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The Atman
Introduction
Brahman and Maya
Sadhna Chatushtaya
The seven stages of Jnana
Techniques of Jnana Yoga
Advaita Vedanta
The Atman
Self Inquiry
According to the Advaita philosophy, there is only one thing real in the Universe, which it calls the Brahman; everything else is unreal, manifested and manufactured out of Brahman by the power of Maya. To reach back to that Brahman is our goal. We are, each one of us, that Brahman, that Reality, plus this Maya. If we can get rid of this Maya or ignorance, then we become what we really are. According to this philosophy, each man consists of three parts- the body, the internal organ or the mind, and behind that, what is called the Atman, the Self.

The body is the external coating and the mind is the internal coating of the Atman who is the real Perceiver, the real enjoyer, the being in the body who is responsible for the working of the body by means of the internal organ or the mind.

The Atman is the only existence in the human body which is immaterial. Because it is immaterial, itSoul cannot be a compound, and because it is not a compound, it does not obey the law of cause and effect, and so it is immortal. That which is immortal can have no beginning because everything with a beginning must have an end. It also follows that it must be formless; there cannot be any form without matter. Everything that has form must have a beginning and an end. A form comes out of a combination of force and matter. A chair, for instance, has a peculiar form, that is, a certain quantity of matter is acted upon by a certain amount of force and made to assume a particular shape. The shape is the result of a combination of matter and force. The combination cannot be eternal; there must come to every combination a time when it will dissolve. So all forms have a beginning and an end. We know our body will perish; it had a beginning and it will have an end. But the Self, having no form, cannot be bound by the law of beginning and end. It is existing from infinite time; just as time is eternal. Secondly, it must be all - pervading. It is only form that is conditioned and limited by space; that which is formless and cannot be confined in space. So, according to Advaita Vedanta, the Self, the Atman in you, is omnipresent. You are as much in the sun now as in this earth, as much in England as in America. But the Self acts through the mind and the body, and where they are, its action is visible.

According to Advaita, your atman is the same as the underlying absolute reality of the whole universe, which is called Brahman. Brahman corresponds to the Western idea of God, except that it isn't a super-powerful person. It's impersonal; it's the source of everything; it's what the universe really is.In short, your inner self - the true "me" - is God.

This idea, which is the fundamental idea of the Upanishads on which Advaita is based, can be expressed in the form of an equation:

Atman = Brahman

Or, in Western terms: Soul = God.


What distinguishes Advaita from other interpretations of the Upanishads is this: Advaita asserts that since there is only one Brahman, there is only one Atman. There's only one "me" and we all share it. We're all one "thing" - Brahman.

Moreover, only Brahman is real. The other things in the universe, like bicycles and umbrellas and our bodies, are maya. Maya is illusory because it seems to be different from Brahman but it's not. Since maya misleads us in this way, and because it's impermanent, Advaita says that maya is unreal.

The most important way that maya fools us is with regard to our selves. We think we are our bodies, our thoughts, our desires, and so forth. But those things are maya. They seem to be "me" but this is an illusion. Actually, our awareness (the part that is really "me") is something else: Brahman.

This is an enormously strange and radical idea. It means that you aren't you; you aren't any kind of person, really. You are the supreme reality that underlies the entire universe. The person who seems to be in your head, the person you believe yourself to be, is merely a psychological illusion. Your body is similar to the clothes you wear. You are not your body. You are something beyond your body. You are the soul who resides in this body.

Why Does This Matter?
Advaita Vedanta is important because by understanding it, you may be able to come closer to self-realization. In fact, by making the effort to understand it, you are engaging in Jnana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge, one of the traditional methods of attaining enlightenment.

To see why this is so, you have to examine the idea that only the atman is aware. If you close your eyes for a moment and try to focus your attention on your inner self, it will seem easy at first. You will be immediately aware of feelings, hopes, thoughts, desires, fears, and a general sense of yourself. This is the inner you, right?

Well, no. According to Advaita, if you are aware of something, it isn't really you. The real you (the atman) is the part that's aware. It's not anything of which you are aware.

Examine those inner objects on which you focused a moment ago. You were aware of them, weren't you? Even that feeling of "me" is something of which you were aware. Well, then, according to Advaita , it can't be the real you. The real you are the part that is aware, not anything that you're aware of.

This kind of examination is called viveka (discrimination) in Sanskrit. It is a main component of the traditional method of Jnana Yoga. If you keep doing it, you will discover that everything you currently regard as yourself (including your ego and mind) is not awareness. The awareness in you is different from them.

Here is an interesting fact: No matter how hard you try, you can't focus your attention on the part of you that is aware, your soul. If you could, it would become something of which you are aware of.

Making a strenuous attempt to do this, even though it's impossible, is a main component of Ramana Maharshi's method of self-inquiry (vicara in Sanskrit). If you try long enough, eventually you will become convinced that your ordinary sense of yourself - your ego - is not really you. In fact, you will realize that it's an illusion. Don't make Seeing that "you" are an illusion is a wonderful insight, but it's not self-realization.

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