NATURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS (आत्मा) ACCORDING TO GITA:
There is much confusion regarding Gita 2/22, which says:
वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि ।
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यनानि संयाति नवानि देही ।
Most people interpret this as: Like a person shedding worn-out clothes to wear new ones, the embodied soul, casting off worn-out bodies, enters into a new body. They mostly interpret देही as “embodied soul” or self or आत्मा. That it is a wrong and misleading interpretation, can be proved from the two following Shlokas: Gita – 2/23 &24, which say:
नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः। न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः। 2/23.
अच्छेद्योऽयमदाह्योऽयमक्लेद्योऽशोष्य एव च । नित्यः सर्वगतः स्थाणुरचलोऽयं सनातनः। 2/24.
The first stanza says: Weapons cannot cut it, nor can fire burn it, water cannot wet it or wind cannot dry it. The first part of the second stanza says: It is incapable of being cut, it is fire-proof, impervious to water and cannot be dried by air. Essentially, both repeat the same thing. Gita being the essence of all Upanishads, which are part of Vedas, belong to that category. Here repetition is faulted unless, it has a different meaning. So why it has been repeated? To understand the intrinsic meaning of this, we must refer to Gita – 7/4&5. It says:
भूमिरापोऽनलो वायुः खं मनो बुद्धिरेव च । अहङ्कार इतीयं मे भिन्ना प्रकृतिरष्टधा ।
अपरेयमितस्त्वन्यां प्रकृतिं विद्धि मे पराम् । जीवभूतां महावाहो ययेदं धार्यते जगत् ।
Literally it means: the elements (भूतम् – भूतिः अस्ति अस्य, भाव्यते स्म इति) called Earth (यत् काठिन्यं तत् पृथिवी), Water (यत् द्रवम् – तत् लक्षणम् - विसर्गः), fire (यत् उष्मम् - तत् लक्षणम् - आदानम्), air (यत् चलम् - तत् लक्षणम् - विक्षेपः), ether (आकाश – तत् लक्षणम् – अवकाशप्रदानम् - नाऽऽधारो विद्यते कश्चित्), mind (मनः), intelligence (बुद्धिः), and ego (अहङ्कारः) are the eight constituents (उपादान कारण) that form My secondary Self. My real Self is other than these, by which I sustain everything in the form of life (जीव). Here the first four are confined or limited. The ego (अहङ्कार) has been shown differently from the expansive (खं) and sensory agencies (मनो बुद्धिरेव च). To understand what is meant by Jeeva, we must refer to Gita 8/3-4, which says:
अक्षरं ब्रह्म परमं स्वभावोऽध्यात्ममुच्यते । भूतभावोद्भवकरो विसर्गः कर्मसङ्गितः ।
अधिभूतं क्षरो भावः पुरुषश्चाधिदैवतम् । अधियज्ञोऽहमेवात्र देहे देहभृतां वरः ।
Literally, the first quadrant means: the non-perishable (अक्षरं) that is all pervading (ब्रह्म परमं – बृहत्वात् बृंहणत्वात् वा) by its inherent nature (स्वभावो) is described as (उच्यते) tending towards life (अध्यात्म – अधि आत्म). Due to lack of proper understanding, most translations give a wrong meaning for this and the later quadrants. By the non-perishable (अक्षरं) is meant the primordial energy. Though one and indivisible by itself, it pervades matter in different combinations to appear as different (hence the first appearance of it is called माया from माङ् माने). The difference between a dead body and a living body is the absence or presence of internal energy that carries the external impulses through the network of neurons to the brain for processing and responding. Thus, internal energy flow is the essence of or inherent nature (स्वभावो) of life (प्राणधारणं जीवनम्). But energy is ever unstable. It requires something to stabilize itself around a pivot by controlling its movement. That pivot is the Self or आत्मा. Since energy always flows towards it, the mechanism is called अध्यात्म. Shatapatha Braahmanam and Prashnopanishad deal with this mechanism exhaustively. Maandukya Upanishad deals with it briefly.
