What is Atma (Self or ‘I') and Anatma (Not-Self) & Origin of Ignorance (Avidya) (179)


Lesson 179 focuses on showing description of not-self (what I am not), and Self (what I am). Visual model is used. Origin of ajnani (one ignorant of Self).

Source: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 15, 16, 17.


  • V13/14 shows the bases of anatma, consisting of 5 factors. For practice, take some time to categorize your experience into one of the 5 factors. EG: If feeling, “This is too hard” arises; put that inside the Ahamkara category (that which owns the experience of the single individual).
  • NEXT VERSE: V15 assigns the 5 factors into a reality that you are NOT, but erroneously take yourSelf to be…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 15:

śarīra-vāk-manobhiḥ yat karma prārabhate naraḥ ।
nyāyyam vā viparītaṃ vā pañca ete tasya hetavaḥ ॥ 18-15॥
These five are the causes of any action (whether proper or improper) undertaken by the body, speech and mind.

  • The 5 factors in V13-14 (which cause the body to do, speak and think/emote > producing PunyaPapa-Mixture > determining destiny/rebirth) are called anatma.
  • What is anatma?
    1. Whatever becomes known in time.
      • That which was different 1 sec before now and will be different 1 sec from now. Undergoes fluctuations, changes.
    2. Which can be contradicted from a different standpoint.
      • EG: Even to call something true to it’s object, like “apple”, it too can be contradicted from standpoint of the ant.
      • But BOTH you and ant have to (a) exist, and (b) be conscious. These two can’t be contradicted.
    3. It’s reducible, thus dependent.
      • EG:
        • Physical:
          • Eye is reducible to: iris, lens, retina, optic nerve > Cell > Cell Nucleus > Chromosome > DNA > nucleotides > phosphate group, sugar group, 4 nitrogen bases (ACTG) > Their sequence determines blue/green eyes (EG: ATCGTT) > Produce protein molecules.
        • Thoughts:
          • Everything thought, is made up of sense-objects/concepts which have come to your memory in time.
          • Even thought of God/profound spiritual awakening comes in time.
    4. That which can be negated or forgotten.
      • EG:
        • Your life is negated in deep-sleep, or in coma. Can forget everything, but yourself.
        • You can never negate yourself, otherwise who is left to Know or Enjoy that “I” have been negated?
    5. Anything that can be named, experienced or perceived.
  • śarīra-vāk-manobhiḥ; body, speech, mind.
    • All sentient beings in the universe (your also) that helplessly ACT (due to their make-up) through body, speech or thinking. And by acting, incurs 3 types of results (punya, papa, mixture), which further determines what future experience the BMI will undergo.
  • NEXT VERSE: Without defining what is pure Self (Atma) until V17, Krishna points out consequence of not distinctly identifying Atma and Anatma

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 16:

tatra evam sati kartāram ātmānam kevalam tu yaḥ ।
paśyati akṛta-buddhitvāt na saḥ paśyati durmatiḥ ॥ 18-16॥
This being so, he who looks upon the pure Self (kevalam ātmānam) as the doer due to the lack of a refined intellect, does not see. He has a distorted vision.

  • How ajnani came to be? Why are we wearing this BMI right now?
    • TIMELINE (not actually within time, but if it was within time):
      1. In the beginning, there was only God. One pure Self (kevalam ātmānam), whose nature is limitless.
      2. Owing to limitless nature, even appearance of dvaita is possible (seeing Self reflected in infinite glories). If potential for dvaita was not possible, it contradicts limitless nature.
      3. The power that enables different reflections of Self is called māyā.
      4. For māyā to show differences out of Self to Self, it needs to:
        1. hide Self; avarana-shakti and,
        2. project Self “infront” of Self (as one jiva called YOUR-NAME).
    • Which means the truth of the jiva, right now, is nothing but the pure Self (kevalam ātmānam).
    • Since the beginning, the jiva didn’t know it. Why not? Because of akṛta-buddhitvāt; due to the lack of a refined intellect.
  • Why is the jiva’s intellect unrefined?
    • Because focus on grosser objects is much easier then subtler realities. Path of Preya vs Shreya.
    • Due to lack of scriptural advice of continuing (to refine the mind): yajna/tapas/danam (Karma-Yoga).
    • Absence of Isvara-grace which hasn’t exposed one yet to a living guru and jñāna-yoga.
  • What is the consequence of unrefined intellect?
    • Taking Self to be the 5 layers (V13-14). Identity of pure-complete-Atma is placed into impure/defective/incomplete-Anatma.
  • What kind of effects does this produce from standpoint of the jiva who has durmatiḥ (distorted vision)?
    • I am a doer/enjoyer/sufferer.
    • I am a traveler after death.
    • “THIS” is happening to me.
    • I am sinful and will be punished.
    • I have done something wrong; guilt.
    • Experiences dissatisfaction with oneself (5 layers), because no action is complete (if it’s results of one action, it’s not results of another action).
      • Thus older one gets, more guilt is felt for not starting earlier or doing the right thing in the past. EG: “I should’ve ___”.
  • For this reason, misplaced identity compels the entire world of jīvas to continue living as individual beings. So they say things like…
      • I (5 layers) committed wrong. Let’s get into car and drive to temple/confessionary.
      • I (5 layers) am bored. Let’s turn up the music.
      • I (5 layers) am ugly. Let’s buy beauty products.
      • I (5 layers) am small. Let’s become ____.
  • All this because, na sa paśyati durmatiḥ; unintelligent does not see the Truth.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 17:

