A Matter of Perception (Parts 1 – 4 of 12)
The following articles are based on Śaṅkara’s commentary on the mantra, Pratibodhaviditam matam, Kenopaniṣad (2.4).
Let us begin with what is meant by the word Perception. What exactly is it?
We would often understand perception as what the eye sees, what the eye perceives. That would be naturally considered perception, isn’t it? Allow me to extend the argument. If the eye can see, the ear can hear, the skin can feel, the tongue can taste, and the nose can smell, right? If the eye-seeing was accepted as perception, then it logically follows that the ear-hearing is also perception, and so on. In other words, what is sensed or felt or seen by the five senses of perception (पञ्चज्ञानेन्द्रियाः), can indeed be termed perception.
We could further determine who the seer, observer, or feeler is. Is it the mind that feels, that collects the data from the senses of perception? We know that it is not enough if the eye alone sees; the mind must participate in the observation. Otherwise, it seems as though the eye-perception is irrelevant. For instance, when one is going by the road, if something on display in a showroom catches the eye and fascinates the mind, a beggar around the same place may not merit our notice. So, it appears that the mind decides the perception and not the eye.
Moving forward, we could even attribute the seeing to the intellect. A so-called saint may be a wilful defaulter of law, wanted for further investigation in an alleged crime, but a loyal follower may see it as ‘piety victimised’! The follower may even accept many allegations of the media or law, but may never be able to decisively conclude or label that man a criminal, though evidence suggests to the contrary. The follower could see piety that not many around may see. Now, who decides whether piety exists there are not? One particular intellect sees piety there; another doesn’t!
So, the intellect makes judgments at a base level, and all actions appear to follow such judgments. You find someone trustworthy to live with, so you decide to live with him or her. It is a call taken by you, perceived right by you. And, if the call is found to be wrong later, the consequences of the bad decision too are to be borne by you, right?
Once we move our understanding until here, the true meaning of perception no longer remains merely seeing colours through the eye, or hearing some sounds through the ear. It is about judgments. It is about what you see from within. How you appreciate things. About what makes you happy, rather than what you think makes you happy. About what you believe makes anyone happy. About what is right or wrong. About whether right or wrong exists at all. About how sharply right or wrong can be delineated.
This is perception. About what you as the organism actually see and experience. And, based on what you take a call. Either to trust or not to trust. Either to regard or to ignore. Either to consider something as precious or not. Finally, it is a matter of perception. Of opinion. Even the way you feel is a matter of perception. It is an emotional opinion! Whether the opinion is well-formed or ill-formed. Whether it is spontaneous, or cultivated, or born of influence. Whether each perception has been arrived at after considerable deliberation, of a careful attempt to round-up, or are these opinions based on immediate impulse, one doesn’t know. And, whether the impulse, though immediate, is right, or is impulse itself wrong? Should everything be not trusted in the way it appears? Should everything be dissected?
Do you realise now the enormous importance of right perception?
From what I have gone through, only two schools of philosophy explicitly talk of perception in its entire depth. These schools aren’t interested in the academic part of perception. For instance, they are less interested in finding out the technical aspect of how an object is perceived as happy. Whether the mind takes the form of the object itself, or is perception a mere impression on the mind like an image on a screen, and so on. There are other schools of thought that go into that.
But, these two schools are focused on one thing. How right perception makes all the difference to life. How seeing what is to be seen makes every difference. And, because you see differently, your reactions are different. So are your actions. What you trust itself is different. And so on.
One is Buddhism, especially the Mādhyamika school (Buddha and Nagarjuna), and the other is Śaṅkara’s Advaita. Of course, J Krishnamurti is an excellent teacher on this subject, but I do feel much of his teachings reflect to an extent what was said by Buddha himself.
The first indication that supports my belief is this. Every other school of thought or teacher doesn’t consider this aspect the most crucial and essential part of teaching. If you saw true perception as the crux of the issue, you cannot but talk about that alone. You will no longer be able to espouse, with sufficient conviction, ideals, values, practices, meditations, levels of sadhana, and so on. All these are enough indications that you haven’t realised the importance of the crux of the issue. Therefore, just because they emphasised that and that alone, Buddha, Nagarjuna, and Śaṅkara belong to a different league. You could add JK to that list too. Even Ramaṇa, to a lesser extent.
Most other teachers and schools of thought are either too academic or stuck in traditions and practices. They haven’t come to the crux of the matter yet. Well, this is what I say in the matter. You retain the power to agree or disagree. I can only urge you to consider the matter seriously and come to the right conclusions.
