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Atmabodha - Knowledge of Self


By Adi Shankaracharya

Knowledge of the Self (atmabodha) is one of the well known works of Sri Adi Shankaracharya, written for the benefit of those who have cultivated detachment and want to seek freedom from ignorance and illusion. The monistic philosophy of Shankara, according to which Brahman is the one and the only reality, is well reflected in this scripture. According to Shankra the phenomenal world is a mere super imposition in which we become entangled because of our involvement with the sense objects. It is not through rituals but through wisdom, one learns to discriminate the real from the unreal and gains liberation. The unconditioned Self shines when ignorance is destroyed. The empirical or phenomenal world, according to Shankara, is like a dream which acts as a barrier and prevents us from knowing the truth about ourselves. The self is immutable. It is pure existence, where as the mind and the body are unreal and mutable. Liberation from the illusion comes when one constantly reflects upon the truth that one is but Brahman only.

  1. This treatise called "Knowledge of Self" is
    written for the sake of those whose sins
    have been destroyed by austerities and who,
    with a tranquil mind and free
    from attachment, long for liberation.
  2. Compared with all other means,
    knowledge is the only direct means to liberation. As
    cooking is impossible without fire, so
    is liberation impossible without knowledge.
  3. Ritual cannot dispel ignorance, because
    they are not mutually contradictory. But
    knowledge surely destroys ignorance, as
    light destroys the densest darkness.
  4. The self appears to be conditioned
    by virtue of ignorance. But when that (ignorance)
    is destroyed, the unconditioned self
    shines by its own light, like
    the sun when the clouds have disappeared.
  5. Having purified, by repeated instruction,
    the soul that is turbid with ignorance,
    knowledge should efface itself, as the
    paste of the cleaning-nut does with water. *
  6. The phenomenal world, abounding in
    desire, hatred, etc., is verily like a dream.
    While it lasts, it seems to be real, but,
    when one awakes, it becomes unreal.
  7. Like the (illusion of) silver in mother-o’-pearl,
    the world appears to be real only until the
    Supreme Self, the immutable reality
    behind everything, is realized.
  8. Like bubbles in water, the worlds
    are born, remain and dissolve in the
    Supreme Lord that is the material
    cause and foundation of all things.
  9. On the eternal Vishnu, who is pure existence
    and consciousness, as the common factor,
    all these various appearances are superimposed,
    like wristlets and other forms on gold.
  10. Like space, the Lord Vishnu, coming in
    contact with various conditions, appears to be
    different by reason of their differences, but
    is seen to be undifferentiated when
    those (conditions) are destroyed.
  11. Only by virtue of varying conditions are
    caste, name, periods of religious life, etc.,
    imposed on the self, like taste, colour
    and other distinctions imposed on water.
  12. The place for experiencing happiness
    and misery, which is made up of the
    fivefold compounds of the great elements
    and is obtained as the result of past actions,
    is called the (dense) body.
  13. The instrument of enjoyment, which is
    made up of the uncompounded elements
    and which consists of the five life-forces,
    the mind, the consciousness, and the
    ten senses *, is the subtle body.
  14. The beginningless illusion that is
    indefinable is called the causal body.
    One should understand the self as other
    than these three bodies (or conditions).
  15. The pure self, by the relation of the five sheaths, etc.,
    appears to assume their respective natures,
    like a crystal reflecting a blue cloth, etc.
  16. One should separate the grain
    of the pure inner self from the chaff
    of the body and- other sheaths
    by the threshing of reason.
  17. Although the self is at all times and
    in all things, yet it cannot shine in
    everything, but will shine only in
    the consciousness, just as a
    reflection will appear only
    in polished surfaces.
  18. One should understand the self
    to be always like a king, different
    from the body, senses, mind,
    consciousness, and eyes,
    the witness of their activities.
  19. To the indiscriminating, the self appears
    to be active while (in reality) the senses (alone)
    are active, in the same way that the moon
    is seen as if running, when the clouds move.
  20. The body, senses, mind and consciousness,
    carry on their respective activities by
    depending on the consciousness of the self,
    like men depending on the sun's light.
  21. Owing to indiscrimination, men attribute
    the qualities and activities of the body and
    the senses to the self that is pure existence
    and consciousness *, in the same way
    as blue colour is attributed to the sky.
  22. Moreover, the nature of doer, etc.,
