by Jayaram V
2. aham brahmasmi
Translation: aham = I Brahmasmi = am Brahman
Meaning: I am Brahman
The statement "I am
Brahman" is both a postulation
on the state of Brahman at an
intellectual level and an expression of an enlightened yogi ( Brahmajnani)
in a state of self-realization. The first comes out of an insight
through study that "I am" is the state of "Brahman".
The second comes out of an inner experience that "I am indeed
none other than Brahman". One is a philosophical insight gained
through vichara (thinking) and the other an awareness experienced
in a transcendental state of samadhi or union.
The statement "aham brahmasmi" does not vouch that "Atman
(self) is Brahman", but "I am Brahman". It is an
expression of "I am ness", not Atman, in relationship
with Brahman. This distinction is important because different schools
of Hinduism interpret the relationship
between Atman and
Brahman differently, which we
will discuss in the last part of this essay. The state of "I
am ness" exists In creation in different degrees, ranging from
a self aware state of "I am only" to a nescient state
of "I am not".
The Five States of "I am ness"
We can discern at least five different states of "I am ness"
in beings (jivas). These states are
neither sequential nor consequential. A being may experience one
or more of these at different times in its existence or at the same
time in different dimensions of consciousness. There may be even
divisions and subdivision with in each state. We are confining here
our discussion to a general description of the five states, which
are explained below.
- The first state is the state of "I am not aware that
I exist". This is the unconscious state which we experience
in our sleeping state and which a recently born baby experiences
in its waking state. In the macrocosm, it is also the state
of the inanimate objects and many lower organisms.
- The second one is the state of "I am aware that I exist
but I cannot conceptualize it". This is the semi conscious
state which we experience in our dreaming state and the state
of a few week's old baby. In the macrocosm it is the state of
most of the animals and birds.
- The third one is the state of "I am aware that I exist
in relationship with things, beings and objects." This
is the waking state of our ordinary consciousness. In this state,
I have some awareness of myself, which is sufficient enough
for me to conduct myself in the world and deal with it intelligently.
I can identify myself with my unique features, my individuality,
my physical personality, my distinct qualities, my actions,
my thoughts, my desires and my emotions. It is also the state
of duality and the state of a bonded soul.
- The fourth one is the state of "I am aware that I exist.
I am also aware that I am existence itself." In this state,
I can experience my omnipresence. I can shift my center of awareness
at will. I am detached, not bound by the limitations of ego.
I am a liberated soul in its state of complete awareness, fulfilled
and detached. I exist not in relationship with others but by
myself. This is the state of the pure consciousness and of the
unlimited self, having the awareness of "I am Brahman"
and "Thou art That", not as a mental notion but in
a state of self-realization. This is the state of Atman.
- The fifth one is the state of "I am I am". I do not know
any other than by myself. I am absorbed in myself and exist
by myself. I am limitless and absolute except when I am
associated with my nature (prakriti). I have no duality.
There is no instrument by which I know my existence or my
otherness, except in a jiva or in a state of incarnation. I
am in all and all are in me. This is the state of the
supreme eternal Brahman, the state of oneness, the state of
non duality, the indivisible, infinite, immeasurable,
unknowable state of Being. This is a pure state of "I am
only". This is the indescribable state of Brahman in its
The Four States of Consciousness
Corresponding with these are the four states of self awareness
in human beings. The Mandukya Upanishad
speaks of them in some detail. In each state, an individual experiences
his self differently. These are described below.
- The jagrat or vaishvanara or the waking state. In this state
the real self is hidden and the false self is active and in
control. This is a state where the lower self is active and
the higher self is veiled or hidden. This is a state where I
am the body, the mind, the senses and the elements. I am subject
to the play of the elements and the laws of karma. I go by a
name and form that separates me from rest of the world. This
is what the wise say night and the ignorant call day.
- The taijasa or svapna or dreaming state. This is a state
where I am semi conscious and identify myself with my inner
consciousness, my subtle bodies and senses. I am not even sure
which of my selves is active in my dreams, whether my false
self or real self or an imaginary self.
- The prajna or sushupti or deep sleep state. This is a state
where I am unconscious and do not know who I am. I am asleep.
So are my mind, body and the senses.
- The Turiya or the pure state of being. This is a state where
I know who I am really. I am wide awake, not in a state duality
but unity and bliss. In this state I have transcended my elemental
self. I Know I am Atman and also Brahman. I know I am neither
outer consciousness nor inner consciousness, neither semi-consciousness
nor sleeping consciousness, neither consciousness nor unconsciousness.
