You are not a Person, You are the Self

M:  Hi Vishnu, I have enjoyed your video series on the Tatva Bodha but I’ve got a few questions.  

Am I a person or not? Or both?

V:  You are not a person.  It just seems like you are when the distinction between you, the self, and the body/mind is not clear. 

M: If objects are not real, then the person cannot be real?

V:  Correct.  An object is anything and everything that is known by you.  The body-mind (the person) is known to you so it is an object.  Therefore it is unreal.    

M:  I don’t understand “objects exist, but are not real.”  I would rather say: if something doesn’t exist, then it is not real?

V:  No, because a mirage of water in the desert is not real but you can’t say it is non-existent.  If it were non-existent, you wouldn’t be able to experience it.

So a better way of putting it is:  “Objects can be experienced but they are not real.  They are an illusion.” 

By the way, the definition of “real” in Vedanta is “that which has no beginning, no end and never undergoes change of any kind.”  By this definition, objects exist (can be experienced) but they are not real.     

M:  Am I both the Jiva and the awareness of the Jiva, and all Jivas?

V:  You are only awareness.  You are aware of the jiva.  There is only one you, one awareness, so by extension you are the awareness of all jivas.  The next question is of course, “Why don’t I know what all jivas are experiencing?”  The answer is, because you are taking M’s mind, with its limited perspective, to be your perspective. 

Here is an example.  One day, the sun—which shines on everything equally, never being affected by what it shines on—was happily doing its job illumining the world.  But suddenly it noticed its reflection in a bucket of water and began to panic.  He called out “Oh no!  Someone help!”  The moon, being a longtime friend, came along and asked what the trouble was.  The sun said “I’m trapped in this bucket! Help me out!  I’ve got to shine on the whole world and I can’t do it if I’m stuck in here.”  The moon assessed the situation and pointed out to the sun that he was merely looking at his reflection, mistaking it to be himself.  He was never limited by the bucket at any time.  He was, and always had been, shining on the whole world.  It just seemed like he wasn’t when he mistook himself to be his reflection. 

You, awareness, are like the sun.  You shine on M’s mind, which is like the bucket of water.  It “reflects” you, meaning it appears to be aware, the same way a reflection resembles what is reflected.  When you mistake yourself to be the reflection, you assume the limitations and the perspective of the reflecting medium, the mind.  The mind, along with the senses, creates a three dimensional point of view so when you identify yourself with the mind, it makes it seem like you exist in a particular place.  But in reality, you are awareness simply shining on a mind that appears to be in a particular place when, like the sun to the bucket, you are not limited to that place at all.  The mind’s perspective is not yours, you simply illumine it.  By necessity, you must be outside of time and space since both are objects known to you.    

This does not mean that when you understand that you are awareness that you will suddenly know everyone’s mind.  Why?  Because knowing information, such as someone else’s thoughts, belongs to the mind itself, not you, awareness.  You simply shine on the mind and what it knows.  So understanding that you are awareness and not the mind does not somehow turn you into someone else’s mind.            

M:  Everything seems to suggest that I am a person that is aware of my surroundings.

V:  Yes, it does.  But everything in experience also suggests the world is flat, that the sun rises and sets, and that straws bend when you put them in a glass of water.  But that does not make it so. 

M:  Sight seems to happen through my eyes.  Smell seems to happen through my nose etc.  All experiences seem to happen in and through this body.

V:  Yes, eyes see.  Noses smell.  Experience happens through the body (and mind).  But that does not mean you actually have eyes, a nose or a body (or that they belong to you).  For instance, when the eyes see, you do not see.  You are merely aware of what they eyes are seeing.     

M:  And awareness seems to be connected to the body too, following it around.

V:  Yes, it seems to.  But appearances are not truth.  Based on appearances, people used to think that the sun followed the earth around but upon investigation the earth actually moved around the sun. 

Similarly, it seems like you, awareness, are connected to the body, following it around.  But like the sun, it is you who are not moving while the body moves around in your light.  Also like the sun to the earth, you are never connected to the body, you only illuminate it.    

M:  I am never conscious of anything without the body, it seems?

V:  It’s true that in the absence of the body (and mind) you’re not going to see, hear, taste, touch, smell or think anything.  Using consciousness in the normally accepted sense we could say that in this case you would not be conscious of anything.  But in the absence of sensory data and thought you are still conscious-ness itself.  Being conscious of something is merely a turn of phrase that we use to describe the action of the mind knowing something.  But conscious-ness is not a thought, it is not something that you do, like knowingIt is what you are and the presence or absence of external objects can never change what you truly are. 

