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The Self Speaks (Satya and Mithya)
Ken: Dear Ramji, I was thinking about your statement “…thinking as the self…” and included “…feeling, speaking, acting and experiencing as the self…”
Query: The self is presence, awareness, peace. As pure beingness itself, the self does not think, feel, speak, act or experience. So is it accurate to say, “…thinking as the self… feeling, speaking, acting and experiencing as the self…”? Does the self really do these actions?
1. The self as such, i.e. from the absolute point of view, does not think, feel, speak, act or experience. It is formless, pure beingness, awareness.
Bhagavad Gita 5.13: “…neither acting nor causing others to act.”
Shankara, speaking as pure awareness, in his Nirvana Shatkam, verse 4, states: “Aham bhojanam naiva bhojyam na bhokta… I am not the enjoyment, the enjoyed or the enjoyer…”
2. However, when maya operates, i.e. from the relative point of view, creation appears as a projection from the self, pure awareness, as its source and includes the individual human form, the macrocosmic projection containing within it the microcosmic projection. With maya operating, the self, by its presence and by permeating the form, appears to activate the human form. This statement can also be put in the passive voice: when maya is operating, the human form appears to be activated by the presence of and permeation by the self. Action happens through the activated human form by the presence of awareness, but awareness itself does not do anything.
The form “lends” its qualities to pure awareness, the self. Thus, with the mind, the self appears as a feeler; with the intellect as a thinker; with the ego as a doer-experiencer. Thus thinking, feeling, speaking, acting, experiencing happen in and through the human form. It is all an appearance, “as though,” “seems like.” So it can be said that, indirectly, the self seems to think, speak, act and experience.
Bhagavad Gita 15.9: “…experiences sense objects.”
3. The personalised individual human form, which knows it is really the self, pure awareness, appearing as a human form, is a liberated being, a jivanmukta. He/she also knows that the human form is only a projection, an appearance through the power of maya and that his/her real nature is pure awareness, presence, peace, i.e. the self, the source from which maya arises. Thus he/she sees and lives from both points of view but understands that, ultimately, there is no separation. Reality is not-two, non-dual, despite the appearance of separation and individuation.
Such an individual knows that thinking, feeling speaking, acting, experiencing happen in and through the form because it has been enlivened by the presence of the self. He/she is the self, and the self is a witness to these activities occurring through the power of maya – movement from the causal body to subtle body and finally through the physical body into the world – and knows that, as the self, pure awareness, he/she is not directly doing those actions. They are a happening.
4. The ordinary person is ignorant of his true nature of the self, pure awareness. So, helplessly, he/she is convinced that he/she is a person and nothing more. Therefore he/she identifies as the feeler, thinker, speaker, actor, experiencer. Of course, such a conviction leads to suffering.
Conclusion: To understand action correctly, two points of view have to be considered simultaneously, the self’s and the liberated individual’s, the absolute and the enlightened respectively. In both cases, it is acceptable to say “…the self does not act…” and to say “…thinking as the self, the self feels, speaks, acts and experiences.” At first glance, the sentences appear to be in conflict, but when the logic based on self-knowledge is applied, they are compatible.
The key is maya, understanding satya and mithya, the real and the apparently real. The difference has to be appreciated before the sentences can be rightly understood. It depends whether maya is not implied or implied in the sentence.
When maya is not implied and the absolute point of view taken, it is accurate to say that the self does not do anything. When maya, and therefore projection, is implied and the relative point of view taken, it is correct to say that action is done through the form. The deeper implication or unsaid understanding here is that the self is the source from which maya and projection arise. Therefore, in this latter case, the self can be considered to be, indirectly and not directly, a thinker, speaker, actor, experiencer.
Confusion can arise because of the word “self.” Because we begin with ignorance, which is ingrained in us, we may unconsciously revert to thinking of the self as a form or person, even a divine form or special person. We may mistakenly assume the subtle body – the mind, intellect and ego – to be the self. This leads to the idea that the self is directly a doer.
We need to know our true nature as pure awareness, formless and limitless, and named “the self.” We also need to know that our human form is an appearance in pure awareness; when activated, thinking, feeling, speaking, acting and experiencing happens through the form. Then the word “self,” with simultaneous absolute and relative connotations, can be rightly understood without any confusion.
Therefore both sentences, from two apparently different points of view, are correct: The self is not a doer and the self appears to be a doer. The sentences are an example of the meaning of the quote “…actionlessness in action, and action in actionlessness…” from Bhagavad Gita, 4.18.
“Actionlessness” is the substratum while “action” is the appearance.
Ramji: You nailed it, Ken.