Consider the teachings of these men at a glance. They all say that it is all a matter of perception with one voice. Not a matter of choice. Please understand the difference. It is not a choice, as in the case of the cup being half full or half empty. So, it is not about being an optimist and choosing to see the cup half full and, avoiding being the pessimist who sees the cup half empty. Optimism and Pessimism is a matter of choice; Perception isn’t! You see what is.
And, every issue man faces, from psychological to worldly to social problems, these men declare without hesitation that the crux rests in erroneous perception. So, there isn’t anything to be done, really. For, action merely follows perception, doesn’t it? Suppose you have liked somebody, just like that. The action that follows from your side towards that person is quite different from another who dislikes the very same person. Right? You like that person, and then you move one way; you dislike the person, you move a different way. Whether like or dislike, you could be involved in an erroneous perception. Action simply perpetuates a wrong or erroneous perception.
Suppose somebody’s work inspires you. So you choose to patronise that person. Isn’t that natural? Action follows perception. Supposing the perception itself was erroneous, action would only perpetuate that very perception, right? Do you see a direct connection? If you as the organism has perceived something, it is prone to action in that direction. There is a directness here. Therefore, what you see, how you see, can be directly inferred from your action. Again, it is a matter of seeing!
So, true transformation is not about changing the way you act. It is not about bringing a qualitative change in your action. Let me illustrate further. If you had sent your son to a local school initially, and you thought it was now up to him to excel and make a mark for himself. One day you realised that putting him in the right schools—under the tutelage of the right teachers—mattered a lot, and therefore now you sought admissions to the best schools out there, let us say. Then, the change in action reflects one thing. That you want the best for your son remains the same. But, what is best, as far as education goes, has itself changed. So long as you thought that any decent school should do, because it was up to the child to perform, then there was one kind of action, from your side. The day you realised that true exposure to the child mattered, then the action changed drastically. Didn’t it?
It is about seeing things rightly. The way they are. If only one saw everything the way it is, which is really possible is the contention, then man is truly free. Utterly free. Free of every psychological issue, worry, anxiety, fear, and illusory thought. Of course, this is not a mere stress-relief programme; it is much more.
Consider this seriously. Most men focus on the right action. Therefore, they get involved too much in rightness and wrongness in action. It can just be tiring because there isn’t any right and wrong at all. Poor perception leads one to believe in rightness and wrongness in action.
One needs to raise the quality of intelligence to the level of perception itself. If a girl is very fascinated by a boy, very affected in his presence, then as a parent, restraining her or giving her freedom don’t help things much. It is about seeing what she sees or experiences. Why this boy alone? Why not some other boy? What does her instinct see here? How true is it? Is some clarity possible here? Can the girl sit back and reflect on why she is so taken in by this boy? What in him affects her so much? Now, this is how the girl comes to know what triggers her and what doesn’t. What switches her on, what keeps her neutral, what keeps her unaffected.
Nothing needs to be done; it is to be perceived rightly. That is all.
That very statement is very discomforting, right? And so much against our instinct. We all are so sure that something needs to be done, all the time. Either for this or for that.
A huge doubt persists as to whether there exists anything at all as ‘right experience’ itself. We only know ‘your experience’ and ‘my experience’. How can there be ‘right experiencing’ itself beats us. How can there be ‘right judgment’? There can only be ‘my judgment’ and ‘your judgment’, isn’t it? Isn’t this some sort of dogmatism? Someone considers something as truth and finds the authority to impose it on everyone? How can subjective experiences, feelings, thoughts, opinions, and judgments be universal? Or, how can they be measured against one yardstick of ‘right perception’? How to know that that one yardstick is right or universal? How does one know it isn’t a bias or prejudice? How does one know it isn’t one person’s conditioning? How does one know what Buddha said wasn’t a product of his circumstances and conditioning? He may have been a good man, very charitable, humanitarian, and so on. But, how could he determine, that too with certainty, what you and I experience and think within us as false and erroneous? Isn’t that a little too stretched?
Let us stay on the subject of perception. For a while. Before we go any further. Before we even understand what Śaṅkara says in this matter. Or evaluate how profound those teachings are.
By its very nature, intelligence, the way we know it, is speculative and restless. The entire purpose of curiosity seems to ‘guess’ that thing correctly! When guessed right, one experiences a sort of ‘kick’, a mild surge of intoxication. Surprisingly, intelligence does not appear to retain enough lustre once ‘that thing’ has been guessed! You simply lose interest.
