23 – Tattva Bodha: Existence-Consciousness Alone Is (Satchit Meaning)


Discourse 23 answers the question “Who am I? What is my real nature? What is original identity?”, being sat-cit (Existence-Consciousness).

Source: Tattva Bodha

Note on 5 Koshas Which We Finished Last Session:

We have finished the 5-koshas (5 layers of experience which I gets enmeshed with). One may think of them as components-that-makes-up-a-sentient-lifeform. Just how a house is a coming together of components — to produce a warm, sound-proof, functional dwelling, capable of supporting life within it.  Similarly, the coming together of the 5-components enables the jiva to transact in the world, to work out it's desires. The highest use of the template, per the Vedas, is not to constantly manipulate the components given you — as all attempts are ultimately within 1/3rd of total reality; the waking state. But to use them to recognize you are free of them. This way they are your greatest blessings. This is the difference between Yoga philosophy and Vedanta. Yoga's concern (per Patanjali Yoga Sutra) is to attain thoughtlessness. In other words, to perfect the mind. Vedanta acknowledges the necessity for cleaning up the mind and emotional management. But it's not the end goal, only a means for recognizing I am much bigger then thoughtlessness, or a perfect mind.

Verse: The Nature of the Self

ātmā tarhi kaḥ? sat-cit-ānanda svarūpaḥ
Then what is the Self? It is of the nature of Existence-Consciousness-Fullness.

  • Having negated all things we thought was “I”, there is possibility to conclude that I doesn’t exist. Or fall for philosophy that atma is śūnya/śūnyatā (emptiness/non-existence/nothingness/voidness).
    • Why Atma is not emptiness/nothingness:
      • Everything else in universe requires to use PERCEPTION and/or INFERENCE— to establish whether it’s there or not.
        1. PERCEPTION can be via:
          • Indriya-pratyaksha : Perception using 5 sense organs (sight, hearing, etc), and/or…
          • Sakshi-pratyaksha : Perception without using sense organs. It is means by which dreams and inner waking-state thoughts are perceived. EG: Knowing you are grateful, “I'm in love!”, feeling desire or dislike for something. It refers to capacity of the subtle-body to cognize it's internal thoughts & feelings (such as, “I'm in love. I'm grateful”). So both indriya-pratyaksha and sakshi-pratyaksha are capacities of the subtle-body through which cognition of internal/external data is perceived.
        2. Perception-based INFERENCE (anumana-pratyaksha) uses logic deduced from data cognized by indriya-pratyaksha and/or sakshi-pratyaksha. EG: Your eyes see break lights in distanced car, and make an inference it's stopping.
      • However when you're asked, “Do you exist or not?”…
        1. Are you using indriya-pratyaksha to see/hear your existence? No.  EG: I see my body, therefore I exist!
        2. Are you using sakshi-pratyaksha (mental calculations) to work out that you exist? No.  EG: I have thoughts and memories, therefore I exist!
        3. Are you using inference to conclude you exist? No.  EG: I woke up today, therefore I exist!
      • Your existence is a subjective experience of being. It's the only principle that is ever self-revealing, self-evident, self-proving, self-evidencing. Meaning you don’t need indriya-pratyaksha / sakshi-pratyaksha / anumana-pratyaksha to know that “I am”.
    • CONCLUSION: Any contention claiming atma is śūnya (non-existent / emptiness) — goes against every day subjective experience that “I am”.  Because I am, perception/inference is used. Because I am, happiness is sought. Because I am, there is nothingness.
  • sat-cit-ānanda: These are revealing words that directly answer “Who am I”. Reason they're capable of revealing is because nobody is totally ignorant of one's nature. That's why you can instantly relate to words like “I exist” (sat) and “I am aware” (cit), and “I am fullness” (ananda).

Verse: What is Existence (sat)?

sat kim? kāla traye api tiṣṭhati iti sat
What is Existence? That which remains unchanged in the three periods of time (past, present and future) is Existence.

