Cit or Ātman
THE PHILOSOPHY OF ŚRI RĀMĀNUJĀ - VISIṢTADVAITA
written by Sri V.R. Srisaila Chakravarti
Cit or Ātman
We first deal with cit or ātman. The word ātman is often used to denote the individual soul. The characteristics of the ātman or jīva are as follows:
What is Ātman or the self?
"Know thyself" is a common saying, and it is the fundamental teaching in philosophy. No one doubts his self. No one questions. 'Am I, or Am I not?' Every one of us in the world referring to self says: 'I',' I'. This has been repeatedly said by thinkers of all ages and of all countries. The existence of the self is certain and indubitable. It is usually said: 'I who played and slept as a child in my parents' lap sixty years ago, have now grand-children on my lap'. Is there any persistent and unchanged particle of matter continuing throughout these years in the physical organism? What identity is there between the infantine body and this adult body? None. But the' I ' has not changed. It is the same. We are always enwrapping the' I' in several sheaths: 'I am happy, I am miserable, I am rich, I am poor, I am young, I am old, I am a god in my dreams. I am a man in my waking state'. These accidents and incidents denote the continuity of the' I '. They are passing and varying. But the 'I' remains the same. Conditions change, but they all surround the ‘I’.
When you are questioned by your friend in the dark, "Who is it?", your first answer is: " It is I". The impress of the 'I' is so strong. The manifestation of the 'I' is so common in all beings. The special naming and description, 'I am Rama',' I am Kṛṣṇa’. 'I am so and so ", follows only afterwards. The , ‘I’ is so real that it expects others to recognize it. What is this 'I' or self? Is it the body or different from it? When the body comes out of the mother's womb, it is small. It then grows into a body, develops as youth, adult and old man, and finally decays and dies. Does the 'I' appear to grow, decay and perish? Or is it uniform and changeless and therefore, different from the body? It is patent that the body is a combination of several parts. If the body were the 'I' and if all parts thereof should possess separate consciousness, then there would appear several conscious beings in one and the same body; and there would be perpetual disputes between one part and another. But we see that there is only one conscious subject and that the parts have absolutely no quarrel among themselves. Moreover, in respect of those parts, the notion of self and the corresponding expressions, namely, "mine" my hand, my leg, etc. would, in that case, be inconsistent as they imply a possessor and a limb possessed by him. If you should grant consciousness only to one of such limbs or parts and say that it is the 'I', in the event of any part being deprived, the other parts should not remember the previous experiences relating to that part, and if the' I ' related to the part deprived, it must cease to exist, and the idea and expression 'I' should terminate in consequence. Moreover, the experience of pleasure or pain all over the body, even in the absence of that particular part, would be inexplicable, for there is no 'I' to experience the pleasure or pain. The irresistible conclusion, therefore, is that the body is not the 'I' or the soul.
The external senses cannot be the 'I' or the self, for one agent alone, different from the others, cognizes the objects of these senses. None of these senses can be the 'I'. In common parlance we say, 'I saw' and not the eye saw? The later recognition, namely, I, the person who saw this object some years before, now sees it, should not be experienced. If the sense of sight were the 'I', the person who became blind at a certain period of life should not remember color or colored objects, which had been experienced by him while his vision was full. If the organ of hearing were the 'I', the man who became deaf, should not remember the sounds experienced by him before he became deaf. And, similarly for the other senses, as there is no continuity of existence of the 'I' or self in those cases. Therefore, the sense organs cannot be the 'I'. Nor can ahaṇkāra or the mind be the 'I' the self or the soul. For, the mind is used as an instrument by the agent or kartā for cognition of objects by means of perception, inference, etc. and for recognition or recollection of past experiences. You cannot say that the remembering agent is the mind itself, as there is no instrument for such agent, namely, the mind. Nor, can you say that it is both the agent and the instrument, for it is absurd to say so. If you say that something else is the instrument, what is that something else? If it is any external sense, then a person losing it at a certain time should not remember the past experience relating to it. Therefore, ahaṇkāra or the mind cannot be the 'I'.
The prāṇās or the vital breaths cannot be the 'I', as they are a combination of parts, prāṇā , apāṇa, etc. each functioning in a separate manner. The arguments advanced against the body being the 'I' apply also here. Nor can consciousness, jñāna or buddhi be the 'I'. For, our daily experience is that consciousness is momentary and is the attribute of the 'I'. We say: 'I lost consciousness and regained the same half an hour later.' That the 'I' or self, unlike consciousness, is a permanent and abiding entity will be seen from our experience of recognition, such as : I. the person who saw this ten years ago, do not see the same thing again now.
For the above reasons, the self is different from the body, sense-organs, mind, breaths and consciousness which are cognized as being different from the 'I', as 'mine', my body, my sense-organ, my mind, my breath, my consciousness etc. For, the possessor is different from the object possessed, i.e., 'I’ is different from ‘mine'. Likewise, they are all cognized as parāk, 'this' 'that', unlike the self which is cognized as pratyāk i.e. 'I'. We say this body, this organ etc., as distinguished from 'I' or self. Moreover, the body and other things are cognized sometimes and are not cognized at other times, while the self is cognized at all times. That is to say, in waking state, the body etc., are cognized as if they are identical with the self as when we say 'I have become stout', 'I have become lean'. etc. But they are never cognized in perfectly dreamless sleep called suṣupti. The 'I' or self, on the contrary, is cognized always, even in deep sleep or suṣupti. Waking after sound sleep, we say "I, who cognized all these things before going to sleep, did not know them during sleep, not even my body." The conclusion is, that the 'I' is different from the body. Likewise, the sense-organs of sight, hearing, etc., are not cognized during blindness and deafness. The mind is not cognized during swoon etc.
Similarly, the breaths. And likewise, consciousness which is manifest during cognition of object at one time does not appear at other times. We say: 'My eyes and ears were very powerful before, but now, I have become blind and deaf; my mind was very clear and active before, but now, it is almost a blank.' , I was breathless for some time, and now, I have recovered,' 'I had knowledge before, but now all that has vanished.' From the above experiences of ours, we have to conclude that the body and other things are cognized only sometimes, but are not cognized at other times. But the self, on the other hand, manifests itself at all times. The non-self appears as 'this'. The demonstrative, 'this', is used to denote the objective world and objects around us. 'I' on the other hand, denotes the subject. The cit appears as 'I'. The characteristics of the 'I' and those of 'this' are different. Śankara in the beginning of his Brahmasūtrabhāṣya says: " The 'self' is connoted by asmat, i.e. 'I' and the non-self. by yuṣmat, 'this'. The self is the cognizer and the non-self is the cognized. Both are opposed to each other like light and darkness. Therefore, one cannot be the other. A fortiori, the characteristics of the one cannot be those of the other." What varies not, nor changes, in the midst of things that vary and change is different from them. Thousands of scriptural texts teach us that the self which persists unchanged and as one, through all the diverse changes of the material body and its surroundings, is different from them all.
This article is extracted from the book THE PHILOSOPHY OF ŚRI RĀMĀNUJĀ - VISIṢTADVAITA written by Sri V.R. Srisaila Chakravarti (Coimbatore) and published by V.S.R. Chakravarti, 24, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar Road, Madras - 18. The book is printed at Bharati Vijayam Press, Triplicane, Madras - 600 005 in the year 1974.