Vedanta points out that what shine here as ‘I’ is pure consciousness ... who is independent, timeless (indestructible) and purna (whole) – who is ever the one who illumines, enlivens, empowers the body and mind, who is indeed never the illumined.
There is a rule given by Vedanta – the subject ‘I’, the conscious being who experiences life, is distinct from every object of experience even though no object of experience is ever separate from consciousness, the one who experiences. One can understand this in several ways. No object of experience can reveal its presence without the presence of a conscious being who cognizes it. Again the very being of the object of experiences, its ‘isness’ is not separate from the ‘isness’ or existence of the conscious being who cognizes it. It is one Being-consciousness who manifests as the conscious-experiencer as well as the experienced object.
This rule that the conscious-experiencer is distinct from, independent of the experienced object is easy enough to understand ... I see the wall... I experience the wall ... so wall is an object of my experience of seeing ... I am different from the wall. Easy enough.
What about I see the body, I experience the body, I experience the mind in its various forms of thoughts, feelings, doubts, memories, ego .... when it comes to the body and mind that I am endowed with I am not able to say that I am distinct from them. In my understanding the body is me, the mind is me.
Here is where we need more knowledge. What is difference between consciousness-I and every object of experience which includes this body and this mind.
Vedanta points out that consciousness that shines as ‘I’ is not the body-mind, nor is it a part of the body-mind, not a property of the body-mind, nor is it a product of the body-mind. It is self-existing and self-revealing – in fact it is the only self-existing, self-revealing INDEPENDENT, CHANGLESS REALITY (satya), ever-free of energy and matter which are its apparent every-changing manifestations. Consciousness is oneself- so it can never be an object of experience. Consciousness is ever the subject and never the object. Consciousness is oneself- so it can never be an object of experience
Consciousness illuminates, reveals everything else – we find that not even the brilliant sun can reveal its presence in the absence of a conscious being to cognize it. No object of experience can reveal itself – therefore objects of experience are considered as basically inert as they do not have the capacity to reveal themselves. Thus every object of experience is a DEPENDENT, CHANGING REALITY (mithya). And consciousness, the independent absolute reality is basis of, the content of the dependent changing reality of energy and matter.
Consciousness is indestructible, free of time – it ever was, it ever is, it ever will-be. Whereas objects of experience are all within the purview of time – they arise to go. They manifest and again resolve back into the unmanifest again.
Consciousness is all-pervading – it is here, there and everywhere. Whereas objects of experience have limitations in pervasiveness.
Consciousness-I is to be recognized as it is. Recognising Consciousness-I to be as it is is to have true knowledge of ‘I’ and this knowledge liberates one from the sorrow of taking oneself to be the mortal body-mind.
A very useful sadhana which helps us to recognize that what shine here as “I”is self-evident, self-revealing, immediate consciousness which is indeed distinct from whatever is experienced in its presence, is the sadhana, the discipline of ‘witnessing’ one’s thoughts. This discipline trains us to separate self-evident consciousness-I from thought and recognize that I am indeed independent of thoughts/ mind. We can extend it to witnessing actions also – which will not be considered in this article.
Witnessing means one observes one’s thoughts without involvement. We can also put it as ‘observing’ without attachment. So I am the one who observes the thoughts that arise in my mind, and the thoughts are what are observed. I am the drshta, the observer of thoughts, the self-evident conscious being, the atma and the thoughts are drshya, the observed, which is dependent on me for being observed.
Our Shastra gives us a thorough understanding of thoughts by guiding us to observe our thoughts, gain more understanding about them by labelling them, and then letting them go. So we start by observing individual thoughts as they arise, we label them and let go of any holding onto them – or subscribing to them by allowing them to create a story. This allows us over a period of time, to discover, that the conscious that I am is the invariable, in whose presence thoughts are illumined, and even though I am intimately present when thought is there, I am unaffected by the thought.
When we observe we can find out:-
1. In which state is my mind currently – is it
a. disturbed/troubled (kshipta)
b. dull/heavy (mudha)
c. Distracted, partly focussed (vikshipta)
d. One-pointed, focussed (ekagra)
e. Disciplined, mastered (niruddha)
2. Is this thought
a. coloured or afflicted (klishtha)
b. not colored or not afflicted (aklishtha)
3. Is this thought
a. Useful to our growth
b. Not useful to growth
4. Which qualities or gunas are dominant with this thought
a. Sattva – noble, knowledgeable, light
b. Rajas – active, ambitious, moving
c. Tamas - inert, stable, stagnant
5. If the thought is coloured, which colourings are dominant?
a. Forgetting of one’s truth, veiling (avidya)
b. Claiming ‘I’-ness – (asmita)
c. Being attracted to or drawn towards (raga)
d. Having aversion for, or wanting to avoid (dvesha)
e. Fear of death, loss, anxiety –(abhinivesha)
6. Which type of thought is this?
a. Clear, correct, valid knowledge – pramana
b. Unclear, contradictory, misunderstood – viparyaya
c. Conceptualizing, fantasy –vikalpa
d. Sleepy, focussed on anatma -nidra
e. Memory, recalling –smriti
7. How strong is this colouring? You can grade it as low, medium, high
8. How do I know this is true?
a. Through perception (pratyaksha)
b. Through reasoning /logic (Tarka)
c. Through scriptures (pramana or Agama)
Having labelled the thought, I can ask myself is this thought pattern who I am, or am I the conscious being who illumines the thought, who is the one who has the thought, who is distinct from the thought.
I discover that like light, in whose all-pervading presence all things are illumined, and yet light is untouched by what it illumines, I too am the self-evident conscious being, in whose all-presence, different thought arise and resolve, and yet I am untouched by the thought.
Om Tat Sat.