  • How Vedanta uses limited words to convey a limitless reality:
    • Generally when we speak of “existence” — we speak of it within time-space. Vedanta uses implied meaning of word “existence”. Implied meaning of a word is used in a way that you retain the intended meaning, and give up the part which connotes limitation. This process is called bhaga-tyaga-laskhana.  “Bhaga-tyaga” means “the abandonment of a part”. By this method, we use limited words to convey something that is limitless.
      • EG: Sat (existence), a certain meaning of “existence” is retained, while time-space existence is negated. 
  • Relationship of Time and Existence:
    • Existence that’s true in past/present/future.
      • EG: Yesterday’s brain cells and thoughts and emotional make-up, are not here today in the exact same state as they were yesterday. But something is here today, and it hasn't changed in any way since yesterday, and will remain exactly the same tomorrow. What could this be? From standpoint of yesterday, the brain-cell EXISTS. From standpoint of today, the different brain cell EXISTS. Tomorrow, a different brain cell EXISTS. Therefore the   existence that's lending itself to different forms, remains ever true.  The changes of yesterday, today and tomorrow, are in reference to forms. Yet ever change, every form, EXISTS. 
    • How to understand existence is beyond past/present/future?
      • Analyze Past/Future:
        • Past was present while going on. And future will be present when it happens. And present is present.
        • When think of past/future, it’s occurring in the present.
      • Analyze Present:
        • What is the present made up of? Made up of 1 millennia > 1 century > 1 year > 1 day > 1 hour > 1 min > 1 sec > millisecond > micro > nano > pico > how far do you need to keep dividing to find the present? Infinite.
      • Conclusion:
        • During analysis, we find ever-present existence (sat) upon which very concept of time is superimposed and dependent on. However existence isn’t just the substratum behind the concept of time, but any unit of time enjoys IS (existence).  Therefore existence (Sat) is in an through every unit, but also transcends every unit.  If don’t also recognize each unit enjoying existence, then may see existence (sat) separate from time.
        • While the experience of time vastly changes (EG: Bus-stop time, vs. having dinner with a friend), the existence, the substratum, which allows the difference of times – remains the same. 
  • Relationship of Objects and Existence:
    • Table = wood = trunk = cellulose/lignin molecules = atoms. Forms within forms. At every level of form enjoys existence. Meaning all forms are superimposed upon existence, while existence transcends them all.
    • Where there is table, that’s exactly where wood is, exactly where existence is. So all forms are superimposition on IS (existence). Because existence is free from all forms (attributes) — it can simultaneously appear as all forms. Existence can lend itself to infinite forms, without ever being exhausted, since existence is inexhaustible (limitless). 
    • Applying to “I”:
      • Physical body is exactly same as table example above (applies to anything in universe). At every level, there is existence.
      • No such thing as body, as it’s made of parts. No such thing as “hand”, as made of parts. Etc. Each is existence with a name.
      • Therefore I am not the name (body), but the existence that’s in-and-through every level of body. So you don’t have to find yourself away from the body. I am (as existence) present in the body, while transcending characteristics of the body.
      • Find me one part of your physical body or mind that doesn't enjoy existence! Meaning even if you say “I am the body”, that statement is still true, as long as the implied meaning is “I am the body, which is nothing but existence (sat), which is my true nature”.
    • After this inquiry, how many existences are there? One. If say there are two existences, that means Existence-1 has attributes different from Existence-2 attributes. But attributes are just forms with a name as we just analyzed.
    • Whatever forms come and go, whether in past or future, has no bearing on existence.
    • Existence (Sat) is recognized as “IS-ness” of any form. Form changes, but every new change IS (remains).
    • What else is ever true in 3 periods of time? Am-ness. Knock… Knock. Whose there? “I am”. The “I am” is the same no matter when the question is asked. This shows us that “I am” is sat.
    • CAUTION: Verse is not saying that Atma is “having existence”, as in “Rose has color”, in which case “rose” and “color” are two different things. Verse is saying, Atma is Existence (sat).

Verse: What is Consciousness / Awareness (cit)?

cit kim? jñāna svarūpaḥ
What is Consciousness? It is of the nature of absolute Knowledge.