The second quadrant defines (सङ्गितः) action (कर्म). The nature of energy is displacement (विसर्गः). That displacement which leads to expression or revelation (उद्भवकरो) of characteristics (भावो) of the primordial elements (भूत), is called action (कर्म). Here the word elements (भूत) is used in the sense of the minutest particle, i.e., that which cannot be further divided. Since matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, these particles are truly fundamental (तत्त्वम् – आप्रलयं यत्तिष्ठति सर्वेषां भोगदायी भूतानाम् । तत्तत्त्वमिति प्रोक्तं न शरीरघटादि तत्त्वमतः). For this reason, Kanaada divides these into two categories: eternal (नित्य or तन्मात्रा or तत्व) and quantum (कार्य or सावयव or भूत). In this classification, matter and energy are conjugates (a substance formed by the reversible combination of two to give the different forms or become temporarily united in order to exchange genetic or other material). Matter and energy cannot be separated fully. There is nothing as bare charge or bare mass. Based on the degree of dominance of movement in relatively free or restricted ways, the substance is called matter or energy. For a stable structure, the five divisions of energy (modern versions of strong nuclear force - अन्तर्याम, beta decay part of weak force - वहिर्याम, electromagnetic force - उपयाम, alpha decay part of weak force – यातयाम and gravity - उद्याम) must remain in a combined state of pentafication (पञ्चीकरण) stabilizing the structure.
Energy always leads to transformation (परिणाम), which can be of two types: anatomical (ऒपादानिक) or temporal (लाक्षणिक). Motion is spatiotemporal transformation. The third quadrant refers to this by saying that the transformation (क्षरो भावः) tend towards creating perceptible elements (स्थूलभूत). All objects can be classified as either directly perceivable (भावप्रत्यय) or indirectly inferable (उपायप्रत्यय). The indirectly inferable are further divided into two categories: quantum particles (देवाः – दिवति भासति इति देवम्) or beyond quantum (प्रकृतिलयाः or ब्रह्म). This transformation from the eternal variety (महाभूत) to the perceptible variety is carried out by an agency that induces confinement (पुरुषः – पुर्या शेते. The Kalpa Sootras divide this agency into 12 different divisions - षट्त्रिंशत् तत्त्वानि विश्वम्. These are not being discussed here). For this reason, the mechanism is called quantum-mechanical (अधिदैवतम्).
The last quadrant says that, the interactions within and without the body (अधियज्ञ – यज् सङ्गतिकरणे) is carried out by this agency that induces confinement (पुरुषः). Since without this agency confining and localizing these interactions, the body can neither sustain itself nor would be meaningful, it is the essence of the body (देहे देहभृतां वरः). It is important to note that the confining agency can be of two types: It could be universal confining agency that sustains the universe (विश्वापेक्षया सर्वव्यापक विश्वशरीरावच्छिन्न सर्वभूतान्तरात्मा - ईश्वरः) or it could be the localized confining agency that sustains the body only (विश्वापेक्षया परिच्छिन्न शरीरापेक्षया सर्वव्यापक शरीरविश्वावच्छिन्न - भूतात्मा). This second category is called Jeeva. Though it is not different from the first category, it acquires different properties because of the confining body. For example, the water in the ocean is always mobile. But the same water taken out in a pitcher behaves differently.
