Qualification for SELF Knowledge (Brahma Vidya) ( B.S. 1.1.1)

Athatho Brahma Jignasa 1.1.1 (1)
Now therefore desire to know Brahman

Brahman – Absolute Reality

1). Who is Brahman ?

Brahman denotes brahat which means infinity which is my infinite SELF[i]. Brahman is absolute Reality.  When any body refers to himself or herself in first person, they use the  first person pronoun “I”.  Whenever anyone says “I” it is about the personalized consciousness referring to “ me” consisting of body, mind, intellect. However it is our day to day experience indicates that the body, mind, intellect is constantly changing. But, my experience is that I never change. I was there in the past, I exist now. Hence, the real meaning of “I” is pointing to unchanging essence of me which is beyond the personal “I”.

In the ensuing discussions we will use the word “self” for personal  I which keeps changing as against the word “SELF” for unchanging I. SELF is impersonal in nature and hence universal. SELF is called Brahman in Vedanta. Unchanging “I” principle substratum of “me” is  Brahman.  In other words “I AM Brahman”.

Brahman is of the nature existence (sat). [ii] Brahman is pure consciousness/awareness – cit.[iii]  All that is there ( in the form of experienced world) is consciousness only. [iv] . Thus  Brahman is my SELF (I)  and also appears as world of changing perceptions. My personal I (self) consisting of body-mind-intellect is an appearance in infinite consciousness. It is like a wave in the ocean. Wave feels it is small. But when the attention is drawn to the ocean, wave experiences the joy. Similarly, Brahma sutra draws attention of personal I (self) to the unchanging I (SELF) which is substratum of both personal I and the universe.

Brahman bliss.[v] (ananda). Brahman is called by various names – SELF/ BEING (Atma), Witness (sakshi) .   I am aware of my nature as existence-consciousness ( I am).  However, bliss which is my SELF is not my experience all the time. Hence the study of Brahma Sutra to discover nature of my SELF.

Athato – therefore, jijnasa – desire to know

2). Why should I have desire to know SELF? 

Vedanta teaches that my essential nature is infinite blissful SELF. Right now, I am not blissful. I feel finite and limited. I am full of sorrow. I am suffering. As per teaching of Vedanta, my suffering in life is due to ignorance of my real nature as SELF.

I want to know Brahman because teachings of Vedanta promise that knower of Brahman attains supreme. [vi]. Knower of SELF becomes free from all sorrows. [vii] Knower of SELF becomes infinite SELF only.[viii]

Knowledge of Brahman is unlike knowledge of any subject. For example if I know physics I cannot become Physics. However, if I know Brahman, I become Brahman. This is because Brahman is not an object but my own SELF. Knowing Brahman is not gaining Brahman but recognizing my SELF. It is recognition of my nature which I have forgotten. It is not a new gain.

I want to enquire into SELF to realize my true nature by dropping ignorance.

Atha – Now

3). Who is a seeker ?

      Everybody is seeker. Everybody is seeking happiness and avoidance of suffering. Most of the people seek happiness in material things – name, fame, money, sex, possessions and family.  None of these can give permanent happiness. Such people are called materialists. In reality they are also seekers. They are unconsciously seeking SELF – whose nature is bliss.  Someone who understands that SELF alone can give eternal Bliss, he/she starts consciously seeking knowledge of SELF. He has intense desire (Mumukshatva) to know the SELF.

In otherwords, everybody is seeker of happiness. Unconscious seeking happiness is called materialism. Conscious seeking for happiness within is called spiritual person. A sincere seeker committed to knowledge of SELF is Brahmana [ix] or seeker of Brahman. Anybody irrespective of caste, creed or community or sex can be a Brahmana with a sincere desire to know SELF.[x]

4). What are the different paths for Knowledge of SELF ?

      Thus there are two paths[xi] – Path of Action (Karma yoga) and Path of Knowledge (Jnana Yoga). These are not two independent paths. Usually people start with  Path of Action and as they mature, they take up Path of Knowledge. However, very mature beings, may skip these two paths and go directly to Direct Path or SELF Enquiry (Atma Vichara)

 5). What is the pre-requisite for knowledge of SELF ?

     Any endeavor in life requires pre qualification. For example, to go to college, one should have completed secondary schooling. To know SELF, certain amount of maturity in life is required. If we look at our life, we are constantly on the lookout for happiness. We keep striving for happiness – money, possessions, power, family, name and fame. bring some amount of happiness to us.