Very rarely, you find intelligence in hot pursuit of something. In search of chastity. Where it feels bound to come up with precise and comprehensive judgments. One would quickly push such efforts away into the realm of an expert scholar. Not for me, one would say. Those days, only those who cared to arrive at precise judgments about things were respected or applauded. For, the effort they took to restrain the restlessness of intelligence and produce a judgment/opinion/observation, even if excruciating at times, seemed right. That they were willing to pursue beyond mere hunches and guesses, and not lazily end it with idle curiosity, itself merited admiration. Single pointed pursuits of chastity, which the world understands as scholarship, were valued a lot in the past. These days, speculators seem to enjoy greater value than those who pursue a thought until its end.
Anyway, the point being made comes to this. Chastity in thought is self-evident. When you submit your thesis, your guide would be keener to find out how you came to those observations. He is looking for solidity in every network of thought, in every wire that built the thesis. He also checks for reckless observations, irrational guesses, and so on, to weed them out. Also, if one portion of the thesis itself was built on a reckless observation, then the final results concluded can be highly erroneous, right? The focus, therefore, would be how those end-conclusions were arrived at. Persuading a conclusion to open up itself, and reveal the methodology of perception, serves as a great pursuit. Most scholars are at this.
We began this set of articles to understand our daily observations, judgments, and opinions better, remember? Most of our judgments don’t merit such acute scholastic chastity. Whether to take the local train today or a cab. Whether to pack this or that for breakfast for my kid today. Whether to take a bath before or after cleaning the house. None of these merits undue attention. We may be locked in indecision for a while, knowing very well that either of those decisions will achieve for us what we set out to do. Eventually, one of the two shall prevail. But, we carry the same faculty—the binary intelligence—even into crucial decisions like career, the field of work, job assignments, deciding things for children, and so on. Binary intelligence is that which works like a flip-flop: either this or that. And, you could rock endlessly between the two. Speculative intelligence is another kind. Where you simply create more options. You diligently increase your freedom and space of decision-making by running more options. That is speculation. Not that you are wiser now, but yet, it feels better to have more options, rather than being trapped in one or two bad choices.
How does intelligence in man come to conclusions? What path does it follow? How does it reason out? Does it care enough to make the right decision, or does it want to end the thing by some conclusion? Is concluding, ending the speculation, ending the curiosity, ending the flip-flop, more critical than confirming whether the right decision has been taken? How does intelligence know that it has made the right decision? How does it know that it has understood something correctly?
Cognition has been a subject of intense research, not just amongst modern scholars but also amongst the ancients. What we currently call cognition or the science of perception—where we study not merely the physical factors, but we delve into the psyche too—was formerly referred to as epistemology, methods of knowledge. Epistemology in the past was the science of perception and inference-drawing. It was called Pramāṇa.
We shall not delve into all those because we shall get dragged into endless theories and methodologies of perception. Many schools of thought have come about regarding this subject. Many schools of thought? About how I think and conclude? About how I form opinions? About how I understand people and situations? Yes! Many schools to understand the process of thinking in man!
Despite much research, man still is found wanting in the quality of his decisions. In the quality of his understanding. Both in the personal as well as in the collective space. Most decisions are made under duress. Most conclusions are either biased or fragmentary. Almost all opinions are so shallow that they can’t stand even a two-layer counter inquiry.
If the quality of daily observation and intelligence is so pathetic, then how can actions bristle with great quality? We may build a bridge constructed to the highest standards, only to realise that the decision to build a bridge itself was taken in haste. And, now that a decision has been made, it can’t be revoked. Bad decisions are not just bad decisions; they become wrong priorities. They are the biggest resource-guzzler. Humungous energy is wasted over a wrong ideology or a false principle.
How about our lives? Look at the ‘emergency’ with which a girl wants to marry when she comes of age. She just can’t wait for the right man or the right decision to emerge. She has to ‘finish it off’! She can hold it no longer. See how we get into jobs and careers. Our life is a remarkable demonstration of great debacles in decision-making.
Isn’t it surprising that a youngster spends hours over the net going through many reviews determining the best smartphone in the market, but spends absolutely no time over crucial decisions like whether to start on his own, or to continue in a job, or how to make his marriage better, and so on? The most critical decisions within yourself are taken on the spur of the moment. Worthless, useless, and familiar issues are deliberated over endlessly.
I ask you, ‘why did you marry?’; I doubt whether you have a good enough answer beyond one or two weak responses. Suppose you are made the PM of this country, how can you be expected to be seized of the gravity of the situations and take an appropriate decision? You will at the most become grave! A better decision or perspective cannot be expected just by assuming a grave demeanour, isn’t it?
What we are interested in this set of articles is the following. How does one improve the quality of decisions? How does one find the inner space to cope with crucial issues as they arise, as they deserve? How does one sift through the grain from the chaff quickly? How does one allow clear decisions and understanding to emerge rather than force situations or cultivated processes to yield them? How does one find the necessary restraint within to wait for the right decision to emerge and then act upon it, rather than go out into the field, act proactively, and then somehow justify the action?
Chastity in perception is a commitment to coming to well-deliberated conclusions. It is a virtue that you will not be reckless either in observation or deduction, and also that, because of mental fatigue, you won’t succumb to the relief of ‘finishing it off’. Chastity also means that the purpose of making well-deliberated conclusions is not to impress upon someone or to play up one’s self-worth. The demand for chastity is self-evident. A decision can go awry only because it hasn’t been thought through. This is why chastity is a virtue. You go against your own speculative and binary tendencies. You go against your tendency to succumb to easy conclusions due to mental fatigue. Or, you go against your tendency to just give up, not caring enough, due to the pressure of the situation.
Observe caution here to understand correctly. I am not referring to chastity in speech or deed. Which could mean that you give yourself the license to think whatever within, but when you put it out, either in speech or deed, you would ensure that it doesn’t appear reckless. That is of not much use, you see! That is only to ensure that your careless thoughts don’t hurt someone out there. Your fundamental thinking or decision-making process hasn’t been brought to book if you merely do lip service to chastity, right? Take chastity to its origin. Where you think and feel. Where your urges gurgle. Where you fear and hide. Where you desire. Where you are coiled. Where you feel cosy.
Let the conclusions drawn about every experience, thought, desire, and feeling be well-deliberated. Find freedom within to look at everything closely. Find the agility to observe every new shoot within. Find the energy to pursue every thought to its logical or logistical end. Become acquainted with every feeling that arises within. Find the restraint not to let it out but to stay with it for that while longer. Discover how one well-cultivated thought of yours goes against the very flavour of another feeling within you. How does one resolve all these? Is an inner consensus actually possible? Can there be true order within? Can every thought, energy, feeling, and urge within find the sensitive need to talk to each other?
These are indeed the subjects of deliberation both in Śaivism and Buddhism. Their concern is the quality of intelligence. They may call it Samvid, Chaitanya, Jyoti, Bodha, or Jñānam. Buddha does refer to enlightenment as a being of light. So does Śaṅkara, in his Manīṣā Pañcakam (Brahman alone am I, and this entire universe is engulfed in that light…)
Enlightenment is not a state of wisdom. It is pure intelligence. True perception. And, Śaṅkara’s point is that so long as there exists subject-object duality in perception, intelligence will have to crystallise as concepts and ideas. Every idea is a snapshot of a scene or situation or even a person that is dead and gone. Our intelligence seems to work like a still photographer who takes photographs of things on a moving canvas. And, without forming ideas and opinions, intelligence experiences a gap with the canvas of life. Therefore, it continuously maps with still photography and impinges the canvas with more thoughts and sensors to catch up with the scenario. A lazy intellect is different from a vibrant one in that it is prepared to live on a perception it made many years ago.
Nevertheless, there isn’t much difference between a vibrant and lazy intellect in the way it perceives. A sharp intellect understands the importance of frequent snapshots, while a lazy intellect doesn’t. It is happy to make one or two resolute efforts to map the canvas and then live with a permanent image. Life long, the lazy intellect refuses to revisit its fundamental picture. It just nurtures and builds feelings around a picture that it developed or snapped many years ago. Look at the source of your inspiration. Look at what you think and feel of love. Look at what you think of social service. Look at what you think of excellence. You will see that they are all old pictures. Snapshots taken very long ago. And, actions, decisions, even lives have been organised based on those fundamental pictures.
Let us examine the question of duality. Whether lazy or vigilant, the fact is that intelligence, in its very nature, is an attempt to ‘grasp something’. And that ‘something’ is inherently different from the ‘grasper’. This is the issue of duality. So long as an object exists to grasp, the intelligence in me shall attempt to grasp it. Make a snapshot of it. Form ideas. Opinions. Make judgments. And so on. You can’t stop yourself from doing it. Duality itself is the provocation for concept-formation. For ideation. You cannot stop ideation without addressing the issue of duality.
Śaṅkara states that true perception is finally non-dual. He says that the Self is non-dual. This means either ‘there is no other’ or ‘the divide between subject and object’ is erased. Now, that again would be wrong understanding, isn’t it? How can two things that are different fuse? How can the object ever fuse with the subject? Or, if a natural division between the subject and object were to occur, there is no way that the division can be erased. So, it follows that the division itself was never there. The experience of division itself is to be questioned.
After all that theory, let us take an example to illustrate. Suppose you are going through sorrow now. How do you experience sorrow? Yesterday, there was no sorrow. In a day or two, you will get back to normalcy, and sorrow will have left you. So, sorrow seems to be a mode that you enter into. It appears so. There seems to be an entity that survives sorrow. Suppose you have a heart attack. You are admitted to the hospital. Then you recover. You survive the attack. You existed before, and there exists you after the attack. And then there was the attack, which seems to be a mode you entered into.
