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Nature of the Self

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Here is an essay that I wrote for a Vedas and Upanishads course .. Thought I could share it

Nature of the self and Nature of Brahman is widely discussed in the Upanishads and hence chosen for this work. While Brahman is described as an abstract principle there are very many references in the upanishads that it is not so abstract. The closest one could get to describe Brahman is to follow closely any conversation where the enquirer repeatedly asks exploration questions to the teacher / responder and a thorough implications of the answers that such conversation produce.
At this current juncture, result of one such conversation is analyzed and explored. And further extrapolations of similar statements are investigated. A study of why consciousness is Brahman is explored and nature of physical world is explored through Self perspective. Although, the topic primarily uses upanishadic literature, our exploration also quotes some Vedic texts and references.
Neti Neti i.e. Not This, Not This, is what Yajnavalkya answered to a question in Brihadaranyaka upanishad to describe Brahman or God or Self in Chapter 2. section 3.6. The whole answer translated goes like this
"The form of that person is like a cloth dyed with turmeric, or like grey sheep's wool, or like the scarlet insect called Indragopa, or like a tongue of fire, or like a white lotus, or like a flash of lightning. He who knows this—his splendour is like a flash of lightning. Now, therefore, the description of Brahman: "Not this, not this" (Neti, Neti); for there is no other and more appropriate description than this "Not this." Now the designation of Brahman: "The Truth of truth." The vital breath is truth and It (Brahman) is the Truth of that."
Brh : 2.3.6
Words cannot describe it, it is not something that can be identified with anything physical, it cannot be identified with anything that can be thought of. It is described by *absence* of something. So in written words, the best that describes Brahman is blank space. Note that it is not literally the words "blank space" but just " ". When using sounds or spoken words the best sound that describes the nature of the self is silence, which signifies absence of sound. Yajnavalkya remained silent before he uttered the verses in Brihad 2.3.6. In Numerical terms it is an absence of quantity or “0 “or Shunya or Nothing in Sanskrit that possibly describes Brahman. In the physical realm, the absence of physical object or Space (Akasa) best describes Brahman. In activities, remaining motionless is the absence of action that signifies Brahman. Now that explains why the saints in ancient times remained motionless and silent to realize Brahman.
While this may seem to be leading us in one way, we could also analyze the contrary path. What if, Neti, Neti could also refer to the absence of “absence of things”? A double negation. Not Space, Not Nothing, Not motionless. The terms Neti, Neti also seems to imply that. It is our claim that results from both viewpoints describe the truth or Brahman which is the real self.
It is a composition of Asat(non-existence) and sat(existence). All and None, Sound and Silence, Life and Death, Light and darkness, Being and Non-being. Activity and idleness. Words and space. This apparent duality, one being the entity, and the other being the non-entity is possibly the reason for the attempt of Upanishads to describe Brahman with dual descriptions. For e.g. the need for two birds.
“Two birds associated together, and mutual friends, take refuge in the same tree; one of them eats the sweet fig; the other abstaining from food, merely looks on.”
Rig Veda 1.164.20
“Two birds, united always and known by the same name, closely cling to the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit; the other looks on without eating.”
Svetasvatara 4.6.7
Some interpretations compare the bird eating the fruit to individual soul(Jivatma) performing actions that result in Karma and the other bird being the Supreme soul(Paramatma) that does not accumulate Karma. Compare this to Sankhya philosophy descriptions of Purusha and Prakiriti.
Thus Neti, Neti describes Brahman. Of course, there are other grand pronouncements (Mahavakyas) from the upanishads that has other descriptions
“Tatwam Asi – Thou art that” - Chandogya 6.8.7
“Aham Brahmasmi – I am of Brahman” - Brihad 1.4.10
“Ayam Atma Brahma – This self is Brahman” - Mandukya 1.2
“Prajnanam Brahma – Intelligence/Knowledge is Brahman” - Aiterya 3.3
These descriptions are consistent with Neti Neti. We saw why Neti, Neti describes All entities and the absence of those entities. Entities could be words, individual souls, living beings, intelligence/Knowledge, two footed and four footed, etc. In that context Thou art that merely reiterates that what you are, is also Brahman. So is Aham brahmasmi and other pronouncements.
What about consciousness? How does consciousness fit in? It is common in vedantic texts to refer Parabrahman as Supreme consciousness. Why is consciousness chosen to represent the whole. Why not an atom or other physical entity. Or why not a force field? What part of the Vedas or upanishad come to such conclusion? various Upanishads talks about the state of consciousness, the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states. There are some in Sama veda.

