These questions came up some years ago. My responses are included. (Photo art above is from Andreas Farsatis).
Question: Is the way and goal of Patanjali’s Yoga and Sri Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta the same?
By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar
The Self as Satyam-Shivam-Sundram (Truth, Consciousness, Beauty)
The spiritual path is difficult from one perspective because the Self, the ultimate Reality that we are, is not clear to us as individuals. Some people say that Enlightenment is not personal. That is just a fashion statement.
Enlightenment is as personal as it gets. The Self is both personal and impersonal. It is personal because it is you. How can it be any more personal? It is impersonal because its existence (your ultimate nature) is not dependent on time and space bound relationships.
As a mind/body, we are subject to the whims of nature and circumstances (karma). This clouds the understanding of our essential nature. So the teacher or a friend whom we trust is needed to tell us that our nature is not that of the body.
Suffering is natural to the body because it is subject to physical forces. When the sages use the word body, they include the mind. The mental body is also a body but more subtle, made up of more subtle matter, but still matter. If we believe our Self to be the body, the inevitable changes in the body will be a source of fear and anxiety.
So the Body is one thing and the Atman (Soul or Self) is another. The mind/body complex is always subject to change, old age, illness, and suffering at some level. The Atman, who we are, though appearing to be related to the body, is untouched by these.
Bhagavan Krishna, in fact, points this out to Arjuna in the classic Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad-Gita.
Sri Krishna states:
“The Atma is neither born nor does it die at any time, nor having been it will cease to exist again. It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval. The Atma is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.” (2.20)
“Just as a person puts on new garments after discarding the old ones, similarly Atma acquires new bodies after casting away the old bodies.” (2.22)
“Weapons do not cut this Atma, fire does not burn it, water does not make it wet, and the wind does not make it dry.” (2.23).
If we fully understand this dualism, we will not have to struggle to understand nondualism.
Nondualism or Advaita (in Sanskrit) is not an understanding but our essential nature.
The nature of Atman is nondual because Atman is “Being-Awareness” resting in its own nature without any external support. Atman is not free, there being nothing to free itself from. Its very nature is that of absolute freedom.
We cannot conclude this logically but only by Being That. In Self-Realization, Knowing the Self is Being the Self. This Knowing transcends logic, because all distinctions cease. Logic needs duality in order to function. Duality ceases through Self-Knowledge alone.
If you know the Self, what does it mean? You cannot know the Self as an object. You are the Self. Therefore, it is always the Self knowing It Self. The mind cannot fully grasp this unless it has become transparent and fully saturated in the Self, where it knows that it is only the Self knowing itself through It Self.
Maharishi Patanjali says the same thing about the nature of the Self in his yogic classic “Patanjali Sutras”. Ultimately, the Seer rests in His Own Nature. That is the highest Samadhi. Self is Samadhi. Self is Nirvikalpa, beyond imagination and thought. Self is Sahaj or natural and always visible to itself as pure being despite imagination and thought. In Self, Seeing and Being are the same.
In Hinduism, the Reality is often referred to as Satyam-Shivam-Sundram. Truth-Consciousness-Beauty. That which is of the nature of the ultimate truth, pure consciousness, and the essence of beauty is the Self. One’s own Self.
It is of such overwhelming beauty because the devotee who worships the God or the Self with all love and might and with desperation suddenly realizes that the devotee and God are in essence identical. The seeker had been looking for something that constituted the core of his/her very own Being and Existence. God being infinite leaves no room for the devotee as a separate person to exist. That is Grace. That is Advaita. Imagine the shock!
First the shock, and then the smile. Of course, how could it be anything else? The Lord always sits in our Heart as our own Heart. Where else can we find the mystery of existence and our own reality except in our own Heart.
This Realization is one of supreme beauty. The one that you had been longing for has been here all along as your own Self.
That is why I say that Self is Absolutely Personal! Self is empty of all concepts. Its nature is that of completion that is devoid of all longing. Its nature is that of utter fullness that has no where to flow out to, nothing to see, nothing to be. That is why Self is also Impersonal!
Because the Self is One without a second, upon Realization, we see that both Personal and Impersonal are identical in the Self. There is no difference. That is nonduality. That is Advaita.
How can we describe the Self with mind as our tool? We can do so by our experience of this state and through the abidance of the mind in the Heart. The ancients called the Self “Sat-Chit-Ananda”. Existence, Consciousness, Bliss, as one complete Whole with no parts.
It has no basis for comparison and no reference point. By inference, we can say that it is the essence of beauty and bliss. To Know It Is To Be It. In this very moment, you are the That!