मघवन्मर्त्यं वा इदं शरीरमात्तं मृत्युना तदस्यामृतस्याशरीरस्यात्मनोऽधिष्ठानमात्तो वै सशरीरः प्रियाप्रियाभ्यां न वै सशरीरस्य सतः प्रियाप्रिययोरपहतिरस्त्यशरीरं वाव सन्तं न प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः ॥ ८.१२.१ ॥
maghavanmartyaṃ vā idaṃ śarīramāttaṃ mṛtyunā tadasyāmṛtasyāśarīrasyātmano’dhiṣṭhānamātto vai saśarīraḥ priyāpriyābhyāṃ na vai saśarīrasya sataḥ priyāpriyayorapahatirastyaśarīraṃ vāva santaṃ na priyāpriye spṛśataḥ || 8.12.1 ||
1. Indra, this body is mortal. It has been captured by death. Yet it is the base of the Self, which is immortal and formless. One who has a body is subject to both happiness and unhappiness. In fact, there is no end to happiness and unhappiness so long as one has a body. But when a person is free from the body, nothing good or bad can touch him.
Maghavan, O Maghavan [Indra]; martyam vai idam śarīram, this body is mortal [subject to death]; āttam mṛtyunā, it has been captured by death; tat, that [body]; asya amṛtasya aśarīrasya ātmanaḥ adhiṣṭhānam, is the foundation of this immortal and formless Self; āttaḥ vai saśarīraḥ priya-apriyābhyām, one who has a body is subject to good and evil; saśarīrasya sataḥ, for one who has a body; priya-apriyayoḥ apahatiḥ na asti, there is no end to good and evil; aśarīram vāva santam, but one who is without a body; priya-apriye na spṛśataḥ, is not touched by good and evil.
Prajāpati now starts teaching Indra about the nature of the Self. He says the Self has no body and no form, yet somehow or other the Self has identified itself with the body. Why? Because of ignorance. But if the Self is supposed to be pure consciousness, pure knowledge, where has this ignorance come from? Can light and darkness coexist? Similarly, can knowledge and ignorance coexist? No.
There is, in fact, no ignorance at all in the Self. Yet, somehow or other, the formless Self identifies itself with the body and imagines that whatever happens to the body happens to it. It feels it is born when the body is born, and that it dies when the body dies. Vedānta says this ignorance is temporary and it can be removed.
Vedānta calls this ignorance māyā. Māyā is often translated as ‘illusion,’ but this is not quite correct. Swami Vivekananda calls it ‘a statement of fact.’ You cannot say it does not exist, but again you cannot say exactly what it is. It is anirvacanīya, indescribable.
Śaṅkara often uses the example of the rope and the snake to explain how māyā works. Suppose you are walking along a road on a dark night, and you suddenly see what you think is a snake lying across the road in front of you. You are frightened and you start yelling, ‘Snake! Snake!’ Then some people living nearby come running out of their homes with lights, and you discover it is not a snake after all. It is just a rope.
Another example given is that of the mirage. Suppose you are walking in a desert and you are very thirsty. In the distance you see a lake and you start walking towards it. You go on and on, but you never reach the water. Finally you realize it is just a mirage. It is all due to the effect of the sunrays on the sand. Another example is that of thinking you see silver where there is just a piece of mother-of-pearl. When you see the mother-of-pearl, you are convinced that you are seeing silver. So māyā is an error with a semblance of truth. Yet, Vedānta says, the mother-of-pearl never becomes silver, nor does the rope ever become a snake or the sand become water.
Māyā has two aspects—āvaraṇa and vikṣepa. Āvaraṇa means ‘covering.’ Māyā covers the rope and hides its real nature. Vikṣepa is the projecting power of māyā. It projects the appearance of a snake where there is just a rope. This is also called adhyāsa, superimposition.
Vedānta says this ignorance is just temporary. As soon as light comes, we see the rope rather than the snake. Similarly, as soon as knowledge is awakened in us, our false identification with the body is gone and we realize our true nature.