"In ancient times in the early morning of creation, in the beginning, the effulgent consciousness bestowed his rays to look within( in the head), from beyond, which kindled the waking state by uniting(with the brain)"
Sama veda, Agneya Kanda, chapter 1, verse 20
"The mighty consciousness as a relative of the great Activity( Vaisvanara) draws out the assumed form( of Savita) for existence among men whom the sense activities guide.”
Sama veda
“Consciousness shines in the head and establishes the waking state which Indra supports and gladdens us through the waking state"
Sama veda
The first quote says how the waking state came into being. The effulgent consciousness looked within the head to create a waking state. This explains how sentience begins.The second quote is a bit unique. It says the consciousness as a relative of Activity and it draws out the form of Savitr or Savitha for existence. The consciousness referred to here is possibly the individual soul and Savitr the Supreme soul. The individual soul draws out the assumed form or image from Savitha or the Supreme soul and connects it to activity of the individual soul. May be this means the activity of the individual soul is guided by the Supreme soul. Relative of activity could refer to representative of activity or acts as a conduit to activity The third verse implies that Consciousness resides in the head and establishes the waking state which the Senses lord Indra supports.The above verses kind of conclude that there is a Consciousness and that does perform some functions and that it does so with the help of some Supreme consciousness.
The firm establishment of consciousness as the ultimate reality and itself the self comes from the phrases "Sat chit ananda" or sacchdananda meaning Existence Consciousness Bliss. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad links and then discusses Atman (soul), Brahman (ultimate reality), awareness, joy and bliss such as in sections 2.4, 3.9 and 4.3. Chandogya Upanishad, in section 3.14 to 3.18, discusses Atman and Brahman, these being identical to "that which shines and glows both inside and outside". The terms "pure knowing, awareness", "one's innermost being", "highest light", "luminous" are in Taittiriya Upanishad in section 2.1, as well as minor Upanishads,
They all discuss Atman and Brahman in saccidananda-related terminology.
From this we could conclude that the consciousness along with the Supreme consciousness is the reality. Experience of Supreme consciousness by individual consciousness is the ultimate purpose of spirituality of individual consciousness in general. This experience would be blissful as it possibly triggers bliss centers of the brain and would happen in Modified Waking state or the fourth state of consciousness called Turiya.
Turiya state is described in Mandukya Upanishad verse 7 and chandogya Upanishad as beyond deep sleep state.
“Not inwardly cognitive, nor outwardly cognitive, not both-wise cognitive,
not a cognition-mass, not cognitive, not non-cognitive,
unseen, with which there can be no dealing, ungraspable, having no distinctive mark,
non-thinkable, that cannot be designated, the essence of assurance,
of which is the state of being one with the Self
the cessation of development, tranquil, benign, without a second,
such they think is the fourth. He is the Self (Atman). He should be discerned.”

— Mandukya Upanishad 7,

Waking state because that’s the state when the “the effulgent consciousness bestowed his rays to look within( in the head)” and see the Supreme consciousness. The concept of Salvation or Moksha is when the individual consciousness remains effulgent with the supreme for ever (or until it descends down to don a body)
For creation of the physical world to happen however there is another entity that may be a requirement. Prakiriti or Nature which is possibly also sentient and has an associated individual soul. Consciousness or Purusha when interacting with Prakriti produces matter and everything else. Depending on the level of interaction material entities may vary. So, consciousness may really be similar to an elementary particle in Physics. Similar to an elementary particle that is required for a force field, Consciousness elementary particle is required for all the primordial force fields.
Does Brahman play with words in order to illustrate a point that it exists in Words AS Words that germinated in some mind? Upanishads are words spoken by someone originating in some mind. Sama veda states that Ideas/Words originate in deva loka and transmitted down as thoughts . "Names" are put into the mind by higher level beings... Upanishadic words are no exception. If everything is Consciousness then words when read also creates images in the brain using Energy/ Consciousness as form. They do exist as forms of consciousness inside the brain. Now, would these individual snippets of consciousness (that are like runes) contain the whole of the Supreme consciousness?
I hypothesize yes.
Proof is in Shanti Mantra of IshaVasya Upanishad
“Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnasya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate ||
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ”

You are the fullness. There is fullness, here is fullness. From the fullness, the fullness is born. Remove the fullness from the fullness and the fullness alone remains.”
So we can see why words can contain the whole. The words are in knowledge form. The whole can be in the parts. All the parts constitute the whole. Now we can see why the Saivite and Vaishnavite sects of Hinduism hold that 5-words mantra and 8-word mantra contains the universe.
Devas may be for all that matters be conscious elementary particles, may be energy carrying conscious photons. Planets for e.g. possibly are not just physical entities but are living beings whose consciousness resides inside our brain but their physical bodies as planets exists outside. Tantric texts are not far off from this ideas. There is a saying
“Yetha pindandam thatha Brahmandam (What is inside the body is also the outside Universe)”
The planets for all practical purpose *do* possibly act as controllers of our thoughts and "runs" us all.
There may be some more conclusions that could be drawn from Rudram Chamakam in Rig Veda. Individual souls( like living beings) possibly *ARE* really numbers which exist! There are numbers that appear in Rudram Chamakam a portion of rig veda.
Eka cha me, thisrascha may, pancha cha may, sapta cha may, Ekadasa cha may, trayodasa cha may, panchadasa cha may, saptadasa cha may, Navadasa cha may, ek trimshatis cha may, trayovimshatis cha may, Panchavimshatis cha may, saptavimshatis cha may, navavimshatis cha may, Ekatrimshatis cha may, trayatrimshatis cha may, panchatrimshatis cha may, Chatasras cha may, ashtou cha may, dwadasa cha may, shodasa cha may, Vimsatis cha may, chaturvimshatis cha may, ashtavimshatis cha may, Dwathrimashatis cha may, shatstrimshas cha may, chatvarimshas cha may, Chatuschatvarimshas cha may, ashtachatvarimshas cha may”
which means:
“Let these be granted to me. One, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty one, twenty three, twenty five, twenty seven, twenty nine, thirty one and thirty three as also four, eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty, twenty four, twenty eight, thirty two, thirty six, forty, forty four and forty eight”.
If we are numbers then our behavior is mathematically pre-ordained. These very words that I write is pre-ordained.
What then are the prime numbers?
What then is Infinity?
What then we ask would be Zero? Neti, Neti.


  1. Brihadarnyaka Upanishad, Swami jagadeswarananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math (January 30, 2010)
  2. Mandukya Upanishad, Ishavasya Upanishadm, Rig Veda, Svetasvatara Upanishad – Wikipedia
  3. Sama Veda, S.V.Ganapati , Motilal Banarsidass; 3 edition (January 1, 2016)
  4. Class notes and my eternal tutor Google
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