This is the state in which the ignorant are asleep and the wise
are wide awake.
Elemental Self vs Real Self
Maitri Upanishad, Prajapati explains to his student Vlakhilyas
two types of souls, the bhutatman or the elemental soul and the
Atman or the real soul. The bhutatman is the lower self made of
the body, the
senses and the elements. It is bound
by the qualities of nature and laws
of karma. Because it is limited in
knowledge it falls into confusion and fails to be conscious of the
God, who dwells within. Whenever the elemental soul has thoughts
of "I" and "mine", it binds itself with its
lower nature and experiences separation and duality. The real self
stays in the background, without participating in the events happening
around. It awakes only when the elemental soul is at rest or inactive.
In Atman every experience is subjective.
Atman does not interact with any object or use any external means
to know or experience. It exists by itself and knows by itself.
In contrast the experience of elemental self is objective. It uses
the mind and the senses to interact with the objects of the phenomenal
world. As a seeker begins to withdraw his senses into his mind and
his mind into himself, in his elemental self he is confronted with
several objects that present themselves to his elemental consciousness.
These are the things, desires, thoughts, feelings, knowledge, visions,
emotions, temptations, energies, gods and dreams that prevent a
smooth self enquiry, like waves of an ocean that rise and fall trying
to push away any one who wants to go deeper. If the seeker is not
careful he or she would be caught in the whirlpool of these objective
phenomena and never reach the inmost self hidden within.
The Gurus as Guide in a World of Objects
This is where the guidance of a guru
becomes important. A guru teaches
his students how to develop detachment and discernment using the
very objective experience that acts as an impediment in case of
the uninitiated. He teaches them how to ride the waves of the elemental
consciousness like experienced divers, using certain techniques
to develop discernment (buddhi) and stay focused. One of the techniques
is to develop discrimination and right knowledge by using such expressions
as "I am not this" (idam na aham) or "I am not that"
(tan na aham), or not this, not this (neti neti). A seeker uses
these expressions when various phenomena present themselves in his
consciousness, till he transcends the objective reality and reaches
the supreme subjective state of "I am Brahman"
The Relationship Between Atman and Brahman
The relationship between Atman
and Brahman, or the questions
of whether Atman is Brahman, has been approached differently by
different schools of religious thought in ancient India. Following
is a summary of how this relationship has been interpreted in the
past by various schools of Hinduism,
- All is Brahman. There is nothing else other than Brahman.
He is the cause of all causes. He is also called Atman. In reality
there is no distinction between the two. Atman is another name
of Brahman or a mental construct we use to make sense of Brahman
as the self of individual beings. There may be many beings in
the creation, but there
in only one Brahman in all of them. During
Brahman projects himself
out as everything and at the end of creation withdraws everything
into himself. The phenomenal world is unreal. It an
illusion or an apparition, which
disappears when we overcome our ignorance and realize the true
state of Brahman.
- All is Brahman. Brahman is everything. He is the cause of
all causes. However Brahman and Atman cannot be construed as
the same. There is a subtle difference. Their relationship is
one of bheda-abheda (different but also the same). The individual
selves exist in Brahman sharing the same consciousness but appearing
as separate entities like the reflection of objects in a mirror
in relationship with the mirror. The individual beings become
deluded by the power of maya after
coming into contact with the elements and qualities of nature.
When they overcome maya, they regain their true consciousness.
They rejoin Brahman and exist no more as individual entities.
- Brahman and the individual selves exist as separate entities
sharing the same consciousness. Brahman is not the cause of
their creation. The individual beings co exist eternally with
Brahman and come under the cloud of maya or delusion caused
by Prakriti which also coexist
with them eternally. When they are freed from it they continue
to exist as individual beings in their fully realized state
even after liberation. They never become one with Brahman.
- Brahman does not exist. But the individual selves exist.
They join with Prakriti and
experience the illusion of limitations
in the phenomenal world. When they overcome the
illusion they regain their pure
state and continue their existence as liberated beings.
- An absolute being or cause of causes does not exist or may
not exist. Beings are anatman
that is they do not have souls that are eternal and absolute
in nature. Beings come into existence through the aggregation
of elements and qualities which result in the formation of bodies
and consciousness and the illusion
of individuality (ego or self) that is subject to becoming and
changing and the laws of karma.
It like the way water vapor or clouds appear in an empty space
and assume many forms and states owing to a variety of circumstances
and the action of elements. When beings transcend the process
of becoming and changing through detachment and mindfulness
they enter a state of freedom from becoming and changing which
is called nirvana or
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