Kerala Seminar - Psychology in India: Past, Present and Future

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Paper and event sponsored by the Infinity Foundation, NJ, USA

Binding Experiences: Looking at the Contributions of Adi Sankaracarya, Tuncettu Ezuttacchan and Sri Narayana Guru in the Context of Recent Discussions on Consciousness Studies*
By Sangeetha Menon, PhD,
Associate Fellow: Consciousness Studies,
Philosophy of Science Unit,
National Institute of Advanced Studies,
Indian Institute of Science Campus,
Bangalore, India 560 012,
E-mail: , URL:

Brain studies, theoretical analysis, cognitive science and cultural studies have, jointly in the last ten years, redefined the complexity of ‘consciousness’ by the factorisation of otherwise considered two less important categories. These categories are of analysis and understanding of the way we approach the problem itself into the definition of the problem. The major epistemological worry faced equally by the empirical analyst as well as the philosopher and psychologist is based on the central feature of ‘consciousness’ which is ‘experience’. Prima facie, this worry could be described as how to have a theoretical explanation for the mutual influence of neural events and subjective experiences and which one (neural events/subjective experience) is the defining characteristic of consciousness. Nevertheless, it is recognised that the field of consciousness studies is no more a school of reductionism, whether it is the case of understanding segregated mechanisms for neural events or mystifying experiences under unexplained ‘transcendences’.

Interestingly, any attempt to understand ‘experience’, such as simple physical pain or much complex psychological pain, will have to cross the epistemological barriers of hierarchies and causal relationships, demanding a non-linear path. The classical description of consciousness as ‘unitary’ has even evolved, to accommodate the questions emerging in interdisciplinary dialogues, to present the term ‘self’ which was once considered metaphysical, but very much scientific today. The epistemological transition, however implicit it is, is from a third-person perspective to a first-person perspective. It is from linear thinking to non-linear thinking.

1. Introduction

In this discussion I will attempt to juxtapose two scenarios. The first scenario will look at:

i) the recent semantic trends in interdisciplinary dialogues on ‘consciousness’, ii) how ‘experience’ itself is defined in these dialogues as a problematic,

iii) how far non-linear and integral are the categories of thinking employed in the analysis, and

* This paper is for presentation at the 12th Annual Conference of National Academy of Psychology on “Psychology in India: past,present and future”, at Kollam (Kerala, India) from 22-24 October,2001.

iv) how far holistic are the larger goals of these dialogues towards health, creativity and personal growth.

The second scenario will look at the distinctive styles of approach and analysis engaged in by three saints from Kerala: Adi Sankaracarya ( 8th c.A.D.), Tuncettu Ramanujan Ezuttacchan (16th c.A.D.) and Sri Narayana Guru (19th c.A.D.) towards understanding human mind. I will be, in my discussion of the philosophies of these three literary stalwarts and spiritual leaders, looking at:

i.)alternative epistemological tools used by them such as ‘metaphors’ and ‘imageries’ facilitating ‘transcendental thinking’,

ii) first-person and ‘Self’-oriented analysis of experience,

iii) phenomenological descriptions of ordinary and transcendental states and experiences,

iv) ‘complexity’ as not a property of the phenomenon but of the epistemological devices needed for the integral and the transpersonal understanding of the problem,

v) personal growth, self-healing, self-identities and relationships as important factors in understanding the reality of the ‘given’ and the possibility of the ‘unknown’, and

vi) therapeutic value of their methods of analysis and presentation.

2. Recent Semantic Trends

A distinctive trend in ‘consciousness’ discussions started with the theory of ‘easy problems and hard problem’ by David Chalmers (1995, Chalmers) which for the first time in the Western world1 made a semantic distinction between ‘being conscious’ and ‘what is responsible for consciousness’. Both experimental and cognitive science took into cognition the strong presence of an ‘explanatory gap’ (1987, Jackendoff). Though the approaches still remained/remains reductionistic or atleast dualistic in explanations the complexity of ‘consciousness’ and its unique nature in contradistinction with any other phenomenon in the lab was largely accepted. This acceptance inspired theories favouring complex cognitive and social functions, neural and subneural structures, system-environment interaction etc. inorder to fill the ‘explanatory gap’ and place ‘consciousness’ in its seat.

The views which are currently discussed and debated no more fall into a strict division of reductionistic and non-reductionistic approaches. This could be because of the recognition, in these approaches, of a distinct characteristic of ‘consciousness’, namely that it is not strictly linear, and also of the need for bridging first-person and third-person worlds. One of the prominent view is that there is a distinction between subjective conscious experience and the biological mechanisms responsible, and their mutual non-reducibility based on the position that first-person data cannot be fully understood in terms of third-person data (2000, Chalmers) Biological explanations have also factored a hierarchy of functions inroder to explain consciousness. One such view holds that consciousness is a highly complex motor response occupying ‘the uppermost echelon of a hierarchy having the primitive reflex at its base’ and that which ‘arises from the systems’ interactions with the environment’(2001,Cotterill).

Approaches to explain consciousness as epiphenomenal, but not in the classical sense of emerging from a physical composite, also take into account that the primary problem for explanation is more than a theoretical divide between the empirical and the subjective aspects of consciousness. Therefore some of these approaches hold that consciousness ‘is formed in the dynamic interrelation of self and other, and therefore is inherently intersubjective’ (2001,Thompson) or that it is a system of interactions between the animal and its environment and that it is not located in the brain (1991,Varela Explanations which address the psychological and social dimensions of consciousness hold that consciousness is ‘some pattern of activity in neurons’ (1997, Churchland) or that it is best understood in terms of varying degrees of ‘intentionality’ (1991, Dennett), and in terms of ‘memes’ which are the units of cultural evolution (1976, Dawkins; 1999,Blackmore).

Yet another school of thought which strongly upholds the need for finding neural correlates for the subjective components of consciousness is interested in the scientific exploration of meditation techniques. This school acknowledges the contribution of Eastern philosophy and wisdom traditions for a very specific role, which is, towards understanding and practicing meditational techniques for transcendental and extra-ordinary states of consciousness and experiences2(1999, Shear).

It is interesting to see that much of these discussions consider consciousness as a phenomenon to be understood and that it is much within the scope for investigation and dialogue like any other phenomenon. There is a degree of equal balance between two basic explanations/approaches for consciousness such as i) neural/physical/social correlates ii) extra-ordinary and meditational (transcendental) experiences mostly validated by neural or other third-person data.

2.1.The Problematic of Experience

The questions we ask about consciousness have their bases on different kinds of experience, whether it is dream, states of mind, memory, pain (physical and mental) etc. But the analysis for these questions are based on segregated information about behaviour or brain events and processes. Therefore the answers to these questions are given in terms of neural correlates and neural information processing and models thereof. This method takes of the essential aspect of ‘being conscious’ or ‘consciousness’ which is the ‘person’. Questions asked as a result of first-person experience are given answers which are founded on third-person information. Essentially, there is a gap between the problematic of conscious experience and the attempts to address it, which I call as the ‘harder problem’ (Menon, 2001). The standards and criteria which we have followed for objective understanding are most often the criteria for third-person information. This method has helped us to build technologies and to understand abnormalities transcending individual existences. The first-person qualitative methods gave us opportunities to be sensitive to the individual nature, psychology, expressions and uniqueness.

If both methods are important, how could the ‘harder problem’ be addressed? I do not have a ready answer for this question. But we could attempt a method which would not be mutually converting (information to experience and experience to information), reductionistic or solipsistic. Meaning, we should avoid the presumption of the larger picture of consciousness emerging out of solely by third-person methods or first-person methods. The ‘harder problem’ is not a question, I think, to be answered completely, or a complete theory about consciousness. Rather, it is the ontological essence of ‘consciousness’ which should always be addressed to which ever method we adopt, which will help us to ‘SEE’ something more than or beyond third-person information and first-person experience.

