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The Atma Bodha is a prakarana text (independent treatise) traditionally attributed to Sankaracharya. Scholars take issue with Sankara’s authorship holding that some of the concepts and language of the text could not possibly be written by the same Sankara who wrote the definitive Brahma Sutras. Nevertheless, traditional teachers use the text early in the education of their students. It is valued for both its fundamental and profound presentation of Advaita Vedanta.

It is my intention to irregularly post to this group translated verses of the Atma Bodha (copied from Swami Chinmayananda’s online version) together with some of my own humble explanation. I pray the endeavor will be fulfilling and worthy to all concerned.

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1. I am composing the ATMA-BODHA, this treatise of the Knowledge of the Self, for those who have purified themselves by austerities and are peaceful in heart and calm, who are free from cravings and are desirous of liberation

Sankara is telling us these teachings are not meant for everyone. Simply hearing or reading the words of the Atma Bodha by those insufficiently prepared will not result in much. The wisdom of the text needs to be valued first. We can know our purification by the degree we appreciate the deeper ideals of the text. If the words of the Atma Bodha cause to wrestle with its ideas, seeking to understand them, we should accept that as a sign of our purity.

If you do Yoga as an aspirant, Yoga is austerity. The mind, senses and prana are sublimated during Yoga; they are turned within. One needn’t be a perfect yogi either to be worthy of these teachings. In fact, the text tells us self-acceptance is enough. Isn’t self-acceptance the basis of being “peaceful in heart and calm”? The text will show us that self is not merely this body and mind abstracted from all else. Self is family, friends, and even strangers on the street; it is the air we breathe and water we drink; it is indeed the entire universe. Self is all that exists and existence must be accepted.

Cravings, on the other hand, agitate us, disturb peacefulness and turn our attention toward objects and away from the self. We can’t let go of all desire (“desireless action is a fiction”) but to understand the pain of cravings is a big step in self knowledge. The idea is either to supplant our cravings for objects with the desire for liberation – this is Yoga or, to understand All as the self and that there is nothing to crave when All is already, always you – this is Jijnasu or the desire for self-knowledge.
Dear Mani,
Forgive my correction, but I am only incorporating Swami Chinmayananda's readily available English translation of the Atma Bodha. Explanation is my own.

I am glad to learn you are doing good seva posting the Bhagavad Gita.
2. "Just as the fire is the direct cause for cooking, so without knowledge no emancipation can be had. Compared with all other forms of discipline, knowledge of the self is the one direct means for liberation."

Purity is a big discussion and this verse adds a clarification to the first verse’s discussion of purity.

Sivananda has said, the first spiritual duty of the aspirant is to cultivate sattva guna or the pure quality of mind. A sattvic mind easily concentrates, has a peaceful disposition and is easy to discipline. Most spiritual discipline seeks to cultivate purity. However, Sattva is a mental quality and the Self (atma) can have no attributes. Sattva can’t be Atma. The cultivation of Sattva or purity then, is only an indirect means to Self Knowledge.

The Atma Bodha is saying, knowledge is an end in itself. Either we know a thing or we don’t know it. If there is a knock at our door, we don’t know who’s there until we open the door. Before the door is opened, we don’t know; the moment the door is opened, we know – there is nothing more to do in order to know. This is how jnanam or knowing is a direct means to self-knowledge or liberation (moksa).

How is jnanam though “the one direct means for liberation”? The next verse explains.
Note: many of these terms, atma, moksa, jnana, avidya, adhyasa etc. require definitions that are more formal. Perhaps, as postings progress.

3. "Actions cannot destroy ignorance, for it is not in conflict with or opposed to ignorance. Knowledge does verily destroy ignorance as light destroys deep darkness."

I don’t know who said it first but a common cliché in Advaita is, “If ignorance is the problem, knowledge is the solution.” If we enter deep into a cave that has been dark for thousands of years, it only takes one moment from the light of a candle to remove ages of darkness. We need to be prepared with a candle and a match and we have to strike the match but these actions are indirect means (verse 2). By themselves, they do not affect the darkness.

This series of verses imply a radical change in the way most of us understand ourselves. Commonly, we define ourselves by action (karta) and measure our self-worth by our accomplishments (bhokta). We are wrapped up in active lives and don’t know ourselves independent of actions. The successes of our actions exhilarate and motivate us to further action. Our failures depress and reduce our self worth. Advaita tells us this is an error of understanding. This is the ignorance of Self (avidya).

Knowledge of Self (jnanam or vidya) removes avidya. It is good jnana yoga to reflect on these concepts. See how thoroughly the idea of action and self are superimposed (adhyasa) on each other. Are you able to see yourself free from a notion of action? There is nothing to do here. This is purely an exercise of thought. It is neither necessary nor possible to stop action anyway (quote Gita: action/inaction). To remove ignorance - understanding alone is sufficient.

