In my previous article, I wrote about the three states in which you can be – the waking state, the dreaming state, and the non-dreaming deep sleep (total unawareness) state, as described in the Hindu scripture Mandukya Upanishad, which goes on to say that even though you experience each of these three states, your real self is none of these three. Your real self (that is, your true self) is your consciousness; and this consciousness is your atman, that is, your soul. And your atman (soul) is one with Brahman, the One (“Supreme Being”) beyond human comprehension.
The Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2, Verse 22) describes the atman taking on a body plus the senses plus the ego when being born in this world, and discarding the body, the senses and the ego at death. Even though we human beings experience pleasure and pain via our senses, and a myriad of other emotions via our mind, the in-dwelling soul is unaffected by pain, pleasure or emotions. The soul is impervious to fire or flood.
The Mandukya Upanishad makes it very clear that you do experience everything that happens to you in the waking state; you also experience everything that happens to you in the dreaming state. Even in your deep sleep (or unconscious) state, your body’s vital functions keep on working, without any help from your mind; the cells of your body go about their function, as if they do not need anyone to direct them as to what to do. Your heart continues to beat, your lungs continue breathing, your digestive system continues absorbing nutrients, all of your vital organs keep performing their tasks; even your cells continue to keep foreign invading organisms at bay.
The one which is present in all three states, the one which experiences all three states of consciousness, is the atman, one with the “Supreme Being”. The three states of a living being are thus designated as the three aspects of your atman or soul.
The seventh Verse of Mandukya Upanishad, then describes a fourth aspect of atman: this aspect is neither turned outward, nor inward; neither experiencing nor non-experiencing; beyond cognition or non-cognition; beyond reasoning or inference; essentially, it is beyond human comprehension. This is the true or real you, the state of bliss of the atman. This is the state of oneness with the Universe and oneness with the incomprehensible Brahman or “Supreme Being”.
Oneness with Universe. That is the essence of Mandukya Upanishad. Salvation or liberation is attained by those who have reached this state. True oneness means being indistinguishable from the “other”. In fact, the “other” does not exist. On the path to this state, you climb many mountains, surmount many obstacles. The initial phase is empathy; then compassion. Then comes personally feeling and experiencing what the other feels and experiences. Great men and women from the history of mankind have exhibited this behaviour. These men and women then are able to take great personal risks to their lives (and risks even to their physical body), to benefit mankind. Or to benefit Nature, or to benefit all creatures inhabiting the earth.
Mandukya Upanishad also brings to light the transient nature of worldly existence – only the “fourth state” is everlasting. The waking state is transient; so is the dreaming state; and the non-dreaming deep sleep (total unawareness) state. Consequently, the pleasures (and pains) of each of those three states are temporary. Yet, most of us humans expend our total energy, all of our God-given talent, and our entire physical and mental capability, in pursuit of these worldly gains, at the expense of spiritual quests.
Mind you, Hindu scriptures do not exhort us to forsake all worldly and material pursuits. All experiences and endeavours of human beings, as long as they do not bring harm to other living creatures and to Nature, are but natural to existence.
So, live a good life, bring joy and comfort to others, and stay focused on your spiritual path that will lead to liberation or salvation, that is moksha.
Suresh Basrur practises the Hindu faith, participates in inter-faith activities in Victoria, and speaks to audiences about Hindu religion, philosophy and practices.
You can read more articles from our multifaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE