vakhyas like Aham Brahmasmi, Ayam Atma Brahma, Tat Twam Asi etc, have to be interpreted as the Life Principle possessing the attribute of consciousness and not as inert consciousness.  Consciousness can neither be pure nor be impure and it is the nature of thoughts that surface in the conscious mind that makes the mind either pure or impure.  Consciousness always remains in a single steady state in the wakeful, dream and deep sleep states like the flame.

                Vedanta, as declared by Prof. Max Muller is the most sublime philosophy and the most satisfying religion.  Its rational aspects appeal to the intellect while its emotional aspects deeply impress the heart.  In the Gita, the Lord says that among the Vidyas He is the Adhyatma Vidya.  Of all the sciences, the science of soul is the most difficult to comprehend.  Philosophical interpretation ignoring the psychological aspects can endanger the very spirit of Vedanta.   The Upanishads, Gita and the Brahma Sutras, which form the Prasthana Traya or the Scriptural Trinity of Vedanta, clearly refer to the twin aspects of Life Spirit and consciousness as the Self in the human body.



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