10 – Tattva Bodha: Self is the Awareness of the 3 States (Waking, Dream, Deep Sleep)


Discourse 10 further explains what is nature of Self (Atma). Self is the Awareness of the 3 States. Self is the Knowledge principle, because of which knowledge of objects takes place. Self is Awareness / Consciousness. Self is like Light.

Source: Tattva Bodha

Verse: (Intro Verse to What Self is and is NOT)

ātmā kaḥ?
sthūla-sūkṣma-kāraṇa-śarīrād vyatiriktaḥ (distinct from the gross, subtle, causal bodies)
pañca-kośā atītaḥ (…and is beyond the 5 layers of experience).
san avasthā-traya-sākṣī (…is the witness of the 3 states of experience)
sat-cit-ānanda-svarūpaḥ san (whose nature is of Existence-Consciousness-Fullness)
yaḥ tiṣṭhati sa ātmā (…who abides in this way, he is the Self)

The one who is distinct from the gross, subtle and causal bodies, who is beyond the five levels of experience, being the witness of the three states (of experience), that which remains in the form of existence, consciousness and fullness — he (is) the self (atma).


Why apply a discriminative enquiry when Self is already known to all as self-evident, conscious I? Because Self is not TOTALLY known. It's partially known. It’s understood in reference to descriptions picked up from the world or roles we placed our “I” in.

EG: “I am a hard working, community caring, family man. I am one who is unworthy of love. I am a lonely person. I am an intelligent person. I am a beautiful soul. I am an emotional person. I am pure”. 

This mixup is because of proximity between the thinking/emoting instrument and pure Self.  Just like the Colorless crystal appearing red when kept near a red cloth; it seems to have taken on attributes of cloth due to proximity. 


To resolve the mix-up, Tattva Bodha starts by saying: If you analyze your experience, amidst countless variables (thoughts, moods, sensations, concerns, memories, fancies) — you might notice there is always one invariable factor throughout. The invariable is YOU; the one who is always available to all variable experiences. 

One who is equally available to thoughts, and absence of thoughts.

The awareness which survives even when one says “I lost sense of time”.

Whereas everything else becomes an object-of-awareness. Like table-awareness, hunger-awareness. Time-awareness. Ignorance-awareness.

So objects of awareness vary — while Awareness itself remains available, ever-fresh, and present to capture the next variable. 

Shastra uses imaginary to compare Self, or Awareness to light. Light itself remains self-illumining, and anything placed in it's presence becomes an object revealed; in other words an object-of-knowledge.

Similarly, nature of Self being like light, since it's always shining on your mind, the mind's variable narratives are constantly known. 


    • We began analyzing the verse by looking into word “sakshi“.  Atma is the sakshi (witness) of the 3 states. However, “witness” is a poor English approximate. More accurate to say, Atma is the invariable presence throughout the 3 states. Or Atma is the Subject (“I”) in reference to the 3 objects (Waking state, Dream state, Sleep state). 
    • Now let's do a basic subject-object analysis…
      • If you look into your experience, there is always (a) You (atma; self) and, (b) everything-else (whether known like your thoughts/opinions, or unknown like what will happen tomorrow). In short, Subject and Object.
      • Let's look into Objects…
        • Objects are evident to Me (the Subject or Atma).  EG: Mind is restless because it's evident to Me. Forgetting is evident to Me. Remembering is evident to Me. Headache is evident to Me. Feeling down is evident to Me. Not-knowing is evident to Me. Life flashing before my eyes in a near-death-experience, is evident to Me. Inquiring into my nature, is evident to Me. 
      • Let's look into the Subject…
        • Who or what is this Me to whom things are evident? What's the point of answering! Because even the satisfaction of getting an answer, or displeasure of not getting the answer — is evident to Me. Otherwise if you insist, this Me to whom everything is evident, is called Self (Atma) according to Tattva Bodha text.
        • So far, all these words are synonyms and mean “I”: Me, Self, Atma, Sakshi, Subject. 
    • So far above, what do we know about Atma? It's the one invariable presence in all experiences, being You. It's like Light that lights up objects in your mind. It's the one to whom all objects are evident. Now let's add onto this…
    • Atma is also defined as the pure knowledge principle (as we'll see in future verse).
      • Careful, the word “knowledge” in the dictionary has two definitions:
        1. Information, facts. For example, knowledge about cooking. Knowledge of/about an object.
        2. Awareness, Consciousness. That in whose presence everything is an object-of-knowledge; an object-of-awareness. 
          • EG: Hunger-knowledge. Ignorance-knowledge. Restless-mind-knowledge. Common is the invariable Knowledge-principle. 
          • Due to association of word “knowledge” with “information”, Vedanta will generally stick with “Awareness/Consciousness”. 
    • Now that we mentioned “Awareness” above, what is the relationship between Awareness and Objects? Proof of any object require presence of Awareness, just as light is required to prove objects in a room. But what proves existence of Awareness? Nothing. Awareness is self-proving, self-evidencing, self-luminous, self-effulgent. Everything shines after Awareness. We can demonstrate this via…
      • BHATI-ANUBHATI: Method to demonstrate that everything shines after Awareness…
        • Bhati means “Shines”. Anubhati means “shines after”.
        • Sun is bhati. Moon/Earth anubhati because it's borrowing light from the sun. But suppose man is blind. Is sun still shining? No. Thus eyes-bhati. And sun is anubhati, since shine of the sun depends on the eyes. But what gives eyes their light? Mind. What gives light to mind? If mind was bhati, then you can't sleep. Therefore atma-bhati, and mind anubhati. Everything else shines after Awareness.
    • Avastha-traya-sakshi: Atma is the one invariable during 3 states of experience (Waking, Dream and Deep Sleep state). Meaning Atma remains free of the 3 states… while the 3 states are not independent of Atma. Just like 3 roles and 1 Actor. Beggar, mom and king are the actor, but actor remains free of the roles.
      • This line also shows us that Self is not a 4th state, or a special occasion. Anything that's a special occasion (EG: Kundalini raising, spiritual awakening, etc) — is either occurring within the Waking, or Dream. Self is simply the light which illumines all 3 states, and the countless different experiences that happens in them, including birth, death, marriage, kids, work, meditation, etc.



  1. Today, notice at least once when your mind fluctuates between various thoughts, worries, or distractions. In that moment, take a second to be reminded, it is actually you (presence of Consciousness) that is lighting them up. This helps create some space between proximity of Self and the mind.


Credit for help in Tattva Bodha to Chinmaya Mission's Swami Advayananda, and Arsha Vidya's Swami Dayananda.

Recorded 29 July, 2023



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