THE SELF - Adi Sankara


Identification of the Self with the (physical human) body is avidya (ignorance).

Action cannot destroy ignorance, for it is not in conflict with ignorance. Knowledge (truth) alone destroys ignorance, as light alone destroys darkness.

It is only because of ignorance that the Self appears to be finite (limited). When ignorance (false identification) is destroyed, the Self which has no multiplicity (division) whatsoever truly reveals Itself by Itself, just like the sun when the cloud is removed.

The world is filled with attachments and aversions (raga-dvesa) and is like a dream. It appears to be real as long as one is asleep (unaware of it's source) but becomes unreal when one is awake (aware of awareness, conscious of consciousness).

The notion of "I am Brahman (consciousness, awareness)" created by uninterrupted reflection destroys ignorance and its distractions as medicine destroys disease.

Ignorance is nothing but a super-imposition of the non-self (limited personality). The destruction of ignorance is liberation. Darkness cannot remove darkness. Wisdom (truth) being incompatible with ignorance puts the latter to flight.

There is no ignorance outside the mind. The mind alone is avidya (ignorance) and the cause of bondage and transmigration (repetitive rebirth). When that mind is destroyed, all else is destroyed.

The Self is eternal since it is existence (consciousness) itself, the body is transient since it is non-existent (imagined) in essence, and yet people see these two as one! What else can be called ignorance but this?

This through ignorance arises in the Self, the delusion of the body (as the self), which again through self-realization disappears in the Supreme Self (non-spatial bodiless consciousness, spirit, awareness).

All beings are by nature pure consciousness (existence) itself. It is only due to ignorance (false identification) that they appear to be different from it.

Reasoning on the meaning of non-duality leads to efficient knowledge, which is immediately followed by the total annhilation of the misery born of relative existence (duality, falsely perceived separation).

That patient alone who takes diet and medicine is seen to recover, and not through the work done by others.

The teacher (knower of truth) instructs through silence (enabling awareness of one's awareness), which in itself is sufficient to remove all doubts.


I (the Self) am He whose glory is realized as "I" (the feeling 'I Am', 'I exist') by all beings down to children and the illiterate.

I (the Self) am free from sorrow, attachment, malice and fear for I am other than the mind.

I (the Self) have no form, the all pervading am I. Everywhere I exist (for I am existence Itself) and yet am beyond (more subtle than) the senses (which are imagined within me). Neither salvation am I, nor anything to be known (for I am not an object of perception). I am eternal, bliss and awareness.


Knowledge is not brought about by any means other than vichara (inquiry), just as an object is nowhere perceived without the help of light.

Everything (in the world) is produced by ignorance and dissolves in the wake of knowledge (truth).

When the mind becomes purified like a mirror, knowledge is revealed in it. Care should therefore be taken to purify the mind.

The Self (consciousness, awareness) cannot be accepted or rejected by Itself or others, nor does It accept or reject anything else. This is right knowledge (truth).

Right knowledge (truth) is the supreme purifier (of the mind which alone creates ignorance), the greatest secret of all scriptures.

Objects of knowledge (the relative world) exist in the intellect (mind) as long as it is there, but they do not exist in the absence of the intellect. Yet the Knower (witness) always remains the Knower, hence duality has no real existence.

The knowledge of one's identity with the pure Self that negates the notion of the identity of the body and the Self, sets a man free even against his will from the belief that he is a human being.

As fire is the direct cause of cooking, so knowledge (truth) and not any other form of discipline is the direct cause of liberation, for liberation cannot be realized without knowledge (clear discrimination).

Knowledge of the Self leads to instantaneous realization here and now. All Upanishads state clearly that the final release results from knowledge (truth).

Always meditating on the Self (the formless inner feeling of existence), one has nothing to do with time, etc, as the Self in no way has anything to do with time, space and causation.

Just as there is no darkness in the sun since it is of the nature of light, there is no ignorance in the Self since it is of the nature of eternal knowledge.

Similarly, the Self has no change of states as it is of a changeless nature. It would no doubt be destructible if it underwent any change.

The Self is not an object of knowledge. There is no charge of manyness (diversity, separation) in it. It is therefore capable of neither being accepted nor rejected by anyone.

The intense desire for the realization of the Self (consciousness) after renouncing all others, is alone the means for realization of the Self.

