Lat year when I was visiting Bombay, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt which proclaimed, I was an atheist till I realised I was God. It made me chuckle. It was a clever spin on the now well known Vedanta philosophy of non-dualism which states – That which is without is within. The same One pervades everything. The Self is God.
But is it really that simple and how did we come to this understanding? What does it really mean?
This brings us to the most fundamental discovery made by sages of the Upanishads.
You Are That –Tat Twam Asi
As the rishis delved into the depths of human consciousness peeling layer after layer of awareness they found that the mind is not consciousness, it is only an instrument of consciousness.
When the concentration is so profound that the mind-processes have come to a stand still and awareness has been consolidated even beyond the mind, little remains except for the awareness of “I”. Space and Time vanish and you rest in meditation in what the Taittiriya Upanishad calls the “body of joy”, a silent, ethereal inner realm at the threshold of pure being.
In this silence, Shanti, you become aware of something vast, intimately your own but not the finite limited self you had been calling “I”.
No amount of will can erase this “I”, the thin veil of personal identification that seperates us from infinite consciousness. Yet, in deep meditation it suddenly vanishes.
This state the Upanishads call turiya – literally “the fourth” for it lies beyond waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. Turiya, the Upanishads say, is waking up in dreamless sleep.
In later Hindu thought this awakening came to be know as samadhi, complete absorption or moksha, liberation, for it brings freedom from all conditioning and the limitations of mind and space.
The Upanishads tell us that when the ‘I’ has dissolved and the observer and the observed become one, just chit remains. Pure undifferentiated consciousness. This is our real Self. And, it is identical with the undifferentiated unity which the sages called the Brahman.This is not a reasoned conclusion but something that is experienced at the very centre of one’s being.
The Self is Brahman – is the central discovery of the Upanishads which gave birth to Its most famous mahavkya, formulation : “Tat twam asi” – You are That.
“That” is the characteristic way in which the Upanishads point to a Reality that cannot be described; and “you’ is not the petty, finite personality but the pure consciousness that ‘makes the eye see and the mind think’ – the Self.
And thus we come to the basis of the non- dualistic Vedanta philosophy – The Atman is Brahman, the Self is God.
To understand Self then is to understand God.
So what is the nature of this Self? The Upanishads go to great lengths to show it to us and we will look at some of the explanations in the next post.
(extracted from The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran.)