  • If stop at existence (sat), may give impression it’s an “inert existence”. To negate this impression, another word of who you are is used, cit (Consciousness). So existence (sat) is consciousness (cit).
  • If existence is One, and consciousness is that existence, then how may consciousnesses are there? One. Meaning one existence-consciousness from which time-space-objects are born.
  • What is consciousness?
    1. No one can find consciousness under a microscope, yet everyone knows there is consciousness, because it’s self-evident. I know presence of consciousness. However due to avidya, I take consciousness to be confined, for example, a product of brain cells coming together.
    2. If consciousness is sat, which exists in 3 periods of time, then same applies to consciousness. So cit is that which obtains in 3 periods of time. 
    3. Consciousness is never more or less. It never ages. It's never born, thus it has no death.
    4. It is everywhere and everything. There's nothing in existence that isn't made out of consciousness.
    5. Is not a property of the body – like height, weight, etc.
    6. Is not a part of the body – like skin, or any particular brain part such as pineal gland, etc.
    7. Is not a product of the body – like blood circulation, heart-beating, brain-cells firing, etc.
    8. Is not limited to boundaries of body/mind. Although it seems bound in reference to walls. EG: Space in house seems confined in reference to walls. Demolish the walls, space remains.
    9. Consciousness is not something you can ever experience: The physical eye can't ever see itself. Because it can't see itself, everything other then itself is seen. Meaning, the eye can know itself by the fact that there is seeing of objects. If object is seen, logically there must be an eye. So eye doesn't have to prove itself by trying to find itself. The proof of the eye is in the objects. Similarly, a child wants clouds to be removed in order to prove existence of Sun. An adult knows, despite the clouds, the sun is shining. In that same manner, a wise person doesn’t require to keep his mind still, in order to know Self. The fact that there are thoughts, implies presence of Consciousness.
    10. The verse, specifically says, consciousness is jñāna svarūpaḥ: It is pure knowledge. Knowledge in whose presence, knowledge of objects takes place.  
      • EG: Knowledge (satya) of science-knowledge (mithya). Knowledge (satya) of Vedanta-knowledge (mithya).
      • Metaphor to help understand: A red/blue filter is placed over torchlight. Knowledge of red/blue takes place because of the pure light. So jñāna (Knowledge/Consciousness) is like that PURE light, that illumines objects. While itself is self-revealing, and never covered.
      • With particular THOUGHT — cit becomes THOUGHT-knowledge (qualified knowledge). But cit itself is pure knowledge (unqualified) — waiting to be qualified by a THOUGHT.
  • How to understand consciousness is present everywhere? To understand, need to divide world in 3 categories:
    1. Knower (pramata): 
      • Atma in association with the Mind (Subtle Body), becomes a knower in reference to (a) your inner psychological processes and (b) external objects (sounds, forms, tastes, etc). For simplicity, we can say the knower is the  I-sense (ahamkara). Ignorance is to take the changing I-sense or knower as the absolute “I”. Vedanta says, you know many different things that come and go. Even the knower takes different characteristics depending on what it knows about itself. EG: Sharp-knower, confused-knower, happy-knower, etc.
      • Vedanta says, you are not any one given knowing — but the invariable consciousness because of which all knowings are known.
      • Consciousness (Atma) is not the knower, but the content of the knower, never affected by the knower. Metaphorically, knower or I-sense can be equated to a pot. What constantly shapes that pot is the emotions, decisions, memories and data of external world. Consequently, the pot (I-sense) is changing, but content of it is always clay — the invariable presence. Similarly, “I”, or the knower, seems to be constantly modifying depending on moods, inner pressures, memories and surroundings. But you can also notice an unchanging presence — ever available as self-revealing, self-evident I. One whose is ever present and aware. Therefore,  I am free of the pain-knower, sorrow-knower, happy-knower, frustrated-knower.
    2. Object of knowledge (prameya):
      • Easy to say a living being enjoys consciousness. But how do inert objects also enjoy consciousness? Vedanta replies, “How do particles that make up an element, combine together, acquiring additional qualities, and eventually become a complex universe of variety (moon, sun, minerals)?” The atoms are organizing themselves to create varieties and uniqueness from smallest to biggest objects, in a coherent manner. Furthermore, the physical senses are also arrangement of atoms, capable of inputting data.
      • The intervening factor that enables this is “all knowledge”, which organizes particles in increasingly complex manner, such as: rock > single cell microorganism > the physical eye > the physical brain. And any knowledge requires presence of consciousness.
      • To think about for sake of appreciating prevalence of all-knowledge to create and sustain a functional synergy capable of supporting lifeforms:
        • H2 + O1 = Water.
        • Water + Sodium Chloride (1 atom of sodium + 1 atoms of chlorine) = Salt.
        • Salt + Sulfuric Acid (or acid rain) = Sodium sulphate (used in detergents).
        • In otherwords, at each level of mithya-form, there is a functional utility connected to another mithya-form. EG: Water is connected to plants. Salt is connected to human body. Tree's Oxygen output is connected to lungs. Sun's rays are connected to plant photosynthesis. Moon cycles are connected to coral reefs.
        1. Way consciousness is available to Knower is as self-evident I. Have to release it from confinement by inquiry. Even after inquiry (moksha), consciousness is experienced, as though,
          • EG: [1] Upon inquiry, you discover glass never cuts the space. Space inside is same as outside space. When glass moves, the space has no moved, but the glass has moved in space. When destroy glass, space is as though freed, but it was always freed. Similarly, consciousness seems to be confined from my/your standpoint, but it’s always free. It’s there in past, present and future. [2] Just like when scientist knows world is merely atoms, he doesn’t start seeing atoms everywhere.
        2. Way consciousness is available to inert objects is via inquiry into the object.
    3. Means of knowledge (pramana):
      • Knower knows an object. But the process through which you know any thing is vrtti-jnanam. EG: Flower doesn’t enter your brain. Eyes capture it, sends signal to brain, the brain creates image in form of mental thought which corresponds to external object. And knowledge of rose takes place. Same applies to philosophical knowledge. If the mental image you’ve created corresponds to what teacher is intending to convey, understanding takes place. If haven’t captured intended meaning, then your mental image half matches the intended meaning; this is called partial-understanding. That’s why we have exams in schools.
      • Consciousness is also the truth of the means of knowledge. Because no thought (vrtti-jnanam) can exist without presence of consciousness.

