The Knower, a Self-Conscious Being – Part 5


Students were introduced orders of reality in Part 4 – which has now sparked doubts. So one of students asks…

“Do you mean to say we have no independent being? That neither my mind nor body has any real feeling? Am I just an illusion, imagining a real existence?”

You are neither an illusion, nor imagining an unreal appearance.

We are empirically real in an empirical world. Because we are alive and we know about our aliveness.

Each one of us knows we exist. We do not need another to tell us we are alive or human.

But we do not know our true nature, the nature of our self. Which is Limitless Consciousness. Which is the cause of the world.

I know I am, it is evident to me. Thus we are self-conscious beings.

Just as fire heats a piece of iron. It lends it's essential nature of heat and light. This essential nature pervades every metal part. So what does the fire do? It makes the cold metal appear hot and bright.

Consciousness does the same. It imbues the mind and the world… enveloping the entire universe with its conscious presence.

Just as without fire, the metal stays silent. In same way, without Consciousness, we will remain insentient with no possibility of knowledge. Not even of our existence.

Consciousness of our existence, the self-evident “I”, the I am-ness… is expressed through the mind as the individual “I”. Which is the locus, the base where knowledge takes place.

If I do not know that I exist, that “I am”, then I cannot know anything. Neither the world nor myself. Neither what-is nor what-is-not.

In short there will be just a void, a total darkness, emptiness. Although even to know this blankness, we need a self-conscious existence.

What is more, this debate would not exist. There will be nothing to discuss. No one to argue with. It is only because we know we are, that we can be aware of the world.

Using our five senses, within our minds we perceive the world and its dualities of thinker and thought, seer and seen, knower and known, doer and deed.

An entire universe we carry in the inner realms of our mind, which transforms to correspond to a person, an emotion, an object in the external world.

Recognizing this mental frame, this thought form, is what we call cognition. “I see a bird!”.

The knower, using the memory, identifies the thought form which the mind has cognized. Then declares ‘that is a bird, a flute' and so on.

However a problem arises when the knower identifies oneself with the cognition. Especially if it is a mood or emotion.

We think we are the state of feeling.  “Oh I am worried, I am depressed, I am glad”.

But it is a just a thought, a mind form. It is never the subject. It is an object. It is Mithyā, dependent-real.

In fact what we call mind is a bundle of thoughts reflecting various situations, emotions, questions and doubts. The mind constantly vacillates whether to act or not. This is mind's first aspect.

Mind's second aspect is reason and logic. Deciding, analyzing and objectivity.

The intellect reins in the mind. Greater the intellects role, greater the clarity we enjoy about the world. Wisdom indeed depends on the intellect.

The third aspect of mind; it is a storehouse of memory unconscious. A seedbed randomly releasing its past contents. This can conceal or mix with our present thoughts. Thus it prevents us knowing what our next thought will be.

The memory unconscious records each and every thought and action gathered over life times.

The forth aspect envelops the prior three aspects. Which is a self identifying thought. It forms particulars out of a whole. The individual ego, I. The singular person.

Together the four aspects form the psychological part the subtle body (sūkṣma-sarīra) of an individual.

Our situation is we do not recognize the truth that every thought and mind-form is mithyā, dependent-real. It is depending on I am-ness… the Limitless One. The All-Pervading Consciousness. The truth of I, the self.


“You make it sound so simple. What do you really mean by knower?”

Consciousness illumines the mind. Reflecting on the mind-screen. Imbues the mind with I am-ness. We call it I-sense, the I-thought.

The I-sense identifies with a mental frame and assumes the role of a knower. In truth the “knower” is a relative term. Because it is only a knower in relation to the known. A thinker in terms of a thought.

The knower is the subject ‘I'. The rest are objects, not-I’s.

By a process of negation we can sort out and remove ‘I' and the infinite not-I’s. In other words, remove the subject and the many objects.

