Vedānta Series - 4

The dawn of spirituality can be experienced by the inner urge to realise the Supreme Self. One can know the sprouting of spirituality, when his mind gradually disassociates from materialistic life. Normally, one’s spiritual journey begins at the end of his religious pursuits. Religious faith lays strong foundation for spirituality, as Holy Scriptures are abundant in religions. But all the religions culminate in the Supreme Spirit, who is also known as the Brahman or Self. Spiritual practice is nothing but acquiring knowledge about the Brahman. During the process of acquiring knowledge, the aspirant’s mind undergoes gradual transformation from mundane level to higher level by gradually reducing its dependence on sensory organs. The mind gradually develops ability to get associated with the prevailing inner peace and silence. The mind now begins its transformation.

The first among sādhanacatuṣṭayaṁ or the four fold practice is discrimination. Discrimination is the capacity to understand the difference between real and un-real. Vivekacūḍāmaṇi (verse 17) says, “The one who is able to discriminate between the Real and un-real, who has turned away from the un-real, who has developed inner calm, who truly longs for liberation is the apt person to inquire into Brahman.” The qualities of the aspirant are being explained. Sensory retreat of the mind is paramount in spiritual pursuit. As long as the mind is associated with sensory organs, inner calmness is not realised. Mind becomes turbulent when it gets associated with sensory organs. The turbulent mind cannot feel the inner peace and joy that already exists.

All that exists in the universe is subject to modification and ultimate destruction. Whenever there is growth, there has to be destruction. Except the Brahman, everything else is undergoing constant changes and therefore they have to perish at some point of time. A child is born, grows to adulthood, old age and ultimate death. This happens in succession. Tattvaodha says “nitya vastu ekaṁ brahma” which means that Eternal is only the Brahman. Primarily, discrimination means the difference between what is Permanent and what is impermanent or the difference between the Brahman and others. Brahman is the subtle force that pervades the universe entirely. What we see through our biological eyes are only superimpositions on the subtle form of the Brahman. It is only the superimposed matter that is born, grows and dies. The cause behind this growth is the Brahman. Brahman is the cause and the universe is the effect. Without subtle energy of the Brahman, nothing can grow. Since everything that we see undergoes modifications by means of growth, Brahman is said to be all pervasive and omnipresent. It is like innumerable eclectic bulbs burn due to the subtle electric energy.

But how do we know that the Brahman alone is permanent? Not because Holy Scriptures say so, but because of evidence and logical reasoning. From a tiny seed a how a huge tree grows? This is evidence. Everything happens in a predetermined way. Who decides all this before hand? There has to be some force behind all the natural phenomena. The force behind is known as the Brahman. In fact, the most potent force cannot be known by names and forms as He is beyond names and forms. The one who is bound by time is perishable. Whatever we see with biological eyes is bound by time, as there is evidence of growth. Who is the cause for this growth? There has to be some force behind this growth and the force is termed as Brahman only for easy understanding. He can be only realised and understood and cannot be seen. That is He is said to be smaller than an atom. This is reasoning.

The human mind is so ignorant, it identifies only our body as the self. While identifying, the mind fails to look into the reality, because inherent nature of the mind is its association with sensory organs. Our biological eyes misinform the mind that shapes and forms are real. This misconception happens due to ignorance or ajñāna. Jñāna means knowledge and its opposite is ajñāna. The effect of ignorance induces us to look only at the gross forms, and not at the subtle form that makes the gross form to function. This subtle form remains sheathed by ignorance and is known as the Brahman. Ignorance is the cause for duality. It is only due to ignorance, we consider gross form and Brahman as two different entities. The fact is that forms are only superimpositions on the all pervasive Brahman. Why ignorance or ajñāna is the reason for deceptive look? Ajñāna has certain qualities known as guṇa-s. It is made up of three types of guṇa-s knows as sattva (pure), rajas (active) and tamas (inertia). These three qualities in turn produce two products known as āvaraṇa or sheath and vikṣepa or projection.

No existence is possible without guṇa-s. They are inherent in nature and are the cause for the creation itself. The quality of a person depends upon the predominance of any one of the qualities. Let us take the example of snake and rope. Rope is often mistaken for snake in darkness. The mistake happens due to ignorance. This ignorance is caused, first due to concealment and then projection. Sheathing conceals the reality and wrongly projected as un-real. The real form of rope is concealed and deceptive form of the snake is projected as real. It is the case with us also. The true form of the Brahman is concealed and deceptively projected as body, which the mind considers as real.

Therefore, discrimination means the difference between Real and un-real or Eternal and impermanent. Real or Eternal is the Brahman and every other object is impermanent. Except Brahman everything else is perishable.

Further Readings:

Vedanta - An Overview

Types of Vedanta Philosophy 

Advaita Philosophy

Vedanta - Mind and Sense Control