4. "On account of ignorance, the self appears conditioned as it were; when that is destroyed, the pure self, verily, shines of its own accord, like the sun when the cloud is dispelled (mahadevan)."

Karta/bhokta is an example of self-conditioning or superimposition (adhyasa). In later verses, the Atma Bodha discusses conditionings in more depth. This verse gives us a general idea.

The nature of a thing does not change. The sun always shines because that is its nature. The Self (atman) always shines because consciousness is its nature. Clouds appear to cover the sun but we understand the appearance for what it is and are not fooled into thinking the sun has vanished. So too, knowledge is able to dispel the appearance of conditioning that is confused with atman.

5. "Constant practice of knowledge purifies the self (jiva), stained by ignorance, and then disappears itself, as the powder of the Kataka-nut settles down after it has cleansed the muddy water. "

Swami Dayananda remarks that the real marvel of jnana yoga is the refining of spiritual pursuit (sadhana) from a desire for liberation (mumushu) to the desire for knowledge of the self (jijnasu). As yogis, we are devoted to purification and the perfection of our actions. As jnanis, we want to know who we are. Purification is helpful but it is not the focus of jnanam. This is a profound change of spiritual intention.

What is the practice of jnana yoga? There are several answers to the question. We’ll introduce what is probably the most common methodology: hearing, doubting and meditation. (Sravana, manana, nididhyasana). Sravana is hearing the sruti texts from a brahmanistha, strotriya guru. Dayananda defines brahmanistha as, one who is committed to Brahman and who has no other priorities. A strotriya is he who knows the srutis and is capable of communicating them with a traditional understanding. Sravana also refers to study of the texts (swadhaya).

Manana is thinking - questioning to resolve your doubts. The first instruction I received from Swami Brahmananda was “think!” I said to myself at the time, “I’ve spent years working on Patanjali’s classic definition, “yoga is the cessation of the mind’s fluctuation” (yogas chitta vritti nirodha).” Now, I have to think, how can that be?
Thinking is integral to jnana yoga - clear, firm, one-pointed thoughts. Thoughts focused on the single purpose of removing personal doubts regarding nonduality (Advaita); recognizing for myself, beyond any doubt that, “I am Brahman” (Aham brahmasmi). Manana employs logic, analysis and argument to these ends. The two qualities this inquiry absolutely require however are devotion, devotion to knowledge, jijnasu and faith, faith in sruti and the teacher (Sankaracharya). With this pure intention and one-pointed focus we are promised, Self-knowledge. I eventually came to understand, Patanjali served me well.

Nididhyasana and meditation will be discussed in future verses.
6. The world which is full of attachments, aversions, etc., is like a dream. It appears to be real, as long as it continues but appears to be unreal when one is awake.

The story of Prajapati and Indra
The following narrative is from the Chandogya Upanishad 7.1 - 8.12. It is one of several important discussions in sruti concerning the states of consciousness: waking, dream and dreamless sleep

Prajapati, the Vedic father of creation, announces he will teach the secret of that Self (Atman) which is free from death and when known all desires are fulfilled, all worlds gained. (“By this knowledge you shall behold the entire creation in your own Self. Gita 4.35”).

Indra, king of the gods, and Virocana, leader of demons, approach Prajapati for this sublime teaching. Prajapati tells them they must serve him and remain celibate for 32 years. The two rulers obey Prajapati’s instructions and 32 years later, apparently purified of attachments and aversions, they approach Prajapati to reveal his wisdom teachings.

Prajapati instructs that Atman is “that being you see in your eye” (the seer of seeing). To clarify, Prajapati tells the fellows to adorn themselves in their best attire and then asks them what they see reflected in water. We see, “the self, full just as we are, well adorned (8.8.1)” (the waking self). Prajapati, not wanting to disillusion his novice students, accepts their response and allows them to leave believing, “That is Atman.” Satisfied, the two return to their respective realms.

Virocana with his limited and defective understanding proclaims to the demons, “The body alone should one worship here, that alone should one attend upon (Ch 8.8.4).” Contented, Virocana ends his efforts to know the true self.

Virocana displays typical demonic doctrine, substituting a relative notion for the Absolute. His attachment to the body together with its attendant pleasures (and pains) overwhelms the virtues that inspired his initial quest for knowledge. Sankara comments, “one’s reason functions in accordance with one’s nature.” The message is that we need faith in text and teacher and the power of knowledge to uplift our understanding beyond its limitations. “Even if one is the most sinful of all sinners, yet one shall cross over the ocean of sin by the raft of knowledge alone. (Gita 4.36)”

Indra, on the other hand, begins to doubt. This body is subject to change. Am I subject to change as well? I might feel good now but when old age and illness emerge, as indeed they must, I will suffer from the ravages of these changes. When the body dies, I too will die. Indra reflects, “I see no gain in that,” and with unflagging faith returns to Prajapati for further teachings -- 32 more years of service.

