Atma Bodha (Knowledge of the Self) by Shankara
From: The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
After a devotee sent to Sri Bhagavan a Tamil translation of Shankaracharya’s Atma Bodha,
Bhagavan composed a new translation in Tamil.
He did this translation very rapidly, working even at night, using a flashlight..!
‘Can Shankara, the enlightener of the Self,
be different from one’s own Self?
Who but he, does this day,
abiding as the inmost Self in me,
speak this in the Tamil language?’ — Sri Bhagavan.
1. This — Atma Bodha —is meant to fulfil the want of the seekers of liberation who, by their prolonged tapas, have already cleansed themselves of impurities and become mentally peaceful and free from desires.
2. Of all the means to liberation, knowledge is the only direct one — as essential as fire to cooking; without it, liberation cannot be gained.
3. Not being opposed to ignorance, karma does not destroy it. On the other hand, knowledge destroys ignorance as surely as light does darkness.
4. Owing to ignorance, the Self now appears to be covered up; on the removal of ignorance, the pure Self will shine forth of Itself, like the sun after the dispersal of clouds.
5. The jiva is mixed up with ignorance. By constant practice of knowledge the jiva becomes pure, because knowledge disappears (along with ignorance), as the cleansing nut with the impurities in the water.
But here is the world, how can the Self alone be real and non-dual?
6. Samsara is full of likes and dislikes and other opposites. Like a dream, it seems real for the time being; but, on waking, it vanishes because it is unreal.
Because the dream is negated on waking, I know it to be unreal; but the world persists and I find it only real.
7. So long as the substratum of all, the non-dual Brahman is not seen, the world seems real — like illusory silver in a piece of mother-of-pearl.
But the world is so diverse; yet, you say there is One only.
8. Like bubbles rising on the surface of the waters of the ocean, all the worlds arise from, stay in and resolve into the Supreme Being (Paramesa) who is the root cause and prop of all.
9. In the Being-Consciousness-Bliss, which is all permeating, eternal Vishnu, all these diverse objects and individuals appear (as phenomena) like various ornaments made of gold.
Yes, but what about the numberless individual souls?
10. Just as the all-pervading akasa (ether) appears fragmented in different objects (as in a pit, a jar, a house, a theatre hall, etc.) but remains undifferentiated on the limitations falling away, similarly with the single, non-dual ruler of the senses (seeming to function as gods, men, cattle, etc.).
But the individuals have different traits and function according to different conditions.
11. The traits, etc., are also superimposed. Pure water (tasteless by itself) tastes sweet, bitter, salty etc., according to the admixture in it (upadhis). Similarly, race, name status, etc., are all superimposed on the non-dual Self of all. What are these upadhis which play such tricks on the Self? They are gross, subtle and very subtle as described here.
12. The gross body made up of the five gross elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) is meant to reap the fruits of past actions in the shape of pleasure and pain.
13. The subtle body consisting of the five airs, the mind, intellect, the ten senses and made up of subtle elements is also meant for enjoyment (as in dreams).
14. Inexpressible and beginningless ignorance is said to be the causal body (as in deep sleep). Know the Self to be other than these three upadhis.
If so, why is the Self not evident to me? On the other hand, Sruti says, ‘ This Purusha is made up of annarasa (essence of food).’
15. Just as a clear crystal (itself colourless) appears red, blue, yellow, etc., according to the background, so also the Self, pure and untainted, seems to be identical with the body, the senses, the mind, intellect or blissful ignorance (panchakosas) when in contact with them.
16. Just as husking the paddy exposes the grain within (the rice), so also should one judiciously separate the pure Atman from the sheaths covering it.
Atman is said to be everywhere. Why should it then be judiciously looked for within the five sheaths?
17. Though always and everywhere present, the Self does not shine forth in all places. Just as light is reflected only in a transparent medium, so also the Self is clearly seen in the intellect only.
18. The Self is realized in the intellect as the witness of the activities of, and yet separate from the body, the senses, the mind, intellect and gross nature (prakriti) as is a king in relation to his subjects.
The Self seems to participate in their activities; so he cannot be different from them, nor be their witness.
19. Just as the moon seems to move when the clouds around her move, so also the Self seems to the indiscriminating to be active, when actually, the senses are active.