About Sat-Cit-Ananda Words:

  • Why “sat-chit-ananda”? Why not some other words?
    • Due to ignorance, we make many mistakes about our nature. For this reason, scriptures employ opposing words to negate our erroneous words, such as: Bound > free. Impure > pure. Partial > full. Time-bound > eternal, etc. While there are thousands of words to point out your nature — the rishis have concluded, one needs minimum of 3 to completely grasp the reality and with which everyone universally relates with: I want to live [sat] happily [ananda], and without being ignorant [cit].
  • The 3 words are not adjectives to atma. Generally adjectives are used to distinguish one object from all others in the same group (jati). EG: In garden of lilies, one uses adjectives such as, blue-big-fragrant, to distinguish from other lilies.
    • Can you take sat-cit as adjectives to atma? No, because sat-cit is only one. Everything depends on the same sat-cit.
    • Therefore, sat-cit-ananda are defining words, not adjectives.
    • Otherwise, you’ll think, there is atma with 3 adjectives, which distinguishes it from another atma.


  1. How does Vedanta communicate a limitless reality by using limited words?
  2. Existence (sat):
    1. “Existence is that which can't be negated in the past, present and future”. Explain and provide an example to illustrate.
    2. “There are no two existences”. What does this mean?
  3. Consciousness/Awareness (cit):
    1. What is consciousness? Answer in a way that the answer makes total sense to you.
    2. How is consciousness present in a rock/water/fire (anything not alive)?

Keywords:  shunya, shunyata

Credit for help in Tattva Bodha to [1] Chinmaya Mission's Swami Advayananda, [2] Arsha Vidya's Swami Dayananda, [3] Neema Majmudar.

Recorded 29 Oct, 2023

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