Essay on Sahkara’s Conception of the self, Bondage and Liberation

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We have found already that Sankara believes in unqualified monism. All distinctions between objects and objects, the subjects and the object, the self and God are the illusory creation of maya.

He holds fast to the conception of identity without any real difference and tries to follow it out logically in every respect. He accepts, therefore, without any reservation, the identity of the Soul and God that is repeatedly taught in the Upanisads.

Man is apparently composed of the body and the soul. But the body which we perceive is, like every other material object, merely an illusory appearance.

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When this is realised, the reality that remains is the soul which is nothing other than God. The saying, ‘That thou art’, means that there is an unqualified identity between the soul, that underlies the apparently finite man, and God.

It is true that if we take the word ‘thou’ in the sense of the empirical individual limited and conditioned by its body, and the word ‘that’ as the reality beyond the world, there cannot be an identity between the ‘thou’ and ‘that’.

We have to understand, therefore, the word ‘ thou’ to imply pure consciousness underlying man and ‘that’ to imply also pure consciousness which forms the essence of God. Between these two, complete identity exists and is taught by the Vedanta.

An identity judgment like ‘This is that “Devadatta”‘ (which we pass on seeing Deviate for a second time) makes the above point clear. The conditions which the man had the previous day cannot be exactly identical with those he has the second day.

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Therefore, there cannot be any identity between the men qualified by one set of conditions with the man qualified by another set. What we mean, therefore, must be that the man, viewed apart from the different conditions, is the same.

Similar is the case with the identity taught between the Self and God. The Self, viewed apart from the conditions that differentiate it from pure consciousness, is identical with God viewed apart from the attributes that differentiate Him from pure consciousness.

Such identity judgment is not tautological and superfluous, because it serves the purpose of pointing out that what are illusorily taken as different are really one.

The identity that is taught between man and God is a real identity between terms which appear as different.

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Being identical with God, the soul is in reality what God also really is. It is the supreme Brahman the self-luminous, infinite, consciousness. The soul appears as the limited, finite self because of its association with the body which is a product of ignorance.

The body is not composed simply of what we perceive through the senses. In addition to the gross perceptible body, there is also a subtle one, composed of the senses, the motor organs (these two groups together being called indriyas), vital elements (pranas) and internal mechanism of knowledge (antahkarana).

While the gross body perishes on death, the subtle body does not, and it migrates with the soul to the next gross body. Both of these bodies are the products of maya.

Owing to ignorance, the beginning of which cannot be assigned, the soul erroneously associates itself with the body, gross and subtle. This is called bondage. In this state it forgets that it is really Brahman.

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It behaves like a finite, limited, miserable being which runs after transitory worldly objects and is pleased to get them, sorry to miss them.

It identifies itself with a finite body and mind (antahkarana) and thinks ‘I am stout,’ ‘I am lame,’ ‘I am ignorant.’ Thus a rises the conception of the self as the ‘Ego’ or T.

This limited ego opposes itself to the rest of existence, which is thought to be different from it. The ego is not, therefore, the real self, but is only an apparent limitation of it.

Consciousness of the self also becomes limited by the conditions of the body. The senses and antahkarana (the internal organ of knowledge) become the instruments through which limited consciousness of objects takes place.

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Such empirical, finite knowledge is of two kinds, immediate and mediate. Immediate knowledge of external objects arises when, through any sense, the antahkarana flows out to the object and is modified into the form of the object.

In addition to immediate knowledge (pratyaksa) the Advaitins admit five different kinds of mediate knowledge, namely, inference (anumana), tesdmony (sabda), comparison (upamana), postulation (arthapatti) and non- cognition (anupalabdhi).

The Aviations agree, in the main, with the Bhatta school of Mlmarhsa regarding these sources of knowledge. As the Bhatta views have been already stated we need not repeat them here.

When a man is awake, he thinks himself identified with the gross body, as well as with the internal and external organs.

When he falls asleep and dreams, he is conscious of objects that arise from memory-impressions, and, therefore, the feeling of his limitation as a subject or knower opposed to objects persists there.

When he has deep, dreamless sleep, he ceases to have any ideas of objects. In the absence of objects, he ceases to be a knower as well. The polarity of subject and object, the opposition between the knower and the known, vanishes altogether.

He no longer feels that he is confined to and limited by the body. But yet consciousness does not cease in dreamless sleep; for otherwise how could we remember at all on awaking from sleep that we had such a state? How could we report ‘I had peaceful sleep, had no dreams,’ if we were unconscious then?

The study of dreamless sleep gives us a glimpse of what the self really is when dissociated from its feeling of identity with the body. The soul in its intrinsic state is not a finite, miserable being.

It does not separate itself from the rest of existence and does not limit itself by a feeling of the ‘I’ (aham) opposed to a ‘thou’ or ‘this’ or ‘that’.

It is also free from all worries that arise from hankerings after objects. The self, really, then is unlimited consciousness and bliss.

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