Whether the mode is chosen by you or not doesn’t matter much. You decide to practise playing the guitar, let us say. For the next one hour or so, you are involved in that mode of guitar playing. You existed before, and there is you that exists beyond the guitar session. And, there is the guitar session.
So, one way to look at you is this. You seem self-existent who survives all modes. And hopping from one mode to the other. Session to session.
Why do you do this? Are you compelled to do this? What is the divide between the ‘session’ or ‘mode’ and you? Is there a gap? What is the difference between you, the ‘leaver of the mode’, and you, while in the mode? Can that be bridged? Should it be bridged? Is that the source of all misperceptions? Of all problems we face? Is it so crucial?
Think about this for a while. Shall return with more. We will take up Śaṅkara’s commentary and find out what he has to say.
Intelligence transforms as integrity when it refuses to stir away from where you exist.
Where you exist is your truth. Imagine a well-known expert on relativity, who speaks eloquently on that subject, who is even acclaimed as next only to Einstein in the profundity of understanding, instinctively is held so surely and securely to a woman’s pleasure. When his instinct is so sure of certainty, absolutely sure of pleasure, how does his intellect manage to deliver a lecture on relativity, one would wonder. It is not that the man isn’t convinced about relativity. Nay, on the other hand, he could be very passionate about it too. Yet, how can the very same system or identity be so sure of the merits of relativity and shockingly cling to something else, consider something else as so certain! Do you see the contradiction? If the organism were to see this contradiction by itself, it either has to give up its certainty for pleasure, or its convictions about the theory of relativity itself. Wouldn’t that be the honest thing to do?
A reputed economics professor believes in free-market openness and swears by the individual’s skills to exist and negotiate. He upholds that as rightful dignity. Yet, he goes in for a covert arrangement with both industry and media and allows them to tone down and nuance his rhetoric that wee bit, such that what should have been drummed about as a huge issue is whittled down into a background grumble; haven’t we seen this? A politician, let us say, who instinctively rests on money-power, were to share the dais with a former freedom fighter who thunders forth on how we ought to be patriotic and be ever ready to sacrifice for the country. If, amidst the ensuing applause, the politician chooses to prostrate to this elderly freedom fighter, wouldn’t that be comical? For a woman activist, who preaches the virtues of selflessness and sacrifice to several young girls smitten by her fire and verve, say, rushes back to her cosy home when news of her child getting hurt reaches her. She appears shaken and is inconsolable until she sees her child, let us say. Isn’t that proof enough that her existence is finally tied with her family, husband, and children and no more, and that selflessness is quite far away? If all you wanted was to lead a dignified no-issues life and run a well-fed organisation, why preach the Gītā, Upaniṣads, or Kagga? You could simply state yourself, shouldn’t you?
Contradiction! We seem to be so used to it, within and without. We, therefore, accept people if only they showed noble intentions. We don’t expect life to be free of contradictions at all. When someone appears on the horizon luminous and great, we are sure that it is a matter of time before all the contradictions tumble out, and the person loses much of his aura. We are so confident!
But, I am not interested in this game. I am more interested in how contradiction comes about within you and me. How does it emerge? How can one part of the organism create the disease, and another part of the organism be sincerely taking medicine? And, I find that people aren’t even shocked. They say it is normal.
Contradiction drove the Buddha in two manners. It drove him away from Hinduism. It drove him away from all current declarations of truth and path; it made him search deeper. He just couldn’t accept that at the end of it all, it was merely a contradiction. It couldn’t be as silly as that, was the inner call. In his Brahmajalasutta, Buddha categorises all Hindu beliefs of those days and simply junks them. Just based on contradiction. Contradiction in thought, in faith, in feeling, and so on.
Coming back to the article, I am simply saying that you lie somewhere, you exist somewhere, and your intelligence repeatedly refuses to stay where you exist. Your intellect is let loose. It is grazing somewhere else. Naturally, all concepts that you ‘intellectually understand’ is neither practical nor practicable. If someone delivers a powerful conviction, you will be compelled to say, ‘it is difficult to practise, but I will try’.
Where you exist is from where your actual actions and deeds emerge. If only they could see it clearly, most people around you can tell you the same. What you are and what thoughts occupy you, seem to be in two different lands. If you simply yearn for a peaceful life with no hassles and issues, why do you go and seek humanitarianism or religion? Why don’t you simply state what you are? Wouldn’t that make you more coherent and render you free of contradiction and hypocrisy?