Coming back to Gita – 7/4&5 referred above, we find that the first four elements: earth, water, fire and air (these have been defined as solids, fluids, moving out from greater concentration and unstable or ever-moving respectively and should not be taken literally) are localized. Even the air is not the same outside Earth. All four are perceptible through sense organs. But the other four: ether (खं), mind (मनस्), intelligence (बुद्धिः), and ego (अहङ्कार) are not perceptible. Of these, ether (खं) is the interval between objects (कालात् क्रिया विभज्यन्ते आकाशात् सर्वमूर्त्तयः – देशभेद प्रकल्पनात्), as well as the base that connects everything (आधारशक्तिप्रथमा सर्वसंयोगिनो मताः). Mind is the carrier of the impulses into the brain for processing. After the impulse is received by the senses at time t0, it is carried to the brain at the next moment t1. Then the intelligence compares the received impulse with the stored memory, after which, it responds through mind only. Thus, mind functions in past-present-future (त्रिकालगामिनी), though at any time, it does only one function (एक) opening only one channel, i.e., only one type of impulse at any time. On the other hand, intelligence (बुद्धिः), which is the repository of memory covering past and present to be used in future, gets continuously updated (क्रमदर्शी). After mixing all related impulses and comparing it with memory, it always functions instantly in a flash (क्षणकालस्थायी बुद्धिः). The ego (अहङ्कार) records the result of comparison by intelligence.
Describing the characteristic of consciousness, the second line of Gita 2/24 says: नित्यः सर्वगतः स्थाणुरचलोऽयं सनातनः. Literally it means: Without a beginning and end, all pervasive, immobile in parts, immobile as a whole, “This” appears always as “I” in the statement “I know…” eternally without any time evolution.
All Vedic texts have three interpretations: 1) matter interpretation (आधिभौतिक), 2) Energy interpretation (आधिदैविक) and Conscious interpretation (आध्यात्मिक). Accordingly, the above dictum of Gita has three different interpretations also. The above dictum has six words: नित्यः सर्वगतः स्थाणुः अचलो अयं सनातनः, signifying six aspects of creation in the Energy interpretation (आधिदैविक). I have earlier described time, which is the ordered sequence of events, as having six aspects: from 1) being (जायते) to 2) becoming (अस्ति) to 3) growth due to linear accumulation (वर्धते) to 4) transformation due to non-linear accumulation (विपरिणमते) to 5) transmutation due to non-linear reduction (अपक्षीयते) to 6) change of form called death or destruction (विनश्यति). The season is called ऋतु, which are six in number (in our country, though it is not so clearly discernible in other countries). They signify new fertility cycles that lead to natural changes (being - जायते) leading to flowering and growth of different plants (becoming - अस्ति) and inducing different behavior in living beings. For this reason, menstrual cycles in women is also called creative cycles - ऋतु. This similarity in number indicates attributing the significance of creative cycles (ऋतु) to Consciousness: everything exists in its presence like different flowers and fruits that sustain life come in different seasons.
Questions may be raised as to how time can be linked to consciousness. All objects evolve in time. Evolution involves transformation (परिणाम). Transformation involves energy (शक्ति). Energy in its potential form is force (प्राण). Force in its kinetic form is energy (वल). After the energy is exhausted due to its operation (कर्म) involving mass, the residual state of mass-energy is called effect (क्रिया). We cannot measure the process of any operation. We can only measure the effect after the operation ceases or measure the state at certain desired level.
Perception or measurement is observation of transformation (परिणाम). Transformations are of two types: material or constituent transformation (औपादानिक परिणाम) and relational transformations (लाक्षणिक परिणाम). If the object is constituted of many different materials, then it can have constituent transformation due to addition or reduction of other materials. But if it is of one material, then the only transformation possible is in its relation with others. For example, even though pure water is a compound, it behaves differently from its constituents and appears as a single entity. When added with salt or sugar etc, it has material transformation. With heat, it can change its state. By itself, it can transform shape according to the (relational) container (अण्डवृत्तित्व). Motion is also relational transformation, as it couples the object to different positions in space and time. Since the cognition of “I” is always related to all perceptions, the example of the reflection of Sun in different types of water like that of a well, pond, lake, river and sea, is apt. The “I” remains universal in all cognitions, though they appear differently. Happiness or sorrow may be caused by different objects or events, but in all such perceptions, the “I” remains same. It does not grow or reduce. It is not affected by these transformations, like the Sun is not affected when the water flows or is muddied and its reflection is affected by such actions.
