Ākāśa (Akasha) is also known as space or ether, which is one of five primary elements of creation. Ākāśa (Akasha) is prevalent everywhere. It is present in an empty jar, empty bottle, empty vessel, etc. Thus it is present everywhere. Of course, this is not omnipresent like Brahman. For example, ākāśa (Akasha) is not present in water, fire, etc. whereas, Brahman is present in and as everything. Ākāśa (Akasha) with such a huge presence is limited by upādhi-s. Upādhi means anything which may be taken for or has the mere name or appearance of another thing. Let us take the example of a jar. The huge ākāśa (Akasha) is limited by the shape of a jar. The reality of ākāśa (Akasha) is deluded by the effects of māyā, which has twin power; one is to conceal the reality and the other is to project the concealed reality as something different. The often cited example is the mistaken identity of a rope for a snake. It conceals the true nature of the rope and wrongfully projects it as snake. Similarly, the vastness of ākāśa (Akasha), though unlimited appears limited due to upādhi, limited by the shape of jar. What we see is only the jar and not ākāśa (Akasha), which remains inside the jar. Similarly, we see different shapes and forms as real, whereas in reality they are only the effects of māyā. Brahman, who is always One, appears as different due to various types of upādhi-s. Which causes these upādhi-s? It is our mind that causes these upādhi-s, as mind is influenced by māyā. Self-realization is not a complicated process, as many of us believe and these beliefs are due to innate spiritual ignorance, known as māyā. When we go past māyā or when we shed māyā, we realize Brahman. It is our ego and afflicted mind that prevents us from Self-realization. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gītā (XIII), “He exists within all beings as well as outside all beings. He is animate and inanimate as well. He is both gross and subtle. He is very far, yet He is very near. Though He is indivisible, yet appears as countless beings.” Similarly, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (VI.10.11) says, “eko devaḥ” which means Brahman is One without a second. What prevents us from realization? It is our ego and mind that prevents us from realizing It. When we shed our ego, we can be sure that we are on the right path towards Liberation. (9)
Though, the path to Liberation is explicitly explained in as simple terms as possible, one is not able to follow this path because of two reasons. First, it is the ego that prevents him from listening to someone’s experience. Second, his innate ignorance by which his mind remains totally afflicted. This is due to māyā. We give different names to Brahman such as Shiva, Vishnu, etc. due to our innate ignorance and we worship Brahman in different shapes and forms. This will never lead us towards the path of Self-realization. We have to go past all these classifications, which are discordant in nature. When Brahman is One, calling It by different names and forms will never make us to go through the passageway to Liberation. We are always associated with shapes and forms. But Advaita asks us to look within. This is explained in subsequent verses. (10)
Brahman within is covered by three types of bodies – gross, subtle and causal. Gross body with organs of action and perception is the main body, through which karma is experienced. For example, injury to limbs, etc. In other words, prārabdha karma is experienced through our gross body. Gross body is formed when the five elements unite with tamo guṇa and this process is called pañcīkaraṇa (panchikarana). There is a separate tiny treatise by name Pañcīkaraṇam by Śaṅkarācārya, which clearly indicates the importance of pañcīkaraṇa (panchikarana) or quintuplication. The other two scriptures dwell on this subject is Pañcadaśī and Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. Pañcadaśī is authored by Śrī Vidyāraṇya Swamī. Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad belongs to Atharva Veda. It is presumed that the author of this Upaniṣad could be Māṇḍūkya, a ṛṣi. Pañcīkaraṇa (panchikarana) is an interesting theory. Tamo guṇa of the five elements divides into two halves. The one half remains as it is and the other half further gets divided into four parts. The half portion that was not divided conjoins with the one fourth part of the other half of another element. The following chart for space, one of the five elements will explain this.
The following will explain the formation of the elements:
Space = 50% of space + 12.50% of air +12.50% fire +12.50% water + 12.50% earth = 100%
Air = 50% of air +12.50% space +12.50% of fire + 12.50% water + 12.50% earth = 100%
It is the same for the other three elements also. When this division is complete for all the elements, it signals the completion of pañcīkaraṇa (panchikarana) (fivefold) of the five elements. When the pañcīkaraṇa (panchikarana) is completed, the formation of gross body is also completed. (11)
While gross body is associated with tamo guṇa, subtle body is associated both with sattva and rajo guṇa-s. It is also known as sūkṣma śarīra and is just beneath the gross body. Organs of perception are formed through the predominance of sattva guṇa and organs of actions are predominantly formed with rajo guṇa. It is only the gross body that makes the subtle body to function. Primarily, the subtle body depends upon the breath or prāṇa inhaled through the nostrils. Apart from ten organs which are visible, there is a most important and yet highly subtle component called antaḥkaraṇa comprising of mind, intellect, citta and ego, which transforms an object at the time of perception. All these four work together or in tandem to cause perception of an object, causing māyā. Hence, cleansing of mind, intellect and sloughing of ego are emphasised in realising the Self within. Self can be realized only through the mind and in the mind, provided mind is purged of all impurities. Tattvabodha explains the subtle body or sūkṣma śarīraṁ as “apañcīkṛta-pañcamahābhūtaiḥ”. The difference between the gross body and the subtle body is highlighted by adding a negation through the alphabet ‘a’ before pañcīkṛta-pañcamahābhūtaiḥ, which explained the gross body. (12)