Sri Gurubhyo Namaha.In his lecture series on Dhanyaashtakam written by Shankaracharya, Swami Paramaarthananda gave a succinct explanation of the Vedantic teaching, which is that the individual “I” (called the Atman) is the same as Brahman, the substratum of the world. It was beautiful and brief, so I am sharing it here.
The first part of the Vedantic revelation is the idea is that the Atman is separate from the body-mind. The second part equates Brahman and Atman by seeing the equivalence between their definitions. This was further elaborated by Swamiji as follows.The first knowledge that is to be understood by the Vedantic student is that the world (jagat), the body (sthoola sharira), and the mind (sukshma sharira) share common characteristics. These characteristics are five in number as follows.
(1) Drshyatvam : The word “Drshyam” means “That which is witnessed/experienced”. The world is clearly observed and therefore is Drshyam. The Vedantic seeker should also understand that the body and the mind come under the same category of being witnessed and experienced. This is why one can say statements like “I cannot see clearly” (where the lack of vision of the eyes is experienced), or “I feel angry” (where the anger in the mind is experienced). Thus the body and mind also come under the category of “Drshyam”. This nature of being Drshyam is called Drshyatvam.
(2) Bhoutikatvam : “Bhoutikam” means “composed of matter” or “material” (recall that Physics is called “bhoutika shaashtra”). The world is clearly composed of matter. Vedanta says that this holds true for the body and the mind too.
(3) SaguNatvam : “Guna” means “property” and “Sagunatvam” means of the nature of being possessed with properties. The body and mind, like the world, have limits, and different natures, like tall, short, healthy, intelligent, dull, emotional, rational etc.
(4) Savikaaratvam : “Vikaara” means “change”. Thus “savikaaratvam” means being possessed with the nature of changing. It is quite clear that the body undergoes changes through time. And even more so with respect to the mind, which undergoes changes much more frequently and violently than the body. Thus all three, the world, the body and the mind undergo changes and are therefore savikaaraah.
(5) Aagamapaayinatvam : “Aagamah” means “arrival” and “apaayinah” means “going away/disappearing”. The body clearly is adopted at the time of birth and goes away at the time of death. With respect to the mind, it is available only during the time of waking (jaagrat) and dreaming (swapna) states. It is not available for experience or knowing during the time of deep-dreamless sleep (sushupti). Thus being subject to arrival and departure, the world and the body-mind complex are of the nature of aagamapaayinah.Note that any one of these characteristics automatically implies the other. For example, anything that is drshyam is also having vikaara, i.e., it changes.
Now through these five characteristics, the Vedantic seeker comes to the conclusion that the world including the body and the mind are all of the nature of achetanam (i.e. not having the ability to be conscious). Yet the body and mind are seen to be conscious during the waking state and the dream state. To answer this question of the Vedantic seeker, the Vedantic scripture says that the body and mind borrow consciousness from the Atman, which is the real “I”. What is the nature of this Atman? That is now revealed to be of the nature of having exactly the opposite of the above properties of the anatman (world/body/mind). That is
(1) adrshyatvam : If Drshyam means witnessed, naturally adrshyatvam means to be the Witness or Drashtaa. This Witnessing principle or the Subject is the “I” or the “Atman”.
(2) abhoutikam : The Atman is not a part, property, or product of matter. It is a self-conscious principle and is a seer of everything that is not self-conscious.
(3) Nirgunatvam : No properties or characteristics can be shown to be attributed to the Atman because properties can only be associated with seen objects and never to the Seer/Subject. The Atman is therefore devoid of any properties like size, colour, etc.
(4) Nirvikaaratvam : Unlike the body-mind-world, the Atman is ever-unchanging. It is the Ever-Witness which sees all changes happening in the body-mind-world.
(5) Nityatvam : The Atman is never known to be absent during any time. It is not subject to coming or going. It continues during the waking, dream and also during the deep-dreamless-sleep state, because of which every individual says “I slept well” after waking up, indicating the continuity of the Atman during sleep.By these five understandings, the Vedantic seeker comes to know that the Atman is the Self-Conscious Principle that he/she is. This very same Atman is also called as Brahman. The word “Brahman” means “Infinite”, that is “limitless”. All limitations apply only to the seen objects, which are material, having properties, changing, and subject to arrival and departure. The presence of any of these characteristics implies the presence of Limitation of some kind. However, as none of these characteristics apply to the Atman, the Atman is Limitless. Thus the Atman is the same as Brahman. This Brahman is also shown by the scripture to be the substratum of the Universe, including the body-mind complex. This understanding alone is called Atma Jnaanam or Brahma Jnaanam, by which the Vedantic seeker claims his/identity as Brahman, i.e., recognises that “I am Brahman”.