The Goal and Uniqueness of Vedānta-2
In the first essay, we saw that the usual means of objective knowledge such as perception and inference are not appropriate for cognizing or realizing our true Self. It is because the Self, being the very subject, is not available for objectification. The Self is of the nature of conscious principle (Chaitanya Svarūpah) that lends sentiency to all our objective experience. It cannot be known in the ordinary sense of knowing things. For It is the Light of lights (jyotiṣāṃ jyotiḥ: Gita 13.17; Mund. Up. 2.2.10; jyotiṣāṃ jyotir Br. Up. 4.4.16). To know it is like turning the light on the very Light of lights. It is the self-illumined (Svayam Jyotih) light.
The one and only one goal of Vedānta is to help the seeker discover the truth of this unchanging conscious principle by oneself, within oneself, here and now. Vedānta is not a doctrine or intellectual creed and does not postulate an eschatological goal to be reached later in future.
How can we know the Knower? That is the question. Or is it? Or do we need to revise our question?
Yajñāvalkya, the great sage, concludes his teachings in the famous wisdom text, Bṛhadāraṇkya Upaniṣad 4.5.15, “Through what, O Maitreyī, should one know the Knower? (विज्ञातारमरे केन विजानीयात् vijñātāramare kena vijānīyāt) So you have got the instruction, Maitreyī. This much indeed is (the means of) immortality, my dear. Saying this Yājñavalkya left. [Madhavananda trans., pp. 543-544]
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s take slow steps toward this knowledge which has been called the Sovereign Science (rāja-vidyā: Gita 9.2). Let’s define our terms first at the very outset of our quest.
Defining our Terms
Ignorance (avidyā): In Vedānta, ignorance (avidyā) does not mean general ‘lack of information’ about something. Avidyā means lack of self-knowledge or self-ignorance.
Knowledge (vidyā): In Vedānta, knowledge means Self-knowledge.
Self (Ātman): ‘Self’ in Vedānta refers to our innermost conscious-principle that is intuited as a felt sense of being and presence. It is our undeniable sense of conscious-presence. Whether one is fully aware of it or not, it is always experienced uninterruptedly as ‘I am.’ The words, ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ are not used in Vedānta.
The goal of Vedānta is to realize or cognize the Self as a moment-to-moment living fact in our own experience. It is called Self-Realization. As we will see later, Self-Realization is not a matter of gaining or creating anything new. Things that are separate from us in time and space require time for their creation or acquisition. The Self, which is our very own inmost reality, is always there, ever-attained. It just needs to be recognized as such. So, Self-Realization is not a journey; it is a home coming. It is the attainment of ever-attained (prāptasa-prāpati).
I Want Enlightenment?
When first told to “know the self,” many well-intentioned seekers misconstrue that the self is something that has to fist “known” and then “experienced.” This is also sometimes mistakenly referred to as getting “enlightened” in pop-spirituality. The seeker starts imagining all sorts of things from seeing the “blue light” to hearing unstruck sound!
If being enlightened means experiencing Reality or one’s true Self, then experiencing the Self becomes a self-defeating proposition, for Self cannot be experienced or known—not at least in the usual sense. Why? Because we are the Self! How can the experiencer be experienced? How can the Knower be known? How can eyes see themselves, ears hear themselves?
It seems that two things have to clearly understood to avoid any pitfalls on the path.
First, Self-knowledge is not something to be gained; only self-ignorance has to be removed. Therefore, enlightenment is about removing the ignorance about self not gaining some new self-knowledge.
Second, the logic of “first-information-then-experience” works perfectly in our ordinary experience. First, we come to know about things and then we want to gain things or experience things. It is because those things, being external to us, are separated from us by time and space. For example, I come to know about an expensive car. I want to get it; I want to experience it because car is separated from me in time and space.
However, this logic does not work with regard to Self-knowledge. Self is not separate from us at all. It is the closest, the inner-most core of us all. Being so, it is ever-attained. Being the closest, we tend to miss it. This has to be recognized. In the realm of Self-knowledge, therefore, to know the self is to be the self.
One may ask: What is the need of studying with a teacher or reading wisdom texts if Self is already an accomplished fact? Only this: Just as we need a mirror to see our eyes—we cannot see them directly—even so we need teachers and books. They do not reveal the Self; only remove the self-ignorance. They act as mirrors.
Being is ever-experienced and ever-realized; it is just that it is not experienced as an “object” as such. Being or the Self, being the Subject, by definition, it cannot be objectified. Knowing [this] is being. These were the parting instructions of sage Yajñāvalkya to his consort Maitreyī: “By what can one know the Knower?”
With this enigmatic question the sage left, we are told, for there was nothing left to be told further.
Thus, the “wanting” to get “enlightened” business has to go.
You are already That!
To be continued….