As we mature, we realize the impermanence of all these. Anything which gives us happiness also causes unhappiness. Limitation of action and fruits of action in terms of giving permanent happiness dawns on us. Over a period of time, we realize, there is a possibility of me being happy irrespective of external conditions by mastering the mind. Some people find engaging  in several spiritual practices helps them to find happiness within. These practices in general are called Path of Action (Karma Yoga). P Path of action is a common name for different practices one may engage in.  – selfless service (Nishkama karma), devotional service (Bhakti yoga), meditation (upasana), energy related practices (Kriya yoga/ Raja yoga/ hatha yoga),   for purifying subconscious impressions (chitta shuddhi) and mastering mind.

At this point, a person starts his/her journey on path of knowledge.  Such a person undertakes the study of teachings of Vedanta under the guidance of Master. He gradually develops ability to discriminate (viveka) – the Real and unreal (nitya-anitya viveka) and also SELF and non-SELF  (atma-anatma viveka) Also he develops detachment (vairagya) from the objects and activities which cannot give eternal happiness .  Such a person gradually develops tranquility and focus of mind needed for SELF enquiry. These qualities are called six fold wealth (shat sampathi)[xii].


6). What is the Path of Knowledge?

Process of gaining of knowledge of SELF is called path of knowledge (jnana yoga). This involves listening (shravana) to the teachings of Vedanta from Master, contemplation (manana) of the meaning of great sayings (maha Vakyas) and abiding (Nidhi Dhyasa) in SELF.

Four great sayings (maha vakyas)[xiii]  based on four major Upanishads from four different Vedas is the focus of listening and contemplation. Following are the great sayings:

  1. Consciousness is Brahman – Prajnanam Brahma
  2. SELF is Brahman – Ayam Atma Brahma
  3. Thou Art That (Brahman) – Tatwamasi
  4. I AM Brahman – Aham Brahmasmi

There is nothing more purifying than the SELF knowledge[xiv].  Enquire into nature of self [xv] based on the teachings of Vedanta under the guidance of Master[xvi] alone can help one to drop ignorance. SELF knowledge is not about acquiring more information. It is rather directed towards dropping of deep rooted wrong beliefs  about the SELF.

Knowledge of SELF is called Brahma Vidya. Master teaches Knowledge of SELF as several processes called prakriyas.

6). What is direct path (atma vichar marg) [xvii]?

      For mature seeker of SELF  the direct path of SELF enquiry (atma vichar) suites. In this path – seeker focuses on question “who am I (koham)?” and shifts his attention constantly towards the SELF. Shri Ramana Maharshi taught this path.  This helps seeker to drop mistaken self identity to transcend his self and experience the bliss of   Natural State (sahaja sthiti)  through the repeated practice of abiding in SELF (sahaja samadhi).

. SELF  enquiry of “who am I (Koham)” can be  undertaken guided by Master through different processes (atma vichara prakriyas) as taught by Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon.   Using different enquiry process, Master guides the student. Each process involves questioning deep rooted belief systems of the Seeker. Master uses a logical system called  “Higher Logic” to uncover the assumptions behind the belief systems of the disciple. As the unconscious beliefs are dropped consciously, disciple gets established in SELF.

7). I already know myself. What else I can know ?  

       It is true that self is a matter of direct experience (nitya aparoksha) for every body.  Whenever we use the first person pronoun “I”, we are referring to SELF only. However, there is a mistaken understanding of the SELF by associating with the body, mind and intellect instead of true SELF which is blissful. Due to this wrong association there is suffering in life. SELF Knowledge does not involve gaining more information. Rather it involves dropping wrong notion of SELF which causes suffering and getting established in blissful SELF. In a sense, SELF knowledge is discovering SELF. It is not an achievement.

8). Is SELF knowledge only for monks ?

       Sanyasi is the word for monks in Sanskrit. Sanyasa means right deposit (samyak, nyasa).  Attention of the mind which is wandering in the world has to be brought back to SELF. This is called right deposit. One who is able to do so is called sanyasi. Sanyasa is a mental state of maturity. In ancient days, four stages in the life of an individual were defined – student life (brahma charya), householders life (grihastha), retired life (vana prastha) and renunciate (sanyasa).  One who has experienced life fully as student, householder and retired person matures into sanyasa. In otherwords, his experience has taught him that all happiness which one can get in the world is limited. Only knowledge of SELF can lead to eternal bliss. With this understanding he leads the sanyasa way of life.

Sanyasa has become synonymous with the external appearances. In reality sanyasa is a way of life of mature person. Definition of the sanyasa as state of mind is given in Bhagavadgita by Sri Krishna.[xviii] (Bhagavadgita 5.23). One who neither hates nor desires fruits of his activities is always renunciate (sanyasi).  Such a person free from all material dualities easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated. Shri Krishna in Bhagavadgita further stresses the attitude of sanyasa[xix] (Bhagavadgita 6.1). “Those who perform prescribed duties without desiring the results of their actions are actual renunciates (sanyasis) and yogis, not those who have merely ceased performing sacrifices such as agni-hotra, yajña or abandoned bodily activities.”  In this way he upholds the inner maturity as sanyasa and denounces those who take sanyasa as formality without adequate maturity. 

    There are examples of householders like Yagna valkya, Vyasa Maharshi born to fisher woman , Janaka the King, Vidura from the lower caste, Maithreyi wife of Yagnavalkya and many others who were SELF realized (Brahma Jnanis) to indicate that keen seekers of knowledge of SELF can attain the same without formal renunciation.  There are also many examples of young children like Nachiketa, Shvetaketu and Satyakama gaining SELF knowledge.

We also need to distinguish between renunciation of knower of SELF like Yagnavalkya and renunciation of Seeker who takes formal life of sanyasa to dedicate life exclusively for SELF Knowledge. Sage Yagnavalkya was householder who attained Knowledge of SELF took sanyasa way of life after completing his duties as householder. This is renunciation of Knower. Many people take sanyasa way of life seeking SELF Knowledge. This type of sanyasa is called sanyasa of Seeker.

  1. How can knowledge of SELF help ? In Upanishad it is said that “Self reveals Himself to the Chosen one”?

Famous Kathopanishad says[xx] “Knowledge of SELF cannot be gained by mere study of Vedas, nor by intellectual analysis. Not by mere hearing of several lectures on Vedanta. SELF reveals itself to the one who chooses SELF alone. To him SELF reveals its true nature”.  There are many people who revel in memorizing and chanting Vedas. There are people who believe in the power of intellect in knowing the Truth. There are people who attend many discourses.  For these people pursuit of SELF knowledge is not the primary motive. No doubt these activities  like study of vedas, listening to discourses is noble endeavor and brings happiness to the person during his pursuit. Happiness gained in these pursuits is because of satva guna of material nature. Even satva guna binds a person. One should rise above Gunas to know the SELF[xxi]

However,  very few people commit themselves for knowledge of SELF and SELF alone. For them SELF appears in the form of Master to impart the true knowledge of SELF based on Vedanta. Imparting the wisdom of Vedanta in a authentic spiritual process (prakriya), to remove all doubts and help disciple establish in SELF. The desire for seeking SELF alone (Mumukshatva), getting the right Master who is embodiment of SELF (Sadguru), getting the essence of Vedanta in the form of  teachings from Master in a authentic spiritual process (prakriya) and  establishment in the Knowledge of  SELF is called real Grace. It is very difficult for any individual to get out of the ocean of material bondage (samsara) without Grace.


[i] Ayamatma Brahma – Mandukya Upanishad. 1.2

[ii] In the beginning of this [universe]  Being [Brhaman] alone existed – one without second.  – Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1

[iii]  Prajnananam  Brahma  – Aitareya Upanishad 3.1.3

[iv] Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma – Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1

[v]  Brahman is Ananda – Taittiriya Upanishad 3.6.1

[vi] Brahmavid apnoti param – Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1.1

[vii] Sa tarati shokam – Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9

[viii] Brahmavid Brahmaiva Bhavati – Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9

[ix]  pareeksha lokan karma chitaan brahmano – Brahmana – Mudaka Upanishad – seeker of SELF after examining the limitations of fruits of action


[x] Story of Satyakama from Chandogya Upanishad

      In ancient times an eight year old child used to school called Guru Kulam to know about the SELF (Brahman).  The knowledge of the SELF (Brahma vidya) is called para vidya – supreme knowledge.  Hence before sending child to Guru kulam  a ceremony was conducted called Brahmopadesham ( SELF Knowledge). The child  in Gurukulam was taught both knowledge of secular subjects required for living like ayurveda, astronomy, weaponry and also taught about SELF (Brahman).  Hence life in Gurukulam was called Brahmacharya  (Brahmani charitam manasam ) – life of meditation on Brahman (Higher SELF).  Normal connotation in the modern day for brahmacharya is being not married or celibacy. But real meaning of  brahmacharya is life dedicated to knowing SELF and study of secular subjects (apara vidya) required for making a living.  While gurukulam system was suitable for boys, girls were taught by father or husband about knowledge of SELF. 

Satyakama was son of Jabali – a housemaid. He wanted to obtain knowledge of Brahman under the guidance of sage Gautama.  He approached his mother Jabala and enquired about his father as the teacher would ask who his father and mother are. Jabala replied that she doesn’t know who he is as she went to many places and moved with many people! She directed him to call himself Satyakama Jabala and inform his teacher bravely and in truth!


Eager for knowledge he went to sage Gautama and requested to admit him as his student. He told the Sage that his mother did not know who is father is! The teacher was stunned at the reply but appreciated the honesty and straightforwardness of the young lad! Such honesty and truthfulness is the striking quality of a Brahmana – a sincere seeker of SELF! Sage Gautama considered him as a Brahmana immediately and accepted him as his student and disciple!

This was the catholicity of ancient India. They gave highest respect for sincerity and truthfulness and desire to seek SELF (Mumukshatva) irrespective of caste, creed and sex.


[xi]  “Loke asmin dvividha nistha” – Bhagavadgita 3.3

[xii] Shat Sampatti

1) Tranquility (shama): Intentional cultivating an inner attitude of tranquility, peace of mind, or contentment is a foundation on which the other practices can rest.

2) Training (dama): Training of the senses (indriyas) means the responsible use of the senses in positive, useful directions, both in our actions in the world and the nature of inner thoughts we cultivate.

3) Withdrawal (uparati): With a proper inner attitude of tranquility, and the training of the senses, there also comes a sense of satiety, or natural sense of completeness, as if no more of the sensory experience need be sought.

4) Forbearance (titiksha): Forbearance and tolerance of external situations allow one to be free from the onslaught of the sensory stimuli and pressures from others to participate in actions, speech, or thoughts that one knows to be going in a not-useful direction.

5) Faith (shraddha): An intense sense of certainty about the direction one is going keeps one going in the right direction, persisting in following the teachings and practices that have been examined and seen to be productive, useful, and fruit bearing.

6) Focus (samadhana): Resolute focus towards harmonizing and balancing of mind, its thoughts, and emotions, along with the other virtues, brings a freedom to pursue the depth of inner exploration and realization.



[xiii]  Four great Sayings of Upanishad


  1. prajñānam brahma – “Prajñāna[note 1] is Brahman”[note 2], or “Brahman is Prajñāna[web 3] (Aitareya Upanishad3 of the Rig Veda)
  2. ayam ātmā brahma – “This Self (Atman) is Brahman” (Mandukya Upanishad2 of the Atharva Veda)
  3. tat tvam asi – “Thou art That” (Chandogya Upanishad8.7 of the Sama Veda)
  4. aham brahmāsmi – “I am Brahman”, or “I am Divine”[7] (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad4.10 of the Yajur Veda


[xiv] Nahi jnanena sadrasham pavitramiha udyate – Bhagavadgita 4.38

[xv] Atma Vichar

[xvi] Tadviddi pranipatena pari prashnena  – Bhagavadgita 4.34

[xvii] Direct Path –  Self Enquiry (Koham ?)  taught by Sri Ramana Maharshi.  Vichara Marga taught by Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon

[xviii] jneyah sa nitya-sannyasi
yo na dvesti na kanksati
nirdvandvo hi maha-baho
sukham bandhat pramucyate  – Bhagavadgita 5.3


[xix] śhrī bhagavān uvācha
karma-phala kārya karma karoti ya
sa sannyāsī cha yogī cha na niragnir na chākriya
ḥ – Bhagavdgita 6.1


[xx] nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhyo na medhayā, na bahunā śrutena:

yamevaiṣa vṛṇute, tena labhyas tasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanῡṁ svām. – Kathopanishad 1.2.23


This SELF cannot be attained by the study of Vedas, nor by intellect,  not by mere hearing. It is gained by him who choses this SELF alone. To him the SELF reveals its true nature.

[xxi] Nistraigunyo Bhavarjuna  – Bhagavadgita 2.45 O Arjuna raise above Gunas. 

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