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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Essay on The Atman: Its Bondage and Freedom, Chapter 15 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi")

 Swami Vivekananda says, “According to the Advaita philosophy, there is only one thing real in the universe, which it calls Brahman; everything else is unreal, manifested and manufactured out of Brahman by the power of Mâyâ. To reach back to that Brahman is our goal. . . . The Atman in bondage is called Jiva. . . . Projected from Brahman, it passed through all sorts of vegetable and animal forms, and at last it is in man, and man is the nearest approach to Brahman. To go back to Brahman from which we have been projected is the great struggle of life.” For most people, infatuated with material enjoyments, this struggle is passive and unconscious. Only a few great souls struggle consciously to attain freedom.

The ancient Sankhya system of Kapila is the companion to Patanjali’s yogic method. It was studied by Pythagoras and imported into the Alexandrian school and European Gnosticism. There are two main principles: purusha, the changeless witness, and prakriti, the material phenomena subject to three conditions of rajas (creation), sattva (preservation), and tamas (destruction). The first manifestation of prakriti is mahat, or intelligence. It is sometimes translated as buddhi, which in mankind is discrimination, or the determinative function.  There is no consciousness inherent in it; consciousness itself (purusha), independent of mechanical processes, illumines the mind, the senses, and the objects of perception like the sun is reflected in a jar of water.

If the reflection of the sun in a jar of water wobbles, the sun itself does not wobble. It is a false attribution of the ahamkara, or identity-making function, which wrongly attaches to modifications of prakriti rather than the immutable knower. The reflected self is then bound to mental processes, bodily organs, physical conditions, and ruled by attraction and aversion to various objects and experiences. The mental apparatus (antahkarana) includes deliberation, memory, emotion, and will. There are five receptive organs (ear, skin, eye, tongue, and nose) corresponding to five sense perceptions (sound, touch, vision, taste, and smell) and five elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth). There are also five action organs (mouth, hand, foot, genital, and anus).

The gross physical form, evolved from minerals to plants to animals, is the instrument of the jiva’s experience and dominated by the ahamkara and desire. The jiva’s lack of discrimination and ignorance of Brahman causes suffering and grief. The Vedic religion teaches how to renounce impermanent happiness and become content in God-realization. This is not possible for the seeker of sensuous gratification and difficult even for the academically erudite. The perfect knower of Brahman is a rare soul who remains in this world to lead others to freedom. They are exemplars of human potential, divine incarnations with nothing more to know and nothing more to gain. They are free from all prescriptions and prohibitions. These seers attained the Supreme Truth. They are beyond skepticism and doubt with no need to argue or debate. The mystic vision of a liberated soul gives authentic knowledge of the universe and the indisputable existence of God.

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