    that belongs to the conditioning mind,
    is attributed to the self, just as the motion, etc.,
    of water is attributed to the
    refection of the moon therein.
  23. Passions, desires, happiness, misery, etc.,
    exercise their function when the consciousness
    is present, and do not exist in deep sleep when
    the consciousness is absent. They belong, therefore,
    to the consciousness and not to the self.
  24. As light is the very nature of the sun, coldness of
    water, heat of fire, so are being, consciousness, bliss,
    eternity and absoluteness the very nature of the self.
  25. By indiscriminately mixing up the aspect of
    being and consciousness of the self with
    the function of the individual consciousness,
    there springs up the idea "I know."
  26. The self undergoes no modification, nor can
    knowledge arise in any manner from individual
    consciousness (alone). And yet, one ignorantly
    imagines that the individual soul knows,
    does and sees everything well.
  27. By mistaking the self to be the individual soul,
    as a rope for a serpent, one is subject to fear.
    But if he realises, "I am not the individual soul,
    but the Supreme Self," then he is free from fear.
  28. The self alone illumines the consciousness;
    the senses, etc., as a light reveals the pot
    and other objects; (but) one's own self is
    not illumined by the illuminable objects. *
  29. The very nature of the self being knowledge,
    it does not depend, for a knowledge of itself,
    on any other knowledge, in the same way as
    a light does not need another light to reveal itself.
  30. Eliminating all limitations with the help of the
     passage "not this, not this," one should realize
    the identity of the individual soul and the supreme
    self by means of the principal scriptural passages.
  31. The body and other objects of perception
    are the products of ignorance and are as
    evanescent as bubbles. The self that is
    unconditioned is other than these and
    should be understood as "I am Brahman."
  32. Birth, old age, decay, death, etc., are not for me,
    because I am other than the body. Sound and
    other objects of sense have no connection with me,
    for I am other than the senses.
  33. I am not the mind, and, therefore, sorrow,
    desire, hatred, fear, etc., are not for me. As
    declared by the scripture, the self is
    neither the senses nor mind, but is unconditioned.
  34. I am attributeless, functionless,
    eternal, doubtless, stainless, changeless,
    formless, eternally free, and unconditioned.
  35. Like ether, I pervade everything, inside and outside.
    I am imperishable, ever the established (truth), alike
    to all, unattached, unconditioned, imperturbable.
  36. I am that very supreme Brahman that is
    reality, knowledge and infinity, that is ever
    unconditioned and ever free, the one
    undivided bliss that is without a second.
  37. Such incessant impression on the mind that
    "I am only Brahman" removes the turbulences of
    ignorance, as the elixir of life cures all diseases.
  38. Sitting in a lonely place, free of all passions,
    with the senses subjugated, one should contemplate
    that one infinite self, without thinking of anything else.
  39. A wise man should, by his intelligence, submerge,
    in the self all that is objective and should ever
    contemplate the one self that is like unlimited space.
  40. One who has realised the supreme truth gives
    up everything, such as form, caste, etc., and
    abides, by nature, in (the self that is)
    infinite consciousness and bliss.
  41. The distinction of knower, knowledge and the known
    does not exist in respect of the supreme self. Being
    sole consciousness and bliss, it shines by itself alone.
  42. The flame of knowledge that arises by this constant
    churning of meditation on the wood * of the self,
    will completely burn away the fuel of ignorance.
  43. When knowledge has destroyed ignorance,
    the self will manifest itself, in the same way
    as the sun rises as soon as the dawn
    of day has dispelled darkness.
  44. The self, that is ever with us, appears,
    by ignorance, as if it were unattained and,
    when that (ignorance) is destroyed,
    attained, like one's own necklace. *
  45. The condition of individual soul has been
    imposed on Brahman by illusion, as the form
    of a man on a post, but disappears when the
    true nature of the individual soul is realized.
  46. The knowledge that arises from the realization of
    one's own true nature, directly destroys the
    illusion of "I" and "mine" which resembles
    the confusion of the directions.
  47. The devotee (yogin) that has gained right
    realization sees all things, by the eye of
    knowledge, as existing in his own self,
    and the one self as all things.
  48. He sees all things as his own self in the same
    way as one sees pots, etc., as (mere) clay;
    (for), all this universe is only the self,
    and there is naught other than the self.
  49. Liberation-while-living means that the
