The mechanism of self-realization

We continue to discuss the concept of Brahman and Bhagavān as explained by Śrī Jīva Goswami in the Bhagavat Sandarbha. Śrī Jīva Goswami explains that self-realization is a pre-requisite for Brahman realization. Therefore, here we first examine what it means to ‘realize the self’.

The process of experience

In self-realization, the self is subject and object. Realizing the self means experiencing the self. When one experiences external objects- say, the taste of a mango- the mango is an object, and the experiencer is the subject. In the process of self-realization, however, the experiencer is both object and subject.

The ātman cannot experience anything without the mind, as we have discussed elsewhere. The ātman cannot store knowledge or process information. It does not have senses inherent it. For all this, it needs the mind. Even to experience itself, the ātman needs the mind.

citta-vṛttis enable experience. The experience we have of everyday objects is not direct perception. For example, when the tongue comes in contact with the taste of mango, this creates a sensation which is transmitted to the mind. The experience occurs in the mind- which means that we are not experiencing the mango directly. Similarly, when we see an object, we are actually experiencing the inverted image of the object formed at the back of the eye, not the actual object.

The mind enables these experiences by becoming modified when it receives a sensory input. This is referred to as a citta-vṛtti. One way to understand citta-vṛtti is that it is a modification of the mind into the shape of the object that is being seen. Without citta-vṛttis, no experience is possible.

The process of self-realization

While the process of self-realization, i.e. self-experience, requires the mind, the process is different from the usual formation of citta-vṛttis which involves contact between the senses and the sense-objects. Śrī Jīva Goswami discusses this point at length in Anuccheda 6, citing Śrī Brahmā’s words (SB 10.14.6). The essence of his discussion (and Śrī Babaji’s explanation) is below.

Because the ātman is formless, the eye cannot form an image of it, and the mind cannot take its shape. Then, how will experience of the ātman occur?

To see an object like a table, we need light, we need an eye (that is functional) and the mind. It is because the table is not self luminous that we need light. But for a self-luminous object like a light bulb, there is no need for a separate source of light. As the ātman is self-luminous (svayam-prakāśa; this is described in the Paramātma Sandarbha), or more specifically, as the ātman has the potential in it for self-manifestation into the mind, one needs no external light or external arrangement, nor any external senses to perceive it. It is not that the mind takes the shape of the formless ātman, rather, the ātman itself appears into the mind on its own.

One basic requirement for self-realization is that the mind should be free from modifications. This is because unlike material objects which continuously undergo transformation, the ātman is beyond any transformations. Therefore, the mind has to become completely stilled, without transformations, if the ātman is to appear in it. Patañjali presented this famous concept of citta-vṛtti nirodha: the cessation of all citta-vṛttis. When all citta-vṛttis are stopped, which is achieved by the process of meditation on the jñāna-mārga, then the ātman itself appears in the mind, and is then experienced by the ātman itself in the mind, somewhat like the use of a mirror to see oneself.

This process of the ātman’s appearing on its own only occurs in that mind which is completely tranquil, devoid of any brooding or thinking of sense objects, and free from attachment/repulsion from sense objects. This is called self-realization or self-experience; it is unmediated by the senses, and it is direct perception.

Self-realization is the essential first step for realizing or experiencing Brahman on the jñāna-mārga. We will examine how Brahman is realized after the self has been realized in an upcoming article.

Categories: jīva-tattva

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