2.2.Categories of Thinking

There is a general agreement that it is interestingly perplexing to be conscious and yet not to understand what brings about the phenomenon of consciousness. Let us ask why it is perplexing?

Our knowledge systems are mostly based on cognising the ‘other’, or atleast about an objective world of information or experience which belongs to the ‘other’. Mostly, we feel comfortable when prior objective knowledge is available about anything which we experience. To have an experience and still not to know ‘how’ and ‘why’ it came about is a problematic for us. It cannot be that we do have an experience but still we do not know ‘what’ is there or ‘how’ it is there. The first-person experience gets a larger agreement of being natural or normal or not-mystical only if it is validated by third-person analysis and representation. The usual way of discourse for us cannot approve of ‘having something’ without knowing ‘what it is’ or ‘how it came’. Is this third-person representation and consensus necessary for all human expressions, is the question. May be we can have something, have many applications of it, without having the concluding third-person representation of it in terms of causal and local explanations.

The availability of ‘consciousness’ for our most intimate experiences and yet our inability to understand it completely in terms of third-person information makes us to think that ‘consciousness’ is a complex phenomenon, and that its complexity need to be addressed. We understand ‘complexity’ as an intrinsic characteristic of the ‘other’, the object of investigation, which we attempt to study. This notion of ours about ‘complexity’ is to be examined.

When we reduce the different expressions and features of a phenomenon to one or two or to some quantity, we have to remember that it certainly is the only possible way of understanding something so multifaceted and simultaneous, and therefore could be called as a simple method, but need not be the final and complete method, and not the complete third-person representation of the first-person phenomenon. Complexity could be the characteristic feature needed for the design for providing third-person representation. May be, what we distinguish as ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ are not the intrinsic characteristics of the object of investigation, but the categories of thinking and understanding we have formed according to the third-person information supplied to us by the tools we have designed. Hence, the question ‘should design and tool be complex’ becomes important.

Also, therefore, the standard scientific criteria of replicability cannot be applied since the third-person representation cannot be a replica of the complete first-person phenomenon but only a representation of it from a particular framework which follows certain epistemological and empirical/theoretical parameters.

2.3.Dialogues on Larger goals

Let me get back to the discussion I began with, on the Chalmersian view of ‘consciousness’. According to his theory of ‘easy problems and hard problem’ first-person data cannot be subjected to the standard method of reductive explanation. This theory also questions the basic fact of consciousness, that is, why is the performance of neural functions accompanied by subjective experience?

The ‘why’ question here is pertinent to understand the bases on which we found our primary, secondary and tertiary questions and methods for understanding ‘consciousness’. Why ‘why’? The ‘why’ question (‘why neural functions are accompanied by subjective experience’) assumes:

i) consciousness as a separate ‘something’ borne or unusual/non-natural,

ii)(neural) functions as basically having only mechanistic meanings, and

iii) subjective experience as not the intrinsic nature of consciousness.

These criticisms which are indirectly upheld by the camp of anti-reductionism stem from the basic conflict between ‘experience’ and ‘cognition’. The normative criteria for establishing ‘truth’ start from the objective reduction of whatever is posited. Here subjective experience falls out of normative standards for agreeing upon something as valid. So, the why-question as well as the assumptions arise from the conflict we encounter between epistemological necessity and experiential primacy. Both seem to be unavoidable and co-existent in human discourse.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to resolve a conflict if both the components of it are equally important. But, the recognition, of this unavoidable conflict itself, in our theories and models, will help us to widen the scope of investigation and prevent de-humanisation of the goals we seek for fulfillment. After all, both through third-person information and first-person experience what we ultimately seek are personal growth and health, co-existence and sharing, and a continuous exploration into the unknown and the unpredictable.

A prologue before we set forth the theorisation and definition of the problem will be helpful for a student of ‘consciousness’. This prologue will elucidate the primary division of a set of agenda based on direct first-person experience and the consensus we share on perceived facts. The primary division will be of the meaning and scope of ‘awareness of something’ and ‘awareness by itself’.

What exactly is ‘self awareness’? It is awareness of something. It is either the awareness of: i) the world outside, such as other states of mind, objects, etc. ii) the world inside, such as ‘my emotions’, ‘my perceptions’, ‘my body’, ‘my identity’ etc. The ‘world inside’ cannot be understood without the intervention of self-reflection and self-participation. What is ‘awareness itself’? Awareness itself can be seen as i) uniting discrete thoughts, and the two worlds (inside and outside), ii) as meta-awareness of the two (inside and outside world) awareness-es, iii) as pure I-ness.

Unless a distinct distinction is made of these different categories of existence for our thinking and analysis we will end up searching the needle in the same haystack for centuries without realising that the problem is not just the subtleness of the subject of our inquiry but our own inability to design a comprehensive search. The design of the comprehensive search is important because the way we search for it is going to alter the presence of it in the invincible heap.

3.Three Saints and Transcendental Thinking

‘Consciousness’ has become the umbrella term for debating many issues crossing disciplines yet connecting disciplines. This is interesting. Because, given the variety and differences in the themes and ideas for human discourse, to have a common factor in our dialogues seems to be difficult. The route and possible result of this dialogue is to connect and joint various streams of thought whether, empirical or intuitive, experimental or theoretic, inorder to map and place consciousness. On a scale of meta-analysis, this is a linear and horizontal approach, essentially because our dialogues start from third-person working definitions we assume (however different they are) of ‘consciousness’. Nevertheless, contributions made by dialogues which could be clubbed under the term ‘consciousness’ is eventful, since they are an attempt to harmonise and integrate otherwise divergent human thinking.

The Eastern wisdom traditions, beginning from the Vedic system of thought, perceived of entities (physical/metaphysical) whose existence are different by being connected with the outside world of objects and the inside world of experiences. There are several verses in the Brahmanas which imply the quest for the source of knowledge and experience.3 Beginning from the origins to the classical schools and saints of Indian philosophy and wisdom traditions the focus is not to begin from the oustide variegatedness and unite the units by an emergent phenomenon, even if we take the most realist schools.

Epistemological analysis, in Indian thought, is subservient to experiential paradigms. Indian schools of thought, in general, have one common thread which is to relate to a larger, deeper and holistic concept/entity called 'self'. Whether it is for affirmation or denial they spend a lot of analytic thinking to form a philosophy about 'self'. Both analysis (structured and 'leading-to-next' kind of hierarchical thinking) and experience are used as epistemological tools in an integral manner to form distinct but inter-related ontologies. Metaphors and imageries are used as epistemological tools for creating transcendence in thinking and thereby experiencing. The aim is not to arrive at structured and classified/listed knowledge of anOTHER object/phenomenon but understanding in relation to an abiding entity whether it be the self/no-self/matter.

Another interesting feature of Indian philosophical thinking is the importance given to the way of living or lifestyle subscribed to by the schools, no matter how realistic or idealistic their metaphysical position is. The understanding of a particular school of thought will not be fulfilled by ‘understanding’ its epistemology or even world-view but by following a lifestyle which is prescribed. Experience is the core of understanding. This would primarily require the student's mind to follow certain rules and discipline of forming integral and inter-related connections than individual and isolated relationships. This is a major difference when we compare with the dialogues in the West on ‘consciousness’.

Adi Sankaracarya, Tuncettu Ramanujan Ezuttacchan and Sri Narayana Guru4 are three saints from Kerala5 whose distinctive styles of approach towards understanding ‘experience’ are pertinent towards contributing to the current dialogues on ‘consciousness’. Belonging to three different times of history and social set up they conceived of an epistemology directive to personal-growth, holistic living and self-healing. The therapeutic value of analysis and self-oriented integration of understanding is given more importance than its cognitive value, in their philosophical thinking. The reference for the starting premises and concluding thoughts is the ‘person’ and his/her experience and the situation he/she is in. The route taken is from the situation of the person (as ‘given’) to the reorientation and re-organisation of his/her response based on transpersonal experiences. Hence the style of discourse adopted in their presentations is more metaphorical and non-linear than hierarchical and localised.

