Vedānta Series – 9
Recap: Sādhanacatuṣṭayaṁ refers to four types of practice. They are discrimination, renunciation, six fold wealth (i. mind control, ii. control of external sensory organs, iii. observance of one’s dharma, iv. endurance of pleasure and pain, v. faith in the words of guru and Holy Scriptures and vi. single pointed attention) and finally desire for final liberation, which is also known as mumukṣutvaṁ. Unless an aspirant has successfully completed these four steps, he cannot truthfully seek the Brahman for liberation. There are bound to be impediments in spiritual path and one should have an exceptional will power to overcome the impediments. Tattvabodha now proceeds to explain further steps to attain liberation.
The next step is to attain true knowledge about the Self or the Brahman. Except Brahman, everything is unreal is the truth. Tattvabodha says, “ātmā satyaḥ tadanyat sarvam mithyā iti आत्मा सत्यः तदन्यत् सर्वम् मिथ्या इति”. This means ātmā satyaḥ - Self is truth; tadanyat – other than Self (ātmā); sarvam mithyā – rest are unreal. Therefore understanding of the Self or Brahman is essential for an aspirant after having successfully practiced sādhanacatuṣṭayaṁ. Knowing the Self is different from experiencing the Self. Knowledge alone leads to experience. Knowledge is theoretical and experience is practical and the former leads to the latter.
To put it simply, the real is the one that does not undergo changes at all and remains the same at all times. Unreal is the one that undergoes constant changes known as growth and ultimate decay. Whichever undergoes growth has to ultimately perish one day. This is the difference between real and unreal. Whatever is visible to our biological eyes undergo constant modifications and ultimately perish. Whatever is visible to our eyes are gross in nature. All gross matters are subject to decay and ultimate death. Subtle matters cannot be seen and can only be experienced. For example, air is subtle in nature and can only be experienced. But when the air blows, one should know that it is only the air that blows. If one does not have enough knowledge about air, he will feel that he is being pushed by unknown forces, when the wind blows with high velocity. Whether subtle or gross, knowledge is essential to understand them. Real is known as sat and unreal is known as asat. Nitya is eternal and is not subjected to modification and mithyā is ephemeral and is subjected to changes. Preliminary knowledge is that Brahman, also known as Self alone is Imperishable and Eternal. Every other thing is perishable and ephemeral.
Since Brahman is not visible to biological eyes, He can only be understood through known sources of examples. It is inappropriate to address Brahman as He, She or It as Brahman is beyond gender. But for the sake of easier understanding and convenience, Brahman is generally addressed as He or It. When it is said that Brahman is subtle, obviously it means that He is devoid of forms. One cannot give a form to air, because it is not possible to give a form. In the same way, one cannot give a form to the Brahman. Brahman is variously described in Upanishads, only through affirmations and negations.
Kena Upanishad describes the Brahman like this: “Brahman is different from all known and familiar objects. He is beyond even unknown objects. Know that alone to be Brahman which cannot be described by speech. Know that alone to be Brahman which one cannot see through eyes.” Having said that in chapter I, the Upanishad continues to say in chapter II, “When you know Brahman well, it means you only know a litlee about Him. Brahman should still be investigated.”
The next question that Tattvabodha asks is ‘What is Self’?