We examined the concept of ahaṅkāra in an earlier post. We saw how ahaṅkāra is at the very source of all suffering. We are sentient beings who fundamentally are free from all suffering. But ahaṅkāra, the misidentification with the body, ensures that we consider the body’s experiences as our own. Unfortunately, ahaṅkāra is real (it is not ‘false ego’), and therefore not easy to shake off. Here we discuss Śrī Jīva Goswami’s solution to the problem of ahaṅkāra through an analysis of Anuccheda 82 and 83 in the Paramātmā Sandarbha. But first, we discuss the solution proposed by the advaitavādis.
The advaitavāda solution to the problem of ahaṅkāra
Advaitavāda propounds that the universe is a vivarta. This is easily understood through the analogy of a snake and a rope.
Imagine that a rope is lying in a dimly lit corner of a room. The rope may appear as a snake to our vision, and we may get scared and back away from it. The snake exists only in our mind, and is our imagination which we have super-imposed onto the rope. In the same way, the body is but an imagination of the mind, and so are all the objects that we perceive around us. Like a cloth that might cover a chair, covering or hiding the underlying chair from our vision, our mental projections cover the underlying quality-less Brahman.
The solution in advaitavāda, then, to the problem of ahaṅkāra, is knowledge. If we realize that the snake does not exist, and only the rope exists, then the snake should disappear from our mind. Similarly, the knowledge that we are the ātmā, and not the body, destroys our mis-identification with the body.
Śrī Jīva Goswami’s proof that the universe and body are real
Śrī Jīva Goswami politely disagrees with the above theory of advaitavāda. His simple refutation is as follows. Unlike the snake which disappears when one understands that the object is actually a rope, even if one realizes that one is not the body (i.e. attains the state of jīvana-mukti), the body does not disappear. The body persists even in that state for the realized person, and it certainly does not disappear for others. Nor do all the objects in the universe disappear for the jīvana-mukta. The body and the universe it is in, both are therefore real. They are not like a dream that disappears when the dreamer wakes up.
That the universe is real is also logical. Bhagavān is real and so is His creation. This is why it does not disappear even for the most advanced, realized jīva. In the same way, the solution to ahaṅkāra is not the disappearance of the body, nor the ahaṅkāra. Ahaṅkāra is real, and therefore it is not going to disappear. What will disappear is the knot between the jīva’s I-consciousness, and the aham-vṛtti (this concept is discussed in this post).
In Anuccheda 82, Śrī Jīva Goswami provides the solution by citing the following verse from the Bhāgavatam and providing an illuminating commentary which we paraphrase below.
yathā ghano ’rka-prabhavo ’rka-darśito
hy arkāṁśa-bhūtasya ca cakṣuṣas tamaḥ
evaṁ tv ahaṁ brahma-guṇas tad-īkṣito
Just as a dense cloud, though generated by the heat of the sun and made visible by the light of the sun, obstructs the eye — which is a part of the sun — from beholding the sun, so the ego, which is an attribute of Brahman (brahma-guṇa) and illumined by It (tad-īkṣita), obstructs the individual ātmā — which is an integrated part of Brahman — from realizing Brahman. (SB 12.4.32)
This verse identifies the problem as ahaṅkāra and the second verse following this one identifies the solution. The analogy with the sun and clouds is pregnant with meaning as discussed below.
The sun generates the clouds by evaporating rain. The clouds block the sun from the eyes. Imagine a very dense cloud cover, which basically creates darkness. Now the eye cannot see anything, including itself and the sun. But who is responsible for the eye’s predicament? Is it the eye itself? No, because the clouds are not generated by the eye. It is the sun, which is responsible for the clouds, and they in turn block the eyes from the sun.
Similarly, ahaṅkāra (cloud) which is a śakti of Bhagavān (sun) blocks the awareness of the ātmā of its own nature.
The next verse outlines the solution:
ghano yadārka-prabhavo vidīryate cakṣuḥ svarūpaṁ ravim īkṣate tadā
yadā hy ahaṅkāra upādhir ātmano jijñāsayā naśyati tarhy anusmaret
As soon as the cloud generated by the sun is scattered, the eye sees both its own nature as well as the sun. Similarly, when the self’s adjunct (upādhi) of phenomenal “I’-consciousness (ahaṅkāra) is destroyed by inquiry into Paramātmā, the self becomes fixed in remembrance [of its own essential nature and of Paramātmā]. (SB 12.4.33)
What disperses the clouds? Can the eye whose vision is blocked, disperse the cloud? No, because it did not generate the clouds in the first place. Again, it is the sun alone that scatters the clouds. Similarly, it is Paramātmā’s grace alone that can unentangle the knot of ahaṅkāra.
Śrī Jīva’s commentary on this verse is reproduced below in part:
अनेन दार्षटान्तिकेSपि आत्मनः परमात्मनो जिज्ञासया जातेन तत्प्रसादेनाहंकारो नश्यति पलायत इत्यत्रांशे पुरूषज्ञानसाध्यत्वमहंकारनाशस्य खण्डितम्।
From this analogy [it is clear], in the portion being illustrated by the example also, that the phenomenal “I-consciousness” vanishes only through the mercy of Paramātmā, which arises when one inquires into Him (jijñāsayā). This part [of the verse] refutes [the idea] that the dissipation of the [phenomenal] ego can be accomplished merely through the living being’s own attainment of knowledge
This concept is seen over and over again in the Bhāgavatam. The problem of ahaṅkāra cannot be solved by us on our own, simply by receiving knowledge about our true nature, just as it is not possible for someone to lift themselves by pulling upward on their shoes. Somebody other than us has to give a helping hand. This is also mentioned in the following verse from the Bhāgavatam, which Śrī Jīva cites in Anuccheda 44 of the Paramatma Sandarbha:
svato na sambhavād anyas tattva-jño jñāna-do bhavet
Self-realization for the jīva, who is saddled with beginningless ignorance, is not possible by his own efforts. It is possible only if knowledge is imparted to him by another who knows the reality.
Here the word ‘anādi’ is used for avidyā- it is beginningless, i.e. without a cause. Therefore, the solution is not to remove the ’cause’ (since none exists), but rather the mercy of Bhagavān alone.