I will be, in the following discussion, focusing on three specific writings of the three saints: Atmabodha by Adi Sankaracarya, Harinama Kirtanam by Ezuttacchan and Atmopadesa Satakam by Sri Narayana Guru6. I will be engaging in a philosophical and psychological discussion, and not a literary analysis, of these texts in the context of current discussions on ‘consciousness’.

3.1.Alternative Epistemological Tools

The usual categories by which we proceed to understand an object or form an idea are ‘causality’ and relationship by ‘difference’, ‘identity’ or ‘hierarchical existence’. The categories of thinking needed to empathise with the philosophical and psychological presentation in the three texts named earlier are different. We can see that the meanings generated, if we employ the conventional categories of thinking for a-person and third-person approaches, will only help us to relate them to the previous ideas we have formed and our pre-conceived notions about the problem. Hence a first-person approach is suggested for the following discussion.

3.1.1.Self and the ‘Other’

The contemporary epistemological setting for ‘consciousness’ starts from, if not leads to, what is to be meant by ‘consciousness’. The thinking in these texts take an altogether different lead. The setting is of not the ‘meaning’ or ‘knowledge’ to be achieved or arrived at but re-organisation of the basic epistemology of experience ( namely ‘I’—aham—and the ‘other’ idam —) from the most intimate point of view which is of ‘my-self’. How different is the knowledge about the ‘Self’ from other kinds of knowledge? Atma Bodha initiates the discussion with an introduction to this question. The word used for ‘Self’ is atma which is the first-person pronoun. The knowledge about the Self is different from other kinds of knowledge by being the only means for the liberation of the person7. What exactly is meant by liberation? The puzzle is whether it is an experience in space and time like any other experience but of another kind or is it a cognition of a certain situation. Moksa (liberation) is not explained in direct terms. The student is encouraged to think about the metaphysical status of the ‘present’ and ‘given’ experience which is dualistic (raga dvesati sankulah)8 but still originating from the experiencer. Sankaracharya’s most famous explanation for the much misappropriated concept of maya comes herein: svakale satyavat bhati prabhode satyasat bhavet—the ‘other’ which is the basic epistemological component of experience appears to be having an independent existence when ‘I’ mistake my identity to be defined by the ‘other’. When ‘I’ awake to my true ‘Self’ from the slumber of idenitity/idenities it is seen that the existence of the ‘other’ no more defines my existence. It is to be noted here that the ‘other’ corresponds to the responses (likes and dislikes) and basic attitudes (identity and difference) by which we relate to objects, people and events and not objects, people and events by themselves. That is the reason why the analysis of the basic epistemological component of experience, namely duality, is looked at from the point of view of the experiencer.

3.1.2.Responding from Self

The ‘otherness’ of the object of experience is not an intrinsic nature of my-Self but the epistemological component which generates meaning through a relationship between my-self and the object of experience. Hence it cannot be removed as long as it is experienced. Also, it cannot be removed (which is not needed) by another act or experience9 or another kind of knowledge since what is awaited for is not an emergent or caused phenomenon in time and space like any other object or experience. The Self will illumine by itself like the sun when the clouds disappear.10 The emphasis is not on the object by itself or the way we relate to that object but the ‘self’ which is defined and perpetuated during the process.11 The process is considered to be ruled by epistemological processes. But the removal of the process cannot happen, or need not happen since that will be only another cognitive process.

What is urged for is the redefinition of the relationship with the object from the point of view of the Self which is not reduced to an identity defined and grown by the discrete processes of knowing and experiencing but which has an ontological value and which is the foundation of all cognitive processes (sarva adhistanam advayam).12 Just as ‘I’ do not hurry to segregate separate existence of the bubbles when ‘I’ see them arise, exist and dissolve in the water, the existence of the ‘other’ is to be understood as non-separate from the existence of ‘my-Self’ and the relationship between as non-causal and non-hierarchical.13

We relate with objects, events and people based on an estimate of the value of these by themselves and the meaning we give them based on our previous experiences of similar situations. Though we enjoy a consensus on perceived physical objects, the relationship we form with them is not strictly based on the consented meaning attributed to them but by the unique attitudes we have and meanings we give as individuals. The identity we form of ourselves is a cumulative product of the relationships and responses we have already made. At the same time, we respond to situations as the identities we have already formed. The distinctive way we respond to situations and the identity we form of ourselves are mutually influenced.

The big forest of self-identities ( kodum kadu dambha mayam)14 is added on to and defined by the way we respond to situations. Our responses if arise from the basic duality of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ could only increase the depth and independent existence of ‘otherness’. The ‘otherness’ thus intimately experienced can disappear only if the forest of self-identities we have formed based on the duality of ‘me’ and ‘mine’15 are burnt and the redefinition of the Self takes place in the Sahasrara.16 Ezuttacchan adds that not only that the self-created forest is burnt but also it should be watered by the rains of divine grace so that the burnt forest become the perfect soil-bed for fresh sprouts.17 The formation of self-identity or the need of responding to situations is never discredited but encouraged to happen but from the foundation of an integral Self not dissected by the self-identity defined by the ‘other’ to ‘me’ and ‘mine’ duality. Since duality is not ontological but only cognitive the prayer is made that let Self-knowledge happen to ‘me’ while ‘I’ am in the interactive world.18

3.1.3.Eye of the Eye of the Eye

Ezuttacchan makes an interesting reference to a third degree of meta-cognition through an interesting metaphorical expression. He says that ‘I should be able to know that I am the eye of the eye of the eye’19. I cognise the physical dimension of objects and events through the information I get about them through my physical eyes. I get to know about their indirect and intrinsic features through my psychological interactions with them. I get to know about the way I know and interact with them by knowing myself, by self-reflection. To have the knowledge about the Self which makes possible the two degrees of cognition is primarily important because Self-knowledge alone has an ontological value while the other two are cognitive. The attempt here is to have all cognitive processes spring forth from the ontological foundation of Self and all identity formation to converge to the foundational recess of Self. The experience of alienation and search for identity starts from the moment duality is given an ontological value.20

Sri Narayana Guru follows the route of two degrees of meta-cognition and for the third degree he relies upon a meta-meta-cognition. He says that to know that which is beyond the usual kind of knowledge and which is expressed in the relationship of knower and known, what is necessary is practice of self-reflection by inwardly directing the five sense organs which are otherwise directed towards the ‘other’.21 That which is supposed to be the channel for the knowledge of the ‘other’ could also be responsible for the knowledge of that which makes possible the knowledge about the ‘other’ and the henceforth self-identity. The physical organs and ordinary cognitive processes are dislodged of their physical and unidirectional function, namely to give knowledge of the ‘other’, and are attributed of a meta-meta-cognitive function of converging to the Self.

Self-knowledge is not another kind of knowledge and is not gained by a cognitive process. The hierarchy of cognitive processes and functions are ruled out in the case of the knowledge of the Self. This is to reiterate that Self-knowledge is not the knowledge of something hitherto non-existent or existed in disjunction. Our habitual categories of thinking are unidirectional, linear and hierarchical. Such categories of thinking cannot cause a transcendence in our thinking. At the same time what is experienced as dualistic as a result of our cognitive understanding to follow a reverse way and understand the duality itself has to again use categories of thinking. But those categories of thinking will not be different in degree but by their intrinsic nature. The understanding of duality which is the hallmark of all knowledge could take place only in a meta-level of thinking. What is attempted for is not a new piece of knowledge but a reorientation of experience through the understanding of it and redirecting of it from the Self.