To be active, the body etc., must also be intelligent; they are said to be inert. How can they act without the intelligent Self participating in their actions?
20. Just as men do their duties in the light of the sun (but the sun does not participate in them), so also the body, senses, etc., function in the light of the Self without its participating in them.
True, the Self alone is intelligence. I know myself to be born, growing, decaying, happy, or unhappy and so on. Am I right?
21. No. The characteristics (birth, death, etc.) of the body and the senses are superimposed on the Being-Consciousness-Bliss as is the blue in the sky by those who do not discriminate.
22. So also the characteristics of the mind, such as agency, etc., are by ignorance superimposed on the Atman, as are the movements of water on the moon reflected in it.
23. Only when the intellect is manifested, likes and dislikes, pleasure and pain are felt. In deep sleep, the intellect remaining latent, they are not felt. Therefore, they are of the intellect and not of the Atman (the Self). Here is the real nature of the Atman.
24. As light is the very sun, coldness the water, heat the fire, so also the eternal, pure Being-Consciousness-Bliss is the very Self.
At some time or other, every individual experiences, ‘I am happy’, and thus Being-Consciousness-Bliss experience is plain. How can one make the experience permanent and unchanging?
25. Being-Consciousness is of the Self; the ‘I’ mode or modification is of the intellect; these are distinctly two. However, owing to ignorance, the individual mixes them together and thinks ‘I know’ and acts accordingly.
26. Never is there any change (or action) in Atman nor knowledge in the intellect. Only the jiva is deluded into thinking itself to be the knower, doer and seer.
27. Like the snake in the rope, mistaking the jiva for the Self, one is subject to fear. If, on the other hand, one knows oneself not as a jiva but as the supreme Self, one is altogether free from fear.
28. Only the Self illumines the senses, intellect, etc., as a lamp does objects such as pots. The Self is not illumined by them as they are inert.
If the Self cannot be made known by the intellect, there will be no knower to know the Self and the Self cannot be known.
29. To see a light, no other light is needed. So also, the Self being self-effulgent, needs no other means of knowledge. It shines of itself.
If so, every one must be Self-realized, effortlessly, but it is not so.
30. On the strength of the Vedic teaching, ‘Not this, not this’, eliminate all the adjuncts (upadhis) and with the help of the mahavakyas, realize the identity of the jivatman (individual self) with the paramatman (the supreme Self).
31. The whole objective world such as the body, is born of ignorance and transient like a bubble on water. Know the Self to be distinct from it and identical with Brahman (the Supreme).
32. Being distinct from the gross body, birth, death, old age, debility, etc., do not pertain to me. Not being the senses, I have no connection with the objects of the senses such as sound, etc.
33. The srutis declare:`I am not the vital air (prana), not the mind, (but) pure (Being). Not being the mind I am free from likes and dislikes, fear, etc´.
34. `I am free from qualities and actionless, eternal, undifferentiated, untainted, unchanging, formless, ever free and pure´.
35. `Like ether, I am always pervading all, in and out, unswerving, ever equal in all, pure, untainted, clear and unshaken´.
36. `That which remains eternal, pure, ever-free, all alone, unbroken bliss, non-dual, Being-Consciousness-Bliss, transcendent Brahman (the same) am I ´.
37. Long, constant practice of ‘I am Brahman only’ destroys all vasanas (latent tendencies), born of ignorance as an efficacious remedy (rasayana) eradicates a disease.
38. Be dispassionate, keep the senses under control and let the mind not wander; sit in a solitary place and meditate on the Self as infinite and one alone.
39. Keep the mind pure; with keen intellect, resolve all that is objective into the Self and always meditate on the Self as clear and single like ether.
40. Having discarded all names and forms, you are now the knower of the Supreme Being and will remain as perfect Consciousness-Bliss.
41. Being the same as Consciousness-Bliss, there is no longer any differentiation such as the knower and the known; and the Self shines forth as Itself.
42. If in this manner by process of constant meditation, the two pieces of wood, namely the Self and the ego are rubbed together, the flames from the fire of knowledge burn away the whole range of ignorance.
43. On knowledge destroying ignorance in this way, like the light of dawn scattering the darkness of night, the Self will rise like the sun in all its glory.