Let’s go back to the example of the sun and do a thought experiment.  On a normal day, the sun sits in its place, illumining the Milky Way galaxy.  Being luminous is not an action it performs because it luminous by nature.  It gives off light effortlessly because it is light.  With that in mind, let’s say that absolutely everything (except the sun itself) suddenly disappears from the galaxy, leaving a completely blank void.  Now, in the absence of anything to reflect its light, does the sun stop being luminous?  No, it continues to shine whether or not there is anything present for it to shine on.   

Like the sun to the galaxy, you, as awareness, “illumine” all objects with consciousness.  Being conscious of something is only the mind collecting and collating data.  But in the absence of the mind, such as in dreamless sleep, do you stop being conscious-ness itself?  Do you stop being consciousness when the mind is not there to be conscious of anything?  No, just like the sun wouldn’t stop being luminous if there was nothing there to reflect its light. 

So no, without the body and mind, you can’t be conscious of anything.  But you can never not be conscious-ness.            

M:  I don’t know what is happening in the USA, right now so… 

V:  Don’t worry, I barely know what’s happening in the US right now either.  There’s a lot going on outside of my personal experience. 

M:  …does the USA even exist, right now?

V:  Well, I can’t say for certain because, owing to the time difference, I was probably asleep when you wrote this 🙂  But I can say for certain that it exists right now. 

M:  I honestly must say no, not in my experience.  It is just a thought, right now, isn’t it?

V:  For you, yes. For me, no. Please understand that I know why you’re asking these kinds of questions.  Everyone always does at some point, myself included.  But I assure you, it’s an unproductive line of inquiry.  Why?  Because there is absolutely no way to determine if the world exists when you don’t know it’s there.  In order to do so you’d have to develop a second awareness so you could step outside of your first awareness to try to observe the world when your first awareness was not present.  Aside from the fact that awareness is never not present and the idea of observing your own awareness is absurd, there is a third problem.  Let’s say hypothetically that you somehow manage to get a second awareness, make the first awareness disappear and then determine that lo and behold the world is still there. Hurray, problem solved!  But wait…now the question is, “Does the world exist when your second awareness is not aware of it?”  Then you have to develop a third awareness to observe your second awareness and a fourth awareness to observe your third awareness and on and on ad infinitum.  Hence the problem is insoluble and you’re left to speculation alone which doesn’t help anything.          

But for the sake of argument let’s say you were able to determine that the world was there when you were not aware of it.  How would this affect your day to day life?  It wouldn’t, and the world would carry on as usual.  You’d still have to go to work, eat, sleep and be polite to the people around you.  You would still have all the same problems you had before you knew the world existed when you weren’t aware of it.  So there’s no practical purpose to knowing one way or the other. 

One thing you do know for sure is that the world is there when you do observe it.  And that’s precisely when it’s a problem.  You don’t care about the world when it’s not there, like when you sleep, right?  But when you wake up you need a solution to the suffering the world causes.  That’s why Vedanta is not concerned with determining whether the world exists when you don’t see it.  Instead it is trying to show you that even when the world appears 1) It is not real, so there is nothing real to worry about and 2) You are never affected by it.  Honestly, this is what matters. 

M:  You say that I am the consciousness in which the body and the world appears in.  But this consciousness doesn’t seem to be impersonal, like I would imagine it would be.  It feels very personal.  Like what I experience, no one else experiences.

V:  The body-mind is what experiences.  And yes, that is personal insofar as no other body-mind is experiencing what another body-mind is experiencing.  Even two body-minds experiencing the same external object will experience it slightly differently.  But you, consciousness, are not the experiencer.  You are what illuminates the particular experiences of all body-minds.  So you are impersonal, just like the sun is not personally involved in anything it illuminates.     

M:  And is there an external, objective world at all?  Does the universe exist in someone else consciousness when I, the person, is not there anymore to experience it?

V:  I think I covered this above but I’ll reiterate that the status of the objective world only matters to us when it appears in our subjective world, which we know for a fact is there because we experience it.  So the subjective world is the only one that matters.  This means we only need to concern ourselves with the problem of our subjective world, the problem of suffering.       

M:  But different persons do not have different consciousnesses, do they? 

V:  No.  Consciousness is one.

M:  There is only one consciousness, but is it divided between different people?  I don’t get it.

V:  Yes, there is only one consciousness.  No, it is not divided between different people, the same way the sun is not divided when it reflects in many different mediums.  The sun can simultaneously be reflected in a bucket, a puddle and a lake and while this appears to divide the sun, it remains one alone.  Similarly, consciousness can be reflected in many different minds and while this appears to divide consciousness, it remains one alone.   

All my best – Vishnudeva



Is the End of Suffering a Sufficient Goal?

This is a continuation of a previous discussion.  Read it HERE.

L: Much, much thanks.  This is all extremely helpful.  Your knowledge is deep, teacher.

V:  You’re welcome.  