3.2.‘Self’-orientation for Understanding

Understanding consciousness is definitely the goal of empirical, theoretical and experiential schools of investigation. Though the keyword is ‘understanding’, the cognitive processes we design outside as well as inside, are founded on the experiencing of consciousness. The ‘understanding of consciousness’ is understanding ‘experience’ and its transformations. Atmabodha begins with the prologue that the text on ‘Self-Knowledge’22 is prescribed for those who lead active lives and integrate their life experiences (tapobhi kshina papanam)23, those who have already achieved emotional maturity (vita raginam) and thus peaceful (santanam); and for those who are desirous of experiencing pure freedom (mumukshunam).

3.2.3.The Trans-physical Body

The phenomenological description starts from the immediate medium of experience, the body, itself.24 The body is defined as that which perishes in time (sariram) and that which is the instrument for experience (bhoga ayatanam). The experience for which the body is the instrument is well spelt out as pleasure (sukha) and pain (dukha). This definition of the body is definitely trans-physical.

Further elaboration on the details of the body—‘instruments of experience’—shows that ‘sarira’ is a complex concept used to denote various levels of experience. The immediate locus and unifier of experience is a sense of ‘body-feeling’ relating to physiological functions. But experience cannot be understood if its scope is restricted to its empirical terms, though they are the immediate and most visible for any objective representation of it. The combination of five breaths (panca prana)25, mind, intellect, ten sense and motor organs constitute the subtle part of the body (sukshmangam) which is the instrument of experience.26 The explanation for the ‘body’ continues to what is technically termed as the ‘causal body’ (karana upadhi) though at this point Acarya uses another term, upadhi, for denoting another part of the body-complex27. The continous and beginningless absence of Self-knowledge is the causal part of the body-complex. The only descriptions for a negative ‘entity’ such as ‘absence of Self-knowledge’ are that it is beginningless and indescribable.

Two ideas are important for analysis here: The first idea is that the definition of the ‘instrument for experience’ is complex and trans-physical. The second idea is that the absence of a particular cognition (Self-knowledge) is a vital component of what constitutes the complex of ‘instrument of experience’. The one question is that if the absence of the absence of Self-knowledge happens will I cease to have any kind of experiences, and my ‘instrument for experience’ will be impaired?

The present empirical discussions on consciousness are mostly directed by ideas about physical location, specific and coordinated neural firings, functions of cortical areas etc. all of which relate to a key physical centre called the ‘brain’. It almost looks like that the beginning and end of the understanding of consciousness has to happen in the ‘brain’. The ‘brain fixation’ is got over to some extent in the discussions on ‘mirror-neurons’28which implicates the complexity and non-linearity involved. It is to be asked why the ‘brain’ as to be seen as the primary locus of a phenomenon (experience) which is neither brain-centered nor localised. It is also to be asked whether in the process of understanding the immediate first-person representation of consciousness, namely experience, there is a mix up of the cause of experience and the instrument of experience. The ‘instrument of experience’ (bhoga ayatanam) is a key phenomenological concept still alien to current empirical dialogues.

An interesting component of the body-complex is the presence of a cognitive entity in absentia. This concept is interesting in that it is the beginning of the cognitive leap to be needed to cross the structural linearity in our conceptual thinking. How the absence of the absence of Self-knowledge (absence of Self-knowledge is atma ajnana and absence of absence of Self-knowledge is atma jnana) happens is a subject dealt in detail in the text. This discussion entails the understanding of ‘experience’ from a psychological perspective. The meaning of experience is greatly contributed by the response and attitudes we develop towards a particular situation and event. The shift in the meaning of experience by the change in the kind of responses and attitudes transcends the basic presentation of any experience such as duality. Therefore the absence of the absence of Self-knowledge is not another kind of knowledge to ‘remove’ all kind of experiences, but to integrate the divided into a continous whole, at the same time giving a clear picture of the differences. Self-knowledge will not be annihilative of differences, but is integrative of divisions giving a better and fuller perspective of the otherwise segregated.

3.3.‘Self’ and Experience

The concept of the body is also given a trans-individualistic extension apart from the trans-physical existence. This attempt is, once again, to break any linearity in experience of the transcendental and also to avoid the cognitive circularity of having to have meanings through dual categories of thinking. The experience of Self if has to be another kind of experience it could only be like any other experience, of the ‘other’ which is founded on basic cognitive duality. Self is not experienced as something extraneous and separated in time and space. So as to transcend our habitual cognitive methods of finding a meaning through identity or difference, the experience of Self is described not as an event in time. It is described in juxtaposition with the analysis of the content of experiences.

3.3.1.Transcending What?

The description of the ‘other’ coalesces into the description of the transcendental in Atmopadesa Satakam. According to Sri Narayana Guru, the subject of inquiry is such that it has to involve a hand-in-hand journey of the content of experience as well as the analyst. The process of inquiry itself has to transform into the fruit of inquiry, and not culminating at some point of time and space for a concluded piece of knowledge or a localised experience.29

The basic duality involved in any experience cannot be transcneded by another kind of experience until the major experiential component in an experience is factored into the content of experience for analysis. The given content of experience is something other than the one who understands it or experiences it. For Self-knowledge, the self defined by the other, who identifies with the experiencer, also has to become a cognitive component. The process of knowing, the object of knowledge and the knower of the object—all has to be meditated on as the one expression of Truth.30 The process is in a cognitive level but transcends at some point the habitual linearity in thinking.

The ultimate state of transcendence sought for by Ezuttacchan is also described in similar lines.31 He prays that let his mind become the host of the divine so as to transcend the basic duality in experience such as ‘me’ (njan ennum) and the ‘divine’ (esvaran ennum). The experience of the Self or the transcendental is not a linear experience. Also, an ‘ordinary’ experience by itself is not contradictory to the experience of the divine, since the experience of the divine is not another experience. The experience of the divine or transcendental is a shift in identity, and that is why it is the knowledge of the Self. The cognitive processes are instrumental to the experience of the ‘other’. The same cognitive set up is to be also instrumental for the experience of the transcendental. Ezuttacchan uses the term ‘cetas’ to denote the instrument which presents the experience of duality and also qualifies it as the prospective seat of the divine to bring about the experience of the transcendental. If at all the experience of ‘I am this’ has to be there, let the ‘this’ include everything.32

What is discussed about by the authors is not another kind of experience nor another kind of identity for the experiencer but a shift in the meaning given to the content of experience, and self-identity.

3.4.Complexity is of the ‘tool’

In our usual epistemological methods we search for the complex parts and sub-parts of the third-person representation of the phenomenon of inquiry. Seldom it is recognised that it is vital to review the complexity of the tool we have design and engage inorder for it to measure or represent the phenomenon it needs to report. The advancement in brain scanning technologies, for example, is widely considered to be revolutionary in giving more knowledge about consciousness. But unfortunately this is a very linear and naive thinking. It is assumed that the advancement in technologies however would continue the same line of revealing more about consciousness in a connected manner to what is already known. The understanding of consciousness is assumed to happen in a ‘gradual’ manner with the gradual advancement in technologies. In the process, complexity is sought in the third-person representation of the phenomenon. This is a round-a-way, circular and not progressive method, since the ground for search is limited. This method can give only more details of the third-person representation, and not a further leap into the unknown, or the phenomenon itself. The problem is that whether the advancement in technologies and knowledge about consciousness could be synchronus in time and evolutionary in nature. It is definitely another question if what we are seeking is to build up a knowledge system of consciousness in artificial planes defined by technology. Certainly the conecptualisation and therefore the procedure seeks revision if what we attempt is for a true understanding of something unknown.

What we seek is not just an analysis of the analysis and the analysed but an analysis of that which will help us to analyse, namely, the way we design our epistemological tools.