The Self (consciousness) is conscious even in deep sleep as well as in waking and dream states, as its power of consciousness never ceases to exist and as it is changeless. It is only in the objects of knowledge (perception) that there is (perceived) difference, as the Sruti (scripture) says "When there is duality."

I prostate not to the Gods. One who is beyond all Gods does not salute a God. After that stage, one does no prescribed act (practice). I prostrate again and again to my own "Self" (consciousness, awareness, spirit, feeling 'I Am', 'I exist') which is the root of all endeavors.

Brahman (existence, one's consciousness) being eternal, cannot be realized through any means other than the removal of avidya (ignorance).

Brahman (consciousness, awareness) is other than the universe. There exists nothing that is not Brahman (consciousness). If any object other than Brahman 'appears' to exist, it is unreal, like a mirage (imagined, a dream like the world in our dreams during sleep).

The feeling "I am not Brahman (the sole existence)" is a mere illusion. From illusion springs separation wherein all sorrows have root.

For the wise who realize everything as Brahman, what is there to meditate or not to meditate, what to speak or not to speak, what to do or not to do?

As a lump of salt dissolving in water cannot be perceived by the eyes but can only be tasted by the tongue, so indeed the ever existent Brahman (awareness) shining in the depth of the heart cannot be realized by the external senses, but by the light of that gracious awakening which comes from the word of a seer-teacher.

Thou indeed art this Brahman, not the phenomenal body and universe that appears around (imagined within your consciousness)."

Having by some means obtained a human birth (with the discriminating faculty) and mastery over the scriptures (pointing to truth), the foolish person who does not try for self-liberation verily commits suicide for he kills himself by clinging to things that are unreal (imagined).

Among things conducive to liberation, devotion alone holds the supreme place. The seeking after one's real nature (consciousness) is designated as devotion.

The dream is unreal in waking, whereas the waking is absent in dream. Both however are non-existent in deep (deamless) sleep, which again is not experienced in either.

Thus all the three states are unreal in as much as they are the creation of the three gunas (qualities), but their witness (the reality behind them) is beyond all gunas, is eternally one and is consciousness Itself.

The undeluded one does not wish to combine the knowledge of one's Self with any action or any other knowledge.

He who declares (realizes) the cause (of the world) to be non-entity (formless consciousness, awareness), can manage the affairs of the son of a barren woman and quench intense thirst by drinking water from a mirage (can play awake).

The wise man should at all times meditate attentively upon his own Self, which though unseen, is yet the only reality and though manifest as the external universe, yet is the nature of subjective consciousness (the witness).

A dream is a simple mental imagination (in awareness), and is unreal since it is not seen (upon waking) the next moment after its existence.

One who in a dream sees things good and bad, high and low, favorable and fearful, thinks that they are actually real, and never for a moment thinks that they are unreal while dreaming. Even so is this world till the dawn of Self knowledge (of consciousness as existence).

The Self (awareness) is never unjust or unmerciful to Its (imagined) creation.

He who while fully anxious about his body desires to realize the Self, prepares to cross a river on the back of a crocodile, mistaking it for a piece of wood.

I shall explain though half a sloka (couplet) what has been described by innumerable scriptures, and that is: "Brahman alone is true and the world is false, the jiva (individual soul) is Brahman only and not different from it."


Brahman alone is real (as consciousness)
The universe is not real (as a reality separate from Brahman)
Brahman is the universe (everything)

Adi Sankara (788 - 820) was born in Kaladi, Kerala, India. By age 16 he had realized his true Self and completed everything he would ever write, including his commentaries on the 10 Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutra. Adi Sankara travelled the length and breadth of the sub-continent 4 times and established the 4 principal monastries at the 4 cardinal points in India (known today as the 4 Sankracharayas).

It was his genius that reformed and organized the great body of wandering monks in India into 10 well knit orders, the Dasanami Sampradaya. Sri Ramakrishna, the great 19th century mystic of Bengal was a disciple of Swami Totapuri who belonged to the line of Puris among the Dasanamis. Adi Sankara disappeared in the Himalayas at age 32. Due to the boldness, depth and subtlety of his insights, he is widely considered the greatest influence on the purity of Advaita Vedanta (non-dual oneness - unity in diversity).