This is the first step in integrity. In the pursuit of truth. In the matter of true perception. You state where you exist first. Acknowledge it completely. Throw away all goals and theories. Stay where you exist.
Simply put, intelligence by itself is an over-rated faculty. In the last two articles, I have delved into how intelligence deludes itself, assumes the right to conclude about things that it has never known. Not mere recklessness, intelligence is blind. And, it doesn’t even know that it is blind. Yet, just because it can come up with a word or image or concept for it, it right royally assumes understanding.
You must learn to still the restlessness of your intellect, or the waywardness of the mind, not by meditation or any other technique, but by getting it to stay where you exist. That is the beginning of stillness. Of order. Of truth. All other efforts to cut down on dissipation and distraction shall not work. Your existence alone stills your waywardness. Get back to where you operate from. That is your origin: lead life from there. And, never entertain two worlds within you. One of theory, ideal, or dream, and another of the actual, the mundane, and the factual.
If you are a true spiritual aspirant and keen to determine the end-purport-experience of the scriptures or any great master, you must come to its door with such integrity. This is purity. Bring in integrity. Your entire personality must refuse to move out of where you exist. Only then can Buddha or Śaṅkara speak to you eloquently and show you everything they see. They can even welcome you to see it for yourself, ask you what you thought of it, and listen to your disagreement, if any.
Your perception can be coherent only when you achieve integrity in what you see and feel. If there be such dissonance in what you see, feel, and experience—in the input itself, the less we talk about the output, the better.
With this in mind, let us get into Śaṅkara’s commentary on प्रतिबोधविदितं मतम्, the 4th mantra of the 2nd kāṇḍa (section), of the Kena Upaniṣad.
Just in the previous mantra, the Upaniṣad has very clearly stated that Brahman or Truth (true perception, in our context),
(It) remains unknown to the one who knows.
(Kena Upaniṣad 2.3)
How could you say that ‘if you know it, you don’t know’? Or, how can ‘not knowing it’ be the qualifier of you ‘knowing it’? This is the question that Śaṅkara takes up right at the start. He argues that if ‘utterly not knowing’ was the qualification or symptom or indication of ‘knowing’, then even a common ignorant man would be considered a ‘knower of truth’. That would be ridiculous to suggest, right? Then, what exactly is the Upaniṣad talking about? In that case, how is this truth to be known? Śaṅkara says that this is why the following mantra of the Upaniṣad is stated, प्रतिबोधविदितं मतम् इति.
प्रतिबोधविदितं मतममृतत्वं हि विन्दते ।
आत्मना विन्दते वीर्यं विद्यया विन्दतेऽमृतम् ।।
॥ Kena Upaniṣad 2.4 ॥
बोधं बोधं प्रति विदितं
Bōdham bōdham prati viditam
It can be sensed in every बोध.
Buddhists equate the word bōdha to a pratyaya or a ‘mode’, so begins Śaṅkara. Some sort of a vessel which the Self fills.
What does it mean? Take our example of sorrow in the previous article. As we discussed it then, sorrow appears to be a mode that one gets into. There is you which existed before sorrow, you which exists after that sorrow, and then there is sorrow as a mood or session, referred to here as pratyaya.
We are taking up this question: what is the relationship between the ‘leaving self’ and ‘the sorrowful self’? Sorrow seems, even as an experience, something you undergo for a while and then recover your normalcy. This means that you existed before sorrow, and then you exist after sorrow too. What happens to you during sorrow? The argument here is that you fill sorrow (a mode) like water fills a vessel.
Replace sorrow with pleasure. Or with disturbance. It is the same.
The second thing to be noted is this. Instead of it being a mode, it could be a domain too. Suppose you felt that the sorrow was linked to a more significant issue. Suppose you were sorrowful because your desire or expectations weren’t being met. Or you felt cheated because expectations were raised and then crashed. This sorrow affects the way you go about your relationship itself now. While you may return to normal after the sorrow session, the connection shall not return to normal. It is now affected by sorrow. Some pragmatic reckoning may be done, and the relationship may undergo a change at the end of the sorrow session. So, sorrow is linked to some choices you make, related to the relationship you have, linked to your expectations with the other, linked to the priority you place on this relationship itself, and so on. So, more than sorrow being just one mode or one crying session, it is a domain. What happens there in that mode affects the entire domain. The whole perception about the domain changes how you have dealt with sorrow now.
Do you understand what we mean by perception now?
We owe a lot to Buddha and Śaṅkara for dragging the attention of the seeker of truth, the thought of the philosopher, the love-gaze of the poet, and the sense of ‘the thing to be done’ of the worker, into the actual subject of life. Life means everything that exists, existed, or awaiting its turn to exist. To drag everyone to the subject matter of life required extraordinary energy, a tremendous asceticism, and exalted cleanliness in vision.