The complexity of the epistemological tool and the analysis of its design are frequent themes for discussion for the three authors sometimes in a direct manner and sometimes by questioning our very categories of thinking. According to Sankaracarya Brahman is that because of which the ‘other is possible ( akhilam vastu vyavaharah tadanvitah); and which permeates everything (sarvagatam).33 The presence of Brahman in the ‘other’, however is not conceived in the conventional fashion of how we relate with the transactional world. The description of Brahman which follows in the next verse34 is that it is neither subtle nor gross ( ananu asthulam); neither short nor long (ahrsvam adhirgham); not born, not changing (ajam avyayam); without a particular form, quality, color and name for description (arupa guna varna akhyam). The essential meaning of any content of cognition is the transcendental.35 But the nature of our cognitive set up, as we engage in dualistic reasoning, is not the appropriate set up for knowing and experiencing the essential meaning of all experience.36 By engaging with the usual triad categories of thinking we will not be able to experience the transcendental.37 How could a different set of categories of thinking be employed? The alternative employed by the three saints is the use of metaphors and imageries so as to cause sudden shifts in the patterns and linear continuity of thinking.

3.5.Transcendence in and while Thinking

There is an increasing amount of literature in cognitive science which shows that metaphors and imageries are key to complex thinking and reasoning. Metaphorical thinking opens up new doors for perceiving things and also integrates the identity of the person with the whole process of understanding so as to cause a difference in understanding not only the object of inquiry but also the subject of inquiry. It is interesting that it is mostly for institutional knowledge that we use linear thinking. This is not the case when we are left with our own individual experiences of the mental world. We do not try to fashion or ‘construct’ our experience according to the third-person knowledge we already carry with. It is our attitudes and life styles which define the nature of our experiences.

3.5.1.The Tree

I would first like to present a ‘simple’ and common experience in our life, before I go to the texts for discussion. Take the example of the experience of the tree in our garden. For focus of attention let us assume that we would not discuss in detail about the experience of the tree in background and foreground terms, but the experience of the tree by itself. When I see a tree, what are the cognitive constituents of my experience of the tree? The perception of the tree involves the perception of the individual leaves (however vague or clear they are), branches etc, and also something which is together seen as ‘tree’. There are two distinct parts for the experience of seeing the tree: i) the seeing of the part, and ii) the seeing-together. Here, what we are interested is not in the epistemological explanation of perception based on evolutionary theories or brain theories for the growth and function of cognition. Our attempt is to understand a simple experience in experiential terms.

The two distinct parts of experience is there for whosoever who perceives the tree. But certainly the description of the perception changes from person to person in the main theme of his/her experience, focus of attention, distance of perception, level of experience, kind of thinking motivated for etc. Why is this? The differences are accounted by the differences in the degree of distinctness and togetherness and their relationship we have in the experience. However, we do not see the distinct component nor the component of togetherness in isolation. The meaning of the content of experience is not a derivative of any of the components of the experience. It is not a percept, physical or mental. It can only be described as an integrated whole. The object of our experience, the tree in this case, is quite simple by third-person definition. But our experience seems to be quite complex of having to have a distinct as well together feeling at the same time though at no given point it could be said that at that point what is seen is the leaf, branch, tree etc.

3.5.2.Metaphorical Routes and Real Leaps

If objects for physical perception cannot be understood in any simple way as to how we have similar yet different experiences, the problem of experiences together, emotions, feelings, relationships and identity formation is to be seriously considered. The possible phenomenological explanation is that our categories of thinking for experience are not analytic and sequential but metaphorical and simultaneous. It is not the experience or the object of experience which is complex but the third-person representation of it and the tool used for. It is an epistemological error to attribute complexity which is a cognitive third-person description to a first-person experience or object of experience.

There is seldom an inductive and linear way of argument or discussion on experience in the texts of the three saints, though the lack of it is misappropriated as metaphysical in many of the commentaries. By the effective use of a rich variety of metaphors and imageries the authors attempt to cause transcendence in thinking while thinking. The transcendence is not only in the form of a cognitive leap from the distinct to the whole, but also the interconnectedness between the two. Metaphors are employed to explain simple experiences as well as the ontology of the experiencer and the experienced. They re-organise experience by presenting a different degree of meaning and posits the distinct components in perspective and in one-to-one relationship all the while maintaining a integral and whole background. A significant change achieved through metaphorical thinking is a change in the formation of categories of thinking and thinking from multiple levels simultaneously.

Two classes of metaphors are used by the three saints in the imageries: one for explaining the content of an experience and another for explaining its ontology. In the first class the focus is on the functional meaning of one theme of the metaphor, and in the second class, the focus is on two themes in the metaphor and their relationship.

3.5.3.Me and the Other

The duality experienced is on a cognitive level and hence cannot be changed by another kind of experience but only by re-designing the cognitive process. Absence of Self-knowledge cannot be removed by another experience since Self-knowledge is not another experience nor is it in conflict with any experience. It cannot be caused in time by a cognitive act. Absence of Self-knowledge can be removed only by the presence of Self-knowledge just as in the case of light being able to remove however dense the darkness is.38 Just as the sun reveals by itself when the clouds move away the Self presents itself when the self-identities defined by the experience of the ‘other’ are disassociated with.39 Because of the proximity of a crystal to a coloured object, the crystal could be seen as coloured though we understand that the color is not an inherent property of the crystal. Similar is the case when we experience our self as defined by the other and having the qualities of the ‘other’ because of the proximity of the Self and the ‘other’.40 The two has to be understood distinctly like we separately understand the (functional) distinction between the rice, husk, bran etc. that cover the rice.41 The meaning of the experience and objects of experience in the dream state is distinguished from the experience and objects of experience in the waking state. The meanings of experience in the two states cannot be confounded.42 Similarly when experience does not result in the definition of self-identity defined by the ‘other’ but arises from Self-knowledge the meanings of experience and objects of experience are understood to be of the transactional world of duality.43 We do sleep and wake up in our lives and experience a beginning and end throughout. But this is not the case with the Self. It is not to be understood to be like a lamp which is lit and eventually burnt off.44

Duality remains as long as experience is given meaning by the self-identity defined by the ‘other’, just as from far the mother-of-pearl appears to be silver just because it shares one quality with silver which is luminance.45 Just as the multiplicity of space is not true and is a quality associated with the specific object, Self is not many and divided into many identities as defined by the ‘other’.46 Self -knowledge is not the result of another cognitive act since it is the ontological knowledge, nor can any other knowledge exist without the ontological foundation of Self just as there is no existence for the wave apart from the water.47 There is no need of another lit lamp to see an already lit lamp.48 As long as the rope is mistaken to be the snake the ensuing emotion of action and related acts will be there.49 Likewise the fears and emotions characteristic of the relationship with the ‘other’ will continue as long as the identity of the self is mistakenly defined by the ‘other’, the object of experience.50

3.5.4.Transcendental Swings

If the Self is not another knowledge and the being of which requires only the removal of the absence of absence of self-knowledge why is that Self is not always present in all experiences? Just as an object reflects only in a transparent surface Self though is always ontologically present in all experiences can be reflected only through distinctive yet integral analysis of an experience.51 The nature of Self-knowledge is like a thousand suns shining together tearing away the dense darkness of self-identities.52 However just as the mirror held against a blind person is dysfunctional the ontological presence of Self is unknown to the self which is defines it identifies based on relationships with the objects of experience.53 Therefore whenever an experience promotes an identity of the self defined by the ‘other’ the ‘I-feeling’ should be that ‘I am everything’.54 All objects of experience which are otherwise defined as the ‘other’ gets integrated into the ‘I-feeling’, that I am the cosmic body, of which ‘fire is my face, dusks are my clothes, ocean is my stomach, the fourteen worlds constitute my heart, laws are day and night’.55 Let all experiences be connected to the identity with the trans-physical body so that ‘whatever is seen is symbolic of the divine, whatever is heard is the description of the divine, whatever is done is dedicative to the divine and whatever act it is let that be connected to the divine’.56Ezuttacchan also prays that let his mind be the place where the Lord would have his swing.57The swings of the mind according to the experiences, however, cannot be avoided. Hence let the swings be there, but let those be of the divine.

