Even though, the Self is omnipresent and is the cause of every individual existence, why are we unable to realize this truth? Self is omnipresent and eternal. It is has neither beginning nor end. This being the fact, and revealed in Upaniṣhads, why, we still consider ourselves as limited and associate ourselves with a name and form?
What is the role of the Self (also known as Ātman or Brahman) in our existence? Īśha Upaniṣhad explains this. “The Self is one without a second, complete in itself. It never moves, but much faster than the mind. It’s Power that moves everything (It does not move, but It’s Power is the cause for all the movements in the universe)”. Thus, we can understand that Brahman alone cannot do anything, as it is always inert, immobile. It is the source or cause of everything – creation, sustenance and absorption. This is further explained in Īśha Upaniṣhad. “asya sarvasya antaḥ asya sarvasya bāhyataḥ”, which means It is the inmost of everything and also present outside (of everything). Therefore, it proves that Brahman is omnipresent.
It is the innate ignorance that is responsible for making us, not to understand this reality. This innate ignorance is known as Māyā, which is nothing but the Power of Brahman. Since māyā is inseparable from the Self Itself, it is called innate (it is congenital) ignorance. It is this māyā that prevents our knowledge in knowing or realizing the Self. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gītā, “Though I am eternal, indestructible and Lord of all living beings, abiding in my Prakṛti, I manifest due to my yoga māyā (which is also known as worldly illusion).” How can māyā be explained. It can simply be explained as the dark clouds covering the bright sun. When the clouds move, we can see the sun and as long as the cloud remains, we cannot see the sun. What is the difference between mundane existence and realization? Mundane existence is sun’s light covered by dark clouds. We still see everything, when sun is covered with clouds. But without clouds, we not only see the sun, but also see the world better. Sun is compared to the Self and clouds are compared to māyā. This māyā can be removed only through knowledge and there is no other way to realize the Self. Thus, spiritual knowledge is important in Self-realization. How to attain this knowledge is being discussed in Ātmabodha. (4).
Knowledge can be attained through persistent and quality meditation. At the end of quality meditation, we understand māyā. Here, meditation does not mean meditating on a mantra or on a form. Brahman does not have a form. It is out of our innate ignorance we give shapes and forms of Brahman, such as Śiva, Parāśakti, Viṣṇu, etc. In reality, they are non-existent in these names or forms or shapes. Only the inexplicable Brahman exists, who alone is Omnipresent. Īśha Upaniṣhad says that those who worship gods and goddesses (with forms as described above) surely attain immortality for a specific period of time, which means that he is born again after his sojourn in higher realms, only to be reborn again. This means, that he continues to transmigrate and is not liberated. The Upaniṣhad further says that those who worship manifested forms go into deep darkness, which means that they have no chance of Liberation in the next several births.
The ultimate truth is extremely difficult to understand. When it is said that there are no gods like Śiva, Parāśakti, Viṣṇu, etc. one can easily say that the one who says this, is an atheist. Unfortunately, this is the truth. Brahman is one and It alone is eternal. It has no gender. Muṇḍaka Upaniṣhad says, “This very Brahman is the universe. It is Supreme and immortal and Blissful. It is spotless and formless.” If we continue to get associated with different shapes and forms of gods and goddesses and their mantras, we cannot attain liberation. However, as discussed earlier, after death, he will go to higher realms, only to be reborn again. Worshiping shapes and forms is an addiction, the work of māyā. In fact, this is the main work of māyā, which causes delusion and illusion, veiling the Brahman. Only knowledge can remove this veil of ignorance. In order to remove māyā, first we have to understand what māyā is. Knowledge works from two fronts; one, it removes the veil of māyā and next, it reveals Brahman. Suppose we remove a curtain in our home. How can we do that? First we have to realize it is curtain and second we should know that it can be removed. Similarly, māyā should be understood first and only then can we remove it. For both, knowledge is required.
Why we are not able to attain this kind of knowledge, which is the ultimate? Again, it is the work of māyā. We are not satisfied with one mantra. For every purpose, we go after different mantras. Even then we are not satisfied. We go to temples to ward off our karmas. Karmas have to be experienced and can never be shed. We reap what we sow in. We cannot get apples by sowing the seeds of oranges. All of us experience both pleasure and pain in our life. When the intensity of pain is more, we go after remedial measures, take dip in sacred rivers, etc. by spending a major portion of our savings or earnings. Why do we do this? Again it is our ignorance that makes us to waster our time, energy and money. This can be warded off only through knowledge. If we read Upaniṣhads and Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, we can understand this truth.
Truth is always unpalatable and Ātmabodha reveals the ultimate truth through 68 verses, which are now being discussed. (5)