The All-Embracing Self
“Where one sees nothing but the One, hears nothing but the One, knows nothing but the One–there is the Infinite. Where one sees another, hears another, knows another–there is the finite. The Infinite is immortal, the finite is mortal” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:24:1).
“To the illumined soul, the Self is all. For him who sees everywhere oneness, how can there be delusion or grief?
“The Self is everywhere. Bright is he, bodiless, without scar of imperfection, without bone, without flesh, pure, untouched by evil. The Seer, the Thinker, the One who is above all, the Self-Existent–he it is that has established perfect order among objects and beings from beginningless time” (Isha Upanishad 7, 8).
“The Self is everywhere”
Being outside of time and space the Self is both everywhere and nowhere–depending on one’s point of reference. One thing is definite: the Self cannot be separated from to any degree and is always present in the fullest measure. This being so, we need not seek the Self, but only realize it. We are always seeing, touching, and living in the Self, yet we do not recognize it, just as fish have no perception of water because of its intimate and integral connection with them. The Self is even more immediate to us than is water to the fish.
The most practical application of this truth is simple: We should always we aware of the Self and centered in the Self. And that is done by the continual meditation and japa of So’ham: “That Am I.”
“Bright is he”
In the Katha Upanishad it is said of the Self: “Him the sun does not illumine, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor the lightning–nor, verily, fires kindled upon the earth. He is the one light that gives light to all. He shining, everything shines” (Katha Upanishad 2:2:15; also Mundaka Upanishad 2:2:11.) The Self is illumined by no external light, but rather illumines all itself. We could shine the brightest of lights into the eyes of a dead man and he would see nothing. But if the Self is present to enliven him, then he will. The Self is known–seen–by the Self, and therefore it is called swayamprakash: self-illumined. Hence only those in contact with their Self can be said to possess illumination to any degree. Those who under the banner of “devotion” obsess on external practices and deities can only dwell in the “light that is darkness” (“If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:23). We must seek illumination in the Self alone, keeping in mind that God is the Self of the Self, that to seek one is to seek the other.
Sukram, the word translated “bright,” also means pure in the sense of being of such perfect clarity that no light is obscured. For it is from the core of the Self that the Pure Light of God shines forth. Therefore, as just pointed out, to attain Self-knowledge is to realize both the atman and the Paramatman. Only when we are centered in our Self can we see God. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Only when we are centered in God can we truly know our Self.
In a flawless crystal, what do we see? Nothing. So also, in the Self there is nothing seen, for all “things” are transcended, and pure Being alone remains in our consciousness. Wherefore the Chandogya Upanishad tells us: “Where one sees nothing but the One, hears nothing but the One, knows nothing but the One–there is the Infinite. Where one sees another, hears another, knows another–there is the finite. The Infinite is immortal, the finite is mortal” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:24:1).
Obviously the Self is not material, but it is necessary for us to further realize that the Self never touches materiality, that it never has a body in the sense that it is integrated with a body and either affects it or is affected by it. This is extremely important, for religion (and a lot of yoga) usually leads us astray by getting us to be involved in a multitude of activities that–including intellectual study and conceptualizations–are taking place only in the various bodies (koshas) and therefore have nothing whatsoever to do with the Self, and hence are usually irrelevant. It is true that we need to purify and refine the bodies so they will cease to veil or obscure the Self, but we should understand that the entire process takes place outside the Self and never affects the Self to any degree.
It is also necessary to comprehend that the Self is not really “in” the body(ies) at all, for by its very nature it cannot be encompassed or contained by anything, including the body. “They are contained in me, but I am not in them,” says Krishna (Bhagavad Gita 7:12). And the same is true of our own Self.
To realize the Self we must disengage our awareness totally from the bodies, although in the practice of meditation we use the bodies as stepping-stones to approach the Self and eventually transcend them altogether. So we need not reject the bodies–simply have the correct perspective regarding them.
“Without scar of imperfection”
Imperfection can occur only in the level of relativity. Being eternally outside of relative existence it is not possible for the Self to ever be “marked” for either good or bad–neither of which even exists for the Self. In Yoga Sutra 1:24, Patanjali describes the Supreme Lord, saying: “Ishwara is a distinct spirit, untouched by troubles, actions and their results, and latent impressions.” The relevant idea here is that God is beyond all action and therefore incapable of either incurring karma or of being conditioned or affected in any way by action–since He never acts. Exactly the same is true of the Self.
“Without bone, without flesh”
Obviously the Self has no body–that has already been said–so why this statement about the Self being without bone or flesh? The idea being presented is that the Self has no “inner” or “outer.” It has no essence as a substratum or framework (skeleton) which can become the ground or basis of another, external entity that is an extension of mutation of itself. The Self has neither parts nor appendages (upadhis). It is thoroughly homogenous and absolutely one. It cannot be “more” itself or “less” itself. There are no gradations or shadings in the Self. It simply IS.
We have already considered the purity of the Self and need only add one more point: The Self is also “pure” because there is nothing intervening between the Self and anything else–including God. It is absolute and direct without admixture of any kind.
“Untouched by evil”
Obviously the Self is untouched by evil, for it is not touched (affected) by anything at all or at any time.
The unwitnessed witness is the Self. In truth there is no other witness on the individual level because the senses, mind, and intellect are mere energy constructs that have no consciousness of their own. The eye never really sees, nor does the ear hear. No more does the brain or intellect. Rather, the spirit that is consciousness witnesses their messages, therefore the upanishadic seer said: “The Self is ear of the ear, mind of the mind, speech of speech. He is also breath of the breath, and eye of the eye. Having given up the false identification of the Self with the senses and the mind, and knowing the Self to be Brahman, the wise, on departing this life, become immortal” (Kena Upanishad 1:2). And of Brahman it was said: “He who knows Brahman to be the life of life, the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind–he indeed comprehends fully the cause of all causes” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:18).