3.6.Healing and not Therapy

Ideas about self-transformation and spiritual experiences are presented in concurrence with the ontological position that the division between ordinary and transcendental experience itself is incorrect because of the trans-spatiotemporal nature of Self and transcendence. Also, therefore, healing is not an event caused by the ‘other’ but by the Self. Though the experience could be described as therapeutic, the process is not therapy, but Self-healing. Healing is not by cathartic methods but by creating transpersonal ideas, visions, thoughts, experiences, goals, world-views and most important self-identity. An array of imageries and metaphors are used which are different, both by kind and order, to create new experiences, to re-look the given situation from a new perspective and to respond anew from that perspective. The narrative in the three texts range from prayer to visual description, and follows a transpersonal style of communication.

3.6.1.Absence of Absence

The function of Self-knowledge is not to create a schism between the experienced and transcendental world and draw an ontological hierarchy of them. The very transactional notions and ideas about lower-higher, lesser-greater, self-non-self, ordinary-transcendental are the ones to be transcended for Self-knowledge. The knowledge of the Self is such that the conceptual divide between such hierarchies are given a phenomenological validity but not ontological status. Self-knowledge to be the tool for healing should not be translated into a cognition but an ontological foundation from which all responses arise. It is a Self-identity which refuses to be defined by the situation, but responds to and defines the situation from its ontological foundation. It is the identity with the Self which is not caused by any of the limited and restricted transactional categories of thinking. The self, free from conflicts, caused by the identities, defined by the ‘other’ and heated in the fire of Self-knowledge, shines by itself.58 The reference is to ‘self’ per se, not denoting the self-identity defined by the ‘other’ and the Self. It shows the dynamic nature of the process and result of Self-healing. The focus for thinking is to be given to the idea of ‘this’ in the experience we have such as ‘this is knowledge’.59 The clear distinction between Self-knowledge and any other knowledge is that Self-knowledge is not a static piece of third-person representation of an alien existence, namely ‘Self’, but is a dynamic tool which is both epistemological and phenomenological. Yet, the major difference is that Self-knowledge is not caused and linear but is the ontological foundation for any other knowledge to arise and exist.

3.6.2.Progress of search and Personal growth

The phenomenology of Self-knowledge is the most important theme discussed though in a metaphoric manner by the three saints. The difficult task is to avoid any cognitive reduction of something ontological at the same time to relate it to a world of experiences and responses. The usual casualty in spiritual quest or search for transcendence happens to progress in thinking and conceptualising and spontaneity in responding because of concluded thinking and division of experience into ‘ordinary’ and ‘transcendental’. The notion of personal growth is mostly ruled by the idea that change has to happen in states of minds in a transcendental and other-worldly manner. This is not true to the exegesis of the three saints. Transformation and growth of consciousness (though both these descriptions are metaphorical) imply basic attitudinal and self-identity changes and shifts. The concept of healing thus is not a solution to a problem but a state of perfection aimed at by one and all. At the same time it does have situational answers but not restricted to any of the situations.

The series of verses in the three texts attempts to focus our thinking, at the same time avoid immediate cognitive classification according to habitual categories of thinking, to a set of descriptions about Self and transcendence which are apparently contradictory. The non-propositional and non-argumentative style of presentation crosses the monologue-ic boundary of knowledge formation to an experience which integrates understanding to a larger whole of Self-identity. This style connects the ‘heart’ and the ‘brain’, the phenomenological and the ontological. In Atmabodha, Sankaracarya describes the sun of knowledge (bodha bhanu) which arises in the sky of heart, and which pervades and sustains everything, illumines everything, shines by itself and destroys the darkness of self-identities.60 The experiential nature of Self-knowledge is reiterated when Acarya uses the term ‘jnana caksus61, the eye of knowledge. This description implies that Self-knowledge is not be confused with a static knowledge but to be seen as having an experiential dimension. Knowledge can be an ‘eye’ only if it is to serve an experiential function. The essential idea driven is that Self-knowledge relates to the identity of the person and not a piece of knowledge for the person. It is for the same reason that Ezuttacchan talks about the ‘eye of the eye of the eye’62 through which he refers to the physical object of cognition, the cognitive act and the Self which forms the ontology for both the physical object and the cognitive act. Both the questions of absence of Self-knowledge and absence of absence of Self-knowledge relates to the identity of the person. Though the Self is non-causal and hence always present, it is seen (ontologically) only by the ‘eye’ of Self-knowledge; one whose (ontological) vision is obscured by the absence of Self-knowledge does not see it just as the blind cannot see the effulgent sun.63 According to Sri Narayana Guru the indivisible truth can be known only by experience, the experience of being Self.64

3.7.Spiritual experience and Values

Discussions on ‘Self’ (Atman) is not purely an epistemological exercise in the three texts. The attempt in and through is to remove the divide of the restricted function of rationalisation for the cognitive process, and of identification with the situation for the experiential process. What is spiritual in this case is connecting knowledge and experience through a non-analytic manner, yet discriminative in function, inorder to see the integral whole while distinct cognitions and experiences happen. It is a process of distinctive discriminative knowledge and integral Self-identity in simultaneity, from the basis of which responses to transactional situations, which are ruled by hierarchies and linear categories of conceptualisation, are to be made. To continue in this ontological basis, to continue to have the light of sun, an ongoing discipline is needed, which is outlined by following a set of values and attitudes which help to formulate our responses to situations. It is not to be mistaken that the ontological basis is created by this procedure. What is created is a background and set up for the effective relay of the rays of the sun, and not the creation of the sun itself. The effort is to respond to and define situations from the basis of the Self and not to be defined by the situation in the process, so that the ontology of Self is never reduced to a transactional identity. Absence of Self-knowledge which expresses in the basic duals of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ is removed by the experience of the nature of Self just as right information removes wrong notions about directions.65

3.7.1.Reconstruction of Experience

The classical approach to spiritual experiences is to disengage from ‘ordinary’ experiences and engage in for ‘transcendental experiences’. The implication in this approach is that there is a division between, and a travel from, the ‘ordinary’ to the ‘transcendental’ experience. The major thesis which is missed is that spiritual experience is not another kind of experience in another world and relating to another set of objects forsaking and condemning the given ‘ordinary’ experienced world to be of a hierarchically lower order. Spiritual experience, according to the three saints, is reorienting and there by reconstructing any experience from the Self’s point of view. The difference between an ‘ordinary’ experience and a ‘spiritual’ experience is that in the former case the experience is given meaning from the point of view of self and in the latter case it is from the point of view of Self. In both experiences there is an identity which relates to and generates meanings. In the first case the identity is caused and defined by the situation. In the latter case the identity defines the situation by responding to it from an integral point of view.

