Knowing That Your Are Pure Consciousness

Atman, the Eternal Self

by Jayaram V

What is soul? There is a lot of confusion among people about it. Different religions describe it differently. Our discussion here is limited to soul according to Hinduism. Truly speaking, in Hinduism we do not call a soul a soul but Self. The Abrahamic soul has a name, form, gender, children, ancestors, and attributes in the afterlife, which last forever as if it is frozen in time, but the soul of Hinduism is formless, without permanent relationships and without distinguishing qualities. In this discussion for convenience we will use both soul and self interchangeably.

According to Hinduism the souls are universal. Their number is uncertain. They are also uncreated and independent. Some schools hold that their number is fixed forever. However, some schools disagree.

There is also a disagreement among various schools of Hinduism about whether souls are dependent or independent. Some believe that they are totally independent, while some hold that they are eternal, but dependent upon God.

In some schools, the Self is the highest and only reality and everything else is a projection or illusion. In the universe it is Brahman, the Supreme Self, and in the beings it is Atman, the individual soul. It is the same Self that appears differently in different aspects of creation. Other schools consider them separate, although they may share many common features.

The soul in a plant and that in a human being are exactly the same, with no difference whatsoever. If there is any difference between them it is in their embodiment, their degree of bondage, and how long they may continue in the mortal world.

The souls are described in the Vedas as eternal, indestructible, infinite, indescribable, ungraspable, invisible, formless, effulgent, all knowing, immutable, intelligent, and pure. The self is also described as “not this, not this.” For example, the Self is not the body, not the senses, not the mind, not the ego, not the intelligence, and not any of the object we know.

In the body, the soul said to appear to the mystics like a flame, of the size of a thumb. However, it has no specific form or size. It is formless and infinite. It is larger than the largest object and smaller than the smallest.

According to the Upanishads, the Self cannot be known by the study of the scriptures, instruction of a teacher, by rituals and sacrifices, by debates and discussions, by wealth and power, by teaching about it, by intellect or by imagination.

The Self is unknown to the mind and senses and exists beyond the known. Even those who think they may know him, probably do not know him. The Self is only known by the Self through self-realization, when the Self reveals itself to the yogi whom the Self chooses.

What it means is that the Self cannot be known by external means. No one can reveal that to you. You will not know your Self, unless you seriously and willingly resolve to know it and make the effort to know it. As the Bhagavadgita declares, the Self is the friend of the Self and enemy of the Self, depending upon how you treat yourself and regard yourself. If you have firmly decided to know the Self, you will know it.

The descriptions which you find in the Hindu scriptures about Self may confuse you. Having read them, you may conclude that the Self is a divine entity, who is other than you or different from you. You may also feel discouraged. However, the truth is that you are the soul, minus your mind and body. You are the soul in your current state itself, although you are not yet fully aware of it.

You never become the Self, because you are already the Self. Since you are in an embodied state, and subject to duality, delusion and ignorance due to the influence of the gunas, you do not know your true nature. You only become aware of yourself, by regaining the knowledge of yourself.

Liberation truly means becoming free from your ignorance and delusion about yourself and returning to your original state of freedom and pure consciousness. It is as if you suddenly wake up from a dream or as if you have been enacting a role in the drama of life, wearing a mask and a costume, and you become so involved with that role that you forget who you are.

That mask is the ego, and the costume is your body. Nature sets the stage, and the Self (the silent you) becomes its witness. Birth after birth, you change your costume, wear a new mask and play a different role, sometimes as male, sometimes as a female, sometimes as a transgender, sometimes as rich, sometimes as poor, seeking things you wanted to forsake before or forsaking things that you loved in the past. Thus, enacting numerous roles and living in them, and experimenting with numerous choices and preferences, likes and dislikes, you temporarily forget who you are.

You are the eternal soul. Let there be no doubt about it. In your purest state, you are the deity in the temple of your body. Even though you do not truly feel it or believe in it, you should think like one, live like one and act like one. If a person lives like a pious man for a long time in word and deed, even if he is not, he will eventually end up becoming one.

Therefore, instead of considering yourself a mortal being, live and act like an eternal soul, identifying yourself with the purest consciousness in you. Make that consciousness purer, brighter and stable with discipline and yoga. Through transformative practices make yourself wiser, gentler, peaceful, and virtuous, just as a sculptor chisels a rock and creates a beautiful form out of it.

Our scriptures say that if you want to know who you truly are, you should stop looking through the masks that you wear and stop taking pride in your name and form, the costumes which you receive from Nature as gifts. You should stop becoming involved with the world, and instead look within yourself to rediscover your true nature.

If you continue the effort, eventually you will peel off all the layers of impurities which surround your consciousness, silence your craving for things, and wake up into the highest reality of yourself. In that state you will realize that the Self is not anything which is different from you, and self-realization is a state of self-awakening in which you will not find anything other than you but your very core consciousness which is all knowing, all pervading, eternal and indivisible. It is as if you wake up from a long sleep and suddenly remember who you are.

Your soul or Self is not a different entity. It is you, in your purest and pristine state. One way to enter that state is by withdrawing your senses into your mind and your mind into the self, and engaging your mind in the contemplation of the Self. To practice this, you have to spare time for regular meditation.

There is another more effective way. It is living with the conviction that you are neither your mind nor your body but pure consciousness which is deep inside you behind all the noise and commotion. If you hold this thought firmly in daily life, eventually you will become a living embodiment of pure consciousness (jivanmukta). It is more effective than any spiritual practice, Vedic sacrifice, ritual, yoga, or devotional service.

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