Ques: One of the key issue in my thinking is the topic on soul. One of the books on outlines of Vedanta discusses the point of view of materialism where the perceiver has no independent existence without the perceived. That is the soul is nothing, only void but seems to be a positive entity due the series of perceptions of phenomena. Neurology today says many feelings and emotions are based on the exposure of the brain to the correct stimuli at the right time or otherwise the cells go waste and cannot be revived. Similarly at old age, cells die, causing dementia etc. The neo cortex of the brain learns from experience and manages in the world till it decays.
For me, this approach is so dominating that it is difficult to surmount this understanding and relate to soul.
It is told that without a substantial stratum of consciousness (unchanging and unaffected), it is impossible to have varying perceptions themselves. Now, here is the confusion. That such a reference plane is required for perceptions, is not easy to comprehend. The example is the flowing river which is perceptions and the river bed which is static. The example is easy, but not the soul.
Same concept is told (one of the lectures in IIT-K available in youtube on 'who am I') in Mandokya Upanishad on the " Turiya", the fourth state common to all three states of Jagrat, Swapna and Nidra. This is told as the key to advaita.
If this concept is understood, then I think, other aspects of advaita follow.
I am not able to comprehend this.
Is it like relativity. Like unless light velocity is constant, you cannot explain the world. This is proved but not easy to understand.
Thus a never changing conscious is required to perceive the varying. Otherwise there is no datum to refer is it?
For me this point is to be resolved primarily, before trying to understand other concepts of advaita.
I request you to throw some light on this subject .
Ans: Atman is the core substratum which is beginningless, changeless and permanent. It is the witness of the three states of consciousness (avasthA traya) - waking (JAgrad), dream (svapna) and deep sleep (sushupti). It transcends the three bodies (Sariras) in terms of gross (sthUla), subtle (sUkshma) and Causal (KAraNa) and the five sheaths (KoSas) comprising of annamaya, prAnamaya, manomaya, vijnAnamaya and Anandamaya. It is of the nature of satcidAnanda. In simple terms, the Atman is the changeless truth which in connection with the KAraNa , sUkshma and sthUla Sariras manifests in multifarious names and forms based on the accumulated karma phala. While the sthUla SarIra undergoes six-fold modifications, the fixed point of reference is always the embedded and invisible Atman representing the individual soul. Turiya is the fourth state which transcends the three states of cosnsciousness and is the true nature of the self in its exalted form representing the flight from gross to subtle, from ephemeral to eternal and from sound to silence.
The term "Atman" as appearing in the Upanishads has to be properly interpreted. In certain contexts, it also refers to the Supreme ParamAtmA. The Vedic Statements talk about Bheda as well as abheda. Hence a holistic approach is required.
A clear-cut understanding comes through Chapter 15 of Srimad BhagavadgItA which clearly establishes the three-fold tattvatraya concept of Cit (Atman- Consciousness) acit (Jada- Insentient) and ISvara (Brahman- Purushottama- Supreme). It is only through Atman that consciousness is established.
In the various Vedic Scriptures the qualities of Atman have been explained and without that the JIva in manifested form cannot be identified. The identity of that individual soul is clearly established and well-connected through various births. Otherwise it would be difficult for one to account for birth defects, poverty at birth, orphaned on birth and so on. Each JivAtman gets specifically identified, connected and manifests in an appropriate bodily form. The samsAra goes on till liberation based on kaivalyAnubhava (Advaita) or reaching the lotus feet of the Supreme BhagavAn (Moksha- Dvaita, ViSishtAdvaita).
The individual Soul in the state of bondage is mAyAdhIna ( under the control of MAyA) while the realized Souls are MAyAtIta (transcended MAyA) . Only BhagavAn is MAyAdhISa as MAyA is always under his divine control.