Atma-anatma-viveka is one of the fundamental and important concepts of Advaita Vedanta. It is the differentiation (viveka) between the Atman and anatman. To differentiate, one should have a clear knowledge about the nature of Atman and anatman.
Atman is the witness of the anatman (not-Self). Atman is the subject and anatman is the object. Atman is the knower and anatman is the known. These are some of the basic differences of the Atman and anatman. As far as Vedanta is concerned this knowledge is very shallow. The differences have to be analyzed based on the concepts of Vedanta. The concept of anatman is more familiar to an individual than the concept of Atman, and hence anatman is analyzed first.
Anatman is an-atman that is ‘all that is not the Self’. Anatman is inert. It becomes active and knowledgeable by its close proximity with the Atman, which is of the nature of pure infinite consciousness. The three bodies or the five kosas constitute the anatman. The three bodies in an individual are the gross body (sthula sarira), the subtle body (suksma sarira), and the causal body (karana sarira). The five kosas are the annamaya kosa, pranamaya kosa, manomaya kosa, vijnanamaya kosa and the anandamaya kosa.
The annamaya kosa is the gross body. Since the gross body under goes six modifications namely foetus, birth, growth, change, decay and death by food (anna), the gross body is called the annamaya kosa.
The subtle body consists of the pranamaya kosa, manomaya kosa and the vijnanamaya kosa. Pranamaya kosa has the five pranas (prana, udana, vyana, samana and apana) and the karmendriyas (organ of speech, legs, hands, execratory organs and organs of procreation). Each prana and karmendriya performs a particular function in the body. Pranamaya kosa has the power of action. Manomaya kosa has the manas and the five jnanendriyas (ear, skin, eye, tongue, and nose). Thoughts in a state of volition constitute the manas or mind. It also includes emotions and memory. Manomaya kosa is endowed with the power of desire. Vijnanamaya kosa has the buddhi and the five jnanendriyas. Thoughts in the state of decision constitute the buddhi. Reasoning, inference, logical thinking are all faculties of the buddhi. Ahankara (ego) is an aspect of buddhi. Jnanendriyas are common to both the manomaya kosa and vijnanamaya kosa because the perceptual knowledge gained through the jnanendriyas are vital for the functioning of both the manomaya kosa and vijnanamaya kosa.
The causal body has the anandamaya kosa. The causal body is the root cause for an individual’s manifestation. The causal body has the allotted karmas (prarabda karmas) in the seed (unmanifested) form. Ignorance is the cause for the formation of the causal body. The causal body manifests as the subtle and gross bodies. One can experience absolute bliss ignorance in this body. By Atma-anatma-viveka the causal body loses its individuality and dissolves in infinity.
A jiva exists in the three states of awareness in its lifetime. The three states of awareness are the waking, dream, and the deep sleep states. In the waking state it identifies with the gross body. It mainly identifies with the external world of names and forms through the gross body. However in the waking state it also identifies with the subtle body while thinking, deciding, imagining etc. and also identifies with the causal body momentarily when it experiences bliss, while attaining success or enjoying happy moments. In the dream state, it identifies with the subtle body and experiences the internal world of impressions. At this stage it is not aware of the gross body. In the deep sleep state it identifies with the causal body. It is neither aware of the gross body nor the subtle body. It identifies with the bliss ignorance of the causal body in the deep sleep state.
All the above described bodies and kosas are inert and they together constitute the anatman. Anatman is inert because it is formed from the subtle concepts (tanmatras) of the inert panca–bhutas (the basic five elements). However, from our experience we infer that anatman is active and knowledgeable. It is very hard to believe that the mind, intellect, prana, and body are inert. Vedanta gives explanation for this as, the anatman is inert, but due to the proximity of the Atman with the anatman, the anatman appears as active and knowledgeable. Atman is of the nature of pure consciousness. For example, when iron fillings are kept near a magnet, due to the proximity of the iron fillings with the magnet, the iron fillings inherit the nature of the magnet. Similarly, due to the proximity of the anatman with the Atman, the anatman assumes the nature of the Atman (which is intelligence) and becomes knowledgeable and active. When the Atman identifies with itself, anatman will not have the power to exist alone. By this, the causal body dissolves in Atman (Brahman) and it loses its individuality and becomes infinite (Brahman). When the causal body dissolves in infinity, there will be no subtle or gross body. This is called moksha or liberation in common terms.