Regarding the Self and the Self of the Self, Krishna stated: “Watching over the ear and the eye, and presiding there behind touch, and taste, and smell, he is also within the mind: he enjoys and suffers the things of the senses” (Bhagavad Gita 15:9).
Not being the brain, only its witness and not its possessor, the Self is here called “the thinker” only as an attempt to convey the idea that it is the Self that both witnesses and knows what it is witnessing. It is not just a screen on which the motion picture of life is projected, nor is it a consciousness of objects alone without cognition of their nature. An infant or an animal perceives exactly what an adult human being perceives, but has no idea what it is perceiving–or even that it perceives, in many cases. The Self, on the other hand, does indeed know and comprehend what is presented to its view. And because of its proximity the will and intellect respond to the stimuli, mirroring the consciousness that is the Self. Consequently they are often mistaken for the Self or wrongly supposed to have a consciousness and intelligence of their own.
“The One who is above all”
There is nothing higher than the Self, nothing beyond the Self. What about God? God and the Self being one, even God should not be thought of as beyond or above it. Further, Brahman is not a “thing” in a hierarchal chain of being that It could possibly be said to be “above” or “below” any thing whatsoever.
This statement is extremely practical, for it is impossible to conduct a spiritual life without the correct perspective: the spirit is supreme. Not only is everything lesser that the spirit, in truth everything else is nothing in comparison. Those who do not hold this conviction really have no spiritual life in the truest sense. God First. God Alone. This is the only correct perspective.
“Devotees seek to know him by study, by sacrifice, by continence, by austerity, by detachment. To know him is to become a seer. Desiring to know him, and him alone, monks renounce the world. Realizing the glory of the Self, the sages of old craved not sons nor daughters. “What have we to do with sons and daughters,” they asked, “we who have known the Self, we who have achieved the supreme goal of existence?” No longer desiring progeny, nor wealth, nor life in other worlds, they entered upon the path of complete renunciation” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:22).
The spirit never had a beginning. It always was. Again, this does not mean that the atman is separate from Brahman, or in any way independent of Brahman. Brahman being self-existent and eternal, so also is the Self. It is necessary for us to realize that NOTHING conditions or really affects the Self–that it is absolutely independent of all objects, places, or conditions. Otherwise we fall into the labyrinth of confusion and false identities
“He it is that has established perfect order among objects and beings from beginningless time”
Once again, the unity-identity of the individual Self and the Supreme Self cause the upanishadic rishi to make a statement that applies to both, although we are used to thinking only in terms of the Absolute Self. Really, hardly any of us–being conditioned by Western religion–actually believe that there is “perfect order among objects and beings from beginningless time” or at the present moment. One of those ever-present I Am Going To Make The World A Better Place types once remarked to an Indian teacher that he wanted to attain realization so he could work to make the world a perfect entity. The teacher instantly replied: “Why do you think that it is not perfect right now?” And of course it is. It is a mess because we are at that level of evolution in which we need to work our way through a mess. When we come to the point where order is what we need, we will be transferred to an orderly world and this one will remain as it is for those students of life who also need to find themselves in the midst of a mess. The world is a mirror of our mind.
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Luke 18:11). We may like to be Pharisees who think we are not as those around us–but we are. Everything we see in this world is in our mind to some degree, otherwise we would not be here. If we do not like what we see, then we should change ourselves. There is no other remedy, and there certainly is no escape from the necessity for change.
So it is we ourselves that have brought us into this world and provided for ourselves everything we need to evolve through reacting to and solving the problems set before us. A person who whines and pities himself does not learn and therefore is continually faced with the same situations. Have you ever known the kind of person that perpetually complains about being “let down” by others, or those that have a list of people or situations that “hurt” or cheated them? They are simply slow learners that deserve no pity, for they are doing it all to themselves. Every day Theravada Buddhists monks recite verses of wisdom, some of which say: “I have nothing but my actions; I shall never have anything but my actions.” There it is.
Being lazy, cowardly, and egotistical, we resist these truths. But they are the truth, and until we face them we will keep on whirling and whining, blaming God, the universe, and everybody else but the real culprit: ourselves. (Note I say “ourselves,” not “our selves.”) Cosmic Destiny is determined by each one of us. God simply has nothing to do with it except for providing us the environment in which we can work out our will. We can see from this that a lot of petitionary prayer and “surrender to the divine will” is idiotic and gets us nowhere. The day we start taking full–and exclusive–responsibility for our past, present, and future is the day we will begin moving toward real perfection.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Perspective on Life
Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:
- The Isha Upanishad
- The Kena Upanishad
- The Katha Upanishad
- The Past is the Future
- Seeing Death, Seeing Life
- The Good and the Pleasant
- The Way of Ignorance
- The Mystery of the Self
- How to Either Know or Not Know the Self
- From the Unreal to the Real
- Finding the Treasure
- The Transcendent Reality of the Self
- The Immortal Self
- The Indwelling Self
- The Omnipresent Self
- The Sorrowless Self
- Who Can Know the Self?
- The All-Consuming Self
- The Divine Indwellers
- The Chariot
- The Chariot’s Journey
- The Glorious Way
- To Know The Self
- The Power of Enlightenment
- The Infinite Self
- The Dweller in the Heart
- The Birthless Self
- The Shining Self
- The Life-Giving Self
- The Eternal Brahman–The Eternal Self
- The Radiant Self
- The Universal Tree
- Hierarchy of Consciousness
- From Mortality to Immortality
- The Prashna Upanishad
- The Mundaka Upanishad
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Taittiriya Upanishad
- The Aitareya Upanishad
- The Chandogya Upanishad
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
- The Shvetashvatara Upanishad
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