Vedantic Wednesday: The Five Sheaths Around The SELF

Why is understanding and experiencing the SELF so difficult, while we can read and listen on it as much as we want to.This is 800px-Red_onion_rings_closeupbecause, the unchanging SELF is enveloped by not one but five sheaths. These five sheaths are constantly influencing our perceptions and hence experience. To reach to the SELF that resides as the core of our being, we need to penetrate these five sheaths. So the first step is to understand what are these five sheaths. Vedanta describes them as below:

1. Annamaya-kosa: The Food Sheath, which implies the physical body. That is maintained by food and returns as food. Its attributes are the height, weight, health, sickness, color etc

2. Pranamaya-kosa: Vital-air Sheath. Prana which represents the vital force that holds the mind and body together coupled with five organs of action forms the vital-air sheath. The attributes include attributes of prana (hunger, thirst, tiredness etc) and attributes of organs of action like speech.

3. Manomaya-kosa: This refers to the mental sheath, which is formed by the mind along with the five sensory organs. The attributes of this include worry, doubt, emotions, vision, smell etc

4. Vijnanamaya-kosa: This refers to the intellectual sheath, which is a combination of intellect and the five organs of perception. Its attributes include aspects of discrimination, doubt, doership, enjoyership (aspects associated with ego)

5. Anandamaya-kosa: This refers to the bliss sheath, and is composed of various vasanas or tendencies like joy of anticipation, thrill of attainment and happiness of enjoyment. This in Upanishads is referred to as the causal body. This is the sheath that still stands between the world and the atman, when the senses and mind cease to function.

To reaching our SELF it becomes necessary for us to peel away each of the layers one by one, like an onion. And just like peeling of an onion this too is not a pleasant task. It is one that seemingly brings pain and doubts as we work on each of the layers. However the efforts are rewarded manifold when we connect to the essence of our being – our SELF!


Vedantic Wednesday: SELF as Sakshi

We understand that SELF enlivens the inert body.  So in presence of SELF the body functions. Does work.  Does action. But what Sleeping_babyhappens to SELF when we are sleeping? Does it sleep? This sounds as a pretty dumb question. But I did not have answer, rather I did not even have the thought of the question.

The impact of presence of  SELF on our body is – consciousness or awareness. From this consciousness or awareness results the actions of the body. The atman or self acts as a detached witness or observer all through the three states of consciousness that the body opts for – state of waking, state of dream and state of sleep. In the waking state our consciousness makes us aware of the external world, in the dream state, it makes us aware of the projected dream world and in the deep sleep state we become oblivious of both. In all three states it is the consciousness which makes us aware, thereby revealing itself as eternal knowledge.

All through these three states our SELF remains detached.  And this is why when every aspect of our understanding is recognized through thoughts – SELF is recognised through the SELF itself. A note on this earlier can be found in an earlier blog

Vedantic Wednesday: The Happy SELF

The nature of SELF is bliss or Ananda. This we can understand when we look at each of our activities in the world. We alwaysDew_drop_on_green_grass work towards one need – the need to be happy. Consider a student, a mother, an industrialist or a social worker – they throw themselves at something in the world because they derive happiness from doing this.  Some of us seek happiness in activities that benefit us as individuals. Some of us seek the same happiness by doing service. If we can stop judging the ‘quality’ of happiness – we see that the only motivator behind all our actions is to seek happiness.

It is so true even with self destructive habits. When one becomes depressed and resorts to drinking, other abusive habits or when one even takes extreme step of suicide; these are motivated from moving away from situations that are NOT making one happy. Whatever be our state in the world – be it young, old, aged, diseased, etc, we all want to be happy. For some it is in health, for some in fame, for some in relationship, for some in other’s smile.

All our actions then seem to be aligned to the base nature of our SELF – happiness.  Then why are we feeling unhappy despite success? Why do we feel pressurised doing what supposedly gives happiness? Why do we feel incomplete?

It is because of our ignorance. We are ignorant of the fact that however we are today in the worldly context, as SELF we are at this point in time – complete, absolute and in state of Ananda. Forgetting this, in our ignorance instead of connecting with the happiness within us – we search for it outside.  In external objects.

Our ignorance makes us a victim of sensory enjoyments. As we try to appease each one of the sensory demands we realize our need to feel happy is not fulfilled. Over time the futility of this external search sets in. It weighs us down. It is only when we leave the external search for happiness and turn it inwards that we find eternal happiness or bliss. But for many of us it takes more than a lifetime to come to terms with this. We do not turn our search inwards. Till our last minute we attempt to grab the happiness that we feel is present in external objects, while from the very start we have it within us as  the absolute SELF.

It is easier written than believed. It is easier written than experienced. We cannot accept that a beggar on the road is as complete as the richest man when we look at the SELF that propels them. Our conditioning poses a lot of questions on the veracity of this claim.  It is difficult to understand the nature of the absolute when we operate in the realm of a relative world.

And this truth cannot be understood by any other means than individual anubhava or experience. Study of scriptures and contemplation on the lines of the principles within them will help us in directing our thinking inwards, will give us courage to break free of what we believe today is the truth!


Vedantic Wednesday: The Sunny SELF

Last week many people got back to me on the blog identifying well with the analogy of the sun and the SELF.  As I was going through some texts this week – i stumbled upon another comparison between SELF and Sun. Not wanting to dismiss this stumble as coincidence, I felt I should share it with all of you.

