|Vedanta Spiritual Library|
Unit - 18
Lesson - 1801: Who am I?
By Raja Subramaniyan
Arjuna wants Lord Krishna to explain the difference between the observer and the observed. The answer to this question is the essence of the Vedanta. Lord Krishna has already taught most parts of this answer in the preceding twelve chapters and therefore, he gives the summary here.
We can comprehend the answer through the following stages.
Stage 1: 'I am the observer and I observe the world'
This leads to the conclusion 'I am different from the world'. This understanding, which is based on our experience, is wrong. It is similar to wrong knowledge that we gain from our experience that the earth is stationary and the sun and the moon are moving around it.
The purpose of all the Holy Scriptures is to correct this misunderstanding.
Stage 2: Observer is different from everything that is observed.
This could be concluded logically.
I, the observer am different from whatever I observe. I am the subject and whatever I observe are the objects. Subject cannot be the object.
Since I am able to observe my body, mind and intelligence, they are different from me.
Stage 3: The nature of observer is different from that of observed.
All the experienced attributes belong to the objects experienced and they do not belong to me, the observer.
I observe changes. Therefore, change is an attribute that belong to the observed and I am changeless.
I observe forms. Therefore, form is an attribute that belong to the observed and I am formless.
I observe inert objects. Therefore, I am the consciousness.
I am the consciousness. I am not limited by time, space and object. Therefore, I am the only reality and the observed is an illusion. From these derivations, we can list the differences between the observer and the observed.
The differences are:
1. Observer is a conscious being. Observed is inert.
2. Observer is changeless. Observed is changing continuously.
3. Observer is immortal. Observed is mortal.
4. Observer is formless, infinite and all pervading. Observed is limited to a form.
5. Observer is one. Observed is many.
6. Observer is Ever Witnessing Joy. Observed is Aura/Energy/Matter.
7. Observer is real. Observed is illusion.
8. Observer is independent. Observed is dependent.
Stage 4: The observer is the observed
Lord Krishna gives this conclusion saying, "I am the observer and the observed".
He has already explained (in the seventh chapter) that God has two parts, the higher part, Brahman and the lower part, Illusion. Similarly, it is also explained (in the second chapter) that the Atman is the indweller of the body mind complex. Now Lord Krishna says Atman is Brahman and the body/ mind complex is the illusion by saying, 'I am the observer and the observed'. This is the essence of Vedanta: "You are that"
Teaching 119: The observer is the observed because there is only one reality.
From our experience we assumed that there are many living and non-living beings in the universe and we are different from them. Lord Krishna introduced the concept to God to explain that there is only one entity. Prior to knowing about God, it was assumed that the observer is different from the observed. After the understanding of the nature of God, it can be seen that the observer is the observed since there is just one entity, God.
Teaching 120: God unites the individual observer with the vast universe inseparably
This relationship between the multiple living beings and God is similar to that of waves and the sea. There are multiple waves and one sea. The waves are created, sustained and dissolved in the sea. It appears that waves are changing and sea is unchanging.
Both the waves and the sea are just names and forms. In essence, there is only one substance, water. Similarly, there is only one entity, Brahman.
To answer the question, 'who are you?' the wave has two options. If it identifies itself with the form and name, it is mortal, ever changing and limited. If it identifies itself as water, then it is immortal and unlimited. (It cannot say 'I am sea'. Similarly we cannot say 'I am God')
Stage 5: Gaining steady knowledge that the observer is the observed
We have two options to choose from to answer the question, 'who are you?'
Option 1: I am the body/ mind complex
Option 2: I am the consciousness
If we are to choose Option 1, then the results are as follows.
- We are the created by God.
- We are insignificant, mortal being while God is omnipotent and omnipresent.
- We are caught in this life, which is alternating between the pairs of the opposites and we will undergo the pleasure and pain accordingly.
If we are to choose Option 2, then the results are as follows.
- I am Brahman and therefore I am immortal.
- My nature is Ever Witnessing Joy.
- I live my life joyfully.
Although it appears that, we have choice to select either of the two options, in reality there is no choice. The fact is we are the observer and therefore we cannot be the observed.
Besides, the body/mind complex is an illusion and the consciousness is the only reality. We need to understand the essential knowledge given in the Vedanta that Brahman is the only reality and the universe is a mere illusion.
If we understand this, then there is no choice but to gain liberation. If we do not understand this truth, we will continue to associate ourselves with the mortal body/mind complex and suffer in life. When we understand this vital knowledge that we are the consciousness, we are liberated.
While understanding the word, 'I', we have included both the observer and the observed. This combination constitutes our ego. When we understand the teaching of Lord Krishna, the observed part, our body/mind complex, merges with the illusion and the observer part, consciousness, merges with Brahman. As a result, our ego disappears. It does not have a place to hold on to.
The ego is the doer and the enjoyer in life. Since, there is no more ego, we do not have any sufferings in life. This is the ultimate knowledge, which will not change with time. Since the subject matter of this knowledge is changeless, this knowledge will also remain superior. We were suffering in life due to our ignorance with respect to ourselves. This knowledge sets us free.
Glory of this knowledge
1. It is the ultimate knowledge.
a. There is nothing more to be known, if this is known.
b. It is the essence of Vedanta, 'knowledge-end', the last word in knowledge.
c. It is given as the central message of the user manual, which comes with the creation of this universe on how to live this life joyfully.
d. It is unchanging. All other knowledge will continue to be improved all the time, which means the current version of 'truth', will be proved wrong soon.
e. This knowledge accepts the conclusions of all the religions and philosophies in the world as partial version of the truth. The one who has seen the elephant will accept the variations in the different versions of truth described by blind men, since he knows both the truth and the limitations of the blind men in perceiving the truth.
2. It leads to Joyful Living
a. There is nothing more to do to gain the benefit of this knowledge. Mere knowledge leads to Joyful Living.
b. No other knowledge can give everlasting security, non-diminishing happiness and undisturbed peace.
c. It quenches the everlasting thirst of the mind. The mind becomes fully contended and there is no more the feeling of inadequacy.
Chapter 13: The Observer and the observed [Verses: 01 - 03]
13.1 Arjuna said: Oh my dear Krishna, I wish to know about nature, Brahman, the field and the knower of the field, and of knowledge and the end of knowledge.
13.2 Lord Krishna said, This body, Oh Arjuna, is called the field, and one who knows this body is called the knower of the field.
13.3 Oh Arjuna, you should understand that I am the knower in all bodies, and to understand this body and its owner is called knowledge. This is My teaching.