    wise person, having abandoned his former
    limitations and qualities, and acquiring the
    properties of being, consciousness (and bliss),
    attains Brahman, in the same way as
    the worm becomes the wasp.
  50. Having crossed the ocean of ignorance
    and having slain the demons of likes and
    dislikes, etc., the seer, united to tranquillity,
    is supremely happy in the enjoyment
    of the bliss of his own self *.
  51. Leaving aside all attachments to
    external and transient pleasures,
    and happy in the bliss of the self,
    such a one, for ever, shines within,
    like a light inside a globe.
  52. The seer, though remaining amidst limitations,
    should yet be unaffected by their qualities,
    like space. Knowing all, he should be like
    one that knows not, and should wander
    about, unattached, like the wind.
  53. When the limitations disappear,
     the seer merges unreservedly in the
    Supreme (vishnu), like water in water,
    space in space, or light in light.
  54. Than gaining which there is no greater gain,
    than whose bliss there is no higher bliss,
    than knowing which there is no higher knowledge,
    that should be understood as Brahman.
  55. Seeing which naught else remains to be seen,
    becoming which there is no becoming * again,
    knowing which naught else remains to be known,
    that should he understood as Brahman.
  56. That which is all-pervading, around, above, below,
    which is being, consciousness and bliss,which is
    without a second, without end, eternal, sole,
    that should be understood as Brahman.
  57. The immutable, the one uninterrupted bliss,
    which is indicated by the Vedanta by
    excluding what is not it,—that should
    be understood as Brahman.
  58. (The four-faced) Brahma and others,
    that are but parts of that self which is
    uninterrupted bliss, become happy,
    each in his own degree, by possessing
    a particle of that bliss.
  59. Every object (is such because. it) possesses that.
    All activity has consciousness running through it *.
    The Supreme Self, therefore, pervades the whole
    universe, as butter is in every part of milk.
  60. That which is neither subtle nor dense,
    neither short nor long, which is unborn,
    immutable, devoid of form, quality, caste
    or name,—that should be understood as Brahman.
  61. By whose light the sun, etc., shine, but which is
    not illumined by these that are illuminable, and by
    virtue of which all this (universe) shines *,
    —that should be understood as Brahman.
  62. Pervading the whole universe, internally and
    externally, and illumining it, the Brahman shines
    by itself, like a red-hot iron ball.
  63. The Brahman is different from the universe.
    There is naught other than Brahman. If anything
    other than Brahman is perceived, it is
    as unreal as the mirage in the desert.
  64. Whatever is seen or heard, other than
    Brahman, cannot be (real). Even that is Brahman,
    the secondless being, consciousness and bliss,
    when the reality is known.
  65. He who has the eye of knowledge
    sees Brahman that is being, consciousness and bliss,
    in all things; but he who has not the eye of
    knowledge cannot see it thus, as a
    blind man cannot see the shining sun.
  66. The individual soul, melted
    in the fire of knowledge kindled by
    instruction, etc., is freed from all taints,
    like gold, and shines by itself.
  67. The self is the sun of knowledge that,
    rising in the firmament of the heart,
    destroys the darkness of ignorance,
    and, pervading all and supporting all,
    shines—and makes everything shine.
  68. He who, unmindful of (the limitations of)
    direction, space, time, etc., and perfectly
    tranquil, attains the sanctum of the self, that
    is the all-pervading, stainless, eternal bliss
    which dispels (all qualities like heat and)
    cold, etc.,—he becomes all-knowing,
    all-pervading, and immortal.

Suggested Further Reading




161:* The cleaning-nut, rubbed into a paste and thrown into dirty water, clears the water and itself settles down along with the dirt as a sediment.

164:* The five senses of perception and the five motor members of the body.

166:* The self is absolute consciousness as distinguished from buddhi, the individual consciousness.

169:* The mind, senses, etc.

173:* Araṇi wood, used to kindle fire for sacrifices by churning it.

173:† Aruṇa, the charioteer of the sun; the dawn-god.

174:* One appears to search for his necklace and find it, although it has been on his neck all the time.

174:† One who mistakes the directions, north, east, etc., corrects himself as soon as be clearly understands his own position.

176:* This an allegorical explanation, incidentally, of the story of the Râmâyaṇa.

177:* Birth.

178:* These are the sat (being) and chit (consciousness) aspects of the self. The ânanda (bliss) aspect has been dealt with in the previous verse.

179:* Is manifest; is perceived.




Source: The Select Works of Sri Sankaracharya tr. by S. Venkataramanan [1921]

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