Thus we must understand, that which we objectify is not ‘I'. The ‘I' is the subject, the conscious person. For example, we are not the table, chair, an object, situation or emotion.

Even our body, we can see it as something apart. “My body, my leg, my hand or heart”. If the leg breaks, we do not say “I am broken”.

It is the same with the rest of the organs. Including our physiological system.

For example, if we take the mind, our subtle internal machine, we are aware of our thoughts and emotions.

If we pause to look at them… they really are not us, are they?  Yet identifying with them is our habit.

Although we take our body, breath, mind, intellect, physical, physiological, psychological aspects as ourselves… they are objects of a conscious being, the subject. They are dependent-reals.

The world and all we see fall into this ontological category. Including the physical body, emotions and thoughts.

Continuing with the negation until the mind falls silent. Leaving behind the knower. Alert and aware every moment of thought and action.

All these are objects while the knower is the subject. The examples are I-thoughts identified with a mental frame. It is the All-Pervading Consciousness… appearing in the mind as the individual ‘I'.


“What is the role of the knower while we sleep and dream?”

While awake, the knower is quite alert and alive to use every faculty and sense.

While dreaming, the knower plays a part in the theatre of the mind. We are neither awake nor asleep.

While dreaming, the knower is a passive observer of an in-between state. A world of our own. A world of replayed memories without free will or deliberation.

It is a world of vivid imagination, curious beings, bizarre situations. It is so very real, we are often startled by the dream world created by ourselves.

Indeed a miracle of the Limitless One (Brahman) and its māyā power. Out of true compassion, this power provides a wondrous means to release our many psychological pressures.

And while asleep (deep sleep), the knower aspect resolves into its real nature that is Consciousness. With neither subject nor object. Nor an awakened mind. Deep sleep is like a subtle mental state, luminous like a minimized program on a computer screen.

So when we wake up refreshed we say, “I slept well, I can't remember anything, not a dream, not a whisper”. Yet we are happy, despite no memory.

In deep sleep, we are not aware of the world. All the differences are resolved. The king is equal to a beggar in this state. All differences that make us a limited, wanting, insecure person… are gone. Thus we consider sleep a happy, content, blissful time.

And in waking and dreaming, the knower is aware of each thought and action. Aware also of their absence. But is untouched by any of them.

Therefore consciousness is not a fourth state of experience. It is beyond the three of waking, dream and deep sleep. It is the ultimate reality. The only one there is. It is basis of our existence, source of all creation, of all that is here… known and unknown.

The knower thus is the one real subject without whom there can be no knowledge.

Understanding the knower's nature… we can understand the truth of our self and the world.

The knower essentially is not different from the Limitless One All-Pervading Consciousness.


Continue reading part 6 of this teacher-student conversation…



  1. Acharya Andre, Thank you.
    I am very confused with understanding what the I – thought is. Does I-thought mean the Ego?
    What is difference betweeen I-thought and Sakshi?
    What is difference between Sakshi and knower?
    Thank you.

    1. I-sense is better, instead of I-thought.

      What is I-sense?

      Right now, while you’re reading these words, there is a SENSE that “I am reading”.

      Few hours, there is a SENSE that “I am eating”.

      Then, a sense of “I am tired”.

      All day like this. The SENSE of I AM is changing.

      I am reading.
      I am eating.
      I am tired.
      I am rested.

      Hence I-sense or ego refers to the changes I undergo throughout the day.

      In short, I-sense is the sense of becoming. I am becoming smarter. I am becoming older. etc.


      What Vedanta says is, this I-sense is due to the association between “I” (the sakshi or the Knower of changes, but never itself undergoes changes), and the body-mind which undergoes changes.

  2. Yes, got it acharya Andre, thank you. That is very clear now. I-thought is same as I-sense which is same as ahankara/ego. When Ramana Maharshi ji said enquire where the I-thought is coming from, He is referring to inquiring where this sense of I (ego) is originating. Now I get it. It originates from Sakshi. Thank you.

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