When we talk about self-knowledge, we have to identify who that self is. What do we mean when we say ‘I’? It is an irony that the word ‘I’ has no definite object. Every other word elicits a known object or concept in the mind. Say the word “pot” and the corresponding thought-form of the object pot is there. This is how language functions. If I hear the word “pot” and see “cot” you would say I have erroneous knowledge. If I see nothing, you would say I am totally ignorant of the object “pot.” If I use the word “gagaboogai”—a meaningless, nonsense word—I use it as just that, not to connote something in the world.
So who is this ‘I’? Who is this ‘I’ that I experience so intimately—who is myself? It seems to be this I who is unhappy, who cannot get his life together, who wants to fulfill his potential, his capacities, who wants a meaningful relationship, who does not want to suffer, and, now, who wants to know himself. I want to address this I. I want to see this I. Who is he?
It is my experience that I am here as a conscious being and everything else is the world. We can reduce the entire creation to two factors, one the subject and the other the object. Anything I can objectify is an object and the one who objectifies is the subject. I am not there in an object because it is something I know. Here object includes not only the tangible but also the intangible, such as time and space.
While it is an acceptable fact that I am the subject and as a subject I am not anywhere in the world as an object of my knowledge, one tends to conclude that I, the subject, am the physical body. But, then, we tend to overlook the fact that the physical body is an object. I know my body and all its corners and crevices. But since the subject and object are always two different entities, since the knower of anything is distinct form the thing he knows, then I cannot be the physical body. Similarly, if I try to attribute the identity of ‘I’ to any function or system of the body, it resolves in the same subject-object, knower-known relationship.
If I am neither the physical body, its sense organs, the psychological system, nor any relative role I play, then what is left? I must be the mind. The thoughts of the mind are objects. Each perception, conclusion, doubt, etc., is known as an object. So even though I say, “I am restless, I am agitated,” I am only speaking of conditions that belong to the mind. The thoughts come and go but I am still here. Before the thought arrives, while the thought is there, and after it goes away, I am very much present. So that means I am independent of thought.
In Sanskrit we call the total mind with its various functions antaÒkaraÙa. KaraÙa means instrument. So the mind is an instrument capable of giving me knowledge, imaginations, memories, emotions, problems, and so on. Being an instrument, it must necessarily be in the hands of something else that is different from it, like any other instrument. The telescope for example does not see through itself. Therefore, ‘I’ cannot be the mind. You could say perhaps that what is different from all this is ignorance. But even ignorance is an object. What I know I know, and what I do not know also I know. (I know, for example, that I am ignorant of Russian language.)
Therefore, if you analyze the situation you would have to say “I exist and I know. I am the a knower of things. Things I know vary, but I am the one who knows all the time.” But here, we have to go one more step. That is, if I am the knower of all this, I am the knower only when I come to know something. In other words, with reference to things known, I am the knower. If I reduce the identity of ‘I’ to the knower, what does “knower” mean? As the one who is aware of “I am.” The ‘er’ is added to aware to mean “the one who” and is again a relative name. The ‘I’ I want to know is the one who is unrelated to anything and that can only be the content of the knower, the awarer—which is awareness. And this unqualified awareness is the meaning of the word ‘
I.’ If you place ‘I’ anywhere else but in the subject, the ultimate
subject, you commit a mistake.
In the body, awareness is. In the thought, awareness is. But awareness is also independent of both. Both depend on awareness for their existence, but awareness depends on nothing. It is self-existent, self-evident. Once I see that I am this awareness, I am free from all possible limitations that I can ever suffer from.
One seeks happiness and takes happiness to be a state of mind, an experience, and so it comes and goes. Even at that, for its brief moment of glory it has to be worked for, struggled for and hoarded for. The ‘I’ one comes to know as oneself through this teaching is said to be fullness (Ënanda). For the self, being formless awareness has no limit, no qualities to circumscribe it and cannot be but fullness, completeness, and happiness. It must not be clear that fullness is not the quality of an object outside, nor is it inside the physical body. When I pick up a moment of happiness, I am simply with myself. At that moment the mind is not wanting. Because that coincides with the gain of a desired end, we attribute it to the thing. However it is the very absence of any want or projection that allows one that golden moment of being with oneself.
The self which is said to be awareness (cit) and fullness (Ënanda), is also said to be that which always is, which is never negated (sat).
We showed in the beginning that people’s urges and pursuits, if reduced to their fundamental forms, would be expressed in the desire to live and live happily and to be free from ignorance. When the teaching unfolds the nature of the self, its identity is revealed as:
sat existence which is never negated.
cit awareness, the basis of all that is known.
Ananda fullness, without limit.
If awareness is the real meaning of ‘I’ then ‘I’ is not a historical person. All the problems one suffers from belong to the historical I, the relative I, the falsely identified I. It is something like an actor, playing the part of a beggar, who takes the hunger and poverty of the beggar home with him after the show. All problems belong, in fact, to the object of one’s knowledge, not to the subject who witnesses them. It is something like watching a congested traffic scene and saying, “I am congested.” Yet we watch the traffic of our thoughts flow and take its various conditions upon ourselves. These problems belong to the mind. The problems belong to the object, not to the subject. That is true objectivity.
A wise man, a liberated being knowing himself to be full and complete, is not dependent on a situation or thing or condition to be full. You could say he is a master of himself because he knows the truth of himself. In knowing the truth of himself, he naturally comes to know the truth of the world, of the objects of knowledge. The problem that he originally took as real and thus needed to resolve, he now sees as belonging to a false person. He knows, “I am the one who gives reality to that person. I have no problem. I am so full and complete that nothing can add to me or take from me.” That is seeing oneself and one’s life as they are. Only then can a topical problem be tackled for what it really is.
VedËnta has always been an oral tradition, passed from teacher to student. It is a means of knowledge (pramana). As an oral tradition, it requires a teacher who handles the words and unlocks the meaning behind the words. To say, “You are full, you are limitless,” is one thing, but to make the student see what that actually means is another. If that is not done, the words just evolve into another conditioning. Thus, the subject matter being so unique, being neither an object nor a concept, yet undeniably there, the communication of it requires very special handling. Words must be elaborately defined so that what is meant is what is received. Paradoxes must be juggled, illustrations handled, and contexts set up so that the implied meanings can be seen. For this a teacher is necessary, because he knows the truth as well as the methodology for revealing it.
Finally, he who comes to this teaching comes to it with a particular attitude. Being a mumukshu, desirous of knowledge, he has discerned the nature of the problem to a degree, and so there is receptivity, openness to what the teacher teaches. What is sought is very simply the truth. This distinguishes the teaching from all other types of learning and problem solving. We find that in the very learning process there is love and trust that come from the relief of discovering the means for what you really want to gain. The teacher is not an authority but a candle that lights another candle.
Thus, this knowledge gives a person the end that he was seeking in all his pursuits and in all problems. He sees the true nature of the “owner” of the problem and the true nature of the problem itself.