yasya na ahaṃkṛtaḥ bhāvaḥ buddhiḥ yasya na lipyate ।
hatvā api saḥ imān lokān na hanti na nibadhyate ॥ 18-17॥
He who does not have the notion “I am the doer” and whose intellect is not affected, does not kill anyone in spite of killing these people, nor is he/she bound.

  • Verse speaks of jñāni (who was an ajñāni with an unrefined intellect in the past, but made it refined via yajna, danam, tapas per V4-12), knows Self to be other then 5 layers.
    • In other words, the wise person’s body is seen to be doing actions, but the jñāni knows by knowledge, “I am the non-doer Self, free of these actions and their upcoming results”.  Meaning jñāni incurs neither punya nor papam. This of course isn’t a license to kill.  (Jnani doesn’t violate dharma because Self has nothing to gain by cheating).
      • VERSE indicates: hatvā api saḥ imān lokān na hanti na nibadhyate: Even though jñāni kills, one kills not, nor is the jnani bound (because Self is neither the doer nor enjoyer, since it’s other then the 5 layers).
      • Katḥa Upaniṣad (1.2.19) further declares: One who thinks that the Self kills or that it gets killed, knows not the Truth, for the Self is neither the killer (doer of action) nor the killed (one acted upon).
    • Being alive to one’s pure Self, the jñāni’s BMI continues to perform niyata-karmas (obligatory duties).
  • This brings up a question: If jnani is not the 5-layers (anatma), and is free by knowing it, then what is the truth of the one that Knows (jnani)? Per V16, Jnani’s truth is the pure Self (kevalam ātmānam). But what is the pure Self?
    • First let’s revise, what is the pure Self NOT?
      1. Anātma. 5 factors (V13-14; adhisthana, karta, karana, cesta, daiva).
      2. Anything that can be reported, felt, experienced, known… in 3 periods of time. Even NDE is a report. Even the most sublime, indescribable, blissful, oneness experience that feels “home” is anatman.
    • What IS the pure Self (atma)?
      1. Not a part, product or property of body-mind (anatman).
        • Just as water is not a part of the wave. The entirety of the wave is nothing but the water.
      2. Independent principle of body-mind.
        • Just as the water is not bound to one single wave in the ocean. Water is totally independent.
      3. Not limited by body-mind boundaries.
        • Water in ocean is not confined to one single wave. It only appears to be from standpoint of the wave.
      4. Survives after death. And surviving Self isn’t available for transaction after death, because it requires a medium.
        • Just like after waves merges with rest of the water in the ocean, merely the name-form has gone, but essence of wave is still the water.
      5. Nature of Self is the ever-familiar Presence in 3 periods of time: past, present and future.
        • Today I am the same familiar Presence as I was yesterday. Only thing that’s changed is body-sensations & mind-thoughts.
        • Tomorrow I will be the same familiar presence I am today. Only thing that’ll be different is body-sensations & mind-thoughts.
        • Are you unfamiliar to yourself today from yesterday? Yet everything about the BMI / 5-layers is totally different. Implying there must be an independent factor that’s ever familiar (thus same).
    • Knowing this firmly, yasya na bhāvaḥ ahaṅkṛtaḥ; The jnani doesn’t have the notion “I am this doing BMI that’s being tossed about by winds of prarabdha while it’s alive”.
    • How to strengthen the distinction between ātma/anātma?
      • Model 1: Abandon old with scriptural way of speaking and perceiving. See through God’s eyes. EG:
        • I am getting older > This body is aging.
        • I am the pure Self aware-ing the sensations-emotions-thoughts of this incidental BMI, but also other incidental BMI’s.
        • Self looking through these eyes, is the same Self looking through those eyes.
        • I (atma) am free of all actions, thus I (atma) have no punya/papa. There is nothing to forgive nor repent.
        • Perceive body as a temporary gift.
      • Model 2: Objectifying Anatma by knowing well the 5 layers (V13-14), or the 3-components (V18).
      • Model 3: Uplifting the 6 success factors (V20-40) to sattva-guna.




Credit for help in Bhagavad Gita teaching given to Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya), Paramarthananda & Chinmaya Mission.

Recorded 16 Aug, 2022


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