Again, Indra approaches his teacher. Prajapati declares the Atma to be the dream self, “that is the immortal, the fearless, Brahman (Ch 8.10.1)” Again, Indra content with this knowledge returns to the realm of the gods but again, before arriving is assailed with doubt and returns to Prajapati. What seems to be the trouble, Prajapati asks. It is true, says Indra, that the afflictions in the waking state are not present in dream. I may be homeless and filled with infirmaries in waking while in dream I live in a castle in perfect health. It is also true however, that suffering in the form of nightmares and other maladies can just as well affect me in dream. “I see no great worth in this.” Prajapati approves Indra’s insight and directs him to “further weaken his defects” by staying 32 more years with his teacher.

Know dreamless sleep as the Self, O’ Indra. A third time Indra leaves satisfied only to return subjected to doubts. I know neither myself nor anything else in dreamless sleep. Dreamless sleep is like annihilation, and that is not the Atman I seek. “There is no good in this.” Stay with me five year more Prajapati instructs Indra.

Then when Indra is finally fully receptive after 101 years of service and celibacy, Prajapati explains the truth of the three states or what is elsewhere called, Turiya

Commonly, we accept the three states of consciousness as functions of the waking body – the body wakes, dreams, then falls into sleeps. Vedanta contends the reverse, effectively, there is consciousness of the three states. That same consciousness which in deep sleep is free of any dualistic distinctions, such as me and other or subject and object, manifests itself in the form of the thoughts that constitute dream and then in the form of the appearance of matter that constitutes waking. That same consciousness is what we call “I”.

My first lesson in Vedanta challenged me to find any differences between waking and dream. If we can show to ourselves beyond any doubt that waking and dream are no different, it will be a small step from there to see that dream is only consciousness and thus waking too is only consciousness and ultimately, that I am Consciousness (Atman/Brahman).

The challenge is to understand clearly that waking materiality is only an appearance. There are many approaches to this conclusion and I will suggest the issue to the jnana yoga group for discussion.

One such methodology, suggested in the verse above is, “it appears to be real, as long as it continues but appears to be unreal when one is awake.” The nightmare along with the fear is real enough to the dreamer while upon waking we are relieved to realize what we had just experienced was only a dream. So too with waking, as suggested by Indra. We may have a broken bone in waking while the dreamer is able to run a marathon. When waking begins, dream is no longer real; when dream begins, waking loses its validity.

One explanation of this is that only experience in the moment is real. The past, even the instant past, is no longer experienced and has past into memory, just a thought. The future has never been anything but a thought. That leaves only this ungraspable, instant moment that alone IS. This moment is infinite; it is beyond time – time itself is within the moment. In this way, dream to the dreamer ego is real only during its dream moment. Waking is real to the waker ego only during its waking moment. Beyond the moment of experience – in waking or dream – all that we know are notions in our mind. Thus, waking and dream are constituted by thought and are ultimately no different from each other.

Vedanta is not creating anything new. Its method is to remove our ignorance (avidya) about what is. We are required to think critically about these ideas until all our doubts are removed. The work of the jnani is to remove doubts. When, like Indra, we have purified ourselves of the ignorance of false understanding, the Self will reveal itself.

The waking, dream and deep sleep model is a methodology for nondual understanding of existence. Out of the model, we can draw conclusions about reality we might never have considered before. In future postings, there will be many opportunities to draw upon this model to explain other concepts in Advaita. With attention and reflection, it will become more clear.
Vedanta is not creating anything new. Its method is to remove our ignorance (avidya) about what is. We are required to think critically about these ideas until all our doubts are removed. The work of the jnani is to remove doubts. When, like Indra, we have purified ourselves of the ignorance of false understanding, it is said, the Self will reveal itself
I have also read through this and find this post very useful.. About dreams and waking... The other night a dreamt of helping a tiger. I carried the tiger in my arms and came upon a Hindu ritual of some sorts. We sat together and listened to the chanting. In the dream I thought to myself isnt this a funny dream but it also makes so much sense. There was a temple in the forest and a fire. The tiger leaped from my arms through the fire and into the forest, healed. I woke up feeling elated and happy. I thought of Durga and her tiger and the feeling of compassion and fearlessness I had felt in the dream remained with me. Yes truly dream and waking state bridge over. The feeling that remains after a dream is very important. The details of the symbols and activity in the dream or waking state are perhaps secondary. I felst this drema was a blessing from the tiger and goddess herself.
A special dream. Indeed does sounds like a blessing. You should feel encouraged in your practice.

The jnani is interested in the philosophic import of dream more than its content but that doesn't mean we should ignore it. If your mind dwells on spiritual ideas regularly, spiritual thoughts will easily arise amidst your day's activities and show up in dreams as well.
Mani, Thanks for the note. Though we don't know each other, I am sorry about your wife's condition and hope she can slow its full onset. -chandra


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