Fix thy Soul’s gate upon the Star whose ray thou art, the flaming Star that shines within the lightless depths of ever-being, the boundless fields of the Unknown.
The Voice of the Silence
Every human being is endowed with a mind which is a focussing mirror for concentrated thought and cognition. Every being in the seven kingdoms of nature is sentient at some level of intrinsic and potential intelligence and apperception. Human beings, as self-conscious monads, are capable of deliberate reflection, of making every item in the external world an object of intense thought, and also pondering upon themselves in relation to other selves. If all beings participate in an expanding universe of mind, in degrees of awareness which are heightened by the plastic power of self-consciousness, what is the basis of the ubiquitous distinction between knower and known, subject and object? If there is to be an intelligible universe of multiple manifestation arising from a single source but only partly related to it, there must also be an array of minds capable of focussing the light of universal awareness in varying degrees in relation to fields of cognition that are partly governed by the porosity of material vestures – the physical body, the astral form, the subtler veils that belong to every being and which are more distinctly differentiated at the human level. Consciousness in a world of heterogeneous objects differentiated through a variety of vestures must necessarily involve the ever-changing contrast between the knower and the known. It takes a long series of meditations to discern the unmodified unity behind the multiplicity of objects. To understand this ethically is even more difficult. It means using the persistent distinction between subject and object as the foothold for recovering a sense of unity in the realm of relativities and contrasts.
Ethically, the thinking individual encounters the need to put oneself into the position of another person, who is both an active knower and a moral agent. Given the initial difficulty of apprehending the contrast of subject and object, how can one comprehend the mystical teaching of Shankaracharya which seems to suggest that the knower is an illusion? If the knower is an illusion, what sense is to be made of knowing? If a person sees the illusion of separateness, what meaning may be assigned to percepts, concepts and the very act of cognition? Such questions merely start the protracted process of enquiry into the knower, the known and knowing. A person who has passed through a preliminary period of earnest questioning may reach a point where he or she may meditate upon the ancient teaching concerning the Atman and the Atmajnani. The Atman, the one source of all light, life and energy, is itself the pristine reflection of the attributeless reality of the Divine Ground, Brahman. The Atman is the light in every atom and the Logos overbrooding every human being. It is the fully incarnated deity in the Atmajnani, the self-governed Sage, the initiator into Atmavidya, the wisdom of the Atman.
How can the ordinary human being make use of a recondite teaching about what seems far beyond everyday experience and ordinary modes of thinking? The kernel of Shankaracharya’s teaching is that in reality there is no above and beyond, there is no near and far. Atmavidya is itself dimensionless like the Atman. The Atman is without axes in either physical or conceptual space. The Atman is omnipresent, homogeneous and impenetrable. If the light of the Atman is hidden in the heart of every human being, its radiance is reflected in all human longings. One must love the Atman if one hopes to focus upon the light of the Atman and if one aspires to unite completely with the Atman. True meditation is self-sustaining to some degree. For the Sage it is utterly uninterrupted at all times because he is ever established in that exalted state of meditation. He merely assumes a mayavic form for the sake of serving a self-chosen mission of mercy in the sphere of cyclic time. If every human being daily comes closer to the Atman in deep sleep, everyone is essentially capable of that Atmic awareness which transcends the polarity of known and unknown, knower and knowing. Human beings live ostensibly in a world of fugitive time, fragmented space and differentiated objects. Time is differentiated in terms of seconds and minutes, days and months, for the sake of availing oneself of cyclic rhythms and linear succession. Space is differentiated by place and relationship, and this helps one to locate oneself and one’s role in a world of shifting boundaries and continuous reconstruction.
How can one make use of a metaphysical teaching that is typically realized only in a few moments of dreamless sleep every night? The only way this can become continually relevant is by a conscious exercise of contemplation. We need to enter repeatedly into that state of consciousness which transcends the polarities and pairs of opposites, the fluctuating contrasts of light and shade. Since this is far from easy, the opportunity must be taken to do something in this direction on a regular basis, to concentrate the mind on a central truth, to see it from the standpoint of one’s own immediate needs but also to grasp it philosophically and impersonally. To look at an idea independently of one’s personal standpoint requires effort; to see it from the standpoint of many other people is even more difficult. Nonetheless, it is vital to sustain the effort, to increase continuity by recognizing and overcoming discontinuities. So as long as there is discontinuity in consciousness, the mind will be captive to the sharp distinction between the knower and the known and knowing, will reinforce rather than transcend the sense of separateness. Self-correction is the basis of science and philosophy, but such correction is usually confined to the level of perception or awareness at which the error is identified and the subsequent correction is applied.
Hermes Magazine January 1979