L: I like these realization statements (from the previous email) quite a lot and my mind has been processing them every day.  I feel that the gears are turning and I’m getting traction.  Your additional statement is very useful.  Thank you.  I’ve added a few different angles and permutations.  I have this feeling that I’m connecting all these different elements (my true nature, the universe, all living beings, my body and mind, infinite conscious awareness) with threads of relationships and equivalences, and knitting them all closer and closer together until they merge and I’m basically just left with the thought, “There is just one consciousness,” or something like that.  They are really all kind of the same statement.   

I understand what you’re describing with the necessity of the empirical viewpoint and the value of the absolute viewpoint.  The things I’ve read describe the goal of Vedanta as the end of suffering.  I see how this is important but every time I read this, I wonder if that alone is sufficient as an end goal. 

V: Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t.  Being enlightened doesn’t mean you cease having goals or aspirations in your day to day life.  But if we’re talking strictly about Vedanta, the only goal is the end of suffering, specifically mental suffering.  Vedanta doesn’t have any other goals. 

L:  I have these two other thoughts that I’m trying to fit into the context of Vedanta: living wide open as love, and having impeccability of purpose.  These are empiric-perspective concerns. 

V: Yes, they are.  And they are worthy concerns.  But from a Vedanta perspective, here is the problem:  you can’t live wide open as love (or any other way for that matter) if you aren’t really a person, and you can’t have impeccability of purpose if you are not the doer, the illusory body/mind complex.  As I said, the empirical viewpoint must always be respected.  So in that regard if you want to live wide open as love etc., go for it.  But you MUST clearly understand that you are not really living that way or doing anything to be free from suffering. Why?  Because suffering only accrues to the doer, the body/mind.  So you must get it clear that you aren’t the body/mind, and then it can be as it is.   

L:  In a way, neither of these goals can be possible if one is suffering, and I suppose minding one’s immediate suffering must take first priority, like putting the airplane oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others.  Attempting to live open as love has the pitfall of self-deceptive do-goodery, and to be this way genuinely I think one must first know that all living beings are within one consciousness.

V:  It’s only a problem if you identify with the do-gooder.  I’m just trying to be clear, not downplay the seriousness of the issue, because false-identification is the root issue of Vedanta and the cause of suffering.   

L:  Having impeccability of purpose perhaps can only be possible with the clarity and detachment of examining one’s life from the absolute viewpoint. 

V:  The absolute viewpoint gives you objectivity, and objectivity helps in anything you ‘do.’  But you’ll have to explain to me what exactly you mean by impeccability of purpose.  I don’t want to assume I know what you’re talking about. 

L:  These are just early thoughts I’ve been having.  Would you say that the end of suffering is a goal that encompasses these other aspects? 

V:  To be clear, “the end of suffering” doesn’t mean perfect peace of mind and perpetual happiness.  The body/mind is the sufferer and it will always suffer in one way or another.  This means that the end of suffering is simply the end of identifying with the sufferer.  The body/mind suffers.  But if you aren’t the body/mind, then you don’t suffer.  Problem solved. 

That being said, knowing you aren’t the one suffering gives you the objectivity I previously mentioned.  And objectivity helps in whatever it is you choose to ‘do.’

Another aspect of knowledge is clearly understanding that, despite appearances to the contrary, everything is one, brahman, you.  When everything is known to be yourself, it makes accepting and loving the world much easier. 

L:  Are there teachings to apply Vedanta knowledge to these empiric perspective goals as well?

V:  Sort of.  As I just said, the implications of non-duality can certainly help the way you view the world.  As far as impeccability of purpose, I can’t say until you explain it to me a little more.  If you mean acting in the correct manner with the appropriate motivation, Vedanta is useless, because it negates the false idea that you do anything in the first place. 

However, at the initial stages of the teaching, Vedanta advocates yoga, specifically karma yoga, in order to show one how to act appropriately in the world.  It also advocates devotion or religious practice in order to purify the mind and heart.   

L:  I’ve been having a strong inclination to take some time and go into nature for a while, and fast and meditate.  My instinct is to corral together the “I-ness” to package it up.  I see your teaching that the I-ness can never be completely packaged or dropped, only through knowledge can it be put in proper perspective. 

V:  I honestly think you should do what you are inclined to do.  Taking a retreat to contemplate and meditate is never a bad thing. 

I’ll add this:  regardless of what you do, always remember that the way Vedanta ‘packages’ the “I” is strictly cognitive.  It teaches you how to objectify the apparent person and see him for what he is:  a transient illusion.  One way to do that is to always be aware of using the word “I.”  Every time you say it or think it, ask yourself, “What ‘I’ am I referring to?”  If you say, “I am sad” ask yourself if the word “I” is referring to you, the self, or to the mind.  Or if you say, “I am hungry, fat, thin, etc.” ask if the word “I” is referring to the body or to you, the self.  You can apply this to everything you think and in this way you continually ‘package’ the body/mind by recognizing it as the transient object that it is.  Then you bring your attention back to what you really are, that which knows the illusory, transient object known as L.  That is the real “I.” This practice can, and should, be done at all times until you have broken the identification with the body/mind i.e. L.  And it can be done in everyday life as well as in a retreat.    

