Satyam Jnaanam Anantam Brahma (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1.1)
The Vedas declare that reality (Brahman) is pure Existence (Sat or Satyam), Consciousness (Cit or Jnaanam) and Infinite (Aananda or Anantam). Here is a way to understand this, based on traditional centuries old Indian texts like Drg-Drsya-Viveka and Maandukya Kaarika. The argument is the same as given in those texts. I have only used a more modern language.
What we see as the world is based on the sense organs and the instruments that extend the sense organs. The human eye can see only a limited range of frequencies. Similarly the ears can hear only a limited range. There are other animals which have a different range of vision and sound. Also, they have much more powerful sense of smell than us. So their world is an entirely different one. For example, when a cat enters a room, it knows who was sitting in the sofa an hour back based on the smell. It also knows if you have gone to the park or not based on the smell of the flowers on you. Sharks can detect the electrical current in the bodies of animals swimming in the water a few meters away. Even with all the modern technology to extend our access to the various physical phenomenon in the world, there is no reason to assume that what we detect in the world is all that actually exists. There can be entirely new kinds of matter and energy that so far we do not have senses or instruments to detect.
What we see and interpret depend on the state of our mind. If we like someone, we see them as beautiful. The chemicals and hormones in our blood affect the way we think and judge. Also, all our past experience affects our interpretation of the people, objects and situations in the world. Thus, though the world seems to appear outside us objectively, what we know of the world is only what our instruments (senses and mind) show us. We have no access to the bare naked reality that exists. This fundamental reality is referred to as Existence.
What is the nature of Existence which is beyond these apparent properties like color, sound, smell, mass, temperature, charge, momentum, etc.? We know that properties like color, sound, texture, etc. are all emergent phenomenon. When we look at things at their minutest constituents known today like quarks and leptons, these properties do not exist. There are a different set of fundamental properties, which give rise to the perceivable properties at various composite grosser levels.
Vedanta extends this concept and says, “As long as properties are experienced, you have not reached the most fundamental level.” So, every property is only an emergent phenomenon. At the ultimate fundamental level, Existence would necessarily be free from any properties. Vedanta gives an example to understand this: pot-ness does not exist in the clay out of which pot is made.
This fundamental entity, of which the whole universe is made of, is called Sat or Satyam. It cannot have any properties (nirguna). Any two objects are distinguished only based on properties. As Sat does not have any properties, is has to be only one (ekam eva adviteeyam). Any change is only change of properties. So Sat has to be changeless (nirvikaara). Changeless with respect to space and time. So Sat is all-pervading (sarvagata) and eternal (nityam). Parts of an entity is based on properties of constituents. So Sat is partless (akhanda). So, Sat is One, Infinite, All-pervading, Eternal, Changeless, Partless, Property-less, Absolute Existence.
Let us analyze the subject-object relationship in perception. When I see a flower, I (subject) am the body, including the eye. The flower is the object. Form and color of the flower are properties. When I want to judge the properties of the eye like myopia or color-blindness, I put one step back. The eye is the object. I, including the mind, is the subject. Extending this further, the real “I” is the ultimate subject, which can never become an object of perception by the senses or conception by the mind. [Drg Drsya Viveka – 1-5] This ultimate subject is called Cit or Jnaanam.
In any subject-object relationship, properties always belong to the object. To judge the property of anything, it has to be given the status of an object. I need to extend myself to the edge of the instrument that is in contact with the object (internal or external) to experience and evaluate the properties of the object. Thus, I, the Cit, being the ultimate subject, cannot have any properties.
Applying the same logic that we applied to Sat, Cit also is One, Infinite, All-pervading, Eternal, Changeless, Partless, Property-less, Absolute Existence. So, Sat and Cit are not different. They are the same entity.
Thus, real I, the Consciousness is the fundamental entity from which the whole universe has emerged. This is conveyed in innumerable statements in the various Upanishads belonging to various Vedas. As a sample, four statements, each one taken from one of the Vedas, are called mahaavaakyaas.
To understand the relationship between the infinite Sat-Cit and the finite world, less us take an example.
We have the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, … The existence of these finite numbers indicate that we can go on counting for ever. So we have the concept of “infinity” in mathematics. From the point of view of infinity, we cannot distinguish finite numbers like 1, 2, 3, etc. This can be seen from the equations below:
(1) inf – 1 = inf
(2) inf – 2 = inf
From (1) and (2),
inf – 1 = inf – 2
Thus from the point of view of infinity, 1, 2, 3, etc do not exist as discrete numbers. As the number line is homogeneous, any point on it is only imaginary. There is really no difference between one point and another point.
Thus, from the point of view of infinity, finite does not exist. But from the point of view of finite, infinite exists.
Now, we can apply the same logic to the whole of existence. We have seen that Sat-Cit is the Infinite. The world that we see is finite. From the point of view of infinite Sat-Cit, the finite world does not exist. From the point of view of the finite world, the existence of infinite Sat-Cit cannot be denied. So, Sat-Cit has absolute existence and the empirical world has only relative existence.
This relationship between the infinite and finite is called Maaya.
Thus, the whole universe exists in Me, the pure Consciousness, as a relative appearance. My existence is of a higher order of reality compared to the world. Vedanta gives an example to understand this: When a rope is mistakenly perceived as a snake in dim light, the rope is not affected by the perceived snake.
So, the world and its problems cannot affect me, just like the water in the movie does not wet the screen on which it is projected. The world is just a relative emergent superimposition which exists using me, the Sat-Cit-Ananda – Infinite Conscious Existence, as the support. This understanding frees me from all psychological defects like insecurity, anxiety, sorrow, fear and desire. This freedom is called Jivanmukti.
5. Sankara’s Summary
The three points we have seen here has been summarized as the three famous statements by the great teacher Sankara:
- Brahma satyam (from 1) – Infinite Consciousness is the fundamental reality.
- Jagat mityaa (from 3) – The finite universe is a relative appearance.
- Jeevah brahma eva na aparah (from 2) – The real ‘I’ is not different from Infinite Consciousness.
6. Jeevaatmaa and Paramaatmaa
The whole finite universe of name (conception by mind) and form (perception by senses) exists as an apparent emergent phenomenon in the pure infinite Consciousness. The Consciousness reflected on a particular body-mind complex is called Jeevaatmaa. The Consciousness reflected on the whole universe is called Paramaatmaa or Ishvara. As long as the person considers himself as an individual, Ishvara cannot be denied. When the person understands and identifies himself as the real ‘I’, which is pure Consciousness, he understands that the real Ishvara and the real Substratum of the world are also the same pure Consciousness.
- Taittriya Upanishad
- Mandukya Karika
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