Prajāpati says to Indra, ‘This body has been captured by death.’ Here Śaṅkara asks: ‘Why does Prajāpati say this? He says this so that we will try to get rid of our ignorance quickly.’ If we are merely told that we are mortal and that some day we will die, we may say: ‘Well, I will not die soon. I still have many years at my disposal to live as I like. I will enjoy myself as long as possible.’ But if we are told that we are already in the grips of death, that death is already at our doorstep, that it has already conquered us, we will understand that there is no time to lose. We must attain Self-knowledge immediately.
The Hindu idea is that anything that has a beginning also has an end. Anything that is born must some day die. This is something we don’t like to accept. When Yama asked King Yuddhiṣṭhira what the most amazing thing was, Yuddhiṣṭhira replied, ‘The most amazing thing is that people see others dying all around them, but somehow or other they believe they will never die.’ But the fact is, the moment we are born, the process of death begins. When we are born, death comes to us and says: ‘Here I am. I am going to follow you like a shadow. Sooner or later you will be my victim, even if I have to wait a hundred years.’
Vedānta says, however, that the Self is never born and it never dies. It is immortal. Death is for the śārīra—that is, for one who feels he is a body. So also pleasure and pain. These changing conditions afflict only the person who identifies himself with the body. This empirical world is a world of sense experience, and it is always subject to change. One moment it is hot, the next moment it is cold. One moment there is pleasure, and the next there is pain. This is the way the world goes on, continuously.
But if you can get rid of the delusion that you are an embodied being, then you are no longer swayed by the changing conditions of life. You are always the same, always calm. And there is no question of pleasure and pain for you. They cannot touch you. Even if the body is affected, you are not affected.
Prajāpati says the body is the adhiṣṭhānam, the abode or resting place, of the Self. Foṛ the time being the Self chooses to live in this house. Though the Self is amṛtam, immortal, and aśarīram, without a body, it identifies itself with the body and thinks it is mortal. This fact of delusion has to be recognized. We cannot ignore it. But if delusion, or ignorance, were in the nature of the Self, how could we get
How do we uncover that Knowledge? How do we remove our delusion and stop identifying ourself with the body? Śaṅkara says, first we must become free from desires. We identify ourself with the body because we have desires. For example, we want to eat something. How will we eat it if we do not have a body? For any sense desire we have, we must have a body to fulfil it. And as long as we have a body, we will sometimes have pleasure and sometimes have pain. We cannot always have pleasure. Along with pleasure comes pain. Then again, some of our desires will be fulfilled, but some of them will not. And if they are not fulfilled, we will be disappointed. Vedānta says, even the desire for liberation requires a body to fulfil it.
But when we attain Self-knowledge we realize a state where there is no such change. We then know our true nature, our real Self, which is never touched by the changing conditions of the world.
Then Śaṅkara says, if you want Self-knowledge you must go to a teacher. But not just any teacher. You must go to one who is himself free from desires—one who is a paramahaṃsa. The word paramahaṃsa literally means a swan. A swan is said to be able to separate milk from water. If there is milk mixed with water, it will drink only the milk and leave behind the water. So a teacher who is a paramahaṃsa has developed discrimination between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the impermanent. He rejects whatever is unreal, and accepts only that which is real and immortal. That is to say, he has no more desires for anything in this world.
What does such a teacher do? He shows you your real nature. Sri Ramakrishna used to explain this with the story of the tiger and the goats. Once a pregnant tigress was running after a flock of goats when she fell down exhausted and died. But as she died, she gave birth to a baby tiger. The baby tiger was adopted by the goats, and in course of time he began to eat grass and bleat just like them. All the while he thought he was a goat. Even when he grew up he never realized he was a tiger.
One day a big tiger came there and was about to spring on the flock when he noticed another tiger running away frightened and bleating like a goat. Disgusted, he ran and caught hold of the grass-eating tiger and said: ‘What are you doing here with these goats? Shame on you! You are a tiger.’ But the grass-eating tiger started crying and said: ‘No, no, I am a goat. Let me go.’ Then the big tiger dragged the other to a river and said: ‘Look at your reflection in the water. You look just like me. You are not a goat. You are a tiger.’ He then forced a piece of meat into the grass-eating tiger’s mouth. Getting the taste of the meat, the grass-eating tiger started to roar.
So this is what the guru does. He removes our ignorance and tells us who we really are—tat tvam asi, thou art that.