How could you pursue something if you didn’t love it, if you couldn’t live without finding it? Of what use is the intensity of love if you haven’t even come to the subject of life? That intensity is not easy to find until one hits the source. And, the source can only be the actual subject of life. You don’t find love if you haven’t hit the real; and to hit the real, you need authentic energy, actual intensity. Without love, you can’t move. Without moving to the real, you don’t find the intensity of love. That is the challenge. The challenge was not in dragging people; the challenge was first to go and find for oneself whether there was indeed one key to this life. Both Buddha and Śaṅkara were men who pursued truth till the very end.
What is that point? What is the final subject of life? What is the one thing, if understood well, everything else falls in place? Is there such a thing at all? Is there indeed a true cradle for life? Whether mine or yours? A real origin?
The subject-object duality is the only matter that merits every soul’s attention. The only puzzle worth cracking. The only work that gives real results. The only love-gaze that turns not into hallucination. The only flight that never crashes. The only path that never returns, as described in the Bhagavadgītā. The only revolution that Jiddu Krishnamurti refers to. The only sacrifice that will reach. The only love that doesn’t return as a nag. The only initiative or movement that dissolves into the universal, remains incognito when in separation, making one wonder whether the separation itself was suspect right through. A movement that leaves no trace.
The division between the subject-object also means the division between the creator and the created, between the lover and the beloved, between the founder of a system and the system itself, between the experiencer and the experienced, between the enjoyer and the enjoyed, between the worker and what he is working upon, as well as the observer-observed in an investigation.
Let us take the creator-created division, for instance. Let us take this man’s case, who is the sole breadwinner for the family. Who is the father of two children. Who has a doting wife. There isn’t any family without this man at all, isn’t it? From him comes the family. Are you with me? He seems the originator of the family. The creator of the family. Consider the universe as one family and God as its creator, in a manner similar.
Why did this man create this family? To fulfil his desire, for his own happiness? So, in a manner similar, we could say that the universe was created by the Lord’s desire. For his own satisfaction. Just as a man who won’t destroy his family because he made it for his happiness, so too, we could argue that the lord of the universe shall not kill his own creation because he created it out of joy or for happiness. How could he destroy his own happiness?
Our man learns some skills and uses his talent to get the necessary money and perks to nurture his family. Where would the lord of the universe go? We say that the lord of the universe is self-sufficient, that he doesn’t have to go elsewhere, that he has everything within himself to give this universe.
This contrast is an interesting exercise, isn’t it? Let us see how far we can stretch it.
Our man can get tired of his family, is even likely to consider it a burden after many years. The Lord of the universe has found a way to live with his universe that it never tires him. Never! We, therefore, call him ever-free!
Our man can nourish his family in very limited ways. For instance, he can provide food, clothing, and shelter. But, if his child is poor in math, for example, he doesn’t know what to do. He has to look for outside help. When it comes to the universe, we would say that the lord of the universe never needs to outsource anything. Our man cannot be at two places at the same time. When working at the office, he cannot spend time with his child, even if she is facing a critical exam. In contrast, we say that the lord of the universe can be at multiple places simultaneously.
Having understood this now, we can go further. Why does the creator have to create at all? Who is he showing his creation to? What is the point of bringing out his own material from the unmanifest condition to the manifest state? What is so great about moving a thing in a dark room to a room with light? Why would the creator do such a thing?
You pursue this line of questioning, and you shall end up at this division. The creator-created division. We have to find something of the creator for this movement of creation. It is impossible to think that it happened just like that. So, there are even theories on how creation is merely a sport. Leela. But still, it doesn’t seem to end the speculation. We only go round and round on what could have been the trigger, what is the bursting point. It can’t be a point in time because time itself was created along with creation. It can’t be a point in space because space itself was created along with creation.
There are other theories of how God and creation are two parallel streams. One is a substratum, never changing and ever existent. The other is ever-changing, continuously in flux. Then, the question moves to, what is the relation between the two—God and the ever-changing world? Is the substratum a playground? A vessel or canvas on which the universe and its material are playing out? Why would God accommodate his own creation to play with itself? Why would he stand apart and watch his own creation? So, there are theories that suggest that God doesn’t exist by himself, in his original state at all, that he has spent himself entirely into the universe. That he has indeed become the universe. Like milk turning into butter fully and irreversibly.
Now, let uefs get back to our example of sorrow, the one we have been discussing for the past two articles. If sorrow is one mode, and you are the substratum on which sorrow is playing out, and therore you are unaffected by what happens in the playground of the mind, could you see it that way? You are different, sorrow is different. Yet, it is in you that sorrow is playing out. Sorrow cannot exist without you. Please note that. Neither can pleasure nor disturbance.
