The Self within

CHENNAI: The self-identity (I) of an individual is so much entrenched in his body-mind-intellect personality that it becomes necessary to distinguish between the Self (Atman) and the non-Self in spiritual discourse. One cannot blame anyone for entertaining such a mistaken notion of the “I” because all worldly experiences reinforce identity only with the faculties with which a person gains all these experiences in the first place. It is the life force (Prana) that keeps all aspects (the body, sense organs, and the mind-intellect) of the human personality together and makes these layers of the human personality work in tandem.

In his discourse on the Vivekachudamani, Sri Goda Venketeswara Sastri said the Self had to be unravelled by a process of negation of the different sheaths of the human personality (non-Self). The body cannot be the Self because it is changing for the Self is described in the Upanishads as existence, consciousness and eternal. The Prana cannot also be the Self as it is neither conscious nor intelligent. The mind (Manas) is also not the Self because it cannot do anything independently being dependent on the sensory inputs for its functioning. It is the intellect (Buddhi) — being intelligent and endowed with discrimination — which makes one identify either with the Self or with the non-Self aspects of one’s personality. So it is apparent then that the intellect is responsible for both bondage and liberation.

If the mind remains still, the Self within all these sheaths will shine in its pristine splendour but the senses distract the mind with the inputs they receive from the world, and even when they do not, the memories that are stored in the mind surface as thoughts and distract the mind from becoming one-pointed. All spiritual practices are hence designed to quieten the mind and a spiritual seeker must understand the role of the intellect in realising the Self: it is the instrument with which he can do it. One can also see for oneself that it is the intellect which is very dear to an individual as a person will accept the frailties of the body and the mind as natural to them but not that of the intellect, with which the identification is the strongest.