3.7.2.Meditative thinking and experiencing

Each of the text in this discussion gives emphasis on a certain style of presentation which offers a set of ideas for meditative thought and experience. Acarya in Atmabodha presents two verses which distinctly present the phenomenology and ontology of the self and the Self and which integrates the two. It is by the indiscriminative blending of the Self’s pure existence and pure knowledge, and the self’s cognitive processes that the notion of ‘I know’ arises.66 Self does not have a cognitive function; self by itself cannot have the knowledge in the form of ‘I know’.67 At the same time all experiences do involve the basic duals of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. Two see the distinction and yet integrate them to a whole which is non-opposed to each is to continously engage in an exercise of discriminative understanding based on the ontology of the Self and the ‘other’. The Yogi who is capable of integral vision sees through the ‘eye of Self-knowledge’ that the entire world of experience and knowledge is in his/her own Self and the Self as the entire world of experience and knowledge.68 Self is other than that which is experienced and known as the ‘other’. There is no independent ontology for the ‘other’ apart from the Self. If at all any object of experience or knowledge is mistaken to be having independent existence and as defining the self, its existence is to be understood to be like the existence of mirage.69 After crossing the ocean of self-identity and killing the demons of duals—likes and dislikes—the Yogi is always with peace and does not allow the situation to define his identity. He is Atmaramah.70 Though he relates with the transactional world (upadhisthah api) the Muni is never conditioned by the situation nor attached to it. He travels unattached like wind.71

3.7.3.Distanceless Travel from self to Self

The three Acaryas offer a set of verses to guide the distanceless travel from an ordinary self-oriented experience to a transcendental Self-oriented experience. Sankaracarya says, ‘Meditate on that Self (which you are) attaining which there is no greater attainment; there is no greater happiness; there is no greater knowledge’.72 ‘Meditate on that Self (which you are) having seen which there is nothing more to be seen; having united with there is no more duality; having known which there is nothing more to be known’.73 ‘Meditate on that Self (which you are) which pervades all dimensions, up and down, and all spaces in between; which is pure-existence, pure-knowledge, pure-happiness and non-dual, infinite, without end, without divisions’.74 ‘Meditate on that Self (which you are) which is indicated in the Upanishadic scriptures by the method of negation and which is non-dual, non-separate happiness and without divisions’.75

Atmopadesa Satakam is a set of hundred verses which prescribes a particular method of meditative thinking. The text throughout is an attempt to reorient and reconstruct experience from the Self’s point of view. However, verses beginning from 53 to 61 are uniquely designed to guide the spiritual reorientation of experience. Guru says that the primeval energy which belongs to the self-luminant Self-knowledge is the cause of the ‘other’. What is needed is continous reflection to base all cognitive acts on that energy and avoid identity with the self.76 The distinct experiences we have in our waking and deep sleep state are borne from the same mother of Self.77 The existence of dreams in sleep and existence of experiences in waking state both owe to the same source and both do not have independent ontology.78 The duals of birth and death are like the birth and death of waves in ocean.79 We cannot say where the independent existence of the ‘other’ begins.80 Instead of allowing our self to be defined by the ‘other’ we should reflect upon the distinction between the ontology of Self and the ‘other’.81 Experiences are possible because of Self; objects of experience do not have an independent existence apart from the Self; they have a non-separate ontology.82

The narrative style employed by Ezuttacchan is particularly non-propositional in that it uses ‘prayer’ as a form of communication for the knowledge of the ontology of experience and Self. Every single verse ends with a symbolic salutation to the divine through the reorientation of self (harinarayana na mah). The first three verses especially, in a metaphoric manner, cover the entire discussion which he engages in the rest of the text about how any experience could be understood and reoriented. The Self is the witness all throughout the division of the one into many; to have the knowledge of that Self I salute the divine.83 The confusion caused due to the confounding of the non-dual with the ‘other’ is indescribable; to have the discriminative knowledge of the Self and the ‘other’ I salute the divine’.84 The unavoidable result of the confounding is the experience of ‘me’ and ‘mine’; If at all the identity of the ‘self’ has to be there let it not be defined by the ‘other’ caused by the transactional notion of mine, but be defined by the ontology of the entirety of the world of experiences.86


Current discussions on ‘consciousness’ mostly focus on either of the two problems: how simple physiological functions co-ordinate and work together as one single system; how and why a subjective orientation ensues. The discussions by Adi Sankaracarya, Tuncettu Ezuttacchan and Sri Narayana Guru focus on the ontology of Self and present possibilities for human experience. In the first case the attempt is to build into ‘consciousness’ and in the second case the attempt is to build from ‘Self’. Categories of thinking needed for the two cases are different, one is for the allocation of new knowledge within a system, and the other is for transformation of knowledge a-systemically. Experience is the common concern and mystery for both the discussions, though it is not the beginning point for the first school of discussion. The probable clarity to be made for the first discussion is that the empirical, however complex a third-person representation it can generate, cannot be the same as experiential nor can evolve to become the experiential. Herein lies the major gap between first-person and third-person approaches to consciousness.


My Pranam to Swami Bodhananda* whose Blessings guided me to conceive ideas for this paper.

Thanks to Rajiv Malhotra for encouraging me to write this paper, and to Infinity Foundation** for supporting the presentation of this paper.

* &

** See


1. The division though not in an empirical line, the separation between sarira and deha and dehi are discussed in classical Indian thought.

2. Is there much discussion about the theories and contributions of Eastern traditions to understand ordinary states of experience, art, aesthetics, creativity etc. in the context of contemporary discussions? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no’. The quick labeling for Eastern traditions is that it they are the doorway for extra-ordinary states of consciousness and experiences. The obvious trend here is that Western science and wisdom traditions are conducive for understanding empirical consciousness, and Eastern wisdom traditions are for understanding transcendental states of consciousness.

3. Satapatha Brahmana: x.191.2-4 (Let us know each other’s mind; Let our mind be the same).

4. Adi Sankaracharya (8th c.A.D.) founded the school of Advaita Vedanta.

Atmabodha is called a ‘prakarana grantha’, (foundational text) consisiting of 68 verses in Sanskrit. Tuncettu Ramanujan Ezuttacchan (16th c.A.D.) is known as the father of Malayalam (native language of Kerala) poetry. He developed a unique idiom combining the vernacular and Sanskrit words in his writings. Harinama Kirtanam is the poem (68 verses in Malayalam) he wrote which later became a household name in Kerala for its simple style of language and philosophical depth. Sri Narayana Guru (19th c.A.D.) was both a social reformer of his times and a philosopher in the lines of Advaita Vedanta. Atmopadesa Satakam is a set of hundred verses (in Malayalam), and is considered to be the masterpiece of Sri Narayana Guru.

5. Kerala is the southernmost State of India.

6. See note.4

7. Atmabodha:2—

bodhah anyasadhanebhyo hi saksat moksaika sadhanam
pakasya vahnivat jnanam vina mokso na sidhyati

8. Atmabodha:6—

samsarah svapnatulyohi ragadvesati sankulah
svakale satyavat bhati prabhote satyasat bhavet

9. Atmabodha:3—

avirodhitaya karma na avidhyam vinivartayey

vidya avidyam nihantyeva tejah timirasanghavat

10. Atmabodha:4—

paricchinna eva ajnanat tannase sati kevalah

svayam prakasate hyatma meghapaye amsumaniva

11. The words ‘self’ and the ‘Self’ are used to indicate two ideas: ‘self’ is identity defined and perpetuated by the ‘other’; ‘Self’ is the ontological basis of ‘self’.

12. Atmabodha:7—

tavat satyam jagat bhati suktika rajatam yatha

yavat na jnayate bhrama sarva adhistanam advayam

13. Atmabodha:13—

pancapranamano bhuddhi dasa indriya samanvitam

apancikrta bhutotham suksmangam bhoga sadanam

14. Harinama Kirtanam:50—

kodum kadu dambhamayam onniccu kudiyatu

15. Harinama Kirtanam:29—

valakyayka maya tava dehoham ennivayil

16, 17.Harinama Kirtanam: 51—

nannayi dahicoru sahasradharayil

tannittil nin karuna vanmari peytupunah

munnam mulacca tava bhaktikku cerkka valam

inne krpanilaya narayanaya namah

18.Harinama Kirtanam:53—

alavilla yate velivakame udippatinu

kalayayka kalamini narayanaya namah

19.Harinama Kirtanam: 4—

kanninu kannu manamakunna kannatinu

kannanyirunna porul tanennurykkum

alavanandam entu hari narayanaya namah

20.Harinama Kirtanam:2—

onnaya ninne iha randennu kandalavil

undaya oru indal mindavatalla mama

21.Atmopadesa Satakam:1—

karuvinu kannukal ancum ulladakki

teru tere vinu vanangi otidenam


tapobhih ksinapapanam santanam vita raginam

mumukshunam apeksoyoyam atmabodho vidhiyate

23. The translations of the Sanskrit words/ideas are of the author.

24. Atmabodha:12—

sariram sukha dukhanam bhoga ayatanam ucyate

25. The five ‘prana’ are prana, apana, samana, vyana and udana, controlling sense-perceptions, excretory functions, digestive functions, circulatory functions and growth respectively.