Even otherwise, in Vedas, Consciousness is always referred to as “This” (अयम्) and the universe is referred to as “It” (इदम्). Here, “This” (अयम्) is the object with five qualities (गुण) signified by the totality of six words. Five stands for creating stable structures (पञ्च पृक्ता संख्या – मिलिता संख्या पञ्च). There are five fundamental interactions of Nature: strong nuclear interaction (अन्तर्याम), beta decay part of weak interaction (वहिर्याम), electromagnetic interaction (उपयाम), alpha decay part of weak interaction (यातयाम) and gravitational interaction between bodies against a common barycenter (उरुगायप्रतिष्ठा). These five forces induce the five fundamental motions within bodies: 1) contraction (आकुञ्चन - नित्यगति), which is the interaction between bodies with properties of confinement or proximity-proximity variable (धारण) – strong interaction, 2) limited expansion that exhausts quickly (प्रसारण - सम्प्रसादगति), or proximity-distance variable (आकर्षण) – beta decay, 3) moving from high concentration to low concentration (अवक्षेपण - यज्ञगति) or distance-proximity variable (प्रसाद or अन्न) – electromagnetic interaction, 4) moving out in part (उत्क्षेपण - साम्परायगति) or distance-distance variable (प्रवर्ग्य) – alpha decay, and 5) motion in fixed orbits around a common barycenter (गमन - उरुगायप्रतिष्ठा) – gravitation. In mental functions, these appear as alpha, beta, delta, theta mind waves and gamma coupling. In the vital energy that sustains our bodies, these appear as प्राण, अपान, समान, उदान, and व्यान respectively. Thus, the five qualities of consciousness signified by the five words describe the characteristics of living beings (जीव).
For the above reason, Mundaka Upanishad (3-2-4) says that the livingness or quality of living is not available without these forces nor if there is no body to act as the base for these forces (नायमात्मा बळहीनेन लभ्यो न च .... लिङ्गात्). Self (आत्मा) is conscious and mind is inert. Hence mind is different from Conscious Self. Self (आत्मा) with reference to something is that. which is the base (उक्थ), all pervading within the body (ब्रह्म) and equally pervading everywhere in the body (साम) of that object - यः यस्य उक्थं-ब्रह्मं-सामं च सः तस्यात्माः. Here उक्थ represents the base or source - यतो उत्तिष्ठन्ति सर्वाणि भूतानि । ब्रह्म is that which covers the whole of the object both externally and internally - बृहत्वात् बृंहणत्वात् वा । साम represents equal distribution everywhere - समं इति मेने - साम्यम् आलोमेभ्यः आनखाग्रेभ्यः । Whatever fulfills these three conditions, is the आत्मा for that system. The Vedas use the word आत्मा in this sense.
Regarding the nature of Brahman, we find:
एकमेवाऽद्वितीयोसन्नामरूपविवर्जितम् । सृष्टेपुराधुनाप्यस्य तादृक्त्वं तदितिरुच्यते।
The same also appears in Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1. Why did the texts say: एकमेवाऽद्वितीयम्? It would have been enough to say एकम् or अद्वितीयम् । Further, why the word सन् was added to it, that too सृष्टेपुराधुनाप्यस्य? Nothing in scriptures can be without any specific meaning. Here there are three denials related to Brahma - It is devoid of विजातियभेद, सजातियभेद, and स्वगतभेद । For example, let us take a mango. As a fruit, it is different from other fruits. This is विजातियभेद. It is signified by एकम्. Even among mangoes, there are different categories. This is सजातियभेद. It is signified by एवम्. Even in the same mango, skin, pulp and seed are different from each other. This is स्वगतभेद. It is signified by अद्वितीयम्. The word सन् । भ्वा० सेट् प० । is used in the meaning of षनँ सम्भ॑क्तौ - to show the division. This is universal and eternal - hence सृष्टेपुराधुनाप्यस्य. Thus, the वागर्थ of two आत्मा cannot be लक्ष्यार्थ to explain mind, as, unlike Brahman, both have विजातियभेद, सजातियभेद, and स्वगतभेद ।