L:   But, as you have said, the experience wouldn’t hurt, either. 

V:  Yep.  Even though you aren’t L, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be as happy, fulfilled or satisfied as possible.

L:  I have Ted Schmidt’s book Self Knowledge and it looks very useful.  Is there a Vedanta community? 

V:  Yes but it will vary depending on where you are.  Arsha Vidya and Chinmaya Mission are worldwide, as well as being first rate Vedanta organizations.  I personally prefer Arsha Vidya and their lineage of teachers.  The possible drawback for you is that both of those organizations are very Hindu, and they intermix Indian culture along with the teachings, Arsha Vidya less so than Chinmaya Mission.  I personally don’t have a problem with that except for the fact that the religious and cultural aspects can sometimes obscure the Vedanta part of the teaching. There are Westernized Vedanta groups but none that I can confidently recommend.  

All in all, it can be good to have a group of people to do inquiry with but it can be more trouble than it’s worth because you have to deal with their issues and egos in the process.  Further, if they don’t know what they’re talking about, how can they be of any assistance to you?  Besides, in the end, inquiry is a solitary path that you must travel mostly by yourself.  That’s what I did.  However, do with that what you will.  I am a very solitary person by nature but I know that doesn’t work for everyone.       

L:  It has been extremely helpful to hear from you, instead of just reading books.  I really appreciate it. 

V: I’m glad to hear that.  You’re welcome. 



The Difference Between the ‘Enlightened’ & ‘Unenlightend’


Shelly:  I’ve been studying Vedanta for over a year.  My mind is more peaceful but I feel like there is more to be done.  I can intellectually understand that I am the self but am not living the truth that I am awareness.  What’s next? 


Vishnudeva:  “She who considers herself free is free indeed and she who considers herself bound remains bound. ‘As one thinks so one becomes,’ is a popular saying in this world and it is quite true.” -Astavakra Samhita 1:11

The only difference between a so-called ‘unenlightened’ person and an ‘enlightened’ person is that the ‘enlightened’ person not only knows they are the self but completely accepts it.  They take the self to be their primary identity and let the implications of that identity start changing the way they think, meaning they let the knowledge, “I am always just fine no matter what” start reducing the frequency and severity of their emotional disturbances. 

So the next step for you is to keep dwelling on the teaching with the aim of recognizing that there is no gap between what you know and who you are.  If you know the self is free, then you should know that you are free.  Fully own that knowledge and start living accordingly.  That is “living the truth” because you are living in harmony with how things really are.  If at first it feels strange to live your life from the vantage point of self-knowledge, don’t be concerned.  After all, it is a perspective that is radically different from the one you’ve had your whole life.  But keep practicing.  Over time your confidence will grow and your peace of mind will increase.* “As one thinks, so one becomes.”  People try to make self-knowledge too complicated when it really is as simple as that.      

That being said, I’d like to make one more point.  Having a peaceful mind is an excellent thing but peace of mind is only the secondary objective of Vedanta.  How so?  Because the primary point of Vedanta is to show very clearly that you are not the mind.  Why is not being the mind better than having a peaceful mind?  Because the mind can never be fully controlled, which means that even if it’s primarily peaceful, there will be times when it is angry, agitated, sad etc.  So when the mind is less than peaceful, having the knowledge, “I am not the mind” let’s you know that regardless of the condition of the mind, you are still okay.  And that is real peace of mind.     

All my best – Vishnudeva

*A note to others: I highly recommend that people practice living from the perspective of the self—meaning taking the self to be their primary identity—even when they don’t yet fully understand how they can be the self.  This may seem disingenuous but it isn’t.  Why?  Because regardless of whether you understand that you are the self or not, it’s still true.  Owing to that fact, “faking it until you make it” is a productive practice on the path to knowledge because self-knowledge is a matter of identity.  Therefore practicing taking the standpoint of your true identity is very helpful as you do your inquiry.  And when inquiry yields doubt-free self-knowledge, you’ve already laid the groundwork for improved peace of mind because you’ve already practiced viewing yourself as the limitless, eternal reality that you are. 

How do you do this?  Every time you come across a statement about the self, put it in first person.  For instance, if you read, “The self is existence-consciousness-bliss” say to yourself, “I am existence-consciousness-bliss.”  This breaks down the idea that the self is something somewhere ‘out there’ that you need to attain and makes it clear that it is none other than who you are.