44. True, the Self is always here and now; yet it is not apparent, owing to ignorance. On ignorance being destroyed the Self seems as if it were gained, like the necklace on one’s own neck.
(The allusion is to the story of a lady wearing a precious necklace, who suddenly forgot where it was, grew anxious, looked for it everywhere and even asked others to help, until a kind friend pointed out that it was round the seeker’s own neck.)
45. Just as in darkness a post is mistaken for a man, so is Brahman in ignorance mistaken for a jiva. If, however, the true nature of a jiva is seen, delusion vanishes.
46. Knowledge arising on the experience of reality immediately destroys the ignorant perception of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, which resemble the delusion of direction in darkness.
47. A jnani who is a perfectly Self-realized yogi, sees by the eye of wisdom all objective phenomena to be in and of the Self and thus the Self to be the sole being.
How does he then act in the world?
48. Just as clay is the only material from which different utensils are formed (such as pots, jars, etc.), so he sees that the Self, too, is the whole universe and there is nothing but the Self.
49. In order to be liberated while yet alive, the sage should completely eschew the adjuncts (upadhis), and thus gain the real nature of Being-Consciousness-Bliss, like the maggot that turns into a wasp.
50. Having crossed the ocean of illusion and having killed the demons of likes and dislikes, the yogi, now united to shanti (peace), finds delight in the Self and so remains in his own glory.
51. The jivanmukta, freed from all desire for transient, external pleasures, delights in his own Self and remains clear and steady a like lamp in a pot.
52. Like the akasa (ether) which remains untainted by the objects contained therein, the muni (sage) remains untainted by the adjuncts (upadhis) covering him. Being the all-knower he remains like one that knows not, and moves about like the air uncontaminated by the objects it touches.
53. On the dissolution of the adjuncts (the body, senses, etc.), the sage now freed from particularities merges in the all-permeating Being (Vishnu), like water in water, ether in ether or fire in fire.
54. There is no gain over and above this gain, no pleasure over and above this bliss, no knowledge over and above this knowledge, know this to be Brahman.
55. That on seeing which nothing remains to see, on becoming which there is no more return to samsara, on knowing which nothing remains to know, know that to be Brahman.
56. What fills everything, above, below and around, itself Being-Consciousness-Bliss, non-dual, infinite, eternal, one only, know that to be Brahman.
57. What remains as immutable, unbroken Bliss, and as one only, that which even the scriptures indirectly denote by the process of elimination as ‘not this, not this’, know the same to be Brahman.
58. Dependent on a fraction of the inexhaustible Bliss of the Atman, all the gods such as Brahma enjoy bliss according to their grades.
59. Like the butter in milk, the objective universe is contained in it; all the activities are based on it alone. Therefore Brahman is all-pervading.
60. What is neither subtle nor gross, short nor long, produced nor spent, what is devoid of form, attribute, caste and name, know it to be Brahman.
61. By whose light the sun and other luminaries shine forth, but which is not itself illumined by them and in whose light all this is seen, know it to be Brahman.
62. Like fire in a piece of red-hot iron, Brahman permeates the whole world in and out and all through, makes it shine and itself also shines by itself.
63. Brahman is distinct from the universe, yet there remains nothing apart from Brahman. Should any other than Brahman appear, it is only an illusion like water in a mirage.
64. Whatever is seen or heard, it cannot be different from Brahman. True knowledge finds Brahman to be Being-Consciousness-Bliss and one without a second.
65. Only the eye of wisdom can see the omnipresent Being-Consciousness-Bliss, but not the eye of ignorance for a blind eye cannot see the sun.
66. Like gold freed from dross, the jiva (sadhaka) has all his impurities burnt away by the fire of knowledge bursting into flames fanned by sravana, manana and nidhidhyasana (hearing, reflection and contemplation) and now he shines forth by himself.
67. Because the sun of knowledge, the chaser of darkness has risen, the Atman shines in the expanse of the Heart as the omnipresent sustainer of all and illumines all.
68. He who bathes in the clear, warm, ever-refreshing waters of the Atman, which being available everywhere, here and now, need not be sought for in special centres and seasons; such a one remains actionless. He is the knower of all; he pervades all and is ever immortal.