26.Atmabodha :13—

suksmangam bhoga sadhanam

27.Atmabodha :14—

anadi avidya anirvacya karanopadhih ucyate

upadhitritayatanyam atmanam avadharayet

28. ‘Mirror neurons’ are neural structures that are active during sensations and emotions both in one’s experience and also when they are perceived in others.

29.Atmopadesa Satakam :2—

karanavum indriyavum kalebaram tottaryum

aneka jagattumorkkillellam

paraveli tanniluyarnna bhanuman tan

tiruvuruvannu tiranju teridenam

30.Atmopadesa Satakam :4—

mahattam arivilamarnnu atu matram ayidenam

31.Harinama Kirtanam : 41—

jnana dvayangal

32.Harinama Kirtanam : 3—

njan enna bhavam atu tonnayka venam iha

tonnunatakil akhilam njan itenna vazhi tonnename

33.Atmabodha : 59—

tadhyuktam akhilam vastu vyavaharah tadvanvitah

tasmat sarvagatam bhramah ksire sarpih eva akhile

34.Atmabodha : 60—

ananu ashtulam ahrsvam adhirgham ajam avyayam

arupagunavarnakhyam tat brahma iti avadharayet

35.Harinama Kirtanam : 47—

tatvartham itha akhilattinum undu bata

36.Harinama Kirtanam : 28—

ellam matinu porul etannu kanmatinu

37.Atmopadesa Satakam : 14—

tripudi mudinju telinjidunna dipam

38.Atmabodha : 3—See note.9

39.Atmabodha : 4—See note.10

40.Atmabodha : 15—

sudhatma nilavastratiyogena sphatiko yatha

41.Atmabodha : 16—

vastusadibhih kosaih yuktam yuktya avadhatatah

atmanam antaram suddham vivicyat tandulam yatha

42.Atmopadesa Satakam : 54—

unnarum avasthayurakkillillurakkam

43.Harinama Kirtanam : 13—

tat prana dehavum anityam kalatra dhanam

44.Atmopadesa Satakam : 5-6—

vilamatiyata vilakkudikkayum pin

poliyukayumillitu kandu poyidenam

45.Atmabodha :7—

tavat satyam jagat bhati suktika rajatam yatha

yavat na jayate brahma sarvadhistanam advyam

46.Atmabodha : 10—

yatha akaso hrisikeso nanopadhi gato vibhuh

tad bhedat bhinnavat bhati tad nase kevalo bhavet

47.Atmopadesa Satakam : 19—

jalattin vadivine vittu tarangam anyamamo

48.Atmabodha : 29—

svabodhe na anya bodheccha bodharupataya atmanah

na dipasya anya deepeccha yatha svatma prakasane

49, 50.Atmabodha : 27—

rajjusarpavad atmanam jivo jnatva bhayam vahet

naham jivah paratmeti jnatah cet nirbhayo bhavet

51.Atmabodha : 17—

sada sarvagatopi atma na sarvatra avabhasate

avabhasate svacchesu pratibimbavat

52.Atmopadesa Satakam : 35—

oru patinayiramaditeyar onnayi varuvatu pole

53.Harinama Kirtanam : 54—

andhannu katiyoru kannadi pole varum

54.Harinama Kirtanam : 3—See note.32

55.Harinama Kirtanam : 60—

vadanam namukku sikhi vasanangal sandhyakalum

udaram nammukku udadhi ulakezurandumiha

hrdayam namukku siva niyamangal ratri pakal

ahemeva visvatanu narayanaya namah

56.Harinama Kirtanam : 57—

yatonnu kandatatu narayana pratima

yatonnu ketatatu narayana srutikal

yatonnu ceytatatu narayana arcanakal

yatonnatokka hari narayanaya namah

57.Harinama Kirtanam : 8—

cittattil acyutakalipantalittu vilayadiduka

58.Atmabodha : 66—

sravanadibhih udeeptah jnanagni paritapitah

jivah sarva amalat muktah svarnavat dhyotate svayam

59.Atmopadesa Satakam : 42—

idam arivennatil adyama itennullatu sama

60.Atmabodha : 67—

hrdakaso udito atmabodha bhanu tamopahrt

sarvavyapi sarvadhari bhati bhasayate akhilam

61.Atmabodha : 65—

svargam sacchidatmanam jnanacaksuh niriksate

ajnanacaksuh na ikseta bhasavantam bhanum andhavat

62.Harinama Kirtanam : 4—See note.19

63.Atmabodha : 65—See note.61

64.Atmopadesa Satakam : 97—

anubhaviyatarivila akhandamam chitkhanam

65.Atmabodha : 46—

tatvasvarupanubhavat utpannam jnanam anjasa

aham mameti cha ajnanam badhate digbhramativat

66.Atmabodha : 25—

atmanah sat cita amsah cha budheh vrttih iti dvayam

samyojya cha avivikena janami iti pravartate

67.Atmabodha : 26—

atmano vikriyah nasti buddheh bodho na jatviti

jivah sarvam alam jnatva jnata drsta iti muhyati

68.Atmabodha : 47—

samyak vijnanavan yogi svatmanye va akhilam jagat

ekam ca sarvam atmanam eksate jnana caksusa

69.Atmabodha : 63—

jagat vilaksanam brahma brahmano anyat na kincana

brahma anyat bhati cet mithya yatha maru maricika

70.Atmabodha : 50—

tirtva moharnavam hatva raga dvesaadi raksasan

yogi santisamayayuktah atmaramo virajate

71.Atmabodha : 52—

upadhistah api tata dharmaih alipto vyomavat munih

sarvavit mudhavat tistet asakto vayuvat caret

72.Atmabodha : 54—

yat labhat na aparo labhah yat sukhat na aparam sukham

yat jnanat na aparamm jnanam tatd brahma iti avadharayet

73.Atmabodha : 55—

yat drstva na aparam drsyam yat bhutva na punah bhavah

yat jnatva na aparam jneyam tat brahma iti avadharayet

74.Atmabodha : 56—

tiryak urdhvam madhah purnam sat cit anandam advayam

anantam nityam ekam yat tat brahma iti avadharayet

75. Atmabodha : 57—

atat vyavrti rupena vedantaih laksate advayam

akhanda anandam ekam tat brahma iti avadharayet

76.Atmopadesa Satakam : 53—

itilezum adi saktiyingu kannunitu sakalam

77.Atmopadesa Satakam : 54—

adimayaya vanitayil ninnu purannu maridinnu

78.Atmopadesa Satakam : 55—

kevalattil peduvatinalanisam bhramiccidunnu

79.Atmopadesa Satakam : 56—

kadalilezum tira pole

80.Atmopadesa Satakam : 57—

anadi karyamakum

81.Atmopadesa Satakam : 58—

bhetavum illarinjidenam

82.Atmopadesa Satakam : 59-61—

arivu ariyunnavan ennu randu morttal oru porulam

83.Harinama Kirtanam : 1—

onkaramaya porul munnayi pirinjudane

yankaram ayatinu tan tanne saksiyatu

bodham varuttuvatinu alayininna param

acaryarupa hari narayanaya namah

84.Harinama Kirtanam : 2—See 20

85.Harinama Kirtanam : 3—See note.32


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