So, if you are detached, then sorrow comes and goes. Suppose you want to give yourself up, completely lose yourself in that mode. Let us say, it is a pleasure, or happiness, or peace—some positive emotion. You want to lose yourself in that. You are being swept away entirely. No part of you remains behind. Totally spent. Some of us call it surrender. This means that every part of you has been summoned, collected, and spent totally into that moment. If you remain a wee bit after that happiness, then it means that you haven’t been able to give yourself up entirely at all, right? And, whether you have given 30% or 97% of you to that moment, it doesn’t matter. That you haven’t been able to give yourself up completely itself is the point. This also means that you have not been able to summon every part of yourself. This also means that there is so much to you that you still don’t own or control. Therefore, you can’t surrender that at any given moment.
Whether surrender or detachment, one thing is clear. You are unable to bridge the gap between ‘you’ and the ‘other’. The ‘other’ continues to exist, while ‘you’ continue to exist too, like two parallel lines. This is the experience of duality. Now, are we getting the hang of what is being said? The significance of it? Isn’t it vital now for one to end this duality?
Let us get back to Śaṅkara’s commentary now. We were discussing the ‘self while in the mode’ and the ‘self that leaves the mode’, remember? If you are the entity that survived the sorrow, then going forward, you are likely to deal with every mode as just that. A mode that comes and goes, that doesn’t taint you, or that doesn’t affect you. If, on the other hand, you give yourself entirely to that mode, as though there exists no tomorrow, then, when you remain beyond the mode, you are likely to consider yourself as being rejected by that mode, because you couldn’t give yourself completely!
Do you see how different each perception is? It is the same sorrow, and it is the same you. Yet, if you are on the ‘thought of detachment’ then, you are likely to tolerate somehow, persevere through that sorrow, and feel liberated once sorrow leaves you. If, on the other hand, you are on the ‘thought of surrender’, then you are likely to feel bitter, frustrated, and more incomplete about yourself.
As the thought, so is the experience. It is the same sorrow. It is the same you. But, the idea with which you entered sorrow decides how you come out of it, and how you have interpreted it. As your thought, so your judgment of that experience.
Is there a right way to enter sorrow? Is there true perception possible? Because we can come up with various interpretations of the same thing. Our thoughts could become more and more complex, but we haven’t understood. Neither understood sorrow, nor understood ourselves. Do you see the point of true perception now?
Continuing with Śaṅkara, he says further that,
सर्वे प्रत्यया विषयीभवन्ति यस्य,
स आत्मा सर्वबोधान्प्रतिबुध्यते सर्वप्रत्ययदर्शी चिच्छक्तिस्वरूपमात्रः
प्रत्ययैरेव प्रत्ययेष्वविशिष्टतया लक्ष्यते;
नान्यद् द्वारमन्तरात्मनो विज्ञानाय ।
Of Him, to whom all modes become objects,
that Self, is intrinsically aware of all modes,
is the witness or the seer of all modes,
who is of the nature of sentience alone,
who is intuited by the very modes themselves,
and is cognised while in the mode itself,
(pratyayairēva pratyayēṣu aviśiṣṭatayā lakṣyatē).
For, there is no other means/path/route to know the inner Self.
Essentially, Śaṅkara seems to disagree with how we approach the mode itself. Specifically with the thought (detachment, surrender, and so on) that remains as an interface between the self and sorrow. Which does not allow the self to know itself, nor does it allow the self to understand sorrow. Śaṅkara is very emphatic here. He says, you have no business to be entertaining any thoughts there in the first place. Because of such thoughts, you haven’t settled that experience then and there. Instead, thought continues as memory.
So, the self is to be intuited during sorrow, from within the sorrow itself. There is no other way to know yourself. Or settling that experience too.
अतः प्रत्ययप्रत्यगात्मतया विदितं ब्रह्म यदा, तदा तत् मतं तत्सम्यग्दर्शनमित्यर्थः
Therefore, when indeed Brahman is known as the inherent Self of the mode, pratyaya–pratyagātmatayā, then indeed is that cognition; that alone constitutes samyag darśanam (right/true perception).
Therefore, knowing oneself is the only way to end all interfacing thoughts and be in tune with the incoming sorrow. That indeed is the challenge of the moment. If you don’t know yourself, then you missed an opportunity. Second, you continued a thought, or reinterpreted it. And, you didn’t understand sorrow or pleasure or whatever.
You deluded yourself about the true nature of the object as well as you, the subject. You messed it up for yourself.