All of us – whether we are on the spiritual journey or not, are always seeking happiness. Vast majority amongst us seek it in the external objects, few seek it internally and the rest are attempting to see inside while clinging on to the outside world. So what will make us see the SELF? What is it that will make us realise our true nature? Is it knowledge? Is it deep study? Is it meditation?

Nature of SELF by itself is knowledge. SELF is complete and indestructible. It knows what it knows and what it does not know. Using any medium to seek SELF is like trying to search for the Sun using a torch light.  You do not need anything other than the light of the sun to see it.  Similarly SELF  does not require any other instruments.  It is self-luminous. This is because the nature of SELF itself is knowledge. This capacity of SELF to reveal itself to us through a very personal and individual experience (bliss) without seeking the aid of any other piece of knowledge is called ‘SELF effulgence’.  This principal of absolute knowledge is call ‘Cit’

All other worldly and spiritual knowledge and texts can only take us to the extent that we are able to understand what is NOT this absolute. The last leap of discovery happens fueled by the SELF itself.  It is to reach this last but one point – we have to take the help of available knowledge.  And then when we are prepared, the SELF will reveal itself in all its pristine glory, illuminated by its own power and light!

Vedantic Wednesday: The Sun and The Soul

In a satsang last week –  a question was asked. And as the question came from the realm of the world – it seemed very 800px-The_sun1practical, till the time the speaker gave the answer. The question was: ‘You say our Soul enlivens the body. Without Soul body cannot act. So all the acts of the body should be logically attributed to the soul. So soul should be responsible for the acts of the body – and in that manner get impacted. But you say at all times our Atman/Soul/SELF is complete and unblemished’

Not only was the person asking the question clear on his doubts, the way his doubts was phrased made us all start our own branches of questioning on these lines. Many of us felt we had the speaker foxed with a tough question.  Some had a small smile as they were mulling at the possible discomfort this question has created for the expert. And as always the master was also smiling. The answer that was given is what I am sharing below:

‘The body is made of inert elements. By itself our body is like any other mineral or matter. The closeness to the Atman is what enables the body to acquire sentiency and dynamism. However we cannot hold Atman responsible for the activities of the body. Also, though it is said that the Atman bestows consciousness and life, it cannot be treated as an activity of the Self.

This can be understood by a simple analogy.  By the virtue of being close to the sun, earth receives warmth.  The warmth and light trigger a lot of action on earth.  Sun bestows life on earth by its presence.  But can we say this is Sun’s duty? Can we hold the Sun for subsequent actions that happen on earth? Similarly the Atman enlivens the inert conditionings by its very presence. But it is external to all that happens in, of and through the body’

This conversation gave me some points to think around understanding better the difference and distinction between the transient body and timeless soul.

However it also taught me a far more valuable lesson – one that I am sure will help me in my further studies. As logical sceptics, we may have many queries. Our ego could lead us to believe that the query itself is an intellectual first of its kind. But let us not forget that sceptics and intellectuals have been around since the birth of Vedas. The deep wisdom born out of clear understanding was able to answer them then – answers us now and are sure to continue answering any questions that we pose in the future. While asking questions is key to learning – it gets completed only if we are willing to listen and contemplate on the answers. This is true for any study that we undertake – be it on science or be it Vedanta!

Vedantic Wednesday: Don’t Blame the darkness, Open your Eyes

“It is sure to be dark if you close your eyes.” – Chinese Proverb.800px-Mitternachtsdaemmerung_&_nachtleutenden_Wolken_-_Anfang_Juli

This captures the reason why we are not experiencing the Self. If the sun is rising in the east, but we stand facing the west, how will we experience the sunrise? In a similar fashion because our focus is totally directed towards the ‘anatman’ and the external objects, we fail to experience the Self present as ‘Atman’ within us.

To experience our true nature, our uncorrupted SELF, we need to turn our attention inwards. We need to search for answers to the doubts that we have about external world, inside us.  For example if you are disappointed because you cannot afford Mont Blanc pen, instead of fixing the cause on the cost of Mont Blanc, you may want to investigate from where this unhappiness is arising in you.

By directing our gaze inwards through contemplation and meditation we will be able to train our mind to catch glimpses of the eternal truth that enlivens us. But if we are going to be searching for answers outside, however hard we may search and however long we may search – answers will elude us.

Vedantic Wednesday: If It Is Mine Then It Is Not Me

In the last two blogs – we have looked at the seed of doubt with which the spiritual journey starts and the first postulate  that can help in raising this doubt. Here comes the second one.

Do read this with the warning this is as simple as what the earlier line of reasoning was.  Observe all those things that we call as ours. My Book, My Pen, My Child, My Mother, My Job, My Car, My this.. that and the other.800px-BeachDog

Whenever we assert our ‘Mine’ness over something, we understand that this something is external to us. That is ‘we’ are the experiencer and we exert our assertion over something that is different and outsied of us.  So when saying My Book; we know the Book is not us. The same with My Pen, My Child and so on…So when we say My Body – it is but obvious that we are something different and beyond the body.

So think on what is this which is different from the body.  What is the one that claiming ownership of the body? What is this YOU that is beyond and outside of the body?

When we get this question –  we begin to doubt that what we have been led to believe all our life could be wrong. The choice ahead of us is to dismiss this line of questioning or follow it to seek answers. With the latter choice starts the wonderful spiritual journey!