Scriptures discuss the pursuit of righteousness (dharma), wealth (artha), desires (kama) and salvation (moksha) as the governing goals of human existence. The first three are easily understood and are commonly pursued by many. But the fourth remains abstract and difficult to understand. In a discourse, Sri Mani Dravid Sastrigal said Upanishads explain moksha and the path to attain it as the knowledge of the truth of the Atma (Atma Tatva Jnana). How much do we know of Atma? At best, each one of us comprehends oneself as existing. “I exist” is an experience common to all of us. Are we what we think ourselves to be? The physical self can be related to one’s parents, name, status, achievements and so on. But deep within each one is the abstract self and knowing this is the Atma Tatva Jnana leading to salvation, declare the Upanishads. It is suggested that a simple way to understand the inner self is by analysing the waking and dream states experienced by all of us. An individual finding himself as the lead actor in either state is left perplexed about his identity.
In a story featuring the inimitable Tenalirama, the king recounts his dream wherein he was a joyful bird and comes out with a poser to the vidushaka whether he is the pensive king or a joyous bird. Tenalirama says he also had a dream in which he was the king and may be that he is really the king while the other is just the court jester. One may ask whether these states are true or mere appearances. Ultimately, neither of the two images matters. The Self that witnesses and identifies these while standing apart is the one that defines the Truth. The elation or unhappiness experienced in either of the states is illusory. But in another attainable possibility, the dreamless sleep state when the mind stops to work, the pervading consciousness or awareness results in total bliss in the complete absence of any worldly contact. Only the Self which experiences all these is real and perpetually exists even as the body disintegrates. It is explained as the witness-consciousness. Atma Tatva Jnana is the awareness of the immortality of the Self and learning to dissociate oneself from the illusions.