a r t i c l e s    o n    h i n d u i s m

Verily consciousness is Brahman

From ancient times, seekers of truth aiming at emancipation (moksa) have hankered after the knowledge of the self (atman confined in the body) vis-a-vis the cosmic supreme Self (Brahman). That the two are same has been established by the mahavakya: Ayam atma Brahma (The self is Brahman). In Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, Yajnavalkya emphatically tells his wife-disciple Maitreyi, "Self alone should be heard of, should be contemplated and be meditated upon."

That being so, an inquiry about the nature of the self is natural. In Aiterya Upanishad, a seeker has posed the question: "What is that we meditate/worship as atman the self or the supreme Self, the Brahman? Also, which of the two (para-brahman or apara-brahman) is to be meditated upon? Is it that by which a living being sees (form), hears sound, smells (odour), utter words (speech) or that which he discriminates between what is sweet and what is not sweet (sour)?

The question aims at a clear understanding of Its real nature for the purpose of a proper meditation. The atman (Brahman) has been described as both with attributes (saguna with attributes, meaning Hiranyagarbha which can be attained and that without attributes (nirguna, which can only be realised). It is not unnatural that a non-indiscriminating mind lumps all activities of organs of sense-perception and collectively considers these as atman.

Each organ of sense perception responds to a particular sensation that leads to cognition. But one hears what is good and also what is not good, one smells what is pleasant and also what is fetid and also one sees what is worth seeing and what is not worth seeing. A close scrutiny reveals that since atman that is unborn, eternal which must be unchanging in its nature, cannot have a variable element as an integral part in its being. Thus, these could not be the self (atman) that is to be worshiped for seeking the knowledge that leads to emancipation.

The process of cognition has to be distinguished in terms of gathering the cognition, collectively from different senses, and that which enables a panoramic view of the external world. For example, eye only provides a visual sensation of an object. The process of seeing has to be coordinated with the mind. It is said, "one sees with the mind". Some time we may "see" an object but if the mind was not attentive, one would say, "I saw that but I was out of mind" - meaning I did not give any attention.

The verse continues: Does one worship consciousness as Brahma, Prajapati (the first born), other gods, etc., who are themselves evolved from the Brahman or the five elements of nature: Earth (prithvi); water (jal); fire (agni); air (vayu); and, ether (akasa), which are themselves insentient or the big and small men, animals and birds that fly and objects (as trees) that do not move?

One has to keep in mind that instruments of cognition that enable various functional activities, heart, mind and antahkaran are verily (names of) those which arise from consciousness, and hence enable knowledge. The sense, mind, antahkarana function only as long as the atman is in the body and provides to it the consciousness. Both are needed. Even when there is the self within, but when one is rendered unconscious, say by a head injury or on being administered anaesthesia, one does not have cognition of objects around him. Also, after the self has discarded the body as on death and there is no consciousness, there is no cognition or a knowledge of the objects around one.

It is the self within the body that is the cause of consciousness that enables functioning of various organs of sense perception and action, mind, antahkaran, prana, etc., as the effect. Thus consciousness (prajnana within) is the basis of all activities and has to be the object of meditation.

It is concluded that all these and the whole world, impelled by consciousness, is based on consciousness (prajna) within. Therefore, consciousness (at the body level) is verily the atman which at the cosmic level is Brahman. Thus is the mahavakya Prajnanam Brahman.










Copyright 2001 - All Rights Reserved.

a r t i c l e s    o n    h i n d u i s m