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Neovedanta of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda

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Tat Tvam Asi
(Thou Art That)

Om! May my speech be based on (i.e. accord with) the mind; may my mind be based on speech. O Self-effulgent One, reveal Thyself to me. May you both (speech and mind) be the carriers of the Veda to me. May not all that I have heard depart from me. I shall join together (i.e. obliterate the difference of) day and night through this study. I shall utter what is verbally true; I shall utter what is mentally true. May That (Brahman) protect me; may That protect the speaker (i.e. the teacher); may That protect me; may That protect the speaker, may That protect the teacher!
Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!
(Based on Chandogya Upanishad)

Svetaketu was the grandson of Aruna, and the son of Uddalaka. His father sent him to Gurukul (forest ashrama of a guru in ancient India). His family had a long tradition of studying Vedic Lore and intricacies of the knowledge contained therein. 'Without studying the Vedas, a Brahmin remains merely a Brahmin for name,' the family believed.

Therefore, Svetaketu went to forest-retreat at the age of twelve, and studied the Vedas, scriptures, science, grammar, etc. at the feet of the Guru for twelve years, and returned home. He was proud of his knowledge and scholarship.

However, when father, Uddalaka, saw that his son, Svetaketu, had returned full with pride and arrogance, he was perturbed and therefore, put this question to the son:

"Svetaketu, my dear boy, have you inquired about that Entity by means of which even that which is not heard about becomes heard, even that which is not reflected upon become reflected upon, and even that which is unknown becomes known?"

Unable to comprehend the question, the son asked: "O father, I do not know about That; will you please enlighten me, O revered one?"

Now begins the second phase of learning for the young Svetaketu. He had missed the core of the Vedic teachings in his arrogance of taking secular knowledge for wisdom, mere scholarship for the realization of truth.

The father replies: "As one knows the characteristics of everything made of clay by studying just a lump of clay, and realizes that the name and form are just the play of words; just as by knowing a nugget of gold all that is made of gold would have been known, the various ornaments of gold are mere play of words concerning names and forms; just as by studying a piece of steel everything made of steel would become known, the differences being merely the play of name and form; even so, my son, is this Entity, by knowing which everything in this universe becomes known; the apparent differences are but the multifarious names and forms."

We can compare Svetaketu here with a university student: getting lots of information about science, arts, literature, etc., but still remaining essentially ignorant about the Final Truth - Final Knowledge. The father is telling his son about the unifying principle of all the knowledge his son has acquired, the metaphysical side of unity in diversity, the one substratum lying hidden within every name and form. Svetaketu accepts his father as second guru, and humbly requests: "Sir, my first teacher probably did not know about this basic truth, or else he would have definitely taught me about that. So you, revered sir, may personally tell me about it."

Thus requested, the father tells his son about all pervading Self or Atman (same as Brahman) as the basic Reality of every being. "Listen, my boy, in the beginning was one Being alone; one without second."

The concepts of time, space, and causation did not exist then, and these concepts could never evolve later as well; for the Being which is described is without attributes, and is changeless, eternal, all-pervading Consciousness. In order that the aspirant may get the idea of his/her true transcendental nature, empirically, Atman is presumed to have evolved as this universe; the cause giving rise to effect of this multifarious world of name and form. Universe is superimposed on the changeless reality of Atman, so that the individual being - the jiva - can pierce through his ignorance of believing this world to be absolutely real.

Therefore, the question: "How could changeless Being change or transform Itself into this multifarious universe?" becomes illogical or empirical at the best. The Brahman, Atman, is changeless from within itself and from outside it, since there is nothing beside It. That is, if we say that something can transform itself as something else, we shall have to admit that that something itself is a transformation of something antecedent and thus we shall be committed to 'regresus ad infinitum'.

Therefore, what follows is to be seen or taken as empirical attempt to explain the Absolute, by projecting this universe on It (and subsequently proving the falsity of the projected universe). 'The being desired to be many, and thus, though various modifications, first the elements of Fire, Water, and Earth, and as a result of various permutations and combinations of these elements the whole universe of name and form came into existence with that Being as the cause, and therefore, the essence of all these effects.'

Like the ocean-water is filled in many vessels of different names and forms, but in reality the water is one with the ocean; and this is proved when the vessels get destroyed and water merges with the ocean; or, like space, apparently divided by containers of various sizes and shapes, becomes one when the forms get destroyed; similarly the Self appears to be divided in many 'individual self' (jivas) - but in essence, the jiva is one with the Self, as can be proved when it is in samadhi or is in deep sleep, or merges with It when the body dies off.

"Now it is this subtle Entity which all this universe has for its essence. It alone is real. That is the Atman, That Thou Art, O Svetaketu," the father explains to his son.

And continues: "When the jiva merges with that Entity, or becomes one with it, as in transcendent state, the jiva does not remember its individual identity, or recognize having become one with the Self, as the rivers lose their individual identity after merging with the sea; or as one cannot separate honey of one flower from the honey from another flower in a collected form.

"Now it is this subtle Entity which all this universe has for its essence. It alone is real. That is the Atman, That Thou Art, O Svetaketu."

Further, the father explains, as a spider brings forth the web from within itself, and is capable of going anywhere on its strands; and as the spider can dissolve the web into its own again, so O Svetaketu, is this Atman. Or, as the sparks from a hot iron rod are essentially one with the rod, so O Svetaketu is the relation between the higher Self and the lower self.

"Now it is this subtle Entity which all this universe has for its essence. It alone is real. That is the Atman, That Thou Art, O Svetaketu."

Still further, the father explains: Like a small, very tiny, seed which even after breaking it apart does not reveal anything of the tree, but gives rise to a big tree all the same, likewise O Svetaketu, is the subtlety of the Atman from which are born all the jivas.

As Uddalaka continues to explain: "O son, put this salt in the water," and Svetaketu does as directed. The next day, father asks him to bring the pot, and asks the son to feel or look for the salt. The son says he cannot see or feel the salt. Then father says:
"O son, taste the water from above."
"Yes sir, it is salty," says the son.
"Drink from the middle."
"It is salty," says the son.
"Drink from the bottom."
"It is salty," says the son.

"Here you could not see or feel the salt, but you could taste it all the same; likewise O Svetaketu, by adopting the right method and means of knowledge one can know the essence of Atman everywhere in this universe; and Thou Art That Atman, my boy."
c s shah

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