Atman is the underlying cause for manifestation. It is the witness for the three states of awareness. To realize the underlying state of supreme consciousness, one has to detach from the three state of awareness. This supreme underlying state is called Turiya. It is the base for the three states of awareness. The three states of awareness are temporary. Sankaracharya says “That which is other than the Sthula, Sukshma and Karana Sarira’s (gross, subtle and causal bodies), which is beyond the five sheaths, which is the witness of the three states of awareness, which is the nature of Sat-Cit-Ananda (Existence-knowledge-Bliss) is Atman”, Tattva bodha (verse 2, 9.2). Atman is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. The nature of the Atman is sat-cit-ananda which is existence-consciousness-bliss.
In tattva-bodha, Sankaracharya says that sat (existence) is that which remains unchanged in the three periods of time. It is beyond modification.
Cit-consciousness is of the nature of absolute knowledge. It is capable of knowing both the known and the unknown. “That (Atman) is surely different from the known; and again, it is above the unknown”, (Kena Upanisad”, I, 4). Atman is the subject and all that is known is the object. It knows the body, mind, and intellect. It also knows our ignorance. It lends its power to the inert faculties and hence it must be of the nature of knowledge.
Its awareness surpasses the three states of awareness. Atman does not need any medium or instrument to gain knowledge. The Self (Atman) is known by the Self through the Self’s own effulgence. It has the inherent capacity to reveal itself without the aid of any other means of knowledge.
Ananda-bliss – Upanisad says that everyone loves others for the sake of their own Self (Atman). All the other desirable objects like wealth, family, friends, and even children have only an instrumental value. Thus one loves one’s Self the most. This love for the Self is the very proof that it is of the nature of bliss. If the Self is of the nature of sorrow or unhappiness, it is sure that no one will love it so much. Since the Self is beyond the anandamaya kosa, the bliss of the Self does not depend on the papa (sin) or puniya (good deeds), and so the bliss of the Atman (Self) is non-conditional and non-relative. The bliss of the Self is infinite and same in all the manifested beings regardless of the name and form. Atman is sakshi (witness). A mirror accepts everything, rejects nothing, keeps nothing and reflects everything. So too Atman illumines all thought forms without intrinsically undergoing any change or modification. It remains unattached or unaffected by its knowledge. The mind takes the form of the thought that it perceives. The mind after perceiving, manipulates and modifies the thoughts. In the case of Atman, it does not undergo any change or modification after perceiving the objects. It is of the nature of knowledge and infinite bliss.
One may be wondered that if Atman is of the nature of infinite bliss, then why not we be able to realize it? Even though Self is present as the very Self of the seeker, he is not able to realize it. The answer Vedanta gives is very simple – we are not turning our attention towards Atman. A famous Chinese proverb says, “It is sure to be dark if you close your eyes”. Our attention is at present towards anatman (body-mind-intellect) and the world of objects (object-emotion-thoughts). If we are clear about the difference between the Atman and anatman, then the attention naturally turns towards the Atman, because it is our real Self.
Anatman is temporary. It involves pain and suffering. It may give pleasure and happiness in the beginning, but it is short lived. Sometimes the happiness and pleasure we enjoy from anatman may become the root cause for the pain and suffering in the later life. Whereas, Atman is bliss infinite.
When an individual understands the nature of the Atman and anatman, dispassion (vairagya) and discrimination will be natural. Dispassion must come naturally; else it will create a depressed mind in the later life. Some people may have dispassion due to their untoward or negative incidents in life. Such dispassion is false and short lived. Dispassion arising due to Atma-anatma-viveka is true and permanent; only such dispassion will lead to liberation. Atma-anatma-viveka helps one to survive in this world without getting affected. The knowledge of Atma-anatma-viveka helps us to realize the true Self which is hidden behind the veil of ignorance.
Advanced Vedanta course material from Chinmaya international foundation – www.chinfo.org
Tattvabodha of shri Adi Sankaracharya published by International Vedanta mission
Pancadasi of Sri Vidyaranya Swami (Trans, Swami Swahananda), Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.